Four health hacks that will change your life

Dr Rangan Chatterjee is a physician, author, television presenter and podcaster. He is probably best known for his TV show Doctor in the House and for being the resident doctor on BBC One’s Breakfast Show. Here I am sharing his article that was recently featured on BBC Radio 5 Live where he shares his philosophy about the ‘four pillars of health’: food, movement, sleep and relaxation.

Every part our body affects pretty much every other part. By making small, achievable changes in the four key areas of your life, you can create and maintain good health – and avoid illness. What matters most is balance across all the things you do.

The twelve hour eating window

If changing your diet and cutting foods out seems intimidating, Dr Rangan suggests an easier option: eat all your food within a 12 hour window. “Can you get more benefits if you go stricter? Yes some people might be able to! But I say if you can do 12 hours a day, tick it off, and move on to another recommendation. Try and get that balance.”

He says, “It’s a very simple change that I’ve seen be transformative for people.”

Five minute strength training

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In our busy lives, it’s often hard to motivate ourselves to find time to go to the gym or go for a run, but Dr Rangan says that just five minutes of strength training twice a week can be really valuable.

“Strength training is very much undervalued in society. We talk about moving more and cardio but we neglect that our muscle mass is one of the strongest predictors of how we’re going to be when we age. Lean muscle mass is so important. Yet when we hit 30, we can lose three to five per cent of our muscle mass every ten years and that rate accelerates after the age of 50.”

Spend time in natural daylight

Good sleep is something we often overlook in our lives, but making sure we have enough high quality sleep can make our lives and health so much better. Dr Rangan has a lot of tips for getting better sleep, but one that you might not have considered is whether you’re getting enough light in the day.

Our bodies need to see different light at day and night to keep our internal clocks working. He says people should be especially aware of this in the winter months. “Many people are leaving the house in the dark, getting to work in the dark, being inside all day, and then going home in the dark.”

He suggests taking twenty minutes in your day to spend some time in natural daylight, and you may find that you wake up the next morning more refreshed.

Make time for some ‘me time’

Stress is often a part of our daily lives, and unfortunately, our technology can be partially to blame for this.

Dr Rangan says, “You get up in bed, the alarm is blaring. So you’ve gone from this nice, peaceful, restful slumber, suddenly there’s a blaring alarm clock. You’re looking at your phone, and there’s a whole ton of blue light, and alarm notifications going on…

For many of us, that continues all day and often that’s still going on just before we’re in bed at night; we’re still looking. And so we’ve just got no down time any more.”

His solution is to have at least 15 minutes a day of ‘me-time’. This should be something you do for yourself, that you don’t feel guilty about doing and that doesn’t involve your smartphone. Doing this can lower your stress levels and let you decompress without worrying about your phone.

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Are you REALLY doing HIIT?

Love love love this article from Metafit Australia and simply had to share! There are many people who seem to think that back to back so-called High Intensity workouts are the best way to up their fitness and strength, but that’s simply not the case. Discover why the short sharp intense Metafit workout is one of the best ways to deliver a true HIIT workout …

Most people who claim they do high-intensity interval training often focus more on the ‘interval’ part than on the ‘high intensity’ part. Let’s get one thing straight – there’s nothing wrong with regular interval training. You do the exercise for a period of time, then rest and repeat the exercise again, thus forming intervals that are great for your heart health, circulation, and overall conditioning. But doing exercises with high intensity is where the magic happens.

Most people are drawn to HIIT because it’s short and it’s a type of cardio that doesn’t require any equipment at all to have a good total body workout. The question is, how do you know you’re doing HIIT right? Well doing HIIT on your own is very difficult and most people will never achieve the right intensity so a much more effective way is it under the guidance of a qualified Metafit coach or personal trainer.

What qualifies as high intensity?

After each interval, you should be out of breath, drenched, and thinking to yourself “Thank God it’s rest time, I couldn’t go on any longer”. Your body will treat that rest time as a quick recovery, giving you the chance to steady your breath and gather just enough energy to perform the next interval. To illustrate how hard you have to work in those short intervals (that usually last anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds), it’s worth noting that some researchers doubt that the general population could successfully adapt to the extreme nature of HIIT. However, in Metafit we challenge that belief. The general population can absolutely achieve the right intensity (90% + MHR) with expert coaching, correct programming (exercises, work to rest, duration) and determination.

Don’t underestimate the rest periods

This is such an important thing to note because people usually think that if they push themselves harder and harder with no breaks whatsoever, they will somehow achieve better results. Wrong! The rest periods are what makes HIIT work! In order to really perform at your maximum intensity, you have to give your body a chance to recover! If you just go on doing something so extreme for long, your body will slowly decrease the energy levels, which can lead to serious injuries and won’t help your fitness goals in the long run. The whole point of the rest period is to allow your body to tap into the energy supplies it has, and ‘produce’ the amount of energy you need for your next interval. Without that break, you’re not giving your body a chance to regroup and prepare itself for the hard part. Remember, it’s called high-intensity interval training, and not just high-intensity training for a reason. By going through those high cardio – low cardio intervals, you’re making the most out of your workout, whether the goal is to lose fat, increase explosiveness, or simply improve your general health.

Longer is not necessarily better

Now that we’ve established that your workout should be rough and leave you breathless and sweaty, there’s another aspect of this exercise regimen you should take into account when planning your workout – it’s length. If you’re really making your body go through intense energy bursts where you’re giving it your all, it’s impossible to perform those intervals for longer periods of time. There isn’t a professional athlete in the world that could or would want to do HIIT for an hour. You’ll come across various 45, 60, or even 80-minute ‘HIIT’ workouts on the internet that deserve a healthy amount of suspicion, to say the least.

The ideal length you should go for is anywhere between 6 and 25 minutes, no more. If you do it right, you’ll give your body an excellent, fat-torching routine that will leave you feeling energised and oh so alive! The easiest way to choose the optimal length is to simply listen to your body and find what feels good for you.

Which exercises to choose

It’s not only the way you do it but what you do that counts. You should aim for bodyweight, explosive, full body moves that simultaneously engage most of the main muscle groups in your body to get an optimal result. Giving the limiting length of the intervals, it’s hard to imagine an average person being completely out of breath by the time they finish 20 seconds of squat pulses, triceps dips or crunches. Try doing burpees, squat jumps and sprints movements and you’ll see that you’ll pretty much max out at about 20 seconds or so.

You might think that your typical HIIT workout focuses too much on the lower body, but don’t be fooled; one, quads and glutes are the largest muscles in the body, therefore they will burn the most calories when being trained, and two, in order to do a high-intensity burpee or jumping lunge the right way, you need to activate your core to keep you balanced and safe. Don’t worry, you’ll be doing a total body routine, without even noticing it or focusing on specific abs or arm exercises. That’s the beauty of HIIT.

Less is MORE

Falling in love with HIIT is easy. It’s quick, effective, and the results start to show fast – really, really fast. You might love it so much, in fact, that you’ll find yourself trying to fit the fourth or even fifth HIIT in your week, in order to achieve even faster results. Don’t do it! Aim for 2 or 3 HIIT workouts per week, max. Even just one quality HIIT workout per week will do wonders for your athletic performance. Your body needs time to recover properly; you should cherish it and work with it, not against it. Feel free to do some weight lifting, yoga, pilates or light, steady-paced cardio on your off-days. This will compliment your HIIT routine perfectly, and keep you safe from injuries and stress. If you overwork your body, it will likely recover slower than usual, causing you to have less energy to begin with, so you won’t be able to make your intervals intense and brutal, which will render your whole HIIT routine useless, not to mention the probable muscle tears and Achilles tendinitis that often go along with lower performance.

In the end, HIIT will make you appreciate what your body can do as well as boost your overall health and wellbeing, as long as you do it right. Ready, set, HIIT! 

Thanks to Metafit Australia.

Metafit is an absolute gem of a workout and is one of my all-time favourites. It's simply one of the quickest ways to visibly improve your fitness and strength. I am fully certified to teach both the standard Metafit workout and also the circuits based MetaPWR workout.