Many of us spend a lot of time looking for the ultimate secret of health and happiness, wondering what other people know that we don’t. Although there is no single secret, we can all boost our wellbeing by going primal. From sunlight to snacks to sleep, here are seven easy strategies to kickstart your primal journey. They are practical and positive, and will transform your life from day one.
1. Get moving. After smoking, obesity is the most avoidable cause of cancer, so build everyday activity into your life. Cycle anywhere and everywhere. Get an old bike and cycle to work, to the shops, around the park. Cycling is clean, green and cheap, and helps maintain a healthy weight.
Also, stand up for your health. Research shows that standing instead of sitting has measurable benefits. There are endless ways to stay active: brisk walking in your lunch break, mowing the lawn, getting off the bus a few stops early and walking… If you hate the gym, build functional fitness into your daily life: carrying the shopping instead of weights, sprinting for the bus instead of running on the treadmill, stretching in front of the TV. Aim to get sweaty and out of breath at least once a day.
2. Meditate regularly. Take 10 minutes every morning to meditate – sit quietly, think or read something inspiring. Proven to combat depression, meditation can also reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by up to 15 per cent. And say yes to yoga. Hunching over smartphones can lead to headaches and backache. Yoga eases tension, clears the mind, and promotes positive thinking and problem-solving. A few simple sequences (sun salutation and downward dog) every day will loosen you up, strengthen core muscles and keep you flexible.
And think positive: listen to your inner voice and notice how you interact with others. Negative thinking, assuming the worst and being overly critical are normal human habits. Simply becoming aware of your automatic thoughts and self-talk can transform your mindset from habitually negative to habitually positive. Give thanks for the good in your life, practise gratitude, and other aspects of the primal mindset will follow naturally.
3. Plan ahead. Healthy eating requires preparation. Most cravings and broken diets come from temptation, getting too hungry and not having healthy options to hand. Keep fresh fruit and vegetables in the fridge, and make up healthy batches of soup which can be frozen to eat throughout the week. Stock up on nutritious cupboard essentials which make it easy to throw together a tasty meal in the evenings.
Healthy snacks like fresh fruit, carrots and hummus or nuts and seeds will keep you going longer than junk food. Reduce the amount of meat and processed food in your diet. The benefits of eating clean, unprocessed ingredients include better digestion and energy levels, clearer skin, and improved mood, concentration and sleep – and a stable, healthy weight. Primal eating is good for you and good for the environment.
4. Get your 10-a-day. OK, the guidelines suggest five-a-day, but you can manage more than that! Stick with seasonal fruit and vegetables, and make them a larger portion of every meal. Slice fruit onto your morning cereal or yogurt, and add a couple more veg in your salad at lunch or dinner. And go primal with your snacks – think foraging for nuts and berries. Blueberries are high in polyphenols (plant compounds that are powerful anti-inflammatories), improve blood flow and boost immunity. Cashew nuts, walnuts and almonds are packed with essential fats, protein and iron.
Get a regular dose of omega-3 essential fatty acids, too. Healthy fats are rich in omega-3s, proven to lower cholesterol and strengthen the immune system. They also keep your joints, brain, heart and eyes in tip-top condition.
5. Aim for 15 minutes of sun. Expose your skin to daylight for at least 15 minutes a day. Your body needs vitamin D to protect it from disease, and most of us are deficient in vitamin D, as we don't spend enough time outdoors. Being outside, even on a cloudy day, will also boost your mood and combat seasonal blues. (NB: sunscreen should be worn after 15 minutes, and always in high temperatures.)
6. Prioritise sleep. Make time for your Zzzs. Insufficient sleep plays havoc with moods and appetite, making you more likely to reach for caffeine or high-sugar energy boosters. Sleep deprivation also affects the immune system and hormones, and is linked to colds and flu, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness and even obesity. Eating well, taking regular exercise, and keeping your bedroom clear of digital devices is the best route to a quality night’s sleep. Sleep is also the best beauty-booster, giving you glowing skin, and making you more positive and productive.
7. Disconnect from digital life. Switch off your phone and other devices at least once a day. Disconnecting from virtual reality is a fantastic way to check in with yourself, and reconnect with the real world around you and the relationships that matter. Follow the no-phones rules at mealtimes, and take regular unplugged weekends away from email and social media. A primal digital detox is good for your physical and emotional wellbeing: whether it’s work or relationship troubles, a personal challenge, or even sleeping or eating problems, disconnecting on a regular basis helps to clear your head, and focus your mental efforts.
Positively Primal: Finding Health and Happiness in a Hectic World by Emma Woolf is available now. Follow Emma on Twitter @EJWoolf and for more about Emma, visit www.emmawoolf.com