When the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, and we celebrate the new year, we not only bid farewell to the previous 12 months, but we also open the door to new beginnings and changes in our lives. With that, many people turn to New Year's resolutions, and one of the most popular is to eat healthier and exercise more.
Penny Weston, a fitness, wellness and nutrition expert, looked to fitness and nutrition to improve her health after suffering from severe asthma and a collapsed lung at a young age. She believes that easing yourself into this new routine is the best way to start your fitness journey.
“It’s quite common for people to go in all guns blazing thinking that it’s January, and they should go to the gym five times a week, but that isn’t sustainable. You may actually end up hurting yourself or burning out,” says Weston.
This year, one in seven Brits have made a New Year's resolution, compared to one in nine last year. According to a YouGov survey, health and fitness are at the top of the list for the third year in a row, with people hoping to improve their fitness and diet. Similarly, the latest Public Health England survey of over 5,000 adults found that 80 per cent of people over the age of 18 have decided to change their lifestyle, with seven in 10 adults saying that coronavirus is motivating them to make healthier lifestyle changes.
According to the Fitness Industry Association, approximately 12 per cent of gym-goers sign up in January; however, most people stop going after 24 weeks, so the post-festive enthusiasm is often short-lived. A study by Noom has also shown that more than half of Brits admit to starting a diet or fitness regimen with the expectation of failing.
Similarly to Weston, Alex Marsh, CEO of Tweakd, a service that delivers elite sports nutrition directly to your door, says it is important to be realistic when setting your goals for the new year since it is quite easy to fail if you start by going to the gym every other day.
“Break it all down into little bits and make sure that it’s a plan that covers everything you do,” he says. “Mindset is more important than how many miles you cover or how many reps you manage.
“If you have a mindset of always thinking about how what you do impacts your health and your body, that can be really powerful. Every choice we make affects our health, so try to always make the right one.”
Since nutrition can improve athletic performance, leading an active lifestyle and eating well is the best way to stay healthy. Whether you are a professional athlete or enjoy a recreational sport or activity, a healthy diet can provide you with the energy you need.
Weston believes that when it comes to sport and performance, it is necessary to delve a little deeper into the nutrition side of things. "You require a specific amount and type of carbohydrates and proteins,” she says. "You need to strike a balance and make sure you're not overdoing it with saturated fats.”
This is however not a concern for the average person because they do not need energy for endurance and high-intensity activity, whereas professional athletes require more assistance with their macronutrient intake to ensure they have enough energy to perform at their best.
"There's a lot of emphasis on energy production, and athletes need to be able to replenish that energy to repair muscles, rehydrate, and replenish nutrients," Weston says.
Research into 2,000 adults found nearly a third believe they will never be successful in sticking to an exercise plan, eating healthily, or losing weight. Those who attempted to change their lifestyle lasted an average of 11 days before giving up. This could be because one in every six people go "cold turkey" on their favourite foods, eliminating them from their diet.
Marsh says he would make all these changes gradually. “From observation, I would suggest that slow and steady tends to result in long-term good habits that stay with you, whereas jumping right in can make it too easy to feel it’s all too much and to just give up,” he says.
While research in the United States suggests that being lazy is a sign of high intelligence, no matter how smart you are, you should still aim to increase your overall activity levels to improve your health. To stay fit and healthy, the NHS recommends either 150 minutes of moderate activity, such as swimming or cycling, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, such as running or playing sports, every week.
There are plenty of benefits of leading a healthier life, meaning exercising and eating a well-balanced diet. Marsh says that from personal experience when he’s eating well and gets regular exercise, his mind is clearer, deals with stress more effectively and is “generally nicer company”.
“I find that these good habits make it less likely to indulge in bad habits,” he says. “If I’m calm, fit and eating right, then I go to bed earlier and sleep better, I drink less alcohol, I read more and watch less TV – it’s all part of a virtuous circle for me.”
Marsh also emphasises that there is great research into how what you eat affects your mood, mindset and general attitude. “We know that getting a balance of fats, carbs and proteins, coupled with all the essential micronutrients like fatty acids, vitamins and minerals contributes to better health, better recovery and supports immune function, and generally speaking if you feel better health-wise you’re going to be enjoying better mental health too!”
Penny Weston considers physical health one of the main benefits of leading a healthier life. She says that avoiding heart diseases and obesity, the main killers in the UK, aids in prolonging your life. “The physical benefits are the biggest factor, but from a mental health point of view, everybody knows it helps with serotonin production and feeling good.”
And similarly to Marsh, Weston also feels that living healthier makes her “feel so much more positive and energised throughout the day”.
“If don’t exercise and I’ve started to eat rubbish, the dramatic effect it has on your mood, you can really tell. There are so many benefits of living a healthier lifestyle,” she says.
Weston, who owns an award-winning health spa, Moddershall Oaks, and a leading wellness centre, MADE, is also a mother to a two-year-old boy, so she understands how difficult it can be to fit this new routine into people's hectic schedules.
"Sometimes I need quick fixes, and I don't have a perfect day every day," she says. "There are things you can do, and I'm not saying it's easy, but there are things you can do to avoid getting a takeaway, even if they're not always bad."
Tweakd’s CEO, Marsh, says that planning and organisation are essential for overcoming laziness and lack of motivation. Working out what you are going to eat ahead of time and having good quality backup options in the freezer for when you do not feel like cooking can help you avoid snacking or getting a stodgy takeaway.
“Same with exercise – plan ahead,” says Marsh. “If you plan to exercise ‘when you feel like it’, you won’t. Set reminders and alarms.
"Throughout the day, I set myself reminders with small targets – a ten-minute walk, two minutes with the skipping rope, a set of press-ups, a set of squats, a two-minute plank. It's fine if I miss half of them in a day because I've still completed the other half, so I'm still moving forward," he says.
“Mind you, I think it’s important not to beat yourself up if laziness overwhelms good intentions. Guilt can be so destructive!
“Take a more optimistic approach, and if you struggle to motivate yourself on your own, get someone to help you, whether it’s a training buddy or even just asking family to help you by nagging you to get off that sofa and get some exercise!”
Did you set yourself a new year's resolution? Let us know in the comments how it's going so far!