My piece for the University of Nottingham Alumni Newsletter

My piece for the University of Nottingham Alumni Newsletter

Expert tips to achieve your fitness goals

It’s the time of the year when many of us have resolved to lose weight, get fit and be healthy. But sticking to your new fitness regime past the end of January can often be difficult. We asked sport nutritionist Matt Lawson (Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2010) and physiotherapist Kerstine Herbert (Physiotherapy, 2014) for their tips on how to achieve your fitness goals and stay healthy throughout the year.

Setting your approach

Kerstine: It’s important to decide what your goals are. In my clinic, and personally, I use goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely). Write them down, then work out a plan for how you’re going to achieve them. This could be joining a club, getting a coach or challenging your friends. Stick to your plan but be happy to adapt if life gets in the way – it should be fun, not a chore! Cut out your unhealthy habits, eat and sleep well, and allow adequate recovery days. Most of all though, take your time – getting fit and healthy takes months not days.

Warming up

Kerstine: Warming up prior to exercise is vital. It helps to increase your heart rate in preparation for exercise; increase blood flow to the soft tissue in your body; loosen joints; warm up muscles; and increase performance levels. Research has suggested that warming up prior to exercise can reduce your risk of an injury by up to 79% so it’s definitely important.

One of my favourite warm up exercises starts slowly with some side taps while reaching up to the sky with opposite hands. Jog on the spot and then gradually add in high knee running, heel flicks, side lunges and front lunges, interspersed with sprinting on the spot for 5-10 seconds. Try to add in sport specific activities if you can – for runners, you could add in some nice big leg swings to mimic the leg movement. 10-15 minutes is ideal but 5-10 minutes is enough.

Avoiding injuries

Kerstine: Sporting injuries affect athletes of all levels at some point in their career, so don’t be disheartened if you have any injury. The most common injuries are ankle sprain; groin pull; hamstring pull; shin splints; knee injuries; and tennis elbow.

Most injuries are either from trauma or overuse, but biomechanics, training load and strength all play an important part. We can’t avoid injuries but by training sensibly and strengthening our body we can reduce the risk. We’re often seen as therapists who treat injuries, but a trip to a physio before you even begin exercising can be a fantastic way to find any weak areas that you can then work on to avoid injuries. And don’t forget the all-important warm up!

Steering clear of misconceptions

Kerstine: The main issue I see is the belief that we can magically fix people. I often see patients who have ignored an injury then come to see me two weeks before a big sporting event. We can help you to settle symptoms, educate you on why you may have your injury, work on rehab exercises – and reassure you that it’s not something more sinister.

Incorporating activities into everyday life

Kerstine: Inactivity and sedentary behaviour are some of the biggest causes of premature death. Physical activity doesn’t have to mean hours in the gym. There are lots of ways you can incorporate activities into your everyday life. For example, take the stairs whenever you can; do squats when you’re brushing your teeth; stand on one leg while making a coffee; lift tins of beans to work the shoulders; get the hoover or the duster out and go for it!

If you’re stuck at a desk in your job, get up every 20 minutes and walk to the other end of the office, have a big stretch or do 20 squats on your chair. We’re designed to move so go for it. Just small changes can have big effects – with improved physical health comes improved mental health. It’s a win-win situation!

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