New Year, new lifestyle, new you
When it comes to New Year's resolutions, making lifestyle changes like exercising more or cutting down on alcohol and cigarettes tends to top the list.
Around 7 million of us will make a New Year's resolution to improve our health, but sticking to it can be tough particularly through the dark winter months ahead.
NICE has a suite of public health guidance that can help individuals achieve their resolutions and keep to them, as well as encouraging health professionals, employers and local authorities to do more to support healthy living in 2012.
While making several lifestyle changes at once can be daunting, latest findings show that making just one healthy resolution can have knock-on benefits in other areas.
Research carried out by the National Centre for Social Research for the Department of Health found that people who adopted healthy practices in one area of life were likely to be healthy in other areas too.
For example, those who quit smoking are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables. Conversely, people who regularly eat fried products are more likely to add extra salt to their food.
“This research shows that if you make one healthy resolution this New Year you might get double the benefits as you are more likely to make other positive healthier changes too,” says the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies.
Stopping smoking for good
A first step for many smokers towards a new healthier lifestyle is to kick the habit. Yet research shows that a large proportion of smokers continue to underestimate the damage it can cause.
Around 80,000 die annually through smoking-related illnesses, however a recent YouGov survey found that those who smoke underestimate this figure by at least 70,000.
Furthermore, nearly one in ten people do not believe that smoking can seriously damage health and lead to premature death.
NICE has a range of guidance which contains recommendations to help local authorities, health commissioners and organisations encourage people to quit.
This includes guidance on brief interventions to help quit - which normally take between 5 and 10 minutes and can be carried out in primary care settings - and referral for smoking cessation.
NICE has produced separate guidance on smoking cessation services which recommends that NHS Stop Smoking Services offer behavioural counselling, group therapy, pharmacotherapy or a combination of treatments proved to be effective.
All of NICE's guidance on quitting smoking, including guidance on interventions for employees in the workplace, can be found in the NICE pathway on smoking.
Shifting excess pounds
As Christmas can traditionally be a time of overindulgence, many start the New Year by trying to lose any extra pounds gained.
But for some losing weight can be a more serious and pressing issue, with obesity-related health problems placing an increasingly large burden on the NHS.
It is forecast that 48 per cent of men and 43 per cent of women could be obese by 2030, which could add a further £1.9 billion in costs to the NHS.
In October 2011, the government launched its obesity strategy and called for more people to be honest about what they eat and drink, since on average, adults exceed their calorie intake by about 10 per cent.
The NICE obesity guideline advises on ways to maintain a healthy weight. The guideline recommends basing meals on starchy foods, eating plenty of fibre-rich foods and making sure at least five portions of fruit and vegetables are eaten per day.
The guideline also says that people who have concerns about their diet should discuss these with a healthcare professional, and encourages taking up a weight loss programme based on a balanced healthy diet, coupled with regular physical activity.
For some, joining a gym in the New Year is an ideal way of incorporating more physical activity into their lives, and research shows that regular physical activity can have the added benefit of increasing life expectancy.
A Lancet study found that exercising for just 15 minutes a day can increase life expectancy by 3 years, and cut the risk of death by 14 per cent.
But many people find it a real struggle to find the time to visit the gym or go for a run. This can be overcome by incorporating exercise into your daily routine by taking simple steps like taking the stairs instead of the lift.
Professor Mike Kelly, public health director at NICE, points out that physical activity is essential for good health, contributing to both physical and mental wellbeing. It also helps to prevent or manage conditions including heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and obesity.
"Workers aren't always active enough to benefit their health, so we're recommending ways that employers can encourage staff to increase their levels of physical activity on their way to work, or during the day,” he says.
This includes encouraging employees to walk or cycle to work, as outlined in the NICE guidance on promoting physical activity in the workplace.
Guidance is additionally available on four commonly used methods to increase physical activity, which recommends that GPs should identify inactive adults whenever possible and advise them to aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
Further information on tackling weight can be found in the NICE pathway on diet, which also includes methods of reducing calorie intake, and advice for parents concerned about the weight of their children.
3 January 2012