We often want things the easy way. Next day delivery, movies on demand, food delivery in 15 mins or your money back.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) our health and fitness aren’t like that. It takes an investment in time and effort over a long period to build good health and fitness.
In order to make longlasting changes to improve your health and fitness levels, you need to make focused efforts over a long period of time. Learning to fall in love with the process of getting a little stronger, a little fitter and a little more consistent every day is the key to your success. Your goal of losing that 10kgs hanging about your middle, or being able to play with your kids without a time out every 5 minutes, almost happen as a side effect.
While it’s cool to see clients achieve PRs in the gym, it’s even cooler to hear them tell me about non-gym related victories. Getting into a piece of clothing they’ve not worn in years, walking down stairs pain-free, or walking to work without feeling like their lungs are trying to escape the captivity of their chest makes me happy.
Training to improve strength levels has been shown time and again to be the fountain of youth, with physical and mental benefits having been well documented. So call me biased if you want, but this should be the basis of your training. Then find whatever else you enjoy to stay active. Making time to move with some purpose every day, whether that’s going for a walk, gardening, group classes or whatever, can help improve recovery from your resistance training, help improve your baseline aerobic fitness and stop you from increasing that butt-shaped imprint on your sofa.
Diet needs a bit of effort initially, particularly if you have neglected it a little. Once you get over that initial effort, good habits take over and things become a little more automatic.
Habits drive most of your behaviour, including what, when and where you eat. Becoming aware of these habits, then changing those that aren’t doing you any favours, is a major part of your progress.
Keep a food log to look for patterns in food intake. Then note down when and where you eat each meal or snack, look for links between the 2 and change your environment to change your habits. For example, if you always have lunch at your desk, take yourself outside and try a different lunch option. If you always watch TV while you eat dinner, and find yourself always feeling packed and uncomfortable afterwards, switch off the box, eat at a table and pay a little more attention to when you feel full.
Putting some thought into what meals you’ll have in the coming days, and shopping for what you’ll need is also a big part of your future success. I know it’s a pain, and it’s easier to pop into the supermarket on your way home, but this also makes it more likely that you’ll pick up a poor choice and a bunch of snacks you don’t need just because you’re hungry.
Putting in 15-30 minutes of effort a couple of times a week helps you plan better options and makes it more likely that you’ll follow through with them.
Health, too, needs a bit of focus and effort. It comes off the back of training and nutrition, but smart supplementation and simple health practices, such as getting good quality sleep, building a good social life and not doing stupid stuff like smoking and driving without a seatbelt are only going to put you ahead of the game.
The problem with your fitness, diet and health is that the decreases are so tiny each day that you barely notice that you’re slowly, but surely, getting less healthy, less fit and adding a tiny bit to your waistline every day. But somehow, months or years from now, you wake up and BOOM! you’re heavier, slower and suddenly you can’t shake off colds as easily.
Here are 5 things you can do, to keep you on the right track, without going to extremes.
1. Resistance training
This might be the key to a longer, higher quality of life. Seriously. Maintaining as much lean mass as you can, for as long as you can, protects you from falls, makes day to day tasks easier, and keeps you mentally sharper. AS we age, you get to choose if you are going to be the doddery old person struggling to get about with a walker, reduced to living on the ground floor of your house because you can’t do stairs any more, or the fit and strong old dude/ dudette still kicking ass and taking names.
Although training takes effort, it doesn’t need to take hours of work each week. 2-4 x30-60 minute sessions each week, done with a bit of effort and with a focus on improving/ maintaining performance is all it takes.
2. Eat more protein
If training is the vehicle to building and maintaining the body you need to live better for longer, then protein is the fuel you need to keep it in tip-top condition. Yes, carbs are needed for energy and power. And fat is necessary as low intensity fuel and for cell health, vitamin storage and more. But it’s protein that allows your body to repair and maintain lean mass.
Aiming to get at least some protein at every meal helps make sure you get adequate amounts, as well as it keeping you feeling fuller for longer, making it less likely you’ll reach for the biscuit tin between meals.
3. Get more sleep
I’ve written about sleep and it’s many benefits before, so I’m just going to put a couple of quotes from sleep researcher, Matthew Walkers fantastic book, “Why We Sleep”, here:
“the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.”
“those older adults with the greatest loss of deep sleep showed the most catastrophic overnight forgetting. Poor memory and poor sleep in old age are therefore not coincidental, but rather significantly interrelated. The findings helped us shed new light on the forgetfulness that is all too common in the elderly, such as difficulty remembering people’s names or memorizing upcoming hospital appointments.”
Get yourself 7-8 hours each night.
4. Get outside
Getting out into the fresh air, ideally in a green space, helps improve focus, creativity, decreases stress, increases step count, boosts fitness, keeps you brain on its circadian rhytm, relaxes your eyes after being in artificial light and in front of screens, and generally makes you feel a whole lot better.
Most people go from home to car/ bus, into work where they stay for 8+ hours, then back into the car/ bus and home to sit inside watching TV. Your brain needs exposure to daylight at varying points in the day to help it keep you on time. Bright daylight in the morning helps promote wakefulness, dimming, redder light in the evening help you wind down towards sleep.
Getting out into nature has many well researched benefits for your ability to improve mental function and decrease mental and physical stress.
Increasing your step count is a simple, but effective way to add some low level cardio activity to your days, boosting the strength of your heart and lungs, and keeping some good movement in your legs.
Aim for 10-15 minutes 2-3 times a day. Maybe walk all or part of the way to work. Get out for 15 minutes at lunch. Go for a short walk after dinner.
5. Have less screen time.
Screen time is fine. But it will distract you while you eat, making it more likely to overeat. It’ll take you away from your company, whether that is your family, friends, or co-workers. It means you are more likely to miss the simple pleasures around you every day.
We spend on average 2 hours on social media each day. 4 hours watching TV and an hour on email. Then say we don’t have time to spend on our health and fitness. I call bullshit.
You have time to do whatever is important to you. If that’s watching some crappy TV and endlessly scrolling through your social media channel of choice instead of spending a little time and effort on building and maintaining your health and fitness, then so be it. But that decision will come back to bite you in the ass in time.
Decide to put in a little time and effort now and your future self, and your future family, will thank you for it.