How to keep your new workout plan and healthy eating habits on track
We all know that healthy eating and regular exercise can improve everything from your waistline to your mental wellbeing, which given the current situation, is potentially now even more important than ever. With other benefits such as increased energy and confidence levels, discipline and focus, getting physically (and mentally) fit, like many things in life, is however a marathon, not a sprint (although with enough work, you can probably manage both!). A drastic ‘sprint-start’ fitness plan with power smoothies and steamed vegetables might well last a few days - even weeks - but sooner or later, even the most well-intentioned plans can run out of steam. That’s why it’s all about pacing yourself and making little changes you can commit to, which can make a big difference. Here are some tips and things you might want to consider to help get you limbered up and ready for the race.
One step at a time
Anyone who’s used a pedometer on a fitness device for the first time can tell you about the surprise they felt when they discover they’ve taken thousands more steps than they thought at the end of the day. It’s exactly the same with any exercise habits - small steps really do add up. That’s why setting just one achievable goal a day is a perfect start to sticking to your new healthy routine. It could be anything from a daily lunchtime walk to a 5-a-day fruit and veg target. Because tempting as it might be to tackle everything at once, focusing first on the consistency of the achievement (rather than the size) will make that sense of accomplishment a daily occurrence, and help you maintain the momentum to move onto bigger and better things in due course.
Tip: Discover these great ways to enjoy the outdoors to help get those steps up.
Avoid the snack attack
Snacking is a natural impulse between meals, but choosing the right kind of snack (carrots, fruit, nuts – although preferably not in cake form!) can make all the difference to sticking to your healthy eating plans. That said, the urge to snack may not actually come from hunger. Boredom, fatigue, a need for distraction or even just thirst can all lead us to reach for a treat. Before grabbing a snack, try taking a break from what you’re doing and drinking a glass of water then waiting 10 minutes to see if that hunger is still there.
Keep a food diary
Setting a maximum daily calorie intake or keeping a food diary could be a great idea if you’re thinking about changing your diet. But it’s definitely a tip to take with a pinch of salt (but not much more than that, please!), as life inevitably gets in the way of making this a sustainable habit – no-one wants to be the party-pooper weighing their slice of birthday cake. Start by reading labels and keeping a calorie count for a day or two, to get a keener sense of the calorific content of foods in your regular diet. You could be surprised by what you’re consuming versus your recommended daily allowance. As a guide, the NHS recommend that men need around 2,500kcal a day to maintain a healthy body weight and women need around 2,000kcal. With a better sense of calorie content in different types of food, you should find it easier to make smarter choices and make sure you’re not consuming more than you need.
Prep your pantry
The best way to avoid impulsive trips to the biscuit tin is simply to keep it empty. (Sadly, that’s keep empty, not regularly empty). After all, planning your pantry is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy diet. Of course, not everyone in the household may have the same eating habits and it’s important to integrate the occasional treat. But just as it’s a good idea to avoid doing the food shopping on an empty stomach, preparation at the pantry-planning stage can help to avoid too many spontaneous lapses! Be sure to keep lots of healthy snacks available should the urge take you, such as fresh or dried fruit, vegetables that are safe to eat raw like celery, cucumber and carrots - or any of these surprisingly low calorie snacks alternatives.
Water good idea
Even though our bodies are made up of around 50-60% water on average, it’s vital to stay hydrated. Drinking the recommended daily amount of water (6-8 glasses a day) has a variety of benefits for your skin, metabolism, digestion and energy levels, as well as helping to control small hunger pangs. A few well-timed alarms on your phone can combine breaks from whatever you’re doing with reminders to top up - keeping you dually refreshed. Consider getting a yourself a reusable water bottle with markings, to keep easier track of your intake (and avoiding limited-use plastic bottles). You can even get smart bottles now, with in-built reminder alarms to help you stay on target.
Sleep on it
However you ease yourself into the land of nod, ensuring that you stay there long enough - and at the right times - has a huge effect on the benefits you’ll gain. Allowing your bedtime to slip later into the night results either in less sleep (if you need to wake up at the same time each day) or less sunlight (if you shift your wake-up time to get your recommended 7-9 hours of sleep.). No matter how successful your diet and exercise, you’ll be missing out on a vital part of your holistic health if you're not getting enough, or the right, sleep. So be sure to make sleep a top priority in your new health habits. The good news is that exercise can help you sleep (so long as it’s not done too near bedtime), so hopefully you’ll be creating a virtuous cycle.
Tip: Discover how to be more productive across all areas of life here.
Do it your way
The most surefire way to let a new healthy lifestyle routine fall by the wayside is adopting one that isn’t right for you in the first place. The truth about any personal health plan is that it’s just that: personal. So whether it’s running vs. walking, weights vs. cardio, sweet vs. savoury, you have to find what works for you. You can push your limits later, but starting with achievable health goals to establish good habits is vital. You could take these tips as templates for an initial plan, but as you discover more about your own limits, abilities, tastes, strengths and weaknesses, it’s important to allow your healthy routine to adapt. After all, it’s no-one else’s mind, body and wellbeing at stake but your own.