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How to start a healthy lifestyle and stick to it

Man and woman sat on wall in grey running gear
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Most of us would like to be healthier. Whether it’s eating more veg or getting more exercise, the average person usually feels that they could be doing more for their mental and physical health.

The good news is: it’s never a bad time to start getting healthier. If it’s one of your New Year’s Resolutions, great! But remember, creating positive change is something you can do year-round.

So, if you’d like to get healthier, why wait until tomorrow? Read on and get your new healthy lifestyle kickstarted today.

Top tips for getting healthy

Set out your health goals

The first thing to do is set out some goals for the coming weeks and months.

Your health goals don’t have to be huge or dramatic – in fact, it’s better to aim for something realistic and manageable. Instead of “run a marathon in six months”, try “finish Couch to 5K”.

It can also be helpful to think about committing to the process rather than the deadline. Instead of “lose one stone by summer”, try “eat a healthier diet and exercise every day”. You’ll probably find that the effect is the same, but mentally, the second option is less scary.

Create a balanced and varied diet you can stick to

Food is a great place to start when you’re trying to get healthier. Most of us consume too many calories, and eat too much saturated fat, salt and sugar. We also struggle to get five portions of fruit and veg a day, along with other foods that contain key nutrients.

According to the NHS Eatwell Guide, we should base our meals around fruit and veg (five portions a day), and starchy carbohydrates like potatoes and wholegrain bread, rice and pasta.

Protein is also really important. It’s best to get your protein from pulses, fish, eggs, and lean meat rather than red or processed meat. Low-fat and low-sugar dairy products should also be included in your diet, as they’re a good source of calcium and other vitamins.

Some more tips for switching to a healthier diet:

  • Plan a week’s worth of meals ahead of time and do a big shop to get everything you need
  • Get into the habit of batch cooking at the weekend for a quick and healthy dinner throughout the week
  • Learn some new recipes and cooking skills, keeping note of any particular favourites – there are plenty of healthy recipes to inspire you at the NHS Change 4 Life site
  • Don’t ban treats – there’s always room for “junk foods” like chocolate and crisps! Just make sure you don’t eat them regularly or in huge amounts

If you’re looking to switch to a vegan diet, it’s important to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs. Check out this article to learn more.

Introduce exercise into your daily life

If you’re not in the habit of exercising, you might feel reluctant to start – but you shouldn’t be intimidated. When you’re starting out, it’s all about small change.

Try to add exercise wherever you can, even if it’s just taking a daily stroll. Take the stairs instead of the lift, carry heavy shopping bags home, and do more DIY and gardening. It’s also good to get into the habit of moving around every 30 minutes or so, rather than sitting down for hours at a time. Once you’ve got into the habit of moving your body, add some workouts to your weekly routine. You can find plenty of yoga, cardio and strength-training exercise videos on the internet.

The NHS recommends that adults between 19 and 64 need 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week. It’s also important to do strengthening activities like yoga or weight-lifting twice a week.

Other tips for getting fit:

  • Download Couch to 5K, a free app which trains you to run five kilometres in as little as nine weeks
  • Use a smartwatch or an app like Active 10 that tracks your steps and helps you set your fitness goals
  • Exercise with a partner, flatmate or family member to get more motivated
  • Buy some home exercise gear like dumbbells, a yoga mat, and workout clothes

You can find more exercise inspiration at in our exercise guide.

Get help with losing weight

Following the tips above should help you lose weight. But for some people, it’s not that simple. If you struggle to shed pounds even when eating a healthy diet and exercising, you can get help from the professionals.

The NHS offers a free 12-week diet and exercise plan that can help you lose weight safely and gradually. Typically, it requires men to eat no more than 1,900 calories per day, and women to eat no more than 1,400. Find out more about the NHS Weight Loss Plan here.

For people who struggle to lose weight even when dieting and exercising, weight loss treatments are available. Our Weight Loss Service is designed for adults with a BMI over 30 or a BMI over 27 with a weight related condition such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or severe joint pain. It’s based around a programme of injections that help lower your appetite.

Find out more

Weight loss service

Don’t give up on quitting smoking

Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health, but it’s not easy!

Nicotine is incredibly addictive so it’s really common for smokers to give up on their attempts to quit. If you’ve tried to quit in the past and not managed it, don’t be disheartened. With a bit of professional help, there’s no reason you can’t kick the habit.

The best way to quit smoking is to combine nicotine replacement therapy (e.g. nicotine gum, patches, and sprays) with professional help from an NHS stop smoking service.

We run this NHS service in selected stores, meaning it’s easy for you to visit your nearest store and get the support you need. Our experienced team can give free recommendations about nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), and offer tips for coping with withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Find out more

Stop smoking tool

Get help if you’re struggling with your mental health

Looking after your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed or stressed – or you’re experiencing any other worrying symptoms – it’s really important to reach out for help.

Talking to a friend or a service like the Samaritans can be a good starting point, but you can also make an appointment with your GP. They’ll be able to offer advice on self-help resources, and refer you for counselling or therapy. If appropriate, your GP can also prescribe medication.

You can find plenty of helpful resources at the Mind website.