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We reveal the try-them-now tricks that are the equivalent of a spring clean for every corner of your mind, body and soul
When you’re meant to be relaxing, you’re thinking about what you need to do; when you’re getting jobs done, you’re dreaming about relaxing. A study by psychologists at Harvard University found that we spend around 47% of our time thinking about something other than what we’re actually doing. ‘Our wandering minds vault from thought to thought – like tree monkeys – which can leave us feeling unhappy, restless and stressed,’ says mindfulness expert and author Tom Evans. So, how can you tame your brain? Simply outsmart it. Think, ‘Here’s that anxious feeling about something that’s in the past, or hasn’t even happened yet.’ This can help you see that thoughts are just thoughts, and not reality – which should help you to move on.
We bet our last Rolo you’ll love this idea: chocolate might make you smarter! That’s the suggestion of a 40-year study, which found a possible association between regularly eating the sweet stuff and better performance in mental tests, including memory and abstract thinking. The study’s leaders have suggested that this may be down to the flavanols in cocoa – though further research is needed. You’ll find more flavanols in dark chocolate, such as no-added-sugar Diablo Dark Chocolate & Hazlenut Bar, £1.49/149 points (85g).
Dental plaque doesn’t just look gross and cause damage to your gnashers: one study suggests it could also trigger an immune response that may harm brain cells. So how do you fight it? ‘Use an electric toothbrush – it’s like cleaning the floor with a vacuum cleaner rather than a dustpan and brush,’ advises top cosmetic dentist Dr Uchenna Okoye. We like the Philips Sonicare Flexcare Platinum Power Toothbrush, £249.99/24,999 points. But brushing alone doesn’t reach every part of a tooth and won’t remove all plaque, so flossing is non-negotiable – stock up on Boots Expert Sensitive Floss, £2.50/250 points (30 metres). Plus, of course, don’t forget to visit your dentist regularly, to help keep your mouth healthy – they can advise on how often you should have a check-up.
You give your body a workout, but your brain may benefit from training, too. Simple mind games and tweaks to everyday habits – aka ‘neurobics’ – can help keep our minds agile and improve concentration, memory, visual and spatial skills. Fancy it? Why not use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, or wear your watch upside down on the opposite wrist? Or to fine-tune your senses, try closing your eyes while you’re sitting on a familiar bus or train journey and following the route in your mind – open your eyes periodically to see if you’re right (but don’t nod off!).
Eating a substantial breakfast that’s more like dinner (‘brinner’), a medium-sized lunch and a smaller evening meal may be one way to maintain a healthy weight. A review of studies in chrono-nutrition – which looks at whether when we eat is as important as what we eat – has suggested that keeping calories down late at night could help combat obesity. ‘Calories count, whatever time they’re eaten,’ says nutritionist Fiona Hunter. ‘But a balanced, nutrient-dense breakfast that contains protein, such as eggs and salmon, as well as wholegrains and healthy fats, such as avocado, could help prevent overeating later in the day.’
If booking a medical appointment is on your to-do list, make it for a Friday and you’re more likely to go. A study of over 4.5 million outpatient hospital records found more people bailed on appointments earlier in the week. Mondays had the most no-shows, probably because… well, Mondays! Don’t forget that it’s easy to make an appointment for a range of Boots services, from eye tests to travel vaccinations and mole screenings*, at a time that’s convenient for you, online – just click here.
Your new strategy to help keep your blood pressure in check? As well as cutting down on salt, watching your weight, exercising and not smoking, ensure you get enough potassium. Why? It helps to maintain normal blood pressure, as your kidneys use a balance of potassium and sodium to control the amount of fluid in the body (more fluid equals higher blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes). One study found an increased potassium intake could reduce your risk of a stroke by 24%. Good sources include bananas, potatoes, pulses, yoghurt and milk. You should be able to get all you need from a varied, balanced diet, but if you do want to take a supplement containing potassium, stick to the recommended intake because too much could be harmful††. Consider Kwai Blood Pressure Potassium, Magnesium 400mg + Vitamin B6 And B12 Tablets, £12.99/1,299 points (30-pack).
Getting niggly aches from sitting down all day? Or perhaps you feel that pounding the pavements is beginning to pound your body? The newest buzzword to know is: ‘prehabilitation’. ‘This involves moves that lengthen short, tight muscles and strengthen long, weak muscles, helping to prevent injuries,’ says leading physiotherapist Sammy Margo. ‘As well as exercising for 30-40 minutes a day, strength training such as Pilates can help correct muscle imbalances and help improve flexibility and posture,’ Sammy adds. And if you’ve constantly got your hand on your mouse, Homecraft NSD Powerball Hand Exerciser Classic Boots.com only £18.40/1,840 points, could help.
We bet you’re always jotting down to-do lists, which include things such as ‘buy loo roll’ and ‘pick up dry-cleaning’, but you’ve never compiled a ‘ta-da!’ list before. It celebrates your wins and the things that made you smile. ‘Reflecting on the positives each day helps lift your mood, shifts your attitude to a can-do mindset and pivots you into getting more happiness from the everyday,’ says psychologist Emma Kenny. Grab a notepad (our favourite is Happy Jackson A5 Thoughts and Doodles Notebook, £8.95/895 points; in selected stores) and at the top of the page write ‘Things I loved today’ before jotting down everything that’s worth celebrating, no matter how major (yay, pay rise!) or miniscule (stroked a cute dog).
Avoid filling your entire weekend with dull domestic jobs such as dusting and de-scaling the kettle; instead, make time for things that make you feel good. ‘Happiness doesn’t just happen; research suggests it also comes from thinking, planning and pursuing things that are important to us,’ says Dr Mark Williamson, director of Action for Happiness. Why not give the Rule of Three a go this weekend and enjoy three non-essential, but upbeat, activities? You could paint your nails (studies show happier people associate their mood with yellow, so try Rimmel London 60 Seconds Super Shine By Rita Ora in Daisy Days, £2.99/299 points, 8ml), have a coffee in the cute little café that’s just opened, and go for a lovely walk.
Good news for fidgets – ‘accidental’ meditation is now a thing. And that means you don’t have to sit quietly in a Zen-like state for 30 minutes to reap the stress-reducing, mood-lifting and possibly blood pressure-lowering benefits. ‘Meditation isn’t about draining the ocean, but allowing the waves in your mind to be still,’ says Lucy Greeves, a meditation teacher. In fact, you can incorporate it into your everyday activities, such as when you’re heading to the train station in the morning. ‘As you’re walking along, simply be aware of your breath – breathing in for three strides, breathing out for four – and every time your attention wanders, bring it back to concentrating on your breath.’ You can even apply it when you’re cooking dinner. ‘Immerse yourself in the sensations: the smells and colour of the food, what you can hear around you. It might sound a bit simplistic, but it can help click you off autopilot and into a more meditative state.’
We all know that the more time you invest in what helps you stay happy and healthy, the better you feel. But it’s easier said than done, no? Try this easy trick: designate a colour for each different area of your life – for example, green for health, blue for family, yellow for fitness, purple for fun/me-time – then colour-code the activities in your calendar. You’ll soon see the areas that are lacking. ‘Work out where you can tighten things up,’ says Emma. ‘Are you spending hours on social networking sites before you go to bed? Do you pop into the grocery shop for food on your way home every night when you could do a weekly order online?’ she adds. ‘Think about how you can save at least five minutes a day on six activities, and you’ll end up with 30 minutes for an extra-long soak in the bath or to meet a friend for coffee.’ Genius.
*Selected stores only; eligibility criteria apply; subject to availability; charges apply. ††Taking 3,700mg or less a day is unlikely to have harmful effects. However, older people may be more at risk, as the kidneys may become less able to remove potassium from the blood. Therefore, older people should not take potassium supplements unless advised to by a doctor.