Feel like COVID-19 has thrown everything up in the air and daily routine out the window? This could be the ideal time to take control of your life and embed a healthy new routine. But where to start?
Should you introduce a swig of apple cider vinegar before breakfast? Begin exercising morning and night? Take up yoga? Meditate before bed? Change your mealtimes? There are all sorts of actions that can help to revamp your health and wellness, but contrary to what the dodgy internet ads say, there is no one activity that drives instant results. Experts advise that a consistent routine featuring regular physical and mental activity, nutritious meals and consistent sleep is key.
We all need varying degrees of routine to function at our optimum, and the benefits associated with routine are embedded from a very young age. For children, a bedtime routine is linked to increased family functioning and improved sleep habits. Family routines are linked to the development of social skills and academic success, and family routines are also shown to be important for resilience during times of crisis.
As we age we continue to thrive on the consistency of routine. Structuring each day makes it easier to stick to regular exercise and nutritious eating, it also helps with mental wellness, alleviating stress and building confidence, productivity and focus.
So what is a good routine? A healthy routine is any routine that works for you and features regular physical and mental activity, nutritious meals and consistent sleep.
A healthy routine is any that works for you.
Before you choose where you want to channel your focus, it's important to understand the difference between habits and routine. Habits are isolated actions that are stimulated by a cue (for example, you finish work for the day and then pour yourself a wine). When you first started this habit you would have been aware that you’d chosen to pour a glass of wine, but over time it has become automatic behavior. A routine is not driven by any conscious effort or thought – it is simply the sum of all of your habits and actions you take during your day. If you choose to focus on routine as simply a culmination of small habits it becomes much easier to change.
The next step to nailing a healthy routine is to identify good and bad habits. Some habits – like preparing a nutritious breakfast the night before – are great time-saving hacks or energy-boosting activities. Others – like repetitively snoozing your alarm – can be inefficient and mentally detrimental. Once you focus on what’s good and the bad it’s as simple as reducing the bad habits and replacing them with good ones. But go easy and make just one or two changes at a time. There’s plenty of evidence that shows “too much change, too fast” is likely to end without positive results.
Too much change, too fast is likely to end without positive results.
Researchers say that it’s easier to make positive change when you have fewer decisions that need to be made. This is because when we’re presented with choices we can’t help but pick the easiest, quickest and most enjoyable – and usually these are often the least healthy choices. For this reason, preparing meals ahead of time, packing a lunch instead of buying one, and choosing from a restaurant menu in advance, can all be good strategies, as they help remove decision making. Scheduling workout times or following a workout plan is also a good idea.
It makes sense that consistency and regularity is the key to establishing routine, but experts warn you shouldn’t beat yourself up about occasionally not sticking to the plan. Science suggests that occasional non-adherence to a behavior will not derail progress.
Six secrets to a top routine
Be consistent with your sleep – try to go to bed and wake at the same time each day. Get more sleep tips here.
Don't diet. If you want to make changes to the way you eat, make them small but sustainable. Learn more diet advice here.
Know your preferred exercise time – and stick to it. Learn how to find your ideal workout time here.
Do a mix of physical activity, including cardio, resistance and flexibility exercise. Find out about the benefits of variety.
Have alcohol-free days and keep it to three drinks or less each session. Learn more healthy alcohol tips here.
Use mindfulness or meditation to improve mental clarity and focus. Access four free mindfulness sessions here.