Taking the ‘work’ out of ‘workout’

On those occasions when someone remarks on how ‘good’ or ‘disciplined’ I am to exercise on a regular basis I always feel like a little bit of a fraud. It’s not like I have to drag myself to the gym, or force myself to lace up my trainers, shunning a favoured spot on the sofa or an evening in the pub; the truth is, I actually really enjoy exercise and want to workout.

While for many people exercise may seem like a drag, or something that needs to be ticked off a weekly to do list, for me it is an escape and a way to pacify my restless legs and even more restless mind. I find relaxation in my runs, ‘me time’ in my yoga practice and serenity in the swimming pool. I love attending spinning classes with my friends, or spending time alone in the gym, headphones in, focusing on form and technique, leaving all of my stresses and worries outside. That’s not to say that I never miss a workout, or that I never have those days when I’d rather lay in the bath than lift weights, but in recent years, finding the sports and workout times that work for me has made keeping fit a whole lot easier.

What I’ve learned, through trial and error, is that working out doesn’t have to be hard work. If you can find the types of exercise you enjoy, done at the right time of day and driven by the right motivating factors, you may find that a 6am slog can be transformed into an 8pm indulgence.

So how can this magical transformation occur? I’ve outlined a few things here that have worked for me.

Find a sport that you enjoy

This may sound obvious, but so often I hear of people forcing themselves to pursue an activity that they dislike simply because they feel they ought to do it. Instead of pushing yourself in a direction that you don’t want to go, think about what it is you enjoy doing and how you like to do it. If you know you prefer social activities to solitary sports then look for team games rather than solo pursuits, or join a running/swimming/cycling club instead of going it alone. Consider whether you need a coach or trainer to motivate you and therefore whether PT sessions or classes would work well for you, or, if you prefer to have the freedom to undertake workouts at your own pace, maybe look to more ‘open’ activities instead of things like boot camps and Cross Fit. Ask yourself if you would rather spend more time outside and therefore whether running, kayaking or paddle boarding would be fun for you, or if you favour being inside, look at activities within gyms or studio spaces, such as yoga, zumba, box fit or spinning.

And remember, the answers to these questions don’t always have to be the same.

I love doing yoga on my own in the morning, but equally enjoy a group dance class with someone telling me what to do. I love running and swimming outside, but also like  lifting weights in the gym. The secret is when you don’t enjoy something, figuring out specifically what it is about that thing that you don’t like. For example, running for me is an escape and a chance for some internal processing, so I have no interest in having a coach dictate my pace or forcing me to run track. I know that I dislike getting on the bike in the gym as I find it really hard to motivate myself, but I love going to spinning classes and I know I will put in a really good session with the help of an instructor shouting directions from the front of the room.

Of course, all of this comes with the caveat that for most activities it can take a little time for enjoyment to grow while you build up your fitness, confidence and competence, but if after a couple of months of persevering you still don’t feel like the regime you are following is working for you, then don’t feel like you have to stick it out, simply change it up.

Time it right

It’s not just what you are doing that can impact on your enjoyment of different types of exercise, but also when you are doing it. It so often seems that when people take on a new fitness regime they automatically opt for the 6am workout window, which to me seems like they are making it unnecessarily hard work for themselves. While I appreciate that for some people this is the only option available, for many others it is just one of the multifarious slots in the day when we can sneak in some exercise.

I’ve learned that while I love running I have no interest in going before work in the mornings. I find that I am sluggish and uncomfortable running at this time, my stomach is never happy and my limbs are heavy. Come lunchtime, however, I’ve got my trainers on and I’m ready to bound out of the door like a gazelle! I’ve discovered that my favourite way of starting the day is with a yoga session, preparing my mind and body for the day ahead, but it is very rare that I will take to my mat after this 6:30-7:30am window. Swimming is a lot more flexible for me, I love an early morning swim, a sneaky lunchtime dip, or a post work session, but that said, I find getting into the pool a whole lot easier in the summer when it’s warm outside, than stripping down and diving in when there is snow on the ground! The weather impacts on my running motivation too, and my husband and I joke that we are the opposite of ‘fair weather runners’ as we much prefer running in the cold than in the heat and do our best training and races between late September and early April.

Where you are in your life can also impact on the types of exercise that feel right for you. While pregnant, for example, swimming, walking, Pilates and yoga have definitely taken priority, and I’ve put running on the back burner for now. Injury and illness may also dictate what you feel you can do and you may find lower impact exercises or strengthening workouts take over from HIIT or intense cardio sessions.

Remember, you can be a seasonal and time specific athlete and can workout on rotation if that works best for you.

There’s no ‘I’ in team

While there are times when working out alone seems like the best option, for me, there is nothing like accountability to others for getting me out of the door for a training session. Whether it is going on a run with a pal, agreeing with colleagues that we will head to the gym together after work, or playing a team sport, knowing that others are relying on me to be there is often all the motivation I need. Even on the days when I would rather train alone, it can help to agree to meet a friend at the pool or gym, knowing that we will do our own sessions once there, but then may go for a coffee together afterwards.

The secret with group training is not to let being with others give you an excuse not to train as hard as you might otherwise do. Remember that standing chatting at the water fountain in the gym or gossiping at the end of the pool isn’t going to help you hit your fitness goals!

I hope that this is all helpful and that it motivates you to try a new sport or at least to try shifting the timings of your exercise to see if it improves how you feel about working out. If you have any additional motivation tips I’d love to hear them.

Until my next, stay fit!

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Why I’m surprisingly comfortable taking my kit off…

One of the (many) great things about growing up as a swimmer is that I have developed a total lack inhibition when it comes to stripping off in a swimming pool changing room. When you’ve spent years trying to fit in training around school, and as an adult you find yourself squeezing a pool session in during your lunch break, there is little time for prudishness. It’s a clothes off cossie on while trying to catch up with your swimming pals kind of affair, with no thought given to the nudity in between.

This lack of inhibition was something that was drawn to my attention after a swimming session this week. As I confidently flaunted my 30 week pregnant belly and newly formed breasts in the shower before drying myself with my tiny sports towel, the woman next to me was painstakingly manoeuvring into her swimming costume beneath a large bath towel. I felt sad that, in what I regard as a safe, female, sports-focused space, she felt uncomfortable enough to go through the rigmarole (that many of us are familiar with from on-beach changing) of trying to undress while within a towel tent.

This is perhaps a surprising observation, and a touch hypocritical, coming from a woman who can change her work clothes up to four times before leaving the house on a so-called ‘fat day’, and who has spent years battling with issues of body image and confidence. Yet with communal swimming changing, and likewise, when wearing sportswear (often the most unforgiving of the outfit choices), I feel surprisingly body positive and unconcerned about how I may look to those around me.

Reflecting on this on my walk home from the pool I realised that, when it comes to the sporting arena, for me it’s not about how you look but what your body can do, a message propagated by the #sportsbrasquad movement (worth searching on Instagram if you’re not already familiar with this hashtag). While on the beach I may find myself intimidated and in awe of scantily clad bikini beauties, on poolside, even with my giant belly, I don’t bat an eyelid. In fact, it’s in the pool at the moment I feel my most at ease. I’m weightless and can swim almost as well as I could pre-pregnancy, and I feel an even greater sense of smugness when me and my belly do some overtaking. It’s only when I pull myself back onto poolside, and it takes a while to regain my land legs, that that literal enormity of my body is brought back to me.

I’m pleased that I can have this focus on performance over physique in some areas of my life, but I need to work at translating this into the everyday, when I’m in my jeans and not just my joggers. The body critical and comparison games are dangerous and counterproductive ones to play. The question shouldn’t be about how my thigh gap compares to anyone else’s, but rather how well my body is performing at whatever it is that it’s doing, be that running, yoga, swimming, cycling or growing a baby, and whether I’m maximising my health and wellbeing alongside those goals.

I will be focusing on this going forward and until my next, embrace getting your (PE) kit off (and on) and as always, let me know your thoughts on all of the above.

To drink or not to drink? It’s not really a question…right?

Like telling yourself you’re on a diet, or that you’re giving up smoking, when you know that you can’t have something it’s amazing how that thing seems to gravitate to the forefront of your mind. In recent weeks that thing for me has been drinking.

Whether it’s a glass of red wine in front of the fire on a chilly winter evening, an Aperol Spritz over game of cards on a lakefront in Italy, a shandy in an English country pub after a long walk, a glass of champagne at a book launch, or a gin and tonic with the girls at the end of a busy week, I’ve come to realise that alcohol plays a part in many elements of my life. Being someone who is invested in a healthy lifestyle this may seem quite surprising and indeed there have been many times – often when training for a particular race, or else the morning after the night before, when I’m trying to drag myself through the day on a mixture of bananas, paracetamol and coffee – when I’ve sworn myself off alcohol. But this is a promise that I’ve been at liberty to rescind at any point, be it a day, week or month or so later, whereas at the moment I’m afforded no such liberty.

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That said, being pregnant has provided a good opportunity to enforce sobriety for a prolonged period. While I know that recommendations vary, and I believe everyone should follow the path that feels most right for them and their baby, I have made the decision not drink at all throughout my pregnancy. If I was mildly concerned to reflect on how integrated into my lifestyle drinking is, I’ve also been comforted to see that I can live a teetotal life. I’ve proven to myself that I can navigate dinner parties, private views, holidays and even the odd wedding or two alcohol free. And five and a half months into my newly found teetotal lifestyle I’ve found myself asking, once the pregnancy is over, will I go back to drinking?

In all honesty, my feelings in this regard have fluctuated wildly. In the early weeks of the pregnancy, the constant ‘morning’ sickness meant that I couldn’t think of anything worse than drinking. This not only made getting through the Christmas and New Year period without the usual lashings of mulled wine and Prosecco much easier, but also saw me thinking how easy a dry future would be. Since the nausea has subsided there have been times when I’ve lamented not having a glass of wine in my hand on a supper date with my husband, or found myself gazing longingly at a newly opened wine bar in town, with the look of a Dickensian pauper child staring into a toy shop window. Later, on these same evenings, I’ve caught the night tube home and, surrounded by vomiting and leery crowds, I have found myself feeling quietly pleased, and often slightly relieved, about my sobriety, and on waking the next morning, have felt so grateful for my clear head and nauseous-free stomach.

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In terms of training, weight loss, sleep quality and avoiding those lack-lustre post-booze days, it would make sense to give up drinking for good. The frustrating thing is at the moment I’m not seeing these benefits as I’m getting larger and slower. And there is something about the social element of sharing a glass of something with my husband or friends that I’m reluctant to relinquish completely.

What this period has made me reflect on is how eminently possible it is to enjoy events without a drink in my hand to counteract my natural introversion. And now I know that I don’t really need a glass of wine to unwind after a killer week – a gym session or run can actually do the job quite nicely.

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While I hope (all being well) we will be wetting the baby’s head with champagne come August, what I hope to return to is a more moderate approach to my alcohol consumption and the freedom and knowledge that I don’t need a glass of anything to enjoy the company of my brilliant friends. Besides, between the lack of sleep and potential breastfeeding that will come from having a new baby, I imagine those nights of inadvertently drinking one too many may be behind me…for a while at least.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you drink? Would you give up drinking? How has this impacted on your physical and mental health and athletic performance?

 

A fun 45 minute swim set

After a blissful, (if not slightly indulgent on the food and wine front), long weekend, on Tuesday I decided to stay out of the rain and switch my run for a gym/swim combo.

Lunchtime saw me power through a Kayla Itsines-inspired HITT workout, with jumping squat-lunges and cross-body mountain climbers designed to turn all of your muscles to jelly.

In the evening I headed to the pool and had such a great session I wanted to share it here.

This is a 2,100m session which should take around 45 minutes and is a great way to keep you interested and engaged for the whole set:

Warm-up

2oom front crawl
100m backstroke
100m breaststroke
(400m)

Main set

300m front crawl
2 x 150m front crawl (30 seconds rest after each)
3 x 100m front crawl (30 seconds rest after each)
4 x 75m front crawl kick (20 seconds rest after each)
5 x 50m as 25m fly, 25m backstroke, rest 10 seconds, 25m  backstroke, 25m breaststroke, rest 10 seconds, 25m breaststoke, 25m frontcrawl, rest 10 seconds, 25m fly, 25m backstroke, rest 10 seconds, 25m  backstroke, 25m breaststroke, rest 1 minute
6 x 25m front crawl off 30 seconds
(1,600m)

Swim down

100m easy

If you have a fun swimming session do share it with me and I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.

Happy swimming!

 

10 Strategies to slim down

nut butter
Nut butter

Although I workout on a daily basis and eat a vegan diet, I’ve come to accept that I have a body type which picks up weight quite easily. While I’m lucky in that I love exercise and favour dates and nuts over chocolate and cakes, these foods also come with their own fair share of calories, and it’s just as easy to find yourself overeating these ‘healthier’ options as it is to gorge on out-and-out bad foods. Avocados, nut butters, seeds, hummus, brown rice and rye bread are amongst my favourites, and all are staples for health-food bloggers, but these are all calorie dense foods, and it’s easy to find that adding them to your diet on a regular basis can lead to weight gain.

After a summer season of being a bit lax with my diet, this week I’ve taken the proverbial bull by the horns and have been looking for strategies to get back in shape. With the next stint of marathon training on the ever-nearing horizon, I want to make sure that I’m not carrying any excess weight with me on those long runs.

Having done a bit of reading I wanted to share the following 10 slimming secrets with you. While in truth the best secret is to eat less and move more, I think that these are all great strategies to add to your arsenal of healthy living.

1. Think satisfied, not stuffed
We’ve all done it: you’re eating the last few mouthfuls of a meal and start to feel that bit too full, but you are enjoying it so much you decide to power through. And it’s ok. Well, that is, until you stop.

The reality is there is nothing very satisfying about overeating, just a bloated stomach and that pang of guilt that you should have stopped sooner.

According to Jill Fleming, author of ‘Thin People Don’t Clean Their Plates’, on a scale of 1 to 10, slimmer people tend to stop eating at around a 6 or 7 on the fullness scale. Fleming suggests that people who eat beyond this level may be confusing the sensation of fullness with that of satisfaction, whereas in reality you can be satisfied without being stuffed. There is also the chance that you are clearing your plate simply out of habit and, although full, you find yourself finishing what’s in front of you without thinking.

So what’s the alternative? In her article ‘8 Secrets of the Naturally Slim’, Megan McMorris recommends stopping about halfway through your next meal and rating your level of fullness. Do this again when you have about five bites left, with the aim of increasing your awareness of how satisfied you feel during a meal. You may still clear your plate but you won’t be mindlessly eating.

2. Eat more?

Fruit
Fruity snacks

This week I was asking a PT friend of mine about strategies to help shed some extra pounds and, perhaps surprisingly, he recommended eating more. But not more of just anything, he suggested filling up on foods with a high water content―fruits, vegetables, water-based soups and stews, and cooked whole grains― foods that are low in calories but satiating. Eating these foods regularly keeps your metabolism ticking over without the accompanying calorie hit.

Eat more whole fruits (not juices), aiming for two or three servings each day. Another tip is to start a meal with a low calorie soup or salad, this may just lead to you eating up to 12% fewer calories for the rest of the meal.

3. Size matters
Thinking about portion size is also important, and it can be easy to keep track of what you are eating without being obsessive: buying a single serving’s worth of food, eating portion-controlled meals, and using smaller plates are all good strategies.

Eating little and often also helps to keep portion sizes down as you never get too hungry and over-eat.

In an ongoing study by the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), more than 5,000 people were able to keep off the weight they’ve lost long-term by eating five small meals a day, rather than three larger meals.

4. Don’t get emotional
Avoid emotional eating. Recognise if you are eating as a result of an emotion that isn’t just plain hunger. Weight loss expert Kara Gallagher suggests adding the word ‘halt’ to your vocabulary. Not just a command to stop chomping through that bowl of nicecream, this is an acronym that stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired—the four most common triggers for emotional eating. If you’re truly hungry, eat a balanced snack to tide yourself over until your next meal. But if you’re angry, lonely, or tired, seek an alternative calorie-free solution to your emotional needs.

5. Prioritise
Sometimes you need to put yourself first, recommends Anne Fletcher, dietician and the author of ‘Thin for Life’. Working in an obesity clinic she saw many women who spent their whole lives giving to others, but to the point that they were no longer looking after themselves. Prioritise eating well, exercising regularly, and reducing your stress levels where possible. These are not only factors conducive to staying slim but also to giving yourself value and enabling you to be the best version of yourself that you can be.

Taking time out to go for a run shouldn’t induce guilt; exercise and a healthy diet is valuable in empowering you and enabling you to present a better version of yourself to others.

6. Limit your options
While variety in your diet is a good thing to some extent, especially if it means multi-coloured fruit and vegetables on your plate, too much variety can backfire. Studies have shown that too many tastes and textures may encourage you to over-eat – I often find this is the case with meze or tapas, where there are lots of delicious options available. In fact research shows that the more types of food we have, the more we tend to eat. This is related to ‘sensory-specific satiety’, meaning that while our appetites may be satisfied after eating a plate of pasta, for example, they are suddenly reignited when there is talk of pudding.

The solution is to try to eat as consistently as possible when it comes to your major meals—oats at breakfast, a salad at lunch, soup in the evening, for example. It’s okay to add falafel to the salad one day and tofu the next, but by sticking to a loosely prescribed meal schedule, you limit the opportunities to overindulge.

7. Fidget
While exercising is important, fidgeting can also contribute to keeping you trim.

In a study at the Endocrine Research Unit of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, it was revealed that on average, slimmer women were on their feet an extra two and a half hours each day more than their less trim counterparts. The slimmer subjects were also found to walk and fidget more each day too.

Endocrinologist and lead author of the study, James Levine, observed ‘if the obese subjects took on the day-to-day activity levels of the lean volunteers, they could burn through about 350 calories more a day without working out. Over a year, this alone could result in a weight loss of approximately 30 pounds, if calorie intake remained the same.’

However, there is no substitute for a structured workout. Dietician and author of ’10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman’s Diet’, Elizabeth Somer, observed that ‘Ninety percent of people who maintain their weight are exercising in a way that’s the equivalent of walking four miles a day.’ She recommends some yoga and light weights in the morning and some form of aerobic exercise later in the day.

Regular workouts also make you more aware of your body, observes psychologist, Stephen Gullo, ‘you’re less likely to eat the chocolate cake that you know will take hours to burn off on the treadmill.’

Studies have also shown that people tend to overestimate how active they really are, with most people actually spending 16 to 20 hours a day sitting. Wearing a fitness can help to keep track of your sedentary moments.

Try combining at least 30 minutes of structured exercise each day with a variety of healthy habits, such as walking to work, taking lunchtime strolls, standing on the train and pottering around the house rather than sitting on the sofa.

8. Don’t skip meals
Even if you just have some fruit, or carrot batons, try not to skip meals. It’s not about dropping everything to eat the minute your stomach rumbles, but don’t let yourself get too hungry as this is when you are more likely to lose control. Being ravenous makes you much less likely to control impulses to overeat.

9. Resist temptation
Researchers have found that one of the biggest predictor of weight gain among women was their level of disinhibition, or unrestrained behaviour, with women with low disinhibition i.e. a finely tuned sense of restraint, having the lowest body mass index.

Self restraint is like a muscle that you can build over time. Prepare for moments when your disinhibition is likely to be higher—at a party or out to dinner with a large group of friends, or when you’re stressed or tired.

Creating good habits can also help to take the pressure of your need to continually exercise self-restraint. If you always eat a salad at lunch, or always start the day with a yoga workout then doing so becomes less of a decision and more of an auto response.

10. Sleep tight

sleeping cat kitten
Sleepy kitten

There is a widely recognised link between getting more sleep and a smaller waistline. On average, research suggests that slimmer people tend to sleep two hours more each week when compared with overweight people. The theory is that a lack of sleep is linked to lower levels of appetite-suppressing hormones like leptin and higher levels of the appetite-boosting ghrelin.

Tempted? How gender may impact our ability to resist temptation

This week I’ve been reading about temptation; in particular, how gender impacts on our propensity to be tempted by food and, as a result, how it can influence our weight loss goals.

I started to think about this while reading about the ways in which gender can affect how our bodies process various chemicals – caffeine, alcohol, medications etc. Variants including body mass, height, muscle to adipose tissue ratios and hormones all influence the ways that we process these chemicals, and with some medications this can lead variance in the efficacy and the side effects (for more on this watch this TED talk by Alyson McGregor). While even taking the contraceptive pill can influence how we metabolise caffeine.

But how does gender impact on how we respond to food? Are differentials contingent on metabolic and digestive reactions alone or can differing successes between men and women in the weight-loss steaks be attributed to something else?

While considering this I encountered a rather interesting study from Brookhaven National Laboratory, which looked at the ways in which our brains respond in the presence of food.

In the study, 23 healthy male and female volunteers were instructed to fast for a 17 hour period. During this time, they were interviewed about their favourite foods and asked to rank them on a scale of 1 to 10. The researchers then selected one food for each subject, the only requirement being that it scored 7 or above in desirability. When the 17 hours were up, the volunteers were injected with a nuclear tracer, placed in a brain-imaging PET scanner and presented with a food they craved – being forced to smell, hear about the preparation of and even taste a morsel of the food stuff on a cotton wool ball.

When faced by this multi-sensory stimuli, the brains of the fasted volunteers started responding. Appetite and hunger are processed in a number of regions of the brain — most notably the orbital frontal cortex, which is linked to self-control; the striatum, which is linked to motivation; the hippocampus, which is linked to memory; and the amygdala, which is linked to emotions and decision making.

The subjects were then asked to think about something other than food for the next 40 minutes, though they were required to keep their eyes open and look at the food before them.

The PET scans appeared to show that both sexes were actually able to lower the overall sensation of hunger; in most cases the brain was able to grow partially habituated to an empty stomach over time, and with a degree of willpower and distraction, the volunteers were able to hasten this process of desensitisation.

However, the discrepancy came with what men and women thought about during this time. It appeared that while the men were able to stop thinking about food, successfully suppressing, if only temporarily, the conscious desire to eat, the women continued to experience emotional cravings even if their hunger subsided.

Although it is unclear what is behind this difference, it is suggested that hormones and their action on the amygdala may play a significant role. When the amygdala acts up it is incredibly difficult to bring it back under control – demonstrable in anxiety conditions like phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorders, which are linked back to this part of the brain. The study suggests however, that men had some success in disciplining their amygdala, while women were less able to do this. However, it takes a lot of inhibition to control the amygdala, which is why even the most resolute dieters — both male and female — so often fail.

Although this study only used a small sample it is an interesting insight into how we respond to and think about food. In the next post, I’ll be looking at some ways to tackle temptation, but for now, happy resisting!

Stepping up

I have been wearing my Jawbone Up for just over a month now, so I figured it was a good point to make an initial review.

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Jawbone
Anyone who has found themselves going from a to b with me over the past 6 weeks will know that walking has become my mode of transport of choice. Come rain or shine, I have started to eschew tubes and taxis in favour of a jaunt to my destination, (something which a group of fellow publishers discovered to their dismay on a freezing, rainy night in Frankfurt, as I took them on a trek across the city, under the slightly optimistic promise that our destination was only 15 minutes away – and by 15 what I really meant was 35).

I had previously thought that I walked a reasonable amount, but now I’m seeing all of the opportunities that I had so readily missed. Suddenly, an awareness of my sedentary moments – the hours at my desk, the time spent in meetings, the long stretch of my commute, spells in cars or on trains during weekends away – is compelling me to move that little bit more. The Jawbone obviously can’t do the exercise for me, and its efficacy relies on me seeing the stats and holding myself to account, but it really has been motivating me to move that bit more. Knowledge is power and it’s also good at guilt-tripping you into getting up and going for a walk.

I now get onto the train to work from one stop further away from home than is necessary. Since I live right opposite the station, I found that if I got on at my pre-Jawbone stop, the walk would only rack up to a paltry 200 steps tops; walking to the next stop, however, I can ratchet up 2,800-3,000 steps by the time I reach my desk. I do the same one my way home too (if I’m not planning to run home), meaning that my commute alone can allow me to hit 6,000 steps door to door. If I don’t run at lunch I’ll take a walk around the park to tip me over 7,000 steps for the first half of the day, and my 30 minute stationary reminders – a little buzz to say ‘get moving’ – see me popping to check the post, do the office coffee run or grab some water from the kitchen at least every hour.

Walking in the mountains
Walking in the mountains
A month in and I’m starting to spot trends: on the days I go on longer runs I usually hit around 22,000-24,000 steps for the day. On short-run and non-running days I range between 13,000 and 19,000 depending on how busy I am at work and how my evening plans pan out. I am pretty consistent during the week, and with my commute, lunchtime stroll and a run I hit my targets.

Weekends, however, vary wildly. On weekends in London I topple 20,000 steps a day, even if I feel I’ve just been mooching around the local area, as I walk everywhere and often go on a couple of runs. Even getting the tube involves a reasonable bit of walking and I never sit down while I’m on the train. Weekends away, however, seem to be less prolific from a step perspective, in part due to the fact that outside of London we tend to drive a lot more – in London you don’t think twice about walking to the corner shop or strolling into town for a coffee, while elsewhere you tend to drive more since the distances are further and public transport links are less convenient. Also, while at home I am my own master and can potter, run or take long walks at will, whereas others seem less keen to jump on the walking bandwagon.

I set my initial target at 10,000 steps, then almost immediately upped it to 12,000. This week I nudged it up to 13,000. The app keeps trying to encourage me to increase my target further, but I’m resisting (for now).

All of this walking has found me reading more about the benefits of getting out for a few extra steps, and the pitfalls of too sedentary an existence. Frighteningly, it seems that gym trips alone are not enough to keep you in shape if the rest of your day is spent sitting still. A recent study found that sedentary desk-based workers who exercised were at just as high risk of various health issues – diabetes and heart disease – as those who didn’t exercise regularly. For the desk worker, what’s much more crucial than intermittent trips to the gym is regular movement. Even just standing, rather than remaining totally stationery, may create enough of a stimulus to counter some of the negative effects induced by extended periods of slouching at your desk. Aim for five minutes of standing for every 30 minutes of sitting; add a couple of stretches during this time and you will be doing yourself, your back and your hip flexors, a big favour. These little movement breaks are not only good for your body, but can also help your mind, boosting productivity and helping to get the creative juices flowing – ever had that eureka moment while stood waiting for the kettle to boil? That’s what we are talking about.

I have also found that walking boosts my mood – getting outside into the fresh air always makes me feel better, in the morning it wakes me up and after work it helps to clear my head. Lunchtime strolls also helps to curb my appetite, as I usually follow my salad with a stroll, by which time the food has had a chance to settle and I’m no longer craving a post-meal sweet treat.

The Jawbone doesn’t just count your steps, you are also able to add your other ‘step-free’ exercises, such as swimming, yoga, and circuit training to your ‘step diary’. The app keeps a tally of how many times you workout a week, reminding you how well you did last week if the currently week is looking slightly more sedentary. At the moment, including runs, I’m averaging 6-9 workouts a week.

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Get walking
The other really useful function is the sleep tracker, which allows you to set a bedtime reminder and, come morning, it lets you know how long you slept for, you light and deep sleep rhythms, how many times you woke in the night and for how long for. I have set my sleep goal at 8 hours, but rarely hit this target. Even if I’m in bed for 8 hours I tend to wake at least once a night for between 20 minutes and and hour. At the moment I’m happy if I make 85% of my goal on this front (but am aiming to improve!).

Finally, the app monitors your overall behaviour and makes movement and exercise recommendations based on what you are doing. It may suggest standardising your bedtime or adding stretching exercises and yoga to compliment your running. There are healthy eating tips and links to articles relating to exercise, diet, sleep and general wellbeing.

I know that I’m already driving R and my colleagues crazy with my step checking and stats obsession, but I’m hoping that as I get into more of a pattern I will become less fixated on the figures. If you are thinking about getting a tracker I would encourage it, even if just to make you more aware of how much you are moving and to find areas where you might improve. Like a food diary, the Jawbone works primarily on the basis that awareness and transparency hold you to account and that by learning about your behaviour you learn how you need to adjust it.

Happy walking.