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7 ways to improve your health

Challenge yourself to make a healthy change

A change is as good as a rest, or so the old saying goes, but where do you start when you want to give your lifestyle a bit of an overhaul?

Seven ways to turn your health around

Wave goodbye to stress and say hello to a healthier new you with seven tweaks that can shake up your current regime.

Quick links: Discover how you can improve your:

1. Join a gym or exercise class

Regular exercise is known to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. It’s also a wonderful stressbuster as it helps to regulate cortisol levels (the hormone linked to stress). When you exercise, feel-good endorphins are released. These lift your mood, calm anxiety and help you to get a better night’s sleep.

If you want to improve your fitness and start building an exercise habit, joining a gym is a great way to access more equipment and a range of classes. Your Benenden Health membership gives you access to gym discounts too.

The main reason why we fail to continue with a fitness plan of action is down to lack of motivation. Investing in your fitness is a fantastic motivator for getting you moving when you don’t feel like it.

Benefits of gym membership

  • Joining a gym offers much-needed variety in the types of exercise you can do. You can keep things fresh via a wide range of dance studio and pool-based exercise classes.

  • When the weather is poor or when it gets dark early, the gym offers convenience.

  • As well as cardio fitness options such as rowing, treadmill and cycling, you can seek advice on how best to use the machines and weights.

  • Swimming is a fantastic full body workout and it’s also non-weight bearing so it’s suitable for everyone.

If you prefer to work out at home, Benenden Health membership gives you access to free virtual classes via the Benenden Health App.

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2. Start a mental health journal

Looking after your mental health is vitally important as part of self-care. Many people find keeping a journal is an excellent way to get into the habit of reflection.

In your journal, you can record your thoughts and feelings and develop a structure around them. For example, you can establish a routine where you update your journal every evening.

Some people love to keep a journal in the physical form of a diary or notebook. Others find using an app is just as helpful. One of the most popular ones for journaling is Daylio, a journal, diary and mood tracker app.

Knowing what to write is often the hard part. Gratitude journaling is an effective tool to keep track of the good moments each day.

Research has shown that expressing gratitude (being thankful for people and situations) can improve both your physical and mental health. It can help to:

  • Increase long-term happiness.

  • Decrease stress and depression.

  • Manage anxiety.

  • Improve your sleep.

  • Improve your relationships.

Three Good Things is a renowned gratitude exercise. You reflect on three moments that happened that day that made you smile, laugh or just generally feel good.

For more ideas, check out the Wellbeing Hub on the Benenden Health App.

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3. Go for a health MOT

Going for a screening or a general health assessment can be very beneficial. Getting to know what your health picture is can help you to make the right lifestyle choices.

In England, the NHS offers a number of screening programmes. These include (amongst others):

  • Screening tests for newborn babies.

  • Cervical screening between the ages of 25 and 64.

  • Breast screening between the ages of 50 and 71.

  • Bowel cancer screening between the ages of 57 and 74.

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening tests for men aged 65 and over.

A health assessment is a series of tests and examinations that are designed to highlight possible health concerns in the early stages. Some conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, often have no symptoms but can hugely affect your quality of life in the future. A health assessment can help to identify any early warning signs of hereditary and hidden illnesses via tests that aren’t normally available on the NHS (unless you are experiencing symptoms).

Benenden Health members can benefit from a range of health assessments. In partnership with Bluecrest Wellness, there are five clinician-led health assessment packages available, with prices for members starting from £74. Bluecrest Wellness has more than 2,000 mobile clinics nationwide and home test kits are available too.

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4. Revamp your diet

When you’re pressed for time in the morning, it’s all too convenient to reach for a quick bowl of sugary cereal before you dash off.

But it’s quite likely you’ll feel hungry again by mid-morning. Adding some colour to your breakfast in the form of fruit and vegetables is a great way to increase your intake of energising vitamins and minerals. Another vital ingredient is protein, as this will help you to feel fuller for longer.

Nutritious breakfast ideas that can be ready in minutes include:

  • Scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast with tomatoes.

  • Porridge served with fruit and skimmed milk.

  • Fruit and vegetable smoothie with protein (in the form of Greek yoghurt or milk).

  • Greek yoghurt with nuts and berries.

Planning your meals can also help you to eat better. Adding vegetables to soups, stews, pasta bakes, and sauces is a great way to up your intake.

Vegetables such as carrots, celery or cucumber also make satisfying snacks, particularly when dipped in houmous.

You can also try adding pomegranate seeds, grapes, radishes, or apples to salads to help them look and taste more exciting. Different herbs and spices can also change the flavour of dishes.

For more ideas, check out the Wellbeing Hub on the Benenden Health App, which has more than 200 video recipes.

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5. Plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip

If you’ve always had one location that you would love to visit, taking steps to make that a reality can be really beneficial for your mental wellbeing. The experiences you have while travelling will help to bolster your self-esteem, self-confidence, and resilience if you're a solo traveller. Couples and families can share special experiences together.

Popular trips for solo travellers include South America, Australia, and a safari in Kenya. For couples, favourite once-in-a-lifetime destinations include Bali, seeing the Northern Lights, and the Himalayas. Special destinations for families range from exploring the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, to Costa Rica, and having a one of a kind wildlife adventure in the Galapagos Islands.

Once you have decided on your destination, research is vital:

  • Read travel blogs.

  • Comb through reviews.

  • Watch YouTube videos to get a better idea of the locations you want to see and the activities you want to do.

  • Friends, family and colleagues can also be a good source of information.

Travel enthusiasts advise that once you have completed your research and listed everything you would like to do on your once in a lifetime trip, you should then split your list into three categories: must see and do; would like to see and do; nice to see and do.

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6. Avoid alcohol

When we drink alcohol regularly, the receptors in the brain gradually adapt to its effects, leading us to drink more to get the same feeling. There’s plenty you can do to reduce your alcohol tolerance, however.

Start by trying to stay within the UK’s low risk drinking guidelines. This involves not regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week and spreading your drinking out by ensuring that you have drink-free days.

If you need help to keep track of the number of units you’re drinking, the MyDrinkaware app lets you see how your drinking compares to that of previous weeks. You can also learn when you have been binge drinking, set goals to moderate your drinking over time, and plan and celebrate drink-free days.

Whether you want to cut down or stop drinking altogether, sharing your intentions with family and friends can help them understand why you have started to turn down drinks or trips to the pub. You can also share your successes with them.

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7. Reorganise your bedroom for a better night’s sleep

Getting a good night’s rest is so important for your health and wellbeing, yet it doesn’t always happen. Paying attention to your sleep environment can significantly increase your chances of sleep success.

When we are too hot or too cold, it can be difficult to drift off. Your body heat peaks in the late afternoon and gradually drops in the evening to prepare you for sleep, starting melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm.

An ideal bedroom temperature is around 16-18°C. Temperatures over 24°C can cause restlessness, while a cold room of around 12°C will make it tricky to sleep. In warmer weather, opening windows during the day can help to maximise air circulation. Keeping curtains and blinds closed can also block out some of the heat.

Make sure your bedroom is dark enough. When it’s dark, we release melatonin and this helps to relax the body. Sleep experts recommend avoiding screens for an hour before going to bed as blue light inhibits the secretion of melatonin.

Internal and external sounds can also disrupt our sleep. Noise tends to be most disruptive in the light stages of sleep, just as you’re dropping off, However, it’s the noise that awakens us in our deepest sleep that wreaks the most havoc.

Noise-interrupted sleep can:

  • Limit your motor skills.

  • Affect creativity.

  • Impair your judgement.

  • Make it harder to remember things.

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