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10 Steps to a Healthier You

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By Sean Lerwill

This time of year everyone decides it’s time to make a conscious effort to be healthier and thus improve their fitness and hopefully lower their body fat (or lose weight as most see it). For most they have no idea where to start, so join the gym, start eating just fruit and veg and eventually fall off the wagon when results aren’t seen, tiredness kicks in and life takes over. Well, here are 10 simple steps to making sure your 2015 fitness regime sticks:

1. Take it slow

When changing your life, very few people can stick with complete upheavals. A much better option is to change one thing each week, or if you’re feeling brave, each day. That way it doesn’t seem overwhelming and is more likely to become habit over time. For example: start today by consciously drinking more water. Tomorrow, carry on drinking more water but also add getting into bed 30-60mins earlier than usual. The next day add to water and sleep ensuring you eat breakfast. etc.

2. Add some simple exercise to your lifestyle.

Walking is a great addition; if you drive/get the bus or train/underground to work try getting off/parking a mile from work. Walk that last little bit at the beginning and end of the day. It’ll not only burn a few more calories but it’ll give you time for some fresh air and fresh thoughts on life.

3. Work out your calorie needs.

If you don’t know what your body needs, the likelihood is you’ll overfeed or drastically underfeed it. Either can have negative effects compared to what you want. Overfeed and you’ll gain weight. If you aren’t training for muscle growth, this will be body fat. if you drastically underfeed you’ll breakdown muscle tissue, we don’t want that. So, work out your calorie needs (explained how in my Transformation manual) and use a smartphone app like MyFitnessPal to log what is eaten. It’s a chore to do for some, but it makes a huge difference.

4. Eat breakfast.

It really is the most important meal of the day. Your body goes into starvation over night (hence Break-fast). In the morning your body needs fuel or it starts to feed on itself. The bad news is it’s likely to start breaking down your muscle tissue and we don’t want that. Your muscle tissue is metabolic tissue; meaning it actually burns calories and helps you lose fat. We want to keep it, so eat breakfast, everyday!

5. Eat less carbohydrate.

In the world we live in most of us overdo carbohydrate. We eat too much bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, crisps, chocolate etc. It’s not just our fault; the takeaway foods we get from the highstreet sandwich chains and supermarkets are carb heavy. It’s cheaper for the supermarket. Studies have shown that taking carbohydrate down from 60-70% of a daily diet to 20-30% can increase the use of fat as a fuel by up to 70%. What this means is that if you eat less carbs your body will burn more of your excess body fat. Don’t cut carbohydrate out altogether. It’s still necessary for your body to have some good, naturally occurring carbs, but avoid the processed versions and lower the overall amount.

6. Drink more water.

Water is required for nearly every bodily process. Humans are actually 70% water. We need a constant supply of water to help remove toxins, keep the immune system strong and to metabolise fat. Try drinking 1litre per 20kg of bodyweight. For a 60kg woman = 3litres, for an 80kg man = 4litres. And for every hour of exercise drink another 1-1.5litres extra.

7. Eat more protein and fats.

Fats have been given a bad name over the last 20-30years. The thought process that fat makes you fat; not just because of the name, but because of fats being 9kcals per gram compared to protein and carbs which are 4kcals per gram. Yes fats may be more calorific but they are also essential to many bodily functions. Good fats like oils from oily fish, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil and butter/dairy are very good for the body. Equally they help ensure a lower carb diet which as stated above helps with fat utilisation as a fuel. As does eating more fat itself.

Eating more protein helps with repair and recovery following illness, injury or simply working out. Studies have shown that eating 20grams of protein every 3hrs through the day helps keep muscle synthesis switched on; ie. it ensures the hard work in the gym under the weights bar is fully utilised. Furthermore, eating protein regularly can help keep hunger pangs at bay and stop you reaching for the biscuits.

8. Sleep more.

Lack of sleep is not good for the body. It adds stress and stress leads to certain hormones being released to cope with the stress. Due to our evolution those stress hormones make our bodies’ want to store body fat. Simply put, they are our comfy, warm, portable blanket for when the snow comes in (our stresses of days gone past). Try to sleep 7-8hrs a night uninterrupted. It will help avoid injury and illness, help lower stress levels and thus help with burning fat and building muscle by aiding recovery.

9. Supplement.

Although not necessary for many, supplements can really help. It’s important to first eat a balanced diet of the correct kcal's for you and the right percentages of fats, carbs and proteins. However, beyond that, using supplements can really help. For example, many people don’t get enough vit D, especially in the UK so a supplement can be essential. The same for omega 3 fish oils. If you don't eat oily fish everyday, then supplement with omega 3s. If you struggle to eat enough protein, try a whey or soya protein. Check the ingredients and try to avoid too many sugar and additives. Other supplements that can aid fat loss are green tea extract, CLA, a multivitamin and vitamin c.

10. More weights, less cardio.

The standard thought process is that to lose weight (bodyfat) you run, cycle, walk etc. Although those activities will burn calories, we don’t just want to burn calories in our training sessions, we want to trigger muscle growth, which as explained above is metabolic tissue and thus burns calories while we sleep, sit at our desk or watch TV. Therefore, weight training/resistance training is far more beneficial than cardio training when trying to lose bodyfat. Try to use weights (even if just body weight resistance training) 2-3 times a week and if you enjoy it, cardio 1-2 times a week. If it’s a choice between one or the other, I would always advise resistance training over cardio. However, it is imperative that every session is intense. If you can lift a weight easily for 10, 15 or whatever the reps are, it’s too light. You need to be lifting it so that the muscle hurt/burn, thus you are giving the body something to repair and adapt to. This in itself burns more calories after the session itself, but also encourages the body to produce a little bit more muscle (don’t worry girls, not much - it takes years to grow big muscles) which means more metabolic tissue and thus more calories burned when at work/rest. Remember, make it intense. if it’s easy, it’s not enough.

Sean Lerwill, Author of the Haynes Body Transformation Manual, is a well-known Personal Trainer and ex-Royal Marines PT Instructor. Sean regularly features in leading fitness publications offering help and advice to the masses and as a Marine PT Instructor helped numerous Marines complete what many regard as the hardest Military training regime in the world. Other Haynes publications written by Sean are: Haynes Royal Marine Fitness Manual, Haynes Running Manual and the Haynes Triathlon Manual. All of Sean’s Haynes Manuals can be found at Haynes Online