I have had a fair number of people approaching me to ask questions about running, weight lifting, losing 'belly' or 'arm' fat or wanting to 'tone up'.
Therefore, I've decided to do a number of blogs, which will give an introduction to key topics of what I think is important for health.
What ever your goals are, health should be of equal, if not higher priority.
So what is health?
I believe health is the 'well being' of the body and mind. Someone can have 'good' or 'bad' health.
But, this term is subjective- someone may feel they have 'good health' whilst another person with the same body and mind could perceive it as 'bad health'.
There is no arbitrary definition, it is what matters to you..
I believe good health represents categories which should be prioritised according to importance.
This includes sleep, nutrition, mood (and stress management), exercise and enjoyment (travel, family, friends, works etc). The order of priority is summed up nicely on the 'health pyramid' at the top of the page.
But, this should be taken with a pinch of salt. You may have to tweak steps according to what is going on with your life. For example you may choose to do more exercise to reduce stress from work, or chose to focus on nutrition rather than exercise in the first instance to lose weight.
If I were achieve perfection in every category than I could say I have achieved perfect health. However, this is a theoretical, no one can ever be perfect.! so it is important to set goals for each topic, basically becoming the best version of yourself.!
I will therefore blog about:
Sleep (tbh I'm the worst person to write about this, but I have done fair bit of reading on the topic.!)
Exercise (split into running and weight lifting; my two big passions)
Mood (and stress management)
These 101 posts will be introductory, and I hope to do more advanced blogs in the future.
Suggestions have been derived from my own experiences, and review of scientific evidence. I must emphasise, I'm not a personal trainer, qualified nutritionist or psychologist. I simply enjoy reading/watching/practicing new things whilst sharing my journey, so please take everything with a pinch of salt. It is important to remember that health is personalised. What is good for me, may not suit you (or visa versa.!)
The importance of self love when setting health goals
I feel strongly about 'self love'. It encompasses quite a bit, but I feel I have to write (or rant) about not being hard on yourself. No one is perfect and beating your self up will only cause damage/harm. We are human after all! and always remember tomorrow is always a new day and a fresh start!
My top 4 self love tips include:
Set realistic goals
Pace yourself and only have one target at a time. At least until you are comfortable with the new goal.
Setting too many goals in one go will only cause burn out. Someone who decides to lose 20 kg, cut out carbohydrates and chocolates, only have 2 meals a day and exercise 5 days a week, is more likely to fail when compared to someone who sets a goal of cutting out 'liquid calories' (calories consumed in any drink), or someone who decides to continue the same diet but go to the gym 4 days a week.
Try not to compare yourself to others.. I am single and don't have children. Therefore, outside my PhD/clinical work time I pretty much have as much time as I want to exercise. You, however, may be someone who is married, has children, work crazy hours etc. It would be very difficult to set a goal of exercising 20 hours a week..! I know that I probably won't be able to maintain my current work out regime in the future and that is fine- it is life.!
However, everyone should always try set time to do activities/tasks to improve their health. Aiming to exercise for 30-60 mins 3-4 x a week will do wonders for your body and mind (ok I'll stop ranting now.!).
Its okay to take time.!
It took me almost two years to get to a point in which I felt I had made real progress.
I was not overweight but felt I was becoming too sedentary and noticing a difference in my body composition (less muscle, more fat deposition).
I initially set myself a goal of becoming more active (with a view to lose a bit of fat along the way). I had run irregularly in the past (I did my first 10k race during medical school) but decided to make a goal of being active at least 5 times a week. I am always more productive and motivated with goals and therefore signed up to 3 x 10 k CRUK runs (Manchester, London and Liverpool) to give me something to work on.
Then the 10 k goal, became a half marathon.!
When I started training for my first half marathon (almost 2 years ago) I realised I was going to have to change my diet.
It wasn't bad, but I would sometimes go days without fruit or veg. I did a lot of reading about fuel and glycogen stores whilst training and learnt how to refine my diet, to fuel better workouts. Cue big change in my diet (porridge and fruit for breakfast, and thinking about my protein and carbohydrate intake.!).
I then set myself the crazy goal of doing a marathon...
I was already going to the gym 2-3 times a week to do mostly body and free weights. However, in preparation for marathon training I had to further refine my training.
I learnt how body fat impacts running, and how it is VITAL to incorporate strength training alongside marathon training. This is SO important for anyone who runs.!
Doing weights (whether body/free etc) makes your muscles and ligaments stronger. This helps your body to cope with the stresses of training. During my peak weak of training I did up to 70 km and did 3 x 20 mile runs before the big day. I had one minor injury during marathon training in January 2017 and haven't had any since.!
I put on muscle (and by default reduced my body fat percentage)..one day I was shocked to see abs (I never thought I would see this day haha.!). Despite not setting it as a goal it was a nice by product to develop :), even if it is a temporary.!
If you said to me 3 years ago I would be where I am today I would have laughed in your face. Me..?? marathon?? deadlifts?! phahaha hellooo cerebral palsy (AND dyspraxia.!). So moral of the story is- if I can do it YOU definitely can (and better.!). Just be aware it will take a bit of time, commitment and hard work.
I'm happy that I took my time, I have LOVED the process, and have enjoyed life along the way and importantly managing to maintaining my lifestyle changes (for now haha!).
A bad day/week/month is fine.!
So you had a bad week/ didn't do any exercise/ binged on chocolate/ ate out everyday.
Thats okay.! It's important to not be so regimented all the time, you need to live a little! We are human after all. The way I see it, these 'blips' are little breaks/rests/recharge time from the all the discipline. Few people would choose to work 365 days a year; the same should be applied to exercise, diet, etc.
So you put on a stone or you lost some fitness that you spent 'months' building. Also fine.!, you are not a failure, you have had other things on (family, work stress, ill health etc) which easily impacts on how you function/your motivation/your mood. As I mentioned previously this is life.! recognise that for every 3 steps you take forward you will probably will go 1 (even 2) step backwards (which I have done sooo many times) before progressing forward again.
Enjoy the process
The way I see it, it is better to take 3 years to achieve your 'goal' because of 'blips', and
maintain your changed life style habits rather than being 'super hard core' for 1 year and burning out (always easier said then done).
Also, I would rather be a bit squidgy, happy and enjoy life than have 12% body fat, an 8 pack and be miserable because of restrictions.
Keep reminding yourself its normal to have good and bad days, that a lot of the pictures you see on social media are not realistic (or real for that matter.!). I always used to hate how I looked, I felt 'ugly', 'unattractive' and 'fat'. I was never happy. It took me a looong time to realise that happiness needs to come from within irrespective of how happy you are with your body/appearance/etc.
Even though I am satisfied with the positive changes to my physique, it isn't the be all and end all. I would gladly trade a good few kg of fat for eternal happiness :).
Also forcing yourself to do something you don't enjoy is a no no.. if you don't enjoy lifting weights/running etc and prefer swimming or walking that is fine.! Much better to do something you enjoy, which motivates you to get up and exercise. It is important to focus on YOU and give yourself some love without beating yourself up.
Examples of 'health goals'
Remember don't too set many goals at the same time. I recommend setting one goal in each category, and focus on maintaining it consistently for 6-8 weeks before moving on to the next goal. This is because it takes 4-6 weeks to change a 'fad' a life style habit.! Just remember your motivation will always get a bit worse (usually around 3 weeks) before it will get better. This happens to everyone.!.
Targets in each category include:
Sleep at the same time every night
Sleep at least 7 hours every day
Wake up at the same time everymorning
Avoid the use of electronics 1 hour before sleep
Eliminate liquid calories (all calories from drink e.g. lattes, certain alcoholic and fizzy drinks)
Cut out refined sugar
Have breakfast every morning
Avoid snacking on processed foods
Reduce alcohol intake
Reduce portion sizes by 20%
Aim to have at least 5 portions (10 is even better.!) of fruit/veg a day.
Exercise 3 times a week
Aim to complete a 5 km run
Go to 3 classes a week
Master the 'hip hinge'
Wake up before the kids to fit in a run.
Set time once a week for personal enjoyment
Spend 5 mins every morning writing positive thoughts
Do something twice a week for stress managments
Read about cognitive behavioural therapy. Recognise thoughts for what they are-just thoughts. Try implement strategies to overcome this. For example, I frequently think 'I am stupid'. I now recognise that this is a negative thought. When the thought pops into my head I immediately tell myself this is just a negative thought intruding, and counteract it with a positive thought 'I am not not stupid, I have completed a degree/etc'.
I hope you have found this post useful... Thought I'd end with my before and after (2 years in the making haha.!)
(Almost.!) I had been running for about 8 months when this picture was taken..
10 km CRUK winter run, February 2016.