Dr Clare Bailey: Health goals, your new secret weapons

We’ve all probably indulged too much over Christmas and are resolving to be healthier for the New Year. But getting going can be a real challenge – and keeping it up is even harder. So how can you maximise your chances of success?

dr clare bailey Health goals
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First, you should ask yourself a few questions, such as: ‘What difference will doing this make?’ and ‘How will I know when I’m getting there?’ Write down your answers and put them somewhere you will see them.

Here’s how to achieve the top three health resolutions my patients tell me they have made…

Lose weight

As a GP, I’ve helped hundreds of patients slim down and reduce their blood sugar levels. One of the best ways I recommend doing this is through 800-calorie-a-day fasting for between two and 12 weeks. Large trials have shown that eating only 800 calories a day can lead not only to sustained weight loss but also the reversal of diabetes (seen in almost 50 per cent of a group of overweight diabetics put on the diet). My Fast 800 Recipe Book (co-written with Justine Pattison) combines a healthy, low-carb Mediterranean-style diet – which is rich in nuts, seeds, oily fish, vegetables, fruit, beans, pulses, olive oil as well as dairy and meat in moderation – with options for fasting.

To find out more about this diet and for support with it, see thefast800.com. For more weight-loss options go to the NHS website and ask at your GP practice.

Get fit

Simply walking more can help you to reduce your blood pressure and control diabetes. You don’t have to do 10,000 steps a day to get fit – but you do need to push yourself a bit. My resolution is to take part in my local Saturday morning 5k Parkrun event. You can join in at any pace and by doing it with other people, you are more likely to stick to it. Parkrun is free and there are meetings all over the country. See parkrun.org.uk to find one near you.

Or try the free Active 10 app (nhs.uk/oneyou/active10). It helps you to do brisk walking in bursts of ten minutes, as well as tracking and rewarding your progress. Increasing your steps by ten per cent can make a difference to your waistline, mood and health.

The main thing is to find an activity that you enjoy doing. By making it regular it becomes a habit.

Reduce stress

Persistent stress has an impact on our ability to think clearly, to sleep and to cope as well as on our mood. A good way to reduce stress is through practising meditation or mindfulness. I’m aiming to do 15 to 20 minutes every evening using the Headspace app (headspace.com). Now I’ve said it, according to research, I’m more likely to do it!

If you are struggling with your resolutions, revisit your goals. Ask yourself those questions again. I’ve joined Instagram (@drclarebailey) so you can tell me how you’re getting on there. Sharing helps!

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Why I might start prescribing yoga

Yoga and breathing exercises are associated with developing a state of calm. If you are suffering from depression, yoga might seem too much to contemplate but research suggests it is worth a try.

A small study followed participants with serious depression who joined a yoga group for three months. They found that doing yoga led to significant improvements in their depression, and described feeling revitalised, experiencing a sense of more positive engagement, along with greater tranquillity and less physical exhaustion. Their blood markers for the neurotransmitter GABA, which tends to be low in people suffering from depression, improved too. In fact the participants’ GABA levels became similar to those in a healthy control group.

Even the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that yoga may be evolving ‘from fad to evidence-based intervention’. Perhaps in future GPs like me will be adding prescriptions for yoga to the usual treatments for depression and anxiety.

If you have a question you would like answered, email drclarebailey@you.co.uk