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10 ways to live better

A new year can be a great opportunity to make healthy lifestyle changes. Here are 10 ways for customers to live better this year.

A new year can be a great opportunity to make healthy lifestyle changes. Here are 10 ways for customers to live better this year

The new year starts with a list of good intentions for many of us – from losing weight and getting more active to cutting out bad health habits and improving our mental and emotional wellbeing. Here are ten top suggestions that pharmacy teams can encourage customers to try…

1. Get a health MOT

Not everyone finds it easy – or appealing – to see their GP for regular health screening, and the pandemic has added an extra layer of complexity when it comes to getting tested face-to-face. However, pharmacy-based services are an ideal solution for those who want to check their blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, and diabetes status. If your pharmacy offers these or other services, now is a great time to encourage customers to make use of them. You can also explain why routine health assessments should be a regular part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

For example, a third of adults around the world have high blood pressure (hypertension), yet only about a quarter of people in the UK are aware they have it. Left untreated, high blood pressure can cause a range of serious conditions, including stroke, heart attack and dementia, as well as damaging major organs. 

2. Lose weight

Obesity is a common problem. It affects around one in four adults in the UK, increasing their risk of developing serious conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.

"Many solutions exist for weight loss, and pharmacy teams can do a lot in helping people on that journey," says Mitesh Desai, chief executive of Landys Chemist. "Simple things such as helping the person set realistic goals, encouraging them to take small steps, and focusing on one aspect of their weight loss at a time can go a long way, but it’s important to listen to what they want to achieve, the steps they are willing to take, and what is best suited to them."

Key lifestyle changes that can aid weight loss involve eating a healthy and balanced diet, and increasing physical activity levels. This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, reducing fat and sugar, and doing some form of physical activity every day for at least 150 minutes a week.

Customers who are still struggling with their weight despite these changes may be suitable for a pharmacological intervention, following a consultation with the pharmacist. The three options currently being provided through community pharmacy are Orlistat, Mysimba (Naltrexone/Bupropion), and Saxenda (Liraglutide).

3. Stop smoking

Stopping smoking is a popular New Year resolution, and is one of the best changes people can make for their health.

Many community pharmacies run a free NHS Stop Smoking service and carry a wide range of OTC nicotine replacement products, from lozenges to patches and gums, with advice about how these can help customers quit smoking. But Leah Davies, Numark’s professional and patient services manager, says making customers feel as though they have a shoulder to lean on is paramount. "It can be instrumental in ensuring results are achieved," she says.

"Products may be cheaper and more accessible in a supermarket," continues Leah, "but customers aren’t able to access the valuable advice available to them in a pharmacy. So one-to-one support has the ability to go a long way, particularly with those just starting out on their smoking cessation journey."

In some pharmacies, pharmacists who have received the proper training also offer smoking cessation treatment which involves providing the person with specialist sessions at weekly intervals, with goals set at each stage.

4. Deal with stress

Although short periods of stress don’t create too many issues for people, long-term exposure to the hormones released by chronic stress can make it hard for our bodies and minds to function properly.

Google searches for stress have soared during the pandemic, with new research from Dragonfly CBD revealing that 48 per cent of people feel more stressed than they did a year ago.

Accessing help for anxiety and stress can often involve long NHS waiting times, but there are plenty of solutions available over the counter in the pharmacy. These include CBD and traditional herbal remedies, as well as referrals to support sessions and online self-guided therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which can help to reduce the negative effects of stress and anxiety.

5. Sleep better

Many things can contribute to poor sleep, but Mitesh says the good news is that most of them are within our control.

His first recommendation is for people to look at what they are eating and drinking. "Coffee and tea are the main offenders when it comes to affecting sleep as caffeine stays in your system for up to 10 hours and increases alertness," he explains. "But there are more subtle things that can also impact quality of sleep. For instance, red meat can negatively affect sleep for two reasons: one, the digestive system works extra hard to process it, and two, it contains iron and B12 vitamins, which are known to boost energy."

Dietary supplements and herbal remedies can help, however. Mitesh recommends natural amino acid supplements such as 5-HTP or L-theanine with lemon balm to help people relax and fall asleep. However, he adds: "Avoid melatonin supplements. Melatonin regulates our body clock and improves our sleep cycle. I would recommend against melatonin supplements as the body can get lazy over time and start producing less of it so you become dependent on the supplements."

6. Improve skin

According to the Skin Life Sciences Foundation (SLSF), a new information body funded by Typharm, around a quarter of the UK population consult a GP every year about a skin issue, with eczema, psoriasis and acne being three of the most common skin conditions for which people seek help.

Recent research from the SLSF shows there has been a surge in skin conditions as a result of the pandemic, with 72 per cent of adults experiencing a flare-up or worsening of their skin condition because of increased hand washing.

"As a barrier to the outside environment, our skin is home to a collection of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses," explains Mitesh. "Many of these microorganisms are harmless, and some are even beneficial, but our skin requires a balance. Disruptions in the balance on either side of the equation can result in skin disorders or infections – from acne to atopic dermatitis."

There are so many skincare products on the market that claim to address all kinds of different issues that the choice can be overwhelming, so advice and support from pharmacy teams is invaluable for customers.

7. Drink less alcohol

A popular starting point for cutting down on alcohol is the Dry January initiative, which encourages people to make use of tools and resources created by Alcohol Change UK to give up alcohol for a month. New research from the charity shows that almost three in 10 drinkers found themselves drinking more in 2021 than they did in 2020, and a quarter would like to reduce the amount they drink in 2022.

Research conducted by the University of Sussex found that those who take part in Dry January using Alcohol Change UK’s free "Try Dry" app and/or free email coaching programme are twice as likely to have a completely alcohol-free month, compared to those who try to avoid alcohol in January on their own. People who make use of the support on offer also have significantly improved wellbeing and healthier drinking six months later. The app is available for Apple and Android devices and is free to download.

8. Eat less meat

Animal welfare concerns and the toll that rearing meat for mass consumption places on the planet – along with human health concerns – have convinced many people to reduce or give up eating meat.

The World Cancer Research Fund recommends that everyone should limit their red meat consumption to no more than three portions a week (around 350–500g cooked weight in total), and processed meat should be eaten rarely, if at all.

Research from the University of Oxford has found that regular meat consumption is associated with a range of diseases, including heart disease, pneumonia and diabetes. However, the study also found that higher intakes of unprocessed red meat and poultry were associated with a lower risk of iron deficiency anaemia. This led Dr Keren Papier from the university’s Nuffield Department of Population Health to stress that "people who do not eat meat need to be careful that they obtain enough iron, through dietary sources or supplements".

To ensure customers are providing their bodies with the correct vitamins, pharmacy teams can advise on supplements for those who are making dietary changes.

"Prevention is always better than cure, and this is the same when it comes to nutrition," says Suzie Sawyer, clinical nutritionist and spokesperson for supplement company Alive! "We should always take a food first approach, but a good quality multinutrient supplement can plug the deficiencies we know exist."

9. Be more planet conscious

Making more eco-friendly choices when it comes to health and beauty products might be high on customers’ planet-protecting agenda for 2022. Pharmacy teams should therefore be ready to recommend brands that meet these criteria – both with their ethical and sustainable claims and with recyclable or reusable packaging.

In a recent poll conducted by eco-ethical haircare brand weDo, 61 per cent of respondents struggled to tell whether hair and skincare products were ethical simply from their packaging, and a lack of regulation surrounding eco-friendly product claims doesn’t help.

The credentials of packaging, at least, are easier to work out, with graphic icons showing what can and cannot be recycled, and some products carrying the Plastic Free certification mark.

Customers, and pharmacies can also instigate change through their purchasing habits, forcing companies to ‘do better’ before they will buy from them again.

Landys Chemist made a commitment to stop using plastics in its e-commerce business in 2016, switching from bubble wrap to honeycombed paper for its delivery products. "Although it represented an increase in our costs, it is important for businesses like ours to reflect their ethics not just in the products we sell but also in the way we source materials and ship things out," says Mitesh. "We also talk about sustainability with the brands we partner with, and many of them have stopped using bubble wrap and other plastics in their own packaging as a result of the conversations we’ve had."

10. Get organised

All of the changes we’ve talked about here take commitment, not to mention organisation – and this is another area where pharmacy teams can help customers.

"Pharmacy staff are well placed to support customers with organisation of prescriptions, ensuring they are up to date with repeat prescriptions and understand how to order their deliveries," says Leah. 

Small steps that make changes manageable are more likely to create habits that last.

Accessible and knowledgeable, pharmacy staff can be a source of support that helps customers make new year resolutions that are achievable and sustainable – for 2022 and beyond.

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