With many of us leading busy and stressful lives both at work and at home, it can be difficult finding time to look after ourselves. What we need is an easy-to-manage health regime that fits into our day-to-day routines. Words by Cora Lydono, and images by Alamy Stock Photo
Being healthy doesn’t have to be a chore – from the time you set your alarm call to the way you work out in the gym, small tweaks to your usual day can bring about great health benefits. It doesn’t have to mean setting aside chunks of your day. Instead we’ve come up with some sneaky habits to adopt that are so easy you’ll barely know you’re even doing them – until the results start to show, that is. What’s more they won’t impact on your wallet either. Not unsurprisingly, money is often one of the most common reasons given for not embarking on a health kick, along with time.
BEGINNERS TOP TIPS
Getting fit doesn’t have to mean joining a gym – it means making sure that you move your body every single day to a point where you’re slightly breathless
• Find an exercise that you love and you’re more likely to stick to it – gardening, swimming or dancing all count. Though to make sure you target all muscle groups you should try to vary how you work out through the week. Why not find something you can do with a friend to keep you fully motivated?
• Every week set yourself a new goal – perhaps it’s to swim one extra length, walk for an extra five minutes, or push your body harder with a yoga pose. You need to keep challenging your body at a slow and steady pace.
• Do not underestimate the power of warm ups and cool downs – these will help your body adjust to the new routine. Make sure you stretch before and after and work up to your maximum effort slowly.
Power up your meals
You’ve got to eat anyway, so why not add a little something extra to your mealtimes by including plenty of superfoods in the mix? These nutritional powerhouses are packed full of goodness, which can really make a difference to your health. Try these:
BLUEBERRIES Small but perfectly formed, this juicy fruit is jam-packed with antioxidants, which help protect against cancers, ageing, heart disease and other health issues.
BEETROOT This root vegetable has a high nitrate content, which helps open up blood vessels to reduce blood pressure, protecting against heart attacks and strokes. The same action also helps to protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia.
GARLIC Containing more than 100 biologically useful, naturally occurring chemicals, garlic can help with everything from fighting off viruses and lowering blood pressure to boosting immunity and reducing cholesterol.
If you already make time to work out, then great! But perhaps you lack the time or knowledge to shake up your workout or tweak it to get better results. Here’s how small actions can reap big results – they’ll work just as well for beginners.
BEFORE: If you never push yourself for fear of muscle fatigue you need to make sure your body is better prepared. By increasing your body’s glycogen stores with carbs before you work out, you can delay the onset of fatigue – and your workout will feel easier. Stick to small portions of wholewheat pasta and eat two to three hours before your workout to allow enough time for digestion.
DURING: If you never vary your workout you’ll never change the results you’re getting, so shock your body with a bit of variety. On the crosstrainer try stepping backwards instead of forwards to target different muscles; with free weights, focus on lifting heavier weights but with fewer reps to add lean muscle and burn body fat, and when on the stationary bikes make use of the inbuilt programmes rather than just aimlessly pedalling.
AFTER: Banish aching limbs post-workout with a glass of cherry juice. Cherry juice is a rich source of antioxidants, which mop up harmful free radicals released when you exercise. A 2010 study from Oregon Health & Science University found that runners who drank tart cherry juice for seven days before a long-distance run reported fewer aches.
Know your vitamins
If you’re relying on vitamins and supplements to boost your health then you need to be taking them correctly – otherwise it could be money down the drain. For example, a probiotic supplement (used to boost healthy bacteria in the stomach) will survive in your tummy better if you take it after you’ve eaten. But you shouldn’t wash it down with a hot drink, or you risk killing off the friendly bacteria.
If you usually start your day with a multi-vitamin then you may not be reaping the benefits. Taking it after you’ve eaten your breakfast will help you to better process the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Iron, on the other hand, should be taken on an empty stomach – avoid taking it with coffee, which can prevent it from being fully absorbed, but do take it with a small glass of orange juice, which can help boost absorption.
Improve your posture
Hunched over a desk eight hours a day, sitting in airline seats for hours and general poor posture can all have a serious impact on your wellbeing. But knowing how to hold yourself can make you feel better and look slimmer.
STOP SLUMPING: Try a shoulder stretch to help you stand up straighter. Sit down and place your hands behind you as close to your bottom as possible and with palms flat. Pull shoulder blades back and down then look upwards. To maintain good habits remember to pull up your sternum (the centre of the ribcage) to help push your shoulders back.
BEAT BEING DESK-BOUND: If your job is largely desk-bound there’s little you can do – but a new style of desk is breaking ground in encouraging better habits. Standing desks mean you’re out of the chair while working. Similarly, sitting on a mini wobble board or swiss ball will work your core muscles to improve posture. If neither appeals make sure that when you sit, you pull in your belly button and push your lower back into the chair.
STAND UP: One of the most important things you can do for your health is as simple as standing up. By spending more time standing you can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, increase your metabolic rate to boost weight loss, improve your circulation and reduce back pain. That’s got to be worth getting out of the chair for.
Your perfect day
7:30 Wake up Research from the University of Westminster found that waking before 7.22am can increase cortisol levels, which can lead to low mood, weight gain and poor immunity.
8:30 Walk to work A study from the University of Toronto found that people who got the most light early on in the day reported better moods, alertness and sleep at night.
13:00 Take your lunch Research shows we’re more likely to crave high-fat, sugary food between 2-3pm so make sure you have a good lunch in advance of this.
17:00 Work out Evening is the best time to work out in order to attain a high level of fitness. In the afternoon and evening your heart is performing at its best, your body temperature is raised and your joints are flexible.
19:00 Catch up with friends According to Australian research a good network of friends can help you live longer as they influence your behaviour to benefit your health.
20:00 Have a drink Being on a health kick doesn’t mean having to give up alcohol. However, between 8pm and 10pm your body has the most liver enzymes, so whatever you drink will be broken down more easily.
Health-loaded best holidays
Boosting your health while relaxing on holiday has got to be a win-win situation! Try these three suggestions for mind, body and soul
Mozambique: Wellness Retreat at Vamizi Island
This week-long retreat includes a daily programme of meditation, yoga, pilates and massage treatments to restore and rebalance guests. Seven nights from US$6210 including shared accommodation in private villa, full board, transfers plus activities.
Ethiopia: MTB expedition
See the Simien Mountains and villages under your own steam – on two wheels. You’ll be biking during the day, and working all of those muscles, but with the stunning landscapes you’ll barely notice the workout. Not one for beginners, this is a thrilling – but challenging – expedition. A 14-day excursion in October is US$3699 per person including guides, internal transfers, food and drink. You need to bring your own bike.
Thailand: Kamalaya Embracing Change
This wellness holiday will see you jet off to Thailand and learn how to improve your emotional strength. Besides spending time on the beach you’ll also have expert wellness consultations, holistic spa therapies, yoga and life-changing sessions with experts. Seven nights from US$4071 per person includING full board, wellness programme, flights and transfers.
Sneaky calorie burning tips
• A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate low GI breakfasts before a 60-minute walk burned twice as much fat as those who ate a high GI meal.
• Give up your seat on your daily commute – scientists at the University of Missouri say sitting down shuts off your body’s fat burning ability.
• Burn more calories by listening to music as you work out. Studies from The Sport and Exercise Scientist found that fitness performance is improved by as much as 15 per cent if you listen to the right track. The Black Eyed Peas’ Boom Boom Pow and Michael Jackson’s Beat It both feature between 125 and 140 beats per minute, which experts say is optimal to boost motivation and reduce feelings of exertion.
• Include fat burning herbs and spices in your diet. Ginger’s magic ingredient is capsaicin – also found in chilli peppers – which can boost metabolism. Carnosic acid, from rosemary, can limit weight gain, while turmeric contains curcurmin, which can affect the body’s response to leptin, a metabolism-signalling hormone.