As we settle into 2021 it is time to reflect on the year that was 2020. For many of us it was the year that wasn’t, but off the back of this experience it has left many of us more resilient and more robust than ever. As a Personal Trainer and Health and Wellness coach I have witnessed a shift that has occurred within the health and wellness space. This shift has come about mainly due to Covid and the effect this virus has had on our the way we live we our lives and what we choose to focus on.
With that in mind, here are my observations on all things fitness, food and and wellness and what 2021 will look like in this space!
Here’s to a healthy and happy rest of 2021!
Online Fitness Subscriptions and On Demand Workouts:
While we were shut off from much of our lives physically, a saving grace was being able to remain connected digitally which allowed many of us to keep our exercise regimes going.
When gyms closed across the country due to Covid outbreaks, avid gym attendees started looking at online options for fitness motivation. Most commercial and boutique exercise facilities started offering zoom classes with an instructor that you could do in the comfort of your own home. These alternatives proved to be quite popular as they kept the social element of exercise alive, whilst also providing participants with a community in times of isolation.
On demand workout apps are so sophisticated now that they you can stream any type of workout anywhere, anytime from dance classes to weights-room workouts to your home. Not only are these type of workouts more readily available, but, according to some fitness experts they are here to stay. Charlie a client of mine who trained with me online was a big fan of online workouts; she says,
“Digital exercise options suited me for many reasons, those being, I didn’t have to leave the house to do it and I can still receive expert guidance from a professional in real time’.
If there is one thing that 2020 taught us, it’s that Mother Nature provides the perfect backdrop to deliver a butt kicking workout. You only have to look around in your neighbourhood to see an abundance of outdoor yoga sessions, run clubs, bootcamps and swim squads being run by fitness experts who have moved their businesses outdoors.
The great outdoors can provide the ideal environment to work on your fitness and change up your workout routine. Nothing compares to a run in natures backyard or a swim in the ocean to revitalise your energy. During the peak of the lockdowns one of the few permitted reasons to leave your home was to exercise outdoors which resulted in people running, walking and training everywhere there were green open spaces. For some of us getting outside and going for a walk several times a day broke up the monotony of being stuck indoors. I know of several clients whose exercise actually increased as they were no longer commuting long distances to go to work and could spend this time working on their health instead.
For a lot of health professionals these outdoor sessions are here to stay as their clients feel safer than exercising in an indoor space. Smaller gyms and exercise facilities might find it harder to adhere to the ever-changing social distancing requirements therefore the outdoors solves a lot of these problems as well as reducing costly overheads from hiring out facilities.
Mental Health & Self Care:
With long periods of time at home and isolated from friends and family this has brought into the spotlight for many of us issues that have been bubbling under the surface in terms of our mental health. I have had numerous conversations with friends and clients with whom have really struggled with anxiety, depression, addiction and loneliness during this time.
The resulting demand for self-care practices has seen these services increase in popularity and range from services such as counselling, psychology, meditation, breathwork, massage, and Yoga.
With pubs and clubs shut across the country intermittently last year and somewhat this year, the result of this has seen an increase in purchase behaviour from bottle shops according to a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (May 2020). Whilst alcohol consumption has seen a reduction from pubs and clubs due to these closures.
In a study collected from (Biddle et. al 2020) the most common reason given for alcohol consumption was that the person is spending more time at home (67% males/ 64% females). The next most common response was ‘boredom nothing else to do’ (49% males) whilst for females it was ‘increased stress’ (42%).
Whatever the reason some of us turned to alcohol more in 2020, 2021 is about the year of sobriety or trying to cut back on our alcohol consumption. During the calendar year we have events such as ‘Feb Fast’ and ‘Dry July’ campaigns which encourages participants to go a month alcohol-free.
Boom in Athletic & Eco Friendly Wear:
Sales of athletic wear have gone thru the roof as a lot of the world’s population are still working remotely. Some of us have swapped out our corporate attire for athletic wear and athleisure apparel. This athletic wear serves a multi-function as it can be worn to work and also for a cheeky workout during your lunchbreak.
From trainers to post-gym face scrubs and reusable water-bottles to bags, every facet of your gym locker will soon be responsibly sourced according to the ‘Third Space’ a popular gym in London. Predictably, larger brands are leading the charge here. This includes adidas, with a campaign fighting plastic pollution by intercepting plastic and turning into sportswear. Other brands are making shoes out of sustainable materials including algae foam or sportswear from recyclable materials.
During lockdown we saw a shift away from eating out as much as cafes and restaurants closed, this led to more of an emphasis on cooking healthy meals at home. The surge in home cooking has tapped into our ‘wannabe chefs’, that, combined with spending more time at home has seen us carry out some culinary experiments in the kitchen. Off the back of this cooking trend, we are looking for ways to streamline this process so kitchen equipment such as air fyers, microwaves and steam ovens have been placed on back order such is the demand for them.
Learning a New Skill or Picking up and Old One:
With the availability of more time on our hands and the closure of some of our favourite places this has led to some of us learning a new skill or picking up an old one. Take for example, one of my clients Tash. Tash was a keen Group Fitness Class participant and would fill her week with classes such as cycle, Circuits and Boxing. When her favourite gym closed, Tash found herself in desperation going back to running and which she used to do 10 years ago and online Yoga which she has never done before. Tash is loving the variety and whilst she has gone back to group fitness she has kept her online Yoga and running once a week!.
What is evident from the health and wellness industry in 2021 is that people value their health more than ever. Watch this space to observe what happens to the popularity of online classes and health apps as we move closer towards the end of the year and more and more people feel safe to go back to their previous routines. The lure of places like gyms and boutique offerings may prove too strong over the longer term as the social, competitive and communal roles that these facilities provide is integral part of exercise for so many of us!
It starts around late October, a sense of uneasiness, the chatter centred around the warmer weather, impending holidays booked and that c word… Christmas. Every year without fail a large portion of my clients start panicking when they feel the hint of a balmy breeze and start enjoying the lighter afternoons. Topics of conversation start centring around fitting into last year’s swim wear and the Covid kilograms that need to ‘just go’ before Christmas. It’s not only the physical appearance that creates dissatisfaction but also the feelings of lethargy and tiredness after being on the go 24/7. For many of us, a large sense of overwhelm is looming with no clear cut solutions on how to navigate the ‘forest from the trees’.
Knowing that we have all the same amount of minutes and hours in the day it really is about spending some time planning and thinking about what is important, setting some intentions at the start of each day and learning to prioritise those things that are important to us.
Instead of feeling like ‘blah’ going into the latter half of the year we can start to feel more like ‘Yah’ if we spend some time on the following:
- Move Your Body in Ways that Make You Feel Good
What is the best exercise for you? The one that you enjoy! Why? Because if you enjoy dancing or swimming for example you are more likely to stick to it long term. Just because you read somewhere that weight training is the best form of exercise (don’t get me wrong it has a multitude of benefits) if you don’t enjoy it won’t be sustainable long term.
When we exercise it helps us to release feel good hormones called ‘endorphins’ a neurochemical associated with feelings of euphoria. These feel good hormones can assist with a clearer mindset, creativity and an improved mental state. The other benefits of moving your body more is it helps burn off excess body fat, it improves our strength and fitness, this lends itself to a happier and healthier version YOU all round.
2. Create Healthy Boundaries:
Do you find it hard to say ‘no’ to people? Do you find yourself in situations where you think why am I doing this or I don’t want to be here? Creating healthy boundaries is about saying ‘no’ to the things you don’t really want to do. It is about putting yourself first and practicing on a daily basis more self- care. Does FOMO or the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ stop you from saying no to things when you know deep down you really should. Remember when we start saying no to the things that are not right, we start creating more room for other opportunities which are right!
When it comes to creating boundaries as well this also translates to people in our lives. Do you have a partner, friend, flat mate or co-worker that makes you feel less than?
One solution is to have an honest and open conversation with them about how their comments make you feel or if the idea of that is too scary write them a message asking that they respect you and what that looks like.
Another solution is to limit the amount of time spent with them, spend time with them on your terms and at a neutral place where you can leave the situation quickly if it starts to go pear shaped.
3. Design a Self -Love Mantra:
It is well known in the psychology world that our thoughts create an emotion and our emotions dictate our behaviour. Our self-talk and the language we use to describe ourselves has a direct impact on how we feel, and thus the way we behave. When creating a self -love mantra we need to silence our inner critic, you know the one that always pops up with judgements, negativity and criticism. This is hard to do, I know, especially when we experience up to 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day and most of them are negative. We are hard wired on a subconscious level to think this way.
Positive mantra’s take practice! It is almost like we are rewiring the brain to think differently. By practising positive mantra’s this in turn will help us open up different neural pathways in the brain and let those old negative ones wither away and grow less powerful. This new way of thinking will take some practice but remember what we water grows!
We can practice a self- love mantra by writing down 5 things everyday we like about ourselves. These 5 things should not relate to other people for example “I am a caring and kind friend’, this relates to how you make others feel. Instead try “I have been thru some tough times in my life which has made me resilient and strong” or “I am happy. I am enough’.
A self love mantra can be written down where you can see it everyday or you can say it out loud or in your head or anytime your inner critic comes out. These practices will help us to be kind, to heal and to experience some self- compassion for ourselves.
4. Purge your Social Media:
Comparison truly is the thief of all joy. Go thru any of your following lists and unfollow any accounts that make you feel less than. The point of social media is to stay in touch with friends, family and acquaintances or to educate or entertain you on some level. Whilst scrolling or tapping and you come across something that floods you with shame or self doubt you know to ‘click unfollow’. Keep this practice up regularly and use it across all of your social media channels.
You never need to explain your decision to unfollow someone. Or just say for example it’s a family member or a friend’s Instagram page that is triggering some unwanted feelings for you. You can try muting or snoozing their stories and posts so you see less of their content.
5. Practice Daily Mindfulness:
We live in an age of high speed this and digitised that which makes slowing down even harder to do. From the moment most of us wake up in the morning we are racing around trying to get kids ready for school, off to the gym or getting ourselves to work on time. Most of us don’t even sit down to eat a proper breakfast rather we grab a coffee on the run and then sit in front of a screen for hours on end. Our cortisol or ‘stress hormones’ are being continually dumped into our system and most of us are running off the flight or fight hormone adrenaline. It’s no great surprise then that our population is suffering under the weight of all of this stress and our physical, emotional and mental health is being compromised. We have seen an increase in the number of people suffering from mental health issues which has been exacerbated due to Covid.
If you want to know the value of mindfulness, you may want to consider this. Can you sit for 1 minute and completely quiet your mind? And can you do this without feeling like you are jumping out of your skin? If you have ever done this exercise it can prove to be quiet a challenge. Taking the time to quiet our mind and just sit with ourselves is a lot harder than what it sounds.
Mindfulness techniques can include practices such as Yoga, Meditation, breathing exercises, Tai Chi, Stretching or simply sitting quietly and emptying our minds from all thoughts. It is about learning to pay attention to the present moment with the intention of letting go of judgement, for the present is the only real moment we have. The problem for the majority of us, is we spend too much time bemoaning the past or catastrophising the future, we spend very little time in the present.
Mindfulness helps improve our concentration and helps reduce ruminative thinking that contributes to the high levels of stress which are so prevalent in today’s society.
When we are mindful, we experience our life as we live it. We are present with our family and friends and we experience the world directly through our 5 senses, we taste what we are eating and we recognise the thoughts we are having. When we allow ourselves to get out of our heads and experience the world directly without the endless commentary of our thoughts we may just open ourselves up to the limitless possibilities that life has to offer.
I remember reading a book by David Gillespie called ‘Sweet Poison’ which totally changed my view on eating processed sugar. This book was written by a 40kg overweight, sleep deprived father of four that had run out of diet options to lose weight. One day he decided to eliminate sugar out of his diet completely and the changes not just physically but mentally to the way he felt was radical. David started to investigate the link between our soaring obesity rates and the worrying diseases that were emerging in the 21st century. He found links between the introduction of processed sugar in the 1940’s and the increase of heart disease and diabetes.
A background of poor health is what also drove Sarah Wilson to quit sugar and start a successful company and movement in the process with her ‘IQuitsugar.com’ online program and books. The I quit sugar movement proved to fill a gap in the market with over 1.5million people in over 113 countries joining her online program to learn the tools to successfully ditch sugar for good. The results from her devotees are astonishing, with some displaying increases in fertility, decreased symptoms of chronic and auto-immune diseases whilst for others it has assisted with the management of diabetes and helped many others lose that stubborn belly fat for good.
So knowing all of this this let’s look at specifically how sugar affects our overall health.
Sugar is stored as excess fat around the mid section:
According to the Heart Foundation (heartfoundation.org.au) more than 64% of Australians are overweight or obese and more than 1 in 4 children. These are worrying statistics as being overweight lends itself to the likelihood of having chronic diseases such as cardio thoracic diseases and diabetes.
There are 2 types of belly fat the first one is called subcutaneous fat that is fat located just under the skin. Subcutaneous fat is often referred to as ‘ love handles’, ‘saddlebags’ or ‘back fat’. Whilst carrying excess weight around the mid section is not ideal with changes to your diet and moving more it is possible to reduce this area.
The second more concerning fat is called visceral fat which is generally indicated by a ‘pot belly’ or an apple shape. This type of fat is of concern as it is much deeper under the skin and surrounds the vital organs. Visceral fat can cause changes to our hormonal profiles and has links to both cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Sugar may promote cancerous cells and recurrence:
In 1924 there was a German Scientist named Otto Warburg who discovered that cancerous cells need a lot more sugar to grow and divide than normal cells this became known as the ‘Warburg Effect’. Cancerous cells metabolise sugar differently to normal cells and there has been a lot of research as of late to discover new treatments for this process.
Let it be known however that eating sugar directly does not cause cancer however, there is an indirect link between cancer risk and sugar. We know this because having a diet high in sugar lends itself to being overweight or obese. According to the Cancer Research UK, being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer. In fact, after smoking, obesity is the second most preventable form of cancer in the UK.
There have been some further research groups which looked at the recurrence rates of women with breast cancer. A ‘PREDIMED’ study followed 300 breast cancer survivors for 3 years, 199 eating a ‘normal’ healthy diet as advised by dieticians and 108 eating a Mediterranean style diet comprising of 4 serves of vegetables, 3 serves of fruit, 1 serve of whole grains and plenty of olive oil, fish and seafood 3-4 times a week and a little red meat.
11 patients experienced a recurrence whilst on the normal diet whilst no one on the Mediterranean diet underwent a relapse. The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating whole foods including vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish and olive oil whilst being low in red and processed meat and alcohol is kept to a minimum. Whilst only a small study it is promising.
Sugar can damage your heart:
It has been noted that sugar can cause contribute to cardiovascular diseases, however, a 2013 article in the Journal of American Heart Association displayed strong evidence that sugar can actually affect the pumping mechanism of your heart and could increase the risk of heart failure. The findings specifically pinpointed a molecule from sugar called glucose metabolite glucose 6-phosphate (G6P) that was responsible for changes in the muscle protein of the heart. These changes could eventually lead to heart failure.
High sugar diets can age you:
I used to remember my mum telling my in my youth that drinking lots of alcohol will age you. I used to think this was her one of her many attempts of trying to keep me away from it. Now I understand that the sugar content in alcohol and many processed foods ages our cells and causes many of them to die prematurely. Excess processed sugar can cause dark circles around your eyes, wrinkles, dehydrate your skin and can fast track the ageing process.
Basically, sugar bonds with proteins in your body in a process called glycation. They also harden collagen and elastin, and prevent your body from making more. All these effects mean your skin looses elasticity, lines and wrinkles start to set in, and signs of visible ageing become more apparent.
Beware Sugar is hidden in most things that we eat:
Whilst many of us strive to avoid eating processed sugar like chocolates, lollies, cakes and pastries sugar is also in a lot of everyday foods that we consume. For example dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, cream, butter, ice cream and cheese all contain ‘lactose’ which is a sugar found in dairy products. Whilst this is a more natural occurring sugar than say the sugar found in biscuits it still is made up of the same composition of fructose and glucose.
So basically, whether it’s in a piece of fruit, a fizzy drink or a pastry, sugar is made up of the same two components: fructose and glucose. The molecule structure and composition of sugar molecules is the same no matter where they come from. Let’s not get confused that the sugar found in cake has the same effect on the body as say the sugar found in fruit (which it doesn’t). For one thing, fruit offers good stuff like vitamins, antioxidants and water whilst cakes, lollies and biscuit offer zero nutritional benefits.
When it comes to choosing what to eat the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘everything in moderation’ couldn’t ring truer. It’s important to ‘eat the rainbow’ when it comes to a healthy mix of fruits and vegetables so we get all of our essential vitamins and minerals plus the all important fibre requirements to aid digestion. Sweet processed treats and alcohol should be limited to special occasions or on the weekends. In the health and wellness world we educate our clients to understand that 70% of how you look is what you are eating and drinking and the other 30% consists of what you are ‘doing’ .
If you are looking to detox off processed sugar start by making some small changes every week. It could be something as simple as cutting back your alcohol consumption from Monday to Friday or not eating dessert every time you go out for dinner. Over time you will notice your sugar cravings have all but disappeared and you wont even think twice about eating it nor miss it. The benefits of the weight you lose, how much more energy you have and the clarity of your thoughts will be motivation enough to cut back or ditch the sugar for good!
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.