New Starts - 5 Healthy Habits To Try
The New Year often brings with it the need or desire to change our existing lifestyles to something we consider more healthy or beneficial to ourselves, but just where is the best place to start when looking for new ideas? How do you choose what will become part of this ‘new you'? Here are my five top healthy habits for you to try and see if these could become part of a great new lifestyle this year.
Habit 1. Start cooking healthy meals and snacks
Many of us want to cook healthy food options but it just never seems to happen, or we might start out well at the beginning of the week and by Wednesday it seems to have fallen apart. Life just seems to get in the way and our best laid plans are put on the back burner again. A great way to help make this happen is to start with some planning. Check out some recipe books and find recipes that look like they are in your calibre for cooking - I find keeping it simple works best. Try to choose recipes that focus on natural and whole foods as the basis rather than lots of packets of items. Natural proteins such as chicken, beef, pork and eggs are a great place to start. The internet is a great place to have a look through and see what might take your fancy. Ask friends what their favourite healthy recipe is and why. Ask your local café if they have any suggestions for healthy recipes - you might be surprised at how many ideas and options you receive. My general rule of thumb when choosing recipes is no refined and processed sugar, and minimal ingredients from packets. You will find sugar comes in many forms, but we are just starting so choosing good options that you will find tasty and easy to make is excellent to begin. Don't make it too hard for yourself by trying to find the perfect recipes.
Habit 2. Make exercise and movement part of your life
Many of us read fitness articles and look at exercise programs but they all seem too difficult and it can be too embarrassing to go to a gym, or to ask someone how to start as we don't want to seem silly or stupid. Most of the articles are written for people who have some prior knowledge or understanding, so don't feel you should know what they mean or how to interpret them.
When I am working with beginners or people not accustomed to exercise, I like to start out with small pieces of information as it is easy to overload someone with too much. The one I usually start with is cardio or aerobic exercise; this is a good base to build many other components of fitness on to. Cardio exercise is great for heart health, fitness levels and weight management. It also helps you feel good and provides some toning and shaping benefits.
Start with an activity that you enjoy. The best exercise for you is the one you'll actually do, not the one you think you should do. Walking is a great place to start since it doesn't require special equipment and you can do it anywhere, but you can try any activity that involves some type of continuous movement like cycling, swimming, running, aerobics, rowing or walking up stairs. Don't let this choice phase you, just pick one that you feel you would enjoy and is easy for you to get started with. You can always change your mind later and do something else.
Start with 2 or 3 days of your chosen activity a week with a rest day in between, so if you have chosen walking, you might walk Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This allows your body time to recover from your exercise and minimize any risk of injury or exercising too much. Keep this going for 28 days to solidify movement as a habit in your life and then start looking at other things you might like to try and introduce these slowly into your new regime.
Habit 3. Eat less sugar in your day
Sugar can wreak havoc on our bodies in so many ways and is linked to everything from depression to obesity to memory loss. My number one tip for combatting sugar is to focus on the good stuff to crowd out the bad. Too often we are told not to do this and not to eat that which is all very good advice, but very challenging to do. Instead, if we add in the good things, we will be less likely to actually want the not so good things.
Help curb cravings by drinking plenty of water - I know this is so unexciting but it truly works like magic. Being dehydrated can cause fatigue and cravings for high energy foods, especially sugary treats. Aim for 500mls when you wake up and another 500mls by 10am. Pop another 500mls by 1pm and you will be well on your way to curbing those cravings and fuelling your body. If you get a little bored with water, try adding lemon juice to help with insulin and detoxification of the body or cucumber for a refreshing new taste.
Habit 4. Steer clear of diets and restricting calories
Every little bit really does count when it comes to boosting your metabolism and losing weight. Many of us spend hours in the gym or out exercising trying to lose those last few kilos or get rid of the weekend indulgence, but sometimes it's not always that effective.
Many of us in the New Year go to diets and slash calories in the hopes of achieving our pre-holiday weight but it's not always the best place to go for long-term, sustainable fat loss. Lowering your calorie intake and fasting for long periods can down-regulate your metabolism as the body fights back to try and preserve fuel stores. While it may work in the short-term, long-term we are setting ourselves up for failure.
We do need to be aware of our calorie intake if we want to lose fat but it's not the only component we need to consider. I always start with food quality, food timing, food types and then we may look at calories. When you choose natural, whole foods with a good component of natural fats and good quality protein, and drink plenty of fluids, you are not hungry and don't have the desire to overeat or choose poor quality foods.
Habit 5. Customise your water in-take
Set yourself a water goal. Rather than just ‘drinking more water', having a goal and a target to aim for makes this process a lot easier and something we do with much more frequency.
Drinking water is super effective for fat loss and in particular stomach fat loss as not only does it hydrate you, but dehydration is actually a significant contributor to increased stress levels in the body, so avoiding this is paramount in managing stress. To customise your water goal, take your weight in kg's and multiply by 35mls. If your weight was 80kg, your personal water goal would be 2.8 litres. Breaking the total amount into small portions spread throughout the day makes it easier to manage and helps keep us on track.
Lee-Anne Wann is a fitness specialist, nutritionist, presenter and author. She currently runs a health and fitness consultancy business providing companies and organisations with health, nutrition and wellness solutions and content, she also runs a private nutrition practice and was a television host for TVNZ's ‘Kiwi Living'.