If you are embarking on a journey towards a healthy lifestyle, it is important to remember that this journey has no set destination – you will achieve goals and hit targets and your lifestyle will change for the better, but it is all about making small, achievable changes that you can stick to in the long term.
Think about what it is you want to achieve and why? Are you aiming for weight loss? Inch loss? Increased energy? Improved joint function? Just want to look good? The good news is that healthy lifestyle changes will likely provide all of these benefits and more.
First off, it is time to start thinking about how much time you spend on your feet compared to sitting down each day either behind a desk, in a car or on the sofa. When you are on your feet are you walking or just standing still? Research shows that 10,000 steps per day can go a long way to improving your health. While that might sound like a lot, by setting yourself a reminder to get up and move from your desk/sofa/chair every hour will dramatically increase your daily movement while reducing postural complaints and health risks.
It’s also time to think about your general diet – is it healthy? Realistically how much veg are you eating every day? How many of your meals are homemade compared to shop-bought or ready meals? Are you starting your day with a healthy, nutritious breakfast? Remember this rule of thumb – the less ingredients a product contains, the more natural it is likely to be (think about ingredients on a carton of eggs vs a box of cereal).
The fact that you’ve considered making changes means that you’re ready to take action, but putting thoughts into practice can be easier said than done. Let’s have a look at some easy ways to introduce a healthy lifestyle.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping up an exercise schedule is all about forming a habit. If you are a smoker, I sincerely hope you are aware of the health risks (and expense!!) and are working on cutting down, if you tend to have a few beers or a bottle of wine most evenings, then hopefully you’re not doing this because you think it’s good for you. Cutting down an unhealthy habit is never easy, but when you have a new, healthy habit to replace it then forgoing the old ways can become a lot more manageable.
Adding exercise into your daily routine as a habit will give you something else to focus on, hopefully making you more aware of how those unhealthy habits are having an effect on your body, and as they begin to take up less of your time, how your healthy habits become so much easier and enjoyable. Exercise in this way should never be seen as something to be dreaded or as a punishment – exercise is a reward to your body, your body which is designed to move. Whether it be just walking or cycling to and from work, taking up an exercise class or activity with friends or even walking around a park by yourself – by taking the time to form this habit your body will pay you back by feeling less tired, having less aches and pains, and by feeling stronger.
When it comes to healthy eating, it doesn’t have to be complicated (in fact, the simpler the better). Now is not the time to be thinking outside the box – basing all meals around fresh vegetables that are so easy to cook and vary, while thinking about what nutritional benefit is coming from each meal you have will go a long way to getting onto the right path. Don’t get bogged down in calorie counting. Personally I am a big fan of Jamie Oliver – his ‘15 Minute Meals’ was instrumental on showing me how a simple yet nutritious and great tasting meal can be put together so quickly. Let your microwave gather dust, pull out your pots and pans and find out just how simple it can be.
No matter where we are on our journey in health & fitness, we all have goals and targets. Whether they are written down with a deadline or mere thoughts floating around in our head, goals are what keep us going and keep us motivated. When you are taking up a healthy lifestyle, setting tangible, realistic goals will not only keep you aiming for something, but seeing your progress occur in front of your eyes is a fantastic motivator.
Setting yourself short term, weekly goals (eg. drink more water this week) alongside monthly goals (eg. lose 4 pounds) will make the journey towards any long term goals become very manageable, as you realise that hitting the long term goals require many differing short-term factors to assist you along the way.
Keeping track of your exercise and healthy eating through a journal or exercise diary will help you keep track of how you’re getting on. Record how you feel after each exercise session and visualise how maintaining this routine will get you to where you want to be. Remember, exercise is something to look forward to so find an activity that you enjoy and stick with it! Attending fitness classes with friends is a great motivator and can make your exercise much more fun that you’d expect.
Regarding healthy eating, carbohydrates get a lot of focus these days; should they be avoided? The truth is that simple sugars in abundance will not do you good in the long run, whereas natural carbohydrates eg. oats or potatoes can be some of the most nutritious foods available. The key is of course, moderation. Having a small portion of natural carbohydrates with a meal will keep you satisfied, whereas adding sugar to your coffee, overloading on bread in sandwiches or toast will naturally delay your fitness goals while likely leaving you bloated and seeing you spike in energy levels – tempting you to reach for those biscuits at 4pm. Avoid the downward spiral!
Healthy eating is also about making small steps and setting realistic goals eg. eating regular meals at regular times or if you skip any meals then maybe introduce a fruit or veg smoothie instead. Think about an area that is lacking in your current diet and introduce one change, and of course – drink some water! Begin every day with a big glass of water and you’re off to a flying, hydrated start!
Remember that fitness is not an all-or-nothing lifestyle overhaul. Making small, realistic changes that you will stick to in the long term will go a long way in improving your health.