Are you ready to make a new you this year?
Becoming more fit and healthy is one of the most personally rewarding things we can do for ourselves.
You feel great, your brain works better, you're less likely to get sick, cancer risk reduces significantly, and you live longer. Study Study Study Study
But new years resolutions are often more contrived and misguided with strict regimes rather than well thought out and sincere; after all, what is suddenly so important about getting fit next week that wasn't important last week?
It's easy to convince ourselves that the new year resolution is uniquely important, but that is a simple misdirection that most often doesn't work. Of course if a person happens to make some healthy commitments to themselves at this time of year and follows through for the rest of their lives I think that's great, but the stats say that nearly everyone who get's excited about personal change this time of year will fail in their pursuit before six months passes, often before even a few weeks pass, because of unrealistic goals and expectations.
With Canadians becoming less physically active and more overweight every year from 1981 to 2009, the annual rush for healthy resolutions is clearly not panning out, despite the best of intentions.
Is that a bit of a downer?
Boot camps, crash diets, fad diets, and really hard workouts are the soup de jour, but soon these contrived fancies go sour and back come the old habits.
That's the reality.
So how do we overcome that?
Although only a very small percentage of the population is successful in making the transition to living a healthier lifestyle, the answer is simple.. do what those who succeed are doing.
Research has shown the following are the key ingredients to making it work, and I can personally attest to these values as I have made the transition myself, and over a couple decades of coaching I've seen these traits turn couch potato's into the lean and fit..
Eat a healthy breakfast every day, and don't skip meals. Skipping meals makes you more hungry and you are more likely to overeat later. Also, food is not your enemy, it's not something you want to avoid. Learn to feel rewarded by healthy eating.
Learn how many calories you need to consume and stick to it. Eat less on days you move your body less, eat more when you move more. Go here to learn about how much food you need in a day.
Start with a conservative exercise program; you don't need to get fit fast, you just need to get fit. With regular exercise you're going to get fit anyway so you may as well do it right and get better long term results. Gradually build an exercise routine that you like. Make sure there is a mix of cardiovascular and strength training exercises. We need both. If you're not sure what to do consult a professional.. it's easy to do exercises wrong and limit your results, or worse, get hurt.
Weigh yourself every week, whether or not you're trying to gain or lose weight. Where did those extra pounds come from? Gradual weight gain can go unnoticed for a long time. If you're losing weight keep it safe and avoid losing more than 2 pounds per week as that is a sign of losing muscle and becoming dehydrated. If you notice a weight trend going the wrong way the sooner you catch it the sooner you can correct it. You keep track of your bank account to keep it balanced, same thing goes for your body.. keep track of your weight, and waist girth. If your waist girth is more than 36 in for men and 32 in for woman, the research shows you are in a higher risk category for cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.
Be honest with yourself; take an inventory of your current value and reward system and ask yourself if it's compatible with healthy living objectives. If it isn't, then practice unlearning feeling rewarded by unhealthy choices, and learning to feel good about healthy choices. We're often trapped by the idea that overeating is fantastic reward, and that exercise is a stupid chore that we labour at. But really, it's being out of energy, weak, inflexible, and overweight that traps us. It really does feel great to be fit and healthy, make it a goal.
How much exercise? That really does depend on the individual. Generally, unless you're already a fit athlete, doing light to moderate activity that doesn't make you feel sore or exhausted is the way to go when starting out. Even one time per week will benefit. Research shows those who exercise around 4-5 days per week have about 40% fewer colds than those who don't exercise.
Keep these basics in mind:
One time per week for 30 to 60 minutes will provide a small benefit. Four times per week will provide much more benefit when you can handle it. Walking is a good place to start but walking won't make you fit. Go too hard too soon and you're likely to burn out. Intensity should be high enough to increase breathing rate, but not so high that you're out of breath. Interval training is very effective, but build some base fitness before you add hard or moderate intervals. Each person has their own limits, but it will typically take a couple months of gradually increased intensity during steady state cardio before you're really ready for intervals. You can start with intervals earlier if you have no health risks for high intensity exercise, but more often than not front end loading high intensity into exercise programs causes short term bliss, but also short lived results as people tend to burn out.
Learn to use heart rate monitoring.
Again, one time per week will benefit. Two times is better than one, and three can be better than two, but adding a fourth session doesn't seem to provide more benefit than three well done sessions. Three days off between weight training sessions has been shown to be optimal.
Set's and rep's.. One set will provide great benefit when you're starting out. Once technique is good and you're accustom to regular weight training, research shows doing two set's is about 40% better than doing one set. Doing three set's might net you another 5-10% gains greater than with two set's.. but you can get very, very strong with two set's done at a high intensity, once you're ready for the intensity. The common mistake is going too hard too soon. Starting out with light weights you can easily lift 20 to 30 times without feeling exhausted or sore is best (you should feel like you can keep lifting when you stop). As tolerance to weight training increases, push yourself harder.. use a weight heavy enough that you can't lift it more than 20 to 30 times. There are many variations of set's and rep's that work, but typically lighter weight with more reps is a better place to start.
Stretching is very important. Tight muscles cause many biomechanical problems that can lead to poor technique, limit gains, and lead to repetitive strain injury. Stretching after every workout when you're still warm is best. Hold each stretch until you feel 2 - 5 releases (tightness feels like it reduces slightly). Stretching works best if you can have a silent mind, breath slow, and relax.
Self massage/ professional massage
Go here to learn about trigger point massage therapy and you can learn work out those tight spots yourself.