If his appearance on the One Show is anything to go by, actor Hugh Bonneville has put lockdown to good use.
During an interview on the BBC One TV show last week, Bonneville, 56, looked a changed man. His cheekbones were noticeably more prominent, and his previously wispy hair was replaced by a neat silver trim. To complete his new look, he sported a smart, open neck shirt.
The transformation was so striking that many people took to social media to share their thoughts:
Had to do a "double take " Didn't recognize Hugh Bonneville at first. Looking amazing.— Jackie Rimmer (@JackieRimmer) August 7, 2020
Bonneville’s apparent weight loss is timely. Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently said that he believed being overweight played a part in the severity of his Covid-19 symptoms: “I’ve wanted to lose weight for ages and like many people I struggle with my weight. I go up and down, but during the whole coronavirus epidemic and when I got it too, I realised how important it is not to be overweight."
In tandem with the PM's interest in losing weight, the Government has announced a new obesity strategy to help slim the nation’s waistline. An army of "weight loss coaches" at GP surgeries will be trained to persuade millions of people to eat healthier and up their exercise levels.
So, how did Bonneville do it? While his weight loss may look dramatic, you will be comforted to know that shedding the pounds isn't as complicated as it can sometimes seen. We’ve asked the experts...
Cut your calorie intake
Bonneville has made no secret of his desire to lose weight in the past. In a previous interview with The Telegraph in 2009, the actor revealed that when he returned from filming the BBC archaeology drama Bonekickers, his wife Lulu said he looked “fat as a pig.”
Following his wife’s comments, Bonneville, then 46, hired a personal trainer, who told him to eat “little and often” with “no carbs in the evening.” According to our experts, a similar dietary approach could explain his lockdown weightloss.
“He’s obviously doing strength training combined with cardio, and I can imagine he’s reduced his calorie intake,” says award-winning personal trainer Michael Garry.
Garry maintains that midlife men are some of his most successful clients. And one of his top tips for midlifers, who often have sedentary lifestyles due to working long hours, is to cut down to two meals a day.
“If you’re not doing much physical activity in the day, you’ve got to find a way of reducing the number of calories you consume,” he said. “My clients eat brunch, and then an evening meal at 6pm or 7pm. That way, you're fasting from one period to the next.”
Simon Waterson, a personal trainer, agrees: “Always train for your day. If you’ve got a hectic, high activity day then have more calories. If you’ve got a sedentary day, bring your calories down. To lose one pound of fat per week, your calorie deficit has to be 3,500 calories. It’s not hard to reach that goal, if you up your exercise by 250 calories and bring down your nutrition by 500 calories per day."
The intermittent fasting method, which retrains your body to burn fat, has proven popular with midlifers looking to shed a few pounds. It involves limiting your eating to an eight-hour window in every 24-hour day, giving your body time to digest and use the nutrients you need.
Eat for nutrition
In his book ManFood, nutritionist Ian Marber sets out an eating plan that can help men lose up to 10 to 12lb in four weeks. Unlike other low calorie diets, he does this by ensuring men maintain optimum nutrition levels that should keep them in health through midlife, and beyond. The emphasis in Marber's book is on fresh vegetables, protein and complex carbohydrates in the forms of grain or starch.
“You should aim for no more than 2,500 calories each day, with two main meals each accounting for a maximum of 600-700 calories," he writes. "Depending on the amount of weight you want to lose, you can reduce these calories - about 1,800 to 1,900 a day would see you lose two and a half to three pounds a week."
Manage your hormones
Research has indicated that in men, levels of testosterone begin to steadily decline between the ages of 30 and 40. Personal trainer Matt Roberts says that this means men have less ability to create and maintain muscle mass, making it more tricky to burn away fat.
“The most dangerous form of fat is the visceral fat, which is around the internal organs, in the midriff area. It raises your risk of heart disease and diabetes,” he said. “When we lose muscle mass, that's where we tend to accumulate fat.”
He says the key to good hormone health is to ensure the gut is functioning well. This allows testosterone and cortisol levels to be in sync, and ensures your body has enough serotonin in the day, and the right amount of melatonin at night, which is crucial to ensuring you get a good night’s sleep.
Roberts suggests that men should take out any foods that can “aggravate and inflame the gut.” These include highly processed foods, refined sugars, alcohol in high doses, stimulants in high doses and highly acidic foods.
“Go for a rich diet in meats and fish - ideally, meat should be grass fed, and fish should be sustainably sourced,” he said. “Eat lots of dark green vegetables, and food that is high in antioxidants, iron and vitamin B - all these give you a landscape where you can get a good hormone balance.”
Mix up your exercise
Having worked out with a personal trainer for ten years, it's likely that exercise played a large part in Bonneville’s weight loss. Roberts advises that men in this age group should be aiming to do things “which are going to test the body,” such as lifting heavy weights two to three times a week.
He advises combining this with “lighter, circuit based training; things which are short blast, with short recoveries”, such as skipping, or HIIT workouts.
“They should also be aiming to do low grade, sustainable exercise, such as regular walking. That combination tends to cause the overload that's needed to create muscle mass and boost hormone activity,” he says.
For Waterson, it can be helpful to take up a new activity that you’ve never done before that’s not perceived as exercise, but is part of your lifestyle, such as mountain biking.
“Fitness vocab is really important; it’s often to our detriment that we put ourselves down as destined for failure,” he said.
“Rather than thinking you're on a diet plan, think that you’ve started a new lifestyle.”
They didn’t teach you to touch your toes at school for nothing. Experts are in agreement that flexibility is crucial for staying healthy in midlife. Activities that lengthen and stretch muscles can help you prevent exercise-induced injuries, back pain, and problems with balance.
“Try laying out on your back, arms out to your sides in a crucifix position, and then just roll with your knees bent to one side, and to the other,” says Roberts. This will help improve overall mobility.
Core development work is important, too, he adds: “single leg squats are good, as they engage the glutes and all the stabilising muscles around the hip.” To stabilise the back and pelvis, men can also try “glute bridge work”; that’s lying on the floor with your feet on a bench and chair, and slowly raising your hips up and down off the ground.
Perhaps the most important of all these tips is to take regular rest days. Your body in midlife isn't what it used to be, so taking time to recover from workouts helps your muscles to repair, and prevents injury.
"What tends to happen is people become over enthusiastic. However, you might end up injured, or sick as a result," said Garry. "If you've done a work out, take a proper rest break and avoid stimulants, such as coffee."