8 Modern Fitness Hacks That Are Making Your Workouts Easier

Diet & Weight Loss, Exercise

Avoiding exercise is like trying to avoid the tax man, it may be possible in the first instance, but both have unavoidable repercussions in the end!

We should all know that having a daily fitness regime will have a huge and positive impact on every aspect of our health. Most of us know that this can be difficult and even contemplating a jog around the block can seem like too much effort, but it is possible to go from your ‘Couch to 5k‘ within two to three months. It takes motivation, dedication and plenty of will power, and there are not any short cuts to getting in shape, but they are things that can help.

…So let’s look at some modern fitness hacks that are allowing us to lead healthier and easier lifestyles as a result!

 

Workout Kits

Apparel That Holds Your House Key!

Image: courtesy of Nike.com

Image: courtesy of Nike.com

Particularly during the summer months, I find that not all of my workout kit has appropriate pockets… so this hack is essential! Gone are the days where keys were placed under door mats, or in our shoes or sports bras! Modern key holders come in many forms, including:

  • Pouches that attach to your waistband or trainers (as shown above).
  • In the form of wristbands.
  • As part of your armband that holds your phone or Mp3 player.
  • Devices that allow your key to be clipped to your finger!

 There is something for every budget!

 

 

Specialised Sport Trainers!

saucony-ladies-hurricane-15-shoes

Image: courtesy of Barrington Sports

Personally, this modernisation has been a lifesaver! As an adult, I’ve felt the effects of having predominately flat feet; they’re great for swimming (ha!), but unfortunately nature is not very forgiving towards those that lack arches!

Specialised trainers have allowed me to enjoy the activities that I love whilst preserving my knee and hip joints. Variable to your sport and personal needs, they have really come a long way, both from a fitness and design perspective. When it comes to workout kits, you should only invest in the essentials (trainers being at the top of the list!). The phrase that I am familiar with goes like this, “spend £80 on your trainers and a fiver on your t-shirt”!

This is partially true, apart from the next couple of items.

Such as…

 

Sports Bras!

Image by: Heikki Siltala_Flickr

Whether you’re well-endowed or not, all bosoms need some TLC when it comes to sports and leading an active lifestyle! Expect to forgo at least £30 for anything decent. It’s a small price to pay considering what the alternative is, but can you really imagine a world without this fitness hack?!

 

sports-bra_BBC image

Image: courtesy of the BBC

The first sports bra was developed nearly 40 years ago! It was initially called ‘The JogBra‘, developed by Lisa Lindahl, Hinda Miller and Polly Palmer Smith. It’s certainly come a long way since then and our appreciation and recognition for this light-bulb moment has definitely not been loud enough!

Many major brands offer support to all shapes (big and small), even for nursing mothers.  However, a lot like well-used trainers, they will lose their shape and support over time (especially if you skip the handwash cycle girls!) and will need to be replaced…but this item is indeed priceless. No?

 

Specialised Clothing (and we’re not talking brand names)!

SION Apparel_Trapani_BSO_Flickr

Image by: SION Apparel_Flickr

Thermal or moisture absorbent tops, bottoms, socks and/or hats can be a lifesaver for die-hard runners and/or year-round fitness enthusiasts. Helping to regulate your body temperature and/or draw moisture away from your skin is a modern day fitness hack that most people take for granted. Definitely worth spending the pennies if it keeps you active and enjoying the outdoors all year round! Some general advice regarding fitness attire, wear something fun but skip the name brands unless it’s really offering you something of substance; the words ‘Do it!’ across your chest is free advertisement at best and only professional athletes reap the benefit of that one!

 

Fitness Aids

Image by: Fitness Crazy_Bosu Ball_Flickr

Fitness devices might sound ‘gimmicky’ to some, but I cannot stress enough the importance of a core (aka our back and abs) workout! Ever suffer the result of bad posture and/or weak core muscles? Well naturally slumping forward in a chair, being struck down with sciatica and/or slipping over wet rocks/leaves on a nature hike might ring a few alarm bells! Some of you might regularly practice yoga or Pilates, whilst the rest might be doing nothing or relying on these fitness aids! None the less, as we rely on our core for a variety of everyday movements, it’s especially important that we develop our own core workouts in order to improve our mobility, balance and overall muscle strength and fitness.

I was first introduced to this gismo over eight years ago and it was love at ‘first step’, particularity because I hate ‘standard’ sit-ups! It was an overdue awakening, highlighting that I was not truly as fit as I would like to think. It’s just so much fun too- no matter how silly I looked doing it!  How it works, you will simply wobble so much on it that you will really have to engage your core muscles, keeping them iron-tight so as not to wobble off!

The Bosu company provides a range of products (research before buying!), but the Bosu Ball offers a multitude of exercise platforms:

  • Dome side up: to build lower body strength, work on your core and for cardio workouts (which will have you in a pool of sweat)!
  • Platform side up: for upper body workouts and some ab work.

It’s great for all levels and if treated with respect, it can last a very long time! Unless you already have a rock-solid core, your legs will start to ‘shake like a leaf’ initially, but over time you will grow stronger and really feel and see the positive affects it has on your body (as long as you consistently use it!).

Thinking back, the infamous eighties ‘Pogo Ball’ (for those lucky enough to have one) got children active whilst strengthening their core muscles at the same time!

Now that's a happy face! :D Ignore the iconic stone wash jeans and '80's phrase shirt'.

Now that’s a happy face! 😀 Ignore the iconic 80’s stone wash jeans and ‘phrase shirt’.  Image by: Billy Lane_Flickr

 

 

Home Cardio & Strengthening Equipment 

Image: courtesy of Review-fr.com

This has always been an area of debate! Some might question why we would want to exercise indoors when we have nature on our doorstep (particularly those lucky enough to live near a lot green space or parks)?! Well sometimes it’s just not that clear cut; professional and/or personal circumstances (had a baby recently?!) don’t always allow us to have our dream or even the ideal and frequent workouts that we desire! Sadly, sometimes the things that we can afford (aka nature walks) do not offer’ the same benefits as, e.g. a cross trainer, some dumb bells and a yoga mat will.

I’ve owned my cross trainer for nearly four years and it’s been bliss, particularly for the times where I’ve finished work late, couldn’t afford leisure activity, the weather has been less than desirable or when I wanted a joint-friendly/diverse exercise; it’s really facilitated the momentum of my healthy lifestyle. I initially bought it and lost about ten pounds of laziness (bonus!) and it has not become a coat rack, dust magnet or a nuisance to my neighbours (its’ very quiet when in use)!

If you consider the cost of an average gym membership, it’s paid for its self in less than a year and a half (given that you use it frequently- and I have!).

My top tips, as long as you do try and make this your sole source of cardio and keep updating your music and the exercise programmes that you use on it, home exercise equipment is never boring.

Oh, and do not skip on doing some research before you invest in one!

 

 

‘You Got Music In Your Step (Literally Whenever You Feel Like It)’! 
Xnet Online_Flickr_Mp3_Mp4 Player

Image by:Xnet_Flickr

Kids today (yes, I’ve said it- I must be getting old!) don’t fully appreciate the handicaps of their predecessors! Walkman’s and portable CD players were not the best mediums for fitness (our struggle was very real)! Previous generations did not only endure the stress of manoeuvring them throughout their workout, with occasionally poor and inconsistent sound quality, but we had to source the music first! Recording music off the radio, creating ‘mix tapes’ or purchasing expensive CD’s ring any bells?? Torrent sites and Spotify were non-existent!

Ash Dowle_vintage sony walkman_flickr

Image by: Ash Dowle_Flickr

Mp3 players and modern mobiles that act as music players have limitless music supplies (ahem! large storage capabilities and internet connections!), enabling us to create timeless and/or addictive work-out playlists; not to mention that we can also source audio books to listen to whilst cycling at our local leisure centre (score!)

These devices are obviously a lot smaller and/or compact, making listening to music easy for everyone.

Some studies have shown that listening to music whilst working out can be moderately healthful… and I for one could not imagine workouts without music!

 

 The Internet
Computer screen macro

Image by: Cvrcak1_Flickr

The internet, for good or the bad can offer a huge range of information that can facilitate us with healthy eating and fitness hacks. Some areas of interest includes:

  • Your local markets for cheap produce and other food items.
  • Free workout videos (*but consult your GP before embarking on a new regime).
  • Food and fitness apps: making us accountable for our calories and fitness (as mentioned below!).
  • VLOGS: informative food prep and cooking instructions for all levels.
  • Blogs and health sites: that offers a tonne of free recipes and ‘health advice’. ****Click here for some tasty plant-based recipe ideas!****

In terms of health advice, just make sure to access quality information. For the love of God, use evidence-based information over someone’s opinion, pleaseee!

 

Fitness Trackers and Apps 
Karlis Dambrans_FitBit_Flickr

Image by: Karlis Dambrans_Flickr

For the tech-savvy or those that are motivated by having the facts and figures staring them straight in the face, these type of gadgets could possibly assist you in reaching your fitness goals and developing a more positive and permanent quality of life!

 Making yourself accountable for what you are eating (at the touch of a button!) and the rate at which you are ‘actually’ burning it off, could be the wakeup call and motivation that you need to make some informed choices about your health.

These devices and apps can aid a better workout (as some studies have shown) by tracking your fitness and helping you to meet your fitness goals. Personally, I think that  they could also help to bring out our competitive sides, pushing us to go on and be a healthier version of ourselves!

Unfortunately, unless you use them more often than none, it could end up being expensive paperweight.

 

The World Around Us Has Changed to Facilitate Our Health

Image: Eat2Health Blog Photography ©2015

It has been show that sitting for extended periods can have a negative effect on our health; it’s linked with chronic diseases and premature morality- as shown here.

Luckily the modern world has facilitated us to get off our bottoms by:

  • Modernised trails (some of which used to be rail lines, now allow for on-road and off-road cyclists and easy walking).
  • Modernised parks with free fitness equipment for all ages.
  • Free tennis and basketball courts (although we still need more!).
  • Dirt cheap and (occasionally 24 hour) gyms and leisure centres; some of which have childcare!

…just to name a few, all of which can help us to lead healthier lifestyles! #change4life

It’s also worth considering modern day architecture! Yes, odd structures and buildings, e.g. sports stadiums in the heart of our cities can allow us to make use of their design (and space) as part of our daily exercise regime.

Herrett_061015_0036 Steps leading to the new Arsenal Emirates Football Stadium London UK Copyright © Roberto Herrett. All rights reserved.

Image by: Roberto Herrett_Flickr

For instance, we used to run up and down the Arsenal Stadium’s front and posterior steps as part of our half marathon training (many moons ago)!

This particular stadium also allows for people to run or skate around it’s outside…just please do not do it when matches are on- unless you want possible confrontation with angry football fans!

And finally…

 

Inventive Workouts- Something for everyone!
Kevin__Flickr

Image by: Kevin_Flickr

I think that most people would agree that workouts have the nature of becoming very repetitive and boring. Changing our workouts is great for continued motivation, (keeping our sanity!) and partially because our body has an amazing ability to adapt, and exercising is no exception. Over time, doing our ‘go-to’ exercises over and over will decrease the effectiveness of our workouts. #weightlossplateau

This is why, if you are able, you should have a variety of strength and cardio workouts.

It’s a great feeling to do a new regime, testing our abilities and feeling ‘new muscles’… ones that might even keep us walking like a cowboy for three days! Yes, I’m sure we’ve all been there, the realisation that we have not utilised our inner thigh or glute muscles as much as we should of in the past. One sure solution, make sure you ‘stretch it out’ after each workout to help prevent your muscles from seizing up.

It’s worth looking at local bulletin boards or having a quick internet search; these should highlight a variety of fitness classes (there is something for everyone, no matter how young or old!) that should help to spruce up your current regimes.

If all else fails, you can literally exercise anywhere…

  • At your work desk: ‘glute flexing’ or bicep curls with water bottles anyone?!
  • In your kitchen: dance or do some squats whilst your waiting for the kettle to boil or your pasta to cook!
  • On your way to your local shops: speed walk or take longer strides… even break into full-blown lunges if you dare!
  • Whilst talking to your friends or family on your mobile: hands free options allow you to go lift some dumb bells and do leg lifts (Jane Fonda style if you like!).
  • Especially in front of the TV: cardio equipment or yoga poses can be easily positioned in front of your tube!
  • Utilising tried and true fitness hacks: walking whenever you can, e.g. getting off the bus, train or tube a couple of stops early, cycling to work, using the stairs instead of the lift or limiting the time spent in front of electronic devices.

Just go for it (30mins every 5/7 days if you can)! The only thing that can truly stop you from enjoying fitness and a healthy lifestyle is yourself…

…well, maybe your boss?! exercise with discretion!.

 

Sources:
NHS Choices
Nike.com
Flickr
BBC
Bosu.com
NCBI
Written by: L. Risby BSc Nutritionist

Saturated Fat: A Killer or Not?

Diet & Weight Loss

This is a topic that I have sat on for some time, mainly because the media have been all over it and opinions have been going back and forth. However, I was eventually drawn into writing this article because of an experience in my work recently; I was educating a group about fats and was interrupted by a patient stating that butter is good for us and I was wrong to tell people to avoid or limit it. They were quite insistent and it required all my diplomatic skills to respond and move past the point. Afterwards I reflected on the experience and realised that many people might feel this way due to the recent (relatively) debate around the effect of fat, especially saturated fats on heart health.

 

So what’s all the hype about saturated fats?!

You’re likely already aware but to summarise…fat has long been blamed for causing heart disease, and in particular saturated fat; international guidance pushed for a reduction in total fat and saturated fat intakes with swaps to unsaturated (poly and mono) fats. So far no surprises, but in the last couple of years rumblings began about the evidence behind this stance, and in short order several studies and meta analyses came out which appeared to contradict our long held beliefs(1,2,3); namely saturated fats have no impact on heart disease risk, and that the guidance on reducing fat intake was based on unfounded research!

Some commentaries and media organisations took this further and suggested we had been lied to or that the carbohydrates were the real killers.

 

So what’s the real story?

To preface, as a Dietitian (yes there is no C) I am required to follow evidenced-based guidelines and best practice, this can appear to sometimes lag behind the latest research and trends/fads but for a good reason.

I had heard the news stories and read up on the topic when the topic resurfaced over a year ago… but I didn’t change my practice or advice!  Why you might ask?

Well the obvious answer is because the guidelines haven’t changed; but maybe they’re lagging? Well, that’s where best practice can step in… but no, that hasn’t changed either and neither has my own personal opinion.

 

…Why not?  You ask.

 

It’s because of what the media missed (through no real fault of their own), is that the underlying message from the studies is that more research and evidence is needed before any real conclusion can be made, and certainly before guidance is changed. Such was the confusion that many of the authors of the studies issued statements to try and clarify the situation; from the British Heart Foundation:

At the moment UK guidelines encourage us to swap saturated fats for unsaturated fats. You might have seen reports about a recent study we helped to fund which suggests there’s not enough evidence to back the current UK guidelines on the types of fat we eat. We think more research is needed before suggesting any major changes to healthy eating guidance.

 

So what does this mean?

 

Well it might turn out that saturated fat isn’t as bad as we all feared but hold off on eating that bacon and cheese sandwich full of butter.

It would be unwise to think that the claims that saturated fat is healthier than we previously thought, provides some sort of answer to our current health crisis. If your already obese and don’t exercise, eating more saturated fat and less sugar is not going to solve your problems.

The issue is further complicated because our overall health is affected by many factors; saturated fats being only part of an equation that includes almost every diet related public health message out there.

 

Why is this?

1. For starters, we don’t eat foods in isolation and many people avoiding saturated fat replace them with equally unhealthy foods.

2.Secondly, fats are twice as high in kcals as other food groups and it’s easy to over consume on a high fat diet and become overweight or obese, which increases heart disease risk. As our national rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease show; with ischemic heart disease a leading cause of death in the UK.(4)

3. Thirdly, a diet high in animal products (a major source of saturated fats) can be a risk factor for cancer.

4. Finally, processed meat products are high in salt, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

 

For now though, the UK Guidance for a cardioprotective diet is:

  1. No more than 30% energy from fat and less than 7% from saturated fat/day*.
  2. Replace saturated fats with mono and polyunsaturated fats.
  3. Aim for 2 servings of oily fish per week.

 *66g of fat and 15g of saturated fat/day based on 2000Kcals.

 

The bottom line, don’t take news stories at face value and appreciate that scientific studies are designed to be read by scientists who can fully evaluate the results; that’s not to dissuade you from taking an interest and reading up on nutrition, and I would recommend the following article: Is butter really back? It was written by the school of public health at Harvard, which does a great job of explaining the situation.

 

 

Article written by: Alex Risby BSc, RD
Feature image source: Krivochenco_Flickr

 

References:
1: Patty W Siri-TarinoQi SunFrank B Hu, and Ronald M Krauss (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/3/535 (accessed May 2015)
2: Chowdhury et-al 2014. Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1846638 (accessed may 2015)
3:Harcombe et-al (2015).  Evidence from randomised controlled trials did not support the introduction of dietary fat guidelines in 1977 and 1983: a systematic review and meta-analysis:  http://openheart.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000196 (accessed may 2015)
4: ONS 2014.Mortality Statistics: Deaths Registered in England and Wales (Series DR), 2013 : http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/mortality-statistics–deaths-registered-in-england-and-wales–series-dr-/2013/stb-deaths-registered-in-england-and-wales-in-2013-by-cause.html#tab-Leading-Causes-of-Death-in-2013