The numerous positives of increased physical activity for better body health are well known. Exercise can help prevent stroke and heart disease, as well as help build and maintain a strong body that is less prone to injury and poor health.
But exercise can also play an important supporting role with mental health and wellbeing.
A recent study found that increasing physical activity from inactive to three times a week saw a 20% decrease in the risk of depression.
Socially, physical activity can also play a role in mental wellbeing, and a regular exercise program can be a good disruptor of anxiety and increase your level of energy.
With all that in mind, here’s a handy checklist to help not only get you started but staying focused on your goals.
Find what motivates you
There’s no point just saying “I want to get in shape” or “I need to be healthier”, you need to identify what’s really driving you.
Adam Holdsworth, Health Coach with Remedy Healthcare, says finding the ‘why’ in your fitness and health goals is the most important first step.
“For some people, it is to be in great health to enjoy their retirement,” Adam says. “For others, it may be to get in shape to play for their friend’s social basketball team that they haven’t had the confidence to join yet. It is different for everyone and you may have more than one, but dig deep and find it.”
It can also help your motivation by pinpointing what didn’t work on the other occasions you embarked on a fitness campaign.
Get food focused!
The majority of your health and fitness gains will come from eating smart. Where possible, stick to foods that are low in sugar and high in protein and fibre. And remember that portion control is really important too.
Olivia Carinci, Health Coach and Dietitian for Remedy Healthcare, says when it comes to planning your main meals, it’s all about finding the right balance.
“As a general rule, aim for half a plate of cooked and/or raw vegetables, a quarter plate of lean protein and a quarter plate of low GI carbohydrates,” Olivia says. “Try to visualise this as two large handfuls of vegetables, one palm of protein, and one fist of carbohydrates.”
It’s really crucial that you eat at regular times too, as not maintaining a consistent schedule will result in massive food cravings and potentially, some less-than-optimal food decisions.
Olivia notes it’s also the perfect time to embrace seasonal fruits and vegetables, which are always a great idea in terms of cost, availability, taste and variety in your diet.
“Great fruits in Spring include citrus fruits like mandarins and oranges, pears, kiwifruit, passionfruit, strawberries blueberries and cantaloupe,” she says. “Also keep an eye out for when cherries, mangoes and lychees become available again.
“It’s also a great time for some Asian-style vegetables such as bok choy, choy sum or wombok. Also, fennel can be a great addition to salads, and vegetables such as beetroot, carrots and tomatoes are particularly flavoursome at the moment.”
How to stay super organised
By planning your week in advance, you can actually allocate the necessary workout time and make it your priority!
Adam recommends building an ‘active commute’ or even a lunchtime session into your workout plan if possible.
“In today’s hectic society, it can be hard to fit in regular exercise,” Adam says. “Make sure you plan out time in the week dedicated to working towards your physical activity goal.”
Olivia says it’s a key point to set aside some time to map out your food preparation as well, but working out what suits you is also important.
“Try preparing a large meal on a Sunday and dishing this out into smaller containers that you can store in the fridge or freezer to use during the week,” Olivia says. “You can also try cooking some extra chicken or meat at dinner time to add to a salad or sandwich for lunch the next day.
“Also make sure your pantry and fridge are always stocked with quick, easy and healthy options! Things like pre-prepared vegetable bags, fresh fruit, tinned tuna or lentils, raw nut mixes or rice cups can be great time savers!”
This goal somewhat ties in to what motivates you. But keeping your eyes on the long-term prize is super important!
When it comes to healthy eating, Olivia says it’s critical to make a nutritional plan that can be easily adhered to over not just a short time frame.
“When looking at a meal plan or a specific diet, ask yourself, ‘is this something I will be able to sustain forever?’” Olivia says. “If your answer is no, then it’s probably not right for you.”
Combined with a sensible exercise regimen, maintaining a healthy and positive lifestyle is something that will be a lot more gratifying over the long-term.
“Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint,” Adam says. “Having a short-term mindset will only get you short-term benefits. It is important to find something that is going to be enjoyable, sustainable and specific to what you want for the long-term.”
Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.