Being more fit and healthy is not complicated. Yes, there are an infinite number of diet plans, life advice guides, and self-described gurus out there, and most make the field seem intimidating, but in reality staying well boils down to a really simple formula: eat less bad stuff, get more exercise.
The challenge comes with fitting those two simple objectives among all the other stuff: working, shopping, eating, sleeping, tweeting, watching the latest Netflix hit that everyone's talking about. And this is where a little 'hack' can come in handy – a small, healthy habit that helps you get your hit of fitness while still doing all those other things that you enjoy so much.
Thankfully, it's not always as difficult as some diet plans and exercise guides can make it sound. The first step can be as simple as adjusting your daily routine. Here are a few tiny things you can do that'll make a big difference in the long run.
1. Wake up at the same time every day
According to personal trainer Max Lowery, a good night's sleep is more important to a healthy life than either diet or exercise. One of his top tips for a healthier lifestyle is to live in sync with your body's circadian rhythm: "The body clock is controlled by an area of the brain that responds to light, which is why humans are most alert while the sun is shining and are ready to sleep when it's dark outside. Everyone's rhythm is unique, this is why some people are 'night owls' or 'morning larks'. Fighting your natural urges to sleep messes with your circadian rhythm, and will ultimately diminish the quality of your sleep."
Lowery recommends waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day. He says getting the body back in sync with its inner circadian rhythm can ensure that you are able to better digest food properly during the certain times of the day when your body is naturally primed to digest and utilise food.
2. Have breakfast then do a workout
For those with an early start and a long commute, it can be tempting to forego breakfast in order to get out of the door earlier. However, making sure that you eat a full breakfast could be the key to weight loss, according to a new study from researchers at Bath, Birmingham, Newcastle and Stirling universities. The research studied the effect of eating a bowl of porridge before an hour of exercise (in this case, cycling) versus having no food at all.
The study found that people who had consumed breakfast then burned carbohydrates faster during subsequent exercise than those who didn't. They were also better able to absorb food after the exercise was finished.
Essentially, the faster the body can absorb and metabolise food, the less chance it will convert that food into fat.
3. Park further away from work or get off the bus/train a stop early and walk
This is an obvious way of getting a bit more active. It doesn't take a lot of effort or willpower to simply walk that tiny bit further to your workplace. You almost certainly won't notice the time difference, and if you're frequenting carparks that are slightly further from work, you might actually save a bit of money too.
4. Remember to take breaks (especially at lunch)
When you've got a lot on and you're having a very busy day, it can be easy to forget to take lunch or any breaks. According to a survey commissioned by the National Charity Partnership, 52 per cent of workers said they never leave their office for lunch and one in four (24pc) work through their break.
Sue Baic, a registered dietitian from the British Dietetic Association, told the Telegraph: "Skipping lunch breaks can affect concentration, productivity, mood and well-being in the afternoon at work. A lunch break gives people a chance to refresh, stay alert, focused and performing at your best. It offers the chance to refuel the brain and top up on nutrients."
She also pointed out that shorter lunch breaks are associated with less healthy food choices. In addition, Baic cited research which shows that taking breaks improves well being, reduces stress and fatigue, and has a positive effect on performance, especially if you're able to get out and enjoy nature and natural light while you're out.
5. Differentiate between a snack and a treat
Of course, taking a lunch break is all well and good but if you're trying to make healthy changes you need to think about that with what you're eating too. Nutritionist Fiona Hunter explained to the Telegraph that it's often helpful to form a distinction between a snack and a treat: "Too often the snacks we eat in the office are really treats like biscuits, chocolate bars. A healthy snack should make a positive contribution to the diet. It should provide something other than just calories, so some protein, fibre, vitamins or minerals.
"Nuts of all varieties are a great choice but they are high in calories so you need to be mindful of portion size. Yogurt, fruit or oatcakes are other good choices."
6. Keep track of what you're eating and drinking
It sounds like a pain, but keeping a note of everything you eat and drink is known to help you lose weight and keep it off. Simply put, having to keep track of what you're eating forces you to pay attention to what you're putting in your body. It'll make you think twice about having that second helping of dessert if you've got a permanent record of having done so.
7. Water, water everywhere
In addition to taking breaks, Baic also recommends drinking plenty of fluids. "We need at last 6-8 mugs or glasses of fluid over a day (more if it's hot or dry in the office or we are active). Things like hot offices, air con, limited breaks, and not taking breaks can really affect this. There are several studies showing this in drivers, pilots and hospital staff."
As a side note: while your morning cup of coffee does contribute to the overall tally, Baic recommends no more than 4-5 cups of coffee per day as too many "may increase anxiety, irritability & sleep disturbances."
8. Go to the gym at midday
Okay, the second point in this list told you to do a workout after breakfast – but if you've missed that, then think about a lunchtime jog or spin. Studies have proved that exercising at midday is a great way of boosting your energy to help combat the mid-afternoon slump and actually makes you more productive. One study showed that people who exercise at midday displayed a 5-10 per cent improvement in cognitive function in the afternoon.
9. Walk around at work (or get a standing desk)
Obviously any additional exercise you can get during the day is only going to help you feel a bit more healthy and function better too. Instead of sitting at your desk all day, take the time to get up and walk around the office. Instead of messaging a colleague on Slack, why not get up and visit them at their desk? Instead of asking someone to grab you a coffee while they're going out, get up and do it yourself.
You could also consider investing in a standing desk. This study found that we actually sit around more during the workday at our desks than we do in our leisure time. Sitting burns less calories than standing, so a standing desk would allow you all the benefits of a desk while ensuring you're a little less sedentary.
10. Listen to music while you work out
If you've managed to drag yourself down to the gym, you want to get the most out of the experience as you can. That being the case, you should probably pop your headphones in and play some tunes. Listening to music while you exercise has been shown to improve performance, increase motivation, and reduce distraction. Essentially, music makes a trip to the gym easier and less strenuous. If you're the type who hates going to the gym, music might just make it bearable.
11. Post about your exercise and healthy routine on social media
If you've ever spent more than five minutes on Instagram you've probably come across the people who love to share their #gymspiration photos, boasting about how much weight they've lost or how big their abs are. And while that sort of thing can be annoying, personal trainer Samantha Neades actually encourages all of her clients to do it. She tells the Telegraph: "Despite the fact that some may roll their eyes at yet another gym post, it'll help keep you motivated. Sharing your success with others encourages you to continue and it could even help encourage those around you who are shy to get involved into a healthy lifestyle."
In addition, if you regularly share your progress on social media people will notice if you stop, giving you more incentive not to quit.
12. Think carefully about what food you eat rather then when
It seems like that the moment we're being constantly bombarded with advice about carbs. Don't eat them too early, don't eat them too late; don't eat them at all, do eat them if you want a longer life. However, Charlotte Stirling-Reed, a registered nutritionist and founder of SR Nutrition, explained to the Telegraph that this is sort of missing the point: "At the end of the day healthy eating isn't black and white. We are all individuals and it's likely that what works for one person may not necessarily work for another person. I would suggest that more important questions are: What types of food are you eating? How much?
"Carbohydrates get a bad reputation, but carbs come with plenty of fibre and nutrients such as zinc, protein, calcium and B vitamins, which are essential for the body.
"It's really the total amount of carbohydrates that you eat throughout the day that is important, rather than when we eat them. Carbohydrates are highly palatable and so easy to over-eat. A handful of dried grains or a teacup of dried pasta is a useful way to measure a portion of carbohydrates."
13. Eat slowly
One of the biggest mistakes people make in their diets is overeating. Arguably, it's hard wired into us: once upon a time, cave-man didn't know when the next steak was going to come along, so he ate to excess whenever he could get his hands on food, and relied on his body to store the energy until the next binge. However, now that there's a Tesco Express on every corner, our tendency to overeat isn't balanced out by fallow periods.
One of the easiest ways to combat overeating is to simply slow down your eating. One study found that there's a disconnect between the stomach and the brain which means that the latter doesn't realise you're full until you've overeaten. By eating slowly you give your stomach a bit longer to send those signals to the brain to tell you it's full and you can stop.
14. Avoid screens before bed
As discussed above, getting a good night's sleep is the key to a healthy routine. However, since so much of the body's circadian rhythm is based on light (we tend to wake up when the sun comes up and feel sleepy at night) the presence of bright lights from television and phone screens can interfere with that rhythm. Studies have shown that cutting out screen time before going to sleep can help you fall asleep faster and get a better night's sleep.
Above all, it's important to remember that while modern life accustoms us to instant gratification, that's not how healthy living works. If you want to lose weight, or get fit, or feel healthier, it will take time. If you haven't seen any effects of these subtle changes to your lifestyle within a week, two weeks, or even a month, that's no reason to feel disheartened. Not noticing the changes at first is a surefire way to ensure you'll actually keep up with your programme.