Shape up for summer

Can it really be spring and another year since you last told yourself you were going to get in shape? What happened? After the initial enthusiasm it's easy to let good intentions slide so we asked motivation, fitness and nutrition experts to reveal the secrets of making lasting changes and how to keep your enthusiasm on track.

Motivational speaker and life coach, Craig Harper, says getting in shape requires more than simply being motivated at the start. "That emotional state of 'I've just watched Sally Pearson win a gold medal in the 100 metre hurdles and I'm pumped and excited and going for a run' doesn't last," says Harper. "Motivation doesn't work. People who rely on motivation rarely achieve permanent change because they only tend to do the things that produce the change when they are motivated and nobody is permanently motivated."

Instead, says Harper the key is to find ways to stay productive when you are not motivated. "There are certain things that for us are negotiable, for example saying: 'I'll exercise if I don't have a busy day, I'll exercise if the kids aren't screaming,' rather than saying: 'I'll exercise five times a week no matter what and I'll just find a way.' I say to people what is it you want to create in your life with your body, your health, your fitness, and then what behaviours are required? What are non-negotiable behaviours for you? This is a level or two or three above motivation."

To create lasting change in our thinking, health and bodies we need to turn "sometimes behaviours" into "all the time habits," he says.

Don't make the mistake of trying to change 50 things at once, says Harper. "What we know about behavioural change and real world results is that the more things we try and change at once the less likely we are to change anything long-term. I always say to the people I work with, as much as possible when it comes to changing your body, turn down the emotions and turn up the logic."

One way to create permanent change is to get some accountability measures in place, suggests Harper. Keep a food and exercise diary or get regular assessments. "Success is personal," he says. "For some people success is measured in running 10 kilometres, for others success is losing 10 kilos, for some people success is being able to get out of bed without back pain but in order for us to succeed we need to get clear about what success looks like for us, so we need to define it and when we define it, and are specific, we get a bit excited and when we get excited we create momentum."

Once you have committed to your fitness goals, you'll be ready to start exercising. Donna Aston is a health and fitness expert and author who has trained celebrities including Simon Cowell, Peter Alexander, Sigrid Thornton and Kat Stewart. She says that often the reason we become disheartened with exercise is because "generally you won't see instant visual gratification." However, there are so many health benefits to exercising and, if you're consistent with your commitment, you will reap the benefits, she says.

Aston says interval training (short intense bursts of strength and/or cardio) is more effective than endurance exercise for boosting your metabolism and burning body fat. "Following high intensity interval training the body enters a state known as 'excess post-exercise oxygen consumption', or EPOC. After you finish your workout, your body will be working overtime for up to 24 hours in order to restore your body back to its resting state. This means you will be burning energy/kilojoules at a much higher rate, even whilst sedentary. The other advantage is that you don't have to work out for long periods. In fact, unless you're training for a competitive event, anything over 30 minutes is unnecessary.  For example, the following circuit could be repeated for 30 minutes: 60 seconds each – sprint, rest, ab crunches, rest, squats, rest, push ups, rest, repeat."

She recommends a minimum of 210 minutes of walking every week (30 mins/day) plus three sessions using your strength. "This commitment is sustainable and will get the desired results."

As well as consistency Aston recommends pacing yourself. "More is not necessarily better. It's important to listen to your body. As a general rule, I'd recommend high intensity training no more than three times a week with a rest day in between to allow a full recovery. Rest days may consist of walking or any gentle activity, which is not taxing on your body. If you do not allow adequate recovery time, not only will you be increasing your risk of injury, you may in fact lose valuable muscle tissue."

If working out doesn't suit you and you are looking for a gentler plan, The Dieticians Association of Australia has the answer. The secret to long-term weight loss is turning off the television it says. According to the National Weight Control Registry, which is tracking more than 10,000 successful weight 'losers', two thirds of them watch less than 10 hours of television per week."

It also recommends incorporating exercise into your normal daily activities. For example, instead of meeting friends for a coffee, suggest going for a walk instead, says the DAA. "Take a lunchtime walk with work colleagues, or get into the habit of parking further away from your destination. Need a little more motivation? Buy a pedometer and aim to reach 10,000 steps each day."

With your fitness goals on track, it's time to turn your attention to your diet and here's the good news — the DAA recommends ditching the diet. "Fad diets often cut out important food groups leaving you feeling deprived and running on empty. Use positive thinking and focus on what you can eat rather than what you can't."

A few simple changes can bring about weight loss, it says but always eat breakfast. "Breakfast eaters tend to be a lighter weight than those who skip breakfast," says the DAA, "so wake up to a healthy breakfast each morning with wholegrain cereal and reduced-fat milk, grainy toast with a poached egg, or reduced-fat yoghurt and fruit. For lunch and dinner remember that spring is salad season. Fill half your plate with salad or vegetables at every meal. Try grilled tomato and mushrooms at breakfast, salad at lunch, vegetable sticks with a healthy dip as snacks, and a range of different coloured vegetables at dinner."

Remember long lasting change is achievable. If you really want to shape up this spring follow Harper's advice and ask yourself: "Am I going to keep going round in circles, losing the same weight, gaining the same weight and having the same conversations in my head or am I actually, genuinely, going to create some permanent change in my world?"

The End Of Dieting: Fat Loss Forever by Donna Aston is published by Hardie Grant Books

The story Shape up for summer first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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