Summer is still a ways off, but if you want to get a beach-ready body in time for summer, now is the best time to start. Experts recommend giving yourself a minimum of a month to get into shape, any less than that and your diet and exercise becomes too extreme to have lasting results. Even better for lasting health and diet is to start gradual, making minor changes as you go, with a goal of 10-12 weeks in mind. The most important part is sustainability and routine. Instead of a summer or beach body this year, work on having a year-round body in the future. You can do it and here are some tips to help you start.
Dieting isn't an easy thing, but it doesn't have to be as confusing as many people seem to make it. The best thing to do for your health is avoiding fad diets that may only offer temporary results; instead building healthy eating habits and (if weight loss is your goal) limiting your calorie intake. Emphasize good (unsaturated) fats, while limiting saturated fats. Fiber is an important staple of a good diet. (Aim for 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories, as advised by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.) Fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates, so they have less effect on insulin and blood sugar, which in turn helps prevent sugar cravings while also providing other health benefits. Another very important part of a healthy diet is limiting or avoiding processed sugar which can be surprisingly high in drinks and prepackaged snacks. (The average can of Cola contains 39g or roughly 10 spoonfuls of sugar) Instead of cookies and candy, eat a piece of fruit to curb your sugar cravings.
The old suggestion to "drink eight glasses a day" was nothing more than a guideline based on some anecdotal evidence and some fuzzy math, not scientific evidence. That said, drinking water is still very important and the best rule of thumb is: If you are thirsty, drink! Drinking water helps maintain the balance of bodily fluids. The functions of these bodily fluids include digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature. While water doesn't have any magical effect on weight loss, substituting it for higher calorie beverages can certainly help. Drinking a glass before a meal can also help you feel more full. Skimping on water can reduce the effectiveness of your workouts because even mild dehydration can affect your performance and fat-burning potential.
Americans seem to be sleeping less and less for all sorts of reasons. Researchers have reported that people who sleep 5 hours or less per night generally weigh more than people who sleep 7 hours per night. Less sleep means disturbed levels of leptin and ghrelin, which are two of the main hormones that have been recognized to have a major influence on energy and appetite. (Ghelin is termed the 'hunger hormone' because it stimulates appetite and promotes fat storage.) Lack of sleep also interferes with your ability to metabolize carbs efficiently and can even make you more susceptible to heart disease.
If you're used to having a glass of wine or pint of beer every night, try cutting back to two or three nights a week. While alcohol has potential heart benefits, it poses a variety of health risks, especially in excess amounts. Limiting your alcohol intake will reduce your total calorie intake and set yourself up for a better night's sleep to energize you for your workout the next day. When you do indulge, always sandwich your drink with a glass of water before and after to avoid alcohol's dehydrating effects. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of 80-proof spirits. All things in moderation. If you do drink, please drink responsibly.
Even more confusing than the rumors and fads for dieting is the aura of mystery that surrounds the elusive act of EXERCISE. In all truth, it's not as hard as you think. Things we do for fun (and work) count as exercise. Raking the yard, ballroom dancing and even playing with your kids or grandkids can be great exercise. Swimming, TaiChi, Strength Training, and Walking are considered to be some of the most effective exercises. They require minimal to no specialized equipment and are easy to find instruction in whether online or at local gyms or community centers (Of course, in the case of walking, very little instruction will likely be needed). The way you exercise is far less important than just making the effort to exercise.