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What are you waiting for? Start your New Years’ resolution today

If you can put off a habit change / life change until a new year rolls around, that’s a sign that you just don’t have much motivation to make it happen. You may wish it would happen, but you don’t really want to do the work to get it (and that’s why you’ve been putting it off). You may have a whole new year ahead of you, but you’ve still got all the old desires that will keep you trapped in the place you’re at now.
Why Your Resolutions Never Change Anything (And The One Thing That Does), Dave Navarro

The above quote really struck me earlier in this week, especially when I read a piece by one of my fellow writers on Diet-Blog, suggesting that would-be-dieters should start right now and get ahead for the new year.

Do you want to make changes in your life, but think it’s not worth getting started till January? An awful lot of people go on diets at the start of the year (just look at Google Trends for the word ‘diet’ to see the peak every January). And lots of us take up impressive fitness regimes, try to overhaul our lives, start hunting for a new job in earnest …

… and all too often, this motivation fizzles out by mid-January.

You don’t need to wait until some arbitrary date to begin working on your goals.

All you need to do is:

  • Be clear about what it is you want to do (e.g. “eat five fruit and veg a day”)
  • Work out all the reasons you want to make this change
  • Write them down (you’ll be much more likely to succeed)
  • Figure out the first step – make it a little bit challenging, but not too daunting
  • Get started!

Not feeling motivated enough? Here are a few popular health/fitness related resolutions, and reasons to start on them today.

  • Losing weight – if you’re overweight, you could easily be 6lbs lighter by Christmas. You’ll have more energy, you’ll feel great about yourself, and you won’t be so tempted to have a complete pig-out at every Christmas party.
  • Eating more healthily – you’ll see the benefits every day with increased energy and zest for life, if you make an effort to cut out high-fat, high-sugar foods. And with Christmas just around the corner, you’ll want all the energy you can get…
  • Exercising regularly – why not get into good habits now? If you feel a bit down during the dark winter months, exercise is a great way to lift your mood. Regular exercise is even prescribed as a treatment for mild-moderate depression.
  • Quitting smoking – put the money you’re saving in a jar, and spend it in the January sales on a fantastic outfit, or that new gadget you wish you could afford. And, of course, you’ll be enjoying the benefits of clearer lungs long before Christmas begins.So what are you waiting for? Get ahead of the game, and start your New Years’ resolution today!If you want to know a bit more about me and about why I started The Office Diet, you might like to read an interview with me on the “Ditch Diets, Live Light” site.
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Exercise: a treat, not a chore

Sometimes, we tend to see a lot of things that are bad for us as “treats”: things like chocolate, crisps, takeaways, lazy afternoons slumped on the sofa. I know I’m a bit prone to doing this too, but after an email from one of The Office Diet’s readers, I’m trying to rethink my attitude! Why shouldn’t I think of things that are good for me – like exercise – as treats too?

After all, I know that a trip to the gym is a real treat for me – when I was working full-time, it was a wonderful hour of freedom away from the office, and now that I’m studying, it makes a nice break from my desk. Going out for a leisurely walk with my boyfriend is also a treat, as is eating something delicious, homemade and packed with long-lasting energy, like pasta with a chunky vegetable sauce.

Here’s a few ways to think about your exercising as a treat, not a chore:

  • If you work from home during some or all of the week, treat yourself to a half-hour walk every morning and afternoon as a break. You might want to listen to your favourite music or podcast while you walk, or use it as “couple time” with your partner.
  • Pick a fun activity to do at the weekend – perhaps ice-skating, trampolining, rowing, skateboarding, or anything that you genuinely love to do. Set aside a morning or afternoon to indulge. If it’s something that brings out the big kid in you, so much the better!
  • Get some friends on board, and have a blast doing something active together. How about a game of Ultimate Frisbee in the park, or an afternoon at an adventure playground with your kids? I love Lazer Quest (my competitive spirit comes to the fore when I get to prowl around and shoot people in the dark…), and I’m keen to try Paintball some day.
  • Enjoy a long, chilled-out gym session: make some time for yourself, work off some energy on the machines, push yourself with the weights, and then take a long soak in the pool – or relax in the sauna – to wind down. Start viewing your workouts as “me time”, a chance to escape the computer, phone and pressures of daily life.

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Struggling with your workout? Find out why …

Have you ever had a day when your workout just seemed tougher than usual? Maybe your ten minute warm-up stint on the exercise bike had you feeling worn out, or you couldn’t manage as many reps as usual on the weights. Before you start blaming yourself for being “lazy”, here’s some factors you might want to have a think about:

Water

Did you drink enough before your workout? It’s not enough to just drink water during your gym session – you need to be well hydrated beforehand, too.

Being dehydrated can severely hamper your athletic activities, slowing you down and making it harder to lift weights. Exercise requires additional water, so be sure to hydrate before, during and after exercise.
9 Great Reasons to Drink Water, and How to Form the Water Habit

Fix it: If you’re hitting the gym at 5.30pm after work, try having an extra glass of water at around 4 – 4.30pm. Take a big bottle of water into the gym with you and sip from it regularly.

Food

If you feel as though you’re lacking energy – and especially if you feel faint or dizzy – you might not have eaten enough. Remember that you need to eat a snack an hour or so before working out, to make sure you’ve got some energy for your body to burn!

Pre-exercise meals are important to be sure that you have adequate energy and that you get the most from your activity and do not experience undue fatigue.
Eating Around Your Workout Schedule

Fix it: Have a pre-gym snack (around an hour before your workout usually works well), or exercise within 3-4 hours of a good-sized meal.

Sleep

Feeling exhausted during your workout might be a sign that you’ve not had enough sleep. If you’re yawning the day away at your desk, dragging yourself to the gym can help wake you up – but you might not be able to perform at your usual levels.

Without adequate sleep (eight hours a night), there is not enough rest for muscle cell growth and repair. In fact, when you sleep, growth hormone is produced and protein synthesis in the muscles occurs.
The Importance of Sleep

Fix it: Make sure you get an early night the day before a workout. If you do sleep badly, go easy on yourself in the gym – it’s better to do your session at a slightly lower intensity than to not go at all.

Health

If you’re feeling under the weather, your ability to exercise is likely to be diminished. Jogging on the treadmill probably won’t help that nagging headache, either. Most experts say that you can work out if you have “above the neck” symptoms (stuffy nose, sore throat, etc) but not if you have “below the neck” symptoms (chest congestion, upset stomach). You also shouldn’t work out if you’ve got a fever.

If you’re not feeling well but still want to exercise, reduce the intensity of your workout and listen to your body. If your symptoms worsen with exercise, stop and rest. Missing a few days of exercise isn’t the end of the world.
Exercise and illness: should you exercise when you’re sick?

Fix it: Don’t be afraid to skip your workout for a few days if you’re ill: it’s more important to recover quickly and fully than to force yourself through a gym session when you’re feeling awful. Try taking a gentle walk instead.

(Image above by The Yorkshire Rambler)

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Recent diet and fitness news articles

I usually find myself too busy to read a whole newspaper, so I pick and choose articles from different online papers based on what I’m interested in! Here’s a few of my favourite recent diet-and-fitness news items:

The reluctant dieter

The problem for me isn’t that I’m trying too hard to be perfect, it’s that my attitude is so relaxed that I’ve gone from swallowing down one or two treats a week to, well, nine or 10. Oops.

I’ve linked to Kira’s series before – she’s got a wonderful, frank and funny writing style, and it’s been a fascinating look into her dieting ups and downs.

The Dangers of Working Out When You’re Stressed

Letting off steam at the gym is a good idea – up to a point. Exercising too aggressively when you are under a lot of strain can raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels.

An interesting read; I’ve been feeling a little stressed recently, and found that I was getting back-ache when on the rowing machine in the gym earlier today. I’m wondering now if it could have been due to having tenser muscles than usual.

New Diet Books Put To The Test

This month, we asked members of the Times Health Club to test some brand new diet books. The rules were simple: follow the diet for a minimum of two weeks, keep an honest diary on your progress, and record the (hopefully substantial) weight loss. These were the results…

I’m not a huge fan of diet books, but if I do consider buying one, I’d definitely want to read a few reviews first. These ones, by normal women rather than marketers or journalists, are informative and helpful.

Common Fibre a “True Superfood”

An ongoing study by the Institute of Food Research suggested pectin, a fibre found in everything from potato to plums, helped to fight the disease [cancer].
Lead researcher Professor Vic Morris said the likely effect of the fibre meant there was no need for people to rely on so-called superfoods.

I’m always suspicious of the fads for superfoods (especially expensive ones, like blueberries), so it was great to read that normal fibre may be just as good! Make sure you’re getting your five-a-day and you should be fine.
Break out the bubbly: White wine may be good for you

Rats that were fed white wine as part of their diet suffered less heart damage during cardiac arrest, compared to animals fed only water or grain alcohol. These benefits were similar to animals that ingested a red wine or its wonder ingredient found only in grape skin, resveratrol.

Although I drink red wine too, I’m rather fond of white wine so I’m hoping this research turns out to be true for humans as well as for rats!

Special announcement: I launched a new blog, Alpha Student, a couple of weeks ago, to celebrate starting on my MA course and to help other students get the most out of their time at university. If you happen to know any students, feel free to point them towards the site!

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Motivational exercise quotes

Let’s face it, the most enthusiastic of us will occasionally have days when our planned jog, workout or aerobics class just doesn’t appeal. Sometimes, we need a bit of a motivation boost – and one of my favourite ways to get that is to turn to some of these great exercise quotes. If your fitness routine is flagging, try setting one of these as your screensaver or writing it on a post-it stuck to your monitor…

Running is a big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks you, “Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?”

– Peter Maher, Canadian marathon runner

A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.

– Paul Dudley White

Exercise and application produce order in our affairs, health of body, cheerfulness of mind, and these make us precious to our friends.

– Thomas Jefferson

You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.

– Charles Buxton

Act as though and it shall be.
The seed you sow today will not produce crop till tomorrow. For this reason, your identity does not lie in your current results. This is not who you are. Your current results are who you were.

– James A. Ray

True life is lived when tiny changes occur.

– Leo Tolstoy

Physical fitness can neither be achieved by wishful thinking nor outright purchase.

– Joseph Pilates

Note: Since writing this post (which has become quite popular – thank you!) I’ve launched the site Diet Quotes, with a page full of motivational exercise quotes. So if you enjoyed the ones above, check that out too!

Need some motivation and help beyond just exercise quotes? Want to learn what exercises are best for beginners and for improvers? Check out my Dieting Basics ebook, which is packed with 88 pages of information, tips and advice on exercise, diet, nutrition and more.

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Five reasons to walk more

A year or two ago, everyone was talking about the “10,000 steps a day” target – walking 10,000 steps each day (about five miles) is supposed to be great for your health.

But it’s easy to wonder whether walking’s really worth it – after all, the latest government exercise guidelines recommend that we do “Thirty minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week”. You have to be walking fairly briskly for it to count as “moderate”.

Despite this, walking is one of the best exercises for many busy office workers, and here’s the five reasons why…

1. Walking has real physical benefits

The Ramblers say that:

Whether you want to walk to improve your general health, to keep fit, to control your weight, or perhaps to recover from a period of ill-health, walking can help.

They list the results from a number of studies which show walking can:

  • Reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer of the colon
  • Lower your blood pressure (especially important for those of us in stressful jobs!)
  • Reduce body fat and high cholesterol levels
  • Increase bone density, to help prevent osteoporosis in later life

… and quite a bit more besides!

If you have a thirty minute walk twice a day, at a moderate pace of 3 mph (perhaps on your way to work and on your way home) you’ll be burning up:

  • 240 calories if you weigh 150lb (10 stone 10 lbs)
  • 304 calories if you weigh 190lbs (13 stone 8 lbs)
  • 416 calories if you weigh 260lbs (18 stone 8 lbs)

When you’re dieting, and every calorie counts, burning an extra 250+ calories per day means losing an extra half a pound every week: definitely a bonus over the long term.

2. Walking is easy to fit into your day

One of the hardest things for many of us about exercise is simply fitting it in. It’s not always convenient to get to the gym, due to the time commitment required (where you’ll waste at least 20 minutes getting there and changing, and another 20-30 minutes showering and changing back afterwards) – you usually need at least a couple of hours free to make it worthwhile.

Walking, however, fits in easily. You could get your thirty minutes of walking twice a day by using some of these methods:

  • Walking to work instead of getting the bus, if you live nearby … or getting off the tube or tram a couple of stops earlier and walking
  • Nipping out of the office for a walk in your lunch-hour – even if it’s just around the block a few times
  • Going out for a post-dinner stroll with your partner in the evening
  • Walking to the grocery store instead of driving (carrying those heavy bags back will help build your arm muscles – and burns a few extra calories!)

3. Walking is sociable

You can walk and talk – far more easily than you can hold a conversation on the treadmill, on the tennis court or in gym class. If you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy exercise for its own sake, the social aspects of walking make it an ideal activity. How about:

  • Encouraging colleagues to join you on a lunch-time stroll around a local park
  • Walking to work with an office mate, if anyone lives in the same direction as you
  • Meeting a friend after work for a walk instead of a drink!
  • Going out with your partner in the evening
  • Taking your kids on a long ramble through local woodland at the weekend
  • Inviting your mum, dad, aunt (etc…) on a walk instead of letting them ask you round for tea and cake

If you don’t have anyone to walk with, you might want to look for local walking or rambling groups (here in London, lots of these meet in local parks). You might find that walking is a great way to meet some new friends.

4. Walking doesn’t require any special kit

It’s not just the time factor that can put you off going to the gym, but also the need to cart around your kit, trainers, towel and toiletries. One of the biggest advantages of walking, as opposed to other forms of exercise, is that you don’t need any special kit.

Of course, comfortable shoes and clothing that you can take a good stride in (skirts can be quite restrictive) are a must – but you don’t really need trainers and sports gear if you’re only walking at a moderate pace for half an hour.

5. Walking saves you money

In these budget-conscious times, expensive health club memberships, regular personal training sessions and pricy gym classes are often luxuries that we have to cut back on. Walking is absolutely free – you don’t need to fork out for kit, or for any fees, in order to walk.

You could even find yourself saving money – when you walk instead of getting the bus or train, or taking your car, you’ll not be spending any money for transport.

BONUS reason 6: Walking will make you happier!

All forms of moderate to vigorous exercise make you feel less stressed, more relaxed and calmer – due to the “happy hormones” that flow around your body once you’ve been active for twenty minutes or so. But walking can have further mental health benefits:

  • It’s a great way to spend quality time chatting with loved ones. When you’re out for a walk, you’ll find that you have much more in-depth, meaningful, conversations than when you’re both rushing around at home trying to get chores done.
  • Walking lets you get away from it all. If you can, escape from your desk when things get stressful and take a ten-minute walk. It’s a great way to get perspective and to calm down.
  • You can explore the natural world around you whilst walking. It’s easy to feel hemmed in by buildings and streets; try walking in the countryside, or around a big park nearby, and enjoy being amongst trees and treading on grass or soil instead of concrete.

Look at your diary for tomorrow – where can you fit in two thirty-minute walks? If you’re really struggling to find a gap, why not get up half an hour earlier and go for a dawn walk before the rest of the world is awake? Whatever time of day you walk, make it an enjoyable break and something you’ll want to fit into your schedule on a daily basis.

(Image above from Flickr by uhduh.)