Tuesday, 28 September 2021
AFTER the excesses of Christmas and new year, no doubt many of you will have been thinking about those New Year resolutions, eager to embark on a quest to lose a bit of weight ready for the summer.
The gyms will be rubbing their hands together, handing out their New Year membership deals, and the supermarkets will be stocking up on their “low fat” ranges.
However, if you want to really change things, there is no place for short-term diets and programmes if it is not going to change your health habits in the long term.
For example, perhaps with an over-indulgent New Year’s party in the back of their mind, many people sign up to the gym in January with the best intentions but the majority will have stopped going within six months.
Don’t get me wrong, the gym is an excellent place to get fit and healthy, but if you want to feel better and look better there are some important steps that people often miss out.
To that end, I’ve put together five tips that are simple but will pay huge dividends in the long run:
1 Diet. This is incredibly important — and I don’t mean “a diet” but rather your diet in general.
Cutting out carbs altogether, eating just lettuce for breakfast, lunch and dinner or whatever weird and wonderful things the celebrities are doing this year is simply not the answer. These diets tend to focus on quick fixes and do not take into account the long term.
It is so important to make changes that are not only achievable but also sustainable. That way it doesn’t have to seem like torture and you don’t come to the end of it only to give yourself a pat on the back, open a beer and get straight back on the phone to your local takeaway.
Your focus should be on getting the correct balance. It is recommended, for example, that we aim for a third of our daily intake to comprise starchy foods like bread, rice and pasta. This should all be whole-wheat where possible.
We need to be aiming for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day (the benchmark is higher in many other countries), at least two portions of oily fish a week along with eggs, beans, pulses and lean meat in order to get our fill of protein and fibre.
Low fat and low sugar dairy options are good to provide us with calcium for our bones and butter and oils with high levels of unsaturated fats are very much better than those with lots of saturated fats.
Avoid foods with high salt content, which can cause high blood pressure, and high sugar content.
It is worth planning what you are going to eat in a week and buying only the things that will fit into that plan. If you don’t have snacks and fizzy drinks in the house, then you won’t consume them.
It is also important to make sure you have three good meals each day — never skip a meal — and intersperse them with healthy snacks such as unsalted nuts or pieces of fruit.
That way you have a slow but steady release of energy throughout the day, leaving you feeling healthier, more productive and, above all, happier (and less likely to reach for the crisps).
A daily multivitamin each day won’t do any harm, although for someone with a properly balanced diet it is normally unnecessary, and over the winter months a vitamin D supplement can be useful.
As for all the other things on the market, providing you stick to the above diet, they are not needed. Nothing is ever a substitute for the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.
2 Water. It is recommended that we drink around six to eight glasses of water each day.
This will leave you feeling more energised, less puffy in the face and more productive.
If we lose even around two per cent of our body’s water content, it can affect our mood and concentration and can also cause headaches.
It can be easy to forget to drink, so often it helps to carry a bottle around. It doesn’t have to be bought bottled water — tap water is perfectly adequate.
Bear in mind that other fluids will often have harmful sugars and stimulants such as caffeine in them, so these should be limited where possible.
3 Stop smoking. If you don’t smoke, well done, skip to number 4. If you do, this is your first and most important step.
It is fairly common knowledge now how bad smoking is for you (cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, you name it) but it can be very hard to kick the habit.
You should make this a priority. Look for any local smoking cessation programmes as it often can’t be done alone — see www.smokefreelifeoxfordshire.co.uk
4 Limit alcohol. The recommended limit for weekly alcohol consumption recently decreased, meaning we (men and women) should be having no more than 14 units each week (equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or 10 small glasses of low strength wine).
People often comment on how much better they feel in themselves after a “dry” January, which is testament to the detrimental effects of alcohol.
Once again, if you don’t buy it, it’s not there to drink, so limit it at your weekly shop if possible.
5 Exercise. If you follow the above tips, then the gym is a viable option. Many of us lead hectic lifestyles, however, so a busy gym schedule is often not sustainable.
It’s much better to work your way gradually into a more active lifestyle, a measure that may prevent injury as well.
The benefits of exercise cannot be understated. It is far more cost-effective than any medications we use on a regular basis.
The stats are quite striking: up to 35 per cent lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, up to 50 per cent lower risk of diabetes and up to 83 per cent lower risk of osteoarthritis. It also helps prevent depression, cancer and dementia.
We should aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. This can consist of brisk walks, home work-outs, cycling, running or swimming.
If you are less mobile, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an exercise for you (look at www.nhs.uk/Livewell for exercise tips and more).
Stretching is a branch of exercise that is also a way to increase flexibility and wellbeing, so try to fit this into your new routine as well. Yoga and Pilates are brilliant examples of this.
If you think you are already living a healthy life, sometimes it is worth just stepping back and assessing what you are eating or drinking or what activities you are or are not doing.
If we get into the wrong routine, we may not notice smaller details that could be improved.
Very few of us are in the position where there are no changes to be made so, for your most effective resolution, make yourself a plan, set some achievable and sustainable goals and implement the changes slowly and steadily.
Hopefully that way 2018 will be a success. Good luck!
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