You ate, drunk, and were merry – but now it’s time to wake up and smell the decaffeinated coffee. Each year hails the latest detox fads, but with so much pseudoscience muddying the lifestyle pages, it is difficult to know what to believe. So we’ve sifted through the evidence to find some proven ways to whip your body into shape with the least amount of pain.
Do… consider a dry January
Although taking a “dry January” is now a regular fixture for many drinkers, evidence for its long-term benefits has been thin on the ground. Some hints come from New Scientist magazine, which recently undertook its own experiment to find out if there was any truth in the hype. Teaming up with Rajiv Jalan at University College London Medical School, 10 of the magazine’s journalists abstained for a month. All 10 showed a 15% reduction in liver fat – a cause of liver disease – as well as reduced cholesterol and blood glucose.
It’s only preliminary evidence – and Jalan emphasised that a dry January can’t make up for 11 months of excess. Even so, a study at the University of Sussex (sponsored, admittedly, by the charity Alcohol Concern) found that abstaining for the first month also ended up curbing students’ alcohol intake later in the year. So even if a few weeks’ abstinence doesn’t heal your liver immediately, it could lead to a healthy hangover throughout the year.
Don’t… be fooled by fad “superfoods”
For Beyonce, it’s a diet of tree syrup, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. For others, it’s quinoa, dandelion root tea, blueberries and algae. Such superfoods are claimed by proponents to flush out damaging chemicals in the body, leaving you with better skin, better hair and a trimmer waist. In reality, scientific studies are have yet to show convincingly that any of these detox diets can remove pollutants in the human body, according to a comprehensive review published last month. Even the case for anti-oxidants, which were long thought to prevent cancer, is now in doubt. If you are looking to lose weight and live a longer and healthier life, a balanced and moderate diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish and unprocessed carbohydrates is still the safest option.
Do… bulk up
While body-building may seem like the domain of gym bunnies only, pumping weights should be part of everyone’s exercise regime, since healthier muscle tissue can help reduce problems like insulin resistance that lead to diabetes and heart disease. That is true whatever your current weight; obese people who do strength training have the same risk of heart disease as those of a healthier build. Strength training also lowers blood pressure, and it is thought to be particularly beneficial to the elderly, who lose muscle mass more rapidly. Mixing aerobic and resistance training is now considered the most efficient way to control your weight and protect your heart.
Don’t… sit down
Even if you regularly exercise, don’t let your post-workout buzz lull you into complacency: one study found that more than half of the female participants who worked out actually put on weight, perhaps because they felt that they were then licensed to be less active later on. The fact is that regular exercise, although good for you, can’t counteract the damage of sedentary activity in the rest of your life. Sitting for long periods – as opposed to pottering around the garden, say – allows the build-up of glucose and fat in the blood, along with spikes in insulin – all of which can contribute to long term problems with the body’s metabolism.
The consequences are sobering: one study suggested that, after the age of 25, each hour of television you watch may knock 22 minutes off your lifespan, sending the average person to the grave five years early, whether or not they also visit the gym. Activities like reading, writing or video gaming should be just as harmful. Taking up more active hobbies is one solution, and if you are desk-bound at work, you can diffuse the blood glucose and insulin by taking a short walk every 20 minutes or so, potentially limiting the long-term damage.
Don’t… be a puritan
In some ways, our New Year’s Resolutions are a triumph of hope over experience: as few as 8% of people meet the goals they set on the first of January. Perhaps that’s because we are too ambitious and then judge ourselves too harshly when we fail to meet those impossibly high standards. Psychologists are finding that feelings of guilt can have an ironic impact on our behaviour, leading to further temptation and scuppering our broader goals, while enjoying the occasional indulgence can help recharge your self-control. So amid all your virtuous intentions, make sure you leave room for a little bit of vice, too.
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