Health improvement in 2021

Feeling a little stuck with your goal setting for this year? Help is at hand! I always love to spend time at the beginning of each year to consider what I want to achieve in the coming 12 months, and create a vision board based on that. Today I am breaking this feature down into some general categories, getting more specific with each one as I go further into it. Let’s kick off with the obvious one – food.

3 simple diet upgrades for the New Year

Eat lots more greens. Yes, it’s important. After the indulgences of Christmas festivities, it’s possible that you might have not kept up your intake of greens, because it’s easy to let it slip a bit. Time to get straight back in. Rocket, spinach, kale, chard, watercress, lamb’s lettuce, cavolo nero, pea shoots, microgreens… the choices are almost endless and the benefits are massive. Have a good variety every day, and ideally in more than one meal. Yes, you can have greens for breakfast in green juice, greens in a mid-morning smoothie, greens for lunch in a salad, and greens in the evening, blended into a soup perhaps. Go large on the greens. They provide a host of minerals and antioxidants, are a good source of soft fibre and really are the foundation of a healthy diet.

This might be a little controversial – reduce your fruit intake. Yes, I am not an advocate of high fruit diets. Keep up the intake of berries of course, but don’t go overboard on the sweet fruit. The reason is simple – fructose, the sugar found in fruit, can surprisingly lead to weight gain and elevated triglyceride levels from the way it is metabolised. Yes, fruit contains beneficial antioxidants, but keep it low GI, by eating berries rather than bananas. The exception (because there always is one) – if you are an ectomorphic athlete involved in endurance sport. You are then burning off so much sugar that you can go right ahead with that 3-banana-and-buckets-of-berries smoothie. Yum! Thanks to some rather clever supplements, you can get the health benefits of a variety of different fruit without the sugar content. Email for more information, or click this link.

Don’t forget the fat. Healthy fats improve cholesterol transport in the blood and keep the arteries free from atherosclerotic plaque. They’re essential for cognitive function (how well your brain works) too. Counterintuitive perhaps, but nonetheless true. The best sources? Walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds and algae. No oily fish needed. Supplement-wise, if you’re looking for a good (and importantly, vegan) essential fatty acid supplement that’s high in omega 3 and also contains omegas 5, 6, 7 and 9 – this is the one I use and recommend

3 exercise suggestions

Cardio. Keep it simple. Raise your heart rate but keep it in the right zone for optimal fat burning without causing undue stress on the body by spiking cortisol. Subtract your age from 220, and take 75% of this as the heart rate you’re aiming for. Example for a 40 year old = 220 – 40 = 180. 75% of 180 = 135. So, during your cardio sessions, keep your heart rate at about 135. More than this and yes, you’ll burn more calories, but you could be putting undue stress on the body and causing your cortisol levels to rise. High cortisol actually breaks down muscle and potentially leads to fat gain – the opposite of what you want to achieve. Aim for an hour a day of steady cardio, and increase if you’re training for something specific. A couple of HIIT sessions per week is fine to throw in as well, just don’t make it the only type of cardio that you do.

Strength/resistance/weight training. What a game-changer! As I have mentioned in previous newsletters, I have been participating in two different fitness challenges between September and December 2020. By adding in resistance workouts 6 times a week, I absolutely blitzed bodyfat (not that I had a lot to begin with) and gained some quite spectacular muscle definition for someone of my age. It’s never too late to start and it’s actually quite fun once you get into it. It’s also absolutely essential for bone health, as I mention in my book Love Your Bones.
With gyms closed, get some resistance bands or just work with body weight. There’s so much you can do at home – many YouTube videos are available so take advantage, or sign up to a paid strength training and conditioning program.

Yoga. Brilliant for strength and flexibility, and some of the gentler styles are great for relaxation too – something we all need whilst experiencing the effects of a pandemic.
We all have time for exercise. I now get up at 6am and run for an hour before work, and do my strength training when I get home. If I can fit it in, so can you. Let’s build some healthy exercise habits to power us through 2021!

Some general lifestyle recommendations

Adequate sleep. Muscles grow and bodies recover whilst you sleep. Two surges of human growth hormone (HGH) occur whilst you sleep, and HGH could even be considered to be the fountain of youth. To get a good night’s sleep, eliminate screen time for 90 minutes before bed. Yes, if you make only one New Year’s resolution, make it this one. Blue light interferes with melatonin production and prevents you from falling asleep easily.

Feed your mind. Whether this is with an inspiring podcast (there are so many great ones to choose from) a fascinating book (I am currently enjoying Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty), or via a daily meditation practice, your mind needs input. Spend time doing activities that you enjoy. And if you have essential tasks to do that you hate, why not think of ways to enjoy them; or if they sap your energy, outsource them instead. Adding to this, declutter your space and let go of old paperwork, objects that are broken and that you no longer use, and anything that you don’t find either useful or beautiful. Your environment is absolutely impacted by what you keep in it, and an uncluttered space is essential for feeling lighter and more joyful in every respect.

Avoid negativity. I was amazed to read how many negative comments on people’s posts there were on one of the Facebook fitness groups I recently joined, so I quit the group. Misery loves company – don’t let it into your life. It has been said that we are the sum of the 5 people that we spend the most time with. Choose carefully.

So, a few suggestions which I hope you will find useful to help you to improve your health (both physical and mental) and fitness in 2021. Which will you commit to do?

About Max Tuck

Hippocrates Health Educator. Long term living foods vegan. Athlete, lecturer, author of four books (with the 5th coming soon) and firm advocate of healthy living.
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