2020 is finally over! It was a difficult year for many people and involved a lot of changes! January 2021 has arrived and that means a whole host of January ‘challenges’ have begun... Veganuary, Dry January, even Marathon Month! Our first guest blogger of the New Year, Emma Berry ANutr. considers the benefits and challenges of the January challenge!
New Year challenges are spread across a range of areas but often fall into nutrition or exercise related topics. Some people may decide to try out being vegan for a month by joining in with Veganuary.1 Some may want to give up alcohol for the month, by doing Dry January.2 I have also personally noticed more fitness challenges popping up on my social media this year than in previous years, such as the Marathon Month, which involves running 26.1 miles over one month - but this isn’t limited to January.3 Others make New Year resolutions at the start of January with the hope that these will last as long as possible.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
In some ways, these can be a great way to focus on trying something new, especially during lockdown (which is happening across the country right now) and with many people being furloughed.
Trying out Veganuary may mean that you get a chance to try new foods or recipes that you might not normally consider. The Veganuary campaign even offers meal plans, recipes and tips through email.4 Increasing the amount and diversity of plant-based foods can be beneficial nutritionally. Research shows that following a vegan or vegetarian diet can increase the diet quality when compared with non-vegetarian diets.5 It was found that vegan and vegetarian diets had higher consumption of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, which can all be beneficial for human health.5
New Year challenges have not only made a difference to individuals but also to industry. For example, more food industries have become aware of Veganuary and there have been many new vegan options flooding the market for consumers. This ranges from supermarkets offering vegan lines to fast food companies offering vegan options on their menu.6
Fitness challenges around running and increasing exercise can obviously be helpful too. More exercise can improve cardiovascular health, increase muscle mass and even reduce the risk of multiple illnesses.7 Reducing alcohol consumption may also be helpful for many who have found their alcohol levels increasing during the pandemic.
ARE THERE ANY DOWNSIDES?
Despite the benefits, people should not feel pressured into joining in with a New Year challenge. Neither should they feel stressed about not achieving goals through the whole month.
In my local area, we have had very cold weather resulting in ice and snow. For people who have signed up to a running challenge, they may feel they have to run in these conditions, which could well increase the risk of injuries. Instead, rather than focusing on January alone to complete these challenges, it might be better to consider these as opportunities to find something enjoyable that can then be continued in the future. Finding new favourite vegan recipes, or ingredients, and adding more plant-based foods regularly increases the benefits discussed over a longer period of time, rather than being fully vegan for one month only. Equally, finding an enjoyable exercise and wanting to do it regularly is more important than completing a set amount of activity in a one-month span.
Although New Year challenges can be enjoyable and fun for people, they should not add stress, especially given the current situation. Instead, the ultimate focus should always be on longer-term nutrition, fitness, and wellbeing.
Emma Berry ANutr
Freelance Nutrition Writer and PhD Student
Emma is a freelance nutrition writer interested in Public Health nutrition.
She is also a PhD Student in Health Services Research and
works in NHS Research and Development
at the University of Aberdeen.
- Vegan Society (2020). Veganuary 2021. Available at: https://www.vegansociety.com/take-action/campaigns/veganuary-2021. Accessed 8th January 2021
- Alcohol Change (2020). Why Do Dry January. Available at: https://alcoholchange.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/dry-january. Accessed 8th January 2021
- Cancer Research UK (2020). Marathon Month Challenge. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/get-involved/find-an-event/personal-challenges/marathon-month-challenge?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3JuausyM7gIVB4bVCh3ArwpDEAAYASAAEgI2tfD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds. Accessed 8th January 2021
- Veganuary (2021). Available at: https://veganuary.com/partner/future-normal/. Accessed 11th January 2021
- Parker HW, Vadiveloo MK (2019). Diet quality of vegetarian diets compared with non-vegetarian diets: a systematic review. Nutrition Reviews, 77(3), 144-160. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuy067
- PETAUK (2020). ‘Veganuary’ 2021: Vegan Food Launches. https://www.peta.org.uk/living/veganuary-2021-vegan-food-launches/
- NHS (2018). Exercise health benefits. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-health-benefits/. Accessed 11th January 2021