It's true that most of us could probably benefit from a few lifestyle tweaks (or outright changes), whether that be exercise, diet, general habits, or all of the above. There are however, a number of behaviours we already have that are surprisingly good for us.
1. Spending time with friends
A research team at Oxford University have been investigating the link between neurobiology and our social networks. They found that people with a larger social network appeared to have a higher pain tolerance. They also found evidence that people with higher stress levels tended to have smaller social networks.Not only can it reduce your experience of pain, but a study by the American Psychological Association (APA) also found that children who were with their best friends during a negative experience produced less levels of stress-hormone cortisolthan those who weren't surrounded by friends. As high cortisol levels can lead to a number of health problems including weight gain, heart issues and even acne, you might want to turn those monthly meet-ups into a weekly occurrence. Dr Paul McLaren, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory's Wellbeing Centre in central London, says: 'Being seen, heard and validated by significant others is a fundamental need and starts with our parents. As we grow up, our friends become an extended 'grown up family' and take on some of the roles of our parents in the sense of a mutual exchange of feeling loved, appreciated and supported. A good social support network can help us through tough times, whether the washing machine has flooded or we've had a year filled with loss or chronic illness. It can prevent stress, depression and anxiety or speed up recovery from these.'
2. HouseworkOther than the obvious reduction in bacteria and dust that can lead to infections and allergies, keeping a clean house contributes to your mental wellbeing. According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, twenty minutes of cleaning activity reduces anxiety and stress by as much as 20%. Dr Megan Arroll, Senior Health Psychology Lecturer at BPP University says,'Doing the cleaning and housework can be an exercise in mindfulness. Mindfulness stems from meditation and helps people to focus on the here and now, rather than ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. It of course depends on whether we actually use these household chores as a chance to practice mindfulness, but this is easily achieved. Next time you're dusting take the time to observe each ornament you pick up – look at it if you were seeing it for the very first time and search out the details. By pushing aside any thoughts that drift in, you'll feel more relaxed than when you started, especially if it's hard to find the time to relax.'Having organisation to your surroundings can also provide incredible advantages. People who worked in a neat space for 10 minutes were twice as likely to choose an apple over a chocolate bar than those who worked in a messy office. Tidiness shouldn't just be applied to work spaces though, as people who make their beds every morning are 19% more likely to report regularly getting a good nights' rest. A massive 75% of people reported a better night's sleep when their sheets were fresh and clean because they were physically more comfortable, according to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation.
3. Cooking at homeCooking your own food isn't always 'healthy', as it heavily depends on what you're cooking but some studies have found that eating out can lead to a shocking 50% increase in calories consumed, as well as sodium and total fat intake. This isn't just looking at fast food restaurants either, but also larger, out-of-home dining establishments.According to a study by the University of Illinois, those who visited fast food restaurants at least once over a 2-day period consumed an average of 190 more calories per day (around 10% of our recommended daily intake) than those who prepared their food at home. And the participants who reported dining at a 'full-service' restaurant at least once over the two days ate on average 187 calories more than those who ate at home. As 20-25% of Brits eat meals out or order takeaways at least once a week, it might partly explain why the UK is facing so many weight-related health issues. However, with attitudes towards food taking a turn, people are far more keen on being in complete control over what they put in their bodies. Anita Winther, a research analyst for Mintel, commented of their recent report on attitudes towards home cooking:'While the recession has been a driving factor for the scratch cooking trend, enjoyment and ingredient control are as important as saving money in prompting people to cook. This should go some way to maintain interest in scratch cooking even as incomes rise. Marketing messages centred on enjoyment provide a means to tap into the emotional aspect of cooking, while addressing concerns surrounding ingredients remains paramount for operators in prepared products.'It's not just where we eat that makes the difference. Research from Harvard University showed that families who ate together every day (or most days) had higher intake of health-promoting nutrients such as calcium, fiber, iron, vitamins B-6, B12, C and E; they also had less overall saturated fat intake. Yet another reason to put away the tech and make time for home-cooked, family meals.