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Gym-Maniacs: Health and Fitness is Not All About the 'Burn'

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Goodbye January. Perhaps the over-enthusiastic gym newbies can calm down now? Every year I observe with a wry smile - but more often frustration - as my local health club is packed to the rafters with sweating 'January gym-maniacs'.

However, February is here now (hurray) and normality can start to resume as the fitness frenzy subsides. The newbies are already realising that the strict regime and dieting is not sustainable. The regulars can get their favourite cross-trainers back!

But why the frenzy at all? Going hell for leather, be it on treadmills or in spin classes etc, is never a good idea. All exercise and health regimes should be approached with a good sense of pace and of course, consistency. That's what creates real, long-lasting results and best of all, re-trains bad habits.

For the record, I'm not a fitness junkie. In fact it takes a LOT to get me in any way excited about exercise. I've had the auto-immune disease RA (rheumatoid arthritis) since my teens and have to take it easy on my joints with impact sports. (Instead, I opt for swimming, pilates and my new, absolute favourite - bikram yoga. I'll be writing about that soon).

I'm a career journalist and we're not known for our zen-like clean living! But several years ago I trained as a holistic therapist and embraced the philosophy of working and living with a 'mind, body and soul' balance. When one area of this triangle is out of balance; it has a knock-on, damaging effect on the others. Thus, going for the burn in any area of your life, especially exercise, simply creates further problems elsewhere. Something's go to give and usually you're whole health and well-being suffers.

The crazy thing is there's actually so much we can do these days to support our health simply and without extreme stress on our bodies. Hardly a day goes by when sports scientists and health specialists are discovering new routines, supplements and tools to support even the most ardent couch potatoes. (See my top suggestions for 2012 below).

I was watching the ITV show The Biggest Loser earlier this week and watched as the contestants (all clinically obese) put themselves through clearly tortuous work-outs and fitness challenges. I was horrified. These people, who each have HUGE amounts of excess weight bearing down on their joints, were hauling themselves across muddy fields and undertaking SAS 'boot camp' style fitness regimes.

While it all adds to the drama of the show, it is yet another example of pushing your body to an extreme that simply cannot be sustained long-term. I dread to think of the damage done to the contestants' backs and knees, never mind the shock to their hearts after years of sedentary living. Who wants to lose weight and get fit when it requires having a medic on hand in case you collapse with exhaustion?

So, what's the answer to boosting your health and well-being this year? Take it slow, say the experts and look at all the corners of your life - emotional, physical and social - when making real changes to your health. Here are some of the latest key suggestions/tools for getting to grips with your weight, bad habits and boosting your health in 2012:

Address the reasons behind your weight issues: it may not be something we are comfortable with but over-eating is connected to your emotions, stress and poor habits. The roots of all need tackling for real, long term change. In her new, ground-breaking book, A Course in Weight Loss, best-selling author, Marianne Williamson takes readers step-by-step through the process of realising and addressing what led to their weight gain in the first place. The book's dedicated to Williamson's famous yo-yo dieter friend Oprah Winfrey and is one of the best books I've ever read on the subject.

Join a slimming club: forget the gimmicks and fad diets. Yes, put those vile soups and shakes in the bin where they belong. Firstly, if you need long-term support with your weight see your GP. S/he may well refer you to a dietician or slimming club. I used to be cynical about these clubs, but no more. These days they are better than ever and very effective in delivering steady, healthy weight loss and re-educating members on nutrition and triggers for overeating. Best of all, the group setting offers one of the best ways of gaining consistent support and encouragement. I particularly recommend Slimming World as their Extra Easy system is simple, easy to maintain and there is no sense of deprivation.

Boost your vitamin D intake: one of the best ways to boost your general health this year is to supplement your diet with the sunshine vitamin - vitamin D. At least half of us Brits are lacking in the nutrient (some of us seriously) and various studies have found links with deficiency and depression, weight gain, rickets/poor bone density, MS, some cancers and even fertility. Cereal giant Kellogg's are taking vitamin D deficiency so seriously that they've now starting fortifying ALL their breakfast cereals with the nutrient. The best way of obtain vitamin D is through sunshine on the skin for about 20 minutes each day (obviously being careful not to burn). However, for northern Europeans this isn't always possible, so supplementation is essential. One of the best vitamin D supplements on the market is the DLux oral spray by Better You. One quick spray under the tongue each day is all it takes. It tastes good too!

Getting active - the 10 minute trick: if you think you don't have the energy, time or will to exercise, try the 10 minute trick. Sports scientists have discovered that short blasts of exercise are as good, if not better, than pounding away for an hour on a treadmill. It makes getting fit much more manageable and less daunting. If you're not fit at all, start with two daily sessions for a week, 10 minutes each, of either walking or resistance training (weights). Aim to build up to three to five 10 minute sessions a day and see the results start to show. A great tool for this and hot news in the fitness industry is the incredibly addictive and inexpensive PowerSpin - www.powerspin.com - ideal for toning up the arms and abs. It's small enough to take with you anywhere too - so no excuses.

Pack in the fags: we all know just how damaging smoking is but if you are a smoker giving up really is one of the best decisions you will ever make. The facts speak for themselves, one in two of all long-term smokers will die early from smoking related disease and smoking is estimated to be responsible for almost a third of all cancer deaths in the England. But perhaps one of the best incentives: a 20-a-day smoker could save £2,405 a year if they quit. How? Again see your GP for advice on smoking cessation groups which are expanding up and down the UK. Some find hypnotherapy works or the Allen Carr system. One of the cleverest and most popular new products to ease you through withdrawal is the electronic SkyCig Enjoy the feeling a traditional cigarette provides, without all the harmful chemicals and nasty odours.

Ditch the detox: the good news is that gradual changes to your diet generate better long-term results. Short-fasting and detoxing does have its place but latest research shows that the winter is not the ideal time to do this. To boost your anti-oxidant intake, eat more fruits and veg. Developed by NASA and containing a host of concentrated super-fruits is AS10 juice, now available in the UK. A great antioxidant boost to your general health and immunity. One of the cleverest new products on the market to help here to is the SmartShake - the three-in-one liquid holder/shaker. Really clever; it has a compartment for your health supplements/tablets, one for your fluid and a spare for extras like nuts, seeds or fruit. Brillant.

Good luck with any changes you are making to your lifestyle and remember, always consult your GP for advice and guidance when tackling health problems.

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