‘Small, everyday changes that make a big difference’

As you’ll know from my previous post, I’m a strong believer in common sense fitness and nutrition. So what does that actually mean? It’s simple really; move more, eat well, be happy.

As my old Chemistry teacher used to say: ‘Keep it simple, stupid’. I believe that some small lifestyle changes can make a difference.

I’ve narrowed it down to my Top 6 Common Sense Lifestyle Tips that can have a massive impact on your health and fitness.

1. Move more, more often

This seems like a really obvious statement, and it is. Of course, if you move more you’ll burn more calories, you’ll improve your fitness and overall health. I think we all know that. But how?

Think about your average week day.

How many opportunities do you have to use your legs instead of four wheels? It’s as simple as walking to the shops (that are less than a mile away!) instead of jumping into the car. Or making a decision to walk or cycle to work. Or getting off the bus or tram a stop earlier and walking the rest of the way. You may have to set your alarm 30 minutes earlier, but what a great way to start the day! If you’re unsure of the best routes to take in urban areas and want to avoid the traffic or particularly busy places then there’s a great website that will map it all out for you: http://walkit.com/

Sometimes it’s impossible or highly inconvenient to walk and the car is a necessity; for example the weekly shop. Why not park your car the furthest point away from the supermarket entrance instead of battling with other shoppers in their gas guzzlers for a spot a few meters from the door? It may seem like a small thing but those steps all add up.

Lunch breaks are a great time to get in a bit of exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk to the shop and back or a walk around the block or the park. So much better for your body and mind than sitting at your desk munching mindlessly on a bag of crisps. Remember to take a pair of comfy shoes with you to work and leave them somewhere you can see them. That way you’re more likely to get them on and get out. If you work from home, are retired or have small kids, make a time each day that you’re going to have your break time. Get the trainers on and go for a walk, or jog!

Something that I’ve previously tried and really enjoyed are walking meetings. If the average day for you consists of back to back meetings with little time to breathe, turn that ‘Catch up’ or ‘Ideas forum’ into a walk. Walking meetings can be very simple one-to-one strolls without a solid agenda or any formality, or they could be much more structured and on a bigger scale. Check out this website for more information: http://www.feetfirst.org/walk-and-maps/walking-meetings

2. Control your portions

By controlling the volume of food you eat you can very easily control the energy you are consuming. No matter if you are eating a healthy and balanced diet, if your portions are large enough and you’re taking in more energy than you are using you will certainly put on weight.

Just as our plates seem to have got bigger, so have our serving sizes and our waistlines. Some of our healthiest and most nutritious foods are so packed with calories that one portion is actually just a handful. Nuts are a great example of this. They’re incredibly filling, stuffed with vital nutrients and yet pack such an energy punch that one small handful is adequate.

Other examples where the handful rule is useful is with pasta and rice. Yes, just a handful will do! Make sure that your pasta is whole-wheat and your rice is brown, or try some healthy options like quinoa or buckwheat. They won’t have any less calories but they’re arguably more nutritious and will take longer to digest; keeping you fuller for longer.

Keep your meat to the size of a deck of cards, your cheese to the size of a small match box and your side of fish the size of a chequebook (Does anyone even own a chequebook any more?).

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Portion control and a balanced meal

If these portion sizes seem drastic to you, then start by reducing your portions by a small amount and attempt to get a balanced plate; make sure you get that all important serving of vegetables with every meal (aim for a third veg at least).

Little tip: Start using a slightly smaller plate and you won’t notice the difference!

3. Work out when you can, where you can

If you’re struggling for time, or hate the thought of a communal gym then why not turn your home or garden into your very own workout space?

There are so many ways you can do this, whatever your fitness level or time constraints. Just a 10-20 minute session in the morning before breakfast can make all the difference. Try a mix of body weight exercises and some stretches to get you ready for the day ahead.

I like mountain climbers, burpees, basic squats, walking lunges and push ups to really get the heart pumping and the whole body working. Try a circuit of these 5 exercises in any order, working for 30 seconds resting for 10-20, and repeat the circuit 3 times. That’ll take you around 15 minutes. Then finish it off with some energising stretches, focussing on the muscles you’ve been working to avoid any aches and pains later in the day and to increase your flexibility.

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Stretching is good for relaxation and increases your flexibility

Try it for a week (you can have a day off!) and notice the difference; not only physically but mentally too. You’ll have more energy, be more focussed at work and will have an amazing sense of achievement; knowing you’ve worked hard and burned calories before you’ve even left the house.

If that all sounds like too much for a morning, then fear not! Why not think about fitting in your routine in the evening? Or instead of plonking yourself down on the sofa whilst dinner is in the oven, get moving and earn your tea! You could even try a few squats when you brush your teeth, calf raises when you peg the washing out or leg raises on the sofa…too far?

Simply doing the housework burns an unbelievable number of calories. So get the hoover out, find the feather duster and get spring cleaning!

4. Create good habits, avoid bad ones

Let’s face it we are all creatures of habit whether we like to admit it or not. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As long as our habits are good ones.

Instead of always reaching for the biscuit tin during Corrie, stop and think, ‘Am I hungry?’. I’m guessing the answer will be no, but if you’re genuinely hungry, a biscuit is not the answer! Often we’re actually just thirsty not hungry, so get yourself a drink first. If you always nip into the corner shop on the way home to grab a Snickers, then change your route home!

Introduce some good habits into your day. Like choosing a consistent time to work out, or always eating at the table, not on your lap in front of the TV. Make your lunchtime walk, or evening stroll a good habit. Decide to always take the stairs not the lift, or volunteer to collect the post at work or make the brews.

From experience I have found that choosing a regular day to grocery shop, making a strict shopping list and sticking to it are great habits to create; not only for your health but your wallet too! Importantly DO NOT do your weekly shop when you’re hungry! You are far more likely to put random unnecessary items into your trolley or basket and that’s a bad habit to get into. Remember if it’s not in the cupboards, you can’t eat it.

Confession: I’m one of those ‘eat because you’re bored’ types and so I will graze mindlessly in the evening just because I can. I’m not being mindful of the food I’m putting into my mouth. There are a few things that I’ve tried to help stop this happening as much.

Firstly, just don’t get bored to start with. Instead of watching absolute tripe on TV, go out for a walk (doesn’t have to be far), take the kids to the park, go outside and tidy the garden, do anything to stop the ‘boredom eating’.

Secondly, keep a food diary for a week, at least. Record everything that you eat or drink (everything!) and it will surprise you. You might notice habitual unhealthy foods that you are eating and times of the day you do it most. Don’t worry, you don’t have to show anyone, just being aware of the amount of rubbish you put into your mouth is the first step to changing it.

Here’s a food and exercise diary template that I use for my clients:

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Record everything you eat and drink, include your exercise too

I used this myself for 3 months and my goodness, what a shock! I realised that I was actually consuming more calories than the recommended daily allowance for a man! Granted I was working out a lot, but still, when I looked at where the biggest number of calories were coming from it wasn’t my meals, it was from the unnecessary snacks in between.

5. Take control of stress

Quite simply, stress is a killer.

Stress raises blood pressure, increases the likelihood of all manner of life-threatening illnesses, ruins relationships, can cause rapid weight gain or weight loss and can lead to long term mental illness.

Stress is common; whether it’s work or home related, it’s something that most of us will deal with on a daily basis. It can help us focus, perform and succeed. Problems start when stress gets to unreasonable levels over a sustained period of time and our body and mind suffer.

I’ve been there. Stress affected me just as much as physical illness and in fact manifested itself in lots of physical ways. Headaches, stomach aches, eczema flare ups can all be triggered by stress. The problem is the last thing that’s on your mind when you’re stressed and anxious is your diet or your exercise regime. However, I found that exercise actually helped. I’d go for runs, walks, do some stretches to ease the anxiety. They all help and although they don’t fix the problem, they’ll give you the mental clarity to be able to find a solution.

If you think you may be suffering from stress, the NHS website has a concise overview of the causes, symptoms and ways to get support: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress/

6. Sleep well

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I love my bed. I love bedtime and I hate the sound of my alarm clock in the morning. I’ve been known to sleep for 10 hours or more every night. Sleep is so important for a healthy life; a healthy weight, increased productivity, better concentration and all round body repair and memory formation.

If you’re struggling with poor sleep patterns there’s a really good guide that you can download for free here: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-sleep-better

I have only just scratched the surface, but I hope that has been useful. Let me know what you think; please do leave a comment or a question.

Until next time!

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