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  • Writer's pictureAsh Radford

How little tweaks to exercise habits can mean big results

Diabetes- it’s a common disease in western countries.

Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. Every diabetic will tell you to avoid getting it.

My dad faced that prospect in his mid seventies. Tests showed raised blood glucose levels. Although his lifestyle wasn’t all that unhealthy he needed to take action.

2 simple, effective changes

Rather than revamp his whole diet and exercise routine he made 2 small yet pivotal changes;

* He included a hill in his regular 20 minute evening walk. * He stopped having a teaspoon of sugar on his cereal and in tea and coffee.

The result= 5kg weight loss in 2 months and blood sugar levels back within normal range.

No books, no meal programs, no special exercise routine.

He simply altered existing habits and did so consistently, without compromise.

Practical, sustainable and effective.

Often we’re led to believe we need to make complicated wholesale changes to get results. However, it’s exercise and diet habits that are kept up for months, years and decades, that matters. Radical change isn’t usually useful for that long haul. Most of us have experienced that.

Besides which, many of our existing health and activity habits are helpful. They don’t need eliminating, just tweaking.

Some small but pivot changes to fitness routine

Let’s say you’re very regular with exercise. What you do each workout is pretty much the same. It’s effective but you’d like more of a return. Rather than a total makeover of a program, that’s essentially working for you, look for ways of upping the ante a fraction. I’m talking about tiny changes that won’t make any difference in 1 session but will over time.

For instance;

* If you run 5km twice a week, at a moderate intensity, cut 20 seconds off each week. In 3 weeks, that’d be a minute quicker. You’ll barely notice any change in intensity.

* Increase the intensity slightly on a stationary bike. You could do 1 minute of a 30 minute session at a higher resistance level each week. Continue that process for 30 weeks and the entire bike session will be at 1 resistance level higher.

* Each week (or every other workout) add a repetition to each strength training set in your program. A couple of my Personal Training clients did 40 more repetitions in their regular program today than 7 weeks ago using this method. An impressive 50% increase (started with 80 reps per session, increased to 120)

Most people, most of the time, don’t make these improvements with exercise. It’s because of 2 contrasting reasons; 1. Either they don’t seek to improve at all Or 2. They try and make dramatic increases.

A systemised yet gradual plan is the best way forward. Few use that strategy- if more did they’d see better results from similar time and effort.

pink 1kg hand weight
Photo by Ellephant on Unsplash

It'll work for the 'energy in' part of the fat loss equation as well

My father took care of both the 'energy in' and 'energy out' parts of the equation. You can get some great returns over time from taking in less calories with small sacrifices. For example;

*Imagine you’ve slipped into the routine of having a couple of glasses of wine every night. Cut to 1 a night or 2 every second night. Over a month that’d be 2400 calories less, that equates to 1 days recommended calorie intake for women. In other words, it’s like having 1 days less eating a month. A significant difference from just cutting out 1 drink.

*Cut out just 1 measly 10 gram choc chip cookie and monthly calorie intake drops by 1500 calories. Not an enormous amount, but over a year, it’ll make a difference, especially if combined with 1 or 2 other small changes.

When you multiply the numbers over months, or longer, you can see the power of small daily changes. My Dad removing 3 teaspoons of sugar a day meant 180 less teaspoons over 2 months. That’d be a big pile of sugar!

Although it’s only about the same calories a day as the cookie, pure sugar calories have the most detrimental effect on body fat. It’s a bit technical but some calories not only lack nutrients but also enter the blood stream rapidly. They result in greater insulin levels and hinder the body in breaking down and using fat.

If fat loss is what you need, start by cutting sugar.

Tips for making tweaks to exercise & lifestyle

1. Make it binary

This means it has 2 clearly defined parts. Like adding a minute (1st part) of running each week for 8 weeks (2nd part). Make it something objective for a set time frame. You need to be able to tell at the end of that period if you’ve done it or not. This makes it easy to review and analyse. Whereas if you’ve just a general intention to run for longer it becomes hard to assess.

2. Choose a change significant enough to make a difference

As explained, sugar is so energy dense & enters the blood stream so fast, removing it made a big difference to my Dad’s weight. Although a small sacrifice, he identified something impactful.

Think honestly about what change will yield results. Even though it’s just a tweak, you want to make it one worth making.

3. Ensure its sustainable

Ideally you want to turn it into an ongoing habit. Several years on my Dad still isn’t adding sugar to any food or drink. It’s not even a thought for him. Had he opted to give up alcohol, along with sugar, it probably would have felt like too much pleasure being taken from his diet. The likely outcome- a feeling of deprivation and a resulting resentment.

So often we resolve to make big changes to transform our lives. They often prove too hard to sustain. We tend to underestimate how much time and energy change takes.

What tweaks could you make?

There’s no shortage of spectacular get fit quick schemes online. Most of which take a radical change in habits. It’s easy to let the promise of amazingly fast results over-ride practical, realistic thinking. Tackling lots of change at once is a big ask.

Do any small changes come to mind that could make a difference for you? Could you make a firm commitment to 2 such tweaks for the next month?

It could just be the small differences that make a real difference…..

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