Get fit fast – without the need for a gym pass

We all know that to look and feel our best we need to be combining a healthy eating plan with an exercise regime. However, all too often the workout falls by the wayside. Here Nikki Edwards offers inspiration to couch potatoes and focuses on ways to get fit without the need for a gym pass.

Exercise is good for you – a mantra which is drummed into us everywhere we turn.

It lowers the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, of diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, depression, stress and dementia.

It boosts self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy levels and it helps you lose weight.

And yet, shocking statistics out last week revealed an incredible 30% of Britons do absolutely none. Nothing. Zip. Zero.

There are several reasons for this.

People are less active these days, partly because technology has made our lives easier. We drive cars, machines wash our clothes and we entertain ourselves in front of a TV. Fewer people do manual work, and most of us have jobs that involve sitting on our bottoms all day in front of a computer.

But on top of the fact that our lives are far less demanding than for previous generations, a great number of us admit that we also shy away from physical exertion because we find it inconvenient, embarrassing or costly.

So as part of my Clean, Lean, Protein programme I want to show you that getting fit needn’t be any of these things.

“Shocking statistics out last week revealed an incredible 30% of Britons do absolutely no exercise. None. Nothing. Zip. Zero.”

How much do you need?

Exercise is the miracle cure we’ve always had, but for too long we’ve neglected to take our recommended dose.

So how much exercise do you actually need?

According to the NHS:

  • Children under five should do 180 minutes every day
  • Young people (five to 18) should do 60 minutes every day
  • Adults (19 +) should do 150 minutes every week

Moderate-intensity activity means you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. One way to tell if you’re working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can’t sing the words to a song.

But exercise is inconvenient

This is nonsense. Exercise can easily be incorporated into your daily life, whether you work long hours in an office or are a busy mum juggling a manic family life.

Firstly you should pick activities that you enjoy and fit into your routine. Then work out what time is best for you to exercise and stick to it. For some people it is easier to split up activity through the day. You could achieve your target in bouts of 10 minutes instead of taking a whole half hour in one chunk for example.

You should also aim to reduce the amount of time you sit or lie down during the day.

If you work in an office, take the stairs instead of the lift and walk up escalators rather than standing still. Stand while you speak on the phone, and walk around the office to chat to colleagues instead of emailing them. You could also consider exercising during your lunch break. Some offices have gyms on site but others are located near swimming pools and squash courts.

Busy mums should try to think of activities to do with children which are active. This will be easier now the weather has improved. Take them to the swimming pool or play in the garden or park perhaps? You could also consider joining a child-friendly gym. Find a fitness class or club that allows children in or that offers childcare during a workout. Ufford Park Gym in Melton for example, has a fantastic crèche facility.

But exercise is embarrassing

Working up a sweat in a gym is certainly not for everyone and it can be uncomfortable for some people to exercise in front of others. However this is not an excuse to do nothing at all.

There are plenty of ways that you can exercise alone.

Try a home workout routine for example. There are plenty of good DVDs you can follow to help you.

Skipping is also an excellent way to keep fit and it can be done anywhere at any time. Just a few minutes’ skipping brings a whole range of health benefits, including heart and lung fitness, strong bones, balance and flexibility. The average person will burn up to 200 calories during 15 minutes of skipping.

If you can afford to, invest in some home equipment. Exercise bikes or a cross-trainers are a good way for you to exercise away from the eyes of others and bring the gym into your living room. If you haven’t room for big equipment consider getting weights or exercise balls.

But exercise is costly

So you can’t justify the purchase of sports equipment, can’t afford to join a team and gym membership is too pricey. What next? Well actually there are plenty of things you can do for free.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Walk everywhere. A 30-minute brisk walk incorporating some uphill climbing can burn around 200 calories.
  • Have a game of football in the park.
  • Look for offers. Your local leisure centre may well be offering initiatives such as free exercise classes or a free swim on certain days of the week to encourage people to get in shape. On top of this, you may also be entitled to free leisure services if you're under 16 or over 60 or if you receive benefits.
  • Use free equipment. There are several outdoor gyms in Suffolk which include much of the same equipment found in an indoor gym. There are also basketball hoops, tennis courts and football pitches that you can use free of charge. Contact your local authority to find out what’s on offer and take full advantage of these facilities, which are funded by your taxes after all.
  • Try a trim trail (also known as fitness trail or activity trail). These are dotted around the country and there is one in Ickworth Park. They are made up of simple pieces of exercise equipment, such as parallel bars, leapfrog blocks, inclined press-ups and balance beams, dotted around parks, recreation areas or alongside cycle routes. The free equipment can be used to do various exercises, including step-ups, sit-ups, lunges and press ups, to develop balance, strength and co-ordination.
  • Take up running. Running is an effective and straightforward way of exercising. You can do it anytime, anywhere and it’s free.
  • Figures show that about 42% of Britons own a bike so if you have an old cycle in the garden shed, now is the time to dust it off.
  • Dance. Try having a mini disco in your lounge with some of your CDs. Your kids will love it and dancing is an excellent form of exercise.
  • Do some household chores. Although light tasks such as taking out the rubbish won't raise your heart rate, some heavy gardening, intense hoovering or washing the car will count towards your daily activity target.
  • Join a conservation group. These can be a great way to get involved in improving your local environment and being active at the same time. Suffolk boasts a number of these including the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and the National Trust.

Combining exercise with eating the right foods

My lifestyle plan has focused on the importance of a high-protein and low-fat eating plan with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables.

If you stick to the menu but also aim to meet the activity guidelines, you will start to look and feel healthier and happier.

Portable protein snacks

Some of you have been asking me for a list of high-protein snacks which can be enjoyed on the go.

Here are my top ten:

  • Mixed nuts or seeds. Choose the unsalted variety.
  • Hard-boiled egg. An inexpensive snack loaded with nutrients.
  • Protein shakes. They are easy to make up wherever you are and offer a sweet kick when you need it most.
  • Crab sticks. These are low fat and very tasty.
  • Hummus Dippers. Put two tablespoons of the dip in a small Tupperware container and add a bag of vegetable sticks.
  • Grape and cheese sticks – just add cubes of cheddar and grapes to cocktail sticks. A lovely taste combination.
  • Yoghurt pot. Put some nonfat Greek yogurt in a Tupperware box with a handful of fruit (fresh or frozen) and a drizzle of honey. Add 2 tablespoons of toasted oats for a protein-packed crunch.
  • Protein Bar. Like shakes, these are an easy on-the-go option.
  • Dry-roasted edamame. Really delicious and packed with protein.
  • Peanut butter and celery stick dippers. Delicious and filling.
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