Healthy habits to kick off the New Year

From nutritious meals to specialist gyms, Frances Ryan explores accessible ways to build healthier habits in 2024.

1. Move it, move it

Improving your physical fitness doesn’t have to mean cold water swimming and daily runs – just any sort of movement that works for you.

If you’re able to walk, try introducing a short stroll in your lunch break or simply standing for a few minutes if you spend a lot of time at a desk. If you can’t, don’t worry. Being told “sitting is bad for your health” is not exactly helpful advice for a wheelchair user.

Instead, focus on small movements. Doing this throughout the day will help get you into a routine. Do pelvic floor exercises while cleaning your teeth. When watching TV, sit upright on the sofa and lift your feet off the ground to strengthen your legs or raise your heels. Even tiny shifts can help your joints and nerves. For example, try opening the palm of your hand and touching the base of your fingers with the tip of your thumb five times (it’s harder than it sounds).

Remember you can adapt your routine depending on how your body feels. If you can’t stand up easily one week, tweak your moves and do them while lounging in bed like you’re Cleopatra. Follow disability exercise accounts online, such as the physio @ActivelyAutoimmune, for examples and inspiration. 

2. Be smart about your phone

“Get off your phone!” is a favourite resolution tip for mental health but it often ignores the fact that social media can be a lifeline for disabled people, and going cold turkey is rarely realistic. Instead, try a ‘no phone zone’, such as putting your mobile in a drawer after 9pm or agreeing with your household not to use phones at the dinner table.

Altering how you spend your screen time can be as useful as cutting back on it. Think quality over quantity. Unfollow any Instagram accounts that make you feel bad about yourself. When you find yourself mindlessly scrolling, try reading a comforting e-book. If the (let’s face it, often bleak) news cycle is affecting your mood, try setting a 30-minute limit per day and not going on a media app when you first wake up.

3. Gym membership (you can actually use)

There are few more classic January moves than joining a gym – and then never getting round to going to the gym. And if you’re disabled, joining a gym isn’t always easy. From lack of accessible equipment to disability-ignorant personal trainers, gyms often don’t feel inclusive for disabled customers.

The good news is that there are accessible gyms out there. Even better, there’s a not-for-profit social enterprise that offers an Inclusive Membership that enables disabled customers and their PAs to access 200 health centres across the UK. Meanwhile, Every Body Moves, a ParalympicGB initiative, helps find accessible sport near you.

If you can’t afford a gym membership, try going on YouTube for personal trainer videos designed for various disabilities that you can do from home. Take a selfie and post it on social media to give yourself the authentic gym experience (#feeltheburn).

Elderly couple drinking water

4. Financial health counts too

Life costs more if you’re disabled, so there’s even more incentive to improve our spending habits for 2024. Haggle with your broadband provider next time you’re nearing the end of your contract, investigate alternative energy companies or use a price comparison site to get the best home and car insurance deals.

Make this the year you finally sort out your pension; even putting away a small sum a month will build up over decades. Cancel subscriptions that you don’t use and rotate others that you do; for example, binge Netflix for a month and then have a break to save cash.

5. Drink (water) like a fish

‘Dry January’ is a popular detox method after a holiday season that sees many of us enjoy a few extra wines, but a less restrictive plan could last you the whole year.

Drinking more water is a high-benefit and low-effort start. Carry a reusable water bottle with you throughout the day to get into the habit.

If you think cutting back on alcohol may be useful for you, set a reasonable goal such as only drinking at the weekends. Ask a friend to be your ‘accountability buddy’. You’re much more likely to cut back on your alcohol units if you tell your pub mates you’re doing it.

6. You are what you eat

After a fortnight of gorging on mince pies and leftover meat, it’s tempting to promise we’ll eat nothing but celery in 2024. But as with drinking, we’re more likely to achieve long-term change if we set ourselves realistic goals.

Consider giving yourself a simple aim like eating one extra vegetable or fruit per day. Breakfast is an often-overlooked chance to squeeze in your five-a-day: put avocado on your breakfast toast; baby spinach on scramble eggs, or banana in your porridge.

Aim to add a nutrients-packed food group to your diet – say, nuts, whole grains, or oily fish – that many of us miss.

Look for ingredients or supplements that could help your specific health needs, from magnesium and iron for low energy to turmeric for joint pain. Speak to your GP if you need advice.

Avoid shame or guilt at all costs. Think of it less as “I’m going to lose weight” and more “I’m going to gain better health”. And then finish the Quality Streets.

Further reading

Additional support at home

The Priority Services Register (PSR) is an important, free support service which is designed to support those who need a little extra help in the event of interruptions to their gas, water or electricity supply. If you or someone you know has extra communication, access or safety needs, signing up to the PSR will help ensure you or they can access the best possible services at all times, and feel safe and independent at home. 

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