Five daily micro challenges EVERYONE can do

May 20 2016

Setting ourselves over-ambitious goals is often the main reason we fail. Micro challenges, on the other hand, are small, simple changes that can be done during a regular day. The affects of these small actions are cumulative; lots of little good habits all add up to one big improvement. Don’t believe us? For one whole month, we task you to do at least one of micro challenges below – there’s no way you won’t notice a difference…

1. Spice up your life

Using herbs and spices in your cooking can reduce the amount of salt you use (because you don’t need it for added flavour). A study by the American Heart Association showed that adults taught to use herbs and spices instead of just salt and pepper when cooking consumed almost 1,000mg less sodium per day than those who limit themselves to just the salt pot.

To keep your salt levels at a healthy level, build up a selection of go-to flavour enhancers, such as garlic, lime juice, pulped ginger, cayenne pepper and onion powder. If you’re unsure as to which flavours go with each other, opt for popular low-salt spice mixes such as smoked paprika rubs, Chinese five-spice and star anise. Blood Pressure UK say it may take a few weeks for your taste buds to adjust to food with less salt, but within a month you could have reduced your salt intake by almost a gram a day. Now that’s worth it, right?

2. Take a screen break

Even if you exercise regularly, sitting in front of a computer or TV screen for too long slows your metabolism. “No way!”, you say. Well, research suggests that people who move about during the day are more likely to reach or maintain weight-loss goals than those who are sedentary.

For a quick fix, get up regularly to stretch or move about, walk round the office for a couple of minutes or go up and down stairs a two or three times. Known by scientists as ‘NEAT’ (nonexercise activity thermogenesis), getting up from your seat can help burn calories and drop weight says James Levine, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

3. Shake things up

So you're successfully sticking to your gym routine (keep it up!), but are you helping your body to recover properly afterwards? Sure, everyone knows that you need water and food after a good workout to recover and build on muscle, and most people know that protein is a good place to start. However, very few people know that a chocolate milkshake could be the ideal replenishment after exercise.

Don't believe us? Professor Ron Maughan, a sport and exercise nutritionist at Loughborough University says: "If you drink milk, you are getting a consistent source of protein, along with water and electrolytes. The added chocolate provides useful carbohydrates and even the relatively high sugar content is an acceptable means of restoring lost energy." For the next month, finish your workout with a chocolate shake and see if your energy and strength improves. Go on, it's doctor's orders!

4. Break tradition

"Deeply engrained habits of thinking and behaviour keep us doing things that are bad for us, like smoking, eating and drinking too much or becoming stuck in negative thought patterns", says Professor Ben Fletcher, a psychologist at Hertfordshire University.

By mixing things up, such as taking a different route to work (and avoiding that coffee shop with the delicious pastries), catching up with different friends (who don't drink so much or tempt you to smoke) or even listening to a different radio station each morning (and boosting our mood with new, upbeat music) can improve our minds and bodies. "We can make our lives much better with very small changes", says Professor Fletcher. He took the words out of our mouths...

5. Get swap SMART

The British Heart Foundation suggests setting goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and within a timeframe) to enable you to have realistic goals and track your progress through the month.

Tackle any bad eating habits by stopping one at a time, and not all at once. So, why not use skimmed milk on cereal instead of semi-skimmed and save 693kcal a month? Substitute chemical-ridden reduced-fat spreads for butter on your toast, sandwiches and bagels for five days every week and cut out 1,083kcal a month. Swapping a full-fat latte for a skinny one on weekdays will also reduce your calorie intake by1,950kcal each month. Just these three small changes will reduce your calorie intake by 3,726kcal per month, which equates to losing 5.7kg (12lb) in a year. See, every little change really does make a difference...