Stay healthy in 2020
Stay healthy in 2020 and make a difference in the world
I have an excellent pair of yellow moleskin trousers, which I bought in the ’90s and wore until they no longer fitted. I’ve kept them, though, as a reminder and incentive to stay healthy, fit and reasonably fat-free.
This year I have made considerable strides towards getting back into those trousers. My thickening waistline as I headed into my sixty-fifth year provided plenty of motivation. So did the well-documented dangers of visceral fat and my wish to stay healthy.
Our mission here at Living Money is too create a happy, wealthy community empowered to make a difference. It is also essential to stay healthy. At the new year, I wanted to share some of my recent personal health achievements and methods with you.
I have been helped in no small part by my coach. Renata runs a combined Metafit and freestyle fitness yoga class each week. She also provides us with coaching support, data collection, tips on health and Twelve Week Challenges each spring and autumn.
Why I stay healthy
Three years ago, my weight hovered around 75kg and occasionally passed 76kg. I exercise regularly and compete in 10k and half-marathon races. Last year I became eligible for an NHS senior citizens health check. In spite of my running, my doctor expressed concern about my girth and high Body Mass Index (BMI). So this year I resorted to science to stay healthy and get to grips with my senior citizen spare tyre. And, with Renata’s help, I set about ensuring I would stay healthy for the next decade.
What’s the result? Well, at the beginning of December, my:
- weight is 67kg
- body fat is 13%, at the low end of the average range
- visceral fat is 8-8.5 LV, significantly below the danger levels
- trousers fit, and
- possibly most importantly of all, I feel good.
New Year is infamous for resolutions made and sadly often quickly forgotten. As we move into the new decade, I hope my 2019 story inspires you in 2020.
I am not a medical professional. This post is the story of my own experience and the resources I found helped me to stay healthy. The usual health warnings apply. You should take these seriously, as we are all different.
Do not construe this article as medical advice. Consult a professional for personal advice. If you are feeling unhealthy or unfit, consult your doctor before embarking on any diet or exercise regime. Links to products and services are designed to be informative and are not necessarily recommendations.
Body principles to stay healthy
- Today, it is reasonably easy to measure data. Apps and wearable tech made it simple to measure metrics such as heart rate and calories. And you can manage what you measure. By measuring your body metrics, therefore, you stand a better chance of managing your body and staying healthy.
- Your weight fell when you expended more calories than you consumed – in theory. However, it’s not that simple and what you eat is as important as how much you eat. The balance between protein, carbohydrate and fat matters.
- Your pancreas’s insulin regulatory system can get itself in a twist, especially if you eat poorly and don’t exercise. A carb-heavy, exercise-light lifestyle leads to insulin resistance in muscles. Carbs break down to sugars stored in fat cells. Insulin resistance simply leads to insulin over-production and rising fat levels.
- Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the energy you would expend at rest in 24 hours. Muscular tissue helps to raise your BMR. Exercise to strengthen your muscles (resistance training) is, therefore, as important as cardiovascular (CV) training (aerobics, running).
Behaviour principles to stay healthy
- We are built to move, not to sit around. Ten thousand steps a day is a good start. However, more intense cardiovascular or resistance work is even better. Short duration, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is often as effective, if not more so than, a 10k run. It is also time-efficient in these days when time is at a premium.
- Learn from weekly and monthly averages and trends. These help to smooth out the peaks and troughs of good days and bad days, and neutralise measurement errors. Measuring body metrics is not an exact science (even with all that nutritional information on food packaging). You can probably expect a 10% error in most of your measurements. Measurement errors tend to be consistent, so it better to look at trends rather than daily measurements.
- Habits are powerful agents of behavioural change. Good habits around eating, exercise and metrics are a powerful way to stay healthy.
- Don’t rush it. To stay healthy is a long term project. Think the whole of 2020 and beyond. Relax into the strain and don’t aim to over-achieve. Stick to steady as you go, and stay healthy for life, not just for the new year.
Here is how I put these principles into practice.
Do you know how many calories you consumed yesterday? Or the nutritional makeup of what you are eating today? In all probability, the answer is ‘No’ and ‘No’. It certainly was for me until I discovered My Fitness Pal (MFP). MFP is a food and exercise diary to record calories and nutrients consumed from food and expended during exercise. I quickly got a good picture of what was going in and coming out. Then I took steps to change and stay healthy.
My initial reaction to MFP was keeping up to date would be a real chore. However, the app is well designed, and data entry is straightforward, especially once you have a core food inventory. It is available on smartphone, tablet and desktop.
The bar code reader is an invaluable feature that transfers nutritional information from the packet to your diary. Get a good set of kitchen scales and use the app’s ‘favourite’ and ‘add from date’ features. You find the whole messy business of logging your food intake is simplified and accelerated. The premium version provides significant additional analysis and information – and turns the app ad-free. Links to other apps, such as Garmin Connect, enable auto-entry of exercise data.
Measure your body metrics
Your heart rate tells you a considerable amount about the quality of your exercise and your health. I don’t continually measure my heart rate as some do. However, I use a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) in conjunction with my Garmin 920XT when I run. Different wearable tech can monitor your heart rate continuously. If you don’t want to invest in a monitor, learn to take your pulse at your wrist or neck. Whatever you choose, some form of HRM is invaluable.
We used just to stand on the bathroom scales and let gravity tell us how much we weighed. Technology has moved on since those days, and body composition monitors (BCMs) are taking over. My Tanita BCM records muscle mass and quality, body and visceral fat, body water, BMI, weight and other metrics. BCMs are still expensive, especially at the top of the range. However, if you are serious about staying fit in 2020, then one of these is worthwhile. It may be something that you can buy as a group or family and share during the week. After all, you don’t need to take a daily measurement. Taking measurements once a week gives you a good picture of your trends.
Health professionals have developed a range of health calculations and equations. They are often complex and beyond the scope of this article. However, I recommend Jørgen Veisdal’s article on Medium, which explains the essential Harris-Benedict equation for calculating your BMR. When combined with your Physical Activity Level (PAL) index, you get your daily Total Energy Expenditure (TEE). This critical ratio establishes the calories you need to maintain your body weight at its current level.
Veisdal describes how to calculate the change in calorie intake necessary to raise or lower your weight. I’ve converted this into a spreadsheet (Numbers) which you can complete at regular intervals to measure your progress.
You should know your resting and maximum heart rates (RHR and MHR). Your MHR enables you to calculate exercise zones and calories expended in an exercise session.
Measure RHR when you wake and MHR when you push to your limit in the gym or on the track.
My maximum heart rate
Alternatively, this simple formula gives a rough idea of your MHR.
- MHR = 220 minus your age in years
(Research indicates MHR at birth is 220 beats per minute, which falls by a beat per minute each succeeding year.)
Your heart rate is related to your calorie burn rate. There is a complicated formula for calculating your calorie burn in an exercise session. The gender-specific equations require your weight, average heart rate and exercise duration. Several websites, including www.calories-calculator.net, provide easy to use online calculators. The formula works best for heart rates of between 90 and 150 bpm.
All this might seem like much groundwork. However, once its all in place, managing your food and exercise becomes easy and efficient.
Managing my food
My food diary very quickly told me I was overeating and eating the wrong foods.
I could easily consume 2,500 to 3,000 calories a day. However, the NHS recommendation is for 2,500 calories a day for men and 2,000 for women. Meanwhile, the Institute of Medicine in the US provides a more sophisticated estimate based on activity levels and age. This research indicates that, as a moderately active male aged over 51, I should consume 2,200 – 2,400 calories a day.
I became very intentional about the amount and quality of food I ate. My Fitness Pal helped me identify and reduce my consumption of high sugar and high carb foods. And I simply ate less. Instead of a whole cup of porridge in the morning, I made half a cup. I would often eat a whole 450g salad box for lunch in the office. Instead, I split the box and ate it over two days. Interestingly, these small changes didn’t seem to leave me feeling hungry. An additional benefit came, of course, from the little bit of money I saved.
Exercise and food are two sides of her same coin, so I gave more weight to net calories (i.e. food calories in minus exercise calories out) than total calories. I set a base net target of 1,520 calories per day. However, the actual target changes each day with the exercise I take. For instance, when I complete a 10k run, my actual calorie intake target might rise to 2,170.
Stay healthy with a balanced diet
The sort of food you eat is also essential. Current wisdom suggests the following calorie split between the so-called macronutrients:
- Carbohydrates: 50%
- Protein: 30%
- Fat: 20%
I adjusted this by reducing carb calories to 45% and increasing protein calories to 35%. Fat calories remain at 20%. It is surprisingly difficult to meet these targets. A 35% protein intake is, I find, often unachievable. Half the protein target is often the outcome in a day, with fat and carbs coming in over target. However, setting a baseline does help you to think seriously about what you eat. Food packaging labels makes it easier to omit unhealthy foods.
Managing my exercise
I was often running 25-30km per week, including a 10km at the weekend. However, this programme is time-consuming and not very pleasant in the cold and dark of winter. Consequently, I have changed to a regime of short periods of resistance training mixed with high-intensity interval training. My goal is to develop my core stability (essential for good running) and CV fitness.
I exercise for around half an hour 4-5 times a week, and most of my running is now under 3km. Using the telegraph poles on the side of a nearby farm track, I run intervals to improve my CV fitness. I alternate with strength exercises or HIIT at home or in the gym. Sometimes I’ll join a class. Alternatively, I’ll train alone using programmes readily available on my iPad. At home, the doorstop or a couple of cans of beans are an adequate substitute for a set of weights.
My Garmin records my energy expenditure when I run and automatically posts the data to MFP. However, I use the Calorie Calculator website to work out my energy expenditure during training. I log this data manually in my MFP diary.
Water and blood
The experts tell us to drink 2 litres of water a day. I probably drink 2 litres of tea, coffee, gin and tonic each day, and some water. Ginger cordial in soda water makes for a good substitute for alcohol, I find.
Nowadays, you only need a few millilitres of blood for a comprehensive blood test, rather than a couple of syringes. As a consequence, home blood testing kits are now readily available. By subscribing to Thriva’s blood test service, I receive a wealth of useful information each quarter, especially about blood sugar, cholesterol and diabetes.
Stay healthy – it’s not that difficult
So, it is surprising how easy it is to set up a regime and habits to ensure you stay healthy. And, while you can invest in a range of expensive equipment, it’s not necessary. Two fingers to an expensive HRM? Stick them on your neck or wrist instead, and count. Intervals programme on your running wearable? Telegraph poles make a perfectly adequate substitute. Expensive weights and membership of a health centre? Try a can of beans, a bottle of water or a doorstop instead.
It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time, either. Yes, setting up and making those early entries into your MFP diary may be a bit irritating and time-consuming. However, once you get the hang of it, it becomes routine and fast.
My results have been spectacular. I’ve spent years trying to make a difference to my health and weight, with limited success. This year has been different. I have a coach who runs an outstanding class each week and takes time to support, encourage and advise me. There is no doubt that Renata has been a significant influence and instrument of my success. Many health coaches these days are only interested in running a class and not interested in you as a person. Renata combines classes, coaching, products, tech and communications into a multi-platform, holistic approach to helping her clients stay healthy.
I have also learnt the importance of recording my food and exercise. This is the route to becoming intentional about the food I eat and the exercise I take. As a coach, I understand the power of habits to change behaviour. As a consequence, I have developed my own habits around food, exercise and recording that ensure I stay healthy.
Are you already thinking about how to stay happy, wealthy and make a difference in 2020 and beyond? In that case, remember, it is not just about money or work or vocation. It’s essential to stay healthy. It is more difficult to change the world in poor health, even for a Living Money community member. I hope this post helps you with plenty of tips and resources to encourage you to think about this now.
To a happy, wealthy and very healthy new year and new decade!
Further reading and resources
Dr Michael Mosley’s book, The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet, makes for good reading if you want to know more about the role of insulin in your body.
WebMD summary of Institute of Medicine research into how many calories we need to maintain energy levels at various ages and activity levels:
Jørgen Viesdal Medium article on the maths of weight loss:
Physical Activity Level table:
My Fitness Pal:
Core text on Grammarly:
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