Your Healthiest (and Happiest) Year Ever

Expert-backed tips and tricks to supercharge your life

By Gagan Dhillon  

Outwit your brain

Research shows that our brain functions at its peak when we are in a positive frame of mind. Being upbeat or finding joy in the present makes us better at whatever we do. "Happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result. And happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement -- giving us the competitive edge," writes Shawn Achor, a positive psychology researcher, in his book, The Happiness Advantage.


Get your health checked


  • Start the year with an annual screening for diabetes and heart disease, suggests Dr Ambrish Mithal, chairman and head of endocrinology and diabetes division, Medanta -- The Medicity, Gurugram.
  • Schedule blood tests to check levels of haemoglobin, cholesterol and blood glucose; and liver, kidney and thyroid function.
  • A routine electrocardiography (ECG) is essential for individuals over 40. Those with a family history of heart disease or other risk factors like diabetes and hypertension should get a periodic treadmill test at least once every 2-3 years.
  • Don't forget a dental and eye check-up.
  • Ladies, do schedule an appointment with your gynaecologist.


Kiss and tell

The reason we remember our first kiss is because it is so addictive. Kissing releases a powerful cocktail of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. These activate the pleasure centres of the brain, fostering the feeling of being loved and appreciated. So grab your better half when you can to keep the good vibes flowing.


Mind your drinks

In 2016, the UK changed its recommendation for alcohol consumption and lowered its cut off to no more than 14 units of alcohol a week -- about five pints of beer a week. Though India has no fixed guidelines, the general rule is no more than two units (60 ml) for men and one unit (30 ml) for women per day. 


Secure the heart

Cinnamon shields the body with its anti-inflammatory properties. It is rich in manganese, which helps the body metabolize fats and carbohydrates, absorb calcium and regulate blood sugar. Studies have also linked it to lower levels of the bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. "Add a pinch to tea or coffee, or infuse it with water," suggests Rekha Sharma, Delhi-based registered dietician.


Turn up your turn-down skill

The upsides to saying 'no' are plenty. In The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It -- And Mean It and Stop People- pleasing Forever, author Susan Newman, reveals that often yes-people are unhappy or angry with themselves because they feel trapped. Saying 'no' can help you prioritize time and effort, preventing a burn out.


Bask in the sunlight

The British Journal of Nutrition reported low levels of vitamin D in expectant mothers had a negative impact on the social and motor skill development of preschool children. Spend time outdoors and choose fortified milk and cereal. Do speak to your doctor if you need to supplement your diet. 


Tackle sugar

A kitchen staple, fenugreek seeds are abundant in protein, soluble fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. Fibre from these seeds reduces the absorption of glucose. Just 25 g of fenugreek seeds in your diet can do the trick.


Tune in

The National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (USA) throws light on the many benefits of listening to music. Studies show that music enhances memory in Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Moreover, teens who listen to music believe that it diminishes ethnic, cultural and age-related boundaries between people. 


Discover your inner child

Play enhances creativity and intelligence while letting us de-stress. A round of Scrabble or Monopoly with friends and family will not only help you bond but also keep your brain sharp.


Make H20 your hero

It nourishes your skin, keeps your brain sharp and ensures your metabolism is high. A healthy person should have at least 1 to 1.5 litres of water daily through the day. Remember, long periods without fluid intake compromises memory and attention.


Beet it

Beetroot is known to lower blood pressure and is excellent for digestion. Its high nitrate content helps increase blood flow to deoxygenated areas of the brain in senior citizens. "If you are diabetic, do keep in mind beetroot's high sugar content," Sharma warns.


Heal with yogurt

The benefits of gut-friendly bacteria in yogurt go beyond immunity and digestion. Yogurt is rich in nutrients like potassium, magnesium, calcium and vitamins B2 and B12. A potent combination of protein and carbohydrates, it is an ideal snack, post light exercise.


Oils well

Not all fats or oils are villains! Choose healthier ones -- olive, mustard, soya bean and safflower oils. Packed with the goodness of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, they boost heart and brain health. Stock your pantry with flaxseed oil, also good for the heart and the brain. Have a teaspoon daily to make the most of its anti-inflammatory properties.


Get moving

A Brain, Behavior and Immunity study asked subjects to walk or jog on the treadmill depending on their fitness level. Researchers found that just 20-minutes of mode-rate exercise protects against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers and neurodegenerative conditions. While cardiovascular exercise can help build stamina, maintain weight and reduce belly fat, daily yoga improves flexibility and balance, and calms the mind.


Start a detox ritual

Tulsi is a potent herb that protects against toxins. Sip it as tea to boost immunity or chew a few leaves to ease acidity. Research shows it counters stresses -- chemical (industrial pollutants), physical (exposure to cold) and psychological and metabolic (blood pressure and lipid levels).


Cut tension

Bad mood can be contagious. Although we can't control our environment, we can change how we react to it. "Deep breathing and visualization of a calming scene or activity can help get rid of some of the negative energy," says Dr Vijay Nagaswami, a Chennai-based psychiatrist.


Save more money

Avoid impulse buys. Cut up credit cards to trim the bills. Bit extreme? Use cash only. Researchers found spending paper currency is especially painful because we feel the 'pain of payment'. Subconsciously, we don't perceive cards as real currency, which is why we overspend, focusing only on the benefits and not the cost of the item. 


Green zone it

Invite Mother Nature indoors to breathe life into your day. A long-term study of 10,000 individuals found that living near or within green areas has a 30 per cent positive impact on life satisfaction, akin to that of being married. Take the edge off daily stress with indoor plants such as areca palm, rubber, money or snake plant.   


Get busy

A study by the universities of Oxford and Coventry suggests getting intimate often is linked to improved brain function in older adults. It ensures good sleep, better heart function and a stronger immunity. Plus, it counts as exercise!


Boost your immunity

Pollution compromises our immunity and can damage our DNA. Kamala Krishnaswamy, researcher and former director of National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, found in a study that consuming turmeric is beneficial due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-infective properties. 


Be Buddha-like

Give mindfulness a try. Think of it like a sieve that filters the background noise. Start by focusing on the 'now' and being aware of the task at hand. Studies show that it is possible to rewire the brain to truly live in the moment. It frees up your mental space, enabling you to think clearly, experience joy and act on inspiration. 


Spread the Love

Kindness is contagious. Researchers at the Stanford and Harvard universities found that people tend to imitate each other's positive actions -- what they term prosocial conformity. Your generosity can convince others to be more giving, empathic and kind. Go ahead, start the chain. 


Keep a journal

Write down three new things that you are thankful for. Do this for 21 days to train your brain to look for happiness even when the chips are down. As J. K. Rowling wrote in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: "Happiness can be found even in the darkest times if one only remembers to turn on the light."


Build better bones

Studies suggest that there is a positive association between the intake of polyphenols and better bone mass. Dried plums or prunes are rich in polyphenols. Eat a couple of prunes, adding to your cereal or as a mid-morning snack, to boost bone density.


De-clutter and simplify

Marie Kondo, the queen of de-cluttering, believes that we should only hold on to things that spark joy. In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she shares how shoeboxes can be reutilized to organize hairbands and clips to detergents and garbage bags. 


Quit a bad Habit

Peter M. Gollwitzer, psychology professor at New York University, USA, offers a simple approach to achieving goals that could be nixed by procrastination. Plan in advance when, where and how you will achieve the goal. For example, if you want to limit weekend drinking, plan to switch to juice or water after your second drink.


Try something new

Pick a hobby to protect your brain. Learning new skills fires synapses in the brain. Read a book, learn to paint or play an instrument to undo the damage of ageing.


Write thank-you notes

Reach out to those who make you smile with their acts of kindness and support. Brighten their day with a handwritten thank-you note. It can help connect, mend relationships and strengthen bonds. Who knows, it could even be the start to a new friendship!         


Sources: Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Scientific American; Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine; Psychology Today; Harvard Health Publishing;