How to get active, embrace veg and kick harmful habits in just 14 days

Rounding off the Sunday Mirror's 14-day guide to getting happy, NHS GP and lifestyle medicine expert, Dr Sonal Shah, has devised Sunday Mirror readers a week of exclusive straight forward nutrition and movement tweaks to transform your body and mood for good…


Trolley dash

It’s easy to fall into the same routines when it comes to food. You pack the same lunches, eat the same dinners.

Today, it’s time to turn meal planning on its head.

Instead of writing a list, go to the supermarket and shop the rainbow.

Fill your trolley with as many different colours of veg as you can, then come home and research simple recipes for using them up.

That way, you inject excitement into dinner, as well as giving the vital and varied nutrition your gut – and its good bacteria – needs to stay healthy.


Get moving

You don’t need to do an hour in the gym every day to reap the benefits of exercise. Having “exercise snacks” has been proven to be extremely beneficial.

These little nuggets of movement across the day and week need only be a minute long, but ideally add up to 150 minutes of moderate exercise – increasing your breathing rate without getting out of breath – over seven days.

Get to it: Try to tick off as many of these as you can. You can use the free My Fitness Pal app to log all your movement so you don’t have to keep a tally.

  • In the kitchen: As many squats as you can while the kettle is boiling
  • In the bathroom: Hop on the spot whilst brushing your teeth
  • Out and about: Ditch escalators and lifts, parking as far away from the doors as possible
  • At your desk: Three sets of 10xLeg extensions (it’ll take about two mins)
  • When you have 15 minutes: Come out of your house and run as fast as you can. See how far you can go. Take a two minutes pause, repeat and see if you can go one house further. Repeat 3-5 times.


Nutrition tuition

Imagine your body is a car. For it to run as fast as possible, you need to put the high performance fuel into it. Your body needs a blend of vitamins and minerals to run in tip-top condition.

You also need phytochemicals to combat damage at a cellular level.

Today is when Monday’s rainbow food shop comes into play. Veg are high in phytonutrients and have the power to undo the damage and inflammation caused by eating overly processed food.

The midweek slump is hitting but stay strong and fill up your bowl with as many vegetables, legumes and beans as you can.

Food swap: Swap that elevensies chocolate bar for sugarsnap peas, high in fibre, with a great crunch.

Exercise to try: Ditch the office and set up a walking meeting today. Walk and talk through a meeting for 30 minutes.

Fact: Sedentary behaviour is the fourth leading cause of mortality worldwide.


Early bird

Avoid eating big, processed meals late at night and have your dinner by 7pm.

Eating later, especially when your tea has lots of stodgy carbs, causes more blood to flow to the gut and stops you falling asleep easily.

If collecting the kids or running around after work and school makes an early dinner impossible tonight, try switching your big meal to lunchtime to give your body time to digest. Set up optimum conditions for a good night’s sleep.

The science bit: When you eat a meal, your energy is diverted into processing food and that raises your body temperature. In order to sleep, your core temperature needs to drop by around two degrees.

The sleep hormone melatonin is at its highest between 8-9pm. Having caffeine and big dinners around that time interferes with these natural sleep signals.


Fibre Funday

Most of us don’t get our 25-30g of fibre a day (that’s about two Weetabix). But we need fibre for essential functions. It keeps your gut microbes happy and helps you sleep.

Too much can cause IBS in some people, but the majority function well on a diet high in fibre.

Find it in wholegrains, chickpeas, beans and avocados. Add at least two types to meals today to get started. Try fermented food such as sour dough and kefir, which feed good gut bacteria.

Did you know?

Up to 90 per cent of serotonin, our happy hormone, is produced in the gut.

So if you’re suffering with depression and anxiety, improve your nutrition. You’ll see a lift in mood in two weeks.

Get friend-fit: Start a WhatsApp group with friends and set daily movement challenges. Studies show being accountable to others boosts your chances of weight loss.


Step, step, glide

Make exercise easy by taking up a hobby that introduces movement in a fun way. Weaving exercise into your life makes this plan sustainable in the long term.

Have you tried

  • Salsa, ballroom, jive or Zumba. Visit
  • Choir – you’ll be on your feet, engaging your core muscles and making new friends. Visit to find your local.
  • Gardening – it will get you moving, tone your arms and bum and beautify your outdoor space.
  • Get silly with your kids. Climb the monkey bars too. Take them swimming and don’t watch from the sidelines – chuck in some dive sticks (£9.99 for pack of three Zoggs, Amazon) and challenge them to retrieve the most.

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