Embrace a daily sport.
Cook and eat your meals with love.
Ditch the pills.
Nutritionist and wellness coach Pooja Bhargava tells you how to break old habits and achieve your fitness goals.
Changing your lifestyle is no small feat; it takes practice, dedication, and focus to mould your habits and behaviours towards a certain goal.
In our current global climate, one goal is becoming more defined for many -- that of staying healthy.
With the shifting landscape of how schools, companies, and other other social institutions operate, we are looking at significant lifestyle changes that affect all of us in some way or the other.
Many are calling it the 'new normal,' and it is defining how we wake up, go to work, do chores, and even how we take care of ourselves.
This is not to say that this is a walk in the park. These are challenging times and the blurring spatial boundaries (due to many of us increasing how much time we spend at home) mean that we have to rethink how we need to modify the way we live.
It is best to start with smaller, more achievable goals, breaking up big intentions into actionable tasks, and giving yourself room to grow gradually.
1. Set realistic goals
This is the first, albeit intangible lifestyle habit to incorporate.
When it comes to fitness and health, one has to be patient and determined.
A lifestyle transformation cannot be rushed or impractical for your current circumstances; you are in it for the long game.
Start with some introspection and visualisation, and begin with one specific goal.
This could be as small as doing one sit-up on the first day, or as decisive as not purchasing any junk food in your next grocery shop.
The first step is always the hardest, but it will also give you the confidence to explore your next.
Remember to make these measurable and quantifiable, like a certain number of kilometers you run within the month.
2. Embrace a daily sport
While this is often the first piece of advice that you will be offered when you share your goals with others, it is also one of the most important.
With the amount of time we now spend indoors, it is crucial to adopt a routine that allows one hour for active engagement of the body.
This could be any moderate sport or fitness regime that increases your heart rate and gets your blood pumping, thus staving off the risk of a sedentary lifestyle, which could lead to cardiovascular disorders and physical lethargy.
Don't be intimidated by the time-bound nature of the activity.
Start off with smaller time brackets if needed, and work your way towards a dedicated, hour-long habit that you will find hard to break once set.
3. Mindful eating
Food is, rightfully, said to be medicine for the body. It acts internally to provide you with energy, sustenance, and healing.
It is equally a labour of love as it is a bounty of goodness; preparing, cooking, and cleaning up takes effort, and it is no surprise that our busy schedules do not allow for mindful and planned eating.
What is mindfulness, then?
It involves taking the time to think about what you are consuming and getting in touch with your physical sensations in the process.
Slow food is a term that comes to mind. Cook and eat your meals with love, care, and trust in their healing power.
Pay attention to what you put inside your body and begin making small changes in your weekly shop, finding healthier and more nutritious alternatives to your regular purchases.
Some other habits to adopt include listening to your body’s signals for fullness or hunger, eating and sharing food with others, and setting a timely routine for when you take your meals.
4. Don't obsess over your diet plan
It is tempting to scroll through social media and want to model your life after fitness influencer posts that display pictures of salads, smoothie bowls, and other power-packed meals that promise wellness.
Instead, ditch the superfood aisle at the store and head towards your local market.
Home cooked, wholesome meals made with fresh, local ingredients are the sustainable choice.
The produce is naturally occurring, requires less pesticides, and is abundant when seasonal, which is why it is easy to access in higher quantities.
Follow the 80-20 rule when it comes to what you eat: 80% of the time, opt for well-balanced meals full of locally grown vegetables, fruits, and grains, while you leave the rest for a well-deserved treat of your choice.
Again, take it slow. Start with making a meal plan and work your way towards a week that satisfies the rule, without giving in to fad diets or get-skinny-quick schemes.
5. Ditch the pills
Taking medication or supplements for everyday ailments is a tendency formed out of a fast-paced culture that seeks instant gratification.
An effective way to achieve the same relief is by reaching for your kitchen shelf, a pharmacy lying in wait.
The food we eat, while building nutrition and eliminating toxic compounds within the body, is supplemented by a variety of spices and herbs that have restorative properties of their own.
The curcumin in turmeric helps reduce inflammation, while asafoetida (or hing) is a traditional Indian cure for stomach aches and indigestion.
Many herbs like basil, mint, or coriander are full of powerful antioxidants that also enhance flavour.
These have also been part of traditional remedies dating back several centuries to cure bodily ailments in natural, soothing, and therapeutic ways.
6. Hydrate well
Keeping yourself hydrated goes hand in hand with the food you consume.
The body needs moisture to regulate its temperature, act as a delivery system for nutrients and eliminate waste, among other vital functions. It also helps you sleep better and be more active during the day.
Invest in a smart water bottle as a first step towards upping your water intake, and remember that this is not your only source of hydration.
There are a plethora of other liquids and juices that provide your body with essential nutrients. Pick the tropical favourite -- coconut water, a cool glass of lemonade, or fresh fruit juice on a summer day.
7. A full night's rest
The quintessential 8 hours of sleep rule is based on a very real truth. The body needs ample time to regenerate, for cell repair, and to stimulate growth hormones.
However, this is not a strict rule. It is important to understand your body’s specific needs; many find that 7 or 9 hours suits them better.
What is of note here is to check if you feel well-rested, energised, and productive when you wake up, and do not rely upon supplements like caffeine to keep you up throughout the day.
The goal is to find yourself alert, attentive, and tired enough at the end of the day to rest and do it all over again!
8. Limit social media
While social media is one of the best ways to communicate with people all over the world and obtain knowledge and news in real time, it is also responsible for a disproportionate amount of screen time and resultant eye strain, nausea, and poor posture.
Some of the easiest ways you can use to reduce the amount of time you spend on these applications includes monitoring your usage via phone settings, installing applications that lock you out of your social media based on a certain limit you provide, or a direct digital detox, where you log out of your accounts for a set period.
9. Set a morning ritual
Rituals are followed across cultures in some form or the other, a longstanding tradition of discipline, routine, and reassurance.
Create one for yourself with your specific interests and emotions in mind, be it a robust morning walk, a short meditation cycle or yoga routine, or even some music that you play once you are up.
A morning ritual that makes you happy will act slowly but surely, providing a sense of calmness and familiarity once the day begins.
10. Listen to your body
The body is very intuitive, and it knows when something is wrong. It gives out red flags in various forms, be it fatigue, skin irritations, aches or pains, and most importantly, mental unrest.
This is also part of cultivating mindfulness, as you need to pay attention to the signs your body is giving you and what you can do to rectify the problem.
However, remember to be gentle with yourself and give your body time to heal. This is especially needed when following the tips given in this list.
For instance, following one hour of exercise per day might be too strenuous on your body at times, but you might feel compelled to continue with the routine as part of your health plan.
It is at times like these when you could slow down and listen to your body, not pushing past its limits and allowing yourself the space to rest.
The body and the mind complement each other well, and your lifestyle affects how both evolve over time.
Old habits die hard, and it is often difficult to understand how to navigate making this change.
Some of the habits listed above can be a good starting point, as well as gentle reminders that will guide you throughout your fitness journey.
Pooja Bhargava is an ACSMI (American Council of Sports Medicine) and IIFA (Indian Institute of Fitness Administration) certified personal trainer, physical fitness expert and nutrition consultant.
She is the founder and CEO of Fitness, U and Nutrition.