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How to maintain a healthy lifestyle

In Cigna’s wellbeing survey, New Zealand recently ranked fifth out of six countries for attitudes and perceptions towards health and wellbeing. The self-assessment survey looked at health and wellbeing indicators across physical, social, family, financial and workplace health and wellbeing. Whilst New Zealanders put themselves lower in physical and financial health, we ranked ourselves the highest for family. Where spending time with family comes first for many of us, it often comes at a cost to our physical wellbeing.

Kiwis are becoming increasingly time poor as we face longer commutes to work, and the expansion of suburban housing developments means the time we spend getting to core amenities like schools and supermarkets is also on the up. With all this lost time, we can often find ourselves sacrificing exercise and healthy eating regimes to ensure we can still see our families at the end of a long day.

Over 40% of New Zealanders start the year by setting health and lifestyle targets, and most of us set these targets around wanting a better work/life balance. There are so many new health trends in New Zealand, and it’s easy to take advantage of them to get you back on track with your healthy lifestyle. Here are a few tips to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and ensuring you are able make time to focus on your wellbeing as well as your family and friends.

Mobile apps for health and fitness

In 2014 the most popular app downloads were related to fitness and wellbeing, and for good reason. These apps offer a great way to remind yourself to exercise and by keeping track of your exercise patterns it’s also a great source of motivation. Calorie trackers, when used with some caution, are good for breaking down just what it is you’re eating. Calorie trackers like My Fitness Pal can show you your recommended daily intakes based on your age and gender, and highlight areas that perhaps you’re neglecting without even realising. Fitness mapping is also hot on the app market, and again it’s a great motivational tool when you can see those small gains in distance during those 30 minute runs.

Here are our top five fitness apps – all free! - to get you started:

For those of us less technologically inclined than others, looking to more conventional training can be the way to go. Whether you’re looking for a ladies only gym like Curves or you want to Pump it up in the latest Les Mills classes, you’re absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to gyms in New Zealand. Smaller gyms dedicated to CrossFit are popping up in towns from Dunedin to Auckland, so if you’re looking for insta-results and all the added motivations of working out with likeminded people, then they’re worth checking out. Lots of personal trainers are running their own boot camps, both indoors and out, great for those of us wanting the motivation of a trainer without the costly hourly rate. For the timepoor amongst us, gyms like Jetts, Snap, and CityFitness that are open 24 hours a day and self-serviced are ideal. Fancy a safe run at midnight? With a swipe of your card and a low weekly fee, that treadmill is all yours without all the glaring eyes of the after-work gym rush hour or swimming pool lane rage.

These days it’s all about the quality of the work you put in at the gym, so never mind the gruelling 2 hour workouts of yoga, exercise programs that are short (30 – 40 minutes) and at high intensity (to get your heart rate up and burning fat) can get you the results you’re looking for.

Being conscious of what we’re using to fuel our bodies isn’t easy, which is why turning to takeaways after a long day at work is the answer more often than we’d like. Many of us would benefit from eating mindfully, but it takes time, planning, and preparation.

Start small: avoid eating when you’re distracted, or eating out of boredom, and take the time to taste food properly by chewing slowly. Chewing your food thoroughly helps us savour food, and it aids the digestive process. Us Kiwis like to eat in front of the television, but it’s proven that taking the time to sit at the table and eat with your family or partner stops you from overindulging.

When it comes to eating healthier, you have a lot of options. Here are some of the healthy eating trends in New Zealand right now:

Gluten-free diets

More and more Kiwis are eating less bread, less pasta, and less cereal, with the gluten-free food craze controlling our supermarket purchases. While some people are genuinely intolerant of gluten, for many others it’s a lifestyle choice. Try taking gluten out of your diet for a week and see if there are any changes in how you feel. One thing you’ll notice is how gluten dependent we are. Toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and pasta for dinner can all result in gluten overload, leaving you feel heavy and groggy, and slowing down your digestive system. Remember that everything in moderation is fine, so cutting gluten out once or twice a week might be enough to help you feel lighter and lose some of those extra few centimetres off your middle that seem to be sticking around.

Paleo party

Paleo is everywhere thanks to New Zealanders embracing Crossfit. Often referred to as the caveman diet, Paleo is a diet that focusses on high protein intake. Kiss your white carbs goodbye! You’ll also be saying sayonara to those love handles my friend. On the Paleo diet you’ll be swapping comforting high carb foods such as mashed potatoes or pasta for healthier vegetable alternatives such as cauliflower, broccoli sprouts or squash. And meat, all the meats. Nuts are good too, and fatty foods like bacon, butter, and braised meats, so it’s not a flavour wasteland. There are so many Paleo cookbooks out there that you can pretty much guarantee you won’t go without your favourites: you can make spaghetti from zucchini and pizza bases from cauliflower, or what about the Meatzza? For those of us less inclined to give up the spud, the Primal diet is a good alternative.

All hail the kale

That’s right, when in doubt just add kale. Ever since 2013 this dark green and leafy vegetable has been climbing the social ranks and found itself a home in the fridges of Beyoncé and Gwyneth! If you’re not sure what to do with it, throw a handful in your berry smoothie in the morning – you won’t even taste the difference, but trust me, you’ll feel it. And that hankering for potato chips you get? Try baking your own kale chips.

Juice it or lose it

Juice cleanses are still popular even though there are many doctors advising against them. Juicing is safe if you’re prepared and well organised. There are juice companies that take the work out of it for you, by delivering a week’s worth of detoxifying juices to your doorstep.

Oh sugar!

Sugar is always taking a beating for being the number one cause of weight gain. There’s mounting evidence to suggest that sugar is not only addictive, but that it actually contributes to sleep loss, heart disease, and obesity. Many scientists and doctors have labelled sugar the dietary devil of the century, and awareness of sugar's bittersweet side-effects is necessary when sticking to a healthy lifestyle. If you’re cutting out sugar, just remember that sugar substitutes are often just as bad, if not worse.

Whilst Kiwis aren’t necessarily employing their own in-home chefs, we are starting to get into pre-prepared meals. And not the plastic tray TV dinners of days gone by. We’re looking to things like My Foodbag, where a team of nutritionists and expert cooks design healthy family sized meals, and deliver the recipe and all of the ingredients right to your door. Or Jess Daniell’s Underground Kitchen, where she designs a nourishing meal (and even the odd dessert!) and you can collect it from one of her Auckland pick up spots, or pay a little extra for delivery. And for something a little more affordable, there’s also the fresh nourishing fare of Primal Kitchen who deliver paleo meals nationwide.

Taking the time to get fit

Getting fit is a hard but rewarding process that is always going to have benefits in the long term. It’s all about making small incremental changes, one day at a time, that feed into those bigger fitness goals. Here are our five top tips to get you on the right track to a healthier and happier life:

  1. Drink water, and lots of it. The human body is made up of two-thirds of water, and you need to stay hydrated to stay healthy. Maintaining hydration has a profound effect on our vitality and energy levels, including mental alertness. Aim to drink enough water to keep your urine a pale yellow colour throughout the course of the day, which is up to 3 litres.
  2. Eat like a caveman, most of the time. The best diet is one based on foods we’ve been eating the longest as a species on this planet. These are foods that we’ve evolved to eat and are best suited to, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, meat, fish and eggs. Basically, stay away from processed foods that are full of chemicals and preservatives and stick to the outside aisles of your supermarket.
  3. Sleep 8 hours a night. A good night’s sleep can optimise your mental and physical energy, so get to bed earlier! Turn off your tablet, iPhone or Android 30 minutes before bed. Getting enough sleep heals any sicknesses you might have and will result in a longer life. Night owl? A hot cup of chamomile tea can cure that is a snap.
  4. Get up and out. It doesn’t matter what kind of activity you’re doing, whether it’s line dancing or mechanical bull riding, just move. Aerobic exercise is associated with a variety of benefits for your body and your brain, including a reduced risk of chronic diseases, anti-anxiety and mood-enhancing effects. And you don’t need much of it. 30-40 minutes a day of brisk walking will do the trick. Resistance training is good to maintain muscle mass and strengthens the body. Many effective exercises can be done at home without any equipment at all, such as press-ups, sit-ups and squats.
  5. And last but not least, be kind to others and to yourself. Random acts of kindness towards strangers or your loved-ones will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Take some time out of your day for yourself, just 5 minutes to sit still in a park, eyes closed or open, relaxing and taking it all in. Read a book. Have a long bath. Whatever you do, be thankful - life is good!

Your health, your responsibility

When it comes to your health, you’re in charge, and with technology and health oriented businesses springing up all the time here in New Zealand, it’s now easier to take your health seriously. Not only does changing your lifestyle change your life in a physical and mental way, it also has an effect on your finances. Healthy people are guaranteed to be covered by health and travel insurance because they’re less likely to be a liability. So take your health seriously, because we do.

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