As the cold weather approaches, so do all the winter germs, from our common coughs and colds to the nastier illnesses like flu .
WHY IS FLU MORE COMMON IN WINTER MONTHS?
The very name for flu “influenza” is an Italian word that some historians think originated in the mid-18th century as “influenza di freddo” meaning “influence of the cold.”
Over the years different theories have been put forward such as the colder weather lowering our immune systems (perhaps through lower vitamin D), or that people are more likely to stay indoors where they will be in closer contact with others carrying germs – the overcrowding theory.
It is now believed that the main reason for flu epidemics in winter months is that the flu virus is more stable and stays in the air longer when the air is cold and dry. Droplets aerosol more easily when the conditions are dry and so spread more easily.
HOW DO I CATCH FLU?
People with flu can spread it to others up to 6 feet away. It spread by droplets from our mouths and noses when we cough, sneeze or talk. These can then land in the noses and mouths of people nearby or be inhaled.
Another way is through touching surfaces that may have droplets containing flu virus and then touching our mouth or nose. The flu virus can survive on surfaces for around 24 hours.
Staying away from those with the virus (where possible), cleaning surfaces with disinfectant, and washing hands in soapy water or an alcohol based hand gel will help reduce our risk of getting it.
HOW LONG IS IT CONTAGIOUS FOR?
Flu is contagious 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after. Some people may have the virus but have no symptoms and therefore be transmitting the virus without knowing.
Symptoms and signs and prevention
These are covered well here by NHS Choices.
WHY SHOULD I BE CONCERNED? I HAVE NEVER HAD FLU, NOR HAS MY CHILD
Flu can cause a very unpleasant illness and for some it can increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or can make existing conditions worse. In the worst cases, it can result in a stay in hospital or even death.
This year there are particular concerns about a severe flu epidemic following the recent “Aussie flu” which has been one of the worst epidemics they have had in the last 50 years.
The flu vaccine is made in advance of the season and contains vaccines against the predicted circulating strains. Over the past 10 years there has reportedly been a good match, but given that viruses change, it is not 100% effective and won’t protect against other viruses for coughs and colds. It does however offer the best protection we have available.
Public Health England have produced 2 good leaflets on :
Most people feel in emotional crisis at some time in their lives. For some this passes quite quickly but for others the feeling lasts for a while. If the feeling is overwhelming or you feel so distressed that you have thoughts of harming yourself or you feel you are at risk of harming others then you need to seek help urgently.
If you don’t feel you can keep yourself safe right now, seek immediate help.
go to any hospital A&E department (sometimes known as the emergency department)
call 999 and ask for an ambulance if you can’t get to A&E
ask someone else to contact 999 for you or take you to A&E immediately
If you need some support right now, but don’t want to go to A&E, here are some other options for you to try:
contact the Samaritans on freephone 116 123, they’re open 24 hours and are there to listen
These are a safe and friendly places to talk to someone for emotional and mental health support if you (or the person that you are caring for) are experiencing a crisis. They also give you an opportunity to meet others that might be in a similar situation.
Guildford Safe Haven at Oakleaf Enterprise, 101 Walnut Tree Close, Guildford GU1 4UQ. Open daily 6pm-11pm including bank holidays
Woking Safe Haven, The Prop, 30 Goldsworth Road, Woking Gu21 6JT. Open 6pm-11pm Monday to Friday and 12.30pm -11pm weekends and bank holidays.
If you know of any useful resources on this topic, please do comment below orcontact us here.
Ever had that feeling that you have too many things to do, all of them important, that you don’t quite know where to start? That feeling that if someone asks you to do one more thing, you are not sure that you will respond in a “constructive” way. You feel keyed up, your chest tight and heavy.
I felt like this recently one Saturday morning; that sense of approaching Red on the dial of my StressOmeter. I’m in “High Amber Alert.” I need to get myself back to Green.
I take a deep breath, focussing on my breathing. I do this a few times, in for four and out for eight, and feel calmer.
The StressOmeter is a new and wonderful discovery for me. Visualising stress like this makes it feel more manageable. It takes it out from inside me and into a problem that I can solve more objectively.
I use it to draw a mind map of all my stressors, the things that are sending me into the red zone, both at home and work. Seeing it all out on paper somehow makes it seem less overwhelming. And no wonder the dial is up. Like most of us, I am juggling a lot. I realise that I need to prioritise: not everything needs to be done now. And what I do take on doesn’t have to be perfect (another topic!). There are a few things that I can put on hold and I can certainly share a few more tasks at home.
I draw another mind map of the activities that keep me balanced, in the green zone. There are many – but am I actually doing any of them regularly? Prioritising some of these, integrating them into everyday life so that they become unconscious micro-habits, is what I need to focus on.
The Exhaustion Funnel
When we are busy, or things are getting on top of us, the first things to go are the activities that seem optional; the activities we enjoy; the very things that energise us, keep us buoyant and thriving.
If the stress continues, our circle narrows further: we rest less, and we sleep less. We drop the chores at home, and so we are then left with work. However fulfilling our work may be, this alone is unlikely to nourish us, particularly in the current climate or if we are in an uncaring, unsupportive environment. So we are left joyless and exhausted, at risk of burnout or worse.
So, how do we keep buoyant on top of this funnel and prevent getting sucked down?
1. Recognise & minimise stressors
Some stress is good for us. We often perform better under short-term stress. But too much for too long is not healthy, both for our physical and emotional health, as well as for those around us.
Much in our personal and work lives is not changeable, so it is not worth wasting our energy on these. This is clearly easier said than done, but once we do reach some sort of acceptance with these, instead of clinging to them or fighting them or being consumed with anger, regret and other negative emotions, we waste less energy.
It is far better that we focus on the areas that might make a difference. This might be leaving a toxic work environment or an unhealthy relationship, or something smaller, such as looking at what you can do as a team or at home to make life easier all round.
2. Invest in the activities that allow you to re-charge and have fun.
What makes you laugh? What makes you happy and feel good? Have fun with this. It is important to be honest with yourself.
There are many things that we do that we know ought to make us feel happy, but in reality, don’t or can actually leave us feeling worse. For example, dashing off on a Friday night for a weekend away to ‘recharge’. The reality often being that we put ourselves under more pressure to get away from work on time, with a tiring and stressful journey there and back.
Athletes and coaches have long recognised the importance of rest and recovery after intense training. This oscillation between stress and recovery is key to better performance.
This is the same for us all. We need to truly invest and value the activities that keep us buoyant. We need to be honest about what really does keep us in the green zone and what doesn’t. And to do what is in our power to reduce our stress so that it is not too much.
What can we do once we notice the dial is up?
Dr Rick Hanson observes that:
“The body can switch from Green to Red in a heartbeat. Then it takes a while to return to Green since stress hormones need time to metabolise out of your system. Even in Yellow and Orange, the effects and thus the costs of stress activation are present. So as soon as you notice the needle of your stress-o-meter moving into Yellow and beyond, take action.”
Taking action is not about doing. It is the opposite – it is slowing down and taking a step back and grounding yourself. This might be going outside, getting some fresh air and moving; it might be listening to music, or taking a few deep breaths, with the inhale twice as long as the exhale or 4,7,8 breathing – whatever works for you.
So what changes have I made?
To keep in the green: committing to 10 minutes meditation a day and 30 minutes of purposeful activity a day. The activity in one go – a 30 minute run or a cycle on the exercise bike (whilst watching a box set with dinner in the oven) – but more often than not in bite size chucks that feel far less daunting and are much more manageable – a 10 minute brisk walk home from school drop-off on the days that I do it, a 10 minute brisk walk to clear my head when at work and 10 minutes of squats and steps whilst watching the news.
To stay out of the red: to allow 20% contingency so there is space to comfortably absorb that one more thing.
And so starting with this, if I manage to hit my green goal 80% of the time, then I have done well.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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:
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.
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 email@example.com.
Your ideas will be put together in a post for a future newsletter.
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.
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.
“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!
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.
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.
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.
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.