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It’s only a month into the new year and you might’ve already given up on your health plans. You promised yourself that this year would be different. You made some resolutions to adjust your lifestyle but things just didn’t go as planned. You’re already bored of the gym after just two sessions and you’re eating too much of the wrong food. You feel more fatigued as the initial enthusiasm and motivation to kick start your healthy lifestyle have faded rapidly. Getting healthy is one of the top three resolutions people make for the new year – but most of us give it up before January is over. It may be that the same old-same old just doesn’t work for you anymore.
Although I’m a strong proponent of trying to slow down certain aspects of our fast-paced and hurried lives, this is one area in which ‘fast’ sometimes pays dividends. A lack of time is the biggest barrier to sticking with an exercise plan. Although in an ideal world, a long leisurely walk would be wonderful, it’s mostly unattainable. Up until now the ‘FIT principle’, which stands for Frequency, Intensity and Time, has been encouraged – at least three times a week, at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes.
The new advice is quite different, particularly if you’re short on time. “Exercising at a high intensity in intervals – known as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for only 15 minutes can give you the same benefits as a 30 minute session,” explains Dr John Babraj of the University of Abertay, Dundee and author of The High Intensity Workout. The secret is to go as fast and as hard as you can during the high intensity periods, then rest, or continue at a very slow pace, to recover. Interval training has demonstrated improved weight loss, fitness attainment and increased stamina. This is good for those times you’re under pressure, but it’s best to still find the time for a yoga or stretch session, along with longer endurance periods.
You’re feeling overloaded and overwhelmed. You’ve tried some yoga sessions but still struggle to meditate. Whilst there are numerous apps and high tech gadgets that you could try, a low-tech, app-free technique is to simply put your hand on your heart. It may feel quite weird, but you’re actually hacking your stress response. “This will signal the brain to reduce anxiety,” explains Kristin Neff, an associate professor at the University of Texas. “Even if you don’t believe it will work, your brain and body will respond,” she says, “We are programmed to calm down with this particular movement.” Keep your hand there for a minute or two, or until you feel calmer, and take a few deep breaths to boost the effect.
You’ve tried it all – Paleo, the Blood group diet, South Beach and Dr Pritikin’s. We all know that diets don’t work. All the lost weight (plus more) creeps back on. There is some evidence that eating less for just two days of the week, then eating relatively normal amounts for the rest of the time leads to weight loss, lowered cholesterol and sustainability as a lifestyle pattern. The two day trend is often called ADF or Alternate Day Fasting. This term is incorrect as there’s no real fasting.
Contrary to what the detox gurus tell you, fasting is not physiologically healthy. The secret is to cut down to between 500 and 700 calories on your ‘low intake’ day. “Do opt for protein and nutrient-rich vegetables rather than sugar and carbohydrate foods on these days”, advises Dr Marion Glenville, author of Fat around the Middle. “Never eat fewer calories than this, as it could slow your metabolism or lead to missing out on nutrients” she urges. Surprisingly, people tend not to binge on the ‘normal days’ when they can eat more. They gravitate towards healthier foods. The deprivation due to constant dieting is the factor that leads to binging
Chunking is a favorite new word used by performance coaches. “It is the process of breaking down large things into smaller components,” says psychologist Wendy Jago, author of How to Manage your Mammoth: The Procrastinator’s Guide to Getting Things Done. “Chunking can help tackle overwhelming projects just by taking small steps every day” explains Jago. When confronted by life’s daily duties and responsibilities, together with your bigger plans and aspirations, it’s normal to become weighed down. It’s so easy to understand why we so often give up on wonderful projects and commitments. “Identify one thing you want to fulfill in 2017 and write a list of all the steps you need to make it happen. Each time you achieve one, it will encourage you to continue” says Jago.
Don’t wait until next year to give this year’s resolution another attempt. By taking small achievable steps towards a bigger goal, you can build and maintain healthy lifestyle habits throughout this year and the next.
Be sure to consult with your doctor before changing your diet or starting a new fitness regimen.