By Yajen Tan
Have you fallen out of shape during the COVID-19 lockdowns? You are not alone. A study, from the Annals of Internal Medicine, shows how regions across the globe saw reductions in daily step count drop as much as 50%.
As we come out of this health crisis and step into a new normal, how can we start to take back control of our health and fitness?
We build better habits. There is a quote that I love by Frederick Matthias Alexander: “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.”
How often do we let the days go by without realizing that each and every little habit we choose or ignore is building the future that we will experience?
When someone steps into the gym for the first time in a long time, I always emphasize that the goal is not about fitness; it is about habits. It is about developing the habits that will support the type of life we want to live five, 10 or 20 years from now.
So which habits are the most important to develop when getting back into shape again?
I like to categorize these habits into three groups: sleep, nutrition and exercise. The reason why exercise comes last is because your body needs energy from sleep and fuel from nutrition to exercise. That fuel comes from a healthy diet, and proper rest ensures that you are able to show up on a regular basis without falling off the wagon due to low energy levels.
Dr. Matthew Walker, professor of Neuroscience & Psychology, noted in his book “Why We Sleep” that our population’s lack of sleep is the cause of many significant failings in our society. These include an increase in the rate of multiple chronic illnesses, massive reductions in production and efficiency at work and drowsy driving-related deaths on the road.
For starters, over 99% of the population needs an average of eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night to avoid negative health effects.
So what are some easy steps for you to improve your fitness?
Step 1: Set an alarm for bedtime
The secret to waking up early is making sure you are falling asleep on time. If you struggle with sleeping earlier, try dialing back your bedtime by 15-30 minutes each week.
Step 2: Get 5-10 minutes of direct sunlight
The timing and intensity of light exposure help our circadian rhythm regulate important functions in our body throughout the day. Get sunlight exposure as early as you can in the morning, and reduce intense light exposure in the evening.
Step 3: Avoid consuming caffeine after lunch time and consuming alcohol in the evening
Caffeine has a half life of around five hours. That means that roughly 10 hours after you have consumed that last cup of coffee, you still have around 25% of the caffeine consumed in your system.
Step 4: Cut out ultra-processed foods
Processed foods have a bad reputation, but there is a broad spectrum to food processing that is not all bad.
Simple processing techniques like freezing, pickling or fermenting can help preserve fast perishing food and sometimes even introduce friendly gut bacteria that your stomach would be happy to meet.
Step 5: Avoid added sugars
A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but three spoonfuls of sugar in a soda and five spoonfuls in our coffee are way more than our body knows what to do with.
What you do most matters. Developing healthy habits and consistent boundaries with sugar are most important.
Now that we have gone over some simple yet effective ways for you to fuel your body, it is time to finally move on to everybody’s favorite pastime — exercise!
Step 6: Start a simple exercise routine
Exercise is a lot like going to the mechanic for an oil change. You don’t need it daily to get by, but sooner or later, skipping out really starts to wear you down.
Local personal trainer Yoofi Monney shared his advice on how to get back to a workout routine:
“If you’re really struggling to stay consistent, the key is to start off with something small, maintainable and build up from there. The goal is to build long term habits that we can sustain into the future. For example, starting off with daily walks can be an easy way to help you build some momentum to start moving again. Once going on the walks are easy you can slowly transition to jogging or using that time you set aside for walks to do something else like resistance training.”
Some of the exercises that Yoofi recommends are push-ups, squats and lunges. All three movements are staples and can be done without any equipment:
To recap, if you want to get back in shape this year, try the following steps to help you establish a strong foundation before you dive into your first workout:
- Set an alarm for when to head to bed each night
- Get 5-10 minutes of direct sun exposure in the morning
- Avoid caffeine later in the day and alcohol in the evenings
- Cut out ultra-processed foods from your regular diet
- Avoid added sugars in your food
- Start a simple exercise routine like a light walk or 25 squats per day
Challenge yourself to write these six easy steps down and actually commit to following them in the next 30 days. Take back control of your health and fitness, San Dimas!
And, if you fall off the wagon, just start over. It happens to all of us — no biggie!
Yajen Tan is a personal trainer and owner of Gimme Crossfit at 561 W. Arrow Highway in San Dimas. If you have health and fitness questions or would like to suggest topics to be covered in a future column, reach out to Yajen at firstname.lastname@example.org.