‘Fresh start effect’: Expert tips to reach your health and fitness goals

With the new year in full swing, Dr Mosima Mabunda shares how you can become the healthiest version of yourself, with a few simple tips by experts from the Discovery Vitality team. 

As the new year unfolds, it offers us a blank canvas for a fresh start. Many individuals discover that beginning something new or approaching tasks with renewed vigour is easier during a new week, a fresh month, or after celebrating a birthday.

This phenomenon, known as the ‘fresh start effect’, grants us a clean slate – a chance to leave past setbacks behind and recommit to our aspirations. So, muster the courage to take that first step, begin with small strides, build upon them, and persevere.

Coach Peteni Kuzwayo’s story shows the power of fresh starts.

Peteni, who is the Team Vitality Club manager, once stood exactly where many of us find ourselves at some point – out of shape, overweight and despondent. Until one day, tired of his own excuses, he laced up his running shoes and hit the tarmac. Peteni has since conquered marathons from Chicago to New York and Zanzibar, 10 Comrades, and has been the only Nike Run Club coach in Africa.

Running, Peteni believes, or any movement for that matter, is “the best metaphor of no one gets left behind”. This is also the motto within the Team Vitality community, where runners find support and encouragement, helping one another to create a holistic running experience to support anyone – from beginners to Comrades runners. 

Discover the benefits of slow running

There’s a well-known phrase in running: “You need to run slower to become faster.”

For many, running is a session of pushing limits, often leading to injury or overtraining. That’s because your body’s lactate levels start to rise, resulting in fatigue and exhaustion.

Some might take it too easy. The key, as suggested by biokineticist Mari Leach, is to embrace a variety of exercise intensities. From longer, slower runs at a conversational pace (Zone 2 training), allowing you to chat with a running buddy, to the vigorous demands of hill sprints and speed drills – each serves a purpose. This blend of training improves mitochondrial function – the cells in our bodies responsible for energy production, promoting cell growth and rejuvenation. 

Build your training plan

A balanced training plan is crucial. For running newbies, small increases of 5% to 10% in weekly exercise are recommended. For example, if you run 15km a week, increase this to 17km. Only increase the distance when you feel comfortable to ensure your tendons and ligaments can adapt to the increased distance. A typical week might include one to two longer, low-intensity sessions, complemented by one to two high-intensity interval training sessions, and a day of rest. Intermediate to advanced runners can add another high-intensity workout and more sets as they improve by increasing the distance by 5% to 10% a week. 

Prioritise nutrition

Dietitian Carla Pool says: “Nutrition is the silent partner in your running journey, and a balanced diet is the fuel for your run. Nutritional balance is vital, whether you’re a competitive athlete, daily exerciser, or weekend runner. It’s about nourishing your body with the right mix of nutrients and protein for muscle growth and repair.” 

Personalise your success recipe

Peteni believes there is value in playing around with foods to find the strategy that suits you. On race day, he says: “Stick to what you’ve practised; new foods can be unpredictable and too much fibre, protein or fat can cause discomfort.”

Carla says: “In general, a balanced diet will provide the nutrients and energy you need. However, if you are an athlete who may need supplements, consult a dietitian.” 

Hydration is key, especially for longer distances, and alternating between water and sports drinks helps maintain optimal hydration. 

Carla has the following tips for nutrition before, during and after your run:

Eat between one and four hours before. It gives food time to digest and provides your body with fuel.

Eat something rich in carbohydrates and low in fibre that is easy to digest, for example:

– Toast with cottage cheese

– Cereal with low-fat milk or yogurt

– Fruit smoothie

While you run, replenish your glucose stores with a quick snack. The most effective refuelling occurs in the first hour after you start running. Have something you can carry with you and can digest quickly.

Some snacks that won’t leave you overly full or bloated include:

– Fruit: fresh, dried, or fruit cups

– Muesli or sports bars

– Crackers with cheese

– Simple sandwiches, like honey or peanut butter. 

Eat a recovery meal or snack. Choose a meal or snack that combines carbohydrates and protein for muscle repair.

Some options include:  

– Chicken, avocado and salad sandwich

– Dairy-based fruit smoothie or yoghurt with fruit and nut trail mix

Let’s make this year about more than resolutions; beyond just running, let’s make it about becoming the healthiest version of ourselves.

Are you ready to take the first step?

Dr Mosima Mabunda is the Head of Wellness at Discovery Vitality

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