Embracing a healthy lifestyle is not easy for some, but the benefits are endless. Picture: Supplied
Spring is often associated with newness of life - and with the cold harsh days behind us, this is the perfect season to start afresh and adopt new healthy habits

Embracing a healthy lifestyle is not easy for some, but the benefits are considerable.

A Statistics SA report notes that in South Africa, 46% of women and 44% of men older than 15 suffer from hypertension, or high blood pressure, and this can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and death.

Like diabetes, hypertension is caused or exacerbated by poor diet, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol consumption.

According to the 2016 South Africa Demographic and Health Survey Report, 27% of women are overweight and 41% are obese while 20% of men are overweight and 11% are obese.

To help you live a healthy long life, experts suggest lifestyle changes that are not intimidating.

Registered dietitian and Association for Dietetics in South Africa spokesperson Retha Harmse makes a fundamental suggestion: adopt a gradual approach.

“Trying to make too many changes, or really big changes, overnight doesn’t always stick,” she said.

“A great approach to the new season is to just aim to be a better person than you were the day before. When you begin with small steps, it’s far easier for the changes you make to improve your health and well-being to be sustainable.”

Eat more whole plant-based foods: Studies show that individuals who eat a plant-based diet on average have lower body weights, and a decreased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, dementia and high blood pressure.

Leozette Roode, media and outreach manager for Humane Society International/Africa and Green Monday SA, suggests starting by eating a plant-based meal one day a week. Simply replace dairy milk with nut milk and add pulses like lentils and beans to soups and stews for protein.

“Meaty vegetables like mushrooms are great in pasta and soaked cashews make the creamiest sauces,” Roode suggested

Take time to relax: Brand manager and strategist at FMI, a division of Bidvest Life Ltd, Jessica Beattie, brings in another dimension to healthy living.

“We’re so busy trying to get ahead that we forget to rest. This causes stress, which causes health problems like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, depression and obesity. Regular exercise is a great natural stress reliever, but even taking 10 minutes to do something you love - listening to music, reading, or relaxing with family, friends and pets - helps beat the pace of life and bring our nervous system into balance,” Beattie said.

Mindful eating: In a busy world, people often grab food and eat while focusing on other tasks.

Harmse said mindful eating is an ancient practice with profound implications and applications for resolving problematic eating behaviours and troubled relationships with food.

“It also fosters the development of self-care practices that support optimal health,” she said.

You can do it in five steps:

  • Start with a favourite: choose a favourite food or a dish you really enjoy and have eaten often.
  • Observe the look, touch, texture, and smell. Appreciate the appearance and scent of your food and begin to perceive any sensations happening in your body, particularly stomach and mouth.
  • Observe before you chew. Once you take a bite, note the sensation of food in your mouth without chewing. Carefully think about the taste of the food.
  • Chew slowly and pause briefly. Think about the location of the food in your mouth, as well as the taste and texture. Concentrate on how the taste and texture change as you continue chewing.
  • Pause: Before you swallow, pay attention to the urge to swallow. Do so consciously and notice the sensation of the food travelling down the oesophagus to the stomach. Pay attention to any physical sensation.