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How to give yourself a health re-boot as you prepare for re-entry

Rosie Fitzmaurice
Unsplash

Whether you've burpee'd your way through quarantine or sat back and ridden the banana bread ride, as lockdown eases, you may be wanting to get into healthier habits as we adapt to the 'new normal' way of life.

Lockdown has been more sedentary than usual for many of us. Fitbit data suggests British adults were 8 per cent less active in March 2020 compared to January. Meanwhile a study by King’s College London in partnership with Ipsos MORI of over 2,200 participants in the UK found that 48 per cent reported putting on weight in lockdown and 29 per cent said they drank more alcohol than they normally would.

If you've struggled to find an exercise routine or have found yourself eating and drinking things you wouldn't normally, there's nothing wrong with that. The anxiety and stress of the past few months have been more than enough to throw most things into disarray.

Here we asked some fitness and nutrition experts for their top tips to overcoming lockdown lethargy.

Focus on your 'background activity' rather than a single workout

Been working out and still gained a few pounds? The reason could be down to a drop in your nonexercise-related activity, says Nike Trainer and elite coach Luke Worthington.

"Weight loss or weight gain all boils down to a simple equation of energy in vs energy out," he explains. "If we consistently consume more than we expend, we'll store it as fat. If we consistently get our energy balance out of balance, it can lead to unwanted and potentially harmful weight gain or weight loss."

In terms of 'energy out', Worthington says that people typically focus on the energy burned from a specific workout, when what we're doing for the other 23 hours a day that we’re not exercising, that he terms our 'background activity' — such as taking the stairs, walking to places standing instead of sitting — makes up a far larger proportion, and it's this that has been most affected during lockdown.

"So even if people have been as consistent as they were before with their daily exercises and have maintained their nutritional levels, this shift towards a lower level of background activity can result in unwanted weight gain," he says. "My advice for people who are still working from home or on furlough is to worry much less about the daily 45-minute insta live HIIT class, and pay more attention to their daily activity."

Schedule in regular walks throughout the day, he suggests, "if you're having socially distant catch-ups with friends do them while walking rather than sitting."

Add to your diet, don't take away

If you've found you've been eating less healthy options in lockdown than you normally would, rather than focusing on the things you want to cut out from your diet, think about healthy options you'd like to add.

Olga Hamilton, nutritional therapist and head of nutrition for Nutri Genetix, recommends starting your day with a protein breakfast, as protein promotes satiety and will leave you feeling fuller for longer, "because it activates the body's hormones that suppress appetite, which can reduce cravings and overeating."

Swap out starchy carbs in your evening meal for complex carbs, such as cauliflower rice, cauliflower mash, courgetti spaghetti, green pea mash, white bean and parsley mash with garlic, celeriac steaks or portobello mushrooms (instead of a bun on a burger).

"My favourite recipe is green pea mash that can be cooked in less than 10 minutes. Just use frozen garden peas, boil in water for five minutes, strain the water, add salt, hemp seeds oil and blend in NutriBullet for 30 seconds (into a smooth mash)," Hamilton says.

Meanwhile Dr Michael Mosley, author of the 5:2 diet, suggests snacking on low-sugar fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, apples and pears (in moderation). "Remember though, fruit served at room temperature tastes much sweeter – so don’t eat it straight from the fridge," he adds.

Commit to a fitness challenge

Creating a regular exercise routine will help you shake off lockdown fatigue and give you the endorphin rush you need.

Signing up to a fitness challenge may help you get into the habit of working out regularly, and while gyms remain closed, many studios have organised virtual fitness challenges you can partake in from the comfort of your own home.

Kickboxing studio Flykick has launched the Fortnight Challenge (£22), which involves completing 16 tasks between June 8-21. This includes nine at-home boxing classes, as well as other things like going on a 10,000 step walk and taking an online class with a friend. "The emphasis here is on listening to your body, connecting with people and taking a 360° approach to your physical and mental health right now," says Flykick co-founder and trainer Ben Leonard-Kane.

Always wanted to master your flow? Sign up to Adriene's 30 days of yoga for a month's worth of completely free YouTube yoga videos.

After something more results-driven? F45’s 45-Day Virtual Challenge (in place of its usual 8-week challenge) may be the one for you. "We combine a healthy eating plan with both high-intensity cardio and resistance sessions to assist the body in breaking down body fat whilst also building muscle. Members typically start to see and feel positive results very quickly which is a sure-fire way to increase their adherence to their new routine," says Sam Gregory, Head Trainer at F45 Stratford.

Practise mindful eating

If your meal times have have become less structured than before lockdown, practising mindful eating may help you enjoy your food more and limit cravings, says nutritionist Hamilton, who shares her mindfulness eating tips below.

Prepare for your meal. With no TV or other distractions, take five deep breaths to switch your nervous system to parasympathetic 'rest and digest' before eating. Look at your food, smell it, think about all the goodness it will give you.

Eat slowly. Put your fork down in between bites. Pause. Finish what’s in your mouth before going for the next bite. Make each meal last at least 20 minutes. Do not aim to get full, be satisfied.

Chew your food properly. This kickstarts the digestive process and allows for better absorption of vitamins and nutrients. Chewing well will also take longer — which will give enough time for your brain to register that you are full and for you to hear that signal.

Avoid liquids while eating. Drinking lots of water during meals can dilute your stomach acid. Limit your consumption of fluids 30 minutes before you eat and for at least 30 minutes after a meal. If you prefer to drink with a meal, take small sips. Mint tea and lemon water are useful in assisting digestion.

Try to eat only when you feel hungry. ​Easier said than done, but before you reach for the snacks, ask yourself if you're really, truly hungry.

Consider resetting your eating schedule

Advocates of time-restricted eating, which is a form of intermittent fasting, say it can boost energy levels and cognitive function, while some studies have shown that it can help protect against certain illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease, as well as ageing and obesity.

Dr Michael Mosley recommends resetting your eating schedule to increase your overnight fast and give your body some down-time from the work of constantly digesting, it's an element that features in his most recent eating plan: the Fast 800.

"To move back to a healthy weight and remain there, you need to reset not just what you eat, but when you eat it," he tells the Standard. "A number of researchers led by Dr Satchin Panda of the world-renowned Salk Institute in San Diego have found that if the body enters a fasted state for twelve hours or more, it deploys a range of natural tissue-repair mechanisms that underpin lasting weight loss. Some eat for 12 hours, and fast for 12 hours; others take it further, and limit their time spent eating to eight or even just six hours.

"Done on a daily basis, time-restricted eating has been shown not just to reduce insulin resistance, but to help reverse the effects of a sugar-rich diet," he says. Read his tips on how to implement it here.

Tackle your alcohol intake

A cucumber fizz could replace your next mojito (The Fast 800)

Many of us have found ourselves reaching for a daily 6pm vino while in quarantine, but persistently overdoing it can leave you feeling tired and without energy.

Dr Mosley says: "Whilst there are some health benefits associated with drinking alcohol in small amounts (and with food), the physical and mental effects of excessive alcohol consumption can’t be ignored.

"Alcohol is also rich in empty calories. For example, there are approximately 120 calories per 150ml of white wine or 250 calories per beer, so the calories can add up very quickly. Having tasty alternatives that you can reach for if those around you are drinking will mean you don’t feel you’re missing out. Be kind to yourself and know that you don’t have to fall off the wagon to enjoy yourself. "

Try this cucumber and mint spritz from Dr Mosley's online programme

Serves: 1

Calories per serving: 8

Prep time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • ¼ cucumber
  • 3 mint leaves
  • 250ml sparkling water
  • Ice cubes

Method

1. Cut cucumber into slices.

2. Combine cucumber, sparkling water and ice into a festive glass.

3. Add mint leaves to garnish.

4. Optional: Add a slice of lemon for extra zing!

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