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What’s your “new normal” resolution for 2021?

Riaan van der Walt

BSc Sport Science, BHons Sport Science

I’ll just get straight to it…if you are anything like me, you have been waiting for the news of an effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine like a kid waiting for Christmas morning! Ironically, that might not be far off the truth as the 2 first options in what will be an ocean of options eventually, might be with us before Christmas. So what does that mean next year will be like? Well, no-one can be sure, but I think a fair guess is that COVID-19 will become less and less of what is important in your life. It is likely that most, if not all of the restrictions to business, travel and life in general will be lifted or reduced dramatically. This means that fewer and fewer habits will be forced on you and more and more of them will be your choice…so what will you choose? With the recent challenges of personal health and societal wellbeing in mind, which have largely been in the area of stress and mental health, I thought I would put together an eclectic mix of my suggestions that most of us should either know about or put more focus on:

Get The Vaccine

Now I know that this first suggestion may ruffle a lot of feathers, and even put people off reading further, but hear me out…There are several conspiracy theories doing the rounds about COVID-19 and vaccines, this I know. But what I truly and sincerely can’t understand is why? Vaccines are literally one of a single figure number of medical interventions that explain why life expectancy has virtually doubled in much of the world in the last 100 years. Not some stat… your life expectancy, mine, our children’s. They are why you have never met anyone who had smallpox, and without a google search, probably don’t know what a blessing that is. Taking this medical miracle for granted is a mistake that puts us at risk of COVID-19 eventually being comparable with the Spanish Flu Pandemic in the early 1900’s. So my advice is this: find out more about vaccines than you know. I wrote a previous article that might be a good starting point, or maybe check out this TED Talk on the matter. Whatever you do, try to steer your investigations towards professionals and experts talking about facts, not towards social media churning about conspiracies. Which brings me to my next suggestion…

Use Your Phone More…Wait, What?

I think we can all agree that our devices are not good for us. But the details are more concerning than most of us know. From cyber bullying causing increased rates of young suicides, higher risk of depression linked to higher rates of social media time, poorer sleep health due to more screen time, and an obscene amount of misinformation spreading unchecked, making it difficult to talk about facts in any subject matter, health or otherwise…the list of negative findings is growing fast! Let me be the first to say that I have no higher ground from which to give this advice, because I struggle with screen time more than any other choice. But I’ve noticed something, which I am using to great effect. Device manufacturers are responding to the call for change and adding features that help. From night time screen modes that self activate when the sun goes down, to weekly screen time reports giving you a real insight into your habits and goals to reduce it, to bedtime alerts where you can set reasonable and healthy goals of when go to bed and wake up habitually…it is getting a little easier to avoid excess screen time. It has also inspired me to get rid of the real time waisting apps and keep the productive ones, because I now know which ones I’m using and for how long! So use the functions on your phone more that help you to use your phone less…if you know what I mean.

Use Music

We all know that music has the power to change our minds or mood, and research confirms this. There are 3 places where music is a great tool to improve your life. First, it is a fantastic motivator towards action! If I am struggling to just do the exercise that many of us will set as goals for 2021, it only takes 1 or 2 upbeat songs that I like to get my running shoes on and I’m off! Secondly, music soothes our anxieties. Making a relaxing, feel good playlist to use in the evenings as a come down from stress or anxieties of the day really is a constructive tool towards quality and restful sleep. Now, to cover sleep as a topic in full, in terms of its importance and how to achieve improvements is an article on its own, but I think we will all recognise that it influenced by music. The reason I mention this particularly, above any other advice, is that music is easy to implement, and we all tend to enjoy it. Thirdly, if it has ever appealed to you to play an instrument, or if you already do and need to commit to better practice routines, I suggest that you make 2021 the year where you give this area of your life a go. I know this sounds like a bit of a left field suggestion when discussing health, but there is good reason. This Ted Talk authored by Dr Anita Collins will do a better job of explaining exactly how playing a musical instrument has been found to evoke brain function and improvements that go unrivalled by almost any other intervention! These range from memory to problem solving to executive function.

Plant Something

If you have a little bit of space somewhere that mostly gets sun, I suggest that you plant something that produces a fruit or vegetable that you like…but why? Well, there are a few reasons. Firstly, if nothing else, it gets you outside in the sun, rather than inside looking at a screen. This benefit really can’t be overstated, as not only do we require sunlight for mental health, but recent events such as lockdowns have pushed many of us towards habits involving the indoors. 2021 should be year to reverse this trend and see the outdoors on a more regular basis. Secondly, as long as you avoid a starch producing plant, you are doing your physical health a great deal of good by “farming” some of your own organic, nutrient rich food and eating it! Lastly, it serves an important environmental function for us to plant something that absorbs some CO2 and produces none, because it is as locally produced as you can get! Please note that you will find me lacking in this area of knowledge, so I bow to Sir David Attenborough and his recent witness statement A Life On Our Planet.

I hope that your 2021 is a great year and that the above advise might help inspire you to some change that matters…keep well!

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