Couch potato
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Dubai: We used to move a lot. Just getting out of the house, taking a car or public transport was sufficient enough to give us a couple thousand steps a day. If you walked around your office or worked as a sales person at a store, you were at least getting some kind of movement. You’d go to the gym after work, take a class or meet some friends. All possibilities to get you moving. If you lived “the Dubai life” you were probably on the go, all the time. Couch potato-ing sometimes isn’t an option in our busy life, but now… it might be all you do.

Honestly, if you are lucky enough to have your own room, apartment or a space to exercise then you really should be trying to get an hour of movement a day.

If you’re not that kind of person… well then this story is for you. Realistically speaking, you want to exercise, but you can’t and won’t. It’s fine. We get it. Some people never did before quarantine and self-isolation.

What would make them start now?

We’ve gone straight to the nutritionists and trainers for this one. Gulf News spoke to Nick Mitchell, the owner and founder of the Ultimate Performance gym in DIFC and Lauren Jacobsen, the Nutrition Director Kcal World about food. How much to eat, what to eat and how to not turn into a circle.

Nick Mitchell

Should I consume less calories now that I don’t move as much?

Nick: We need to think about how different our days are. Do we burn more or less calories per day now compared to before self-isolation? The chances are, yes. If you're moving around less and generally less active, we simply do not need as many calories per day. If you're more active with the kids and chasing around the house, you might need more! You need to think about your personal situation and whether you're more or less active.

Lauren Jacobsen

Lauren: Yes, you should decrease your calorie intake from your normal eating. The calories your body needs is directly related to how many calories you burn throughout the day. If you’re not active, and only bound to the movement around your house, then your calorie needs will decrease. Ideally, aim to eat your minimum amount of calories required to maintain your current body weight. This is also known as your BMR – basal metabolic rate.

You can determine your BMR using an online calculator that takes into account your age, height, gender, current weight and your activity level. You can also seek, the help of a professional nutritionist to help you determine your calorie needs. A meal plan can also help you stay on-track with the proper calories.

2. Can you try intermittent fasting to prevent your body from storing fat?

Nick: Intermittent fasting is a great way to restrict the amount of food you eat. If you have 16 hours in the day where you do not eat, chances are you'll consume less calories, which will reduce your chances of storing fat. It's also a great way to give structure to your day. Eating your first and last meals at the same time day after day will do wonders for your sleeping routine and with controlling food.

Lauren: Intermittent fasting is a good way to help control and refrain from eating food within a set time frame. The best part of the diet is that it’s extremely easy to follow, just abstain from food for a period of about 15 to a maximum of 24 hours. You don’t need to fast everyday either. One fasting period every 3 to 5 days has been shown to have a 15 to 25 per cent calorie reduction over a week.

This calorie reduction can help with weight loss, as well as other benefits such as lowering lipid profiles, lowering blood pressure and increasing insulin sensitivity. One tip to consider, after fasting for a long period, it can be hard to shut off your hunger hormones, once you start to eat; be sure not to overeat during your feeding portion of your fast.

3. How should you divide your meals up?

Nick: The best way to divide meals up depends on your preference. How long can you go before you feel hungry? The chances are, three or four meals a day will hit the sweet spot for you. The key is making sure you just have meals. As soon as snacks join the daily food party, the chances or calories increasing exponentially increase! Stick to 3 to 4 structured meals a day and try not to snack in between.

Lauren: First off, try to maintain a daily schedule that is close to your normal routine outside of quarantine. After breakfast, eat about every 3 hours throughout the day. This can be divided out as three meals and 2 small snacks. Eating small frequent meals can help stabilize your blood sugar levels and keep you from getting too hungry, craving sugar and overeating.

4. If you aren’t moving, what is an example of an ideal day in terms of food?

Healthy food
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Nick: If you do not move, your body does not need as many carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for your muscles so if they're not being used, you won't need as many! It's important to have some carbohydrates, however, as glucose is the primary energy source for your immune system and brain. Protein is important to keep in the diet as it encourages your body to retain lean body mass (think muscle, bones, organs, and different tissues). Having healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds) will keep your immune system and metabolism functioning at their best.

Lauren: The more active you are, the more carbs your body needs. Being less active, a higher protein, lower carb diet will be helpful to curb cravings and help maintain your body’s lean mass in the absence of being active. Here’s an example of your meal breakdown for the day:

Breakfast – egg omelette with avocado

Snack – handful of nuts

Lunch – chicken breast or any protein with green salad and vegetables

Snack – small yoghurt with berries

Dinner – salmon filet or any protein with green vegetables and cauliflower rice

5. How can you stop yourself from constantly snacking, which is easy to do when you are at home?

Nick: Snacking is all of our new worst enemies! It's normally a result of being bored or not stimulated. You can find a good book to read, a friend to call or simply play games with the family! Other tips include only eating at one place in the house (the dinner table!) and avoid eating on the sofa, intermittent fasting is great and finally, preparing your meals for the following day.

Lauren: Well, it’s ok to have 1 or 2 snacks per day, but limit it to that. Sometimes snacking and eating can be done out of boredom, having a regular routine can be helpful to avoid mindless eating. Also, consider taking up a new hobby, learning a new skill or even language to occupy your mind. As for snacks, pick healthy foods that will provide you with fibre and nutrients that will reduce your need to snack or eat more. Have vegetable sticks with hummus or guacamole, Greek yoghurt with berries, apple slices with natural nut butter or a handful of nuts and seeds.

6. What are 5 ingredients you have to eat a day to nourish your body?

Nick: The 5 ingredients you need to nourish your body are; lean protein sources (chicken breast), healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, and seeds), seed vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers), fibrous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, green beans) and of course, water!

Lauren: Right now it’s a good idea to up your intake of ingredients. Eat plenty of citrus fruit, which are high in vitamin C. This vitamin can help increase white blood cells, which are needed to help fight infection. Choose from oranges, limes, lemons or grapefruits. Consider having more ginger and turmeric, which can help the body deal with inflammation. Garlic is also a good ingredient; it contains phyto-compounds that have immune boosting properties. Also be sure to get protein sources like red meat and legumes, these ingredients are high in zinc, which is a mineral needed for immune function.

Part 2: Exercise

If you are thinking of maybe potentially exercising, then find out more about how to start slow and the benefits of movement for your body. We’ve got some more information here. Nick Mitchel is back with some workout advice, as well as Marc Downey, a Master Trainer at Les Mills.

Nick Mitchel

1. Can you lose weight or maintain your weight without any exercise?

Nick: You can do both! To lose weight you need to expend more energy than you consume. Be aware if you're not exercising, you might lose lean body mass as well as fat. Exercise is a great way to burn calories, but more importantly, encourage your body to retain and build lean body mass.

Marc Downey

Marc: Yes you can, but a calorie deficit is important when looking to reduce weight. When we are stuck at home it is easy to snack often throughout the day. Try to keep track of what you are eating to ensure you avoid gaining unnecessary weight at this time.

2. How bad is it that you aren’t getting physically active?

Nick: Exercise is great for mental health, physical health, promoting a healthy immune system, reducing your risk of a full range of diseases. Not exercising means you do not get any of the benefits on offer! This doesn't mean you have to exercise to the point of physical exhaustion, 10 minutes of air squats, bodyweight press-ups or even walking up and down the stairs will help. When gyms are open, you can pick up from what you've been doing in self-isolation and increase the intensity!

Marc: Even in self-isolation we need to exercise. Not only is it great for your physical health but also your mental health. Staying indoors for weeks on end is tough mentally. Exercise allows you to feel energised and release some feel-good hormones. Exercising now is even more important as our normal daily activity of working and walking around has been reduced.

3. Are there any exercises you can do for super tight spaces if you live with a lot of people or intrusive family members?

Nick: Exercises that are great for tight spaces include bodyweight squats, press-ups (on knees or on feet), jogging on the spot, high knees or heel kicks. If families are intrusive, challenge them to a workout and see if you can make it a family affair! Who can do the most air squats in 30 seconds? I bet it's you!

Marc: Thankfully you don’t need much space at all to do exercise. If you have intrusive family members you can even get them involved. Simple body weight exercises such as squats, lunges, push ups and running on the spot are a great way to keep the big muscles of the body working and the blood pumping. Les Mills have and On Demand service with over 800 workouts. Over half of these can be done with no equipment and in a small space. There are even workouts for the kids, so you can make it family time!

4. What are great ways to be motivated to start exercising?

Nick: It can be hard to exercise at home if you're used to the gym, or have never followed a program before! Make yourself accountable to a family member or friend. Do a Zoom workout and set time in your diary to do it. The hardest part of the workout is starting, but once you're done, I guarantee you'll be feeling better than when you started! An easy way is to follow a fitness page for motivation! Check us out:

Marc: Being alone at home can often make it tough to motivate ourselves to exercise. A great idea is to connect with friends and relatives to keep each other accountable. Set up a WhatsApp group and decide what your workout will be then share a photo of you when you’ve completed it. This is a great way to feel part of a group even when you cannot actually work out in a class. Alternatively schedule a time when you will exercise in the day. We are creatures of habit and normally have most of our day planned with work, socialising time and exercise time. Without a normal routine we can create lazy habits. By scheduling your workout time every day in your calendar, you can keep yourself accountable. This is your time to look after yourself. When you have finished you will always feel better! After a week of this you will have created a healthy habit that will be much easier to stick to.