Do you tend to keep indoors during the sizzling summer months? Does that iced coffee with its crown of whipped cream tempt you every day? Does the television, sitting in that cool air-conditioned living room lure you into watching every episode of your favorite show?
While these may seem like an excellent way to enjoy the summer (holidays), soon the lack of exercise and poor diet will show up in our health. Here are some cool fixes to overcome the summer inertia.
Everyone knows exercise is the best way to lose or maintain weight, but as the temperature rises to sweltering heights, it is easy to let go of its benefits. However, movement is the most natural thing for our bodies, irrespective of weather. It increases metabolism, helps in the production of serotonin, which regulates mood, gives us more energy for the longer days and regulates sleep. If you can, try to run or walk or do your weights training early in the day before it gets too hot. Or alternatively, join an indoor gym class which means you are working out in a temperature-controlled environment and with other people, providing motivation and a mood boost. Gym classes also vary their routines and music every few weeks so the program doesn’t get monotonous.
Eating right does not mean eating less or more. You will still need adequate nutrition. Whole foods rather than processed foods are the right choice any time of the year, but pay special attention to what you are eating or drinking to cool yourself down, such as frozen yogurt, ice-cream, smoothies, slushies, etc. These are usually packed with sugar providing empty calories and very little nutrition. However, you can freeze your own favorite fruits and vegetables and blend them with ice and a dash of honey for a refreshing frozen treat.
Try to get a range of brightly colored fruits and vegetables in your diet every day. These are abundant during summer and build up your immunity brilliantly.
Mind your sleep
Aim to sleep between 7 and 9 hours a night and do not vary sleeping and waking times by more than an hour, even if you are in holiday mode. Sleeping less, or more, than the amount you need changes the level of melatonin in the body, which can leave you feeling sluggish and de-energized for the day. Weight gain may take place if you oversleep missing out of valuable exercise time. If you sleep in, you may also miss the opportunity to get some sunlight before it gets too hit. Sunlight on exposed skin increases the production of vitamin D in the body, which in turn affects the production of leptin, a hormone that tells us we are full keeping us satiated and our appetites at an optimal level. Vitamin D can also be gained through foods such as tofu, eggs and dairy products.
When the temperatures get high, we may start to dehydrate because of the loss of fluid through perspiration. We may not always feel thirsty, and by the time we feel thirsty we may already be dehydrated. Remember to drink at regular intervals and steer clear of too much caffeine, carbonated drinks and alcohol. For every cup of coffee or tea (excluding green tea) you drink, aim to compensate by drinking twice the amount of water. Herbal teas, like green tea, ginger or lemon tea do not dehydrate but in fact can be refreshing both hot or cold.
Even when people engage in the recommended 2.5 hours per week of physical activity, there is increasing evidence to suggest that being inactive in the remaining time of the week is important for health.
Researchers aren’t yet sure how much we can sit during the day without incurring health risks, but findings suggest the more you move, the better it is for you.
Below we outline some of the health risks posed by too much sitting, followed by some suggestions about how you can get more movement into your day.
Too much sitting has been linked to disease
Too much sitting can cause high blood pressure and high blood sugar, and will likely increase your risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease or heart attack. One analysis which combined the results of a number of studies found that compared to people who are more active those that spend a long time not moving had a:
- steep increase in risk of diabetes
- increase in risk if cardiovascular disease
- high risk of death due to the above factors
Inactivity makes you overweight
Even if you exercise, too much sitting can make it hard to lose weight. Studies have shown that people who spend more time watching TV tend to gain more weight over time and are more likely to be obese.
Movement improves mood
You are more likely to have anxiety or depression if you sit for long periods of time. In one recent study, employees who sat for longer than 6 hours each day were more likely to have anxiety or depression. Employees who sat for less than 3 hours a day had fewer of those symptoms.
You cut the risk of cancer
Some cancers, especially those associated with your weight and metabolic functions, have been linked to too much sitting or lying down. That includes breast, colon and endometrial cancer.
Life expectancy increases
Sitting for long periods of time increases the likelihood that you will die. One study found that adults who sat for 11 hours or more were 40% more likely to die within three years than those who sat for less than four hours.
How to sit less and move around more while at work
If you have to spend a lot of time at your desk or find yourself sitting for prolonged periods of time try the following tips:
- Make time to get up out of your chair and stretch at regular intervals, once every hour is ideal
- Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch
- If you work at a desk for long periods of time, try a standing desk – or improvise with a high table or counter
- Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room for meetings
- Go for a walk on your lunch break
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
The benefits of eating protein have been discussed earlier (refer to “Nutrients Simplified). Now the question is, how to include protein in every single meal while still balancing the nourishment from other food sources with the total calorific intake.
The following two meal plans are an example of including protein throughout the day to provide a steady source of fuel to the body, keeping you full and your glucose levels steady. Keep in mind, however, that every person’s specific calorie needs are different depending on age, sex, total body mass, exercise frequency and intensity, height, weight, medications and medical conditions.
These meal plans are intended to be examples only.
Plan 1- 1230 Calories. Non-Vegetarian
Breakfast 1 cup calcium fortified trim milk with 2 scoops protein
¾ cup all-bran cereal
1 small fruit like kiwi fruit or mandarin
Snack 1 small banana
1 light yogurt 150 grams
1 small fruit
Lunch 2 eggs
¼ cup brown rice or other cooked grain
100 gms (raw weight) lean meat
6 rice crackers
Both options with small fruit
Snack 30 gms Edam or other low fat hard cheese
2 wheat crackers or wheat thins
Dinner 150 gms (raw weight) lean meat, chicken or fish
2-3 cups vegetables (fresh or frozen) OR salad
Snack ½ cup milk with 2 Tsp Milo or light chocolate powder
Plan 2- 1237 Calories. Vegetarian
Breakfast 1 cup calcium fortified trim milk
1/3 cup oats (raw)
½ cup fruit- fresh or tinned (no added sugar)
Snack Light yogurt
Lunch ¾ cup cooked chick peas or lentils
2 corn thins
5 rice crackers
Both options with 2 cups vegetables
Snack 1 egg
2 wheat crackers
125 gms light cottage cheese
3 corn thins
Dinner 1 cup cooked lentils
2 cups vegetables or salad
Snack 1 small fruit
Sometimes we fall into the pattern of thinking weights training is for people who have weights, be they dumb bells, kettle bells, weights bars or a complete weights machine. While this equipment is good to have, you do not have to be deprived of the benefits of such training because you have no equipment.
Using your own body weight to provide adequate resistance for training is an effective way of increasing both your muscle mass and torching surplus calories.
The following are four exercises which when done together work all the major muscle groups. Each exercise has many variations. For example, the plank can done as side planks and one-armed planks. Lunges and squats can be made more difficult by holding weights. Here, the exercises presented are for beginners, so correct technique can be mastered and body-weight used correctly. Aim to complete three sets of ten repetitions for each exercise. The slower they are done, the better the results. Plan to have three sessions of lifting weights every week.
Squats are great for activating the quadriceps (thigh muscles), the gluteals (buttocks), lower back and the abdominals.
Note: Look ahead to a point in front of you so you keep your neck aligned. The knees should not track over the toes in this movement.
- Stick out your chest by taking a deep breath and filling your lungs with air. This stiffens the rib cage and prevents the upper body from bending forward
- Contract all the abdominal muscles
- Contract the lower back
Lunges work all four quadriceps (thigh muscles), gastrocnemius (calf muscle) and the gluteals (buttocks). It is also a good for improving balance and mobility if done with a step-forward movement across the length of a room.
- Inhale and take a step forward (not too wide or too narrow)
- Lower your bottom half. In this position the top of the forward thigh is slightly below parallel
- Return to starting position. Repeat.
Push-ups develop the pectoral (chest) muscles and the triceps (back of the arms). In this exercise, make sure you keep the body in a straight line, do not let your hips dip down or you will hurt your back. Look straight ahead and do not “lock” the elbows as you come up.
- Lie down with palms on the floor and hands shoulder-width apart
- Inhale and bring your body close to the ground without touching the ground
- Feet should touch each other or be a little apart
- Push yourself back to the starting position exhaling on the way up
Planks are excellent for developing your core strength by working the abdominal muscles. Having a strong core provides support for your back, preventing back injuries and lower back pain.
- Start with the push-up position (described above)
- Rest your elbows rather than palms on the ground
- Balance your body on the toes (keeping feet a few inches apart) and elbows
- Keep the body as straight as possible (as a “plank”) supporting the body weight through the abdominals sucking in the belly button
- Body should be in a straight line from ankles to neck
- Hold position for 30 seconds or longer
- ü Rest 10 seconds and repeat
Preparation of food is crucial for burning fat and eating healthy. Pre-made foods and packaged meals are usually high in saturated fats, preservatives and added salt and sugar.
Organizing a whole week’s meals in advance should take no more than a couple of hours. You can pre-cook meals, especially protein which takes longer to cook, in advance. The meals can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Small, one-meal sized containers may be used for portion controlled meals, saving time and effort.
The following are practical suggestions to cook in a way that maximizes fat-burning and torch calories while adding flavor and nutritional value.
· Trim all fat- This is obvious, but many people cook with the chicken skin on or choose non-lean meat cuts. Remove chicken skin, buy the leanest cuts of meat possible and trim visible fat. With regard to chicken, the darker meat (thigh and drumsticks) has more fat than lighter meat (breast).
· Eat wholegrain- choose wholegrain bread, pasta, oats, flours and brown rice. Decidedly, these take longer to cook but also longer to digest keeping you full for longer and blood sugar stable between meals.
· Fiber is your friend- Befriend fiber. Eat fibrous fruits and vegetables rather than starchy ones (zucchini, cabbage, broccoli, peach, kiwi fruit). Avoid cooking vegetables, especially at high temperatures as the nutritional value reduces at high heat.
· Good fat is good for you- Don’t be afraid of fat. Rather, learn to differentiate between good quality and bad quality fat. Fat from nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and olive oil are good for you. Keep the amount you use in moderation and add to meals after cooking to preserve health properties.
· Spice and Flavor- Spice and flavor are a good way to add texture and taste to your meals without adding extra fat. Experiment with different spices. There is an assortment of spices from different parts of the world at supermarkets (Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Latin). Keep them as standard items in your pantry.
· Dairy- Low fat dairy is an inexpensive way to increase protein and benefit from its calcium-rich properties. Use low fat cheese (choose cottage cheese in soft cheeses instead of the richer brie or camembert), yogurt and milk.
· Dips and Dressings- Make your own dips and dressings where possible to ensure their quality and freshness. Salsa, guacamole, hummus (made with chick peas, sesame paste and olive oil), baba ganoush (made with roasted egg plant, salt and olive oil), lemon juice with dried oregano, lemon pepper with vinegar and wasabi (for those who like it hot) are just some ideas for tasty and healthy options.
With the long summer before us, many of us are planning our vacations, be they road trips or to destinations that require air travel. While we pore over maps, plan to visit all the tourist attractions and look forward to catching up with family and friends, the matter of healthy food while we travel takes a back seat, so to say!
But with a little planning, the start of the holiday season does not need to be littered with the remnants of junk food- empty soda cans, candy wrappers and salty snacks. Instead, with a little planning, you can arrive at your destination energized, healthy and full of the holiday spirit. Here is how.
Road trips allow us to be flexible, stop for food and drink along the way, and stretch out our limbs. However, if you want to avoid frequent food stops and driving around to find healthy eating options, then here are the things you should pack:
• Fresh fruit, preferably which can be peeled, like mandarins and bananas
• Tinned tuna with crackers (I like the single serve cans with a little handle for pulling the lid open)
• Yogurt (pack in a chilly bin with ice)
• Individually packed cheese sticks (pack in a chilly bin with ice)
• Salad leaves which do not wilt easily (kale, spinach and romaine), pack dressing separately to prevent it getting soggy
• Unsalted roasted nuts like cashews, almonds, walnuts, pistachios
• Home-made trail mix with the above nuts, raisins, sultanas and pitted dates
• Water bottles- these can be frozen ahead of time to provide cold refreshing water
Air travel in the United States is regulated by the TSA or Transportation Security Administration. They make and implement the rules about what can be carried on board. In terms of food items, let us start with what is excluded from being carried.
The TSA has a 3-1-1 rule. All fluids (whether edible or not) must be below 3.4 ounces (100 ml), fit into a 1-quart bag and each passenger is allowed 1 such bag. The exception for this rule is breast milk, formula or juice for infants.
The carry-on fluids under 3.4 ounces can include:
• Creamy Dips and Spreads
• Jam and Jelly
• Maple Syrup
• Oils and Vinegar’s
• Pies and Cakes
• Salad Dressing
• Salsa and Sauces
Healthy options include peanut butter and jelly, almond butter and jelly, creamed honey and butter, marmite /vegemite with sliced cheese, and cold cut chicken or turkey in a whole- wheat pita pocket.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruit and vegetables are always healthy snacks option for travel. Bananas and mandarins are a no-mess option. If you are taking vegetables, cut them in bite-sized slices and pack in a resealable bag. If you are using a dip, make sure it complies with the 3-1-1 rule.
Home-made baked items like baked potatoes, carrot and zucchini muffins or cheese scones can be wrapped in foil and packed as handy and nutritious meals for the flight.
As you can see, with a little planning the travel to your holiday destination, whether by air or by road, can get off to a healthy and energetic start. Bon Voyage!