1st January is a popular time to make resolutions – a psychological ‘clean slate’ in our eyes, a figurative ‘ground zero’ which you can build the foundations of some positive new behaviours on.
In terms of fitness resolutions, most of us want to get fitter, lose some weight, improve our diet, go to the gym more often or run more. However, if you have set out to achieve one of these fitness related goals, chances are that there are a few pieces of the puzzle you have forgotten to tackle. By paying attention to the finer details behind your goals, you are more likely to be successful in achieving these goals.
Your fitness resolution: Run more/do more races. But you forgot to resolve to do more strength-training.
No doubt, running is a fantastic way to boost your fitness, with many psychological benefits, too. However, for our overall fitness and good health, we are advised to exercise all the major muscle groups. Unfortunately, when it comes to running, we employ the same set of muscles over and over again, due to the repetitive nature of this activity, resulting in neglecting other muscle groups in the body.
Many runners think that they do not need to work their lower body for example, because running works the legs. In reality, though, during running legs are trained for endurance rather than strength. Strength training will help improve leg strength, so that you can generate more force with each stride, and as a result, you will become a more efficient runner and also injury-poof your body.
Here is an excellent article I wrote earlier about the most important strength training principles for runners.
Your fitness resolution: Achieve new records in your training. But you forgot to resolve to schedule recovery time in your plan.
In the world of fitness, all of us seem to obsessed with the concept of doing ‘more’. Turn up that gear. Lift heavier weights. Sign up for longer races. This is all fine, I am all for personal development, and challenging yourself by setting stretching goals. However, this model of ‘doing more’ also has the potential to create some serious damage – if we are not careful, ‘more’ can actually lead to overtraining, which in turn can lead to injury and illness.
In the words of John Berardi at Precision Nutrition, ‘Exercise is a stressor. Usually a good one. But a stressor nonetheless. If you exercise intensely and/or often, you add stress to a body that may already be stressed from other life stuff like work, relationships, travel, late nights, etc. This isn’t a bad thing. Exercise can indeed help relieve stress. But in terms of a physical demand, we still need to help our bodies recover from all the stress we experience.’
Always listen to what your body is trying to tell you and try to pick up on those early, subtle signs; and take a break when you need to – even better if you schedule these periods of rest and recovery in advance so you can stick to them more easily. Rest time does not need to feel like a chore or punishment, though – why don’t you immerse yourself in a mini-project, have a relaxing massage or spa session, pick up a good book, go for a walk with your other half? There are many more tips in my recent article about how taking time out can up your fitness game.
Your fitness resolution: Exercise more to lose weight or shape up. But you forgot to resolve to stay active outside your training sessions.
It is tempting to think that because you are a runner, a power-lifter, regular gym goer etc., you do not need to worry about the potential harms of sedentary living. However, it is very important to be mindful of how you spend your time outside your training sessions. Research has shown that spending long hours parked behind the steering wheel, slumping over our keyboard and office desk, and being glued to the telly screen for extended periods of time can be harmful for our health long-term. Some experts have even labelled this modern day epidemic the ‘sitting diease’.
According to Travis Saunders, exercise physiologist at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group in Ontario ‘it is entirely possible to meet current physical activity guidelines while still being incredibly sedentary, and that sitting increases your risk of death and disease, even if you are getting plenty of physical activity. It is a bit like smoking. Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise. So is sitting too much’. In essence, if we are not careful, us ‘active couch potatoes’ may face the same health risks as our completely inactive counterparts. In a 12-year study of more than 17,000 Canadians, researchers found that the more time people spent sitting, the earlier they died—regardless of age, body weight, or how much they exercised! Not to mention that the static sitting position can cause certain muscles to become tight or overstretched, increasing the risk of injuries.
So stay active during the day! Here is an excellent article by Lucy Adie at Osteofusion about the benefits of taking regular walks and another article with some tips for correct sitting posture and mobilising during the day. Bottom line is: whatever you do, get moving/change position after 20 minutes of sitting!
Your fitness resolution: Eat healthier. But you forgot to resolve to learn to interpret food labels.
If you have set out to eat healthier this year, it is imperative that you educate yourself about food labelling, and learn to interpret the ingredients list so that you can make smarter choices. I summarised my top tips in an earlier article I wrote for my friend and fellow-blogger, Anita – here is a snapshot:-
It may sound shocking to you, but I would like to suggest that you ignore the labels on the front of the food packaging. Food manufacturers go to great lengths to convince you to buy their products and make you think that you are choosing a healthy product, for example by using catchy phrases such as ‘farm fresh’, ‘organic’, ‘low fat’, ‘gluten free’, ‘natural’,’whole grain’ etc. So, to be sure to establish what counts as ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’, the best place to start is to read the ingredients list on the back.
Of course, real, whole food does not need any ingredients – because the whole food itself is THE ingredient! A good rule of thumb is that the first couple of ingredients on the list are what the manufacturer used the most of. So try to choose products that have whole foods listed as the top ingredients. Another good rule of thumb is that if the ingredients list is very long, you can safely assume that it is a highly processed product, so best to leave behind.
Finally, there are ingredients such as sugar which have countless other names (some of which you may not even recognise). This could be another trick manufacturers use to hide the actual amount of sugar. Watch out for names such as syrup, molasses, sweetener, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, galactose, maltodextrin etc. There are of course many other names for sugar but these are the most common ones. If you see several of these on the ingredients list, you can be certain the product is quite high in added sugar so you can leave it on the supermarket shelf.
Your fitness resolution: Stop skimping on sleep. But you forgot to resolve to observe digital sunsets.
Ideally, everyone should get around 8 hours sleep at night, however, the average person clocks in less than 7 hours on average. We all agree that sleep is important because it is during sleep that our bodies recharge, regenerate and heal, that memories are consolidated and emotional events are processed. Good quality sleep has also been proven to effectively treat episodically depressed people due to its mood regulating effects. When we skimp on sleep, we are not only making ourselves tired and compromising our ability to fight off everyday illnesses, but we are also speeding up the aging process, driving weight gain, and increasing our risk for diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular problems.
Another part of the equation is that we are exposed to too much unnatural light and digitals in our daily lives – something I pointed out in an article I wrote earlier about adopting some habits from our ancestors. If we are exposed to these for too long, they inhibit the release of the melatonin hormone which helps us fall asleep and have good quality rest.
One simple change you can make is that when the sun goes down, turn off all your electronics and turn the lights on lower setting in your home. In addition, there are various mobile phone applications which you can download to place a crimson filter over your device’s blue light – this will reduce eye strain and will not disrupt your internal body clock.
I hope these tips will help you get closer to achieving your personal fitness and health goals this year!
What fitness and health related resolutions have you made for this year? Let me know in the comments.