New year means a fresh start for most of us. We promise ourselves to do better, start to eat better, maybe start exercising regularly or lose weight etc. However, the majority of us fail to keep up on our resolutions. It is estimated that 80% of new year resolutions fade away by the end of January. This is often because either we do not set the right goals or we are too stringent with our approach. Both of which are unsustainable. If your new year resolution is about improving your overall health and wellness, this article is for you. Health and fitness can not be fixed overnight. It is not a destination where you could just reach and relax. It is a non-stop process of making better lifestyle choices, in a way that it is gradual, consistent and sustainable for life. A chance to improve yourself comes every minute , every hour, every monday, every month and not just on the first of January.
Here are five of my personal favourite nutrition and wellness related focus areas which can help build a gradual change towards a healthier and fitter lifestyle. It is done by shifting the focus towards the approach and not just the results. Rather than setting a goal weight or a goal size, look beyond a number and divulge towards creating and nurturing good habits. Habits which result in healthier you over time. Habits like getting proper sleep, eating one fruit a day, taking a walk. Start small, set achievable goals and once you achieve them, make use of the momentum and up your game. This little trick provides a constant source of motivation and keeps you going.
1. High quality sleep
If you are looking for a sustainable new year resolution, this could be a good starting point. Ensure 7-8 hours of good quality sleep. It is not just the hours you put in but also the quality of sleep which matters in harnessing the true power of good sleep. If you wake up feeling either bloated, tired or lethargic, chances are, the quality of your sleep needs improvement. Poor sleep leads to overeating, you feel too tired to exercise and the plans to workout are pushed forward to the next day. Poor sleep habits lower the production of white blood cells and cytokines. These cells help to protect the body from infection and disease. If their production is reduced , it weakens the immune system.
So how do we fix this? Simple, just follow your biological clock, which means to sleep and get up at a fixed time everyday. Avoid consuming caffeine/ watching TV/ consuming alcohol 3 to 4 hours before going to bed. The body requires repair and recovery which occurs when you sleep. Against popular belief, sleep cannot be compensated, which means you cannot compensate for your lack of week’s sleep by oversleeping on the weekends. This further disturbs the biological clock and has disastrous consequences on health.
2. Good quality food
Second comes food quality and likewise, the quality and quantity of sleep, the quality and quantity of food intake matters. If you feel stuffy and dull after having a meal, chances are your portions and quality of food needs correction. One should feel energetic after having a meal, that’s the whole purpose of food, it is a fuel to our body.
So what is good quality food? It is fresh, helps regulate sugar levels, control blood pressure and provide fiber. Food should make you feel good not just while eating it but also after you are done eating. Few tips to do so is to eat in small portions, stop before you start to feel uneasy. Try to eat as much seasonal fruits and vegetables as possible. Seasonal food is fresh and at the peak of its nutritional value when consumed, unlike the food which is preserved , stored and transported for weeks or months. Include complex carbohydrates in your diet like finger millet ( Ragi), jowar, bajra, fox millet, red rice. Include fibrous pulses like brown masoor, chola, rajma and green moong. Include at least two servings of fruits and vegetables along with a mix of seeds and nuts everyday.
3. Meal timings
Another easy to comply and sustainable lifestyle change you can try to accelerate your wellness goals is meal timing. If you are following the first two points and yet the results are far from expected, meal timing could be the missing link.
A lot of us start the day with the motivation of eating well and controlling portions. Somewhere in between , this is misled and you end up with long gaps between meals. Before you know, half the day has passed and you get too hungry to stay motivated. Long gaps between meals lower the sugar level, which result in hunger pangs, headaches, irritation and mood swings. You load up on whatever you find! The diet goes in the drain. Does this sound familiar?
So how do we change this?
We have to establish a good relationship with our stomach. As the Sun goes down, so does our ability to digest and assimilate food. Stomach’s ability to digest is highest between 7 - 10 am. This is the duration in which we must have breakfast and a mini snack. Food intake at the right time aids proper absorption of nutrients, the energy produced is consumed in your working through the day.
On the other hand, when food is consumed post 7:30 pm, it stresses out the digestive system. Night is meant for sleeping, it is the time for systems to recoup and recharge for the next day. However, when we have a heavy meal in the later part of the day, the digestive system gets overworked.
Proper timing of meals not only helps in keeping us energised the entire day it regulates sugar level, helps us getting good quality sleep and improves the muscle tone of the body.
4. Immunity building-
My next focus area for a sustainable healthy lifestyle is a strong immune system. Although good nutrition, sleep , meal timings and immunity are all interlinked, we are currently living in a pandemic and it is all the more important to pay attention to our immune system. A good immune system is our first line of defence against viruses or any disease in general. Even if we get infected, a strong immune system will help in faster recovery and bounce us back to good health.
Three main nutrients which help to improve immunity are zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C. With a proper diet all these nutrients can be added into your body. There is no need to add supplements. With the right combination of food, you can fulfill your daily requirement of these food groups and ensure their proper absorption.
It is important to note that just consuming the food rich in specific nutrients doesn’t help in building immunity. For proper absorption, food preparation and accompanying food also matters. For example, the presence of phytates obstructs the absorption of Zinc. It is therefore important that the food is properly cooked , sprouted or fermented before consuming. Failing to do so limits it’s absorption and doesn’t not fulfill the dietary requirements.
Similarly Vitamin D only works for immunity in presence of Vitamin A. Therefore it is important to eat sources rich in both the vitamins to reap desired results. Vitamin C is next in line and available in abundance is fruits and vegetables, however Vitamin C is lost on cooking, it is therefore important to consume Vitamin C rich produce in their natural form.
5. Exercise and physical activity
Both exercise and physical activity plays an important role in maintaining good health. Working out or exercising is a conscious effort to raise your heart beat, work various muscle groups and increase your body temperature causing you to sweat. Physical activity on the other hand is any movement you do, including exercise and household chores. It is important to move once in a while every 30-40 minutes.
Consistency is crucial. Working out for 2 hours and then spending 4 hours sitting at one place disturbs the metabolism and can lead to health issues like high blood pressure, back pain, muscle weakness and heart problems. Similarly working out one day and not doing any exercise for the next 5 days doesn’t contribute towards a positive lifestyle.
While planning your exercise, focus on cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular endurance and strength, flexibility and body composition. All these areas are equally weighted when it comes to overall fitness. Regularity and recovery are other key factors. Without proper recovery, working out could end up being more damaging than good. It can cause fatigue and soreness. Always listen to your body while pushing yourself, be gradual in your progress.
Although new year gives us all an opportunity to set new goals, the other days of the year are equally good for a new start. Try and set goals which focus on improving your relationship with food and your body. When the focus is on improvement , a little progress is a step in the right direction, where as when the focus is on a number, it may seem far fetched in the beginning and even if you achieve it , there are no guarantees that you will sustain it.
May you all have a healthy and happy year ahead.