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    How to maintain good habits

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    Thinking about personal wellbeing pretty much starts when the last new year firework fades.

    how to maintain good habits

    But while there are plenty of initiatives to help kick-start people’s wellbeing goals, many end on January 31st – along with people’s good intentions.

    Health and wellbeing needs an all-year approach. Here’s how you can promote good habits throughout 2020.

    Veganuary is now a staple of January, and gaining traction every year.

    According to Vegan Life, more than 250,000 people registered in 2019 across 190 countries. Importantly, 63% reported feeling healthier1.

    Meanwhile, the University of Sussex’s research found that people who took part in Dry January in 2018 were still drinking less six months later, with almost three-quarters (70%) saying their health had generally improved2.

    However, a survey by YouGov found that 29% of people had failed Dry January within the first week, while 16% had had a drink by January 3rd3

    And while 47% of people said they intended to stay vegan after January, spinning that stat suggests that 53% people intended to revert to eating meat4.

    Of course, many people set out with the intention to test themselves for a month and use it as a springboard to a healthier lifestyle.

    Others think it’s job done. But whether the goal is abstinence or better habits, here’s how to stay on track.

    Give yourself time

    ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’.

    Nor are good habits.

    Back in 2009, a ground-breaking study by the University of Central London suggested it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit – where something is performed automatically5.

    In short, it takes time for good intentions to turn into good habits and become second nature.

    Despite the drop out stats, a quarter of Dry January participants intended to carry on with the challenge despite the early slip6.

    The key is, if you fall, don’t beat yourself up over it and get back on the proverbial horse.

    And it’s a timely message for employers.

    If you’re thinking of putting wellbeing initiatives in place at work, stay patient and keep awareness up.

    It may take time, encouragement and the odd reminder before you and your employees see results.

    Consistency is key

    Gym memberships often swell at the start of the year as people flock to the treadmill and resistance machines with the aim of losing weight or packing on some muscle.

    Come the tail end of January, however, there may be a temptation to give up, especially if the results of our labours aren't as expected.

    But, while the thought of heading out in the driving February rain might give even the hardiest gym-goer pause for thought, being consistent is the key to success.

    A few half-hearted trips to the gym will not – unfortunately – result in a muscular or lithe physique.

    It takes time, effort, commitment and above all consistency to achieve a goal.

    So, with that in mind, it's definitely worth considering the journey.

    If you're planning to lose some weight for a planned holiday in the summer, be mindful of how you plan to get there rather than simply focusing on the end goal.

    For that, you can set some smaller goals or challenges to complete along the way. 

    Set achievable milestones

    With the momentum of a new year driving people on, there can be a tendency to go gung-ho and push too hard from the off.

    But the result can be an extremely dispiriting experience.

    We all need willpower when pushing through difficult barriers, but if those barriers are unachievable (at least in the short term), it’s easier to convince yourself: “I can’t do this. What’s the point?” and give up.

    Set doable targets.

    Can’t do 10,000 steps? Do 5,000.

    Can’t do 5,000? Do 2,000.

    Out for a run? Aim for the next lamppost, the tree after that, the parked car down the road, a bus stop.

    Ask someone to do 50 press-ups and many people might struggle. Ask someone to do just one, and they’re likely to say: “That’s easy.” Now add an extra one a day.

    If you intend to eat meat, fish or dairy following completion of the Veganuary challenge, a meat-free day or two each week is a simple way to continue enjoying some of the foods from the previous month.

    A plant-based diet offers a number of health benefits, so swapping out beef mince for lentils or beans when making a bolognese is a simple step to ensure that you're getting more plant nutrients.

    And remember, you can still eat the things you enjoy, but being more mindful of your nutrition with small changes to your diet is one of the easiest ways to improve your health.

    Of course, many people would like to make some improvements to their health, but it can seem overwhelming, especially if you don't know where to start.

    Setting small achievable milestones – walking more, meat-free days, drink-free days, going to bed earlier, etc. – and seeing the results of these changes, whether it be losing a little weight or feeling more energetic, can spur you on to greater things.

    In short, prove you can. Not you can’t.

    Wherever you start and whatever your goal, small steps make that target achievable. 

    Remember, to get from A to Z, you first have to go from A to B.

    Use the support tools available

    We all like to see improvements.

    Whether it’s a few pints or glasses of wine less a week, one less chocolate bar, discovering re-emerging abs, reducing waistbands or swimming your first 500 metres, that sense of achievement is a real buzz and helps drive us on.

    So monitoring your progress makes a lot of sense.

    Smart, wearable tech has revolutionised self-health and wellbeing.

    Sportswatches, Fitbits and apps can enable people to manage their diet and calorie intake, their daily step count, suggest home workouts and so much more.

    Nutrition

    If you're planning to eat less and lose a few pounds or even eat more to gain some muscle – while still enjoying the things you love, like a glass of wine or a biscuit or two – calorie counting apps can be a very useful way of monitoring nutritional intake.

    Many are free and provide a number of functions, including a barcode scanner.

    So while you're standing in the supermarket wondering whether you have enough calories left for that treat, you can simply scan the item and add it to your total calories to make an informed decision.

    There are also food swap apps available that can be useful for those wanting to eat less sugar, fat or carbohydrates.

    Alternatively, if you're not a fan of a particular food, a food swap app can offer a nutritious alternative.

    Exercise

    Exercise is a great way of improving general health and wellbeing – while tracking your progress with a fitness app can help build consistency and nurture good habits.

    Depending on your goal, you can log your workouts and keep an eye on how you're improving, understand which areas you need to work on and even share your achievements with friends or family for that extra motivation.

    However, with the number of exercise apps available, it can be daunting to know where to begin.

    Whether you have an Apple or Android smartphone, a good first step is to check the reviews for the type of app you're interested in using.

    Whether it’s a Couch to 5K running app, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), or logging your general fitness, try out those with the best reviews until you find one that fits.

    A quick Google search can also provide a list of the best apps for exercise.

    Or why not start small?

    Adding some extra steps to your day is a great way to get started.

    Taking a stroll at lunchtime, the stairs in the office or walking meetings can all add to your daily total and help burn extra calories on a daily basis.

    Even if you don't own a smartwatch, there are plenty of step-counting apps available, and many phones feature built-in health apps.

    Emotional health

    While many people look after their physical health through exercise and diet, it can be easy to overlook the mental aspects.

    Being mindful of your overall emotional health can work in tandem with the physical aspects of your wellbeing.

    It may seem a little 'new age' but keeping a gratefulness journal could make all the difference to your general mindset.

    To get started, simply write down three things you're grateful for each day and record them over the course of the year.

     It can be very easy to focus on the negative but accentuating the positive by being more aware of the good, you may begin to see improvements to your wellbeing.

    Alcohol

    Whether you manage to complete the Dry January challenge or not, we could all do with drinking a little less.

    The Chief Medical Officer's (CMO) advice for both men and women is to drink no more than 14 units, spread evenly across the week.

    And, while saving units up for a Friday night is not the best idea, this doesn't mean you need give up your favourite tipple entirely.

    Introducing drink-free days into your week can ensure that your body is getting a break from the booze.

    This also means you'll look forward to the nights you can have a glass of wine or beer, and it'll probably taste that much better!

    If you're not sure how much you're drinking per week or want to cut down, the Drinkaware website features a handy calculator that determines your drinking risk level, the units you consume and tips to help keep your levels low.

    Give our bWell podcast a listen too, where Drinkaware’s Ian Blake joins us to discuss our relationship with alcohol.

    Maintaining good habits for 2020

    Maintaining health and wellbeing throughout the year and beyond does take commitment, but the rewards are worth the effort.

    The general physical and mental improvements that can result from making even small, healthier choices can have a positive impact.

    Exercise, diet, drinking less alcohol, and taking a moment each day to record the things you are grateful for could have a marked effect on your mood and overall wellbeing.

    Lifestyle changes are not a quick fix, of course, but we all want to feel comfortable in our own skin.

    Adopting a few small changes are just the start of that journey.

    And along with suggestions above, we have a number of further resources to help support good health.

    To find out more about wellbeing in general, see our Workplace Wellbeing hub and Wellbeing Calendar for 2020.

    For more information and resources about mental health in the workplace, visit our Mental Health hub.

    Unum are not responsible for any third-party links contained within this article. 

    www.veganlifemag.com/the-results-are-in-for-veganuary-2019 (1,4)

    www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/47131 (2)

    www.yougov.co.uk/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2020/01/10/three-ten-already-failed-dry-january (3,6)

    www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2009/aug/how-long-does-it-take-form-habit (5)