Winter Wellness

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Winter, for some people can be time of joy and a time to thrive; but for others it can be a difficult time of feeling down, catching bugs and illnesses and this year Covid-19 has undoubtedly added to the stress of this season for many. Below are some hints and tips to help you keep well over winter.

(This was originally a talk to Greenock Philosophical Society, and I have added some information on Alzheimer’s and keeping your brain healthy as I received a few questions about it and there’s a lot of research happening right now.)

Vitamins & Minerals 

Vitamin D + Vitamin K2

Vitamin D is mostly available from the sun. Due to our weather in general, and being so far north, the sun isn’t strong enough to make sufficient Vitamin D for our needs over winter (from October until end of March). To keep our levels optimised we should take a supplement of Vitamin D3 (D2 if you are vegan as this is plant derived Vitamin D) together with K2 which helps us metabolise the Vitamin D. Look for a supplement  containing 1,000iu to 4,000iu in either capsule of liquid form.

In summer, maximise your vitamin D levels by spending time outdoors with your limbs exposed and without sunscreen. The sun produces Vitamin D between the hours of 10am and 3pm (the times we are normally told to avoid the sun), so gradually build up your sun tolerance but don’t let yourself burn. Sun burn is never good. You don’t need additional K2 in summer as your body easily absorbs all it needs from the sun.

Unfortunately there aren’t many foods rich in Vitamin D. The highest levels are found in liver and other organ meats, eggs and mushrooms so if you like these, include  them in your diet.

Vitamin D supports many functions in our bodies, including our immune system, and can have a positive impact on anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular issues. 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another immune supporting Vitamin and probably the one we’re most familiar with when it comes to fighting off winter bugs. Vitamin C is easier to get from foods can be found in citrus fruit, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, etc) and dark leafy greens so include lots of these in your diet.  

If you prefer you can supplement Vitamin C, it often together with zinc which is something  else that many people lack so it’s a good combination. Zinc helps support our immune system by fighting off bacteria and viruses.

Selenium 

Selenium is found in Brazil nuts. It’s another mineral that supports our immune function and helps the body fight off viruses. 3-4 Brazil nuts per day will provide your daily requirement if selenium. Remember, if you prefer chocolate Brazil nuts do this yourself with good quality dark chocolate to enjoy the extra antioxidants. 

Vitamin A

Found mostly in orange vegetables, Vitamin A is fat soluble (so always eat it with some healthy fats such as butter, oily fish, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil) and essential for keeping our heart and lungs functioning well.

Magnesium 

Another Vitamin many people can lack, magnesium also supports many functions in our bodies. Magnesium Citrate is a good general magnesium supplement . Taken in the evening it will help you sleep better, and can help reduce migraines, muscle cramps and restless legs. If you feel your energy is a low, a Magnesium Malate supplement taken in the morning may help.

All of the above are great for optimising health in general, but due to their immune supporting benefits they are also good defence against the symptoms of Covid-19. They won’t necessarily stop you from getting the virus but, as has been shown in a few studies of Covid-19 patients, they should help lessen the symptoms. 

Food & Drink

Base your diet around lots of vegetables, protein, healthy fats and fruit. Make sure to drink lots of water, its not so appealing to do this in winter but it is important. 

Minimising highly processed and packaged fruit, and reducing sugar/artificial sweeteners is the easiest way to get all the vitamins and minerals you need and keep yourself healthy. Keep sweets, cakes, takeaways and alcohol for an occasional treat.

The one exception: a small glass of red wine and a couple of square of dark chocolate will provide lots of healthy antioxidants. However it is a case of “less is more” so don’t go over this amount!

It’s also important to look after your gut health. Our guts contain billions, maybe trillions, of bacteria that work to keep our body and our brain healthy so long as we look after them. The information above will help them be healthy but we can also help populate the gut bacteria by eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruit (focus on veg though) and minimising sugar and processed foods. We can also keep them healthy by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kinchee (from the chiller in the supermarket or buy raw and unpasteurised online – pasteurisation kills the good bacteria), and kefir (in most supermarkets in the dairy section). 

A really tasty way to boost gut health is to eat 2 stewed apples per day. Stew them in a little butter or coconut oil and serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon. If you want to make them into a crumble, you can use a mix of oats, butter and crushed raw nuts for the crumble. This gives you extra healthy fats and vitamins.

Outdoors, Movement & Connecting

One easy way to tick off all 3 if these is to meet a friend for a walk, following current guidelines of course.  Walk by the river, in a woodland or the park and you get some exercise, some fresh air, human connection  and connection with nature and your environment.

If you are shielding or don’t like to walk, meet a friend or family members  for coffee or lunch (again within the guidelines), get out into your garden and wander around and perhaps do some exercise or move around in your home (housework counts as movement). If you can, take off your shoes and socks and walk barefoot on the grass. This is called grounding, it’s really relaxing and helps you feel connected to your environment, the place you live and your place on earth which is also really important.

Relaxing & Sleep

When our lives are busy sleep and time to relax are often the first to be pushed aside. We can find ourselves burning the candle at both ends and eventually feeling tired and exhausted becomes normal. For good mental and physical health, relaxing and getting plenty of sleep are essential. 

If you struggle with this try creating a wonderful down and bedtime routine. 

Relaxing in the evening can be part of this routine whether it’s listening to your favourite music, reading, talking on the phone with a friend, or having a soak in the bath, these activities could signal you to turn off your phone (or switch it to night mode, or wear amber glasses to block the blue light) and start to wind down.

Other very beneficial activities include meditation and/or keeping a gratitude journal – both of these are great for relaxing you and for promoting a more positive mindset. You only need 5-10 minutes each evening.

Ideally try to aim for 30-90 minutes device-free time before bed and to stop eating 2-3 hours before bed.

Device free time is important as the blue light emitted from our devices is stronger than sunlight and tricks our bodies into thinking it’s still daytime. This can upset the circadian rhythm and make it difficult to get to sleep. Although TV emits blue light it is further away from our eyes so doesn’t have the same effect. 

Ideally you should be in bed and ready to sleep no later than 10.30pm. Our body does it’s “housework” while we sleep, cleaning up any damaged or dead cells (cells have a lifespan of around 180 days so dead cells is a completely natural thing and nothing to worry about). If we eat a large meal right  before bed, or have a bit to drink, our body will prioritise digestion and processing alcohol over the other housework so the cells won’t get cleaned out.  Once in a while this isn’t a problem, but it can lead to poor health if it happens regularly. This is why relaxation and sleep is so important.

Alzheimer’s 

This wasn’t part of my talk but some questions were asked so I thought I would add a little information.

There are a lot of studies being done right now on lifestyle and Alzheimer’s and allother things I have mentioned above will help your brain health as well as your physical health. 

The main cause of Alzheimer’s is inflammation (there are some genetic influences also) so eating a “real food” diet, focusing in nutrients rather than calories, relaxing, sleeping well, keeping active and seeing friends/family will all help reduce inflammation in the body.

Gut health is really important as our gut “speaks” directly with our brain. You can protect the gut lining by drinking a cup of bone broth each day or using bone broth in place of stock cubes. You can make your own bone broth with bones from your butcher or from chicken or fish bones. This can then  be kept in a jar in the fridge and/or poured into ice cube trays and frozen to use as stock cubes. 

Eating the beneficial foods for good gut health mentioned earlier will also be a huge help.

Include lots of natural, healthy fats in your diet (e.g. eggs, oily fish, olives, olive oil, butter, full fat dairy, coconut oil, raw nuts, avocados) as our brain prefers fat rather than sugar for energy. We do need a certain amount of glucose to function but our liver naturally produces enough for our daily  needs. Only athletes or people training hard would need extra in the form of carbohydrates. A big bowl of leafy greens every day, combined with protein and healthy fats is ideal.

Eating within a “food window” is also a good way to protect your gut and your brain. Eating any food raises your insulin levels so if you tend to snack throughout the day your insulin will be constantly elevated; not good for Type 2 diabetics or for health in general as the more insulin we produce the more resistant we become to it and this can then  lead to Type 2 diabetes. 

Your “food window” opens with the first bite of food in the morning and closes with the last bite of food in the evening. Ideally your window should be open for 8-10 hours each day. This gives your body time to fully digest your food and will help ensure you aren’t eating too close to bedtime.

One other thing that is being shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, cardiovascular disease and stroke is to have regular sauna sessions. If you can do this, build up your tolerance gradually the same way you would with the sun. And don’t forget to drink lots of water. 

The sooner we can start to incorporate brain protective factors into our every day life the better, but it’s never to late to start.

Diary of an Extended Fast – 72hrs completed

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72 hours! I did it! Here’s how I felt over the final 24hrs of my fast. This was uncharted fasting territory for me and I was really curious to see how I would feel.

Thursday 4 June 2020 : 1540 – Only just beyond 48hrs and my tummy is gurgling and rumbling like crazy. I like to think these are the noises it makes as it’s eating sored body fat!! In all serious by this time, my body is using stored fat as fuel as all food and stored glycogen will be gone.

I had a little Sea Salt and a mug of warm water which helps. I also have sparkling water, it’s totally psychological but I find it easier to do a longer fast when I drink sparkling water rather than still.

Thursday 4 June 2020 : 1830 – My brain is now asking me “where is the food?!” My body however isn’t hungry, I feel very focused and like I have more energy than usual. But my brain is still thinking about food – cheese and chocolate buttons to be precise! What a combination!!!!

Thursday 4 June 2020 : 1900-2215 – My brain did quiet down and I was completely fine for this part of the evening. I felt a little bit emotional as I got ready for bed, almost like I wanted to burst into tears. I didn’t though. I had magnesium an hour before bed and slept really well again.

Friday 5 June 2020: very, very early – there are some baby birds in a nest not far from my bedroom window and this morning their chirping jolted me out of sleep. I actually love hearing them when I wake up but I definitely wasn’t ready to be awake this early!

Friday 5 June 2020: 0730 – With a pounding headache I got up, had some water and a shower and feel much better. Once I’m doing things I feel more energised again.

Friday 5 June 2020 : 1145 – Back from a trip to Sainsbury’s to get some shopping. I felt great on the way there, chatting to my friend on the phone as I walked. Walking back with my shopping however my muscles felt a bit weak. I realised I may have been slightly dehydrated as I only had a coffee and a glass of water since I woke up.

Friday 5 June 2020 : 1330 – Feeling properly hydrated and 100% fine again.

Friday 5 June 2020 : 1500 – 72hrs completed! I have reached the end of my fast! Or have I…? Read on…

Overall I found this fast much easier than I expected I would. I’ve mostly felt completely fine. I’ve felt my focus has been sharper and I’ve had more than enough energy. Hydration is definitely key though. I love knowing that my body has had a break from digestion and the opportunity to do it’s housework and that I’m reducing inflammation and improving the health of my gut and brain. (see here for more information on these processes).

As I mentioned in the first instalment of this fasting diary (see here), Friday has become known as Food Free Friday so, again on a psychological level, my body doesn’t expect food on a Friday. With this thought I’m going to continue on with my fast. If I feel ravenously hungry I will eat later this evening, if not I will break fast tomorrow morning. The main reason for doing this is so that I start back into my regular fasting pattern, but as I say this will depend on how I feel as this afternoon/evening goes on.

How to break your fast (this is really important after an extended fast)

If you search around online you will find all sorts of conflicting advice on what to do to break your fast (to be honest you’ll find lots of conflicting advice about the benefits of fasting too – this is something you have to decide on for yourself. For me, I’m 100% convinced of the benefits and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend intermittent fasting to clients).

So when looking at what to eat when breaking an extended fasts, I looked at lots of recommendations and compiled a short list of things that most appeared on almost all the articles and videos I read/watched.

Most important: do not break your fast with carbs or sugar – it will spike your insulin too much.

Break your fast with: fish or chicken or other lean protein source, you can have it on its own or with some vegetables; bone broth (great for gut health too and a very gentle way to wake up you digestive system), for women you may want to add some seaweed or shellfish for an iodine boost.

One hour after breaking fast: have something that stabilises cortisol and insulin; black coffee with a sprinkling of cinnamon, some sea salt, or a magnesium supplement.

After this you can prepare and eat a meal. I would still recommend going easy on heavy food and carbs – especially if you’re not close to a bathroom!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series detailing my first long fast. If you feel inspired to try it, please remember not to jump straight into an extended fast. Ease into it, let your body get used to it.

If you feel you’d like some support please do message me to request a coaching appointment or to join my upcoming Introduction to Intermittent Fasting Webinar which will take place on Friday 19 June

Diary of an Extended Fast – the 2nd 24hrs

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Welcome back to the 2nd day of my 72hr fast! Here’s a little breakdown on how things are going…

Wednesday 3 June 2020 : 1600-1900 – I kept myself busy during the afternoon and early part of the evening by doing some research and planning ahead on some work projects. I also made sure to keep hydrated with sparking water and warm water.

Wednesday 3 June 2020 : 2100 – I started to feel hungry around this time, on previous 40+ hour fasts this is usually the time I feel hungry and like I could actually eat my arm! However, forearmed (ahem!) is forewarned so I knew it was mostly psychological and that I would be going to bed soon. I had a last mug of warm water, a little bit of sea salt, and a magnesium supplement, and thanked the Universe for the TV distraction that is The Great British Sewing Bee!

Wednesday 3 June 2020 : 2215 – Bedtime! I slept really well, in fact I barely remember my head touching the pillow. This is one other great side affect of fasting, once your body is used to it you will sleep really, really well.

Thursday 4 June 2020 : 0630 – Woke up, refilled my hot water bottle for a morning liver pack (still not sure it’s doing anything but it feels nice), I did my morning meditation in bed while the hot water bottle was maybe doing it’s thing. I did a Google search on the hot water bottle thing when I got up and it seems like it should be used in conjunction with castor oil (which I don’t have) to help the liver detox. The liver can detox naturally but there is no harm in giving it a helping hand, though maybe the hot water bottle on it’s own isn’t doing anything. If you’re concerned about liver health then some Intermittent Fasting is definitely a good thing to do.

Thursday 4 June 2020 : 1200 – “Eating Window” opens – again this means some sea salt, coffee and warm water. I’ll also keep topped up through the afternoon with sparkling water.

Thursday 4 June 2020 : 1500 – My eating window is closed and I have now completed a 48hr fast, this is my longest fast to date and now I’m into uncharted territory. So I’m sure you’re wondering how I’m feeling? To be honest I feel great. I feel really alert and quite energised, I’m still going to the bathroom (sorry, sorry but it’s an important topic when you’re fasting – constipation can be a bit of an issue, as can it’s opposite number when you break your fast; something to keep in mind!) and overall I feel great.

REMEMBER: Do not dive straight into an extended fast (48+ hours) if you are new to fasting. Let your body become accustomed to periods without food before you try an extended fast.

What’s happening in my body when I fast? (the science stuff)

Digestion: During the first 24hrs your body is completing the digestion process, depending on how much food is in your body before you start it can take roughly 12-24 hours to fully digest everything.

Fat Burning: When your body realises there is no more food coming it’s way it will start to use stored glycogen for energy – glycogen is the excess glucose that the body converts and stores for emergencies. Once the stored glycogen is used up, the body will then start to use stored fat for energy, this is where you will start to see weight loss benefits (you don’t need to do an extended fast like this one to get this benefit).

Autophagy: This is when the cells in your body start to do their “housework”. Autophagy happens in the body all the time, but when we eat autophagy is down-regulated so that digestion is prioritised. When we fast, autophagy is up-regulated and our body gets to work clearing out and regenerating old, dead and damaged cells. This is a great way for your body to heal itself and it also promotes longevity. With up-regulated autophagy you will even notice you start to look younger!

BDNF: Or Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. This is basically a fertiliser for your brain. It strengthens the neural connections and helps grow new neurons. For decades scientists didn’t believe it was possible for adults to grow new neurons but it has now been proven that they can! If you’re in your 20s or 30s you may not put much importance on this but it is important for everyone; recent research shows that brain degeneration can begin up to 20 years before showing as illness so it’s super important to look after the health of your brain.

Gut Microbiome: I’m sure most of you have heard of probiotics and the importance of looking after the millions of beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. Fasting also helps these little critters by increasing the levels of Immunoglobulin A (IGA). IGA helps your gut flush out any harmful bacteria that may have taken up residence and it also helps to grow more good bacteria. More good bacteria = better health and stronger immunity. You can also give your gut bacteria a helping hand by eating fermented foods and lots of vegetables. Plain boiled potatoes (allowed to cool before eating) are also great food for growing beneficial gut bacteria.

Changes in the gut metabolism also change the fat in your body, altering the white fat (this does nothing but make you look fat) and converts it to heat producing, thermogenic brown fat which helps to burn excess calories.

Magnesium Supplement: There is some research that shows fasting uses up a lot of magnesium (although there is no conclusive reasoning as to why this happens). I know that my magnesium levels can get low so I supplement just to be sure they don’t get too low.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Part 2 and also enjoyed learning about some of the science and other health benefits you can expect from fasting. I’ll be back with Part 3 tomorrow and I’ll also include some information on what to eat when you break your fast.

Diary of an Extended Fast : The First 24 Hours

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Since the end of January 2020 I have been living an Intermittent Fasting (IF) lifestyle and I must admit it’s the easiest thing I have ever done to improve my heath.

When I first heard of IF, due to a history of disordered eating, I was a bit sceptical. To my uneducated eyes it seemed crazy and like a free rein to an eating disorder. However, I was curious and intrigued by the health claims being made by people who regularly incorporated fasting into their lifestyle. So I did what I do best, I got into “Geek Girl” mode and did a lot of research! I soon realised there is a huge difference between intentionally fasting and disordered eating, and that there are a whole heap of benefits to be gained from fasting. However, I will say that if you have a history of eating disorders please do your own research to be sure that you are fasting for the right reasons (health and healing).

With a few months of fasting under my, ever decreasing, belt I have decided to do my first extended fast. My aim is 72 hours, I may do more or I may do less. It all depends on how I feel – I’ve learned to listen carefully to my body and what it needs and I don’t put any pressure on myself to “achieve” a certain length of fast. The time is more of a guideline than something set in stone.

As well as being a fantastic weight loss tool, IF is also great for helping your body clear out old cells, repair damaged cells and create new cells. This is called autophagy and can help you fight back against ageing and the aches, pains and illnesses that we’ve been told are “just part of getting older”. It’s also great for clearing up brain fog, using fat (rather than sugar) as fuel and for helping to reduce inflammation, reducing blood pressure, and to improve markers on a host of chronic illnesses.

So here goes… The first 24 hours! (If you are new to fasting please DO NOT start with an extended fast)

Tuesday 2 June 2020 : 1500hrs – I’ve closed my “eating window” and through the afternoon I’ve kept myself busy with work, having an Epsom Salts bath and chatting with friends.

Tuesday 2 June 2020 : 1845hrs – I’m still feeling full from the meal I ate earlier in the day. When I’m only eating one meal per day, within a 3 or 4 hour eating window, it’s really important to focus on nutrient dense food. However, if I have a day where I want takeaway or a burger or chocolate then I adjust my window accordingly and eat without guilt. For me, the key is one meal per day, in a short window (never more than 6 hours) and to get back to nutrient dense foods within a day or two.

Wednesday 3 June 2020 : 0900hrs – I’ve posted my Wednesday video for my Facebook group and taken a black coffee and my journal into the garden. It’s so cold I only managed 30 minutes. Who turned down the temperature?! Note: It’s okay to have one or 2 cups of plain black coffee or plain black tea when fasting. Hydration is super important though – drink lots of water!

Wednesday 3 June 2020 : 1130hrs – This is when I normally start to prepare food to break my fast at noon. Today, to keep this routine, I’ll have a 2nd coffee and a pinch of sea salt (sea salt, Kosher salt or Himalayan salt is permitted during the fast and is important for electrolyte balance – simply place a few grains of salt under your tongue and let them dissolve).

Wednesday 3 June 2020 : 1500hrs – The first 24hrs is complete. In my head I “close my window” and I’m now fasting through the evening the same way I would on any other evening. If I feel a little hungry I’ll drink more hot water and have another little bit of salt. After 24 hours of fasting the body will have used up most, if not all, of the glycogen stored in the muscles and liver and will now switch to using stored body fat for fuel.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the next 24hrs.

If you are completely new to Intermittent Fasting, or if you’re looking for some more information why not join my Facebook group? It’s not all Intermittent Fasting, I cover all aspects of health and wellbeing – mind, body and spirit. Simply search Morag Ferguson Life Transformation and request to join!

Mental Health Week – Kindness

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This week is Mental Health week and the theme for this year is Kindness.

Do you consider yourself a kind person? How do you view kindness? I used to think it was quite a weak attribute and I used to feel a bit miffed when people said I was kind – couldn’t they come up with something a bit cooler than kind?! But now I think of kindness as a superpower! Honestly, it really is. Kindness costs nothing, and one kind word or genuine complement could make someone’s day, could make someone feel like they are seen and that they are worthwhile.

When you feel alone in the world and like no-one cares, a few kind words can be a matter of life or death. Don’t underestimate the power of kindness.

Likewise, don’t underestimate the power or harsh or cruel words. You don’t always know what someone is going through, so please take a moment to think before verbally lashing out or retaliating (either in person or from the safety of your keyboard). It may make you feel better for a moment or two but chances are once you’ve calmed down you’ll feel bad for the harsh words you said. Or you may say something harsh without thinking but it could be devastating for the person on the receiving end. Be mindful of your words, use them wisely.

So today, for the rest of this week and for the rest of your life, take a few moments to be kind. Pay someone a complement, send someone a card or a small gift, or simply text or call someone to say you’re thinking of them. Like I said earlier, it’s free and it could mean the world to someone.

Have a wonderful day.

Be kind.

Hello!

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Well, hello there! It’s been a while since I’ve been here and it’s great to be back!

Since I’ve been away a lot has been happening… I’m now working full time as a Transformation Coach and loving every minute of it. If there’s something in your life that you’d love to transform, particularly related to health and wellbeing, then please get in touch; I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve really missed writing while I’ve been working on other things but now it’s time to resurrect the blog so keep your eyes peeled, there will be more posts coming very soon.

That’s all for now, have a fantastic day!

Phone Addicts

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Hands up, I admit it – I am a phone addict! I often wonder how on earth I functioned in the days before smartphones. It was possible to exist without Google, social media and numerous messaging apps at our fingertips, wasn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, these things aren’t bad – I like social media, I like to meet new people this way (though there are some weirdos out there, don’t be weird people) and keep up with old friends. I would really feel lost without my phone. Which leads me to the question – is it healthy? Can there be too much of a good thing?

Unfortunately I think there can be. Speaking from past experience I know there’s been times when I’ve been distracted by my phone when I’m in company – it’s so rude, but there’s just something so compelling and addictive about that little flashing light that let’s me know something (potentially) exciting is waiting for my attention (though when is it ever anything that exciting or urgent?!).

On the plus side, there are many ways to make sure we can enjoy our phones and at the same time minimise the negative effects. Here are a few things to try, and if you have any more tips please share them in the comments:

  • The blue light from your phone is brighter than the sun (honestly!) and makes your body think it’s daytime. This is why looking at your phone before bed can disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it difficult to sleep. Put your phone on night mode and lower the brightness.
  • Better still, turn your phone off 60-90 minutes before bed – if you live with other people, talk to them. If you live alone, read a great book, write in your journal, or write a good old-fashioned letter to your best friend. It’s especially important for children and teens to have a phone-free period before bed so that they can start to wind down for sleep.
  • Allocate certain times of the day for your personal social media and messaging friends
  • If work emails disrupt your evenings and weekends, decide on cut off point and use an Out of Office message to alert colleagues to the fact that you will reply in the morning. They’ll soon get the hint.
  • Turn your phone off or disable notifications when you’re working and need to focus.
  • Make a “no phones during dinner” rule – if you or your friends/family like to post food on social media then let them take a pic but then the phones go away. Imagine the novelty of actually talking to the people you’re sitting round the table with!
  • Don’t turn your phone on first thing in the morning – do your breathing exercise, do some stretching or journaling, take a shower, have breakfast. In short, do the things that set your morning up in a calm and relaxed way and then turn your phone on.
  • Try going for a day or even a weekend without your phone – go on, you can do it!!!

Start Small – Just Breath

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Breathing… It’s easy, right? We all do it, thousands and thousands of breaths each day to keep us alive. But wait! HOW do you breath? I can feel the eye rolls from here – “seriously, I got this far in life without knowing how to breath…?”

I get it, but bear with me.

So many of us have stress in our lives, and stress affects each of us differently – what could be just a small thing for one person can feel like the end of the world for someone else. There’s no right or wrong, you feel things how you feel them. Our daily lives throw stressors at us from all angles, seemingly from the moment we open our eyes in the morning until the moment we close them again at night.

Just imagine this scenario: Your alarm goes off but you’re not quite ready to get up yet, so you hit snooze. Only in your half-awake state you turned the alarm off and before you know it 10 more minutes has become 30 more minutes. You leap out of bed in panic, you’re going to be late! You have a quick shower and try to brush your teeth and get dressed at the same time. You run down stairs and put the kettle on, no matter what you can’t leave the house without coffee. You’re sorting out what you need for work, and where are your car keys?? You glance at your phone, you see messages from friends, your assistant has messaged to say she’s sick, and your calendar reminds me you have an important team meeting about a new project first thing. And you’re late! You pour the coffee into your mug, splash milk on the kitchen counter, leave it and run out the door. Your journey is going well, then you hit traffic 5 minutes from the office. It takes you 15 minutes to get there and another 5 to find a parking space. You run straight to the conference room and arrive hot and flustered to find the meeting already started.

How did you feel reading that? Were you nodding in recognition, we’ve all had mornings like that? Did you notice your breathing? Most likely not, after all how much attention do we give it really?

Stressors like those mentioned above are, individually, small things, but added together and prolonged over a period of an hour or so they can really set the tone for your day and cause some disruptive reactions in your body and mind. Cortisol and blood pressure can rise, your heart rate quickens, anxiety levels rise and breathing becomes shallower. These are all normal reactions when we encounter stress, our body prepares us for fight or flight. Years ago the cause of our stress would last for a short period of time while we dealt with the situation. Today, we deal with one little situation after the other; and as you likely know once this meeting is over that won’t be the end of your stress for the day. And you’re probably still beating yourself up for being disorganised, lazy, missing the start of the meeting, etc.

This is where the problems start – we are constantly in and out of flight or fight mode, running on adrenaline and cortisol, feeling anxious and on edge which in turn can lead to us having a bad mood, making snap decisions under pressure, grabbing sugary/salty snacks as we eat at our desk to make up for being late… But taking a few moments each day to breath consciously can make a huge difference to how we feel. So how do we do this?

Well, the good news is you can do this from your bed! But for now, let’s just practice so you get used to how it feels to breath deeply and exhale fully. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Breath normally and notice what hand moves first. If the hand on your chest moves first, slow your breath and breath deeper, imagining you are filling your belly with air. You should start to feel the hand on your belly move first. When you exhale, do it slowly and imagine pushing all of the air back out of your belly and lungs. Do this a couple of times until it starts to feel more natural.

Now get yourself comfortable. As I mentioned, it’s good to do this in bed – first thing when you wake up, and just before you go to sleep. But, of course, you can do it at any time during the day if you feel stressed.

Take a slow, deep breath in for a count of four. Pause for a count of four. Exhale slowly and deeply expelling all the air. Pause for a count of four and repeat 6-8 times.

And that’s it. It’s relaxing, it calms and quietens your mind and helps get oxygen flowing around your body. Best of all, you don’t need any special equipment, you don’t need to join a class or pay for lessons and you can do it anytime, anywhere.

Give it a try and let me know if it helps you feel less stressed.

A bum deal

By | Coaching, Health & Wellness, Movement | No Comments

Do you suffer from back, knee, ankle or foot pain?  Have you been to see doctors, chiropractors, osteopaths, orthotics specialists and, despite their best efforts, you’re still in pain?

What if I suggested some of these issues could be righted by strengthening your glutes?  I first came across this connection in Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s book “The Four Pillar Plan” (called How To Make Disease Disappear in the US) and it totally changed my thinking about back pain.  I don’t suffer from chronic back pain, but I do work a desk job and sitting for long periods of time weakens the glutes and shortens the hamstrings.  And unless you’re super vigilant about your posture and the setup of your desk, it’s very likely you won’t be sitting in the best position to keep your body aligned.

So what to do?  If your job involves long periods of sitting, the best thing you can do is get up and walk around every now and again.  You might not be able to walk away from your desk but even walking around behind your desk, stretching out your hips, stretching your hamstrings and (if you can) maybe doing a few jumping jacks will ease you out of that stiff feeling and get your circulation flowing.  Maybe you can encourage your colleagues to get on board too, if you’re all doing jumping jacks or walking around the office you don’t need worry about getting strange looks.  Though to be fair, better health might be worth a few strange looks – I’ll let you decide.

If you haven’t ever given this much thought it may be worthwhile have a few sessions with an osteopath or chiropractor to make sure your body is in alignment.  Speak to your employer about having a work station assessment to make sure your desk is as comfortable as possible, and investigate the possibility of a stand up desk (one that you can change from standing to sitting works best as stationary standing for long periods of time is no better than stationary sitting), also look into the possibility of sitting on a Swiss Ball at your desk (you might need to get the okay from your Health & Safety people for this one) – the instability means your entire core is getting a workout and it will do wonders for your posture.  Plus you’ve got instant access to fitness equipment for a quick lunch time routine.

So strengthening your glues – what to do?  Some things you can do at work (once you’ve stretched out your hips and hamstrings) are bodyweight squats, walking up the stairs (taking them 2 at a time if you can – build up to this if you find it difficult), hip bridges (you can use your Swiss ball for this, or just do it on the ground), rising up on your tiptoes as high as you can, squeeze your glutes at the top and lower back down, releasing the glutes when your heels are back on the floor.  There’s also a wealth of easy glute exercises available on YouTube.  Look for short, easy to do, 5 minute exercises you don’t want to be building up too much of a sweat at work.

If you can, get outdoors for a walk at lunchtime – if you have a park or woodland near where you work you are so lucky, make the most of it!  Take a 20 minute walk if possible, though any walk is better than none if you’re not in the habit of walking regularly.  Walking gives you time to reflect on your morning, gives you some quiet time to yourself, you can do a walking meditation.  Alternatively you might want to start a lunchtime walking group and get to know your colleagues a bit more, build your connections and strengthen team spirit.

Most importantly…  engage your glutes and your abs as you walk.  It might not feel like much at the time but done regularly your glutes and abs will get stronger, resulting in better posture and less pain.  Oh, and you know that way when you sit down and you’re belly looks like it’s grown a few inches?  Turns out this could be related to poor glute strength too – so come on, get working on those poor neglected glutes.  Improved health, a toned butt, what’s not to love here?!

And if all that isn’t enough to motivate you, check out the picture (found on Pinterest) – numb bum, numb brain; your boss isn’t going to be happy with that…