Santa might start checking his list much later in the year now we’ve hit 2018, but for most of us January is prime time to catalogue all the ways we want to improve ourselves. So when the Cocofloss team asked me to offer a few words of wellness advice for Cocofloss Life, I was thrilled because the first thing I consider when making any kind of new year commitment is the impact it will have on the grin above my chin!
As a personal trainer, it’s hugely rewarding to help my clients achieve the banging body they’ve always dreamed of, but only when they revel in the workouts along the way and come out the other side smiling because that banging body comes with a raft of energy, pride and confidence. With that in mind, I hope my top five tips for healthier living bring a lift to your hips andto the corners of your lips.
When you’re making healthy changes to your lifestyle, it helps to equip yourself with ample energy so your motivation can keep up with your intention. The good news is that quality trumps quantity when it comes to topping up your energy stores. While regular exercise creates a positive feedback cycle of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin, shorter workouts during which you surpass 85% of your maximum heart rate deliver a greater boost than longer, less intense workouts*. It’s not about how long or hard you go, but how much heart you put into it!
To set your fitness and your spirits soaring, try pairing every strength exercise with its plyometric equivalent for equal reps to stimulate the fast-twitch muscle fibres that make the heart pump its hardest. The following routine will make even Baby Driver’s pizza delivery records look amateur:
Rest 30 seconds and repeat as many rounds as possible in 10 minutes
It’s time to switch off your phone and open your mind. We’ve officially hit peak app crisis when even the quality of your meditation practice is monitored by how frequently you tap an icon on your phone. For more beneficial downtime, lock up your devices and take at least 15 minutes every day to be utterly un-contactable. Whether it’s a walk around the block, a simple vinyasa flow or 10 slow, deep breaths to focus your mind, saying no to distraction means giving yourself permission to say nothing at all. The resulting sense of calm and control will speak volumes when you reopen for business.
A true smile reaches all the way up to your temples, so it’s no coincidence that the way you move your mouth impacts the make-up of your mind. In fact, scientists have shown that smiling reduces your body’s stress response during mentally demanding situations**. While we can’t prevent stress entirely, we canprevent trauma to the gums and teeth to make that smile more forthcoming when we need it most.
If a stressful situation does see you reaching for sugar (sometimes a chocolate brownie really isthe answer), downgrade further distress by combatting any invaders who threaten your pearly whites. While healthy bacteria help break down toxins in the mouth, a temporary dietary imbalance may trigger a profligate army of both good and bad microbes that do more harm than good – cue the harrowing gum-depleting warfare. Luckily this is one battle you can easily win, as flossing mechanically removes invasive microbes between the teeth and below the gums.
If daily flossing is your chainmail against intruders, consider your smile a shining shield that repels trouble and leaves you standing strong through all life throws your way (emergency brownies included).
We already know HIIT has its place (within the very first tip of this article, no less), but it’s not the only fitness consideration and there is no denying that how we stand affects the way the world perceives us. Strong, open posture suggests there’s a happy, confident person between those perky shoulders, while a rounded chest makes us look and feel less approachable. That’s why I always recommend a healthy dose (a minimum of two days per week) of strength training as part of every exercise regime, with a particular emphasis on the muscles down the back of the body.
While modern activities tend to over-emphasize pushing movements, the pulling muscles that keep our shoulders, lower back and hips in place can be dangerously neglected if we don’t actively exercise them. For every push-up or shoulder press, include at least one row or reverse fly movement, and for every squat be sure to incorporate a counter-balancing deadlift or hamstring curl. Keeping the back of the spine strong from top to bottom will help maintain healthy neutral posture and send a message to the world that you’re open to opportunity. Who knew your hamstrings had such sway on the universe!
Remember the 80/20 nutrition rule? Take it from the girl who has already mentioned chocolate brownies twice – that nonsense is seriously outdated! Firstly, it’s impossible to draw a finite line around the 80% of our ‘good dietary decisions’ and the remaining 20% that aren’t quite so virtuous. Are these daily boundaries? Weekly? It’s easy to see where the slippery slope begins (and when those niggly microbes marauders return). With the 80/20 rule so open to interpretation, you might beat yourself up if you don’t meet your own exacting standards or if one slippery day becomes a waterpark flume of venti hot chocolates. I hate to spoil the ending but in place of a euphoric splash that slide is headed for a nasty mood-disrupting energy crash.
Instead, I give my clients a set of self-flagellation-free and easy-to-follow ABC guidelines, which spread treats out and normalize cravings when you happen to enjoy something that doesn’t fit neatly into typical ‘cheat day’ and ‘good day’ dietary designations. To ‘eat’ is to nourish the body for living, and I’m keen to remove ‘ch-‘ as a prefix to such an indispensible verb that keeps us alive (and sanely so). Here’s how it works…
On four A days a week you aim for 3 balanced meals*** and 2 healthy snacks. On two B days a week you aim for 3 balanced meals, 1 balanced snack and 1 treat (re-enter the chocolate brownie). Finally, on your well-deserved C day, you can tuck gleefully into any one meal and treat in addition to two healthy sugar-balancing meals. If a B day accidentally becomes a C day, it’s easy to get back on course with a couple solid A days.
Remember that self-improvement is a road that leads to greater fulfillment, so the steps you take should naturally make you exponentially happier too. It’s not always a straightforward journey, but if you wield your armour along the way (that formidable ear to ear grin) odds are you’ll accumulate plenty more reasons to smile.
* European Journal of Applied Physiology, October 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27562067
** University of Kansas, 2012, http://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/smiling-facilitates-stress-recovery.html
*** Brit recommends a rough ‘rule of thirds’ for every plate and snack. Look to include around 30% protein, 30% carbohydrate and 30% healthy fats for optimal energy release and nutrient absorption. A typical balanced meal may include fresh fish for protein, roasted veg for carbohydrates and olive oil drizzle for healthy fats, while a nourishing snack may be a Medjool date for carbohydrates with a generous dollop of nut butter for protein and fat in one.
Brit Williams is the founder of Fit Brit Collective (@fitbritcollective) and a London-based personal trainer and fitness writer. Her mission is to create meaningful connections through exercise, fostering engagement between mind and body, fitness goals and greater life goals, and between like-minded people with a desire to expand their personal possibilities.