09 January 2018
Many clients I speak to say their ultimate goal in life is to be healthier and happier. Any goal should be measurable and motivating enough to keep you on track. I find month by month fitness, health and mental well-being challenges keep things interesting, so I to share my 'Challenge Calendar' with patients. It’s all about discovering what works for you and what you enjoy doing so that you reach the end of 2018 healthier and happier than you started.
Dry January: Challenge yourself to go the month without drinking alcohol. If that is a step too far, aim to stick to soft drinks during the week and alternate alcoholic drinks with water or soft drinks when socialising as long as this is a progression on normal. Not only will it be better for your health and mental well-being (alcohol can be a depressant) but it can help with weight loss - an average wine drinker can put on half a stone a year. If you do manage to achieve an alcohol-free January then you are more likely to consume less alcohol for the rest of the year. So, a long-term win.
'Me time' February: Now that you are fully back into the new year routines, book in a daily 20-30 minutes just for you. Try a walk, exercise session, a relaxing time in the bath, or a half hour read of a good book or magazine. This will help reduce stress and anxiety, allowing you to cope better with life’s challenges or potential February blues.
Meat-free March: Give it a go, there is so much food choice that you can easily eliminate red meat from your diet for a month and in so doing, help to reduce your cholesterol levels. Red and processed meats can be high in saturated fats which raises cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Once the month is over, try a meat free Monday, or eat red and processed meat a maximum of 1-2 times a week.
Marathon April: Even if you are not taking part in the Brighton (April 15) or London (April 22) Marathons, challenge yourself to run, walk or skip a marathon throughout the month. That’s less than a mile a day.
Hydrate more in May: As the days start to warm up, challenge yourself to drink 500ml of water more than you normally do. That is just one large glass. Water is the ultimate health provider – it prevents tiredness, boosts metabolism and energy levels, improves concentration, lifts moods, aids digestions, reduce headaches, lubricates the joints to prevent injury, and improves the efficiency of the cardiovascular system… phew! And it’s free.
Jump on your bike in June: If the London to Brighton cycle ride inspires you this month, get on your bike. Check out great tips for beginners at www.cyclinguk.org but watch your knees. Research shows that more than 40% of recreational cyclists experience knee pain because of over use. So, start slowly and increase mileage progressively, about 20% per week. And strengthen those core muscles as this will keep you more stable in the saddle and help when you push off when you are pedalling.
Schools out July: Challenge yourself and your children to exercise together several times a week. Try a new sport that the whole family can enjoy, or simply create fun obstacle courses in your local park or garden. You can both benefit physically and emotionally from doing a joint activity together.
Re-assess August: Take time this month to assess your progress. If you have continued with some of the earlier challenges, how can you tweak them so that you stay motivated over the next few months? For instance, if you are now having me time on a regular basis, could a spa day be something to put on your Christmas wish list? If you have taken up cycling, maybe now is the time to join a cycling club. Find a club near you by visiting www.britishcycling.org.uk
Sleeptember: A poor sleep pattern can leave you feeling grumpy, cause low mood and poor energy levels. And continued lack of sleep can affect your health – it can disrupt the immune system, increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease, as well as affect mental well-being. Download a sleep app this month or check out my sleep tips in September 2017 issue of Surrey Life, available to download from the Surrey Life digital archive www.surreylife.co.uk
Get to know your body in October: Whether you’re planning to wear pink or do a mud run to raise funds for breast cancer research, take time to check yourself. The best time to examine your breasts is around a week after a period. It’s easier in a bath when the skin surface is slippery. Glide your hand in a circular motion whilst examining the different areas of the breast. Learn what is normal for you and then you will be able to spot any unusual changes quickly.
November winter workout: Don’t let dark nights hold you back from exercising. Turn your home into a mini gym. Put on your favourite music and dance around the room. Run up and down the stairs, do lunges, push-ups, and squats, and use the back of the sofa or a chair to do dips. Start by working out to two of your favourite songs and build up to a whole album.
December grand finale: Finish the year on a high by achieving your personal best at your favourite exercise or sport. From running your fastest parkrun to your record sit ups in a minute. Be creative and share your challenge with friends and family and repeat weekly to stay focused and improve throughout the month.
Ben is an Exercise Physiologist and Health Advisor at Spire Gatwick Park Hospital, Personal Trainer, and Head Coach for Horley Harriers Running Club too. He is available for health assessments Monday to Thursday. Call on 01293 771913 to find out more.