Sitting really is the new smoking

By Dr Kate Little

We all know that exercise is good for our health and overall wellbeing, but what many of us don’t appreciate is that sitting for prolonged periods is actually harmful for our health even if we are optimally active the rest of the time.

Being inactive is believed to responsible for 1 in 6 UK deaths – at population level this is comparable to smoking! Hence, the saying

“Sitting is the new smoking“.

Evidence shows that sedentary behaviour increases our risk of heart disease and many cancers, and at least doubles our risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This clearly has great implications for those of us that have desk jobs,  use motorised transport or sit a lot when at home.

We know that we are more active, we can help reduce the risk of many conditions including:

  • Cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes
  • Breast and colon cancer
  • Alzheimer’s dementia, depression, and musculoskeletal ill-health.

Being more active has also been shown to improve quality of life through better symptom control, as well as helping to treat over 20 conditions, including certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, lower back pain, asthma, depression and anxiety. 

How does physical activity reduce our risk of disease?

Chronic low-grade inflammation is thought to be the root cause of many disease processes. Being active reduces our overall inflammation through two main paths.

  • Firstly, it reduces our visceral fat. This is that fat usually hidden around our organs and in our muscle tissue and is pro-inflammatory.  This visceral fat is lost preferentially over our subcutaneous fat (the fat we can see and feel) when we exercise and so reduces our overall inflammation.
  • Secondly, when we exercise, we increase our muscle bulk and in turn this releases more anti-inflammatory hormones which also reduce that inflammation.

Being sedentary increases the release of free radicals in our body. These damage our cells and promote that toxic inflammation which is linked to all those diseases. When we are active we limit that damage and actually protect our cells.

 

so How often should we be getting up and moving?

There are no guidelines on this yet. The best thing to do is to get up often – every 20-30 minutes if you can or at least every hour and move about, stretch a little, before sitting back down again.

And thinking in energy terms:

 Standing for 3 hours a day burns the same amount of calories as running 10 marathons over a year! 

 

Top tips for sitting less

Standing desk from Healthy Home & Office *

At work consider:

  • Investing in or using a standing desk. I bought mine (above) from Healthy Home and Office * in Ripley. They have a great range there and are incredibly helpful.
  • Walking meetings with clients or peers – you might actually have more constructive conversations and better outcomes, a bit like when you are side to side in a car. One colleague I know does this particularly when stuck on a creative project. Another works as a mental health nurse and finds that it works really well for the clients too.
  • Standing meetings – sometimes used in the city to make decisions quicker, but great for our health too.
  • Walking or standing calls – watch Dr Muir Gray’s clip on this here.
  • Get up to chat to colleagues rather than pinging a text or e-mail.
  • Get outside for a walk or break when you can.
  • Use the stairs rather than the escalator or lift
  • Drink lots of water – as well as being good for your health (within reason of course), it might get you up to use the bathroom.

 

At home consider:

  • Doing your weekly or adhoc food shop in person. Or even better, walking to your local shops and supporting our local businesses at the same time!
  • Cooking from scratch – keeps you on your feet for longer than a take away or ready meal.
  • Having frequent breaks when you are watching TV or a film. What about going that one step further and using the breaks to do some quick strength building or cardio exercises?!
  • Setting rules on your screen time – read more on the benefits of unplugging here. 
  • Meeting friends or family for a walk to catch up rather than for a seated coffee or tea. You can always bring your coffee with you!

There are clearly many more ways that you can be less sedentary, the key thing is to find ways that resonate with you and that you will stick with.

 

“This whole life is an art of knowing when to sit and when to stand up!” 
Mehmet Murat Ildan 

What ways could you move more and sit less?

**** Healthy Home and Office are offering a 10% discount to members of Horsley Hub. Offer lasts till end of August 2018.*****

The importance of unplugging and why you should become a Digital Rebel.

By Dr Kate Little

“Mummy, you’re not listening” my son says.

Mmmm. Sorry, I have just got to reply to this e-mail and I’ll be right with you…

Only I get side-tracked and the next thing I know, I am checking the WhatsApp and Facebook notifications on my phone. An argument breaks out at top volume around me.

Sound familiar?

The problem is that we all feel negative after this. And when I reflect back, the whole episode was my own doing. But what is it about our devices that makes them so compelling and addictive that we lose touch with real life going on around us?

The Digital Age and Inf-O-besity

We now live in a fast paced, information-overloaded digital world. It is an age of “Infobesity” with multiple competing demands on our time and attention.

More and more people are working flexibly or from home and with that, the boundaries between work and personal life have become increasingly blurred.

Research has shown that the average person checks their phone at least 150 times a day, an average user touches their phone 2500 times a day and a high user, well over 5000 times! It is perhaps no surprise based on these statistics that the average e-mail goes unread for a mere 6 seconds!

We get sucked in, often without realising it. But the design is intentional and it is based on slot machine psychology.

The Ludic Loop

Ludic is Latin for playful. The Ludic loop, coined by anthropologist Natasha Dow Schull, author of Addiction by Design, is a cycle of repeating the same activity, impelled by occasional random rewards.

Schull studied users of slot machines in Las Vegas. She found that users get drawn into a repeating cycle of inserting coins and pulling the handle in the hope of hitting the jackpot. Because the reward is not predictable, the gamer’s attention is grabbed and the behaviour becomes compulsive. They don’t want to miss that slim chance of a win.

We may not all be gamers and gamblers but we are all vulnerable to a similar loop in our use of e-mails and social media. Think about this scenario: You pick up your phone – it has been at least 5 minutes after all – you glance at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and then take a peek on your email. Once you have done that, a few more notifications appear on Facebook so you check that again. Before you know it, 30 minutes has passed. You return to what you were doing, but the lure is there at the back of your mind. What if someone has replied? So you start the cycle again. You are in the loop. The product designers are playing on our fear of missing something important and our need for social approval and reciprocity.

The Attention Economy

In his article, How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind – from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist”, Tristan Harris explains how product designers “play our psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against us in the race to grab our attention.”

We think that we have free choice, but in reality it is the product designers who are controlling our choices. They do this upstream by designing the menu of options that we are offered.Our news feed, the Auto-play on You-tube and the suggested programmes on Netflix are all chosen for us.

According to Adam Alter, author of “Irrestible – Why we can’t stop checking, scrolling, clicking and watching, we enter a zone of “Flow” when we use these products, a zone where we become so immersed in the task at hand that we lose perspective of time.

The trouble is, there is no longer an end point. In his TED talk Why screens don’t make us happy,” Alter argues that it is because they “rob us of stopping cues,” that signal that it is time to move on to the next activity. Before the inception of “on demand TV”, we would watch a TV show, and when it ended, we would have to wait until the next week to watch the next episode. Now, we can stay up all night and watch the entire series in one go if we want to.

Why does this matter?

As Alter observes, much of our screen time is not making us happy. And the problem, as we have seen, is that we are on our devices a lot.

Digital natives (those born into the world of laptops and mobile phones) spend on average 8 ½ hours a day exposed to digital technology and brain scans are showing that this negatively affects emotional aptitudes such as empathy.

Our pocket slot machines are with most of us 24/7. Young people check their phones on average 10 times a night. We go to bed with them. We wake up to notifications that we check before we have even got out of bed.

We are constantly high alert and this has consequences.

Excessive screen time is linked with introspection, depression, anxiety and reduced sleep. Have you ever checked your e-mail late at night and then lost sleep afterwards? I certainly have.

Reduced sleep affects our mood and behaviour and the way we eat so that we make less healthy choices, and so a vicious cycle develops. There are effects on our productivity: people are distracted through the working day, when at home and through the night, further affecting sleep and performance.

To compound the problem, products like Facebook can fuel our insecurities further as we compare ourselves unfavourably to others who post images of their “perfect” lives. We see the parties and social events that we perhaps weren’t included in and this can exacerbate our already fragile egos.

Most of us are already aware of the addictive power of our screens, and of cyber-bullying and exclusion, particularly in young people, but perhaps less aware of the impact on those that we care for. A health visitor I know observed recently how more and more children are commenting that they wished that their parents weren’t on their phone so much. Perhaps it is not just our children’s use of screens that we should be monitoring, but our own too.

So what can we do about it?

 Here are some hacks to becoming a Digital Rebel:

#1 Unplug

  • Take regular breaks to go offline even for a minute or two.
  • Spend some time in nature every day, unplugged. Notice the colours. Listen to the sounds. Move about.
  • Actively connect with people face to face, unplugged.

#2 Set a Digital Sunset

  • Set a warm filter on screens in the evening.
  • Invest in amber glasses to reduce the blue light if you do have to use your screen.
  • Invest in an old fashioned alarm clock with no LED display.
  • Leave your phone outside your bedroom.
  • Stick to no screen time one hour before you go to bed.

#3 Alter the set-up of your phone

  • Create an essential home page screen, moving distracting apps like Facebook and e-mails to the second page.
  • Stop notifications or hide them in folders.
  • Launch your apps without unlocking your phone by swiping up the Control Centre like you would do for your camera. This way your phone remains locked, reducing the chance of distraction.

#4 Set rules

  • Set a timer on Internet browsing time.
  • Ban phones at the table and in the bedroom.
  • Delete the most time-consuming apps. Replace them with more productive ones.
  • Put your phone out of easy reach when working.
  • Schedule blocks of time at specific times of the day to check your e-mails and social media.
  • Set your phone on airplane mode when you don’t want to be distracted.

The Power of Unplugging

Our screens are miraculous inventions. But the way we use them does not always make us, or those around us, happy.

So, become a digital rebel. Step out. Unplug. Go outside. Feel the grass beneath your toes. Listen to the birds. Enjoy the sun on your back and take a deep breath in. Life will be richer.

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

 Appendix

How do you know if you are a high user?

On Apple, you can check your % usuage of apps and time since the last full charge in your Settings / Battery / Usage. You might be surprised by just how much you use it.

 Photo by Roberta Sorge on Unsplash

 

 

 

Living with Peanut Allergy – a Personal Story

interview with a local mum by Dr Kate Little

My daughter was three years old when she was diagnosed with a peanut allergy.

It all started when we were on a family holiday in Ireland. I had eaten a bag of nuts when we stopped for a break on a family walk. I stroked her back and within minutes she was screaming in pain and had severe hives all over her skin. Skin prick tests and blood tests at the hospital confirmed peanut allergy and we were advised to avoid all nuts until she was older.

Every year since then, her allergy levels to peanut have been rising. She is now eight years old and they are now grade 6 (the highest level) so there is a real risk of a serious anaphylactic reaction if the allergen comes into contact with her mucus membranes (eyes, nose and mouth). Thankfully, when I ate nuts and touched her she only got a really nasty localised skin rash, which made her feel unwell and uncomfortable. Anaphylactic reactions are much more dangerous.

How has this affected her life?

Having such a severe allergy affects the whole family and we have to take numerous precautions in our day to day lives.

As well as avoiding all nuts, she now has to avoid any product that says, “may contain nuts”. This warning represents a real risk that there is a trace of nuts in the factory. For example, a factory that makes fruit and nut chocolate may clean its system and then make chocolate buttons. A trace of nuts may be present in the first few batches, but the consumer cannot know which batch they will get.

My daughter knows that she needs to wash her hands properly with soap before she eats anything and not to put things in her mouth (or up her nose!) if she doesn’t know what they are.

We carry the anaphylaxis kit everywhere we go and constantly check and double-check everything that we as a family consume.

When we fly, we have early boarding so that we can wipe surfaces down beforehand. You can never be sure that you will eradicate every potentially harmful thing, but you can only do your best.

She can’t eat anything in cafes and restaurants. A small thing like using the same tongs to pick up almond croissants and plain croissants, would be enough of a cross contamination to potentially cause a serious reaction.

At home it is easy to avoid nuts as we cook from scratch. On the plus side, it means that she eats less junk! It is trickier though, when she goes to other people’s houses. She just has to be really vigilant and we rely on people to decontaminate their home environments.

We always ask people whose homes she is visiting, to wipe all surfaces with antibacterial spray and make sure that everyone washes their hands properly with soap. This is enough to denature the protein.

It is also important to make sure that any dishes she is eating off, come straight out of the dishwasher, as otherwise dust from products containing nuts like muesli, may come into contact with something that she might put in her mouth. For example, my parents eat muesli that has hazelnuts & almonds in it. When the packet is closed, a dust is released, which can land on a glass or mug that she might later put in her mouth.

How has the nut allergy affected you?

I live my life on a knife-edge trying to manage the fear of something serious happening, whilst being aware that we can only do our best. I also find it hard to manage the social element and how easily parents or schools or my family might perceive me as being neurotic.

I try to make sure that when I talk to people about the precautions we need to take, I get my point across without spreading fear or panic that might make people stop listening, or stop trying, or exclude her. One of my biggest worries is that she doesn’t get invited to social events or on play dates, because it is too much responsibility.

Is your daughter aware of your concerns?

No I don’t think so. I think that we are lucky with her personality. At the moment it doesn’t seem to bother her that she is a bit different.

The allergy itself does frighten her though and this is getting more apparent the older she gets. The hospital have said that they will put more support in place for her as she gets older and have recommended some great on-line resources too.

We have learnt from some near misses that we all have to check what we are eating the whole time. For example, I once bought what I thought was some Kinnerton chocolate (which is always nut free) as a treat. My son (who was two years old at the time) had a meltdown when I didn’t check the ingredients because this is so ingrained in our routine. To pacify him I checked the packet and to my horror, it clearly said “Not suitable for nut allergy sufferers”. It turned out that it wasn’t Kinnerton chocolate at all, but another company that used similar packaging.

So this has wide reaching consequences for you all. That carries it’s own weightiness…

Yes, and I am the sort of person that cares far too much what other people think. I have to wrestle with knowing that this is the right thing to do for my daughter and the feeling that I don’t want to always ask the routine questions that are necessary for her safety, for fear of upsetting anyone. It is bizarre really that such trivial concerns go through my head when I am dealing with something as serious as this, although of course, when it comes to it, I will always put her health first.

It sounds uncomfortable

Yes, and I don’t want it to be uncomfortable for other people or to make them feel embarrassed. The more we do it though, the less that is apparent.

How has it been at school?

School has been more of a challenge than I thought, but I guess that the staff are learning at the same pace as everybody else.

Take for example the junk modelling they do in the classroom, which involves old packaging that people bring in from home. When she first started school, people were sending in packets from Bakewell tarts and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, where there is a very high chance that dust from the nuts may be present and then transfer onto the kids’ hands.

School trips are also a challenge, so I usually go on the trips which the teachers seem to prefer. I can then make sure that surfaces are wiped down especially around where she is eating her lunch and that someone is sitting with her to remind her to wash her hands before she eats things.

My biggest fear about school is bullying. I know that’s a bit of a strong word, but that element really worries me, particularly when she goes to secondary school where everyone brings in his or her own lunches. For example, a boy at school recently said to her “I want to give you a nut to see what happens.” It took all my strength to stop myself from going to speak to that child and their parent. I had to reflect and remind myself that it is just kids. So the worry is real and that is scary.

I reassure myself that because she is so feisty that might keep any bullying at bay but then again, it might also attract it. We are lucky though that the year group that my daughter is in is generally a really caring bunch and they all look out for her.

If you are constantly on this knife-edge, managing 2 children and working full-time, how do you look after yourself?!

I don’t know. Sometimes I feel that this is what a nervous breakdown feels like. I’m holding it all together all the time. I can only describe it as being like a teddy bear holding in its stuffing while one little seam is going. If I let that seam go, then the whole lot is going to fall out. So I am constantly patching up, and patching up, and making sure that we are all fine.

If she was having anaphylactic reactions all the time, then my anxiety levels would be through the roof, but thankfully she isn’t, so we seem to have managed it well this far. The allergy specialist said to us the last time we were at hospital that we are the only family that she knows whose child has a Grade 6 allergy and hasn’t been in casualty or ICU with anaphylaxis regularly. So it makes us feel that whatever we are doing, we are doing it right and that is really empowering.

It sounds so hard and most people just won’t be aware of just how difficult this is for you. Thank you for sharing your story.

 

For more information on severe allergies, see the following resources:

  • Anaphyslaxis uk
  • Allergy uk – this is a telephone line for advice and safe airline travel
  • Facebook –it can be useful to join relevant groups, to post queries and seek recommendations.
  • Jexco.uk provides really helpful information on epipens and how to use them. There is a kids area with games that normalises it for the children.

 

 

Re-charging at home

Our lives are often frenetic both at home and at work. The last person that we look after is usually our self. If we step back and consider what we might suggest to a friend or colleague, then our advice might be that in order to help others effectively, we first need to look after ourselves. We need to continually replenish our energy stores so that we have more to give for the next day and the next. The analogy of the oxygen mask on a plane.

So what strategies do YOU have to re-charge and re-energise outside work?

Please comment in the box below or share with me at kate@horsleyhub.com.

Your ideas will be put together in a post for a future newsletter.

Image from UNSPLASH

Could Life be sweeter with less sugar?

BY DR KATE LITTLE (KATE WHITE)

Ever had that feeling that you really need to eat? Where you feel lightheaded and shaky?

This happened to me recently on my way to the shops after eating a bagel. It didn’t pass until I ate something. I looked at the sugar content of my bagel and was staggered to see that each bagel (even wholemeal) contained 6.6g sugars, four times the amount of a standard slice of wholemeal bread. Of course, a bagel weighs double a slice of bread, which explains some of this extra sweet stuff. And while, if I thought about it, I knew that bagels were an “unhealthy” food option, they had somehow slipped into our family staples without me really thinking about it.

Given the explosion of adult and childhood obesity (according to recent data from Public Health England, 1 in 3 children in the UK now leave primary school overweight or obese), the increase in cancer and Type 2 Diabetes globally, what we eat and the way we eat is clearly important, as well as how much or little we move.

Most of us know that if we want to lose weight, we need to reduce calories and exercise more. We know that reducing sugar is part of reducing calories, as sugar equals calories.

Many (but not all) are also aware that there are many hidden sugars, particularly in processed food, and that complex carbohydrates, such as rice, pasta and bread are all metabolised into sugar. So reducing our carb intake makes total sense.

Many high profile people, such as comedian Eddie Izzard and actress Gwyneth Paltrow, have given up sugar and claim to feel better for it. However, given the propensity of the rich and famous to make increasingly wild and wacky lifestyle decisions, is this just another celebrity fad?

And are not all calories in equal? If, for example, I ate a chocolate bar and skipped dinner, would that be enough to offset the chocolate?

 

“Sugar – the bitter truth”

For years, the focus has been on eating low-fat foods and reducing calories, yet in the last decade there has been more and more interest in and increasing evidence on the harms of sugar, in particular, fructose.

Table sugar (and most fruits that we eat) contain sucrose, which is made up of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule joined together. High fructose corn syrup, commonly used in the States previously, has a ratio of 55% fructose to 45% glucose.

Fructose, unlike glucose, which can be metabolised almost anywhere in the body, can only be metabolised by the liver. Whilst the rest of the body burns the glucose, the liver works on any excess glucose and all the fructose, resulting in a high sugar load concentrated within the liver. Once the liver stores are full, the surplus gets converted to fat. Fatty liver then develops which then leads to type 2 diabetes and we all know the rest of the story.

High sugar diets have also been linked with poor behaviour in children, worsening seizures in epilepsy and Alzheimer’s dementia with some going as far as to call Alzheimer’s “Type 3 Diabetes“. Public Health England suggest that around one third of Alzheimer’s dementia might be attributable to lifestyle factors, including diet, exercise and smoking.

Armed with this information, the idea that all calories are equal can no longer hold sway. Perhaps we should be taking the harms of sugar more seriously.

So how do we start reducing sugar in our diet?

The first step we can all take, is not to add extra sugar to any food or drink, like tea or coffee, and to reduce our intake of sugary drinks and obvious sweet foods.

The next step, which is harder, is to limit processed foods, many of which have high concentrations of hidden sugars, often listed under different names such as glucose, dextrose, molasses, which many of us may not recognise as sugar. Many ready-made savoury sauces are very high in sugar for example. The Public Health collaboration has some excellent infographics here and here to help us to identify which foods are the worst offenders.

According to that reliable dietary resource, the Daily Mail, nearly half of all ready meals eaten in Europe last year were consumed in the UK.

On average, people in the UK consume at least one ready meal a week – twice as often as the French and six times the number consumed by the Spanish.

So if the Daily Mail is anything to go by, our fast food consumption is also something to be mindful of. If you prepare your own food from scratch, you can control the amount of sugar that goes into it. Another tip is to try to avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients.

“I’m a fat man in a thin person’s clothes”

This is what a friend’s husband told me once, after successfully losing weight and maintaining it.

And he’s right. According to Charles Duhigg, the author of “The Power of Habit”, bad habits don’t really disappear. We can ignore, change or replace them, but the pathways are “always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards”. This is clearly beneficial for learned skills like driving and riding a bike, as we don’t need to re-learn them after a break, but not so good when we actually want to get rid of unhealthy habits. The slippery slope is a very real and risky path that is open to all of us.

Duhigg adds that “most people don’t set out to eat fast food on a regular basis. What happens is that a once-a-month pattern slowly becomes once-a-week, and then twice-a-week – as the cues and rewards create a habit – until the kids are consuming an unhealthy amount of hamburgers and fries.”

For me as a parent, this is really important information. It has made me sit up and consciously think about what we eat and how we eat at home and outside, to make sure that we keep treats as treats, and not allow them to creep into everyday life – like the bagels!

Given #Health is one of my #3 words this year, let’s hope this new habit lasts!

 


Resources

The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes chronicles “Americans’ history with sugar: its uses as a preservative, as an additive in cigarettes, the contemporary overuse of high-fructose corn syrup. He explains what research has shown about our addiction to sweets. He clarifies the arguments against sugar, corrects misconceptions about the relationship between sugar and weight loss; and provides the perspective necessary to make informed decisions about sugar as individuals and as a society.”

Sugar by Half – an Australian site with resources and ideas on how to make sugar swaps for healthier alternatives.

The Change 4 Life Sugar Smart App

You can download this for free from the app store. It scans the bar code of your product and tells you how much sugar equivalent there is.

Sugar – the Bitter Truth

A You-tube film of a lecture by Professor Robert Lustig, an American paediatrician. Not easy viewing as it does go right down to metabolic level in some depth, but if you like detail and have 90 minutes to spare, this video is amazing. As well as learning loads about the harms of high fructose corn syrup which has been introduced en masse in the States as an attempt to stabilise sugar prices in the 50’s, we learn how coca-cola has changed its recipe over the years to include more and more sugar to hide the added salt and caffeine to make us more thirsty.

The Diet doctor – a great resource on low carb diets

The 4 Pillar Plan by Dr Ragan Chaterjee – I will be writing more on this later

Preventing Alzheimer’s is easier than you think by Georgia Ede MD of Diagnosis Diet

The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Programme to Prevent and Reverse the Cognitive Decline of Dementia by Dr Dale Bredesen

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Four Great Reasons to be Active

By Dr JULIET MCGRATTAN

We all know that doing exercise is good for us. Despite this, the Health Survey for England in 2016 tells us that 34% of men and 42% of women aren’t doing enough activity for good health. Why is it that exercise is so often seen as a chore and something that ends up on the bottom of our to do list?

Here are four great reasons to be active:

1. Better health. This might sound obvious but the power that exercise has to improve health is often hugely underestimated. Did you know that if you are regularly active throughout your life, you can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 35 to 40%, your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 20 to 30% and your risk of bowel cancer by as much as 50%? This means that we have the power to shape our own future health. When we’re young we tend not to think about these things but as we age, health issues do become more of a concern and it’s never too late to start becoming active and reaping some of these benefits.

2. Feel good factor. If you speak to someone who was previously inactive and became active, then you’ll find that one of the reasons they would never go back to a more sedentary lifestyle is simply because they feel so much better. You might think that you would feel more tired but your energy levels actually increase when you lead an active life. You sleep better, your concentration improves and you feel calmer. Stress and low mood are a common problem today and we know that exercise is a powerful tool for maintaining and improving mental health. You can expect a 20 to 30% reduction in your risk of depression if you keep active. Exercise helps both our physical and mental health.

3. Opens your world. Exercise can open up a whole new range of experiences and opportunities. From meeting new people and making new friends to exploring new areas and perhaps even travelling far and wide. You just never know where it will take you. Discovering a new path in your neighbourhood or feeling more a part of your local community can change how you feel about where you live. Learning what your body is capable of can change how you feel about yourself. Exercise can improve your self-esteem and self-confidence which then has a knock on effect to other areas of your life such as making you feel more empowered to take on challenges at work or within your family.

4. It’s fun. You might have grown up associating exercise with competitive sport at school and if you didn’t enjoy it then it can put you off for life. But there’s way more to exercise than feeling exhausted on a cross country run! Find something you like. If you want a new habit for life then it has to be enjoyable. Think back to when you were younger, what did you used to love doing? Chances are that if you can find a way to do it now, then you’ll love it all over again. Was it dance? Find an adult dance class or just crank up the stereo and dance around the kitchen. Was it football? There might be a local team, a walking football league or the opportunity to get active by coaching youngsters. Try new things and feel the boost that learning a new skill gives you. Above all, have fun with exercise.

Picture courtesy of PHE

These are four great reasons to be active and have you noticed they don’t include losing weight? We now understand that whilst some of the benefits of exercise are about any weight loss that it may cause in those who are overweight, lots of the benefits are entirely separate to what the scales tell you. You might not see your weight fall as you become more active but this doesn’t matter; it doesn’t mean it isn’t making you healthier. Exercise works by making you healthier from the inside out. It helps to reduce your visceral fat, this is the harmful fat around your internal organs. Visceral fat causes a slow inflammation in the body which we now know is one of the causes of the major diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and depression. Exercise will work on this fat before it works on our spare tyres round our middle!

The other thing to bear in mind is that although each week we are aiming for 150 minutes of exercise that makes us feel out of breath, what we do the rest of the time is important too. Reducing how long we spend sitting is hugely important. We were designed to move and by breaking up our sitting time and moving around for a couple of minutes every half an hour, we can help to prevent the cells of our body being damaged by unspent energy.

So, keep moving, improve your health, feel better, open your world and above all, have FUN!

 

Dr Juliet McGrattan is a GP , mother and author of Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health. She works as a Clinical Champion for Physical Activity with PHE in the north-west of England and with 261 Fearless, a global women’s running network. 

You will be entered into a prize draw for a free copy of her book, Sorted, if you like this post. 

Find out more about Juliet and follow her blog here.

Featured image supplied by Gratisography

 

Achieving Balance: Preventing Burnout

Our lives are often frenetic leaving us little time to pause and take stock of our own health and well-being, and putting us at risk of burnout. To help develop a list of useful strategies for juggling work and life, we have broken the picture down into four key areas and want you to share your ideas over the next four months.

Four key areas to consider for achieving balance.

In each month’s HH newsletter we will collate and share your ideas, along with those gathered in a recent local business networking meeting.

 

Mind full or Mindful?

All too often we are swept up in our busy lives, rushing from one activity to the next. We operate on autopilot; our thoughts taking control whilst we clean our teeth, brush our hair, take a shower; not really being aware of what we have just been doing.

In one of his talks, John Kabat-Zinn asks the audience an interesting question:

“How many people do you have with you in your shower?!”

I don’t know about you, but I for one, am rarely alone. My virtual notepad is always with me plotting and rehearsing my tasks for the day. Friends, family and colleagues frequently pop by as I think of all the conversations and messages they require. Or I revisit and agonise over an interaction with someone, which hasn’t gone as well as I would have liked. I am mind full. 

Most of us spend much of our day absorbed in the personal narrative of our lives. We may worry about the future or obsess about the past. We rarely spend time actually enjoying and appreciating the now.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment. Feeling the drops of water on our heads as we take our shower. Noticing the tingle in our skin as we massage shampoo into our scalp.

It takes us outside our thoughts, outside that narrative that it is all too easy to get trapped in. And importantly, it allows us to gain some headspace to free up our thinking and perhaps think about some of our problems more creatively, or with a more positive mindset so that they feel less overwhelming.

What can mindfulness help us with?

There is a good evidence base for its use in depression and, more recently, anxiety. It is not a panacea for all problems – it is not appropriate for severe depression, alcohol and drug problems and psychosis. Some studies report it as being as effective as medication, with less side-effects.

Evidence also suggests that mindfulness might help us manage stress better at work.

In addition, research is being conducted into the benefits of mindfulness in schools, after reports from short-term studies of improved psychological wellbeing and attention.

How can I practise mindfulness?

Some people are put off by the thought that you have to sit still and meditate, but this is not necessarily the case.

In the many definitions of mindfulness, some highlight the importance of focussing internally, on our thoughts and body, and some on paying attention externally to what is going on around us, and some on both.

Focussing externally, by being curious, taking notice and appreciating the beauty of the things that surround us can really help us be in the moment. The vibrant colours and unexpected warmth of a sunny autumn day for example.

Or simple objects in everyday life that we normally would pay little attention to, that we sometimes see in a different light, marvelling at them in wonder as if noticing them for the first time.

The Book of Life’s chapter on Appreciation talks about a French writer from the 18th century, Xavier de Maistre, who was wounded in a duel and confined to his bedroom. He recorded a mock-serious journal “A voyage around my bedroom” in which he looked at familiar objects in his room such as a chair and the window as if they were “remarkable novelties”, and this brought him great joy. He came to realise that:

“The key to existence is not to seek out what is actually new. It is to bring a fresh mindset to what we already know but have – long ago – forgotten to notice.”

This focus externally to me represents a kind of mindfulness in action. It does not necessarily involve sitting on a mat or chair. You can be very much be awake and moving, but rather than doing on autopilot, you are fully aware and in the moment.

Focussing internally is about becoming aware of what is going on inside: the sensations in our body and our thoughts. Watching our thoughts as one might observe clouds passing – there’s planning, there’s worry, there’s the critic – helping us to see our thoughts as weather patterns that come and go. Accepting them, rather than fighting them. They, like our moods, will pass.

This can be done in a formal meditation sitting still, alert and aware, allowing the mind to focus internally, but can also be done moving in activities such as mindful walking, Qigong and yoga where the focus is on the breath and/or the body. 

Integrating mindfulness into everyday life

This is my challenge. Mindfulness requires practice, like most things that we do. We know that to keep fit, it’s best to work out regularly, and this is the same for mindfulness. We need to practice regularly to train our mind like we would our muscles.

Ways we can do this are to:

PAUSE

Stop briefly for a few seconds throughout your day. Take a few breaths and notice what is present in your body and your mind.  Small coloured stickers placed on objects around your house/place of work act as cues to pause.

Take a three-step breathing space (3 minutes)

This is a quick meditation that can be done sitting or standing. I use it to unwind or if I am feeling overwhelmed by everything I need to get done, to re-energise and de-clutter.

Do formal practice (10 minutes)

Using an app such as those mentioned below, or some guided meditations such as those here. Some of these are seated. Some are moving.

Simply take notice.

Pay attention – what is here, now? Be curious. Like our French writer, we may start to appreciate those small things in life by seeing them differently. Practising #3 Good Things can help with this.

Mindful listening

Concentrate on listening and engaging rather than letting our minds wander or think ahead to what we are going to say next.

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There are many ways to become more mindful and less mind full. Writing this has inspired me to re-engage with my regular practice. I know that it makes a difference!

“Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

William James (American philosopher & psychologist)

Gill Johnson of Mindful Elephant is running an 8 week mindfulness course at East Horsley village hall starting Tuesday 24 April 7-9pm. Cost £225 reduced to £200 to HH subscribers. Contact Gill atgill@mindfulelephant.com or on 07785 921950 now to book or if you would like more information. 

Resources

Books

There are many books about mindfulness. Two that I have found useful are:

Finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams & Danny Penman. This has an 8 week course that you can do using a CD and the book. I have completed it and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Sitting still like a frog by Eline Snel (mindfulness for kids). I have tried this when teaching in schools and on my own children. They really love it, finding it very calming and relaxing. It starts to give children an awareness of their bodies and the changes that can happen depending how they feel. They learn to use the breath as a means of grounding themselves.

Apps

 

What does happiness mean to you?

by EMMA PETITT

I have been on an amazing journey these past 8 weeks.  Admittedly physically not very far – to Esher and back every Wednesday evening to attend an Action for Happiness course.  But emotionally……

Before you switch off and think oh, no not another happy clappy post; just spare me a moment and have a think about what happiness means to you? Not just about you as an individual but how we can make the world a happier place.

Needless to say on the 1st evening I blurted out the stock answer “family and friends” and of course for some there’s loads of others too; a big house, fast car, designer handbags, 5* holidays, money but do they really make you happy?  Think about tolerance, acceptance, belief, understanding, loyalty, openess, friendships and the communities you are part of e.g. work, home, friends, family, online, sports clubs, dog walking – they don’t even have to be particularly profound relationships but they can make you and your environment a happier place.

Just to cite one example….I woke up the other morning in a right huff about my husband (again I hear you shout), life and the world in general (I’ll blame it on those darn hormones).  I stomped off with my dog for a walk and on it I chatted to 2 other dog walkers – who I will probably never see again – about inane stuff.  Walking back home I felt much chirpier and on reflection realised it was all because I had struck up a conversation.

The things I really got out of the course were:

  • Be outward looking – the more egocentric and insular we are the more miserable we feel
  • Say hello and smile at everyone you pass (perhaps not always possible on a crowded commuter train when everybody might think you’re a little potty shouting hello to one and all) – it will make someone’s day and make you feel happier too. As an aside there’s a lovely 90 year old man who pops into our local Budgens at least 2 or 3 times a day.  If you see him, please stop and chat as he would love to have a natter.
  • It’s in our nature to dwell on the negative so at the end of every day jot down 3 good things that happened to you.  Could be the smallest things such as noticing the cloud shapes in the sky or singing along to your favourite song but it will help change your mindset.
  • The importance of communities in supporting and bringing people together.  One thing we discussed is the decline of intergenerational families and communities and how important they are in society. What can we do to address this?
  • How we treat and perceive others – we’ve all been there.  You take umbrage about somebody’s behaviour.  But take a moment and think what might have gone on with that person moments before.  Are they having a particularly bad day; is there something not quite right at home etc etc.
  • Reflect what things make you happy and take some time for yourself to do those things.  My two loves before children were tennis and film neither of which I do enough of.  So I’m going to try and go to the cinema once a month (matinee please as it’s so indulgent) and play tennis once a week.  For one of the other participants in our group it is having fresh flowers in the house. The simple pleasures…
  • Let’s start small.  The conversations with my Action for Happiness group are continuing as we all want to contribute to our local communities and spread the word.  But it doesn’t have to be anything radical….watch this space!

Finally, I wanted to share a three videos and a podcast with you which are worth watching/ listening to if you’ve got the time.

Before I go I want to share this little poem (Anon) which a dear friend at school taught me and rings so true:
Laugh and the world laughs with you
Weep and you weep alone
For the world has need of your mirth
But has sorrow enough of its own.
Read more of Emma’s musings here.

# My 3 words. Reword yourself for the year ahead.

How often do you start the New Year with optimistic resolutions, which you never see through, despite good intentions?

Last year, I discovered a different way to think about what you want for the year ahead. A way that is flexible, creative and fun. And that works!

In his blog, Dr Jason Fox describes this as rewording yourself. He suggests choosing one word that encapsulates everything that you want for the year ahead.

This word can be something abstract like joy or balance, something active like create or connect, or an archetype like warrior or tiger whose qualities you want to emulate for the year.

It is important that this word applies to more than one dimension of your life. For example, if I chose the word “Tiger”, I would want to bring all the qualities of a tiger, such as power, self-confidence and elegance, to the different parts of my life. This might mean that I choose more elegant clothes when shopping or going out or that I choose activities that build my self-confidence and hence my presence.

So looking at Dr Fox’s grouping of word choice further, abstract words could also include words such as courage, lean, and mindful.

With these, you need to be clear as to how you will relate to them in everyday life. For example, will they help guide your choices? Such that if your word was courage, you would consciously think “This takes me out of my comfort zone. Doing this will be courageous, therefore I will take on this challenge.”

Or, if you chose “lean” you could intend this to be reflective of losing some weight, getting fit and perhaps being more efficient with your time and spending time with the people you really want to be spending it with.

Active words, which include verbs like unleash, refresh, renovate and build, can also be powerful.

Again, these work well if you can relate the word to more than one aspect in your life. For example, you could choose “Do” and this could mean that you aim to be proactive and opportunistic, and give things a go; it could mean you are more efficient and do your tasks as you go along; or it could mean that you finally get fit, something you have promised yourself every year.

Choosing an archetypal word is to capture the qualities conjured up by that image or a role, like tiger, hero or warrior. You perhaps already identify with being a warrior or hero who is battling on, and who will hopefully emerge victorious, but what other qualities do these words reflect and how could they be applied to other areas in your life?

# My 3 Words

Some like business strategist, Chris Brogan, who has promoted the # My 3 Words concept, feel that one word alone may be too simplistic. Three somehow works better. Any more than that becomes too vague.

I too prefer the 3 words.

Last year (2017), my 3 words were Courage, Presence & Appreciation.

Courage in returning to clinical practice after a 14 month break. Courage in launching Horsley Hub, stepping totally out of my comfort zone.

Presence with my kids and in a wider context through work.

Appreciation of those close to me, the small things, of nature and life.

As you can see, none of these have any hard outcomes attached, so I was not setting myself up to fail. I had fun and can look back positively at what progress I made on all three.

For me, this concept brings you back to thinking about your values. It is all too easy to lose sight of these when we work hard in jobs that demand so much of us at every level, and when we perhaps don’t get any respite at home either. We can lose who we are, who we want to be and how we want to live our lives.

Perhaps starting the year with 3 words, might be an alternative, fun and flexible way to help us make positive choices in the year ahead.

So, what are your 3 words for 2018?