Saturday, 30 May 2020

Stress, Mindfulness and Health

Stress is the key to our own survival. But too much stress is damaging to our health. Emotional stress and mental stress that stay with us for weeks, months or even years, will weaken our immune system and cause health problems such as fatigue, depression, high blood pressure, anxiety and even heart health problems.

Good Stress

Stress can be beneficial believe it or not? Stress is a burst of energy guiding you to all that needs to be achieved. For example without some form of stress we might not feel motivated enough to meet the goals we so desire, or to meet our daily life challenges. Stress also triggers our "flight or fight" responses, creating bodily functions such as increased heart rate and a laser like focus. This helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations, such as jumping away from a moving oncoming obstacle in our direct pathway.

Too Much Stress

So how can we tell if our stress levels are becoming harmful to our health? We need to be able to spot the difference between good and bad stress and try and keep our immune system fully functional to maintain optimum health.

Look out for signs of placing your body under too much stress:

  • Constant headaches
  • Irritability
  • More anxiety, panic and anger attacks than normal
  • Changes in appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Unable to concentrate or complete simple tasks
  • Insomnia
  • Chest pains and rapid heart beats
  • Emotional outbursts
Dealing with Stress


A very "fashionable" word of the moment, but what does mindfulness involve and how does it help our over-stressful lives. Mindfulness is living in the "now", the present moment. We learn to become aware of our thoughts, our surroundings and our breathing. By practising mindfulness we bring all our thoughts and feelings to the present moment rather than fearing the future, or trudging through old memories and ideas without implementing change or improvement.

Mindfulness may seem easy right? However it may not be as simple as it appears. Mindfulness is about practising the art of making space for ourselves, to think, to breathe and be aware of our own surroundings.

Practice Makes Perfect

In these stressful and uncertain times......this could be a perfect time to practice mindfulness

  • Find your perfect place. Somewhere you can relax and not be disturbed. A place that feels calm and peaceful
  • Set yourself just 10 minutes for the above video
  • Make sure you are comfortable and relax in your calm and peaceful place
  • Concentrate on your breathing to focus your awareness of the present moment
  • Notice when your mind starts to wander and bring it back to the calm sounds of the video and rhythm of your breathing
  • Do not worry about your wandering mind or the thoughts that enter your kind to yourself and bring your mind back to your breathing and the pleasant sounds of the video.
This is all you need to do and with regular practice you'll find mindfulness will become part of your daily routine. A calm mind and less stressful life will help bring you to the path of optimal health.


Monday, 25 May 2020

When and Why Should We Stretch

Why is Stretching so Important

Stretching keeps our muscles flexible and healthy. Stretching our muscles after exercise whether it's walking, fitness classes or jogging will help to maintain a good range of movement within our joints. Without any stretching our muscles become tight and shorten, they become weaker and will not be able to extend in any way. This will in turn put you at risk of joint pain, instability, strains and muscle damage.

The Effects of a Regular Stretching Programme

As with anything worth maintaining or improving, it will take time and consistency. Lower limb muscles such as calve or hamstring muscles (back of the thigh) may take some time to lengthen and regain flexibility. Years of not stretching these muscles will not recoup flexibility after a couple of weeks, however stretching regularly will make a huge difference to regaining some sort of flexibility. For example, if you have a sedentary job where you are seated for most of the day without stretching, will leave you with tight hamstrings. It will become increasingly difficult to straighten your knee and extend your leg, which in turn hinders your walking abilities.

Types of Stretching

There are several forms of stretching and it is important to activate muscles prior to exercise as well as stretching worked muscles post exercise. It is equally as important that the correct stretching exercises are performed at the right time.

Prior to exercise some sort of stretch is required to warm up your muscles. Dynamic Stretches are stretching exercise with movement and these stretches should be used as a warm up before you participate in any form of exercise.

Static stretching comes to mind when we think about stretching. This type of stretching is performed after your workout. These types of stretching exercises will lengthen and extend your muscles. Hold a static stretch for approximately 15 seconds. You can also static stretch during the day to loosen your muscles and joints. If you are seated all day.....add a few hamstring and calf stretches to your day to lengthen tight muscles

The Benefits of Stretching

There is no doubt that stretching is good for the body and soul.  There are many benefits associated with stretching
  • Increases flexibility
  • Increases range of movement
  • Increases blood flow to your muscles
  • Lengthens muscles and relieves tightness
  • Improves performance prior to physical activity
  • Improves posture
  • Calms the mind
  • Stress reliever
Stretching and the Mind

Stretching encourages your mind to think about each muscle, the awareness of your surroundings and your breathing, as you inhale and exhale. Take your mind away from stress and worry as you concentrate on the movement of your muscles and the rhythmical sounds of your breathing. Focus your awareness to the present moment in time as you relax and stretch the day away.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Why Should We Be Thinking About Balance Training

One of the most overlooked and possibly the most important component of fitness is balance. When we talk about fitness and exercise, we automatically conjure up thoughts of treadmills, dumbbells, the latest trend of fitness classes or celebrity "keep fit" DVD's. Does anyone actually put aside time in their busy fitness regime to concentrate on the art of balance? No they don' a push perhaps 5 minutes on the Bosu ball but that's it!

The Importance of Balance

Good balance is required for just about everything we do such as walking, standing still, getting out of a chair and bending over just to pick something up from the floor. Balance skills may not come naturally to some and this skill needs to be work at with consistency. Balance training strengthens the muscles that keep us upright and stable. This includes our legs and core muscles and working on these will improve stability and prevent falls later on in our lives.

Improving Your Balance Skills

Balance exercises can be somewhat challenging depending on your own balancing skills. Intense exercises such as yoga type poses are best left to the more experienced exerciser. Simple exercises that can test your balance skills lasting from seconds to minutes, can be a better choice for gradual improvements without too much risk to the exerciser. You can also use equipment that forces your stabilising muscles to engage, such as a Bosu stability ball or balance board. Try testing your balancing skills with these simple but effect examples:

  • Standing with your weight on one leg.....raise your other leg to the side or behind you.
  • Walking the your heel directly in front of your opposite foot's toes and walk the imaginary tightrope. Walk forward and then try walking backward.
  • Stand up and sit down repetitively from a chair without using your hands for around a minute
  • Table Top....Starting position on all fours, head in line with the spine, focusing on a point on the floor in front of you, engage your core and slowly extend your right leg and left arm simultaneously, holding the position for 5 seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat using the left leg and right arm. 

Overtime you can increase the intensity of these exercises and improve your balance skills by:
  • Holding the positions or increasing the moves for a longer amount of time
  • Closing your eyes whilst performing the moves
  • Holding the positions steadily without using your arms to aid your balance.
  • Add movement to a pose

You can do balance exercises as many times as you like, every day if you wish. There is no impact on joints to accomplish good balancing skills, you just need patience whilst using methodical and slow movements. Balance exercises are strength exercises and with the improvement of your stability you will also strengthening your core, legs, glutes and back muscles.

What Can you Expect by Improving your Balancing Skills

Balance is a functional and fundamental skill required for your progression towards optimum health. Balance is the ability to maintain correct posture through effective stabilisation during steady or fast movements. In other words good balancing skills equate to increased control during all types of movements. Balance can be affected by many factors including ageing. Balance skills will assist in the prevention of injury and falls, whilst increasing joint stability. By adding effective balance exercises and drills, we will not only increase strength in our core, legs, glutes and postural muscles but improve our stability and capacity to perform fundamental movement patterns. 

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Weight Loss and Maintenance Management

Weight Management

The goal of weight management is to prevent the accumulation of excess fat or to reduce the level to avoid health issues and developing certain diseases. There are other reasons that we as humans, would like to loose excess body fat. It may be to drop a dress size, fit into a certain outfit or for an up coming event such as a holiday. To achieve our goals we embark on certain food fads or calorie restricting diets looking for answers. But lets try to break this cycle and look at the simple maths of maintaining or loosing weight and what is required for a lifetime of weight management.

The Simple Maths of Weight Loss

Lets start with the basic facts of weight loss. Your body will loose excess fat if you consume less energy (food) than your body uses. So if you eat 500 calories less per day than you need, that's 3,500 calories a week. This is equal to the calorific value of one pound of body fat......... a GUARANTEED weight lose without following any strict calorie controlled diet or extreme exercise programme. Easy right???

So how can we apply this simple maths to our every day life and either maintain or loose weight. Firstly we have to understand how much energy our body needs to maintain a healthy weight and the actions we need to take to implement a lifetime of weight management. The method to calculate your daily calorific intake is the "Harris Benedict Equation". This equation will give you the calories you will require per day to maintain your current weight.

Male calories per day =   66 + (13.7 x weight kg) + (5 x height cm) - (6.8 x age)
Female calories per day = 655 + (9.6 x weight kg) + (1.8 x height cm) - (4.7 x age)

This is the calorific intake for the body to just accomplish its basic functions or what is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Multiply this figure by your daily activity levels.

Sedentary (minimal or no exercise) BMR x 1.2

Lightly active (light exercise 1 to 3 times a week) BMR x 1.375

Moderately active (moderate exercise 3 to 5 times a week) BMR x 1.55

Very active (hard exercise 6 to 7 times a week) BMR x 1.725

Extra active (very hard exercise 6 to 7 times a week)
                                                   or a very physical job) BMR x 1.9

For example: a female weighing 65kg of height 172cm and age 45, walks 30 minutes 3 times a week.

655 + (9.6 x 65) + (1.8 x 172) - (4.7 x 45)
655 + 624 + 309.6 - 211.50 = 1377.10 x (lightly active BMR) 1.375 = 1894

To maintain a healthy weight, the calorific intake consumed per day will be 1894 calories.
To loose one pound of body fat per week is to create a daily deficit of 500 calories (1894 - 500 calories) = 1394.

To loose any weight in a healthy fashion is to combine the 500 calorie deficit between food and exercise. For example decrease your calorific intake by 250 calories and become more active by burning the other 250 calories. Combining good food choices with increased activity.

Calories and Activity

To increase your activity level does not mean that you have to join a gym or take part in the latest exercise just have to move more and be more active than sedentary. Instead of sitting on the coach all evening after your working day, use this time to do something more energetic. Perhaps half an hour walk in the park 3 times a week or work on an activity you enjoy, such as gardening. The following table illustrates various activities that will easily burn those extra 250 calories.

Using a food and exercise diary will track everything that you eat and any additional activities added to your day. By deducting the calories you have burnt during your additional daily activities from the food you have consumed, will not only improve your health and fitness levels but help you make any changes to improve your weight loss or weight maintenance .

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Food and Optimum Health

Food - What You Really Need to Know

What do we need to eat to be healthy? Which diet is the best to follow? What is classed as a balanced diet? What's a macro? Should we eat less carbs and more fat? How much protein do I need? What is a carb anyway? So many questions.....too much information.....where to start? 

Poor nutritional choices, no matter how physically active you are, have a very negative impact on your overall health. Health......a word aired into just about everything we do. Health by definition is "being of optimal bodily system function and an absence of disease" so ultimately this is all we need from the food we put into our bodies. The saying "we are what we eat" is in fact true. Nutrition effects us at a cellular level hence why bad food choices can lead to a wide range of avoidable illnesses such as obesity and type II diabetes

Understanding Healthy Food Habits

A good guideline to adopt is the "Eat Well Plate" with it's graphic detailing and directional advice on a sustainable healthy way of eating. The idea is to eat as "clean" as possible and to avoid processed packaged foods or food that is ladened with sugar or unnatural substances. The "Eat Well Plate" tells us to base our daily intake on meals of natural starchy food such as potatoes, bread, rice pasta and fortified cereals, eats lots of fruit and veg and eat more fish for protein. To maintain this healthier way of eating we should limit our intake of salt and unhealthy processed fats. An addition to maintaining optimal bodily functions is to stay hydrated and drink 6 to 8 tall glasses of water. If we look at the food pyramid to verify this a little more, we can see the daily portions of our "Eat Well Plate"

How to Plan a Healthy Way of Eating

  • 6+ portions of natural starchy foods (bread, cereals, potatoes, rice and pasta)
  • 5 portions of fruit and vegetables (preferably 3 vegetables and 2 fruits)
  • 3 portions of dairy (milk, cheese, yogurts, milk products)
  • 2 portions of protein (meat, fish, eggs, meat alternatives)
  • Very small amounts of processed foods (sugar, high fats, packaged food)
  • Limit alcohol intake and drink at least 6 glasses of water a day.
The "Eat Well Plate" also advises us to maintain a healthy weight. The following calorific intake targets are as follows:
  • Adult males consumption per day should be 2,550 calories
  • Adult Female consumption per day should be 1950 calories

It is not necessary to count calories to follow the advice of the "Eat Well Plate" if you find this difficult to maintain in the long term. For ease you can use the following established portion sizes:

Fruit 1 Portion is equal to:
Small fruit = 2 satsumas, 2 kiwi, 2 plums, 7 strawberries, 14 cherries
Medium fruit = 1 apple, 1 banana, 1 orange, 1 pear
Large fruit = half a grapefruit , 5cm slice of melon, 1 large slice pineapple
Dried fruit = 30g raisins/sultanas, 1 handful of banana chips
Fruit juice = 150ml

Green Veg = 2 broccoli spears, 4 heaped tbsp of kale, spinach or green beans
Salad Veg = 3 sticks of celery, 5cm slice of cucumber, 1 medium tomato or 7 cherry tomatoes
Cooked veg = 3 heaped tbsp of cauliflower, peas, carrots or corn

Starchy foods = 1 slice of bread, handful of pasta/rice, handful of cereals, 1 small to medium potato

Proteins (meat, fish, eggs, beans) = lean meat the size of a deck of cards, 1 large egg, side of fish the size of a standard cheque book, handful of beans, nuts or seeds

Milk and Dairy = small cup of milk, 150ml of yogurt, a piece of cheese the size of a small matchbox

Foods high in sugar and processed fats, such as cakes, sweets, crisps, biscuits etc
Limit these foods to less than 8% of your daily intake

Saturday, 9 May 2020

A Healthy Life Style

Why do we need to Exercise

Exercise helps us to either loose or maintain a healthy weight and lower the risk of certain diseases. Exercising regularly lowers a person's risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure to name but a few. Exercise can help us age well too.

Regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance. Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lung health improve, you have more energy to tackle daily chores.

These are some of the benefits of regular exercise and having read the first two paragraphs you now feel motivated to start an exercise regime straight away right? Yes you do, you are really enthusiastic and ready to start!!!!! However feeling motivated after reading the positives of exercise and actually starting that "plan of action" is not all that easy........ so why is this? Maybe it's because we are bombarded with impossible workouts all over social media, time consuming exercise plans, complicated diets, too many contradicting scientific facts, a plethora of gym classes to choose from's all just too exhausting and that's only the initial reading without burning one calorie

Planing a Healthy Life Style

To accomplish a true balance in your daily life, your work and family commitments, your social life your exercise/diet plan...... all working in harmony together, can feel as good as finding that cheap package holiday on the internet that looks as though it was designed especially for you. When something feels that good, whether it’s a perfect holiday, a job, a friendship or a healthy exercise and eating plan, it’s easy to commit to it in the long term without any hesitation.

When making any plan you have to take all aspects of life into account. To achieve the "best version of yourself" you have to be realistic. You need to look at all your commitments and free time to make sure this plan will work alongside these external factors. It's no good for either your health or well being if you plan to go to the gym every day for at least an hour, if this means you compromise your hours of sleep to achieve this. Sometimes we focus on just one aspect of our health and neglect others for example trying to over exercise to compensate for a bad diet. I truly believe in the "one step at a time" approach to achieve a good plan and make it a success, addressing lots of the small areas of your daily life and make changes one day at a time.

Exercise Plan 

The UK Government physical activity guidelines for adults :

"Each week, adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of moderate intensity activity (such as brisk walking or cycling); or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (such as running); or even shorter durations of very vigorous intensity activity (such as sprinting or stair climbing); or a combination of moderate, vigorous and very vigorous intensity activity."

Looking at the above information you can see that by adding just half an hour brisk walk into your day, five times a week you will be on your way to a healthier life style. This activity can be completed at any time of the day. Whether you walk to work or perhaps a brisk walk after your evening meal.  Walking and cycling are just two of the many exercises that will improve your cardiovascular health. It's one of your most effective tools for strengthening the heart muscle, keeping your weight under control and warding off the artery damage from high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure that can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Resistance Exercise

The Government guidelines for strength exercise

" Adults should do activities to develop or maintain strength in the major muscle groups. These could include heavy gardening, carrying heavy shopping, or resistance exercise. Muscle strengthening activities should be done at least two days a week, but any strengthening activity is better than none. "

Resistance exercise is important for your bone health. Weight bearing exercise increases bone density and will decrease your chances of bone diseases such as osteoporosis and arthritis. Loaded carries such as carrying heavy shopping bags will increase muscle strength and improve posture. Resistance or weight bearing activities should be included in your exercise plan twice a week if possible. 

We should aim to minimise the amount of time spend being sedentary. Balancing your time means less sitting time watching TV or scrolling through social media and instead make some of this time more active. 


For a healthy balanced diet the National Food and Nutritional guidelines advise of 8 healthy guidelines to support the "eatwell plate"
  1. Base your meals on starchy carbohydrates (Bread, cereal, pasta, rice)
  2. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables
  3. Eat more fish
  4. Cut down on saturated fats and sugar
  5. Eat less salt - no more than 6g per day
  6. Get active and try to maintain a healthy weight
  7. Drink plenty of water (6 - 8) glasses a day
  8. Don't skip breakfast

Back to the Plan

Just by changing a few simple things in your day to day life, could make a big impact on your health and well being. Adding half an hours brisk walk to your day, five times a week and add weight bearing activities twice a week will improve both your cardio and bone health. Look at your eating habits and make a plan to replace one bad habit with one good habit, once or twice a week. For example, drink a glass of water with your breakfast rather than coffee or perhaps replace meat with fish once a week.


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