How are you getting on with your new year’s resolutions? Did you make any? Or, are they not for you?
Each January, many of us commit to making this year, the year we improve our health. Whether it’s more exercise, losing weight or stopping smoking. Perhaps you’re taking part in one of the many January campaigns for a healthier life – Dry January, Veganuary, or RED (run every day).
The truth is, we often start the year with enormous expectations of how we’re going to finally crack that thing – in my case it’s been, the one which irritates us every day (jeans a bit too tight), taking part in a sport event (London Marathon anyone?), costs us money (unused gym membership) or, which we feel guilty about (afternoon latte and cake).
Come the end of January, some are making great progress, many are not and decide to stop (isn’t wine good for us anyway?)
If you’re one of the many – do not fear, there is an easier way to improve your health and make it part of your life every day rather than a one off battle each year.
The secret to making BIG changes is to start small.
Let me tell you a story……once upon a time (pre-2003) the British Cycling team were doing quite well, they were reasonably high in the world rankings, they just weren’t winning many medals. In 2004 (the year Dave Brailsford was appointed performance director), Bradley Wiggins and Chris Hoy both won golds at the Athens Olympics. From then on, more golds were collected with British Cycling team dominating at numerous Olympics, world championships and cracking world records, I’m sure you know the story.
Instead of focusing just on training, Brailsford looked at everything – from the weight of the bike, to the quality of sleep and what the cyclists were eating. His goal was to make many things 1% better. They reduced the weight of the bikes by 1%, the cyclists got new mattresses and a better bedtime routine, the nutrition was tweaked to ensure they got the best mix of nutrients to support their training and recovery.
And it worked.
Of course, Brailsford had a massive support team, highly motivated cyclists and the patience to look at everything with a fine-tooth comb. Most of us mere mortals don’t have that luxury.
But we can still apply the principles of Brailsford’s approach to ourselves and sneak health into our lives every single day. One client who followed this approach lost 9lbs in 7 weeks and managed to stabilise her blood pressure, enabling her doctor to take her off medication.
So, what does this sneaky approach to health look like?
I like to take a 3-pronged approach – What am I eating? How am I moving? Do I feel well? And start with small changes….
What am I eating?
How many portions of fruit and veg do I eat each day? Could I have one portion with each meal. Could I increase my current intake by one?
My goal is to have a balanced, healthy plate at each meal – ½ fruit or veg, ¼ quality protein, ¼ wholegrain carbs with some healthy fats e.g. olive oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish, thrown in for good measure. If I’m a long way from this, I start with one meal (breakfast usually) and then try to include one portion of veg at the other meals I have that day.
I take a couple of deep breaths before I start eating to get my body relaxed so, that I’m in the best place to start eating and digesting a meal.
I eat s l o w l y and focus on smelling and tasting my meal to give myself the best chance of digesting well and recognising when I’m about 80% full.
I stop when I get to about 80% full and don’t worry (!) if I leave something on the plate (old habits die hard, I know).
How I am moving?
There’s lots of evidence that 3 bouts of 10 minutes’ moderate activity each day (that’s activity which raises your heart rate and makes you a little bit out of breath) is more beneficial for your health than 60 mins every other day – and you’re more likely to manage it as well. Could I walk to the shop instead of jumping in the car? Could I walk the kids to school? Get off the bus / train / tube a stop earlier? One of the sneakiest ways to get activity into your life is to include it in your daily routine – when I worked in London, walking from Moorgate train station to the office at the Barbican (about 12 mins) and back was a massive eye-opener for me. If I’d have caught the tube it would have taken just as long (I hate the tube), I walked a short distance from my car to the station at home as well and racked up about 4 x 10 mins walking each day. My energy levels increased, I lost weight and my running improved. I didn’t even feel like I was doing much.
You could also sneak in micro-moves – again, lots of evidence that sitting down for hours on end is not good for us, recently it was referred to as the new smoking. Get up from your desk or sofa for a couple of minutes each hour, use the stairs instead of the lift, park at the other side of the car park or my current plot – squats and press ups whilst my coffee brews in the morning (literally less than 3 minutes’ exercise and I’ve gone from 10 squats and 10 press-ups on my knees to 25 squats and 15 full press-ups since the start of Jan). Linking a short bout of exercise with a regular part of your daily routine is really helpful to get into the habit of moving more.
What could you do?
- Walk around whilst you brush your teeth / make a cup of tea / wait for your toast to pop
- Use the stairs instead of the escalator next time you’re out shopping (start with one flight if you get out of breath)
- Use the toilet furthest away from your desk
- Go for a walking meeting with a colleague, this is great for 121’s and you can always stop for a tea at the end
Finally, do I feel well?
For me this generally boils down to – am I sleeping enough? Am I drinking plenty of water? Do I feel stressed and if so, what am I doing about it?
These really are the foundations of good health. If you’re tired, dehydrated and stressed you are never going to feel your best and healthiest self, even if you are eating loads of veg and moving every day.
By getting enough sleep (7-8 hours please), drinking water regularly (plain rather than with cordial or as juice is ideal) and finding a way to relax and manage day to day stress you are doing yourself a massive favour.
Whether you want to lose weight, stave off any chronic disease or increase your energy and happiness, you need sleep – without enough sleep your hormones create an environment where it’s difficult to make healthy choices, digest and extract nourishment from your food, repair your body and remove waste products, manage your happiness and numerous other important functions. All meaning it’s more difficult to shed the pounds.
When we’re dehydrated, our brains can’t function optimally, again making it difficult for us to think straight, we get tired more easily and with low energy levels it’s hard to think about doing one squat never mind 10.
And finally, stress. When we’re stressed our body goes into fight or flight mode – fine if you’re about to take on a sabre toothed tiger but when it becomes chronic and we’re dealing with it every single day – our hormones, again, have a field day and work against us losing weight and feeling fab. We crave sugar, or salt or both. We get tired. We struggle to make decisions. We can’t digest our food properly. We may have problems with our menstrual cycle be it irregularity, pain, mood swings or water retention (among the many symptoms of PMS). None of which are conducive to being our best self, never mind thinking about portions of veg or climbing stairs.
How does the small changes approach work with wellness?
Here are some ideas: –
- How much sleep are you getting? If it’s not more than 7 hours, try going to be just 10 mins earlier each night for a week. See how you feel – any better? Can you sneak in an extra 5 or 10 mins the next week? How could you change your evening routine to make it easier to go to bed earlier? Do you really need to be on Facebook at 11? Do you suffer from insomnia – could you use some of Jo’s lovely oils to help you on your way to sleep?
- With water, I’ve found the easiest thing to do is have a glass by my bed and drink it before I get up. I then have a glass in front of me which I try to make sure I drink from throughout the day. Somehow – having the glass in front of me makes it easier to get the water into me.
- Stress – well there’s a whole other blog on this and people who are far more expert at helping you with it than me. In my experience, including with my clients, I’ve found that the following can really help – getting enough sleep, getting out into the fresh air (ideally somewhere green) and walking for a short period of time, having at least one hug a day, taking one minute to focus on my breathing (go and hide in the toilet at work if you must), eating 7 or more portions of fruit and veg each day, using a meditation app such as Headspace.
Unless you’re training for a big event, like the London Marathon, and I wish you all the best with that I really do (and I’m NEVER doing a marathon again) – it should be possible to make enough small tweaks to your daily life to enable you to sneak your way to being your best and healthiest self. It won’t happen overnight but, by starting with just one or two tiny changes, slowly adding to them and being consistent, you’ll wake up one day and realise you feel the best you have in an age, you’ll be less out of breath and your belt will have gone down a notch.
It could be you well before January 2020 rolls around.
Wishing you all the best in health and happiness.
What my clients say
“I have worked with Marie for nearly a year now attending her Pilates lessons initially on a Friday afternoon and then a Tuesday evening.
I have always found these classes very relaxing, beneficial and enjoyable and feel Marie caters to everyone’s individual needs, as well as adapting the exercises each week and incorporating different equipment.
Marie has also been giving me 121 Personal Training, which again I have found to be of benefit. She adapts and tailors each session to my individual needs and areas I need to work on and is very encouraging when the exercises become tough.
I would definitely recommend Marie to anyone who is wanting to do Pilates or have Personal Training.”
Joanne Green – Director / Mother of 2 energetic boys
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