You may intend to lose weight, get fit, stop smoking or whatever this year, but all too often those good intentions crumble within a very short time.

What you need to do instead, says GP Dr Gemma Newman, is follow these easy steps to get well and stay well – chances are everything else you want to achieve will then just fall into place.

1. Gratitude

Newman explains that the brain’s limbic system is responsible for emotions, and that particular part of the brain also includes the hypothalamus, which regulates bodily functions including hunger, sleep, metabolism and how we grow.

“Studies have shown that gratitude activates the whole limbic system and in particular the hypothalamus, making the systems function more efficiently,” she says, pointing out that numerous studies have linked gratitude to better sleep, and because gratitude floods the brain with feel-good hormones, it has been linked to decreased pain, lower blood pressure and reduced stress.

Simple habits that can encourage gratitude, she says, are regular bedtimes and going out in nature, and she suggests thinking of three things you’re grateful for when you wake up and go to bed, and keeping a gratitude journal in which you write down all the things you’re grateful for.

2. Love

“I place gratitude and love, two emotional states, as the first steps to a healthy body and mind. They are fundamental to our wellbeing,” stresses Newman, who talks about three kinds of love in her book – for yourself, others and the community.

She suggests people use positive affirmations, identify role models or mentors, learn to accept compliments, and strive for positive relationships, as studies show loneliness and isolation are risk factors for premature death.

Learning how to forgive is also a part of love, she says, pointing out: “Data shows that active training in forgiveness can actually reduce pain perception for people who are suffering with chronic disease conditions.”

3. Outside

The evidence showing the restorative power of the natural world is “abundant and exciting”, says Newman.

Sun exposure – not too much because of the skin cancer risk – has been shown to lower blood pressure and cardiovascular mortality, she says, and this may be linked to nitric oxide, which has a positive effect on blood pressure, being released when the sun touches the skin. Vitamin D is also produced when sunlight touches the skin, and this is vital for bone growth and many other things. One study also found vitamin D can help improve brain function, says Newman.

And then there’s the mental health benefits of getting outside. “Connecting with nature can have a profound effect on our mental health,” stresses Newman, who points out that in one study, two groups were asked to walk for 90 minutes a day, one group in a natural area and the other in a high-traffic urban setting. Subsequent tests showed those who walked in nature showed reduced activity in a region of the brain associated with rumination, a key factor in depression.

4. Veg

Newman has already written The Plant Power Doctor, a book on the power of plant-based nutrition for health, and she points out: “Globally, it’s reported that unhealthy diets contribute to more death and disability than smoking, alcohol and drug use combined. The most comprehensive analysis of risk factors has determined that one in five deaths are caused by an unhealthy diet.”

She says diets low in whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables, and high in salt and saturated fat (mainly from eating meat and ultra-processed foods), are the least healthy, and adds: “Healthy choices and nutrition are key to a healthy mind and body, as well as self-compassion and awareness of how our food choices make us feel.”

5. Exercise

As well as being extremely good for us physically, exercise is great for the mind too – Newman says large studies show it’s strongly linked to happiness, and helpful in treating depression. “Movement is needed for a thriving body and mind,” she says, pointing out that you can slash your premature death risk by 20-30% by walking for 20-30 minutes a day, compared to people who do no exercise at all.

And if you’re going to live a long life, looking younger would be a bonus – and research has found exercise helps slow cellular ageing, says Newman.

6. Sleep

“Sleep is vital,” says Newman. “Just as exercise and a good diet help us stay well, sleep can also help us maintain our weight and ward off serious problems like heart attacks, obesity, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Although sleep can improve mood, help make your heart healthier, make it easier to maintain weight, create a stronger immune system, help kill pain, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and improve concentration and attention, one in three people struggle to nod off, says Newman.

Creating a healthy sleep routine, having sensible naps, earlier meal times, exercise, active relaxation and meditation can all help, she says.

Get Well Stay Well by Dr Gemma Newman is published by Ebury.