Five Fabulous Fixes For Furthering Fitness

By Rick Ashworth – MSc Applied Sports Science

What are your expectations when you begin a new training regime, how much time do you have and what are you willing to do to achieve your goals? Wanting to get in shape for Christmas is a great starting point but are you willing to do what’s necessary to achieve it?images

If you’ve not followed a specific exercise plan before or it has been a long while since you did, you may initially struggle to hit the targets you set yourself; a good entry point is to do 30 minutes of exercise each day, which may not sound like a lot but without a good extrinsic motivator you may begin to prioritise other activities or blame other factors such as the weather for not hitting your target.

The ideas listed below are five points you really need to focus on to reach your goals:

  • Exercise Enjoyment – If you are not enjoying yourself then why would you continue? This is one of many reasons why personal trainers are a good investment. A good personal trainer will keep changing the exercise program so you stay motivated and, therefore, engaged in the process; which is, ultimately, to make you fitter and healthier. Also, just having someone there to share in the experience and help you not to fixate on how hard you’re working can be a great help. Further, a personal trainer will design an exercise program around exercises you enjoy and will work hard during but the doesn’t mean that you can’t try different exercises outside of that to find the ones that you like. Not everyone enjoys doing biceps curls until their arm can no longer fit through the arms of their t-shirt, much as others cannot see the joy in running flat out across the hills of the Peak District in mid-December. Finding something you enjoy is key to sustained exercising and should open you up to new experiences and new people who can help develop the talent and enjoyment you have.
  • Your Health & Fitness Needs You! – Many magazines and blog posts suggest joining a gym, which is hardly bad advice, yet, there are many memberships left unused after the first few weeks. Picking a good gym, with fitness trainers who will help and encourage you towards your goals (one such gym is unarguably the Cheshire Health Club & Spa) is worth it’s weight in good salads and protein shakes but be aware that there are plenty out there who are happy to receive your monthly direct debit and do nothing at all in return. Perhaps a better first step would be to hire a personal trainer or join a bootcamp, something that you are only paying for in the short-term but that will certainly provide a benefit for your fitness with not only training plans but advice and personal tailoring for nutrition and overall health – pushing you appropriately to your level of fitness and strength.
  • Steady As You Go – Thinking about the long-term journey ahead is great: have that bikini on the beach body, the full marathon, the doubling of your bench press always in mind but appreciate the shorter-term goals and celebrate them. The first couple of percent drop in body fat, the completion of a 10k run or extra 5kg lifted off your chest. These are the stepping stones that get you the whole way across the river and without them you will never get to the other side. Your motivation will not see you through to a goal that is a year away without any celebration of the milestones reached. A personal trainer will keep you motivated through each week and month and allow you to appreciate the smaller but no less important goals to keep you progressing and keep your motivation high all the way through to the beach, finish line or growl of power that sees the bar bend high above your chest..
  • Don’t Give In To Temptation – The main reason people give for not exercising enough (or at all) is life. Life is full of temptations or, rather, excuses. Time wasted commuting, working, eating, picking up the children, being too tired and many more are all reasons and responsibilities you can use for ducking exercise but all of them are worse for you health and fitness than exercise; a good healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and so on is great but exercise is the element that will turn all that into making you fit and healthy. So, you can’t fit exercise in after a busy day? Here’s a radical thought, exercise in the morning. Sure, you’ll have to be out of bed earlier, which means you’ll probably have to plan your day the night before but that will only mean you’ll be more productive. Not just because you’ll have your diary arranged better but because exercise in the morning raises your metabolic rate and improves your mood, meaning you’re less likely to have an energy slump and with the whole day ahead and no need to fret about how you’re going to fit in any training you’ll have no reason not to feel amazing!
  • Get A Habit – Habits can take a while to form, give-or-take a month, and even if you can’t stick absolutely fastidiously to it, try and aim to do some sort of exercise every day. If you plan on doing an hour but something urgent crops up then just fit in 15 minutes or half-an-hour; like we said, life happens and sometimes it’s unavoidable but by doing something rather than ignoring it all together you are building habits and pathways that will begin to drive you towards doing exercise rather than making up excuses. Putting off exercise only reinforces the sloth in us. This is not to say that you have to exercise every single day for the rest of your life but it should mean that it becomes a choice not to exercise rather than a hardship to begin in the first place with any missed day meaning you’ll be desperate to exercise the day after.

By implementing these ideas for a month you should be setting your body and mind new parameters from which to draw strength against excuse and enjoyment against obligation. If you it, you can achieve it. Good luck and feel free to get in touch for a free consultation and helpful hints and tips to get you on track or push you on even closer.

How Red Are You?

Following on from last week’s blog where I threw my weight behind eating a low-carbohydrate diet, this week we pull at the horns of red meat on your plate and ask whether eating a more plant-based diet would give us greater longevity and better health?Unknown

 Once upon a time red meat was demonised as being too fatty and blamed for cancer and heart disease, then as the low-carb diet pinched a hold on like Wilson Philips in the early nineties it was given somewhat of a reprieve! However, somebody did, indeed, make us turn around and say goodbye and that person was Walter Willet and his team of researchers at Harvard School of Public Health who stated that a high red meat diet shortens our lives; and things seemingly could blow you away, I do like a steak! Yet, it is not as straight-forward as eating a prime cut of sirloin to put you in A&E but then, of course, it never is.

 In 2012, science writer Gary Taubes, followed up on a research paper that stated red and processed meat consumption was potentially deadly and that eating too much, too regularly, would cause a host of chronic diseases and, therefore, inevitably, shorten our lives. He was not complimentary about the published results, which we will come to soon, and I happen to agree with his assessment wholeheartedly.

 First off, let’s just look at what scientists are saying about eating red meat now? If we enter ‘red meat’into Google it produces a mishmash of headlines stating that red meat causes greater risk from bowel cancer whilst, at the same time, it can increase our muscle longevity (which apparently means keeping muscles stronger throughout our lives rather than our bodies working like zombies long after our death, which sounds like a much more fun article to write but it is a mite off topic…). Further on, the question is asked about whether humans should eat red meat at all, perhaps they could follow that up with equally pertinent questions such as: should dogs chase cats?

 Even a passing knowledge of dentistry will imbue you with the knowledge that we have teeth called canines that are, basically, there to tear flesh, not a pretty thought when put like that but true nevertheless. Of course, there are those who suggest that herbivores like the hippopotamus have huge teeth but, generally, we don’t attack or defend ourselves with our teeth; they don’t reach as far as a cruise missile for a start…

 As we know all too well, it is perfectly possible to live on a purely vegetarian diet whilst getting all the required nutrients we need and I know; I spent the best part of a decade doing so, running marathons and competing in triathlons whilst doing so. However, I’m veering off again as all I want to do is have a balanced view of red meat pros and cons for a human diet but I think it only fair to mention that I am not just banging the meat drum here either. If you want to cut out meats then there are no specific health implications I can throw at you, which is more than can be said of the meat industry and allied health.

 Despite the fact that we are all omnivores and it is in our nature to eat meat, we are constantly being told that we should at least cut down our consumption. White meat is OK (as long as it’s cooked thoroughly) and you only buy free range eggs because that’s presumably what our ancestors did from convenience stores that dotted the African savannah?

 However, if we are to use the paleo dietary reference then we must omit all processed foods as it is my understanding that our Palaeolithic ancestors did not cure bacon, make sausages or have a pineapple slice on a gammon steak. It is a good job too as the research, such as it is, is rather damning when it comes to processed meats but not pineapple slices; as far as I know. A bacon sandwich will not kill you, however and rather perversely, the chemicals used to preserve the meats might be turned into carcinogens by the bacteria in our stomachs but they might not just the same, all very cut and dried stuff here! The BBC has a great line ( ‘One in every 17 people followed in the study died.’Call me a fanatic but I reckon that if they had lengthened the study for a few more years they might have found that every single one of the participants died…apparently, 10,000 people died from cancer and 5,500 from heart disease and they forgot about the three knocked down by a bus that were presumably attributable to a diet high in processed meats too!

 The 2013 study from the University of Zurich suggested that eating more than 20g of processed meats per day would be enough to increase mortality rate, that’s about half a slice of bacon or a quarter of a sausage per day,therefore, if you eat two sausages-a-week you’re doomed. Is it just me or does that sound like utter haggis and mash?

 Every study has variables but food studies have a whole host of dependent variables that are generally shoved into a corner and ignored, these researchers certainly seemed to.

 Participants in large scale studies, as they must be for nutritional research, come from all strata of society and have a wide-range of habits, hobbies and lifestyles. This is all good as it can mean that results can be made attributable to society at large but, just as easily, it means they can not. Those with lower incomes, by and large, eat a great deal more red meat and, therefore, so the researchers would have you believe, suffer from greater rates of heart disease and other maladies but it is this smoke-and-mirrors research that Gary Taubes takes issue with.

 The conclusions are easy: eating more red and processed meat means you’ll die younger. The people on the study who ate the most red meat did die at a younger age so it is that obvious, is it not? Well, not if you take into account that these groups also smoke and drink more and, also, lead much more sedentary lives and guess what all those markers have in common…?

 That’s right, you have passed your first MRes module, all those markers are associated with a greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and so on.

 So what research is trying to say here is that, well, not very much really. I apologise for wasting the last few minutes of your life dissecting something that, ultimately, I could have done with a quick sentence at the start. Is it meat that kills you or is it drinking, smoking, sitting on your butt watching Eastenders or have you simply been dealt a poor set of genes?

 Research paper after research paper continues to be published and then editorialised in our national newspapers about how every bite of food out there will somehow manage to kill us early, if it is not Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (try saying that with a mouthful of burger!) then it will be slipping on a banana-skin.

 The real truth in all this is that until studies are conducted and published with all outliers and variables accounted for then we will always struggle to understand what food is going to do to our health. Researchers et al. always sign off with everything in moderation, which is tiresome and boring but quite possibly right.

 When reading articles always look for the words could, might, should, etcto get an idea on how close to fact they really are.

 However, in the case of red meat I would keep to a couple of servings per week and eat chicken, turkey or fish for your source of protein for other meals. Personally, I try to eat meat a maximum of once per day, eating fish or vegetarian for other meals. It is always going to be the case that variation in your diet is for the better and fresh foods that have not gone through pesticides, freezing (unless it is ice-cream!) or other manufactured production procedures will almost certainly be better for you; good luck with that by the way…


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