woman in active wear relaxing

Written by Michael Dermansky

Although it is easy to get wrapped up in the latest trend of what is “good” for you, what is going to cleanse you or contradictory scientific and medicine information, which often looks at one aspect of health in a large population rather than the  overall health of one individual, knowing what is important and what is not can be quite confusing.

When you really listen to your body and focus on the aspects of health that rarely change and have the largest impact on health, looking after your health can be quite simple.

1. Exercise – Especially Strengthening exercise

Strength based exercise training should be the foundation of any exercise program.  Even if you love to run and want to focus on your cardio fitness, a good base of strength is the first step.  If your muscles are not strong, it means that doing the things that you love are just hard work.  Muscle strength protects your joints and support structures, such as the discs in your lower back from injury in the long term.

We often see people begin their fitness program by just “going for a run”, but because they have not built a base of strength, injuries soon follow, with a breakdown in tendons, such as Achilles injuries, hip and back problems. 

A good structured strengthening program which focusses on major support muscles of the body, including the lower back, hips and gluteals, muscles around the shoulder blades and thighs and calves will give anyone a great start to their fitness program.  Twice a week to start off with, then as strength improves, you can move to three times a week, but consistently is the most important thing so only do a program you intend to stick with in the long term.

More is not better, as your body needs time to adapt and grow between workout sessions.  Strength training more than 3 times a week plateaus your improvements because your body does not have the opportunity to grow, your strength just doesn’t really change and injury is more likely.  Stick to the basics, 2-3 times a week and it will work.

Finally, the added benefit of strength training is that it is a major aspect of weight management and diabetes control.  Muscle is the only major tissue we can influence that improves your glucose metabolism and your body’s utilisation of energy.  Improving your muscle mass increases your basal metabolic rate, which means you use more energy doing the same things you normally do such as walking, running and even sitting still, which is a key aspect in weight loss.  In addition, improving muscle mass reduces your insulin resistance (makes your body more insulin sensitive), which means your risk of developing type 2 diabetes reduces.

2. Sleep (what it needs and doesn’t need)

One of the biggest secrets of getting the most from your fitness program is getting enough sleep.  Ideally 7-9 hours a night.  The third stage of non-REM sleep is when the most amount of muscle growth and repair occurs.  The final stage of sleep, REM sleep is when your brain consolidates new ideas and improves your co-ordination, so not getting enough sleep slows your learning and your improvement.  A normal sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes, so a good quality sleep should result in about 5 cycles of sleep a night.

Along with adequate protein for new muscle growth, your body produces its own natural muscle building hormone, human growth hormone (HGH) while you sleep, essential for strength training.  Strength training works reciprocally on sleep as well.  Strength training can help with better sleep, however, training is best performed not within 2 hours of going to sleep as the stimulation from exercising can effect your ability to sleep.

Establishing good sleep habits is the best way to get regular, good quality sleep, which includes:

  • Ensuring your bedroom is dark and quiet
  • Turning off your phone and letting people know not to disturb you
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and large meals before sleep time
  • Avoiding exercise and bright light before bed
  • Try to establish as regular a sleep routine as possible that fit with your work and family life

3. Nutrition (what it needs and doesn’t need)

Eating good quality food, at the right time and at the right quantity is not just important to maintain your healthy weight, but is also essential for maintaining your best body composition, such as good lean muscle mass and ideal level of body fat.  Eating regular, good quality protein (contains all 23 amino acids and less than 10% fat) are the building blocks your body needs to build and maintain muscle.

When you perform strength training, your body uses protein to build muscle.  If there is inadequate protein in your diet, your body will find a way to get the protein it needs, by breakdown your existing muscle mass, your body’s normal storage reserves of protein.  Eating adequate protein preserves your muscle mass and allows you to build more muscle, improving your strength and metabolic rate in the long term.

The recommended amount of protein per day is: (what it needs and doesn’t need)

  • Men – 0.85g/per kilogram body weight per day (1.07g/per kilogram over 70 years old)
  • Women - 0.75g/per kilogram body weight per day (0.94g/per kilogram over 70 years old)

Carbohydrate are also extremely important as your major energy sources, but the type and when you eat matters.  Most of your energy should come from low-energy, high nutrient density carbohydrates such as vegetables and fruits.  These foods not only provide energy for activity, but supply vitamin C for immune health, fibre for gut health and to manage your cholesterol and water for hydration (a lot of the water with consume actually come from our food).

High energy carbohydrates, such as breads and potatoes have their place, but are best utilised soon after a workout with the aim of transporting of protein into muscle and improve muscle growth.

What you don’t need (what it needs and doesn’t need)

Don’t over do it.  With exercise, more is not better.  Your muscles grow and your co-ordination improves when you rest, not when you exercise, so give your body and your muscles the best chance to gain the most from your exercise program.

The classic scenario we see every year, especially as a new year’s resolution is that people decide to “get fit” and exercise every day.  This is unsustainable and usually stops after 2 weeks, because either they quit because it is too hard or they just get injured.  Neither of these scenarios is a good outcome, so be patient and persistent and the results will come.  It takes a good 3 months to begin to build muscle for the long term and the best results are after 12 months.

Keep going, you will get there and your body will thank you again and again. (what it needs and doesn’t need)

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