2020 is well and truly here! At Functional Self, we are refocusing our goals around health optimisation and we have five healthy new habits for you to try this year. 

1. Upgrade your nutrition with a real foods Keto diet 

The ketogenic diet is helping people to lose excess weight, improve energy levels and optimise health. Keto is a low carb + high fat diet that works by limiting your intake of carbohydrates and sugars. This depletes your glycogen stores, triggering the production of ketones by breaking down fats. 

Being in ketosis is a normal and natural metabolic state. While you are in ketosis, your levels of ketone bodies like BHB (β-hydroxybutyrate) are elevated, producing the same effect as intermittent fasting. Fasting has been shown to provide a range of health benefits - lowering inflammation, activating autophagy, fight ageing and promoting healthspan (1)

Most people find the keto diet much easier diet to follow than a traditional ‘low fat’ diet, as eating lots of healthy fats reduces cravings and helps you feel full. What’s more, eating keto has the added benefits of reducing inflammation (2) and helping you to get essential nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin K and calcium which all require healthy fats for absorption.   

In short, the keto diet is a way of using nutritional ketosis to hack your biology which can help to optimise your health. If you haven’t already tried the keto diet, check out our Keto for Beginners post which includes top tips for getting into ketosis and staying there.

2. Movement for every human being 

Humans are designed for daily movement and it has now been established that physical inactivity is the “primary cause of most chronic diseases”(3). If your main focus last year was around your diet and nutrition, 2020 could be your year to get fit, get strong and optimise your health.

The science on exercise and health is both compelling and undisputed. Appropriate exercise promotes energy levels, immune function, cardiovascular health and musculoskeletal health as well as providing crucial mental health benefits. Exercise has also been shown to help with memory and concentration, and may enhance the growth of new brain cells (we talk more about this in our blog: How exercise helps your brain).

The type of exercise you choose can make a big difference. Time is precious, and at Functional Self we are big fans of High Intensity Interval Training (“HIIT”) because this combines all the benefits of strength training and aerobic exercise in one workout. 

There is a growing body of evidence showing that HIIT training also provides a wider range of health benefits - including better cardiorespiratory fitness, improvements in Vo2 max, heart function, mitochondrial biogenesis, insulin sensitivity and glucose regulation (4)

 However, what matters most in terms of exercise is finding a way to keep going all year round. Incorporating plenty of variety in your training can help keep things interesting, which is why we developed the Functional Self 7-day Exercise Framework (see link below to get your free copy)*. 

The framework includes breath work, stretching, movement and strengthening.  It is designed to be personalised because there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to exercise. We believe that each person should have a bespoke plan to suit their overall health, goals and lifestyle. We have an awesome team of health coaches who can help you create a tailor-made health programme with personalised testing and lots more.  

3. Alcohol and optimal health - should I detox? 

January is traditionally a good time to reflect on your overall alcohol intake, with many people choosing to take a month off drinking. There is evidence to show that a one month break from alcohol can help to reduce your average drinking in the longer term (5).  However there is also counter evidence to suggest that abstaining can lead to binge drinking the following month, suggesting that this all depends on the individual. 

For some people, adding alcohol free days or alcohol free weeks into your calendar could be just as effective. This is particularly important because any binge drinking session can overtax your detoxification organs, primarily the kidneys and liver.  

Your kidneys contain about a million filtering units called nephrons, which filter about 7-8 litres of your blood every hour. This process takes place around-the-clock, all day, every day. During times of excess, your kidneys produce more urine which often leads to low levels of sodium, potassium and other minerals and salts, Meanwhile, the liver runs critical detoxification pathways, and is our first line of defence against toxins that we may have ingested, including alcohol. 

Under normal circumstances, your organs do a pretty good job of filtering and eliminating most toxins from your body. The good news is that you don’t need to perform a strict detox diet to support your body in removing toxins and harmful chemicals. Instead, the first step is to focus on reducing exposure or eliminating harmful chemicals where you can. (To find out more see our blog: 5 myths about detoxification). 

4. Practice gratitude - the science behind why this is so important to overall health 

A daily gratitude practice is more than just focusing on the positives in your life. It is also a way of retraining your brain to see things more optimistically and focus on the good.  The simple act of being grateful has been shown to reduce stress, improve emotional wellbeing and make you more resilient (6).  

Evening meal times can be a great time for sharing or expressing gratitude with your loved ones. A daily journaling session can also be helpful, or even a morning meditation practice. Mornings and evenings are thought to be particularly beneficial for meditation. A recent study showed that night-time melatonin levels were raised after people practised evening meditation (7), so this can also help with getting to sleep.  

Whatever works for you, find your own gratitude practise and commit to it for 2020. There is so much to be thankful for, and focusing on gratitude has been shown to be a powerful way of improving both your mental and physical health. 

5. Regularly get great sleep

Sleep is more than just recharging your batteries. It also impacts on immune health, brain function, mental health as well as your energy levels throughout the day. Getting great sleep in the long term means getting a full night’s rest almost every night, which equates to 7-9 hours for most people. 

If you are experiencing an afternoon dip in concentration or suffering from a series of colds or sore throats, then consider whether you are getting enough sleep. Like all cells and systems in your body, your immune system is regulated by the 24-hour solar cycle. The production of immune cells in your body follows a clear day-night pattern with peak production of pro-inflammatory ‘cytokines’ taking place while you are asleep (8). In short, you need great sleep for optimal health and immune function. 

Getting great sleep continually is not easy, especially because culturally, we give sleep a very low priority. Mapping out when and how you will wind down for the day, is one of the best sleep hacks to try if you want to improve your sleep.  

Scheduling your sleep means identifying your ideal bedtime in advance, and going to bed at roughly the same time every night. Even with a solid sleep plan in place, this can be tough to implement with “bedtime procrastination” being a common challenge (we have written more about how to break this habit here). 

If you would like some extra support in adopting your new healthy habits, then please get in touch with one of our health coaches. We have specialists who can help with nutrition, supplementation, sleep, exercise, gratitude and all aspects of your health. Investing in a health coach that can look at you holistically is a great way of staying accountable with your goals this year.   

 

References
1.  Eat less, live longer? The science of fasting and longevity
2.  Anti-Oxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Ketogenic Diet
3.  Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases
4.  High-intensity interval training versus moderate-intensity continuous training within cardiac rehabilitation: a systematic review and meta-analysis
5.  New Year, New You: a qualitative study of Dry January, self-formation and positive regulation
6.  Psychology Today - 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
7.  Acute increases in night-time plasma melatonin levels following a period of meditation 
8.  The chronobiology of human cytokine production