My 30 day challenge has come to an end. For the month of July I set myself goals in the areas of exercise, nutrition and mental health. The aim was to have the healthiest 30 days that I’d ever spent on the planet! What a great month it was. I didn’t hit all of my goals but I made a lot of improvements and learned so much from my efforts. I can tell you that even now, after completing the challenge, I still feel energised, invigorated and motivated in so many ways. I feel healthy, fit and happy not to mention the sense of achievement I feel for sticking with the challenge for the entire month.
Here’s a closer look at how I got on:
Part 1: Exercise
I put in place a structured exercise plan for the 30 days that I based around the five components of physical fitness: Cardio-Respiratory Fitness, Muscular Strength, Muscular Endurance, Flexibility and Body Composition.
I got off to a slow start with the cardio exercise; I didn’t go for my fist run until 10 days into the challenge! I made up for lost time though. I completed five runs in July and for each run I increased my distance and improved my average pace per kilometre culminating in a 46 minute ten kilometre run. I didn’t quite hit my target of completing two 10 kilometre runs in the month but I have a new found love of running thanks to this challenge so I will be keeping up with the running despite the challenge coming to an end and I will complete that second 10k very soon.
Lesson learned: Set actual dates and times for workouts for the entire month in advance i.e. class on Weds @ 7am, run on Fri @ lunch time etc. Re-schedule these if you miss any.
Muscular Strength and Muscular Endurance
My aim was to complete 3 or 4 resistance training sessions per week and I met that target by hitting functional training classes with Philip Kavanagh at Limitless Functional Fitness in Smithfield during the month. I don’t lift heavy weights but I definitely made a small improvement in the amount of weight I was lifting, particularly for my deadlifting. I also feel I’ve improved my muscular endurance as I completed all the sessions that were set, even those with a high amount of repetitions. I was working out at a slow enough pace though compared to others in the class but that is an area that I plan to improve!
Lesson learned: Set targets for the increased weight and number of repetitions that you want to be lifting by the end of the challenge.
As highlighted previously, I am incredibly inflexible! My target for the 30 day challenge was to stretch properly before and after each workout during the 30 days as well as attending a yoga or pilates class at least once a week during the challenge. I’m glad to say I hit these targets during the month. Does this mean I am incredibly flexible now? I’m afraid not, far from it actually. I have learned an awful lot more about stretching though (thanks to Philip and his guide to warming up and stretching before a workout) as well as discovering what areas of my body are particularly inflexible; namely shoulders and hip flexors. So good progress made on the flexibility but a lot more to do!
Lesson learned: Stretch every day and concentrate on inflexible areas such as hips and shoulders.
I took measurements for Body Mass Index (BMI) and chest circumference before and after the 30 days. While not perfect metrics, they give an indication of changes in body composition during the month. I made slight improvements in both. Quite minor it has to be said but improvements nonetheless and not to be sniffed at given the short period of time I was analysing. I can see how my lifestyle changes could lead to significant improvements over time.
These metrics provide definite results before and after a set period. There are also the subjective results. Did I notice any changes or improvements in body composition after the challenge? Well I can honestly say I didn’t just feel good, I felt great! I felt stronger and healthier and my body felt that little bit more toned than it had before I started. The belly is still hanging on in there but I gave it a hell of a tough time during the 30 days!!
Lesson learned: Take more measurements, including arm and hip girth and use callipers if possible. If you can’t measure it, how will you objectively know if you are improving?
Part 2: Nutrition
‘You can’t out exercise a bad diet’ is a quote you may see hanging in health clubs everywhere and it’s very true. My aim was to eat and drink as healthily as I could throughout my 30 day challenge in order to support my exercise plan. I used a combination of what I learned in my nutrition studies and what I had read from thought leading nutritionists to influence my nutrition plan.
I am perhaps fortunate in that I eat pretty well already and I don’t really have a sweet tooth so my strict nutrition plan was not as challenging for me as it may be for others. In reality though, I did let my hair down a little after a very strict two weeks at the beginning. I had the odd treat when it presented itself and I did dine out on a few occasions towards the end of the 30 days. I felt I was making great progress with the challenge and a little treat here and there can provide a much needed psychological boost to stick with the routine as much as anything.
Lesson learned: Schedule a cheat day in the program?
As for eating out, there is a move towards healthier eating options when dining out in Ireland although I must say there is still a long way to go in this regard. I find that the majority of establishments do not offer what I would class as genuinely healthy options. I’m afraid a salad dripping in dressing and coleslaw does not constitute a healthy choice. Perhaps nutrition education is what is missing? Or maybe there just isn’t a demand for really healthy food? I doubt that last point is true as my local coffee shop is doing a roaring trade at present. The Lo-Cal Kitchen offers a proper health conscious menu, with food that tastes really good and has the added benefit of not having any bad stuff in it. More of this type of place please!
Lessons learned: 1) Prepare your own food if you want to fully control what goes in your body and 2) sketch out meal plans for the month and use scales to monitor exact portion sizes
I drank plenty of water every day and made lots of healthy juices and soups with my bad boy Nutribullet Pro to ensure I was properly hydrated during the month. I stayed completely off the booze for the challenge too and must say I really enjoyed my #DryJuly. My young daughter makes sure my nights out are not as frequent as they used to be anyway but having a full month without touching a drop certainly gave me a boost both physically as well as mentally.
Lesson learned: Document and share some juice and soup recipes. The Nutribullet is NOT for making cocktails!
Part 3: Healthy Mind
Mental health is often overlooked as part of most health or fitness challenges but I was conscious of including a healthy mind plan as part of my program to support my exercise and nutrition goals. If your head is not in the right place then it can impact on your daily routine, including your exercise plans and what you’re eating.
I’ve already mentioned how the exercise and nutrition went for me, and those positive results gave me a great start with my mental health targets. On top of those I kept my mind active by listening to different podcasts regularly and by learning some Portuguese every day. I got outdoors as often as I could. The weather was really mild for July so my daughter dragged me out for some active parenting on quite a few occasions throughout the month.
Every night, I read some fiction for up to 30 minutes to take me away from it all (I read ‘The Day of The Triffids’ by John Wyndham so I really did get away from it all!). I then switched off all of my devices and spent some time stretching and then relaxing doing nothing before heading to bed. I’m not a bad sleeper in general but I do think this new routine led to some deeper sleeps during the month.
One area I fell short on was avoiding the news. I said I would try to avoid news and media during the month in order to foster as positive a mindset as possible. In reality I caught the news on TV and radio quite a few times and I did read a few stray newspapers! Not exactly a crime and I’m not sure if it had a huge impact as I am quite a positive person but I am slowly but surely weaning the negative news out of my diet.
Lesson learned: More fun fiction, less newspapers!
I’m very pleased with how it went overall and I learned so much about myself and how the program can be updated as I progressed through the month. I see some definite areas for improvement the next time I take this challenge.
A big benefit that I can see is the long term behavioural and lifestyle changes this 30 day program can promote in those that are dedicated to it. Sticking with something over time can turn it in to a habit and that can be great for your health and wellbeing. Going for a run at the same time three days a week can become a habit. Preparing nutritious meals every Sunday evening for the week ahead can become a habit. Reading and stretching before bed every night can turn in to a habit. Even though the challenge has come to an end I still feel motivated and energised to stick with a lot of the routines I had set for myself during the month and improve upon them where I can.
Set realistic targets - commit yourself to them – work hard and achieve your goals.
Slow, steady improvements over time can lead to incredible results!
Yours in health,