“Lifestyle Change”. It sounds like a daunting task to undertake, something that is going to require a huge amount of effort and willpower! But if you are unhappy with the way you look and feel, then a lifestyle change is probably what is needed. A six-week crash diet may help you drop a few pounds (temporarily) but its’ not going to do anything to improve your health or fitness levels over the long-term. And lifestyle change doesn’t have to happen all at once. Small changes for the better can make a dramatic difference over a period of time as they turn into lifestyle habits.
Start by making just one positive change and stick with it. Then make another change every 3 or 4 weeks. Here are some simple changes that could help you make significant improvements to your health and fitness:
Drink more water. This is probably one of the easiest changes to make. Drink 2 litres (8 large glasses) of water a day. Begin your day with a large glass of water to rehydrate your body, get your internal organs working and boost you metabolism. Whenever possible, replace other drinks such as fizzy drinks, squash or fruit juices, with water. You’ll automatically reduce your calorie intake by switching from calorific, sugar-laden drinks to water and the health benefits from hydrating the body with enough water every day are amazing. You’ll be helping your liver and kidneys to function effectively, flushing toxins from your body. You’ll increase your body’s metabolism, helping it to burn fat and you’ll decrease your appetite.
Eat more vegetables. Your Mum was right; eating your veggies is good for you! They are packed with vitamins, minerals and nutrients which are vital for good health. Vegetables are an important source of vitamins A and C which help keep eyes, skin, teeth and gums healthy and protect against infections. Many vegetables are rich in Potassium which helps the body maintain healthy blood pressure. The dietary fibre provided by a high intake of vegetables helps reduce cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes. A diet which is rich in vegetables is thought to help protect against some types of cancer. So think about replacing a less healthy choice on your plate with an extra serving or two of healthy veggies.
Go for wholegrain. All white foods such as flour, pasta, rice and cereal are highly processed, high in calories and provide you with little or no nutritional benefits. They are absorbed quickly by the body, causing a rapid increase in blood sugar, but they do not sustain you, so hunger returns within an hour or so. Replacing white rice, pasta and bread with wholegrain versions, slows down absorption, provides you with more dietary fibre and helps you feel fuller for longer.
Reduce your sugar intake. If you have a sweet tooth, chances are you are putting more than just your teeth at risk. High sugar intake is directly linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, inflammation, liver and kidney damage. It can suppress your immune system and can cause hyperactivity, anxiety and depression! Sugar is added to so many processed foods that unless you are eating 100% unprocessed food, it is difficult to remove it entirely from your diet. But try to cut down on obvious added sugar in tea, coffee or in the form of sweetened fruit juices or fizzy drinks. Replace sugary snacks like biscuits and cakes with naturally sweet fruit or greek yoghurt with fresh fruit or a small handful of unsalted nuts. Start your day with natural oats instead of processed cereals, which are often very high in sugar. Make sure you get into the habit of reading food labels so you know just what you are eating. Sugar comes in many forms; fructose, glucose, lactose, maltodextrin and dextrose are all types of sugar!
Give fast food a miss. We all know that fast food is bad for us (don’t we??). Just how bad is it though? For a start, it is laden with calories; a typical Mcdonald’s meal of cheeseburger, medium fries and medium coke comes in at almost 800 calories – trade up to large fries and a quarter pounder with cheese and this jumps to a massive 955 calories. An average person only needs around 500-600 calories in a meal (assuming 3 main meals and 2 small snacks per day. In addition to the extra calories, fast foods contain high levels of saturated fat and trans fats, which are known to increase the levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol in the body. Many fast foods also have extremely high levels of sodium which can cause high blood pressure and obesity and have been linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer. Recommended levels for sodium intake are 1200mg per day. A Mcdonald’s quarter pounder with cheese contains 1310mg of sodium on its own!
Plan ahead. It’s so much easier to make healthy choices if you have healthy food in the fridge! Try and plan meals for the week ahead and have fresh meat, fruit and vegetables on hand. That way, you’re less likely to opt for fast food or a home delivery!
Get Moving! Physical activity burns calories, boosts your mood and increases your energy levels. Whether it’s swimming, jogging, a zumba class, or even just a brisk 20 minute walk, it will improve your fitness level and make your feel better! Try and find time to do something active three times a week. Make it something you enjoy so that you carry on doing it.
Keep an open mind, try new things, and remember; small steps can lead to a big change in your lifestyle.