There is nothing like a hint of a balmy breeze and days spent by the water after the cold winter months to inspire us to start thinking about getting healthy. The Summer months are definitely a time where we are more conscious of what we are eating and how we are feeling. You would be forgiven for being confused about what are the best foods to eat and the right type of exercise to participate in, for you to feel your best.
There is a proliferation of information out there especially on the internet, advertising the latest diets and exercise plans. This combined with ‘fitspo’ influencers spruiking the latest and greatest supplements and training gadgets can cause an overwhelming information overload for anyone researching these topics.
The old adage ‘if it sounds to good to be true it generally is’ a good philosophy to adopt when you are reading about the latest Celebrity weight loss plan and wondering whether it is for you. Unfortunately, there is no ‘quick fix’ to losing weight or getting fit! It takes time, consistency and is often one step forward and two steps back!
In order to cut thru the white noise of the health industry the best approach for looking and feeling your best is a ‘Balanced Lifestyle Approach’. This process looks into all areas of your lifestyle from nutrition, movement, hydration, stress management , sleep and mental health. The philosophy around the balanced lifestyle approach is, if any of the above lifestyle factors are being neglected, then you have a problem with this health equilibrium.
Lets address some of these lifestyle factors that could be inhibiting you from getting the results that you desire.
The best part about the warmer temperatures is our food persuasions move away from stodgy heavier meals to lighter foods such as salads and fruit. Berries, melons, mangoes and kiwi fruits come into season allowing us to make up some delicious fruit salads as snacks or a healthy dessert option.
When it comes to eating healthy, it’s important break the overnight fast of a morning with an energy fuelled breakfast that helps set us up for the rest of the day. Try to include a protein, carbohydrate and good fat source in your breakfast so that your body feels fuller for longer and you are getting all of your essential nutrients and vitamins.
Proteins could be anything from lean cuts of meat, eggs, dairy or a range of vegan options such as beans, tempeh, edamame, lentils, chickpeas or beans.
Healthy carbohydrates include vegetables, healthy grains such as quinoa, brown rice or pearl barley. Good fats can include olive oils, avocados, butter, nuts and seeds.
Some healthy vegan options for breakfast include coconut yoghurt with granola and berries with a hint of honey. A non-vegan option would be scrambled eggs with roast tomatoes, mushrooms and a slice of spelt toast with butter.
Picking the perfect snack is where a lot of us fall down as we are unprepared and often opt for snacks made of convenience rather than what is necessarily good for us. Coffee and a sweet laden muffin or biscuit tend to be our ‘Go To’s’ which give us an initial surge in blood sugar and energy only to come crashing down some time later. All of this processed sugar and caffeine send us on a viscous cycle of peaks and troughs of energy and concentration throughout the day that can be disastrous when we are trying to lose weight. You can find yourself caught in a mouse wheel of chasing energy throughout the whole day and craving empty carbohydrates.
More optimal snacks to keep your energy on an even keel include a piece of fruit combined with a small handful of activated nuts a tub of coconut with berries or some vegetable sticks with some homemade hummus.
Remember ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ and preparation is the key to success when trying to lose body fat. Pack a lunchbox the night before that includes a healthy lunch and snacks so you have everything you need to support your healthy eating plan.
In terms of lunch and dinner selections, you cant go past a lean source of protein such as chicken, fish or for a vegan option of tofu, lentils or beans. Combine this with a fresh salad of walnuts, feta cheese or pomegranates for a refreshing take on a plain salad.
Supporting your healthy eating should be a solid hydration plan that involves drinking 2-3 litres of good quality water per day. Drinking enough water allows our body to get rid of excess toxins and promotes healthy digestion. Excreting toxins regularly enables us to lose weight and diminishes bad cells that can cause cellulite.
The right type of exercise for you is the one that you are most likely to stick with whether it be Pilates, weights or Zumba. Obviously training variety is the key to obtaining the bodies most effective result’s.
Your body is uncannily smart and will adapt to the same type of training very quickly. Adaptation generally occurs after 6-8 weeks of performing the same type of exercise so it is important to mix up some component of the weights you are lifting or the type of cardio exercise you are participating in.
In today’s world we are restricted with the amount of time we have to dedicate to exercise so there has been an explosion in popularity of 20-30 minute options such as HIIT or class style circuit workouts. Both of these type of workouts combine both cardio and strength training elements whilst getting the heart rate up, a popular choice for many time poor people. These formats tend to offer ‘bang for buck’ for people looking to burn a lot of energy and get a good sweat on.
In order to change the shape of your body you cant go past some form of resistance training. Resistance training can be in the form of weights, body weight or using more functional equipment pieces like cables or resistance bands to name a few. Resistance training increases our lean muscle tissue that in turn assists us in burning energy even when we are inactive. This is very useful when we are tying to lose weight as lean muscle tissue will help us burn off excess body fat whilst also giving our muscles the appearance of looking firm and toned.
It is also hard to go past Mind/Body classes like Pilates or Yoga for their holistic health benefits and stress management techniques. Ten minutes a day should be spent practicing some ‘quite time’ such as meditation, journaling or listening to music to recalibrate your spirit and your mind.
Balancing Your Lifestyle:
Did you know on average that most of us spend 10 hours a day at working including commuting to work?
This is a pretty scary statistic when you combine that with 7- 8 hours sleep that only leaves us with approximately 6 hours a day for leisure and relaxation.
The quality of your time off makes all of the difference to balancing your lifestyle. Invest time into activities that are good for your mental health such as exercise, meditation, reading, or spending time with friends and family.
Balancing our lifestyle helps reduce our stress levels which in turn reduces our levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that can cause excess amounts of sugar production and in turn increased blood sugar levels. Carrying excess weight particularly around the mid section is a sign of excessive amounts of cortisol and long term stress.
Long terms stress can cause mental health problems like anxiety and depression and physical problems like high blood pressure, muscle weakness and fatigue.
In summary, the right weight loss program for you is one that is sustainable and fits into your lifestyle. Sustainability is the key here, if it involves too much deprivation or sacrifice the body will feel overwhelmed and it will only end up being a short-term weight loss solution.
If you want to transform your health then all of the 5 key lifestyle factors need to be addressed from mental health, movement, nutrition, water, sleep and stress management.
Small changes over time is the best approach as trying to change too many things at once will be overwhelming and again you may abandon all of your efforts before you have even started.
Recently there has been a shift away from the terms ‘health and fitness’ to a more encompassing term used to describe our overall health called ‘wellness’. You only need to look on social media for an increase in the amount of people describing themselves as ‘wellness warriors’ using hashtags such as #nourishing and #fitmotivation whilst striking the latest Yoga pose. I should know! I am one of the converted as well!
The shift for me has been a positive one as more and more research has come out to support the fact that our overall health is made up of much more than what we put into our mouths and what type of exercise we do.
Whilst our diet and exercise play an important role in how we look and feel, these are just smaller parts to the bigger picture to what I describe as, our ‘Holistic Health’.
Our Holistic Health is comprised of the following 5 lifestyle factors:
We have somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts on any given day that is 35-48 thoughts per person per minute. As you can imagine that is a lot of information for our rational brains to process. When we think, we manipulate information to form concepts, engage in problem solving, reason and make decisions. Not all thoughts are deemed equal, and sometimes when we are under stress or are feeling tired or depleted our rational brain finds it hard to make decisions and think positively this can be described as ‘stinking thinking’.
Long-term stress can wreak havoc on our physical health thru the presence of injuries and mental health concerns. If left untreated, the ill effects of stress can lead to time off work, niggling injuries that don’t get better and even the breakdown of oneself and our relationships.
In order to maintain positive thinking and manage stress levels it is important to take time out everyday to ‘switch off’ from distractions and allow yourself to be present with your own company and thoughts.
Options to help manage stress levels include mental awareness apps such as ‘Head Space’ which encourage you to take 10 minutes out of everyday for some mental wellbeing activities. Other ways you can help manage your stress include participating in a Yoga class, practicing some meditation or Tai Chi and even doing some adult drawing or colouring in.
How we breathe effects the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood at any given time replenishing our brain and other vital organs with essential nutrients. We take on average 20,000 breaths per day which, makes it an important part of our health to get right.
Breathing correctly can reduce your stress levels, improve the performance of your workouts and boost your immune system. Poor breathing can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, hyperventilation and even insomnia and depression.
When we are stressed our body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode and our breathing becomes more shallow and frequent. This causes us to breathe like we are hyperventilating which in turn increases our heart rate, leading to palpitations and contributes to feelings of anxiety and being out of control.
In order to breathe correctly we should focus on what we call ‘diaphragmatic breathing’. This technique involves placing one hand on our chest, say our left hand, and our right hand on our abdomen. When we breathe in and out your left hand should remain still and your right hand should move up and down. If your left hand is moving your breathing is too shallow and you are not using your diaphragm correctly. Practice taking slow deep breaths in and out until you perfect the technique. Take note of how this correct breathing technique will help boost your workouts and your health.
The average amount of water contained in the human body is approximately 50-65% for the average adult person. Considering our bodies are largely made up of water then it is crucial that we consume enough good quality water on a daily basis.
Water in the body is responsible for flushing wastes and toxins thru the body as well as metabolising and digesting food. It is also the primary building block for all of our cells, as well as helping to insulate and lubricate the body, and assist in regulating our body temperature.
The research around how much water to drink does vary but you should aim to consume 35-45ml/kg of fluid which translates into about 2-3 litres per day. An active person who trains for longer than 40 minutes per day training at a high intensity should add an extra 500-1000ml a day with athletes or people exposed to extreme heat more again.
Generally, an indication of being thirsty is the bodies way of telling you, your already dehydrated. Just losing even 1% of the bodies water has an impact on our physical performance as well as impairing our mental performance. Up to 70% of people are dehydrated at any one time a result of drinking too much coffee, juices and smoothies which are loaded with caffeine and sugar.
If your having trouble drinking enough water daily, try carrying around a drink bottle with a slice of cut up lemon or lime. Add vegetables such as sliced up cucumbers, carrots or mint leaves for a fresh zesty flavor. Add a glass of water before every meal and snack to help you feel fuller for longer and to stop the urge of wanting to overeat. Add a pinch of rock salt to assist in replacing essential minerals and salts lost thru perspiration as well as to help slow down the urination process.
Life is a about balance and when it comes to nutrition nothing beats a strong foundation of carbohydrates, good fats and proteins or what we commonly refer to as macronutrients. Where a lot of people get it wrong is when we start eliminating certain food groups in an attempt to lose weight often replacing proteins and carbs with foods loaded with hidden sugars.
The need to refuel throughout the day will largely depend upon your workload and individual energy requirements. If for example, you are a Personal Trainer like me and get up before 5am every morning to train and work, then I often need 2 small meals before lunchtime to keep me going. If you exercise during your lunch break you may find that you need a small snack before you train and a bigger meal after training to help manage hunger and energy levels or vice versa. As a general rule of thumb try not to leave longer than 3-4 hours between eating as this will help regulate your blood sugars and prevent you from overeating at your next meal.
Your 3-4 meals a day should consist of lean proteins to help build lean muscle and keep you feeling full as well as good fats such as olive oils, avocado’s nuts and seeds. Green vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, beans and peas should be eaten with every meal to ensure you boost your immune system and help you get all of your essential vitamins and nutrients in.
We are a nation of alarming statistics with obesity levels on the rise with data from the ‘National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’ (NHANES 2013-2014) stating that ‘1 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight. More that ‘2 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight or have obesity and ‘1 in 6’ children between the ages of 2-19 were considered to be obese.
‘Sitting’ has become the new ‘smoking’ with the majority of our adult population sitting at a desk for 8-12 hours a day up to 5 times a week. It’s no surprise then that the incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is also on the rise, this is adding more strain to an already overflowing health system. According to the U.S division for “Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention’ about 630,000 Americans die from heart disease every year – that is 1 in 4 deaths. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. According to the report also, the estimated cost of covering health care services, medications and lost productivity is approximately $200 billion each year.
Coupled with the heart disease facts is our current statistics on the incidence of diabetes. According to the “National Diabetes Statistics Report’ from the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)), 30.3 million Americans have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes that is 9.4% of the population. From this 30.3 million people, 7.2 million are undiagnosed which means they do not even know that they have it.
Alarming statistics aside, a strategy to help improve our current health situation is to get moving more often. When clients ask my advice on how often they should exercise my response is always ‘everyday’. Now this may seem a little excessive but exercise doesn’t always have to be in a gym environment it could involve taking the dog for a walk after work, swimming laps in your lunch break or playing some social sport of a weekend.
Try to stick to exercise that you enjoy doing as you are more likely to stick with it long term. For those times when you think your motivation may be an issue enlist the services of a Personal Trainer who can design workouts specifically tailored for you or grab a workout buddy as you are less likely to cancel on them.
When it come to exercise variety is the ‘spice of life’, your body is very good at adapting to exercise so ensure you do a variety of cardio, resistance training, body weight exercises and stretching.
Ultimately, the responsibility of our health and wellness comes down to 1 person….which is ourselves. In order to not be a statistic of disease we have to move more and watch the amount of processed foods and drinks we consume.
Perhaps one of your goals for 2018 is to prioritize your health, which involves quitting the excuses and putting more time into your physical and mental wellbeing.
The benefits of exercise go way beyond just the physical transformations that take place but extend far deeper into the emotional and mental well being of our health. I know myself that after a workout it clears the fog in my brain, stabilizes my moods and allows me to clear the lens and refocus again. Embarking on any new fitness journey can bring up a whole host of insecurities around the way you look, your fitness levels, what to do and for some it can be quite intimidating stepping foot into a place that has a bunch of toned bodies everywhere and some scary looking equipment.
If you are embarking on a new exercise regime here are my top 5 tips to get you started and to help keep you going:
1. Moderation is not failure
When embarking on any new exercise regime it is important to remember you have to learn to crawl before you can walk. If it has been a significant period of time since you laced up your trainers, begin with some low impact activities such as cycling, swimming, walking, Pilates or Yoga. It is important to recognize that there is not just the physical benefits of exercise such as increases in strength, endurance and fitness but also the emotional benefits of exercise such as improvements in mental and emotional health
2. Set Realistic Expectations
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will be your body. As a Personal Trainer I encourage my clients to set goals that are realistic and achievable in terms of their exercise and nutrition. You really need to check your expectations when it comes to the ‘big picture’ of what you are trying to achieve. If you are have a major event you would like to train for ensure you don’t leave it to the last minute before you join a gym or embark on that running program.
3. Get a Support System
Research tells us that the reasons the majority of people leave gyms is not because they move away or cant afford it but because of a lack of motivation. If you find it hard to be self motivated on the best of days try training with a buddy I guarantee you are less likely to hit the ‘snooze’ button if you know you have committed to meeting someone at 6am. If the thought of stepping into the weights area feels intimidating, or you are not confident around what to do, enlist the services of a Personal Trainer who can specifically design programs based around your strengths and weaknesses. You will be surprised at what your body can do and how hard you can push yourself when you have someone encouraging you to do so. Personal Trainers provide accountability and will ask you the difficult questions around food habits, stress, sleep and exercise. Join a gym that provides plenty of variety in terms of it’s service offerings, clubs such as Fitness First have small group training classes and group fitness classes that make working out social and fun.
4. Participate in Exercises or Sport that you Enjoy
Lets face it, if exercise feels like a chore or you are mentally ticking off the minutes before you can get out of there, chances are you wont last long. Not all exercise has to be structured or in the gym, you may love training outdoors or playing sport several times a week, these are great ways to keep fit plus they are social and enjoyable. Participate in small group training classes, join a running club or a Bootcamp you will be surprised at how quickly the time goes.
5. See How You Measure Up
Wearable technology has transformed the way we can measure heart rates, outputs, distances, pace, sleep and even body fat. Measuring our heart rate for example provides clear cut results around how hard we are working or perhaps how not. The ability to measure our results allows us to take responsibility for each and every workout, it also allows us to accurately compare our results over a period of time and to track our progress. Most wearable technology is easily synched to mobile devices and some even provide you with programs on what to do in the gym. Another great way to provide some insight into where your strengths and weaknesses lie is the “Bio-Score’. The Bio-Score available at Fitness First, is a holistic analysis of your health which allows you to see where you stand before you set out to improve.The Bio-Score measures your lung function, agility, strength, cardio, functional strength, core strength, waist to height ratio, muscular power, blood pressure and metabolic blood testing. These results are then formulated into a software program which provide us with a Bio age vs our chronological or actual age. Set yourself a goal to improve these markers in 12 weeks and retest again.
Take it from me, exercise does have the power to not just transform your body but it has the power to transform your life.
These tips will get you well on your way to improving your health and wellbeing, remember exercise should be a habit like brushing your teeth or combing your hair. The hardest part is getting started, remember some exercise is better than none and to be kind to yourself, self compassion will increase your likelihood to succeed long term.