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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Quote of the Month – May Q2

The right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little, not too much, is the safest way to health.

Hippocrates 2,500 years ago

L0014825 Portrait of Hippocrates from Linden, Magni Hippocratis…1665
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org
Portrait of Hippocrates.
Magni Hippocratis…
Van der Linden, J.A. editor
Published: 1665
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Don’t be S.A.D.

With National Chocolate Week in October, you might have been expecting a piece on the health benefits of chocolate. Fear not, I am writing one for you for Christmas but I noticed autumn arrive with shorted days and persistent rain so the immediate need is Vitamin D.

The sun is lower in the sky and the slanty light makes the views stunning across the hills early in the morning and the sea at sunset. The depth of the atmosphere are these angles means more absorption of shorter wavelengths including the beneficial UVB we need. Even leaving aside the fact that hardy Cumbrians can be seen out in shorts, T-shirts and sandals at any time of year, there simply isn’t enough UVB from October to March for our skin to make Vitamin D. The UV index has to be a minimum of 3. It’s only 1 as I write this with a forecast of 3 briefly over Wednesday lunchtime.

I’m keen where possible, on getting nutrients the way nature intended, from food. The best sources are fish liver oil, full fat dairy and eggs but you’re unlikely to get enough this way. This is where supplements can be helpful. Look for Vitamin D3; D2 is only half as effective. The strength might be labelled by weight in micrograms µg or by international units IU which relate to biological activity. For Vitamin D3, 1 µg is equivalent to 40 IU. So 25 µg capsules are equivalent to 1000 IU.

Vitamin D is fat soluble so it can build up and we each absorb it differently. The PHE recommend a dose of 10 µg / 400 IU which is modest. Some studies show that this is not enough and I take more. Your doctor can do a blood test to make sure you’re not overdosing. I asked for one in February and my level was fine so I’ll be supplement again each winter.

What about SAD (seasonal affective disorder)? A special lamp will compensate for the lack of light and has a beneficial effect but the wonderful Vitamin D even helps with SAD.

Top tip: Take Vitamin D supplements this winter.

Shapes and Colours

As I walk through town looking at the gardens, the flowers may be fading but the leaves are turning copper and gold and the apples hang red on the trees. Whatever the season, there are wonderful shapes and colours in nature. This is how our food should be too.

There are many types of fish and they’re fish-shaped, not oblong, battered or crumbed. It’s easy to add your own toppings if you like. Fresh meat will have been cut up into large joints with individual shapes or small pieces. There can be a world of difference between a bought burger and some mince to make your own and between chicken nuggets and a free-range drumstick.

Take a look at your shopping as it goes along the supermarket conveyor belt. Is it all beige? Is it all square? I wrote a little rhyme:

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

When you go to the shops

If it comes in a box

Let it stay on the shelf

For the sake of your health

 

Each type of food brings its own special nutrients. Eating the same things every day can leave you with deficiencies and makes intolerance more likely. Most people have loads of recipe books and eat the same dozen meals all the time. Mix them up: white meat one day, fish another, then red meat, perhaps an omelette, or have a boost with liver or oily fish. Have rice or quinoa sometimes rather than always potatoes. Challenge yourself to buy a wider variety of vegetables. Eat two types with each meal, different colours. If you have something starchy, pair it with something non-starchy eg carrots with green beans, peas with red cabbage, sweet corn with pak choi. It’ll be a feast for your eyes on the conveyor belt and your plate.

Top tip – buy some foods with shapes and colours.

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.

 

Foraging

When I’m out in the woods doing field archery, I’m usually picking something to eat, much to the surprise of my companions. If they pluck up courage to accept a taste, they marvel at the citrus freshness of young wood-sorrel leaves and the sweet nectar you can suck from the base of red clover flowers. I can often be seen chewing on the stems of sorrel or wild grasses. Later in the summer, some woods will have wild strawberries and raspberries too.

Bilberry picking, 2016

Come the autumn, it’s time for blackberries and bilberries (which put blue berries in the shade, both as a super food and for intensity of flavour). These deserve a dedicated collecting trip. A couple of bags in the freezer lasts for months as a topping for Greek yoghurt at breakfast or the magic ingredient in a lilac smoothie.

With 75 % of the world’s food provided by just 12 plants and 5 animal species, it’s no wonder that food allergies, intolerances and digestive difficulties are increasing. Your body thrives on variety.

Urban lifestyles and screen addiction mean that few children can name trees and flowers and don’t know what can be eaten and, most importantly, what’s poisonous and shouldn’t be touched. Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods) called these kids ‘nature-deficient’ and links this to the worrying trends in childhood obesity, ADHD and depression.

Although I’ve read more about foraging in recent years, I learned most of what I know as a child out with my parents and grandparents.  And we were always picking something for wine making including sticky dandelions, delicate gorse petals (ouch!) and foamy white heads of elderflower.  In the war our grandparents put dandelion leaves in salad – perhaps with the resurgence of stronger tasting leaves like rocket, today’s generation would again find them appealing.

Top tip – teach your children and grandchildren what you know.