Our muscles – not to mention our spirits – have atrophied, after a winter huddled under blankets on the couch. Now that we can finally contemplate ditching our parkas, it's time to jump-start our fitness regimen. Tralee Pearce turned to The Globe's Health Advisor panel for expert advice. Here, 12 easy ways to get healthier, right now
Get out the calendar
Forget New Year’s resolutions. Let’s start a new tradition: monthly goals. Old habits die hard. So why not break your big objective into smaller, more manageable pieces? Aim to change one little thing each month. You could start with going out for a 30-minute walk after dinner on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. See where that leads you.
Gilles Beaudin is a registered clinical exercise physiologist in Toronto at Cleveland Clinic Canada.
Spring clean your relationships
There is a school of psychiatry called Interpersonal Psychotherapy. The basic idea is that much of how we feel, especially when we are feeling bad, is based on our relationships with others. If we can improve these key relationships (partner, friend, boss, parent, sibling) this will have an ongoing therapeutic effect for you. To do an “IPT Lite,” draw a diagram of your key relationships and beneath each one, write where it’s at and where you think it could be. Now pick out two or three. Not all relationships can be fixed, but they can be optimized. Here is the nugget: Yes, relationships are shared, but how the relationship affects you resides in you. Like a lot of health issues, it’s about your attitude. Also, that’s the part you can control.
Dr. Mike Evans is a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
We’re all familiar with the notion that prevention is the best cure. To protect our health, we get regular physicals from the family doctor, as well as dental check-ups and cleanings. We should take the same approach with our musculoskeletal health. Physiotherapists can identify impairments and faulty movement patterns that predictably cause injury – the shoulder instability that underlies most shoulder injuries or the faulty knee alignment that precipitates runner’s knee – before the injuries occur. The earlier these are identified, the easier they are to correct and the more likely you are to prevent an injury from occurring.
Justin Vanderleest is a Toronto-based physiotherapist at Athlete’s Care and LiveActive Sport Medicine.
Get out and play
Being healthy doesn’t always have to be hard work. Laugh, go for a swing at the park or buy a skateboard. Creating moments of play in our days and carving out time for fun positively affects our health and increases our creativity. Play time shouldn’t just be for children.
Jennifer Heil is a Montreal-based Olympic gold and silver medalist in freestyle mogul skiing and co-founder of the charity B2ten.
Eat a rainbow
Unless you are a chef or food stylist, you may not be thinking of dressing up your dinner plate to be as colourful as possible. However, colour is a cue for health. This is because many of the pigments from which fruits and vegetables get their vibrant colour are phytonutrients – plant medicines that can help prevent disease and promote health. Be sure to eat a variety of colours including red, blue, purple, orange, yellow and, my personal favourite, green at every meal.
Joy McCarthy is a Toronto-based certified holistic nutritionist and founder of wellness clinic Joyous Health.
Lose a box
Cooking has changed these past 50 years. Gone are the days of regularly transforming fresh, whole ingredients into meals and here are the days of assembly-line cooking – mix a box of this with a jar of that and stir. As a consequence, diet– and weight-related diseases are on the rise. This spring, why not resolve to lose your life’s worst box – the purchased, processed boxes or jars that make up your home’s least-healthful meal – and in their place, learn how to cook that meal from fresh, whole ingredients? The outcome will be more nutritious, and if you prepare and cook it together as a family and eat it around a table, it’ll be far more rewarding as well.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa and the medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute.
Spring clean your cupboards
Throw out any food that is in a can. Canned food is very harmful for three reasons: Bisphenol A is an industrial compound used to protect food from metal corrosion and bacteria; it is linked to endocrine disorders, heart disease and cancer. Sodium is high and causes cardiovascular problems. Sulfites are preservatives that may result in mild to severe to deadly respiratory problems. Similarly, ditch boxed food. Even healthy, organic dry cereals are produced by a process called extrusion, which involves high pressure and heat to get the grain to take a certain form: buds, “O”s, flakes. Extrusion destroys nutrient value.
Lori Kirwan is a Toronto fitness instructor and trainer with a doctorate in exercise physiology.
Work out in 60 seconds
Interval training is a great strategy to boost cardio-respiratory fitness, which reduces your risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Biking, stair climbing, swimming or using an elliptical machine – it doesn’t matter. The intensity can be scaled to any level of fitness. Try 10, one-minute “bursts” of exercise with a minute of recovery in between. In terms of effort, just get out of your usual comfort zone, or try a pace of about eight on a 10-point subjective scale. Include a brief warmup and cool down for a quick effective workout.
Dr. Martin Gibala is chair of the department of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton.
Cut down on sweet stuff
The World Health Organization has reduced its recommended ideal intake of added sugar to 5 per cent of your daily calories. Your maximum amount is six teaspoons. It doesn’t take long to add up, but it also isn’t difficult to dump the white stuff. In coffee, go with 1 tsp of sugar and 1 tsp of stevia, which is as sweet as 3 tsp of sugar. Switch from creamy coleslaw (4 tsp per one-half cup) to vinegar-based (0-1 tsp). Give up jam (3 tsp of sugar per tablespoon) on your peanut butter and spread 1/2 tsp of honey. Toss the sauce: barbeque sauce is sugar-sweetened ketchup plus brown sugar. Check your bread brand: Some have as much as a teaspoon per slice. Skip cereal bars; they have as much sugar as sweetened cereals (up to 4 tsp per bar).
Theresa Albert is a registered nutritionist based in Toronto.
Get out the measuring cup
“One cup of this, one-half cup of that, one-quarter cup of something else” – what does it all mean? It’s a mystery to most people. I tell patients: Buy a measuring cup. That way, you can count calories and watch your food intake. For example, on my desk at home I have bowls of grapes, pistachios and cashews. A cup of each has significant calories: A cup of grapes has 100 calories; pistachios, 700; cashews, 550. If you eat food only until you’ve had your fill – with no idea of its calorie impact – controlling your weight will be nearly impossible. So next time you’re eating rice, pasta or spaghetti, fill a measuring cup right at the dinner table. That’s about 250 calories. Then you can tabulate your day’s intake, perhaps with a digital app. That kind of accountability is one of the smartest health moves you can make.
Dr. Shafiq Qaadri is a Toronto family physician.
Embrace spring’s energy
Put the electronic gadgets aside and notice how the spring sunlight affects your alertness, mood and energy. Changes in patterns of natural light and darkness are continually cueing our body clocks to align our circadian rhythms with our environment. Circadian rhythms include 24-hour oscillations of our body temperature, many hormones, our mental and physical performance and our sleep-wake patterns. Noticing these biological shifts in spring allows us to embrace our cyclical selves and feel at one with nature. The behaviour of the robin in your backyard, singing a loud new song and claiming his territory is being driven by the same light-dark patterns that influence us. Observe and enjoy the surge of new energy.
Dr. Judith R. Davidson is a clinical psychologist and sleep researcher at the Kingston Family Health Team and Queen’s University in Kingston.
It’s perfectly fine for your fitness intensity to change gears from time to time. I don’t train nearly as hard as I used to as an Olympian. My goals are different now, but in many ways I feel much stronger. As spring unfolds, be ready to swap activities, adjust your workout and try new things. I recently played dodgeball – it reminded me that fun is part of any fitness plan.
Gold-medal Olympian Simon Whitfield is the director of sports with the Fantan Group in Victoria.