Start the year as you mean to go on by taking these simple steps to transform your health and fitness…
1. Take control
Do your training for your mind as much as for your body. “See that training can provide a level of consistency and balance to your life,” says Peter Williams, personal trainer and boxing instructor at PureGym.
“In work and relationships, you can work really hard at something and it just might not happen for you. But when it comes to the gym, if you are consistent with your training and nutrition, you will definitely see some form of positive result. Whether it’s weight loss, improved fitness or strength gain, you hold all the cards.
“Having an element of your life which is totally unbiased and controlled entirely by you will give you a sense of power and belief in what you can achieve this year and it must never be underestimated.”
2. Prioritise protein in the morning
Pre-loading with protein preloads your brain with dopamine, the chemical that powers your reward circuits, and researchers at the University of Missouri found that by eating a protein-packed breakfast trial subjects experienced fewer food cravings later in the day.
To deliver enough protein to make the difference, try avocado on toast with cottage cheese (25g per serving) or a smoked salmon bagel (20g).
3. Don’t forget the small stuff
“Setting yourself a big goal can seem daunting,” says Williams. “So think about smaller, more achievable goals that will keep you motivated until you get where you want to be. It could start off as small as ‘I will go to the gym today,’ then progress to ‘I will go to the gym three times this week.’ The more you set yourself a goal and then achieve it, the more you are positively reinforcing your new healthier lifestyle.
There will of course be times when you lose motivation and miss a session, or slip up nutrition-wise. If that happens, go right back to square one with small goals and gradually start to build them back up again.”
4. Up your effort levels
If you’re only getting the time to work out once or twice a week, make those sessions high intensity. They’ll not just have the biggest impact on your training outcomes, but also on your VO2 max scores and even your life expectancy.
A review of health data from 316,000 adults by the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences showed that for each millilitre increase in VO2 max (accrued from regular high-intensity interval sessions) the risk of death from a cardiovascular event drops. No matter what the starting point was for those people studied, by boosting their VO2 max through HIIT they cut their risk of heart attack or similar trauma by up to nine per cent.
5. Get off the scales
“Of course, we all want to see progress,” says Williams, “and it is very tempting to get the idea in your head of ‘in two weeks I can lose 5lbs’, but instant gratification isn’t something that comes with weight loss. I’d suggest ignoring the scales for a month at least and focus instead on following your healthy routine.
“Sure, scales can be a tool for motivation, but they can just as easily demoralise people and stop them from continuing their healthier life choices. At the end of the day, your health is for the rest of your life – not just an eight to 12-week health kick. Set yourself up for success, not failure.”
6. Hit your HRV switch
If you’re investing in a new sports watch or fitness tracker, be sure to opt for one that offers heart rate variability (HRV) among the other vast array of apps and functions. HRV measures the impact stress is having upon your body, and a growing number of elite athletes are developing their training routine based around this data.
Scientists in Finland found that subjects who did high-intensity interval training when their HRV was high experienced greater fitness gains, while trials among cyclists in Spain using HRV training markers led to a 14% increase in performance.
7. Embrace nature
Committing to a mere 20 minutes of moderate exercise – a routine walk or recreational ride – in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels.
That’s not just our suggestion, but the science-backed findings of a study into the effect a dose of urban nature can have upon one’s mind, as recently published in the publication Frontiers in Psychology.
8. Stop standing yourself up
“At the start of the week or month, plot in your diary what time and date you’re planning to be going to the gym, doing something active or even cooking your meals for the week,” suggests Williams.
“Once you have these in your diary, make sure you’re following your plan. You have effectively made a date with yourself and you don’t want to stand yourself up. The more commitment to yourself and adherence to your plan for the week ahead is only going to lead to living a more consistent and healthy life.”
9. Inject some fun into your fitness
“There are some necessary evils when it comes to training, for example a few burpees at the end of a HIIT session may make you want to cry, but the feeling when they are completed is just fantastic,” says Williams. “Remember, though, the true optimal style of training is the one you enjoy – as that’s the one you’re most likely to stick to.”
Whether it’s going to indoor cycling sessions, weight training with a PT or even going for brisk walks each day, there’s an overwhelming body of evidence to show that if you’re happy doing it, you are more likely to keep it up.
10. Experiment in the kitchen
Having fun should also transfer to the foods you are eating. Eating healthily can be misunderstood as being boring and repetitive, but a number of studies – reviewed by Harvard researchers – found that by making a resolution to seek out new recipes, different ideas and varieties to your meals, you can stay on track with a new eating routine and not lose the will to live. As taste buds adjust to new dishes, so the cravings for bad-habit junk foods diminish.
Words: Rob Kemp