Exercise, Health and a Bit of Balance

May was National Walking Month so hopefully you’ve enjoyed taking the occasional stroll in the lovely weather.

Moving your body every day is a good thing. It’s only a minor factor for weight loss but crucial when it comes to health. For many conditions it’s better than any medicine, even having value in preventing and treating cancer. However, in common with many other good things, more is not always better and too much can hurt you.

I’ll just back up and do a detour to deal with the weight loss thing in case you fell straight off your chair. Food is the main factor for weight loss – not exercise. Weight training and high intensity interval training are best. If you’re one of the 1000s pounding the treadmill every day watching the calories tick, you need to know that aerobic exercise is the worst for weight loss. It generally burns very little and makes you quite a bit hungrier. Even if energy balance worked at all (which it doesn’t), the way diet clubs teach it is very misleading as Zoe Harcombe explains here. The energy you burn, above what you always burn at rest, does not cancel out that bun and a latte in the gym cafe. As Dr Aseem Malhotra says, you can’t outrun a bad diet. What matters for weight is the type of food. Some you’ll burn, some you’ll store. Different foods affect different hormones. But I write about that most of the time so I’ll get off my soapbox and end my diversion. Oh, but while I still have one foot on my soapbox, energy drinks are terrible, especially for children, and no one should drink them. More on drinks next month.

 

OK, where were we? Exercise and Health.

I always ask people on my courses to listen to their bodies. It isn’t something we’re used to doing. Life is all one mad charge forwards regardless of how we feel. We’re driven by external expectations, work, family, social norms. If our bodies complain, the usual reaction is to take over-the-counter drugs to silence the messages.

Most of us recognise that too much work is a bad thing but surely any amount of exercise is good.

If you feel generally snoozy and sluggish, it could be a sign that you need to move more.

France 2009

If you are very tired and exercise doesn’t energise you, it could be a sign that your body needs some recovery. We often underestimate the importance of rest. It can seem a bit soft to take a nap or a day off. When I was on the Great Britain Field Archery team I remember hearing that the commitment to rest is as important as the commitment to train hard.

Shame I didn’t take more notice at the time!

I used to have a stressful job and I used exercise as an antidote. The more stressed I got, the more desperately I exercised. Adding to the burden, I didn’t know then about eating right for your metabolic type. My diet was full of sugar but lacking the fat that I needed. And there were toxins in the low-fat products I ate. I believed the adverts saying they were better for me; how wrong can you be? I got more and more run down and relied too much on cortisol and adrenalin to keep me going. I dragged myself out of bed each day feeling like death and forced myself onwards. You can scrape the bottom of the barrel of your resources for so long but the end result for me was a hole in the barrel. I suffered total exhaustion and chronic fatigue. I was incapacitated for a year and half.

I’m not the only one to fall into the excess exercise trap. Sometimes the consequences are more severe than I suffered and can appear suddenly. I was saddened by the death of a Cumbrian chef at this year’s London Marathon. Here’s a piece about the dangers of over-doing it and how extreme sport scars your heart.

Nowadays I prefer a bit of balance and self care to punishing my body with gruelling regimes.

What do you think counts as exercise? Have you realised it doesn’t have to be done in a special place (eg a gym) or for a certain period of time (eg an hour)? Actually your body is designed for continuous movement and you can include lots of things you might not have counted before. Vacuuming, washing the car, playing with the kids, digging the garden, dancing, walking the dog, doing a few squats while the kettle boils, reaching up to hang out the washing.

I’m a fan of Dr Mercola’s NO dump (developed by Zach Bush). I love Michael Mosely’s book on Fast Exercise – here’s a little HIIT video. And have a listen to this podcast on primal play Dr Chatterjee and Darryl.

Dr Chaterjee’s book The Four Pillar Plan talks about movement snacking and Dr Joan Vernikos explains the need for non-exercise movement throughout the day regardless of whether you do ‘exercise sessions’. Just standing up from your chair every 20 minutes lets your body engage with gravity and brings many health, strength and weight benefits.

Do you take your health for granted? I used to but not any more. Having experienced life without it, health is really important to me now and that’s why I don’t compromise on food, exercise and rest. I don’t want to ever go back to that misery.

Good health is a lot about self care. It’s about getting some exercise every day, but not so much that you burn yourself out. It’s about nourishing your body with good food, but not sticking so rigidly to a dietary regime that it prevents you from living a rich, happy life. It’s about deep sleep, rest and fun. It’s about balance.

Top tips: Real food is good. Exercise is good. Rest is good. Balance is good.

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Retire Healthy

If work’s been quiet that’s all about to change as schools start back and holidays finish. But for some of you work might be nearing its end with retirement weeks, months or only a year away. Are you ready for it?

When you’re young, you’re invincible (well that’s how it seems). You can take on the world and withstand any assault. Ambitions run high. You sacrifice your time, relationships and health to your career as you climb up the management ladder. One day you wake up and realise there’s more to life and start counting the cost. All around you middle-aged friends and celebrities are suffering diverse ailments or dying too young.

Reclaiming your health suddenly takes priority as you think of all the things you still want to do with the time you’ll have. Whilst life expectancy has gone up as drugs stop us from dying, I doubt you aspire to eking out your later years battling some chronic condition in a care home. If, however, you’re up to it, the world will soon be your oyster.

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Eating well to avoid cancer, heart disease, diabetes or Alzheimer’s is like wearing a seat belt when you drive. It’s about risk reduction. Chronic health problems have increased as the national diet has deteriorated.

Add exercise, good sleep, happy relationships and time outside in the air and sunshine to lower your risk further. It’s never too late to start. Much of the damage of a miss-spent youth is reversible with some TLC.

The best time for positive action is always today.

Learn to eat well now, live well for longer.

Top tip – eat well and enjoy a healthy retirement.

My next course is at Lorton St Methodists, Cockermouth Wednesdays, 7:30pm, 20th September – 25th October.  Why not join us?  Book your place now and invest in your future.

 

Spend less; still eat well

The school holidays have started and while the kids rejoice, parents may worry how expensive the next six weeks might be. Food need not add to the pressure – you can eat well without spending a fortune.

A while ago, ITV ran a series Save Money Good Food. I’ve included a few of their tips here with some of mine.

Image result for food waste UK

The first way to save money is not to waste any of your food. A scandalous £12.5 billion of edible food is thrown away every year in the UK. Part of this is down to overbuying. Know what’s in your cupboard so you don’t repeat buy what you already have a home. We all love bargains and the BOGOF but when you buy a bargain and don’t eat it, you’re throwing your money straight into the bin. Do a bit of planning, shop with a list, cook in bulk, make good use of your freezer and learn to love leftovers (my favourite lunches).

When you pay for food, you don’t want added charges for labour. The super rich may employ private chefs but many ordinary people do too without realising. I’ve got a big downer on ready meals for lots of reasons and cost is just one. But even if you don’t go that far you might pop the odd packet of ready-chopped something in your trolley. Salad perhaps or some fruit for the kids. Ready chopped produce is 3 to 5 times more expensive. That’s 300 to 500% more. It takes less than a minute to chop an apple / carrot / onion / bit of lettuce. The more prep you do yourself, the lower the cost and the fresher the produce. By using it straight away you keep more precious nutrients and flavour. Plus you avoid eating something that’s been dipped in a chemical solution and packed in a modified atmosphere to stop it giving away its age by turning brown (see Swallow This by Joanna Blythman).

Fresh herbs soon wilt or dry up and die so why not plant them out to increase their yield 100 fold. See my Herb Garden post.

Cereal – a poor choice for breakfast

We only started eating cornflakes in 1922 so we clearly don’t need breakfast cereal from a biological viewpoint. Really it’s highly processed carbohydrate with good PR and marketing. It will put your blood sugar up, damage your health and cause weight gain. People think that the cereals with less added sugar are good for you. They aren’t as damaging as the high sugar types of course but the corn/rice/wheat itself will still be quickly broken down into sugar by your body’s enzymes. Ditch the box cereals and enjoy a good quality muesli or natural porridge oats (beware the sachets – see Oats so Expensive on Survival Guide for the Skint).

Better still go to work on an egg. Have it with own brand smoked salmon and you’ll feel satisfied right through to lunchtime and save more money and health damage by not needing to buy snacks.

Here are some other pieces I’ve written on breakfasts:

The Great English Breakfast

Eat a Good Breakfast

And what about the most nutritious food of all? It’s also one of the cheapest – liver. You can feed a family of four for £3.

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Sardines come second for nutrition. If you don’t like them on their own, here’s my recipe for sardine pate:

  • 1 tin of sardines in brine, drained
  • 2oz butter (that’s ¼ block or 50g)
  • 2oz full-fat cream cheese (¼ small tub or 55g)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper and some fresh parsley
  • Optional ½ teaspoon of French mustard)

Put it all in a bowl and mash with a fork until well mixed.  Serve with a crisp salad.

Enjoy the holidays and I hope you get better weather than the rain that poured as I wrote this!

Top tip – learn to spend less and still eat well.

Sugar Tax

I was delighted to see the sugar tax announced in the budget. Official acknowledgement of the problem is a welcome step in the right direction. Manufacturers love sugar; every one of the 10 thousand taste buds in your tongue and palate, has special receptors for sweetness so it’s very ‘moreish’ (addictive). They wont want to lose their huge profits so they’ll do everything they can to convince us to keep buying. Hopefully a higher price will push people towards water instead.

What happens when we consume sugar? Sucrose is a 2 part molecule made of glucose and fructose. 80% of the glucose part will be distributed round your body to be used for energy. If your body isn’t using energy, insulin mops up the glucose to store it as fat. The other 20% goes to your liver to be safely stored as glycogen. 100% of the fructose goes to your liver, the only organ that can process it, where it will mostly be turned into fat. When you eat whole fruit, the fibre changes the way the fructose is metabolised. So glucose without exercise is a problem but fructose without fibre is worse.

 

Fake food

That’s why I’m disappointed that fruit juice drinks are exempt from the tax. Bought juice doesn’t contain as much goodness as you’d hope but has loads of fructose (one glass might = four fruits).

StrawberriesEating a couple of Kiwipieces of whole fruit a day is fine.

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Might we see increased use of artificial sweeteners? People mistakenly believe that low-cal drinks help weight loss but they don’t. When we eat sugar, our brain recognises the sweet taste and our body gets ready to store fat. When we eat artificial sweeteners, our body expects sugar and gets ready to store fat. When the sugar doesn’t arrive, our brain is confused and we get cravings to eat something. So we take in more food and we mess up the delicate signalling system our body uses to tell us when to stop eating.

For more on the science and the history of how we ended up consuming so much sweet stuff, watch Robert Lustig’s Sugar, The Bitter Truth on YouTube.

Still from video 'Sugar, The Bitter Truth' Robert Lustig

Still from video ‘Sugar, The Bitter Truth’ Robert Lustig (the lbs refer to the weight gain from drinking one daily for a year).

Top tip: Drink water instead of sweet drinks.

Cut Price Food

Cut price food

It’s always worth keeping an eye on fresh produce that’s being sold off.  The other day I spotted big lettuces on sale for 25p.  I immediately thought of my Mum’s lettuce soup recipe – here it is:

Pic by Wendy Selina

Ingredients

  • 12oz roughly chopped lettuce
  • 2oz butter
  • 1/4 pint milk
  • 4oz spring onions, chopped
  • 1 tblsp flour
  • 1pt chicken stock
  • salt and pepper

Method

Put the butter in the pan with the lettuce and spring onions.  Cook until soft.  Add the flour, then the stock.  Bring to the boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Cool a bit.  Blend.  Add milk.

I bought one of the lettuces which weighed nearly 2lb, plus a bunch of spring onions, and made a big pan of lovely soup which I froze in portions.   I often eat soup and cheese for my lunch (no bread).  There was still lots of lettuce left for us to have in salads that week so nothing was wasted.

Getting so many meals for so little reminded me of a student I know in Leeds.  He goes to the market, buys whatever they’re selling off and makes soup.  His mates spend a fortune on processed rubbish but he’s getting good, fresh, real food at a monthly price of <£30!

Read more about saving money – this is a joint blog post with my Survival Guide for the Skint blogsite.

How to read food labels

I am a person who tends to move at speed; this is not always a good thing. A while ago, in the supermarket, I failed to notice the state of the floor as I rounded the corner of an aisle. Someone had dropped a glass jar of tomato sauce and I slipped in the huge sticky mess on the floor.  My foot was now covered so I stood stranded in the red splat.  Walking on would have spread it far and wide and other people might have slipped too.  Plaintively, I called for help.

While I was stranded, a lovely lady came along who was trying to see the jars of sauces.  I apologised for being in her way and asked what she wanted.  It turned out she was doing pizza and didn’t know which tomato sauce to buy for the topping.  I suggested she make her own instead, but she didn’t know how.  So we had a little chat.

Later she came back.  She had looked at theCherry toms tomato puree I suggested but said that her chosen jar contained less sugar.  By the time a supermarket herorine with a mop came to rescue me (bless you), the pizza lady had gone.  But I was puzzled.  Surely tomato puree doesn’t conatin any sugar, only tomatoes.  So I went to investigate.

I realised that the lady had looked at the nutritional breakdown part of the label, where it said ‘of which sugars’.  This is about carbohydrate content.  Vegetables and fruits are primarily carbohydrate so the percentage was high.  The ingredients list stated simply, tomatoes – there was no sugar.  The jar on the other hand had lots of added sugar.  I once saw someone advise that a sugary breakfast cereal was a better choice than natural muesli on the basis of the nutritional breakdown.  That is complete nonsense.  Since that part of the label seems to cause confusion, it can be more helpful to skip it.

For me, what matters is the list of ingredients.  No 1, is there a list of ingredients?  When you buy a tomato, a cauliflower or a piece of meat, there is no list of ingredients.  Fresh, natural foods are always best.  No 2, is there added sugar?  Look for any word ending in ‘ose’ and other terms such as modified maize starch.  Sweeteners are as bad if not worse.  Each type of sugar might be listed separately so you have to add them up.  Notice how the percentage is given for many ingredients but often left a mystery for the sugar.  You can take a guess because the ingredients are listed in order of content, with the highest first.  No 3, is it made with vegetable/sunflower oil?  No 4, are there lots of chemical additives?  These might be emulsifiers, stabilisers, artificial colours and flavours.

Next time you reach for a jar, packet or box of anything ready-made, pause to consider whether you could avoid eating so much sugar, sweeteners, vegetable oil and additives by making a healthier version yourself starting with fresh, natural ingredients.

Top tip: Know what’s in your food.

 

Free-Range Pork

PigsDo you care enough about your health to ask for free-range pork?

Here’s a guest blog post from Louise at Croft farm to explain why you should.

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Free-range pigs live their whole lives outdoors with access to warm, dry houses and the ability to indulge all of their natural behaviours, such as rooting and playing. Pigs are incredibly curious and friendly animals, and free range pigs are always full of fun and are a pleasure to care for. Pigs Pigletare exceptionally good mums, and we get huge pleasure from watching our huge free-range animals gently snuffling their new-born piglets and supervising them as they learn about the world around them through playing and exploring.

As a result of their outdoor life, free-range pigs grow more slowly than their intensively farmed cousins and so are brought into the food chain at a later stage. This produces firm, lean and juicy meat which is of a high nutritional standard.

In stark contrast, intensively farmed pigs spend their entire lives indoors, crowded into concrete pens and dosed with all sorts of medication to ward off the inevitable diseases which come from being highly stressed and in such close proximity to so many other animals. Despite being banned in the UK, many European and other pig farms, which provide well over half of the cheap pork products sold in our supermarkets, still use intensive systems which are little short of barbaric. Sows give birth in crates, contraptions which are supposed to prevent the risk of the mum accidentally squashing one of her babies when she lays down to feed them but which actually prevent her from having any sort of interaction with them at all, save for being a captive feeding station.

Once weaned, the piglets are moved into large sheds with many others where they will live out their days in crowded conditions, never seeing the light of day or feeling grass, or their much loved mud, under their trotters. To prevent these bored, distressed animals from hurting each other in the inevitable fights which occur in such an environment, piglets routinely have their teeth clipped and their lovely curly tails docked, to prevent other animals biting them.

Sadly this meat is not only produced from very unhappy animals, but is also often very poor quality. And when you eat it, you are unwittingly ingesting all the antibiotics and other drugs which were part of the pigs’ daily ration to enable them to survive their horrific conditions. The true price of any meat must include the cost of keeping the animal in a humane and healthy way. Buying cheap meat of any kind is a false economy if you care about your own health, never mind that of the animal.Pig Straight Tail

 

The only guarantee of high standards of welfare, as well as excellent quality meat is to ask for free range. At Croft Barn in Lorton we believe the best meat comes from happy animals raised as naturally as possible, which is why all our rare breed pigs are free range – and why our pork is so very tasty!

Rare Breed, Free-Range, Local Pork.
Croft Barn, Off the B5289, Low Lorton, Cumbria.
01900 85678.

If you care about where your meat comes from, come along to Croft Barn in Lorton, meet the pigs, and buy some pork

 

Men Who Made Us Thin

If you’ve ever lost weight on a diet, chances are you put it back on again afterwards.  People can blame themselves for this, thinking that it’s a lack of will power and self discipline.  It isn’t true.  Others think overweight people eat too much.  Sometimes perhaps, but often that isn’t true either.

We’re told that all we need to do is eat less and exercise more – it sounds so plausible we believe it – I used to.  A BBC mini series, “The Men Who Made Us Thin”, looked into the diet industry – and the vast amounts of money they make directly as a result of their failure to deliver long term weight loss.  This is not news.  They’ve known since the 1940s that diets don’t work – it’s the reason for the continuing financial success of the industry!  So really they’re The Men Who Didn’t Make Us Thin.

Weight is classified using Body Mass Index; you’ve probably seen the charts.  The definition was arbitrarily changed from BMI 27 to BMI 25 resulting in millions of people who were fine suddenly being classed as overweight and therefore clients for the diet industry.  BMI ignores body composition. Many fit, muscular people without an ounce of excess fat come out as obese on the charts.  A better method is to aim for a waist measurement less than half your height.

Much of the diet industry’s profit comes from selling foods, including ready meals and processed foods which aren’t generally great for your health, or for weight loss.  They may be low calorie and low fat but calories are not all equal and fats are not all bad.  Most people would lose weight naturally and permanently if they switched to real food and leaned to eat well.

Top tip – If you want to get thin, eat well!