January 1 is everyone’s favorite day to hit the reset button. You start a new fitness routine and a new diet with the hope that this year things will be different. And you know what? This year will be different. After an undeniably tough 2020 and a pandemic that won’t quit, you’re more motivated than ever to prioritize your physical health.
While physical health pertains to all the things you can visibly detect (hello, six pack abs!), it greatly affects many of the areas you can’t see with the naked eye – like enhancing bone density, lowering cholesterol levels, and improving immune system health, to name a few. Thankfully, physical health is easy to address. With just a few simple diet and fitness tips, you can proactively improve overall well-being – from the outside in.
Start by implementing these small changes, and you’ll set yourself up for long-lasting health in 2023 and beyond.
Quick Fitness Tips for a Stronger, Healthier Body
Pick up heavier weights.
Men and women lose bone mass with age. This natural deterioration can lead to osteopenia or, more seriously, osteoporosis if not addressed early. Low bone mass increases your risk of injury, particularly hip, spine and wrist fractures. But several studies have confirmed that these effects can be mitigated with regular resistance training. While you can increase strength with bodyweight exercises, adding resistance enhances the benefits.
Already have a strength routine? Good. Now, go heavier or risk hitting a plateau. General adaption syndrome tells us that the body adapts to an exercise routine after about 8-12 weeks. If you continue to do the same routine day-after-day, week-after-week, you’ll hit the exhaustion phase. At this point, your workouts basically stop working. By increasing your weight selection, you change the stimulus and effectively stimulate a new-and-improved response.
As an added benefit, lifting heavy improves muscular coordination, or the ability of different muscle fibers to work together and produce strength. It also helps increase the number of calories you burn at rest and may improve your biological age by promoting testosterone and growth hormone production. This is important for creating lean muscle mass and burning fat more efficiently.
Elevate your heart rate.
Whether you enjoy pumping iron or prefer to dance in your living room, be sure to get your heart rate up. Regular aerobic exercise has positive effects on blood lipid levels and blood pressure – risk factors for coronary artery disease. Higher heart rates also burn more calories, which is helpful in the pursuit of weight loss.
For an even greater calorie deficit, alternate between low and high heart rate zones in a single workout session. This is the basis of interval training, and it doesn’t require much of your time. In fact, certain types of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can take as few as four minutes. Of course, if you have more time to spare, 30 minutes is the sweet spot. However, even that can be broken up into smaller pieces.
The Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University found that walking briskly for 10 minutes three times per day resulted in lower blood pressure averages over a 24-hour period. It’s important to note that a “brisk” walk was one that elevated participants to about 75% of their age-predicted max heart rate. At this intensity, you can answer questions with short replies, but carrying a conversation makes you huff and puff.
Let recovery dictate your workout.
Imagine riding a bike on the beach. The wheels will barely turn and may even skid uncontrollably from side-to-side. This is your body on little sleep. Without proper recovery, your body cannot perform at its best. Your reflexes are sluggish, resulting in sloppy form. Even minimal exertion elevates your heart rate and knocks you out of breath.
On these days, your willpower might be saying “Go!,” but your physical health is screaming for a break. Listen to it. Maybe take a yoga class instead of running six miles. Or take a rest day and get back to your routine after a good night’s sleep. This works the other way, too. On days you feel fully recovered, go hard at the gym. Take advantage of a primed body and refreshed mind while you have it.
Clueless about your recovery? Download a sleep app or invest in a fitness tracker. These technological treasures offer insights into your body’s sleep and recovery habits. Along with the numbers you need to know to exercise efficiently, look at your resting heart rate, heart rate variability and respiratory rate. Many of today’s fitness wearables track these metrics for you. Pay attention to patterns. A significant spike in your respiratory rate, for instance, is indicative of poor recovery – or could even be an early sign of illness.
Small Diet Tweaks That Have a Big Payout
Cut back on sugar.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommended Americans consume less than 10% of their daily energy (calories) from added sugars. After further research, the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has found that “adverse effects of added sugars…may contribute to unhealthy weight gain and obesity-related health outcomes.” As a result, the new recommendation (2020-2025) will be to consume less than 6% of energy from added sugars.
Take a closer look at your daily diet. Where can you reduce or eliminate added sugar? Obviously, cutting back on candy and desserts is a good idea. But the report noted sugar-sweetened beverages tend to be the most common source of added sugar. Think twice about your morning coffee order or sweet tea with lunch. Also check the Nutrition Facts panel on breakfast cereal and ask yourself whether your favorite protein bars are healthy or not.
Modify your meat intake.
Don’t rush to conclusions, here. Though there are many benefits of plant-based protein, no one is suggesting you adopt a vegan lifestyle. This diet tip is focused on the source of your animal protein. An overwhelming body of research has proven that high consumption of red and processed meats is associated with negative health outcomes, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. This is largely due to red meat’s concentration of saturated fat and the high amounts of additives in processed meats.
Unfortunately, there’s no clear definition as to what “high consumption” means. That said, most doctors and dietitians will recommend two to three servings of red meat per week. The rest of your protein should come from lean sources with lower saturated fat content, like turkey and chicken. Better yet, prepare a seafood dish. The Advisory Committee reports that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats – like the polyunsaturated fats found in fish – lowers the incidence of cardiovascular disease in adults.
Drink for one.
Aside from calories, alcohol provides no nutritional value. But if you drink one too many, the health effects are almost instant. The first disruption occurs in the brain, where communication pathways slow way down. This is why your speech slurs and you lose coordination. That’s hardly the worst of it, though. Drinking a lot of alcohol in one sitting can lead to cardiomyopathy, irregular heartbeat, stroke, fatty liver, fibrosis, various types of cancer and more. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this type of binge drinking is on the rise – up 12% from 2011 to 2017.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with raising a glass of bubbly at New Year’s or celebrating a job well done at happy hour. Alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation. But…and this is a big but: moderation is considered one drink per day, on the days you drink. The next time you’re at a social gathering, sip your cocktail slowly and relish the good company in lieu of a second glass.