Discover superfoods and improve muscle tone and strength
Follow a six-week healthy living plan, tailored to your fitness level, and reap the benefits from day one
This third six-week plan aims to increase the intensity of your physical activities and help you learn more about which foods your body needs as fuel.
This week's challenge is to look at the types of sugary food you eat and to cut back where necessary. The following advice reveals easy ways to reduce the amount you eat.
The truth about sugar
A moderate amount of sweet food is compatible with healthy eating. The white sugar we add to food and drinks is identical to one of the natural sugars found in fruit. The scare stories about sugar and obesity aren't true. If your daily calories are balanced with regular exercise, sweet foods won't make you fat.
Calories from any type of food can be turned to fat if your calorie intake is higher than your needs on a regular basis.
You should also take a look at the types of sweet food you eat and check the fat content. Sugary foods are often high in fat.
There are other ways to ensure sweet foods don't ruin your healthy eating plan:
- Swap sugary drinks for diet options, milk or water.
- If you're a chocolate lover, stick to 'fun-size' bars or have one or two 'chocolate days' a week when you can enjoy one of your favourite treats.
- Choose fruit or low-fat milk puddings rather than creamy desserts.
- Enjoy sweets just after meals, rather than between them.
- Designate one day of the week as a 'treat day' and eat pretty much what you like.
Chocolate, sweets, ice cream and fancy cakes are high in calories and contain few other nutrients. Keep them for treats only.
Breakfast cereals, milkshakes (without ice cream), toast and jam, currant buns and flapjacks are sweet foods that contain other useful nutrients and can be eaten on most days of the week.
However, if you aren't losing weight after a couple of weeks, take another look at your portion sizes or the number of 'treat days' and rein them in if necessary.
Sugar and your teeth
Tooth decay is linked with sugar. Bacteria in your mouth use sugars and starches in food to make acid, which can damage your teeth. Try to keep sweet foods and drinks to mealtimes or, if this isn't possible, aim for a maximum of five a day. Also brush morning and night with a fluoride toothpaste.
This week, your two 40-minute interval sessions will include a slightly longer run. One 45-minute session will be reduced but with more effort. You'll also start strength training and doing the lunge exercise.
Your aim this week is to continue to do two 40-minute interval sessions, but to increase the running part of the cycle.
Here's how to do it:
- Warm up by walking at a comfortable pace for five minutes.
- Run for three minutes, then walk for three. Complete this cycle five times.
- Cool down with a five-minute walk at a comfortable pace.
On another day, reduce one of your two 45-minute sessions to 20 minutes. But rather than working at a steady pace, really step outside your comfort zone. We're looking for a rate of perceived exertion (see below) of seven out of ten. This is a strategy known as threshold training (also see below).
Keep the remaining session at a steady pace for 45 minutes, and introduce some form of strength training on the fifth day.
Your week could look like this:
|1 x 40-minute interval session
||1 x 20-minute threshold session
||1 x 40-minute interval session
||1 x 45-minute aerobic session
Rate of perceived exertion
A good way to gauge the intensity of your walks and specifically your interval training is to use what's known as the rate of perceived exertion (RPE).
This is a scale of one to ten, where one represents sitting on the sofa doing nothing and ten is running flat out.
For the comfortable-paced walking, you're looking for an RPE of about four, while for the harder bouts you should be closer to seven.
Even if you're aerobically fit through other activities, running is quite demanding on the joints and connective tissues, so don't try to progress too quickly. Also, try to relax while you run, stand up tall and use your arms to help propel you along.
Threshold training involves working at an intensity that equates to something called the 'lactate threshold'. Physiologically speaking, this is the last point at which the body is able to clear lactate (a by-product of vigorous exercise) as quickly as it's produced.
Beyond the threshold, lactate builds up in the muscles, causing fatigue. Working around the threshold point, however, will gradually push it upwards, so you can produce energy aerobically at a higher intensity.
Threshold training also gets your body accustomed to exercising harder - allowing you to get the same fitness benefits in less time. One study found that including threshold training in a six-week training programme resulted in significant physiological improvements in aerobic capacity.
Gaining 1.36kg (3lb) of muscle through strength training increases daily energy expenditure by more than 100 calories. Even when you're not training, it firms you up and trims you down.
It doesn't necessarily entail going to a gym, because there are plenty of strength exercises you can do at home without any equipment.
Alternatively, you could attend a body pump or strength and conditioning class at your local leisure centre.
In addition to your strength-training session, this strengthening exercise should be done on three non-consecutive days this week. Continue to do last week's one-legged squat every day.
Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips. Lunge forwards with your left leg, until your left knee is at a right angle and you right knee is almost touching the floor. Make sure your left knee doesn't go further forward than your left ankle. Pause, then push up through the left heel to standing.
Lunge forwards with your right leg in the same way, and return. That's one repetition. Do two sets of 12 repetitions.