I always find it perplexing - why do some people achieve results effortlessly and others have to slog and struggle? Are some of us struggling to look a certain way? Or are we trying to build strong bodies that can be put to the test of time and age? I am hoping that it's the latter for all of us and if that is true then it is not how much but how well we move that determine our results.
I tried to list down 4 trustworthy fitness hacks that science actually supports so you can try them out for yourself. You may actually be surprised by how much common sense these “hacks” actually make.
Without further delay.. let's start with the 1st..
1. Easiest way to cut calories - Sleep like you’re supposed to
I slept well till I became a mom the second time. My sleep pattern from there on went on to 4 -5 hours of sleep max! This went on for 4 years. But I was ok. Gradually, I was constantly tired, taking naps in the car always too busy to view sleep as the right thing for my body. Juggling the responsibilities of career, family, and personal improvement, every extra minute I could stay up felt like better use of my time. And so, cheating on sleep became normal for me.
My alarm rang, when cheating on sleep was turning into cheating on my diet. I wasn't lazy - I was fighting sleepiness, tiredness because am determined to get by my day in the most active format. But I realized my body was actually turning against me at the hormonal level.
When you’re sleep deprived, your body’s two major hunger regulators – ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and leptin (the “fullness” hormone) – get thrown out of balance in favor of ghrelin. I was gaining weight the wrong way!
Translation: Your body’s hormones are telling you that you’re “hungrier” than you would normally be. This is just one of the many ways sleep and body weight gain is linked. You need to treat your rest and sleep as important as your work and workouts!
2. Workout time – preferably in afternoon
Most people like to work out in the mornings because that’s when they can fit it in. Also a matter of pure conditioning ! But there is a tribe that prefers to workout in the afternoon. They say - that's the time they feel their best. This could be debatable but hear me out. And I know that this is hard to do when you are working full time. But let's say you can use this information....so then, hear me out..
Recent research appears to come down pretty strongly on the side of the afternoon camp. A cold body leaves muscles stiff, inefficient, and susceptible to sprains, whereas higher body temperatures leave muscles more flexible.
Muscle building is encouraged by the presence of testosterone, one of the hormones that trigger anabolic growth. Although testosterone does peak in the morning, seeming to favor morning workouts, optimal testosterone levels actually occur in the afternoon, when the ratio of cortisol (the muscle-depleting hormone) to testosterone is at its lowest. You want high testosterone levels and low cortisol levels to promote muscle gain.
Secondly, your body temperature tends to peak in the afternoon, which has been linked with increased strength in a number of studies, including this one published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning.
In fact, the results of this study were so conclusively in support of the relationship between strength/body temperature/afternoon that the researchers suggested that coaches find strategies to raise body temperature to offset the lower temperatures typically experienced in the morning.
You would ask - What about my lunch? A light and nutritious meal can follow a good workout always!
However, as always see what works best for you! If late nights for unavoidable reasons happen more often for you - then why not give the afternoon a chance! But if you have successfully organized your schedule around morning workputs, then don’t change it. The most important thing is to choose a time of day you can stick with, so that exercise becomes a habit.
3. You Can Fight Off Age-Related Weight Gain With Muscle
There’s a perception that as you get older, you automatically get fatter. No matter what you do, no matter how good you are with fitness, once you reach a certain age you are fated to gain fat.
That’s only true if you let it happen. What actually happens is that as you age, you tend to become less active and more sedentary. Your activity rate declines, along with the amount of calories burnt in a day. If your diet remains the same and your activity rate declines, you’ll gain body fat. If you were previously in good shape (a former athlete, etc.) and you no longer exercise regularly, your muscle mass will reduce, further decreasing the amount of calories your body burns each day.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 23 or 84, your body will respond to resistance training (weight lifting, etc.) by increasing muscle mass. You don’t lose the ability to gain muscle with age.
This is significant for you because increased muscle will cause your body to need more calories just to maintain this additional muscle, meaning- if your diet remains consistent, you will have an easier time maintaining and even potentially losing body fat, thanks to your muscles.
We give far too much importance to Cardio workouts and forget the importance of strength training as we age! Strength training enables us to maintain a level of strength, so we can continue to do the things we love.
What to do - Add free weights or resistance bands workouts to your routine. It can help build and preserve muscle mass and strength. HuffPost has a brilliant article to give you more information on the importance of strength training as we age.
I also wrote down a specific article on Why Women should Strength Train.
4. The easy way to grow your muscles: get that all-important Stage 3 sleep
Stage 3 sleep- what is this? Stage 3 sleep, also known a short wave sleep (SWS), in another term “deep sleep”.
During deep sleep, human growth hormone is released and restores your body and muscles from the stresses of the day. Your immune system restores itself. Much less is known about deep sleep than REM [rapid eye movement] sleep. It may be during this stage that the brain also refreshes itself for new learning the following day.
So if you’re not getting enough sleep, or your sleep is continually being interrupted, you may not be getting your full nightly dose of growth hormone, which can sabotage your efforts in the gym.
How to work on getting the Stage 3 (Deep) sleep? You work on Your Sleep Hygiene. Read this brilliant article on knowing some really good ways to work on your deep sleep. But If you were lazy enough to open that link - then just know that having coffee in the evening, staying up with your phone moments before you hit your bed or using your phone while in bed, staying in bed for too long in the morning, having late night snacks etc are all ruining your deep sleep for sure.
Your time is arguably the most important resource you have, and how you spend your time is one of the most important decisions you make each day. An hour spent at the gym could easily be spent doing an infinite number of other, just-as-important tasks.
Similarly, when you change your diet dramatically in highly uncomfortable, unsustainable way, you’ve just reduced your overall quality of life each day – another way people waste their time. Make sure that any health advice you read is backed up by research and that the advice is given freely, without any direct gain. Check the sources and check the facts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.