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Change one small thing

An all-or-nothing approach to health seldom succeeds – it's better to make small changes one at a time. We asked the experts: If you could give only one piece of advice, what would it be?

One small thing: Start making conscious breathing part of your everyday routine, especially when you feel stressed.

How many times have you told yourself: "Right, from today I'm going to eat healthily, exercise, take time out for myself, stay calm, relax, meditate, get a good night's sleep…"?

Unless you have had a dramatic health crisis that has forced a lifestyle turnaround, trying to tackle all these aspects at once is too overwhelming and your resolve is bound to crumble.

A much more manageable (and successful) option is to choose one thing, implement the change and make it part of your life, and then move on to the next one. Health experts across a range of disciplines share their top tips.

Wake up to water

Having a glass of water (300-500ml) first thing in the morning will kick-start your metabolism, says Dr Chamendran Naidoo, resident doctor on SABC3's Afternoon Express. "At night, your body loses water through perspiration, respiration and metabolic processes, so you wake up with a fluid deficit," explains Dr Naidoo.

"You may be groggy, have a headache or be hungry as your mind interprets the mild dehydration as a nutrient, rather than a fluid, deficit."

(Note: Patients on fluid restriction for conditions such as renal failure or congestive cardiac failure should consult their physician regarding fluid-intake protocols.)

Limit portion size

Use your hand to estimate portion sizes, wherever you are or whatever meal you're eating, says registered dietitian, Leanne Kiezer. "South Africans are eating too much, resulting in excess weight gain and an increased risk for chronic disease. Applying the hand portion-size filter can make a significant impact on your overall health," she says.

This means no more than a fistful of carbs, a palm of protein, a thumb-size of cheese or peanut butter, a small handful of nuts or dried fruit, a thumb-tip of all fats, oils and margarines, and at least two handfuls of vegetables.

Redefine exercise

If you have trouble sticking to regular exercise, rethink your idea of exercise altogether. "Establish what your goals are, then be consistent," suggests biokineticist Habib Noorbhai.

You're more likely to do this if you find a form of movement that you enjoy – which is why it can help to re-label exercise as something you associate with fun, such as dancing, riding a bike, playing tennis... You get the picture. There is no one-size-fits-all exercise regime, says Noorbhai.

"Ask yourself what you want to achieve. Do you want to be healthy, lose weight, reduce your body-fat percentage or improve your sport or exercise performance?" he advises. Once you have goals, find a form of exercise that you enjoy, and that suits your lifestyle. This is the secret to sticking with a form of movement that keeps you healthy and enhances your life.

Breathe in bed

"Spend the first five minutes after waking up and the last five minutes before going to sleep breathing consciously and with purpose," says Jacqui Koep, physiotherapist and director of the Train Pain Academy. She suggests you make conscious breathing part of your day, especially when you feel stressed.

"Slowly fill your lungs, then expel all the air and relax your throat, tongue and jaw. See what else you can relax: shoulders, hips?"

Koep adds, "By doing this simple exercise, you off-load the build-up of muscle tension in your body that leads to pain in the lower back and neck."

Trust your gut

"We all know intuitively what's best for our physical and emotional wellbeing. The challenge is learning to tune in and listen," says health coach Chantelle van Zyl. "When you start to believe in yourself and trust your inner voice, you stand a little taller, feel a little better and look at life with a more colourful perspective."

While learning to "trust your gut", Van Zyl suggests that when an idea comes to you, stop, breathe, and count to 10. If it's still there, trust that it's valid. Once you've accepted your idea, be aware of your response (like an emotion or eating comfort food) and learn to moderate it.


If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.