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  (DANIEL FISHEL FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

 

(DANIEL FISHEL FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Top 15 tips for a healthier, happier 2015 Add to ...

(DANIEL FISHEL FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

This time of year, the wish lists are long: lose a few pounds, get more sleep, have more sex, be more energetic. It can be daunting – it’s no wonder most resolutions are broken by week one. We asked Globe Health Advisors to break things down to simple and actually manageable changes. These 15 tips will make 2015 your healthiest year yet

Think beyond weight loss

This year, your plan should be to improve your overall fitness. Why? Because you will see quick improvements and this will keep you motivated. Here’s what you do: Schedule three 30-minute walks each week. Your goal is to gradually cover more distance each time, or the same distance in less time. When you achieve this, you are in better shape. Take that first step toward a better you. Gilles Beaudin, registered clinical exercise physiologist at Toronto’s Cleveland Clinic Canada

Connect with someone

The poet T.S. Eliot said: “To be of importance to others is to be alive.” Social scientists have a term for this concept: “mattering.” Research shows that mattering increases happiness and improves health. You get a well-being boost when you matter for others. How can you increase your mattering quotient? Reach out. Connect. Make others feel they can count on you to understand what they are going through – that they can depend on you when they need help or advice. Be a caring confidante. In 2015, make others – and yourself – feel more alive. Scott Schieman, a Canada Research Chair (Social Contexts of Health) and professor of sociology at the University of Toronto

Meditate for better sex

Stress, anxiety and fatigue are stifling our sex lives and there are no medications to improve a woman’s lacklustre libido. Meditation has been found to improve women’s desire for sex and pleasure during sex and to even increase “the big O.” Start a daily meditation practice, with great apps like HeadSpace (10 minutes of guided meditations each day) and you’ll be passion-filled in 2015. Lori Brotto, associate professor of gynecology at the University of British Columbia and registered psychologist

Feed your gut

Did you know you have trillions of microbial workers inside you? Like a good employer, you need to give them appreciation, respect and a commitment to their well-being to ensure productivity. In 2015, hire the right candidates by taking probiotics, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Pay them well with prebiotic foods, such as fruits, vegetables and fibre. And don’t forget to give a fermented bonus, such as yogurt or dark chocolate. If you treat your microbial staff well, you will end up with such benefits as improved digestion, balanced immunity, better metabolism and even a brighter mood. Jason Tetro, Ottawa-based microbiologist and author of The Germ Code

Break bread together

One of the common casualties of our frenetic modern-day lives are old-school family dinners – the kind where you sit together around a table and eat a meal of fresh, whole ingredients. Studies on regular family dinners show that not only do they help with weight management, they also help to reduce the risks of teenage depression and risk-taking behaviour. This year, recultivate a close relationship with your kitchen (and your family) at least one night each and every week. And if dinners aren’t the easiest option, consider breakfasts. Yoni Freedhoff, obesity expert, family physician, author and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa

Perfect your squat

Muscle-strengthening exercises are just as important as cardiovascular training for all-around health and fitness. A great move you can do every day is the squat – a highly functional exercise that engages large muscle groups. It also helps to maintain independence as we age (think of the muscles needed to use the toilet unassisted). Practise squatting the way a child picks up a toy – bend your knees and stick your bum out until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Repeat 10 times. Martin Gibala, professor and chair of the department of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton

Use your body to keep your brain young

We’re always thinking about the here and now, how to lose a few pounds, get better sleep, sharpen our decision-making power. But this year, if you’re concerned about Alzheimer’s, think longer term. The optimism in Alzheimer’s communities isn’t pinned on drug trials or upcoming cures, but to lifestyle changes you can make now to thwart the disease. The big one? Exercise. Vigorous, aerobic activity multiple times a week decreases the risk of dementia and delays its onset. My prescription for you: aerobic activity (i.e., jogging, cycling, stationary bicycle, swimming, brisk walking, anything that gets the heart rate up) for 40 minutes to one hour a day, at least three days a week. Invest now for a better future. Carmela Tartaglia, neurologist at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre’s Memory Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital, researcher at the Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Disease and assistant professor at the University of Toronto

Guard your hormones

Hormones have long been considered the antidote for aging – the secret to the proverbial fountain of youth. And while we now know that hormone elixirs can carry risks, lifestyle changes have been shown to better balance three key hormones; estrogen, thyroid and cortisol. By limiting exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals, such as dioxins in pesticides and parabens in skin care, we can optimize estrogen and thyroid metabolism. And by simply breathing deeply everyday, we can keep cortisol at bay. So, before you consider if hormone therapy is right for you, breathe deep and live clean to balance your internal hormone factory as a first step toward better health and vitality. Jennifer Pearlman, staff physician at the Menopause Clinic at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and medical director of PearlMD Rejuvenation

Don’t ignore your knees

Knee pain can put a damper on your favourite exercise, bringing your healthy routine to a grinding halt. Be proactive to prevent undue wear and tear. Proper knee alignment is essential for preventing knee pain and injury. When the knees fall inward during activity, it places extra stress on them and can contribute to everything from ligament and meniscus tears to osteoarthritis. Weak feet, quadriceps and the often overlooked hip abductor muscles are major contributors to this movement pattern. A great beginner exercise for the hip abductors is the clam shell. Lie on your side with your hips and knees bent slightly. Keep your feet together and separate your knees such that your legs resemble a clam shell opening. Your pelvis shouldn’t roll back. To get this muscle in shape, do one set of as many repetitions as you can, at least twice weekly. You should feel the burn at the side of the hip. Justin Vanderleest, Toronto-based physiotherapist at Athlete’s Care and LiveActive Sport Medicine and a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Manipulative Physical Therapists

Talk to your teen – like an adult

Parenting a teenager is challenging, which can have an impact on your overall health. Adolescents are in a transitional phase as they are too young to be allowed adult privileges but too old to be treated like children. A simple rule to reduce your stress level is to “talk to your teenager as an adult but still think of them as a kid.” For example, do a lot of negotiating, treat them with respect, agree with their feelings but have a clear understanding of where your “line in the sand” is and stick to it. This approach will allow you to cut them some slack but still have age-appropriate expectations of their behaviour. Peter Szatmari, chief of the Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative at SickKids, CAMH and the University of Toronto

Stand tall

The effects of poor posture can be both visually and physically bad for you. When you slouch, your head pushes forward, shoulders round forward and neck shrugs. This not only looks terrible, it might lead to neck, jaw, shoulder and/or back pain and even headaches. Try to sit or stand tall: Pretend you have a string attached to the crown of your head pulling you up. Take your shoulders and roll them up back and down to feel your chest and heart area open up. Engage your core by drawing your lower belly in and up but not to the point where you are holding your breath. You will look and feel better and more powerful. Lori Kirwan, group fitness director at Hard Candy Fitness in Toronto

Indulge mindfully – and guilt-free

The next time you get a sugar craving … pause. Ask yourself: “How am I feeling at this moment?” Cravings are triggered for different reasons – some are sensory, others emotional, but they often aren’t based on hunger. Be aware. If you choose to eat that particular food, then go ahead and eat it. Enjoy every bite. Let it be satisfying without judgment. When we feel we can’t choose, we rebel and guilt sets in. This year, let go of guilt: You may find you have fewer cravings as a result. Put joy and pleasure back into eating by being mindful. Pause … be aware … choose mindfully. Maria Ricupero, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada

Ease your mind

Many people struggle with a busy mind right before bed. Bringing awareness to different parts of the body in the moment allows individuals to be more present, calm and relaxed, which is helpful for a good night’s rest. To ease a busy mind at bedtime, get out of your head and into your feet. Bring your awareness to each of your toes. Feel your heels sink into the mattress. Move your awareness to the right calf, left calf, right thigh, left thigh, and continue to scan the entire body. Need more guidance? Try a yoga nidra meditation, a guided meditative practice, typically 20 to 60 minutes long, that helps to calm the nervous system and balance the effects of overstimulation in busy lives (look for smartphone apps to help show you the way). You’ll be asleep in no time. Casey Berglund, Calgary-based registered yoga teacher and registered dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada

Train like an Olympian

It’s time to train like a mogul skier. My Olympic preparation was not about spending long hours in the gym. I built a fitness base through anaerobic training. Research shows that whether you are preparing for the Olympics or seeking to stay healthy, interval training is the most efficient and effective way to train. Do one minute of high intensity effort such as cycling with resistance or sprinting up stairs. Follow the intense effort with one minute of active recovery, which could include cycling at low resistance or taking a brisk walk. Repeat 10 times. Working efficiently and effectively also means working hard, so ease into it. Jennifer Heil, humanitarian, Olympic gold and silver medalist in freestyle mogul skiing and co-founder of B2ten

Take charge of technology

Think of how freeing it is to move your mind away from smartphones, computers and televisions. Screens emit blue wavelengths, which promote alertness and suppress melatonin. To help offset this, you can use an app like f.lux, which will reduce the blue light as the sun goes down in your location. But also taking at least one hour before bed to be totally electronic-free will allow you to get superior sleep. Your brain needs to shift from “thinking” to resting mode and to have relief from lit screens. Banish all media devices from the bedroom. Enjoy the freedom and the slumber. Judith Davidson, clinical psychologist, author and sleep researcher at Kingston Family Health Team and Queen’s University in Kingston

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