3 Ways to Improve Your Fitness Right Away

March 31, 2013

This is a guest post by Helena.

Are you still sticking to your resolution to get fit?

Instead of becoming discouraged or giving up when it becomes clear just how much hard work and dedication that big goal is going to take, I’m going to outline how I’m setting myself up for success. By committing to a few small steps I hope to stay dedicated and reach my desired level of fitness even if I pause or reduce the frequency of my workouts.

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Here are the three things from which prompted immediate improvements in how I felt during the day and eased me into a more intense fitness regime.

1. Sleep

Not only should we be getting enough hours of sleep nightly, research on sportsmen has shown that extending our sleep window can actually boost athletic performance the following day [1]. Alongside this, sleep can aid healing [2] and is important for the recovery processes that our bodies perform each night.

Scientific research supports the importance of sleep in allowing muscles to rebuild [2], which is particularly important after a strenuous workout. If you’re trying to lose weight, a lack of sleep may even increase your appetite, making you hungry [3], or encourage you to make poorer nutritional choices [4]. I definitely notice my resolution to eat healthily weakening when I’m suffering a bout of insomnia!

Research carried out on healthy “good sleepers” has indicated that poor sleep has the potential to impact negatively on mood, pain thresholds, immune functioning and glucose metabolism. In other words, both your mind and your body can be affected by fluctuations in the quality of your sleep.

2. Walk

I walk as much and as often as I can – it’s easier on your knees than running and a longer walk can burn a similar number of calories as a short run. If I can avoid taking public transport to my destination I will! Alternatively, I’ve also found a walk in the evening to be a great way to relax and unwind before going to bed.

A brisk walk is even better and they’ve even been shown to improve endurance [5]. I’ve found them to be a great way to stay in shape when taking a break from working out. Additionally, research has shown that they can be beneficial for the heart and blood pressure [6]. I’ll always try to get in some exercise during the day, even if it’s just a brisk 15-minute walk, as I’ve found it also helps me sleep better.

3. Stretch

I’ve found stretching before bed increases my chances of getting a good night’s sleep and, if I do it in the morning, it makes me feel energetic and kicks my day off nicely. Yogis believe that doing yoga releases the flow of energy in your body so you are more in tune with it – I’ve definitely found this to be true for my body.

A study has even shown that doing yoga twice a week can significantly increase flexibility and endurance after just 8 weeks [7]. Stretching and yoga are also a great choice for me during those times when I’m not at all motivated to get fit. Being able to take each stretch that bit further as the weeks go on gives me the encouragement I need to keep it up.

I hope these suggestions help you to keep going strong and make 2013 year your fittest year yet!

References
[1] Mah, C.D., Mah, K.E., Kezirian, E.J., Dement, W.C. (2011). The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. SLEEP 34(7):943-950.
[2] Adam, K., Oswald, L. (1984). Sleep helps healing. British Medical Journal 289(6456): 1400–1401.
[3] Prinz, P. (2004). Sleep, Appetite, and Obesity—What Is the Link? PLoS Med 1(3): e61. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010061
[4] St Onge, M.P., McReynolds, A., Trivedi, Z.B., Roberts, A.L., Sy, Melissa, Hirsch, J. (2012). Sleep restriction leads to increased activation of brain regions sensitive to food stimuli. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 95(4), 818-824.
[5] Hardman, A.E., Jones, P.R.M., Norgan, N.G., Hudson, A. (1992). Brisk walking improves endurance fitness without changing body fatness in previously sedentary women. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 65 (4), pp 354-359.
[6] Murphy, M.L., Nevill, A.M., Murtagh, E.M., Holder, R.L. (2007). The effect of walking on fitness, fatness and resting blood pressure: A meta-analysis of randomised, controlled trials. Preventive Medicine 44 (5), 377-385.
[7] Tran, M.D., Holly, R.G., Lashbrook, J., Amsterdam, E.A. (2001). Effects of Hatha Yoga Practice on the Health-Related Aspects of Physical Fitness. Preventive Cardiology 4(4), 165-170.

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