12 simple tips to improve your diet, fitness and mood
Want to up your fitness game? Here are some great places to start.
1 Set a goal
It’s easy to tell ourselves we’re going to get fitter, only to lapse into our old habits after a week or two of trying. But setting ourselves a challenge can help us make a long-term change for the better.
Strength and conditioning coach Ruben Tabares says: “Set a target that’s attainable for you, whether it’s a short run, an amount of weight you want to lose or a set exercise you want to do each day. Having something specific to work towards will help you stay motivated.”
2 Walk before you run
When we think of getting fit, many of us assume we need to start doing high-intensity exercise, like going for a run.
But a long-term study by the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute found walking is just as effective as running for reducing the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.
A study found walking is just as effective as running for reducing the risk of high blood pressure.What’s more, the low impact of walking means it is more gentle on your joints. “Instead of going straight into jogging or running, start walking for 30 minutes a day,” says Ruben. “If you use public transport, get off the bus or tube when you’re half an hour’s walk away from your destination. Do this five days a week and you’ll soon start to notice a difference in your fitness.”
3 Start with a stretch
Being inactive in the cold months can leave us with aches and pains in our muscles and joints.
“If you are fairly sedentary and have hip, knee or lower back discomfort, a simple stretch helps relieve pressure in those areas,” says Jermaine Johnson, a personal trainer and ambassador for nutrition brand Bio-synergy.
For a full body stretch, stand with your legs hip-width apart, and stretch your arms up towards the ceiling. Hold this for a few seconds, then bend at the waist and flop your arms towards the ground.
Go back to a standing position, then step forward into a slow lunge. Step back and repeat on the other leg.
4 Work out at home
If you want to get fit, there’s no need to get an expensive gym membership, or invest in fancy equipment.
Simple body weight exercises at home will help strengthen your muscles, maintain healthy bones and help regulate blood sugar.
“Repeating a gentle movement conditions muscles and strengthens tendons, ligaments and joints,” says Ruben. Repeat these 10 times each, building to five sets of repetitions.
Squats: Bend at the knees, keeping your back straight until your bottom is level with your knees. Stand up straight and repeat.
Calf raises: Stand on your tiptoes, then slowly lower yourself back to standing.
Straight-leg deadlifts: Put one leg out straight in front of you, lift it up a few inches, then slowly down again, keeping your leg straight.
5 Try a juice
As the weather gets warmer, why not pack some extra vitamins into your diet and swap your morning cup of tea or coffee for a juice?
“Beetroot, cabbage, celery, broccoli, spinach and chard are packed with nutrients,” says nutritional therapist Henrietta Horton. “Adding lemons, apple or pears will make even the most adventurous vegetable medley taste palatable.”
Try combining spinach, apple, celery and lemon juice for a tasty drink which contains iron to combat fatigue and magnesium to help reduce stress.
6 Be a savvy snacker
“Reaching for sugary and fatty comfort foods is a natural response to the cold days and long nights,” says Hala El-Shaffie, a registered dietician. “But as the temperatures rise, support your wellbeing by making some simple changes to your snacking habits. “Almonds make the perfect snack as they are high in riboflavin (vitamin B2) and magnesium, which contribute to the reduction in tiredness and fatigue. “They’re also easily portable and contain fibre, protein and healthy fats to keep you going.”
7 Drink warm water
We all know that it’s important for us to drink plenty of water and stay healthily hydrated, but did you know that drinking warm water is better for you than cold? “It encourages the movement of the lymphatic system and prevents the build up of toxins in the skin, kidneys and gut,” explains Henrietta.
“You should try to drink at least eight glasses of filtered water a day, although not with meals as this dilutes the digestive juices which break down your food.”
8 Boost your energy
If you’re feeling a little lacklustre, energy-boosting foods can help put a spring back in your step.
“Foods that are rich in protein, fibre and complex carbohydrates release energy into the bloodstream slowly, keeping you fuelled for hours to come,” says Hala.
“Eggs and plain yogurt, for example, are rich in protein and increase the production of a brain chemical that regulates concentration.
Protein helps to improve focus, making you feel alert. So when the mid-afternoon energy slump strikes, protein-packed food can provide an instant pick-me-up and keep your energy levels consistent for hours.”
9 Think positive
It’s natural to have negative thoughts, but too many can make you weary.
“Generally we notice when things go wrong or don’t go our way and this triggers the brain to look for more of these examples,” says psychotherapist Ali Moore.
“When we refocus our brain to think about small positive things – like our first wonderful cup of tea in the morning – we retrain our brain to start noticing more.” Before bed, write down five things you enjoyed during the day and notice how it affects your frame of mind.
10 Walk on the wild side
Getting outside and enjoying nature can really boost our mood. That’s why GPs in the Shetland Islands now prescribe a dose of the great outdoors alongside medication and talking therapies to treat depression and anxiety.
It is thought that the oils called phytoncides which are released by grass and other plants trigger a physical response when we breathe them in. Within 15 minutes of being outside, our brain releases the happy hormone seratonin, our blood pressure drops and the levels of the stress hormone cortisol fall.
Try taking a half-hour walk in a nearby wood or park, and take note of the sights and smells which surround you.
11 Take a mindful lunch break
“Mindfulness is shown through MRI studies to actually change the way brain works,” says Ali. “Simply focusing on our breathing helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system which reduces feelings of stress and anxiety, helping us feel calmer and more in control of our thoughts.”
At lunchtime, step away from all screens and focus on the food in your mouth. What does it taste like? What texture does it have?
Concentrating on one activity quietens anxious thoughts and leaves you better able to tackle the day.
12 Make the most of mornings
As the days get hotter and we wake earlier, use the extra time to make a positive start with a morning routine which sets you up for the day.
“Take five minutes or an hour,” says health coach Olly Leicester.
“Start with some kind of movement, like stretching or a jog, then have quiet time — meditation, breathing exercises or reading a few pages of an inspiring book instead of looking at social media or emails.
“You’ll be amazed how much better you feel.”