Tried everything to lead a healthier life but can’t succeed? This wellness journal devised by top TV doctors Chris and Xand van Tulleken could improve your diet, mood, sleep and strength
- Dr Xand and Chris Van Tulleken advise on overhauling diet, mood and sleep
- Health experts have created a 28-day Good Health For Life Wellness Journal
- The duo suggest setting goals such as weight loss or kicking a bad habit
Over the past decade, the two of us have presented hundreds of hours of television about health and wellbeing.
Our programmes have covered everything from alcohol intake to ‘vampire’ facials, weight loss, fitness training, vitamins and medication such as antidepressants.
There’s virtually no topic we haven’t examined. We’ve interviewed experts from every field of medicine, and written articles and books.
Over the past decade, the two of us have presented hundreds of hours of television about health and wellbeing. Our programmes have covered everything from alcohol intake to ‘vampire’ facials, weight loss, fitness training, vitamins and medication such as antidepressants, write Chris and Xand van Tulleken
Most of it has been aimed at empowering you to make the best decisions about your health.
Alongside broadcasting, we’re both qualified doctors. Chris has been working for the NHS since 2002 and is a scientist at UCL, studying viruses.
Xand has been an academic for the past decade and works for humanitarian causes.
But the truth is that, like everyone else, we sometimes struggle to follow our own advice.
We’re both 41 now, and somehow our knowledge and training doesn’t protect us from the same downward spiral that affects almost everyone.
We weigh too much — it’s just by a few pounds, but we’re still ‘officially’ overweight, according to the NHS BMI calculator.
We’re also not quite as fit as we should be. We both ran the London Marathon four years ago (in a passable four hours, 24 minutes), but since then have done virtually no significant exercise.
We’re also not quite as fit as we should be. We both ran the London Marathon four years ago (in a passable four hours, 24 minutes), but since then have done virtually no significant exercise
Mentally, we still feel like we should be able to perform as we did when we were athletes at university, but physically it’s a different story.
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when things began to slide. But suddenly years had passed without purposeful exercise.
We’ve also both got children and lead busy, sometimes chaotic, lives so on any given evening — despite being doctors, scientists and health communicators — we’re as tempted to binge on food or TV as anyone.
It has been said that as a nation we’re living longer than ever, but the fact is, we’re not living very well. Many of us wake up aching and carry discomfort through the day.
Today in the Mail we’re launching our Good Health for Life Wellness Journal (and our handy, 12-page companion guide in Weekend magazine)
And more of us take an increasing number of pills with names we can’t pronounce, for reasons we don’t quite understand.
We studied diet and lifestyle factors for television work and as doctors; we know there is no single magic bullet that will help, but rather lots of individual changes combined.
That’s why today in the Mail we’re launching our Good Health for Life Wellness Journal (and our handy, 12-page companion guide in Weekend magazine).
The brilliant 28-day planner will give you a structure and a checklist of things to do every day to help improve your health and wellbeing.
This 32-page journal, which forms part of the Good Health for Life series running in the Mail all this month, aims to give you control over your ‘healthspan’ — the number of years you have a good quality of life.
While doctors and drugs can make a difference to specific problems, the most common life-limiting diseases (type 2 diabetes, heart failure, lung disease, obesity and many cancers) are avoidable or improved if you adopt a lifestyle that gives your body the best chance to protect itself and heal.
That’s where our Wellness Journal comes in. We’ve used evidence and our own experience to bring together the changes that will make a difference to how well you live in one checklist.
These alterations will improve your strength, sleep, fitness and mood — and because you’re going to be combining them, each one should make the others easier.
You can break the cycle of bad habits — overeating, lack of exercise, drinking too much, too much screen time and so on.
You can break the cycle of bad habits — overeating, lack of exercise, drinking too much, too much screen time and so on
By the end of the month some of your new good habits will have become so routine, you won’t even think about them.
They’re changes most of us need to make, and we are going to be completing the Wellness Journal alongside you — if you’re reading this then you’ll be in the same vicious cycle that we’re in.
The cycle probably starts with weight gain caused by eating too much, especially processed food.
This makes exercise and activity difficult, so you become weak and unfit. Decreasing strength means you get injured doing everyday things.
Perhaps you’re also nursing injuries from accidents, work or sport — an Achilles tendon that twinges; a shoulder that makes brushing your hair uncomfortable.
(In Chris’s case, bending down to pick up his two-year-old daughter, Lyra, who’s just 12kg, is painful for his knees and back.)
Inflammation is probably the ultimate cause of your health problems. It’s linked to a range of conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, strokes, dementia, osteoporosis, cancer and heart attacks
The weight gain, general aches and big meals mean you don’t sleep well. Bad sleep, possibly combined with snoring, means you’re tired, and your ability to resist poor-quality food is low.
The physical problems lead to mental health problems; unhappiness and stress; and a sense that you don’t have control over your life.
And so you self-medicate with TV, more food, and alcohol, which leads to further weight gain, pain, stress, and less movement.
The end result of this cycle is inflammation throughout your body — a state similar to having a constant infection.
Inflammation is probably the ultimate cause of your health problems.
It’s linked to a range of conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, strokes, dementia, osteoporosis, cancer and heart attacks.
What about pills? Medication doesn’t offer much hope of a solution, even if it feels like that’s all that’s available.
The number of over-65s taking five or more medicines a day has quadrupled in the past two decades, to 49 per cent.
There are also more than a million of us taking eight or more drugs daily. (Only one in 13 adults does not take any at all.)
In high-income countries such as the UK, pharmaceuticals are so overused that some estimates put adverse drug reactions in the top five causes of death.
While there’s no doubt that when they are given to thousands of people, drugs do save a few lives, most of those we use to treat lifestyle conditions don’t deal with the root cause of the problem.
Once or twice a year, the two of us try to do something about it: Xand reduces his intake of refined carbs (such as cake), while Chris starts a regimen of morning press-ups, with a plan to do a 5k run
Most of our health problems stem from that vicious cycle of inactivity and overeating. The pills may make it worse with side-effects.
It takes 30 seconds for a doctor to prescribe pills, but 30 minutes to talk through an alternative solution.
(If you’re on long-term medication, don’t stop taking it, but do go and have a chat with your prescriber.
We’ve put more information about how to reduce your medication intake in the companion guide in today’s Weekend magazine).
The problem is that, even though most of us understand what’s good and bad for us, we can’t seem to break the cycle.
Once or twice a year, the two of us try to do something about it: Xand reduces his intake of refined carbs (such as cake), while Chris starts a regimen of morning press-ups, with a plan to do a 5k run.
It goes well for a few weeks or months, but we quickly slip back into old habits on holiday.
We believe it’s really hard to interrupt this cycle for two reasons — temptation and also confusion.
Temptation. This is the big one. You’re not lazy, but all of us are bad at offsetting short-term pleasure for long- term gain.
And the short-term pleasure has become so pleasurable. Box sets available on demand. Food delivered to the house. Social media. Phones. Games.
Nowadays we use screens for just leisure (TV and social media) for around four hours per day on average in the UK — a staggering amount of time to spend sitting still.
We live in an environment that makes us — almost forces us to — work, travel, eat, shop and socialise in a way that leaves us overweight, unfit, unhappy and often lonely.
Things aren’t tempting because you’re weak, they’re tempting because they are made as available and as cheap as possible.
Making you unwell is a multi-billion-pound industry, with the smartest people in the world trying to get you to buy their products, such as sugary drinks, cake, alcohol and gambling apps.
This is causing an epidemic of undernutrition, obesity and environmental damage.
So when resisting temptation, it may be helpful to turn your focus outward and change the way you think about these companies.
You’re not making choices about these products — you’re being manipulated.
The drug, food and tech companies don’t care if you’re ill. They provide useful services, but you need to work hard to avoid the damage that results from these, which can be physical, mental and financial.
You have to be the one to care about your own health. But you need a plan; progress without a structure is impossible.
And that’s where our Good Health for Life Wellness Journal will help, by giving you the motivation to avoid temptation. Each simple but effective change it inspires supports the others.
The first step is to set goals so that you stay focused. A physical goal is a simple start — the NHS ‘couch to 5k’ weekly fitness programme is a great option.
Sleep makes healthy eating simpler. You lose weight. Exercise is less painful, and so on
Or you might pick a weight goal, or an aim to reduce the number of medications you take.
Then we focus on a daily 12-point checklist to help you improve seven main areas — diet and weight; fitness; strength; pain and medication; sleep; mood and stress; and bad habits.
We can’t remove temptation, but we can help you understand it, tackle it, and put yourself in charge.
Hand in hand with temptation, the second big problem that prevents many of us from changing is confusion.
There are so many diet and exercise plans and health tips out there. Which should you choose?
Low carb or intermittent fasting? Zumba or running? Is red wine good or bad?
Our Good Health for Life Wellness Journal is your ally. The checklist requires specific changes; it will push you to eat the right things, as well as measure your strength movements and time spent on fitness.
We believe it will work best if you start slow but make all the changes at once.
You can’t do exercise effectively or eat well if you stay up until 2am bingeing on box sets.
The journal packages together what we call a ‘bundle’ of care, a well-known concept in medicine.
‘Bundles’ were developed after it was realised that changing single things in medical care (such as cleaning skin before inserting a line to prevent infection) was much less effective than a package of small changes (such as combining the skin cleaning with protective drapes and an equipment trolley with everything located together).
The same is true in your own life. Ditching the morning snack is great, but it isn’t going to make a big dent in the 5lb you might want to shed.
Combining a change in snacking habits with other small changes enables that vicious cycle to become virtuous — each change makes the others easier.
Better sleep makes healthy eating simpler. You lose weight. Exercise is less painful, and so on.
There is one final thing you’ll need that we can’t give you — a decision you must make yourself.
You have to choose to be a slightly different person.
The van Tulleken’s 15 simple steps to live better for longer
We think the best way to get the most out of your Good Health for Life Wellness Journal is to spend 30 minutes setting your targets and goals.
Xand’s goal is to lose a few pounds before the New Year, and Chris is following the NHS ‘Couch to 5k’ weekly plan (find it at nhs.uk) on his way to a half marathon in the spring.
Here are a few basic rules we follow (or are about to) to put us on the road to better health. These are the basis of the checklist in your Wellness Journal.
1 Charge your phone in the kitchen. Doing this has changed both our lives — that’s because phones steal sleep and create anxiety.
The blue light from the screen prevents sleep hormones from being released, while the possibility of using the internet keeps your brain churning.
You’ll need to buy an alarm clock — and get your partner to move their phone away too.
2 Weigh yourself weekly, but be patient with weight loss — it’s slow. You can’t shed more than a handful of fat per day unless you’re on an Arctic expedition.
Weigh yourself weekly, but be patient with weight loss — it’s slow. You can’t shed more than a handful of fat per day unless you’re on an Arctic expedition
3 Walk loads every day — 1,000 steps is better than 100, and 10,000 is better still. Humans are built to walk. We need to do it.
4 GPs are an amazing resource, but use them wisely. You can safely start walking without an appointment. It’s dangerous to just sit around. It’s not dangerous to walk.
5 Make sure you eat three meals per day.
6 Plan your snacks. If you need a boost, choose dried fruit and raw nuts (in small amounts — don’t go overboard) and ditch processed foods completely: abstinence is easier than moderation.
Plan your snacks. If you need a boost, choose dried fruit and raw nuts (in small amounts — don’t go overboard) and ditch processed foods completely: abstinence is easier than moderation
7 Don’t drink any calories — no pop (fizzy or otherwise), no milkshakes, no sugar in tea or coffee. After a week you’ll never look back.
8 Aim for as much fruit and veg as you can: five-a-day is good, ten is better (vegans live for ages), and it should be more veg than fruit.
9 Always use stairs, unless you work above the 20th floor — then get the lift to the 10th floor and walk from there.
10 Don’t eat in bed, on the sofa (apart from fruit), or when driving. Weight gain occurs when we’re sedentary and eating mindlessly.
11 Try to avoid alcohol. We all get a lift from the first drink, but even if you’re going to a special dinner with old friends, set a limit.
Try to avoid alcohol. We all get a lift from the first drink, but even if you’re going to a special dinner with old friends, set a limit
12 GO a week or two without alcohol, or even a whole month. You’ll find you need it way less than you think. If you feel you don’t have control over alcohol, seek help (for further information see nhs.uk/ live-well/alcohol-support).
13 Take five minutes a day to sit still quietly with your thoughts. That time won’t appear — you have to create it.
14 Keep exercise really simple. Use our easy strength exercises to build muscle strength, and just do one movement well (see Page 30 of the Wellness Journal for more information). Pretty soon you’ll be doing ten, then 20. But do at least one every day: one press-up is so much better than zero.
15 Book to see a physio if you’ve got an injury, and make the rehab exercises your strength routine.
You’ll need to become, for example, someone who always uses stairs, someone who doesn’t watch TV in bed, someone who doesn’t eat office cake.
We’ve written the best journal we can, but you’ll need to find your own path to the waterfall — the more you personalise your Wellness Journal, the more you’ll have ownership and feel empowered by it.
The two of us will be talking about the Wellness Journal — and our own progress! — on Twitter, so join the conversation at #goodhealthforlife.
Chris is an infection doctor at UCLH in London and does research at UCL on viruses. Xand trained in public health at Harvard, and has worked around the world in humanitarian emergencies.
Throughout September, the Daily Mail wants to transform your health with advice from the leading health experts in the newspaper every day.
The new you starts here! One unhealthy habit can lead to a negative spiral that’s difficult to break. Our Wellness Journal is the best way to help you get control back
We’re living longer than ever, but what’s most important to all of us is that those extra years are full of joy and free of pain. We want to live long and well.
How can we ensure this? Well, the solution is unlikely to come in a pill or a bottle. You’re not going to find it in your GP practice or in the offices of a private specialist.
Modern medicine is fantastic at managing a fairly small number of problems – some cancers, severe infections and injuries of all kinds.
Vaccines save countless lives.
But it’s not great at managing the problems that come from the way many of us are forced to live our lives in 21st-century Britain – common, life-limiting conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart failure, lung disease and obesity.
Dr Xand and Chris Van Tulleken (pictured) reveal how to overhaul health using their Good Health For Life Wellness Journal
These conditions are strongly linked to lifestyle: alcohol, long commutes, lack of time, stress, cigarettes, too much food and too little movement.
And while your GP in particular is a fantastic resource, modern medicine is no substitute for living well.
Doctors prescribe drugs to manage what are effectively side effects of your lifestyle.
Painkillers for knee pain, antidepressants for mood, tablets for blood pressure and cholesterol.
But these drugs generally don’t deal with the root cause of most of the problems we face; they merely treat symptoms or limit damage.
Changing the most fundamental aspects of your lifestyle isn’t trivial.
Most of us haven’t made a choice to let things slip, but we find ourselves in a negative spiral in which one problem makes the others even worse.
Weight gain means that sleep deteriorates and that makes diet even harder to control and so on.
Many of us know what to do – cut down on alcohol and junk food, be more active – but interrupting the cycle is hard.
We know this because despite being doctors, scientists and health communicators, the two of us are just as tempted to binge on food and TV, skipping sleep and exercise, as you are.
But you can get control back. The world around you doesn’t always make it easy, but the person most in charge of your health is you.
Helping people take control over their destiny and live healthier for longer has been at the heart of all the TV programmes and series we have developed and presented over the last decade.
Dr Xand and Chris Van Tulleken say they are tempted to binge on food and TV despite being doctors (file image)
But we admit that quite often, we’re giving advice that’s hard to follow. All of us know exactly what we need to do to be healthy, but also why we sometimes fail. Too many choices, not enough motivation.
That’s why the two of us have teamed up with the Daily Mail to create this new Good Health For Life Wellness Journal, which will show you, in easy recordable steps over the next 28 days, how to change your lifestyle for the better.
We all need someone to hold our hands – and that’s what this journal is designed to do. We’ve used the best evidence and our own experience to help create it.
It will help you understand your motivations, allowing you to stay focused on challenges.
And it will help you make those simple changes to your daily life and turn them into habits.
That negative spiral will soon become a virtuous circle, each change making further positive change easier, giving you the best possible chance of a long, happy and healthy life.
We believe this journal can be a powerful tool for everyone, regardless of age, gender or health.
Give us four weeks, it won’t be hard and the two of us plan to join you on this journey too. So why don’t we start right now?
LET’S GET STARTED
Look out for your copy of our Good Health For Life Wellness Journal inside today’s Weekend magazine.
If you’ve missed it, or if you need extra copies for other members of your family, call 0330 100 0601.
With our help you can use the journal to work out your most important health goals, and then achieve them.
As part of this, we will show you how to have a proper audit of the pills and supplements you consume and how to take a look at your family history, your sleep and activity levels.
The Good Health For Life Wellness Journal (pictured) is available inside Weekend magazine
This will help you identify the most pressing problems as they affect you and to find ways to begin the process of solving them.
You will find we have identified the main areas of life that many of us can most effectively improve: diet and weight, fitness and strength, pain and medication, mood, sleep and bad habits.
When you turn to the journal’s daily diary pages, you’ll find a checklist of boxes to fill in each day to help you monitor your progress in these areas.
Some are recorded daily (such as the time you go to bed), some weekly (your weight and waist measurement).
There are also other boxes to record important lifestyle improvements, such as increasing your fruit and vegetable intake (see page 50), getting more and better sleep (see page 53) and finding time each day for five minutes to sit with your thoughts.
We explain in detail how to use the daily diary in the panel on the right.
Feel free to adapt parts of your journal, modify the headings and cover it in notes and scribbles if you like.
This is your journal and it needs to work for you.
Getting properly interactive with it is the best way to identify – and then change – any unhelpful habits that might have crept into your behaviour, empowering you to achieve your own health goals.
Keeping tabs on what you do every day will allow you to set and achieve small targets that will become ingrained into your routine, and set you on your way to long-term beneficial behavioural changes that will transform your health and life.
We’ll show you how, at the end of each week, to stop and take stock of how much progress you’ve made.
There’s a special place in the journal, at the end of each of the four weeks, to log that information.
Our ultimate aim is to help every reader of the Daily Mail to become engaged with their health, and in this companion guide to our Wellness Journal we will explain why every small step which can contribute to better health is a step worth taking.
Your diary explained
Your Good Health For Life Wellness Journal includes 28 diary pages like the one below to help you record essential information and keep track of your progress. Fill it in every day using the tips we’ve provided…
Calories Even if you don’t aim to lose weight, you should be broadly aware of your energy intake so things don’t creep in the wrong direction.
Type ‘total daily energy expenditure’ into any search engine and you’ll be directed to a calculator that will ask your height, weight, age, gender and activity level, and give you the number of calories you can eat each day without gaining weight.
To lose weight, aim to eat 250 calories less than that each day (see our handy calorie counter on pages 50-51). Jot the total here each day.
Portions of veg Forget five a day, for optimal health aim to eat ten portions of different types of vegetables and fruit – mostly veg.
Experiment with unfamiliar vegetables, and sneak extra into every meal.
Count up your portions and put an ‘F’ or a ‘V’ in the boxes here.
Whoops ‘Beige’ foods (pastry, cakes and biscuits), junk foods, processed foods and takeaways offer little nutritional benefit and your body struggles to digest them, so try to cut right back.
Record the number of portions you eat each day here and aim for a few ‘whoops free’ days each week.
Bad habits This is your opportunity to put a lid on any bad habits like smoking, gambling, computer gaming or phone checking, so record your success here.
If you’re aiming to reduce time spent gaming or flicking through social media, record total minutes each day. Or if you decide to quit a habit, put a tick if you go a day without it.
The 28-day plan advises either cutting back or completely stopping alcohol intake (file image)
Alcohol units We are going to stop drinking for 28 days. We’d love you to join us, but if not we urge you to cut back.
Note your total units each day (see our chart on page 47) and aim to bring it down.
Time to bed You will get more and better sleep if you go to bed at the same time each night, as it allows your body to get into a pattern, releasing the right hormones at the right time to ensure that you sleep.
Spend enough time in bed to allow for eight hours’ sleep a night. Record what time you went to bed here, and aim to hit that time 5 nights per week.
Bedtime routine One of the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep is by establishing a bedtime routine (see page 53).
This means no screens in the bedroom (phones, TV, laptops), and no screens for at least 30 minutes before you go to bed.
If you use your phone as an alarm clock you’ll find it difficult to suppress the urge to check it, plus the blue light it emits can disrupt your sleep.
Get an alarm clock and charge your phone elsewhere. Put a tick in each box for every night you succeed.
Strength We recommend a short daily workout to strengthen your muscles and joints, as it will have significant effects on your health and vitality.
Xand and Chris advise taking five minutes each day to focus on breathing to help relaxation (file image)
Pick a simple, five minute regime that works the muscles in your abdominals, legs, arms, waist and bottom, and then write the number of repetitions you achieved in each box.
You’ll be amazed by how quickly that total rises.
Fitness We should be aiming for 150 minutes of moderate activity (brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (jogging) every week.
Spread this across your week and record the number of minutes spent each day here.
Growth time To keep your brain young, keep it challenged. Practise a musical instrument, learn a language, take up a stimulating hobby, meet up with old friends.
Mark the box to indicate whether you achieve ten minutes a day.
Mindfulness Find five minutes each day to sit still (eyes shut, phone off) and focus on your breathing.
This gives your body and brain a little ‘down time’, so you can relax, take stock and clear out any stress hormones.
Tick the box every day you achieve this and aim to make it a daily habit for life.
Screen time The more TV you watch, the unhealthier you’ll be. It’s a sedentary behaviour that wastes hours when you could be doing something healthy.
It’s the same for phones, laptops and tablets. Record how much leisure time (not work time) you spend in front of a screen here.
Aim to cut down and have one TV-free day each week if you can.
Begin by setting goals you can reach
When it comes to your health, the most important difference between actually doing something and merely saying you’re going to do it is a statement of intent.
For a health change to work – really work – you need to say you’re going to do it, tell other people you’re going to do it and actually write down that goal and how you’re going to get there.
The research unequivocally shows that once you’ve said you’ll do something, you’re most of the way there. Without that initial commitment, change is impossible.
That’s why we’ve given two whole pages to the process of finding and setting goals on pages 4 and 5 of your Good Health For Life Wellness Journal.
As a fundamentally important part of this health-improving process, we are urging you to write down the ways in which you want your life to be different.
The doctors suggest taking 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to set goals that will keep you motivated (file image)
Your goals can be big or small, immediate or long-term, personal or professional, but having that statement of intent will give you a sense of purpose like nothing else.
Call them goals, ambitions, whatever you like, but write them down.
We’ve suggested a structure for setting out your goals, but you can alter it.
The daily planner will then move you close to these goals, but writing down the goal will motivate you and allow you to tweak the planner if you need to.
Set aside 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to do this process properly.
First, ensure you are completely calm by taking five minutes to sit silently and just allow your mind to wander.
Then see what comes to the surface. Are there aspects of your health you’d like to improve? What about your weight? Fitness levels? Mood? Do you have chronic pain? Insomnia? Are there bad habits (cigarettes, too much alcohol, internet surfing, YouTube hopping, computer gaming, nail biting) you’d like to try to give up?
When you’ve established your goals, you’ll need to spend a little time thinking about how you can and will realistically get there.
Are there changes you need to set in motion? Any equipment or books you might need?
Would you like to lose weight?
Almost all of us would be healthier if we carried around a little less body fat, but obesity is the precursor to a host of life-limiting diseases.
So it’s a good idea to find out if you are a healthy weight, or whether you might have nudged closer to the ‘overweight’ category over time.
First go to the NHS website (nhs.uk) and search ‘BMI calculator’.
If you tap in your height, weight, age, gender and level of activity it will calculate your BMI (which stands for Body Mass Index).
If your BMI is in the overweight category, the online tool will work out how much weight you could aim to lose and suggest a daily calorie total that would nudge you towards a slow but steady loss of 1-2lb per week.
The doctors advise using your journal or the app MyFitnessPal to keep track of calories (file image)
Next, set a date for how long it is likely to take you to reach your chosen target weight.
So, if you have 8lb to lose and you plan to lose 1-2lb a week, give yourself a goal of reaching a healthy weight in five weeks’ time.
Your daily calorie requirement will vary according to your age, gender and activity levels, but as a general rule men usually need 2,500kcal per day and women 2,000kcal per day to maintain their weight.
Bear in mind that these broad averages were established in the 1950s when we were all much more active than we are now, so you might find you gain weight when eating this much food and will need to set your sights lower.
You can type ‘total daily energy expenditure’ into any search engine and you’ll be directed to a calculator that will ask you your height, weight, age, gender and activity level and give you a number.
If you want to lose weight, you should aim for at least 250kcal less than that number.
In your journal, we encourage you to keep a tally of your total calorie intake each day.
It might be a little time-consuming at first, but you’ll find the same meals come around often, and you’ll very quickly learn the basic calculations for the kind of food you eat.
You’ll find a calorie counter on pages 50-51. You can also check most foods on nhs.uk (just search for ‘calorie checker’), and you can save the page to your phone so it works like an app.
Another useful app is MyFitnessPal, which has a database of more than 5 million foods and a barcode scanner that allows you to instantly enter the nutrition information of some packaged foods.
The doctors recommend making use of the weekly catch up sections in the journal to track your weight (file image)
You can also sync to fitness tracker devices.
The problem with weight loss is that the human body is amazingly efficient – 100g of fat contains roughly 1,000 calories and it’ll take you about two hours of hard running to burn that off.
Very few of us are fit enough to run hard for two hours! So don’t expect miraculous results after 28 days of working through your Wellness Journal – but be confident that you will have put habits and rules in place that become routine and will carry you to the six-month mark and beyond.
You may prefer to weigh yourself daily or weekly, or rely on the fat-spillage over the waistband of an old pair of favourite jeans, to check your progress, but we urge you to make good use of the weekly catch up sections in your journal and record both your weight and your waist measurement there.
Would you like to be fitter and stronger?
We all know being fit contributes (spectacularly) to the goal of ‘living a long and healthy life’, but that can be scant motivation on a rainy day. Most of us need a more measurable and inspiring fitness goal.
Do you think you might one day be able to achieve a 5km or 10km walk or run? It’s a great goal.
What about just being able to walk to the nearest shops? Keep your goals simple – and social, if you can.
Maybe you can challenge a friend or partner to climb a particular hill or cycle a certain distance.
The journal includes a series of strength exercises. The doctors suggest practicing them for five minutes, five days a week (file image)
Studies show you’re more likely to stick to a goal if you do it with others – it’s usually more fun that way, plus an active social life is consistently reported as a life-lengthening factor worth cultivating at every opportunity.
Once you’ve set your goal, start thinking about a training plan.
It might be as simple as walking to or from work one day a week, or getting off the bus one stop early.
In the journal, we’ve laid out a simple set of strength exercises – our five-a-day fitness plan (see page 30 of your Wellness Journal).
Just spending five minutes doing the five exercises five days a week is a great goal in itself. Even spending one minute a day is better than nothing.
Chris has set a fitness goal of running 5km before Christmas and has a training plan in place to achieve that.
Do you want to break a few bad habits?
Everyone has a few bad habits that it might be wise to break.
Are you one of the few people now who still smoke? Do you drink more than you know you should? What about gambling or gaming on your phone? Perhaps you’re still horribly hooked on Candy Crush?
Tips to beat your phone addiction
Far too many of us are addicted to our phones and there’s plenty of evidence to confirm this causes stress and unhappiness. It can exacerbate depression and disrupt sleep too.
- Avoid your phone for the first hour of every day (we recommend getting an alarm clock and charging your phone outside of the bedroom – preferably a long way away).
- Turn off all notifications so you’re not distracted by bleeps and flashes.
- Keep your phone tucked in a pocket or bag out of sight — check it at set, pre-specified times instead.
- Check how much ‘screen time’ you use each day (it’s in the Settings app on an iPhone) and aim to reduce it.
- Establish a ‘no phones at the table’ rule at meal times.
We infuse our lives with bad habits, big and small. Some, like overuse of the mobile phone (stand accused, Xand), creep up on you from behind and start taking over your life without you realising.
Others, like smoking, gambling, even sex addiction, can accelerate into problematic proportions that might require the calling in of extra support.
For this journal, we urge you to take a long, hard look at your bad habits – whether you chew your nails or routinely skip toothbrushing before bed at night – and think about their possible health impact.
Whatever your bad habit, why not set yourself a goal to quit it for the next 28 days? Go on, make it your goal to go booze-free, give up takeaway food, maybe even delete social media from your phone.
If it’s a serious addiction, speak to your GP practice nurse. They will be genuinely excited and very keen to help. Or go cold turkey.
Habits can often be hard to break, and sometimes the best advice is to replace a bad habit with a good one – this is certainly something you can think about when planning how you might achieve this particular goal.
You’ll find a space in the journal where you can chart your commitment by recording your progress each day.
Just note down whatever bad habit or habits you’ve done.
Do you want to be pain-free?
Some medical conditions bring on pain that is hard to treat and which might require some specialist intervention, but most of us just have to live with some kind of musculoskeletal pain every day.
By the time we hit the age of 40 our joints will inevitably be aching, and by 60 just getting out of bed in the morning can be a slow process for us.
But that kind of pain can actually be reduced.
Most musculoskeletal pain is linked to inactivity. If you spend all day sitting at a desk or slumped on the sofa then your body adapts, with some muscles tightening and others becoming weak.
This causes inflammation and can put pressure on your joints and your back, making you vulnerable to problems if you twist or turn suddenly.
It also makes falls and (sorry to say) death more likely. Being strong keeps you alive.
As we’ll show you on pages 52-53, most body aches and pains will respond to strength work, exercise and weight loss.
The recommendations in your Wellness Journal will usually help ease many kinds of musculoskeletal pain.
If you feel your pain is not related to joints, muscles and bones, then it’s worth having a chat with your GP.
what is a unit of alcohol?
Units are sometimes hard to understand as most people don’t drink in units, they drink by the glass.
Bottle of spirits
Whisky, vodka, gin, rum, etc 1,540 calories 700ml, 40% ABV 28 units
Pint of strong lager, beer, ale or cider 227 calories 5% ABV 2.8 units
Standard bottle of premium strength lager or beer
148 calories 330ml, 5% ABV 1.7 units
Bottle of alcopop
201 calories 275ml, 5% ABV 1.4 units
Single (pub) measure of spirits
Whisky, vodka, gin, rum, etc 55 calories 25ml 1 unit
Bottle of average strength wine
712 calories 750ml, 13.5% ABV 10.1 units
Large glass of wine
238 calories 250ml, 13% ABV 3.2 units
Bottle of fruit cider
275 calories 500ml, 4% ABV 2 units
Standard glass of wine
166 calories 175ml, 13.5% ABV 2.4 units
Champagne or sparkling wine
89 calories 125ml, 12% ABV 1.5 units
Pint of lager, beer or ale
200 calories 4% ABV 2.3 units
The exact calorie content will vary depending on the brand chosen. The information contained in this graphic is to be used as a guide.
Do you really need those drugs? Supplements and screening tests may do more harm than good – the Wellness Journal can help you replace them with lifestyle changes
Saying yes to every form of health screening you can get may seem like a good idea, especially when a test is offered free – but if you don’t have symptoms or a family history that increases your risk of a particular disease or illness, then screening (any test that checks for a hidden condition where there aren’t any obvious symptoms) could end up doing you more harm than good.
One example is the prostate specific antigen (or PSA) blood test for prostate cancer which is free on the NHS if you ask for it.
The problem is that a raised result, which might indicate cancerous changes, doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer – it could be the sign of a benign condition such as an enlarged prostate.
Chris and Xand (pictured) lean on the side of avoiding health tests unless you have symptoms or a family history that increases your risk of a disease, and say it could end up doing you more harm than good
Conversely, you could get a ‘normal’ result (a low PSA reading) and yet still have cancer.
It’s a similar story for mammograms – the scan offered to women over the age of 50 to check for signs of breast cancer.
Despite many studies, there is still controversy about whether mammograms actually save lives.
For a small number of people drugs are the only solution to their health problem, but there is a much larger number being put on drugs which do them as much harm as good and for which there are much better alternatives – such as exercise.
As part of your Wellness Journal we urge you to embark on a robust audit of the pills, capsules, herbs, medicines, supplements and medical gels and lotions you routinely take.
The more drugs you take, the higher the risk of an adverse reaction to any one of them.
Research shows the risk of side effects increases from 13 per cent for people who routinely take two different kinds of drugs to 58 per cent for those taking five, and to 82 per cent for those taking seven or more.
Taking more than five medications can exacerbate dementia and cause recurrent falls, urinary incontinence and a lack of appetite.
If you take a statin and your cholesterol levels aren’t now in the safe zone, ask why and what you can do about it. If you’ve started to feel unwell on a new drug, ask yourself if the side effects are worth it.
The aim is to only take those that are absolutely essential, to give you empowerment and control. But there’s no shame in taking pills you find useful.
The scan is a great way to detect breast cancers, but it can cause unnecessary harm through over-diagnosis – showing up something which, if left untreated, might not have caused any problems.
We tend to err on the side of avoiding tests unless you have a family history or there is plenty of robust research to show it is going to do us some good.
Bowel cancer and cervical cancer screening (via a smear test) are always a good idea, but general health checks or MOTs are not.
In fact Health Secretary Matt Hancock has recently announced that the blanket check offered every five years to people aged 40-74 (without a pre-existing condition) is to be abandoned – hardly surprising when you consider the test was estimated by some researchers to have cost the NHS about £450,000 for every life saved.
We believe much of the enthusiasm for screening checks comes from private companies that seek to profit, charging you to perform tests that are often pointless and dangerous.
If they throw up dubious results they can end up generating more testing for which the NHS has to pick up the bill.
So if you have no symptoms, don’t waste your time looking for problems. Instead, focus on the positive steps you can take towards a healthy lifestyle.
We believe our Good Health For Life Wellness Journal is the best place to start.
If you’re looking for extra motivation you could try the free NHS ‘what’s your heart age’ test (nhs.uk and search ‘heart age’).
How to complete the Medication Monitor
1. In the chart on page 6 of your Journal, list every prescription drug and over-the-counter medication you routinely use (painkillers, hay fever remedies, sprays, capsules, cough syrups).
2. Write the name of the drug/supplement in the chart, and underneath write in what you use it for.
3. Write in whether you think it helps (be completely honest – particularly about supplements) and whether you’d be willing to trial stopping it.
4. Check the information leaflet in the packet or the information on the bottle. Many side effects are vague, but are there any that you have noticed since you started taking the drug?
5. Discuss any concerns about side effects with your GP (for prescription drugs) or pharmacist (for over-the-counter medication) and ask specifically whether the condition this medication is aiming to treat can be replaced with a lifestyle change. You might be able to switch drugs or trial stopping taking the drug.
Make sense of supplements
Many supplements, from vitamins to superfood extracts, are a monumental waste of money.
Many large independent studies have shown that people who regularly take a multi-vitamin tend to live shorter lives than those who don’t. It’s unexpected, but true.
Very few do you any good, and some could be doing you harm – particularly if you wrongly believe swallowing a big coloured capsule or tipping powder into your protein shake negates the need to fill your plate with vegetables.
When nutrients occur in plants, meat or fish our bodies find them very easy to absorb correctly, but when in pill form the different components can interact with each other.
With supplements, it’s easy to end up taking an excess of one component and then be deficient in another.
Combining vitamins or natural supplements with prescribed medications can increase the risk of bleeding and raise blood sugar levels (file image)
If you take large quantities of calcium, for instance, your iron absorption is affected. If you take too much vitamin C, your copper levels can drop too low.
Furthermore, some supposedly health-giving supplements (even vitamin D) can be toxic in larger doses.
The only supplements with good evidence are folic acid for women planning to get pregnant, vitamin D for some groups and vitamins A, C and D for children aged six months to five years.
Equally worrying is the more than a million over-65s who suffer dangerous side effects because they are taking herbal remedies and dietary supplements alongside drugs prescribed by their GP.
You might think it’s ‘only’ a vitamin supplement or a ‘natural herb’ but certain combinations can increase the risk of bleeding, raise blood sugar levels or even stop prescribed medications from working effectively.
Simple DIY tests
You can identify many potential problems yourself – such as the risk of stroke, skin cancer and heart disease – before they start with some basic checks you can do at home. Here are five to begin with…
Count the number of moles larger than 2mm in diameter on your right arm.
A study by King’s College London indicates that seven moles on an arm equates to 50 on the body (which doubles the normal risk of melanoma) and 11 moles means more than 100 moles on your body (a five times increased risk of melanoma).
A high number of moles on your body isn’t cause for panic, but it is worth being extra vigilant in the sun, and always see your GP if you notice any changes. When checking your moles, look out for ABCDE:
A – asymmetry
B – border irregularities
C – colour variation
D – diameter bigger than 6mm
E – enlargement or evolution in terms of colour change/ shape/symptoms (such as bleeding/itching/crusting)
Balance on one leg with your eyes shut (keep your hand close to a wall to stop you falling) and time how long you can stand there.
Research published in the journal Stroke in 2014 found that not being able to stand on one leg for more than 20 seconds was linked to an increased risk of ‘silent’ stroke — tiny brain bleeds that don’t cause symptoms but raise the risk of both full-blown stroke and dementia.
The researchers believe poor balance could indicate brain disease and cognitive decline. You should improve by practising – aim for one minute.
Chris and Xand (pictured) claim that prescription drugs are more likely to cause side effects as you get older
Heart disease risk
Measure your height using string and cut it to length, then fold the string in half and see if it goes comfortably around your waist.
For optimum health, your waist measurement should be under half your height, and if the string doesn’t go around your waist you could be carrying fat around your middle that puts you at increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Sit on the floor with your back against the wall, legs straight out in front of you, and slowly try to reach for your toes, bending at the waist.
This test could indicate how supple (or not) your arteries are. Arteries tend to get stiffer with age, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Studies show 30 minutes of gentle stretching five times a week for a month can prompt a reduction in arterial stiffness.
- Turn the TV or radio up when you come in the room?
- Tend to think that other people are mumbling?
- Find it difficult to follow the conversation in a busy room?
- Struggle to hear on the phone?
- Not always hear the doorbell?
If the answer to any of the above is yes, then you could have a hearing problem, which can be checked by a high street audiologist (often based at opticians).
Side effects get worse with age
Your prescription drugs are more likely to cause side effects as you get older and your kidney and liver function decline.
These are your body’s processing facilities, and when they’re working less efficiently the concentration of any drug in the blood and tissues can increase to potentially dangerous levels.
Many GPs and geriatricians (doctors specialising in the diseases of age) are expert at ‘de-prescribing’ but you might have to ask.
Do you know your blood pressure?
High blood pressure doesn’t usually cause symptoms, but can increase your risk of problems like heart attacks and strokes, so it’s a good idea to get it checked.
Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers.
The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body and the diastolic pressure (lower number) is the pressure when your heart relaxes, which indicates the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels.
The NHS recommends that those over the age of 40 should test their blood pressure every five years (file image)
The NHS recommends testing every five years for everyone over 40 – it’s easy to measure and you can check it yourself in most pharmacies or with your practice nurse.
It’s good to aim for a blood pressure reading between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. Any higher and your GP might want to start you on medication.
If your reading is slightly elevated you may be able to reduce your blood pressure with the lifestyle measures we suggest in the Good Health For Life Wellness Journal.
But GPs have a long experience of people promising lifestyle changes that they never make, so you might have to do a bit of negotiation first.
It might be worth asking about delaying treatment for a few months while you work through your journal, but do check back with your GP in case you’re not quite able to get the numbers low enough.
If you are prone to fainting or dizzy spells don’t just assume that you have low blood pressure – get it checked with your GP.
Are you a victim of a ‘prescribing cascade’?
Beware! There’s a worryingly common phenomenon whereby a patient experiences bad side effects from one drug, so the doctor prescribes another to deal with these, but another is then prescribed to deal with the side effects of the second drug, and the pattern continues.
Changing your diet will change your life: You don’t have to ditch the chocolate, but simply swapping junk food for more fruit and veg will improve your health dramatically
When it comes to ensuring your optimal health and living well for longer, your diet is spectacularly important.
Almost all of us need to change the way and the amount we eat.
We are not advocating another new faddish diet involving soups and shakes, low calories or weird food.
You don’t need to be hungry all the time (although feeling hunger occasionally is fine and probably quite good for you), and we’re not going to stop you eating chocolate or ice cream if you really don’t want to.
You might just have to eat a bit less of it. What we do suggest is that you consider a few key changes that studies consistently show will make a big difference to your long-term health.
If achieving a healthy weight loss is one of your specified goals, it’s a really good idea to have some idea about the amount of food you’re putting on your plate and the extent to which you might be consuming more energy than you’re burning.
It can be handy, for instance, to know that a 48g Snickers bar is 245 calories (most of it sugar and fat), which is roughly the same number of calories as a balanced breakfast packed with the sort of nutrients your body needs to stay well.
Our calorie counter opposite will help.
Dr Xand and Chris Van Tulleken recommend having between seven to ten different fruit and vegetables each day (file image)
Eat more vegetables
The most important rule is to fill your plate with a big pile of colourful vegetables, which reduce rates of just about every disease.
They are full of fibre, which not only makes them fantastically filling but they also keep you ‘regular’ (protecting you against bowel cancer).
The indigestible carbohydrate that vegetables contain feeds your gut bacteria, which then release chemicals now known to have wide-ranging benefits on your whole body.
The official recommendation is still to aim for five portions of different fruit and vegetables a day, but you can aim higher.
You’ll be far better off shooting high for the sake of your health and aiming for ten on a good day and accepting a fallback position of seven on a bad day.
The more plant-based your diet becomes, the healthier you will be.
You don’t have to become vegan (although evidence shows you might live longer and better if you do), but the less meat and dairy you eat the better.
We aim to have meat-free days. It’s as good for the planet as it is for your body.
Fruit might be packed with health-giving nutrients, but it is also usually sweet, so vegetables trump fruit every time.
Aim for two different pieces of fruit (real fruit is better than juice and smoothies, which just give you a sugar rush and rotten teeth).
Each different piece of fruit counts as one portion, so don’t think two or three apples gets you over the line – mix things up and throw a pear, orange or banana into the mix.
The doctors say that the more ingredients something contains, the more unhealthy it is likely to be (file image)
Cut out junk and processed food
Sorry, but if you want to be healthy, you can’t eat junk food. It might be delicious, but it isn’t nourishing.
It’s the food equivalent of cigarettes, designed purely to get you to buy more.
Craving fat, salt, sugar and protein kept our ancestors alive, driving them to hunt and forage.
Now these same traits are killing us.
Hyper-delicious foods such as salted caramel, honey-coated nuts, stuffed-crust pizzas, crisps and burgers are designed with perfect ratios of fat, sugar, salt and other chemical flavourings delivered with the right amount of crunch, creaminess, chunkiness and chewiness to work on the innate vulnerabilities of your primitive human brain.
These foods are addictive. No one ever just has one slice.
If a little bit of junk food brings you joy, then have it as a treat. Enjoy it. But not every day.
The more ingredients something contains, the unhealthier it is likely to be because some of those ingredients will have been added to make you crave that food.
It is much harder to overeat unsalted nuts than it is dry roasted or smoked nuts, for example. Eat real food instead.
Peel your own fruit, buy meat with bones in it, wash your own salad.
You’ll save money and you’ll think more about what you’re eating and the quantity you need.
Unless you have put yourself on a strict daily calorie limit, there’s no need to abolish bread, pasta, rice and desserts completely, but do keep portion sizes and quantity under control.
Exercise… the miracle treatment: Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of everything from diabetes and depression to dementia and even cancer – it might be the best ten minutes a day you’ve ever spent…
Exercise is a miracle cure – or at least a miracle treatment – for almost everything. Studies consistently show that it can reduce your risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers by up to 50 per cent – and lower your risk of early death by up to 30 per cent.
It can reduce your risk of osteo-arthritis by up to 83 per cent and help prevent falls (thereby increasing your lifespan).
Exercise can also boost mood and sleep quality, and reduce your chances of developing depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Chris and Xand (pictured) believe shaking up your activity levels is the most important advice in their journal
Put simply, it’s one of the ultimate anti-ageing activities and it is the key to living well for longer.
So, shaking up your activity levels is possibly the most important piece of advice in our Good Health For Life Wellness Journal – even if you do nothing more than start exercising regularly after reading this you can be confident that you will start sleeping better, you’ll have less pain and you will almost certainly live longer.
We all know we should try to be more active but strength, or muscle power, often gets lost in the mix.
In fact, studies show strength training is important for bone health (it helps increase bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis), it helps with balance (which would otherwise deteriorate with age), it boosts your metabolism (because muscles burn calories even when you’re asleep) and makes losing weight easier too.
Strength is the route to keeping you injury-free as well.
In the past
Your family tree can reveal important information about health problems that have been passed down the generations. So make sure you fill in the Family Wellness Tree on pages 16 and 17 of your Wellness Journal, and discuss any concerns with your GP.
It might have been years since you made a movement more powerful than lifting a heavy bag of shopping, so do start slowly.
Aim low to begin with, then build up. We recommend a short strength workout for just a few minutes per day, six days per week.
However, this doesn’t mean spending hours in the gym. You can do it in your pyjamas without any equipment.
You can choose to follow our plan on page 30 of your Good Health For Life Wellness Journal, join a strength-based exercise class, commit to regular gym sessions, go to a yoga class, or follow your favourite strength-based exercise DVD.
The nhs.uk website has a series of excellent strength exercise videos (search for ‘strength and flex exercise plan’).
Just make sure you do it regularly. We suggest first thing each morning.
Whichever you choose, you should aim to increase your strength by building up repetitions (ie gradually doing more of the same exercise), making the process progressively harder for yourself as your muscles get stronger.
You also need to stay fit – the NHS recommended minimum amount of exercise is either 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week.
The NHS recommend either 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week (file image)
Moderate exercise is a brisk walk. Vigorous exercise is jogging.
Simply by walking for 15 minutes to and from work five days per week you’ll have ticked that box.
This is the point at which you might normally read some sort of medical disclaimer along the lines of ‘always consult your doctor before starting any exercise programme’, but we don’t believe this kind of caution is always necessary.
Do, however, start gently: make sure you can happily walk before you run, and when you do run, start slowly.
You should finish all exercise for the first few weeks wanting to do more.
Once you’ve built a base of fitness and strength you can start to push yourself. There are excellent resources on the NHS website (nhs.uk) to guide you.
Exercise benefits at double the speed
Lack of time and lack of motivation are the two main reasons why so many of us don’t bother to exercise as frequently as we should, but there’s now plenty of science to suggest that intense activity gets you the same health benefits as a longer, slower workout.
A HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout is a set pattern of activity where you first warm up for a few minutes, then push yourself really hard (pedalling fast on an exercise bike or climbing stairs) for a set time (10-30 seconds), then rest for a set time (start with two minutes).
NHS statistics show that a lack of exercise could be to blame for one in six deaths (file image)
Then repeat the cycle five to ten times.
The main thing is that these bursts should be brief but hard enough to get your heart rate up.
This form of exercise is powerfully effective because in the first 20-second sprint, your body breaks down the stored sugar in your muscles, flooding the muscle with energy.
This sets off a whole cascade of other beneficial reactions, and with each further sprint you are conditioning your body to work when it’s exhausted, which supports muscle growth, heart growth and the development of new blood vessels. This leads to big improvements in aerobic fitness.
The Department of Health calls inactivity a ‘silent killer’, and NHS statistics show that a lack of exercise could be to blame for one in six deaths, including those from cancer, strokes and heart disease.
Aim to infuse more activity into your day. Stand up every hour to swing your arms around if you have a desk job, or get a standing desk installed.
Take the stairs instead of the lift, or do a bit of vigorous vacuum cleaning.
No screens at bedtime
We recommend you try two new rules: no screens for 30 minutes before bed, and charge your phone in another room – if you’re worried about missing a call, simply turn the volume up; but almost everything can wait until the morning (unless you’re a surgical consultant on call).
If you’ve been using your phone to wake you up, buy an alarm clock instead. Chris bought one for £3.99 and it’s worked flawlessly for two years.
No screens before bed leaves you with two options: reading a book or having sex with someone you love.
Xand and Chris recommend no screens for 30 minutes before bed and charging your phone in another room (file image)
Sex is a really important part of wellbeing and bonding to a partner. It also counts as either moderate or vigorous exercise.
In many long-term relationships it can feel like a bit of a chore – you can’t always be bothered, but you’re always pleased when you’ve done it.
If you’ve got a problem, such as erectile dysfunction, see your GP.
There are pills that really do work! We’ve included two boxes in the ‘Bedroom routine’ section of the diary in your Good Health For Life Wellness Journal to help you focus on improving your sleep.
Make sure you’re able to tick these boxes every night. Get your partner to do it too.
Oh to sleep like a baby!
Good-quality sleep, night after night, is critical to virtually every aspect of your mental and physical health.
Studies show that one night of poor sleep is enough to undermine your immune system, and chronic poor sleep increases your risk of type 2 diabetes and diseases including dementia and cancer.
The chemicals released during sleep calm inflammation and bolster immunity.
Studies have shown that better sleep can lead to fewer colds and immune-related disorders, and even a lower risk of cancer.
It can also make you more likely to exercise, eat healthily and resist alcohol and any bad habits you might be wanting to shake off.
Studies show that one night of poor sleep is enough to increase your risk of type 2 diabetes (file image)
So it’s good to do whatever you can to ensure you get a good night’s sleep every night, but don’t get hung up on recording the number of hours you sleep each night as that can add to the kind of pressure that can keep you awake.
Monitoring your sleep too closely can create an obsession with sleep hours that becomes unhealthy.
Worrying about lack of sleep is one major cause of sleep problems and has spawned a new ‘syndrome’ called orthosomnia, to describe an unhealthy obsession with achieving ‘perfect’ sleep.
Instead, aim to create a calming wind-down routine at night, and make sure you go to bed early enough to get eight hours’ sleep if your body needs it.
So why not make your first goal to be in bed by at least 10.30pm every night and 11pm on weekends? There’s rarely anything exciting happening after midnight once you pass 40 anyway!
Studies show our bodies function best when we go to sleep at roughly the same time each night.
Our circadian rhythm – the internal clock that tells us when to sleep and wake up – relies on regularity.
If you are consistent, it makes it easier to fall asleep every single night of the week, but going to bed at a different time every night disrupts this process.
Tips for a good night’s sleep
Xand and Chris suggest taking a walk after dinner and restricting fluid before bed to achieve a good night’s sleep (file image)
1. Aim to exercise outdoors in the morning – getting out into the light for a brisk walk will help set your body clock and wake you up, and exercise has been shown to increase the depth of sleep.
Even if all you do is a ten-minute walk around the block and ten press-ups, it still counts.
2. Take a walk after dinner (ideally at dusk to help your brain react to the changing light and prepare for sleep).
3. Nudge your body clock by dimming the lights in the evening to create a ‘false dusk’.
4. Soundproof and lightproof your bedroom, and turn off all electronic devices. Don’t play games, watch stimulating films or work on your laptop in bed.
5. Avoid eating late at night. When your digestive system is processing food, you won’t sleep as deeply.
If you like snacking after dinner, then snack on fruit but no hearty food after 9pm.
6. Avoid citrus juices in the evening, as these can cause heartburn and irritate the bladder.
7. Restricting fluid before bed means you’ll be less likely to have to get up more than once a night.
8. Ear plugs and a sleep mask are good for blocking out light and sound.
9. Avoid sleeping pills and alcohol, as they disrupt sleep.
10. Napping is a no-no unless you have to stay up for a prolonged period or there’s a good reason (for example jetlag, or having had a child destroy a night’s sleep). It disrupts the ability to fall and stay asleep at night.
11. Don’t do anything in bed apart from sex, sleep and some light reading.
If you can’t sleep, get out of bed, make a cup of camomile tea and read a book by a low light – don’t watch TV or check your phone.
And don’t worry about it. Head back to bed when you feel sleepy. It will take a while to establish a routine and build the habit.
Throughout September, the Daily Mail wants to transform your health with advice from the leading health experts in the newspaper every day.
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