Updated 14th June 2023

The ZOE Health Study Habit Tracker: Looking to make a change this year?

Written byZOE Editorial Staff

    It’s the start of a new year — a time when many of us consider making changes to our lives.

    When we surveyed our community toward the end of 2022, we found that around 40% of you planned to make resolutions in the new year.

    We know that making changes can be tricky, and New Year’s resolutions often don’t last. So, to help you make positive changes, we’re introducing the ZHS Habit Tracker.

    This project focuses on helping you make “micro-changes” that become sustainable habits to benefit your long-term health.

    Why ‘micro’?

    Research has shown that resolutions involving large changes often fail. Instead, focusing on making one simple change toward a realistic goal is more likely to bring you success.

    And once a micro-change is cemented into a new habit, it becomes automatic. So, you’re less likely to give it up because you no longer need to think about it.

    For instance, wearing a seat belt every time you ride in a car or washing your hands after visiting the bathroom doesn’t require any mental energy; you just do it automatically.

    Sharing your experiences in the app, along with your normal reporting, will help you understand how these small lifestyle changes affect you. 

    You’ll also contribute to our fascinating research into the science of habit changes across the wider population.

    To use the Habit Tracker, you’ll select one health habit you’re adopting in the ZOE Health Study app. You’ll then get to pick how long you want to track your new habit. 

    We recommend tracking for at least 12 weeks. But it’s up to you, and you can stop tracking your new habit any time.

    Below, we outline the seven habits we’re focusing on and why we hope they’ll make a difference to your mood, energy, hunger, sleep quality, or daily health symptoms.

    7 healthy habits

    With the ZHS Habit Tracker, you’ll track how one of these habits affects how you feel. 

    The descriptions below explain why we think these habits are important, and they might help you pick the one that suits you best.

    1. Eat more plants each day

    Veggies, fruits, beans, pulses, mushrooms, whole grains, herbs, spices, nuts, and seeds — the list of plant foods is long and delicious.

    According to research from the American Gut Project and British Gut Project, led by Prof. Tim Spector, one of ZOE’s co-founders, eating 30 different plants each week is a great way to support your gut health.

    Consuming more healthy plant compounds, like gut-friendly polyphenols, has a range of benefits.

    Plants are also a rich source of fiber, which can help you feel fuller for longer and provide the fuel your gut microbes need to make helpful chemicals such as neurotransmitters, vitamins, and short-chain fatty acids.

    Upping your plant intake may also protect your heart health and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as decrease the likelihood of constipation and common mental health disorders, such as depression.

    Adding an extra plant to your diet every day could make a real difference. Variety is key — if you can find plants you’ve never tried before, that’s a bonus.

    2. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier

    Sleep is vital for good health. But with the hustle and bustle and bright lights of everyday life, around 1 in 4 of us aren’t sleeping enough.

    Getting the shut-eye you need can have measurable benefits for your body, including your brain. 

    For instance, ZOE’s own research shows that going to bed earlier and getting more sleep improves your metabolic health: It’s linked to better blood sugar control the next day. In the long term, better blood sugar control might reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

    Also, plenty of research shows how important sleep is for our brains. It allows the brain to clear out any toxins that have built up over the day through a specialized drainage system: the glymphatic system

    So, hitting the hay half an hour earlier than you normally would and getting more sleep overall could significantly affect your health, especially if it becomes a new habit.

    3. Eat within a 12-hour window

    In recent years, there’s been growing interest in time-restricted eating (TRE). As the name suggests, it involves only eating within a certain time window. 

    With TRE, you don’t need to change what you eat, just when you eat it.

    In this case, you’d be eating within a 12-hour window. At other times, you can still drink water, black tea, and black coffee.

    Studies show that TRE can benefit your blood sugar response, improve your energy levels, and support your gut microbiome.

    You can choose when to start your 12-hour window, but ending it earlier in the day is best. For example, a window of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. is better than 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. This way, you avoid late night eating, which is linked to negative health effects. 

    If you can keep your window to under 12 hours, that’s great, too.

    4. Drink less alcohol

    If you drink more than a small glass of alcohol every day, try to drink less.

    The goal is to drink less than you normally would every day. For instance, you might currently drink more than usual on Fridays. To achieve your new habit, only have one small drink, even on Fridays.

    Reducing your overall alcohol intake is linked to a range of health benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease and cancer.

    5. 20 minutes of activity a day

    Fitting exercise into our daily routines can be challenging. But creating a 20-minute exercise slot every day is achievable for most of us — and it can have a real health impact.

    It doesn’t matter what you do to get your blood pumping. It could be a brisk walk, a bike ride, a run, a gym session, or an intense dance-off with your dog.

    Sometimes just getting off the train or bus a stop or two early can be a great way to add movement to your day.

    A range of health benefits is associated with physical activity, including improved mood and sleep, stronger bones and muscles, a reduced risk of heart disease, and better gut health.

    6. Deep breathing for 5 minutes a day

    In the whirlwind of modern life, having restorative time is important. 

    Adding some non-sleep deep rest into your day is likely to help you sleep better, feel less stressed, and boost your well being.

    One way to achieve this is the 3-4-5 breathing technique, which works like this:

    • Breathe in for 3 seconds.

    • Hold your breath for 4 seconds.

    • Breathe out for 5 seconds.

    It’s simple, and you can do it anywhere, making it a great option for an effective new habit. 

    7. Stand and stretch

    Scientists have found links between sitting for long periods and unfavorable health effects. 

    Standing up and moving around for 5 minutes every hour could help counteract these risks and improve your ability to concentrate, too.

    Whether you get up to make a cup of tea, walk up and down some stairs, or do some basic stretches, it all counts.

    What's next?

    We hope these summaries have helped you decide which micro-change you’ll aim for over the coming weeks. 

    Once you start using the Habit Tracker, ZOE will gather data from you and our other contributors.

    This community science project will help us figure out whether any of these micro-changes turn into habits that have measurable benefits.

    For more information about how to get involved, read this recent blog post about the ZHS Habit Tracker

    We can’t wait to see how these changes benefit you!