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.

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.