Getting fit the healthy way in 2020
January takes us into a new year (and this year it’s a new decade too), often with new expectations that we set ourselves. New year’s resolutions can be both a blessing and a challenge: they can encourage us to make positive changes in our lives but can also create unnecessary pressure, especially if they are unrealistic.
Resolutions for many of us every year revolve around being fitter – especially after Christmas indulgence. But in an age of crash dieting, fitness fads and Instagram-picture perfection, it’s so important to be healthy – not just “fit” or “skinny” – in the right way and for the right reasons.
Focus on what you need most this year. If that’s time to yourself, is exercise the best way to find it? Do you need more meditation or time out, time to yourself for relaxation and reflection? Exercise is a brilliant route to this for some people, but it’s not necessarily the best way for everyone.
Physical fitness is important, but overall wellbeing is even more so. Here are our top tips on getting fit the healthy way this year, with a reminder of the mental and physical benefits of exercise.
Exercise for the right reasons. What are yours?
If you’re aiming to exercise more in 2020, think about why this is. Consider what you want to achieve, and whether your goals are healthy in both a physical and mental sense. If your goals are unrealistic, this will put you under greater mental pressure (especially if you struggle to achieve them) and could encourage you to take risks that might result in injury.
Thinking about your goals can also help to guide you to the right sort of exercise. Are you looking for company, and people to exercise with, or would you like some time to yourself? For TV’s Emma Willis, for example, it’s very much about “me” time. “Finding time for yourself every week is so important…that time for me is when I train,” she acknowledges.
Focus on overall wellbeing (not looks, weight or a demanding fitness challenge) to ensure you’re taking a realistic approach and not putting yourself under pressure. “It’s not about vanity, but looking to the future and staying strong,” says Emma – this is a wonderfully healthy perspective.
Start gently and listen to your body
Even gentle exercise can make a significant difference to overall health, if done regularly. It’s especially important to start slowly and be aware of your body if you haven’t exercised much recently – no matter how much exercise you used to do.
If your muscles are sore after a vigorous workout, stick to gentle exercise like walking, yoga or swimming until you feel recovered. If you notice any pain, or discomfort that feels like it’s more than just your muscles working, stop and take stock of your body before you start again.
Identify exercise that you enjoy
Exercise shouldn’t be something to fear, but something to be enjoyed! For some people simply taking a walk can be a boost and represents an achievement – if so, this is something to be celebrated.
Find a type of movement that you love, whether this is as gentle as walking or something more intense. Playing a sport, which introduces objectives beyond simply moving, is one way to make exercise accessible (this is true for both adults and children). Or perhaps creative exercise is the way for you – consider dance classes, or dance-inspired exercise classes.
Look out for classes and exercise groups near you, perhaps in a local community hall or education centre, especially if you don’t think you’d enjoy the atmosphere of a fitness gym – browse our fitness and exercise directory for ideas and to see what’s near to you. Emma Willis’s favourites are “boxing and reformer pilates” – a great mixture of high and low-intensity activities.
Exercise is only part of the equation
Exercise boosts your physical and mental wellbeing, but it’s not the only factor in overall health. Other parts of your lifestyle, like your diet and how much you sleep, are also extremely important.
Be very careful with any extreme or “fad” diets. Not only are extreme and sudden changes harder to maintain over a longer period, but severe dieting can be very risky – you may be depriving your body of essential nutrients.
Emma Willis aims for a sugar-free January, but you don’t have to cut anything out completely. Try to identify just one other change that could help you to a healthier lifestyle – like drinking more water, or swapping one particularly salty/sugary snack for nuts or dried fruit.
However you choose to exercise, make sure to take care of your mind, body and soul over the long-term. Talk to your GP if you have any concerns, and remember to take it slowly until you know what works for you.
The biggest benefits of exercise
Day-to-day fitness – even low-intensity activity twice a week will make a positive difference
Long-term fitness and strength – exercise helps you to stay more active as you age, and helps to protect against certain ailments. Continue exercising for as long as you reasonably can and ask your doctor about what exercise is suitable for you
Your mood – endorphins, which help with a positive mood, are released when we exercise
Mental health and wellbeing. Exercise often allows us some time to focus on our physical state, giving us relief from everything going round in our heads! This can be incredibly therapeutic and a mental relief from day-to-day stresses
Read more about the benefits of exercise here. And if you need a little boost before working out, Emma Willis has just released a new sportswear range with Next – it’s the perfect motivation to get moving!