As a new ONS study reveals all the bad habits we've picked up during lockdown, here's how to get your year off to a healthy start
Our eating patterns have also been affected. A separate study by YouGov found that over a quarter of people felt they ate less healthily than usual during the first lockdown and of those, 63 percent attributed their shift in eating habits to boredom.
With the new year quickly approaching, now is the perfect time to make some pandemic-themed resolutions. From excess snacking to beating loneliness, here’s our pick of the health resolutions to make for 2021.
1. Watch less television
Admittedly, Tiger King, Normal People, and more recently, The Crown, helped to see us through both of the lockdowns, but it might be time to kick the habit. In 2017, a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in California found that the more time you spend watching television, the greater your risk may be for blood clots. And don’t think a quick walk to the fridge is going to save you; the researchers found that getting the recommended amount of physical activity may not be enough to counteract the risks associated with too much television. Meanwhile, a study by the University of Glasgow found that the lowest overall health risks from diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease are associated with viewing TV for two hours or less each day.
So, one simple resolution is to cut down on TV, or at least to schedule it wisely. One hour before bed, switch off your TV and phone and pick up a book. Your brain – and your body – will thank you for it.
2. Stop comfort eating
When life gets tough, it’s all too easy to reach for the fridge. In fact, one new study suggests that Britons were the lockdown snackers of Europe, with Britain reporting the largest rise in consumption of convenience foods (29 percent), alcohol (29 percent), and ominous-sounding “tasty treats” (34 percent). But this isn’t good news for our waistlines: in a survey by Kings College London, 48 percent of people say they have put on weight during the lockdown.
Cutting back on snacks in the new year can make a big difference to your health. Nutrition experts recently praised the ‘green Med diet’ – a supercharged version of the Mediterranean diet – which was found to have startling effects on waistlines and heart health, compared with the standard version. It’s fairly straightforward; just follow the typical Mediterranean diet (which is high in vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, beans, grains, fish, and a little healthy fat, like olive oil) plus lots of greens, and in particular, duckweed, a plant that grows in ponds and rivers, which is emerging as an unlikely new superfood.
If you can’t help but snack, then keep it healthy. According to nutritional therapist Kim Pearson, cashew nuts, coconut yogurt, berries, kale crisps, guacamole, and vegetable crudités are all good choices.
3. Beat loneliness
Since the coronavirus crisis began, people of all ages have been struggling with loneliness. The week after the clocks went back, Britain saw its highest levels of acute loneliness in the pandemic, with 8 percent of adults reporting they were “always or often lonely” – representing 4.2 million people. This was the peak in this measure of loneliness since the lockdown in March.
Indeed, this is detrimental to our health. Loneliness can increase your risk of dying prematurely by 30 percent, making it as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more dangerous than obesity, according to research published by US psychology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University. Social isolation has also been linked with inflammation, heart disease, and dementia.
In 2021, environmental psychologist Lee Chambers says we should be focusing on contacting other people “with intention.”
“Book some time out and phone them... be present and hear their voice, things that are not said, and the small things such as laughs and smiles. Video call adds an extra dimension, but be mindful of how tiring it can be at times. Write a letter with love put into every sentence,” he says.
He adds that prioritizing kindness and the wellbeing of others can also help us to feel less lonely next year: “With less social exposure, we can foster feelings of happiness by being kind to ourselves, and kind to others. Kindness is a powerful way to feel connected and meaningful, so get creative and make other people smile, and you will not feel like you are alone.”
4. Spend less time being sedentary
Let’s face it: we all did a lot of sitting down during lockdown. One survey released in May found that physical activity among adults fell by a quarter after the lockdown came into effect, and a third had gained weight since restrictions began, with an average gain of 6lbs. This year, it’s all about implementing small life changes in order to get more active: why not try going for a walk every morning before work and lunchtime, to replicate your commute?
5. Cut down on booze
It’s no secret that many of us hit the bottle a bit more during the lockdown. In September this year, a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found the number of people drinking at ‘high risk’ levels has doubled to almost 8.5 million since February. The report also found the number of people seeking help for opiate addiction has risen by 20 percent.
Of course, dry January is the perfect opportunity for people to quit booze – although it can be harder than people think. A poll by YouGov undertaken in January 2020 showed that 29 percent of people confessed they had slipped and had a sip of alcohol one week into the challenge. In fact, 16 percent had already consumed alcohol by January 3.
Instead, why not embrace the trend of being ‘sober curious’? Elaine Hindal, CEO of Drinkaware, says that practicing ‘mindful drinking’ – being aware of the moment and relishing every sip rather than gulping mindlessly – is a good way of monitoring your booze consumption: “If you say, I’m going to clock off on Friday and enjoy a really nice glass of wine, make sure you do that. By consciously enjoying the moment, you won’t end up drinking two or three glasses without realizing.”