As another year comes to an end, thoughts turn to goals and resolutions for the coming year. For many people, health and fitness form the basis of those resolutions. Whether you want to limit your drinking, improve your posture, manage your stress or shed a few pounds, here at OCHK, we’re passionate about supporting you with all your health goals. In this article, then, we’ll share some health-boosting tips and suggestions. So, if you’re keen to have a healthy new year, read on!
Small changes can make a big difference
People looking to feel fitter and healthier in the new year often take an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach. They think they must take up a demanding fitness regime, cease all alcohol intake, or achieve drastic weight loss. But a goal that’s too challenging can be a recipe for failure.
However, small changes can have profound benefits. You don’t need to run a marathon or imbibe nothing but soft drinks to achieve better physical and mental health.
Let’s look at a few small steps you can take towards better health in the new year.
Stretch your way to health this new year
Did you know that stretching for ten minutes a day can have a plethora of benefits?
We’re familiar with the idea that stretching engages muscles, allowing joints their full range of movement. But there are numerous other plus points beyond enhanced flexibility.
Stretching muscles pumps blood and tissue fluid through the circulatory system. Nutrients flow in and waste metabolites are carried away. This fluid movement nourishes our tissues and keeps them healthy.
And along with muscles, stretching also engages the connective tissues, such as ligaments and fascia. These surround and link muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs.
We once thought of fascia as inert, but research has shown that it can contract, become inflamed, and transmit pain signals.
Layers of fascia can become stuck together following even minor trauma. These layers no longer slide over each other, as they should in healthy movement. Fascial restrictions limit our flexibility and contribute to chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Movement practices such as yoga and tai chi have long used stretching to restore healthy movement and ease pain, and now science is backing this up.
Stretching can help restore the balance of health to connective tissue. Investigating the effect of stretching in animals, researchers have shown that stretching improves pain and reduces inflammation.
Another study involving patients with fascial pain found that a programme of stretching reduced their symptoms.
And beyond its physical effects, stretching has a host of benefits on mental well-being.
As with other exercises, stretching stimulates the release of endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ hormones. It releases tension, which can have a positive effect on stress levels and sleep. And the enhanced self-awareness brought by stretching can improve clarity and mental focus.
So, try adding a few stretches to your daily routine and enjoy the myriad boons they can bring.
The benefits of breathwork
Breathing comes automatically – it’s not something many of us think about. But learning the art of breathwork has great value for health.
Breathwork is about more than tuning in to your breathing pattern. It’s the intentional manipulation of breathing to influence your mental, emotional and physical state.
Controlling your breath tells your nervous system to relax, reducing levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. This makes it a quick way to combat stress and anxiety. One study from 2017 concluded that training people in breathwork reduces their cortisol levels and has a positive impact on cognitive function and emotional status, while another showed how focusing on breathwork in yoga practice boosts attention span.
And, on top of these mental upsides, breathwork can help people with chronic pain. Not only does lowering cortisol levels decrease inflammation in the body, but controlled breathing can lower our perception of pain.
This is especially true for back pain, perhaps because the diaphragm is a muscle that attaches directly to the spine. Using it correctly, therefore, encourages good movement in that area.
Additionally, focusing on correct diaphragmatic breathing means we use our lungs to their fullest extent, maximising lung capacity and gaseous exchange.
If you’re looking for a new year health hack, then, breathwork is a powerful addition to your health routine.
The link between alcohol and weight – lower your intake to lose the pounds
We all know that reducing our drinking is good for our health (and our wallets!), but if you’re trying to drop a dress size this new year, it’s a change that could have double the benefits.
Drinking alcohol can sabotage weight loss plans in several ways. First, alcohol contains a significant number of calories. A large glass of red wine contains around 200 calories, while a pint of ale stacks up at around 250 calories – that’s more than a slice of pizza!
But beyond its inherent calorific content, alcohol has other effects that can promote weight gain. For example, people often report feeling hungrier after drinking. It seems that stopping for some fast food on the way home from the bar may not simply be a loss of self-control, but the effect of alcohol on the nervous system.
Researchers found that alcohol activates neurons in the hypothalamus that are normally associated with starvation. Although these effects were found in mice, experts believe the same thing is likely to be true for humans.
Plus, alcohol disturbs our sleep cycle. And tiredness saps at our willpower, so making good food choices becomes more difficult. Before you know it, you’re reaching for the biscuits.
So, if you’re trying to lose some weight in the new year, cutting back on alcohol might be the first step.
Tips for reducing your alcohol intake
If you want to ease back on alcoholic drinks in the coming year, here are our top tips for staying on track.
- Decide on a realistic target. It might be to have several alcohol-free days during the week or to keep your intake under a certain number of units.
- If you feel pressure to drink in social situations, keep your goal in mind and stay firm. It may be helpful to explain your aims to your social group in advance, so they understand and can support you.
- There is a dazzling array of non-alcoholic alternative drinks on the market now. Experiment to find some you like. Presentation also helps – make sure your drink has all the trimmings you’d expect in its alcoholic version.
- Track your progress using a journal or use one of the many drink tracking apps. Some of these have a competitive element that can keep things interesting, and some also look at the impact of drinking on your wallet.
- Finally, don’t be disheartened when things go off-course; take stock of the reasons and use it to help you stay on track in the future. And don’t forget to celebrate your milestones! Effort deserves reward, so congratulate yourself.
We’re here to support you
If you’re looking to make positive changes for a healthy new year, you don’t have to do it alone.
At OCHK, our team is always looking for ways to promote good health, and to that end, we have several groups to help you achieve the goals we’ve covered in this article.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, you can join us for a lunchtime stretch and mobility session. It’s the perfect antidote to the toll that desk working can take on your body and mind. These sessions are limited to two people, and they’re in high demand, so book early !
From January 2024, you can try our new group sessions focusing on breathwork. Our yoga therapist, Charlotte, will take you through the specifics, showing you how to use breathing for physical and mental well-being. With only three people per session, it’s a great way to make the most of Charlotte’s expertise.
And our counsellor, Catherine, is here to help you reframe your thoughts, feelings and beliefs about food and drink. She will help you work on your SMART GOALS for health and wellbeing in 2024, using strategies for weight management and alcohol consumption.
Changing habits around eating and drinking can have such a positive impact on our health and wellbeing. If you are looking for a confidential, non-judgmental, supportive and therapeutic group environment to help you achieve your goals, our four-week group classes are ideal for your needs. We focus on weight management on Tuesdays from 6.15–7.30pm, and on changing our relationship with alcohol on Thursdays from 6.15–7.30pm. Thursday sessions are also available for individual counselling.
As we begin the new year, then, let’s work together to ‘move better, feel better, live better’ in 2024. Join our initial four-week program mes at OCHK to look at techniques, strategies and support to help you towards a healthy new year. Get in touch to find out more.