I have been interested in health and fitness for as long as I can remember. I began riding horses at the age of 5, which required me to be very fit. I also used to swim and cycle, too. When I was 23, I fell off my horse whilst riding, and it prompted me to begin working as a physiotherapist. Over the years, I’ve learned that exercise is like medicine, and it’s key to good health and longevity in fitness.
I believe that we are conditioned to make New Year’s resolutions because we often overindulge in food during the Christmas season, and generally don’t feel great after.
During the winter season, we also produce very little vitamin D which is key in increasing bone health and reducing infections and inflammations. Our energy levels also tend to dip during the winter because light production is at its lowest. With reduced exposure to the sun, our bodies typically produce more melatonin, which is the hormone that makes us more sleepy.
So, creating a rigorous or grueling fitness regime in January when you’re physically at your lowest point may not be the best thing for you. Of course, I’m not against having New Year’s resolutions and I’m not against starting a new program, but I think that we need to be realistic about what we can achieve.
Whilst it’s good to be intentional, I do not necessarily believe that going to the gym and pushing yourself in January is as beneficial as it may seem. However, there are a few exercises I would suggest that you can do at home.
To stay in shape over the Christmas period, you would need to build muscular tissue. The more muscle you have in your body, the higher your metabolic rate, which leads to fat burning, and the better your insulin resistance, which keeps your overall health. This also reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.
That’s why exercising has to be thought of as a long term strategy, rather than a quick fix. If I go for a half an hour run I might burn 200 calories, but I may gain that back if I eat two slices of bread, or three biscuits. There’s no specific exercise that I would recommend to burn fat immediately, but resistance training will help build up muscular tissue, which in turn will allow people to burn calories faster.
Whatever exercise you choose to do, you need to do it three or four times a week, minimum, to see results. Every body has a different preference, but consistency is key. So, the best exercise is the exercise that you are able to complete.
Pilates is a system of exercises that trains your body to have resistance, whilst working your muscles. I always tell my clients, “You can’t go wrong by getting strong.”
Overall, I would recommend pilates as you can keep your heart rate up whilst also building muscle and endurance at the same time. It’s a type of exercise that everyone can do and there are online classes you can follow from home.
Resistance and strength training doesn’t have to consist of lifting weights in the gym, you can buy some cheap dumbbells online and do resistance training exercises at home.
I do sixty squats a day, followed by three sets of ten press ups. This strengthens my core, my quads, and my glutes and helps me build muscle, which, in turn, increases my metabolism.
Squatting also really strengthens your quadriceps muscles, your glute muscles, and the muscles around your knees. Doing squats in a variety of positions will also allow you to work different muscles. For example, wide leg squats, one leg squats or overhead squats.
What I find is that when I don’t do these specific exercises daily, I begin to get aches in my legs and around my hip area. Most recently, I haven’t been able to do these exercises consistently. As a result, my balance has also been poor, and I fell off my race horse while riding because of it.
3. Quick bursts of cardio
There is no quick fix to lose weight, but to burn fat, creating a calorie deficit will help. Cardio exercises are very beneficial for your body because they help increase your heart rate. This means that your heart beats faster and produces more oxygen. The more oxygen your heart needs, the more calories you’ll burn while exercising.
Doing exercises like jumping jacks and star jumps is a quick way to do cardio. However, I can’t recommend a specific set or amount of time, as everybody is different. For a 60-year-old lady who hasn’t done any exercise for 20 years, the amount of cardio exercise and reps that she would do may differ from that of a Royal Marine.
So, you’ve got to find your own personal baseline which works for you. You may have been really fit and strong and just had a cesarean-section birth, in which case your actual recovery rate is going to be good, but you may need to take it easy.
For others who have had a desk job for over ten years, it may take them a bit of time to increase their endurance and the amount of time they spend exercising. Whatever exercises people choose to do, doing them consistently, four times a week, will help.
Esther Fox is a Chartered Physiotherapist and Pilates teacher with a PhD in exercise physiotherapy. You can find out more about her here.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Newsweek associate editor, Carine Harb.