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Look after yourself

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Modern life can often feel like a constant juggling act. With the conflicting and competitive needs of work and home life, coupled with a relentless 24-7 media culture and the always-on phone habit, finding the time to really look after yourself can prove difficult.

For many, the daily plate spinning can lead to feelings of stress – and a study by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) in 2018 found that in turn our physical health can suffer as a consequence.

Whether it’s worrying about work, frowning about finances, or stressing about how we look, the knock-on effect can often be a binge on booze or a trip to the takeaway to lift our moods.

In fact the online poll by the MHF – the largest known study of stress levels in the UK – revealed 46 per cent of respondents reported they ate too much or ate unhealthily due to stress and 29 per cent reported that they started drinking or increased their drinking.

The question for many of us then is how to find the balance. How can we keep stress at bay, improve our mental and physical well-being and fit all of that into a work-life schedule already bursting at the seams?

It might sound like a task worthy of Tom Cruise in the next round of Mission: Impossible films but even the most crammed of calendars can make room for some personal TLC.

Don’t worry, we’re not talking marathon training or taking on a triathlon here.

But here are some of our tips for quick, easy and efficient changes you can make to your lifestyle to give you a physical and mental boost no matter how busy your day is.

Go for a walk

It costs nothing, you can do it anywhere, and you can start right now without the need for any equipment. So what’s stopping you?

According to researchers at the University of Cambridge, a 20-minute walk every day cuts the risk of premature death by almost a third.

And studies in Canada have shown a quick stroll can also help with brain function – and could help to reduce the risk of dementia in the future. Walking can also help your heart and improve your mood.

It can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the lift, getting off the bus a stop or two earlier or just swapping surfing social media on your lunch break for a lap of the local park.

Fancy something a bit more challenging? With sales of Fitbits, Smartwatches and other fitness trackers staying strong why not set a workplace walking challenge?

There are plenty of sites online that can help you set it up. And you can even raise money for a good cause in the process.

Make a connection

We might be able to reach into our pockets and contact a Facebook friend in a matter of seconds but what about real-life conversation?

We’re better connected than ever before thanks to smartphones and social media, but human beings are still hardwired for old-school face-to-face interaction.

Meet a friend for lunch, turn the TV off and play a game with the children or make a phone call rather than sending another text. The science says all of it is better for our mental wellbeing than a tweet, a like or dropping your dinner snaps onto Instagram.

A study found the average Brit checks their phone 28 times a day. Yet a digital detox has been linked with improved sleep, better concentration and less stress.

And with the Screen Time tools Apple introduced for the iPhone, or the Digital Wellbeing dashboard that Google produced for Android, it’s easier than ever before to monitor your time online and take a break.

A high five for fruit and veg

Health and well-being advice is constantly evolving and ever-changing. But sometimes olden is golden.

Five has been the magic number for portions of fruit and veg in our daily diet since 2003. It’s advice still favoured by the NHS – and advice based on a 1990 World Health Organisation report that concluded eating more than 400g fruit and vegetables per day was linked to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

Some studies say we should eat more fruit and veg. Yet more evidence says most of don’t eat enough – even those of us that do hit the favoured target of five.

In Australia, the advice is five to six servings of veg PLUS two servings of fruit. And in Japan, the experts suggest as many as 13 portions of veg each day (plus four of fruit).

Don’t get too tangled up though. What is clear is that the more fruit and vegetables you put into your diet, the greater the potential health benefits.

Water works

While five-a-day of fruit and veg still seems to be solid advice, opinions are more divided when it comes to water.

A long-accepted mantra of aiming for eight glasses a day has come under fire from lots of experts, many who point out that we are hydrated by food as well as water. Cauliflower and aubergine, for example, are 92 per cent water.

A one-size-fits-all approach has also attracted criticism, with many suggesting a simple drink-when-thirsty approach is best due to the many variables from one person to the next.

Where there is more agreement, is that regular water intake can mean less of the bad stuff – the fizzy drinks, the alcohol and the sugary snacks.

Even mild dehydration can lead to poor mental and physical performance so what can you do to make sure you’re water wise? Thirst aside, the experts point to the bathroom. Having light yellow (or colourless) urine usually confirms an adequate water intake.

Every journey starts with a simple first step. And perhaps these easy options can inspire you to more in the future.

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