Continuing our theme of New Year’s Promises to Ourselves, this week we take a look at key strategies for starting a new Health & Fitness Program, or ensuring you achieve continued success with your existing program.
When embarking on a new Health and Fitness Regime you want to ensure you give yourself every opportunity to succeed so check out our “Must Do’s” to ensure you set yourself up for success.
Make it a Lifestyle Change (not a Project)
As a former IT worker I know very well the definition of a Project – it has a start date and an end date.
And that’s the problem with the goals, new year’s resolutions, new diets, new fitness regimes that many people set. They treat it as a project. They plan to start – on New Year’s Day or the most common one – on Monday. And they plan to do it for a while, not forever, just until they lose the weight, get into that pair of pants they love so much, can run around the block or walk up the stairs without getting puffed out. And that is why most people fail!
Here’s the tough love part……Improving your health and wellbeing is about making choices that result in long term, sustainable changes to habits, eating and thinking patterns, physical activity, rest and relaxation activities. This is often why gradual weight loss programs of 1 to 2kg per week achieve more successful long term outcomes than the quick fix detox, crash diets or extreme procedures.
How often have you set a goal to lose weight or reduce stress and then worked on your “project” for a set period of time, achieved your goal, only to revert to the same habits and lifestyle you had before your “project” began?
To give yourself the best chance of success, make sure you’re treating your new Health and Fitness Program as a Lifestyle Change, not a Project with a definite start and end date.
Whether it’s a new fitness program or healthy eating, when you’re getting started, it’s extremely important to make your changes gradually. There’s no point heading out for a 10km run for your first training session if it means you can’t run again for a couple of weeks due to soreness. The best approach is to set yourself some easy targets for your first few sessions to ensure you get through them well and stay motivated before gradually increasing the intensity or number of sessions. Similarly, going “cold turkey” can be very challenging when adjusting your eating habits. Ease your way into long term change by replacing a few food items each week with healthier choices until they become your preferred food choices. A great rule of thumb to follow is the Rule of 3 – only changing a maximum of 3 things at any one time for a month. Once these new habits are part of your lifestyle, choose 3 more things to change the next month.
Don’t make it about a Number on the Scales
Let’s face it, for most of us, being fitter and healthier also means weight loss. How often have you worked out diligently for a week or two and eaten well only to hop on the scales and beat yourself up because the number displayed is not what you want it to be? Health and Fitness is not a number on the bathroom scales. Sure if weight loss is your goal you generally want the numbers to be heading in a downward direction but it’s much better to determine your progress based on how you feel and how your clothes might be feeling on your body than just a number on the scales. Your weight can fluctuate by 1 to 2kg throughout any given day depending upon the amount of water you’ve drunk, the amount of sleep you’ve had, the amount of exercise you did today or yesterday and hormonal fluctuations to name just a few. If you’re lifting weights and doing resistance training you may not see much movement in the numbers initially, even though you may be burning fat, building muscle and increasing your metabolism. Whilst it is a good idea to keep an eye on the scales every now and then, if you’re weighing yourself more than once a week, you’re probably just setting yourself up for another opportunity to beat yourself up on a regular basis.
The Rest is as important as the Rep
This is a favourite of mine. Yes, I guess it’s because I have a background in sprinting but never the less, it is so true for any form of exercise if you really want to see benefits.
For those of you unfamiliar with running or resistance training, essentially this means that the rest period you take between each training repetition (rep), set at the gym or lap at the pool, is just as important as actually running the distance, lifting the weights or swimming the laps. The same analogy applies to any physical activity. Your body needs time to rest, recover, and replenish depleted energy stores in preparation for the next effort. Although you might feel like you can keep going, if you start the next rep (set or lap) too soon, and your body hasn’t recovered adequately, you risk injury or a sub-standard result for your effort. This also applies to the rest periods between your training sessions. If you are too sore or tired from your previous session, especially if you’re just getting started, it’s best to take an extra day of rest to allow your body to fully recover to reduce the risk of injury or over-training.
Drink more water
Yes, here it is again because it’s soooo important! When you exercise your body loses water through sweat so you need to ensure you keep your body hydrated during your workout. Always keep a water bottle close by so you can take regular drink breaks, even if only a few sips at a time. If this is not possible with your chosen activity, ensure you have plenty of water available to drink as soon as you finish. As a general rule, for every hour of high intensity exercise, you should drink an extra litre of water. In the warmer weather it’s even more important to hydrate the body well before any form of exercise. If you have a big competition or activity coming up or we’re in the middle of another heat wave, always ensure you hydrate fully the day before the activity so you have plenty of water on board, actually in your cells, ready for activity. Waiting until the morning of the activity to start topping up your water is just too late – chances are all that extra water will just sit in your stomach or your body will just flush it out rather than use it to hydrate your cells.
Track your progress
A great way to keep you on track towards your goals is to track your progress…and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Start by recording the number of days each week that you exercise and if you want more details, then progress to tracking the number of reps or laps, the time taken to complete each one, or the amount of weight you can lift. Whatever your activity, get creative about the things you can track to show your improvement so that when you’re feeling a bit unmotivated, and it happens to all of us, you can look back through your records and see just how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved so far.
Variety is Key
Whilst it’s great to set-up a regular exercise routine as quickly as possible it’s also just as important to have some variety in your activities to ensure you maintain your momentum. Rather than doing the same activity day-in day-out for a whole week, mix things up a bit with some alternate activities. If cardiovascular (cardio) activities are your chosen activity, ensure you throw in a couple of resistance (weight) training activities, non-weight bearing or gentler activities such as swimming or yoga. And always have a couple of rest days each week. It’s also important to have variety in the foods you eat. The quickest way to lose interest and momentum in your new lifestyle is to eat the same foods day-in day-out, week after week. Make sure you mix up your sources of protein and choose a range of different fruits and vegetables throughout the day and during the week. A great way to do this is to choose fruits and vegetables in season. Generally, these will be a bit cheaper or ask at your local fruit and veg store for in-season fruits and vegetables.
Good Health is about doing the right things on a consistent basis. Reality tells us that this can be challenging 100% of the time so aim to do the right things 80% of the time which means it’s ok to reward or treat yourself every now and then to help keep you on track.