Kick start the New Year!

Happy New Year to all my readers around the world.

Here's hoping that my readers in the US are able to keep warm! If you are hemmed in by the forces of nature, use this as a time to snuggle up in the warm with a good book and a steaming hot mug of your favourite beverage. For those of us who can venture out wrap up, stride out  and enjoy the pristine air and light quality that a cold winter's day can bring.

For those of us in Europe and the USA January can be one of the most challenging months. I've just returned from my yoga class and the  teacher worked on postures to help with -

  • Strength and fitness
  • Detoxifying the body
  • Lifting the mood

This got me thinking about my opening blog for the new year.  I'm passionate about  helping women achieve optimum health and vitality, so the idea of a health and fitness review for 2014 was born.

So, whether you're battling with the weather, your health, weight or just feel a bit down here's a quick guide to getting the most out of 2014.

  • Love your life and let it show - it never ceases to amaze me how a positive outlook with a positive use of language can alter your perception of life. Cliches abound about this sort of thing and I do cringe a bit when I hear the glass is half full/empty analogy. However, like most cliches, there is a point to all of this. Positive use of language really can make all the difference. (Ask any top athlete.) It creates opportunities and, without sounding too literary, adds to the sum total of human happiness.  I do belive that we are what we think. Life is for living. Enjoy it when and however you can and let that show in the language you choose to use and how you present yourself to the world.
  • Live in the moment - being in the present and finding the good in any given moment enhances joy. I've written recently about the many benefits of gratitude;one of the best ways I know to get more grounded in the present.  Start by creating a list of all the things that you are grateful for. Even if that's all you do for 2014 you will have achieved something really positive. If, like me, you're always pushed for time this list can be created in your head whilst in the shower, or out walking, travelling on the train to work, or whilst on the treadmill at the gym. Be creative, have fun  and notice how this makes you feel. Another way of living in the moment is to engage with your surroundings. Wrap up and sit in the garden for a few minutes with a hot cup of your favourite tea. Notice the trees, the colours, the sky or the birdsong. Look for changes in sight, sound and temperature. What are you feeling? You might want to keep a journal to anchor your thoughts. Also, if you don't already do it, try meditation. It comes highly recommended.
  • Love your food and eat well for a healthy mind and body - these days it seems that we're being bombarded by a barrage of often conflicting advice about what and what not to eat. There's eating for a healthy brain, heart, joints, cancer prevention. What about the role of fats, carbohydrates and gluten. Sometimes it's all just too much. Of course I think instinctively we all know what is good for us and what we should be avoiding. For me the best way forward is to understand your body and know what works for you. I agree with the health and fitness guru Leslie Kenton and leading UK nutritionist Christine Bailey. We need to cut down on gluten and the other starchy carbs. Eat more veg - raw where possible and juice. I've written previously about eating  for optimum health and vitality. Whatever you do in 2014 chose to eat for health. Then  enjoy the benefits that this will bring.
  • Get out and get active - at this time of year we all need to resist the temptation to hibernate. Natural light, even on a grey day, is a good anti-dote for this. Research has shown that a one hour mid-day walk can be as helpful as light treatment for improving low mood and beating the winter blues. I also have a dawn-simulator alarm clock which wakes me up gradually in the morning. There is some debate about taking a vitamin D supplement in the winter. The department of health in the UK recommends this only if you are elderly or housebound. 
  • Start an exercise class or exercise at home - for me exercise works on so many levels, both physical and psychological and I couldn't imagine life without it. If exercise is not already a part of your life than I urge you to make it so and your body will thank you for it. Find a class that you like or, if you can't get out, try something like Ageless Grace, or Yoga that you can do at home. For further details about exercise check out my exercise review. Whatever you chose make it something that you enjoy.

  • De-clutter your life - this lifts the mood and just feels good. It also helps you to move on in your life. If you have a lot to do and/or little time to devote to this activity just break it down into small chunks and reward yourself when it's done. If you need help find someone who is not emotionally attached to your clutter but who understands where you're coming from and can help in an empathetic way. Remember clutter need not be junk or rubbish. Sift intelligently. Create a "to keep" pile. Another for the charity shop and  one for recycling. Above all else know what you have and only keep things that you need, or are useful and/or beautiful. It seems to be an unwritten law of the universe that, in order to receive new things in your life, space needs to be created.  So, after seeing to the Xmas decs, look around your living space and identify areas that need to change. Then get sorting!
  • Expand your horizons - this can be anything from learning a language to joining an art class or a choir. Anything that gets you out of your comfort zone. Meditation is particularly beneficial. Research has shown that trying new things provides many positive outcomes to both our physical and mental health. So go for it!
  • Look after your skin - for a woman our health is reflected in our skin and how we care for  it. It's also a great way to hold back the years. I've written about this previously as it's a real passion of mine. Make 2014 the year that you imporve your skin care.
  • Join a choir - to optimise your physical and psychological wellbeing start singing. Singing appears to decrease pain and stress and boost our immune system. There are so many choirs around now there has to be one near you. I've written about singing for health  previously. If you want to know more check it out.
  • Become a volunteer, help a charity or get involved in a campaign group - apart from the obvious benefits to others, there's evidence around now that supports that working with and interacting with others in a positive way can improve mental health and reduce the risks of developing dementia. It also enhances mood, self esteem and is a part of an approach for achieving optimum health and vitality.
  • Catch up with a friend - as this is stimulating. Positive social interaction, particularly with a friend, improves mood and self esteem and helps you to focus on what's good about about life. Make 2014 the year for catching up with friends. 

  • Sleep well - and get more out of life. Sleep is essential to not only survival but also to thriving. Sleep is a complex issue and  is another of my health passions that I've written about previously. It's not so much quantity as quality. We may not need 8 hours but make it sound sleep and life will seem so much better. I've recently become aware of the role of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) as a treatment for Insomnia. Probably no availability for this on the NHS and any face to face private treatment for insomnia comes with a hefty price tag. However, if insomnia is a problem for you, it's worth exploring. For more information about insomnia and CBT and an affordable on  short on-line course visit "the Prof". 
  • Chill out to music - for that feel good factor. Research has shown that listening to your favourite music helps to  release dopamine, which lifts mood and enhances self esteem. Music has been shown to help patients with dementia or who have had a stroke. Research undertaken at Brunel University has shown that listening to music whilst you work-out or run can increase your endurance levels by up to 15%. 
Such a lot that we can do for ourselves to make for a better life. Although, as with so much else in life, sometimes it's just the small changes that make the difference. Whatever you decide to do the underlying message here is to commit to the changes, make it your own but,  above all else, enjoy!  

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