How to destress naturally: top lifestyle and nutrition tips for reducing stress

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Stress is a much talked about subject.  In small doses it can be motivational but frequently it is detrimental to our health and needs to be managed. 

It can be difficult to eradicate stress completely but there are some nutritional and lifestyle changes that you can make which can help.

This Stress Awareness Month Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer tells us how.

Feel alive with Vitamin B5

The family of B-vitamins complement each other really well.  However, vitamin B5 stands out from the crowd when it comes to managing stress.

Vitamin B5, also called pantothenic acid, is needed to effectively produce our stress hormones (namely cortisol and DHEA) from the adrenal glands.  Our natural ‘fight or flight’ response is an essential bodily function, providing us with the motivation and energy to deal with difficult situations. However, the body doesn’t like to be in this state too much.  Too much stress depletes production of these hormones over time, which can make us feel more agitated and stressed.

Foods,Highest,In,Vitamin,B5,(pantothenic,Acid).,Healthy,Food,Concept.

Foods such as mushrooms, meat, dairy produce, beans, lentils and nuts and seeds are great sources of vitamin B5 and can better help the body deal with stressful events.

Cut down on the agitators

We often reach for alcohol or sugary treats when the going gets tough.  However, these are stimulants, which release adrenaline, kicking off the stress response.  This then produces the opposite effect of what we actually need which is to feel calmer.

If life is stressful, then the body needs to be treated calmly. Green tea does contain a little caffeine but also has some theanine, a calming amino acid, so try to make some swaps from fully loaded caffeinated drinks.

shutterstock_391949488 green tea Nov16

Additionally, there are many very acceptable non-alcoholic beverages around now, so you don’t have to feel you’re missing out. And why not save the sugary snacks for one treat day per week?  Your body will thank you for it.

Make an achievable plan

Many of us write a daily job list and this can feel overwhelming because there is often far too much on the list to be achieved sensibly in one day.  However, why not break each challenge down into much smaller tasks, so that one big task looks much more achievable?

shutterstock_243120193 woman writing in note pad diary Feb17

It’s always a good idea to write things down that either need to be done or that are causing stress.  And then sit quietly with the list and see what is realistic without being over ambitious in what can actually be completed.  Just by listing things rather than it all spinning around in your head, can make everything seem rather more doable and less stressful.  Plus, it’s a great feeling when you can cross things off the list.

Get some help from nature

Nature has provided us with a wealth of health, from nutrient-packed foods to herbal helpers. Top of the herbs list are ashwagandha, ginseng and rhodiola, which are all adaptogenic herbs.  This means they support the body to better cope with stress, helping you feel calmer and more in control.

shutterstock_390988804 green leafy vegetables Dec16

Additionally, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Pak Choi are great sources of the mineral magnesium, which helps muscle relaxation.  If you find switching off in the evening difficult, then make sure you include some of these veggies in your evening meal to help calm the mind and body.

Exercise your stresses away

Exercise can be a great way of alleviating stress for many people.  And whilst some of us might find doing a big workout in the gym most effective, others may opt for a gentle stroll in the fresh air to blow away stress.  Do whatever works for you: if adrenaline is powering through your veins, it needs an outlet and taking some form of exercise can really do the trick.

shutterstock_218997220 woman walking trainers Mar18

Another effective way to reduce stress is to do some exercise where you have to concentrate on the game (such as tennis or even table tennis). This keeps your mind distracted from any mental issues, helping the brain unwind and re-set.

So, whilst we can’t completely avoid stress in our lives, we can hopefully minimise its impact with a few lifestyle changes.

Stay well.

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Walk your way to health this National Parks Fortnight

Woman walking through a forest glade

Many people have walked much more since the start of lockdown.  In fact, a recent report from Transport for London said that 57% of respondents walk more than they did previously.  And that’s something very positive to come out of the pandemic.

Walking is great for overall wellness. It boosts your metabolism, improves physical health and spending time outdoors is also good for mindfulness and mental health.

This National Parks Fortnight Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares why getting outside and walking is so beneficial for our health.

It burns calories

With so many of us finding life more sedentary than previously, managing weight effectively has also been more difficult.  Whilst there are a number of factors associated with trying to lose weight, there is also an equation of energy input and energy output.  In short, if you take in more calories than you expend, over a period of time, weight gain is more likely.

Close up on woman's feet on a pair of scales with a measuring tape

Brisk walking, especially when you find yourself slightly out of breath, can burn around 80 calories a mile, for an averaged sized person.  And it doesn’t actually take that long to walk three of four miles; you can probably burn off your breakfast or lunch! Regular exercise also helps uprate the metabolism generally, so your body will be more efficient.  Plus, walking after a meal also helps the insulin response, therefore less of the meal is going to be stored as fat.

It’s great for mental wellbeing

When the going gets tough, how often do we say, ‘I need to get out for a while’? We all know that taking in some fresh air can really clear the head and help relieve stress.  There is also much research to suggest that deep breathing helps relax the body generally, pushing it towards the parasympathetic nervous system response.  This is the opposite to the body being in ‘fight or flight’ which is the normal stress reaction. This can cause anxiety, mood swings, digestive issues and poor sleep, if happening too often.

Happy woman in field showing spring time

Use the time you go out walking (try for around 30 minutes a day) to totally switch off.  Avoid looking at your phone, unless to listen to a podcast or some music, and be in the moment.  Make a point of taking in the surroundings or noting what’s going on; it will help you switch off from any current stressful events.

Side profile of a person higlighting their brain functioning

Additionally, walking is great for boosting blood flow around the body, and this includes to the brain.  Good blood flow helps supply the brain with oxygen and nutrients for it to function correctly. Plus, it delivers glucose, the brain’s main fuel.  Interestingly, the brain utilises around 30% of all glucose produced by the body, meaning it requires lots of energy. You’ll be amazed at how much sharper your brain works when given sufficient oxygen and fuel.

It’s great for the joints

Just like your brain, your joints, muscles and bones also need good circulation.  Walking can help lessen stiffness in the joints and often relieve pain too. Plus, good blood flow helps bring nutrients to the joints, muscles and bones which will make them stronger and reduce any inflammation and pain.

Close up of knee representing joint pain

People suffering from persistent knee pain for example, often think that walking and exercise won’t help but the reverse is true; everything will just stiffen up without good movement, making pain worse. Importantly, walking is categorised as weight-bearing exercise so helps keep bones strong and prevents osteoporosis.

Helpful walking tips

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

  • Always wear good footwear; trainers or walking boots are ideal
  • If going for a longer distance, take some water with you and a light snack if needed
  • Take your phone so you can always make contact in emergencies
  • Build up your distance slowly if you’ve not exercised for a while to avoid injury
  • Enjoy your surroundings – take time to appreciate the wonders of nature

Stay well.

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Walk your way to health this winter

Woman walking in a snowy woodland

With our wings being somewhat clipped at the moment, many of us have found real pleasure in walking and getting some much-needed fresh air. 

There are lots of health benefits to walking but some of them you may be surprised to hear.  And walking in the cold weather is especially beneficial.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why and how to get the most enjoyment and benefits from walking.

The benefits of walking in the cold

For those who are brave enough to undertake and appreciate the benefits of swimming in the sea during the winter months, you may already know that the cold water is incredibly beneficial for relieving stress and instilling feelings of calm.  This is because the extremely cold water stimulates the vagus nerve in the neck, responsible for pushing the body’s nervous system into a calming parasympathetic state, rather than revving up the sympathetic nervous system. This can also happen when the neck is exposed to cold generally, hence walking in the snow (without a scarf just for a bit), is a great stressbuster (and very beautiful too).

So, get out there this festive season and enjoy some frosty walks in your local area.

Here are my top tips for an enjoyable winter walk.

Walk after a meal not before

Walking soon after you’ve finished a meal really helps the body better metabolise glucose and insulin, so food is less likely to be stored as fat.  Anyone wanting to lose weight or trying to get blood sugar in balance should walk after the main meal of the day which will really help both situations. Obviously, you’ll have more energy to put into the walk rather than ‘running on empty’.

Dress appropriately

If you’re feeling up to a longer challenge, then why not plan a route that will take a few hours, pack an energising lunch, and enjoy some real time out.  Even though you’re moving and maybe climbing some hills, you can still get really cold when temperatures plummet.  The key to staying comfortable during longer walks is layering.  Always have a close-fitting base layer and then put on as many additional layers as you need and make sure you either wear or pack a waterproof jacket, just in case.  Body temperatures can drop really quickly if clothes and body get drenched so it’s important to respect the weather at this time of year, especially if you are heading for the hills.  Waterproof over-trousers might be another essential item, again depending on the terrain.

Woman in winter gear on a walk

Most body heat is lost from the head so a warm hat is another essential item and can be a real game-changer when body temperature starts to drop.  In terms of keeping the neck warm, then a scarf is important as the vagus nerve doesn’t need to be exposed to the elements for long for the beneficial effects to be felt.

Pack an energising lunch

Obviously, you’re slightly limited in how much you can pack in terms of lunch but clearly you need to re-fuel.  More calories are burnt during the cold weather as the body tries to maintain body temperature.  However, a huge feast is not needed, just a combination of protein and carbohydrate.  Great choices would be egg with a little mayo on wholemeal bread, tinned tuna and sweetcorn wholemeal pittas or haloumi and salad on sourdough bread.

Woman with a hot thermos on a wintery walk

Having a hot drink mid-walk really helps lift spirits and warm the body; it’s easy to get cold really quickly once you stop for lunch.  Pack a flask of your favourite hot drink and maybe a small, sweet treat for when energy levels start to flag at the end of the day. And don’t forget to take some water with you too.

Walking is great for boosting circulation and encouraging blood flow to the brain, burning calories, keeping fit and busting stress.  And winter walking can be even more enjoyable if you’re fully prepared. Enjoy!

Stay well.

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Winter wellness: taking care of you

CLose up of happy woman in autumn winter

The winter weather is rapidly approaching, and with the country now in another lockdown, there has never been a better time to really start looking after yourself.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top tips for being kind to yourself including improving sleep, enjoying greater energy levels and having glowing skin.

Sleep – the cornerstone of wellness

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Getting sufficient sleep is essential to feeling energised and having healthy glowing skin.  Everything suffers health-wise with a lack of sleep, including how we look and feel. If you’re struggling to sleep (as so many people are right now), the most important thing is to look to your diet in order to make some improvements.

The mineral magnesium is incredibly calming so try to eat foods rich in magnesium for dinner including beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables and nuts, which will all help improve sleep.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The amino acid tryptophan is important because it helps produce melatonin, our key sleep hormone.  Milk (soya, dairy and almond milks) contain tryptophan which is why having a warm milky drink before bedtime can be so effective.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, almonds contain melatonin, (as do cashews and pistachios, in lesser amounts) making them a very effective pre-bedtime snack.  Milk and nuts also contain calcium, another calming mineral.  Just by taking a little care and being kind to yourself, can make a whole lot of difference to how you sleep.

Energy – feed it to your body

A woman jumping with a sunset in the background

Do you feel tired all the time?  Firstly, be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have the energy to do things.  It’s hard to feel energised and motivated when we are all in a state of flux. However, there are some particularly energising nutrients that can certainly help.

Enter the family of B-vitamins which all generate energy, primarily from the food we eat.  They are widely found in a range of foods especially whole grains, meat, fruit and vegetables and beans – in fact, in all healthy foods! If your diet is colourful and varied, then you should be getting what the body needs and this will help boost energy levels.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

‘White’ foods such as pastries, cakes, white rice, pasta and bread contain very little in the way of B-vitamins and will upset blood sugar levels, stripping energy rather than topping it up. Being kind to your body is about fuelling it with as much nourishment as you can at each mealtime.

Skin – radiate from within

Close up of woman smiling in a cosy jumper

How your skin looks and feels mainly comes from within.  If what you’re putting in isn’t right, it will show in your skin which may look dull and lifeless.  Being kind to your skin means providing it with specific beauty vitamins such as biotin, rich in eggs, beans, nuts and liver.  Plus, collagen, the body’s main structural protein, naturally declines with age, and a lack of which can leave the skin looking dull and less springy.

A range of protein sources

It’s important for all body systems and especially the skin to eat plenty of protein each day; include some at every meal – think eggs, meat, poultry, beans, nuts, dairy or fish.  This will also help collagen production.  Additionally, there are plenty of collagen supplements on the market, to further boost levels.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

Collagen also needs vitamin C in order to work efficiently, so make sure you’re eating at least the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetables daily. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant protecting skin from free radical damage which is responsible for the ageing process. Your skin will certainly appreciate some kindness.

So, treat yourself to some kindness and it will really improve the way you look and feel, both now and in the future.

Stay well.

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Nutritious and healthy bakes for autumn

Close up of woman preparing pastry for baking

It’s National Baking Week so why not enjoy some new recipes that are enjoyable to make and can also boost your health at the same time?

We often connect baking with sweet treats, but savoury can be just as enjoyable and generally healthier too.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top three savoury bakes and tells us how they can help boost your nutrition.

Savoury Muffins

The word ‘muffin’ tends to conjure up thoughts of a rich, chocolatey dough!  Lovely as they are, chocolate muffins are high in sugar and calories.  However, equally delicious and much healthier are savoury muffins.  Think feta cheese, sweet potato and avocado and you’ve got yourself a great breakfast or delicious snack.

Added to the key ingredients are eggs, polenta, ground almonds, milk and seeds for the topping. These muffins contain a good amount of protein so make a great start to the day or afternoon snack to banish the post-lunch slump.

Savory muffins

Sweet potatoes contain loads of immune-boosting beta-carotene, and avocados are packed with vitamin E, also great for immunity.  These muffins are also high in fibre (around 9g) each which goes a long way to meeting the recommended 30 grams of fibre daily.  They are quick and easy to bake and will last for up to three days in a sealed container.

Vegetarian Potato Pie

Essentially this is another version of traditional Shepherd’s Pie but made with beans rather than meat.  You don’t need to be a vegetarian or vegan to enjoy it and will gain some wonderful health benefits from eating it too.

It’s always good to use mixed beans but also include some fava beans.  Beans are all high in protein and fibre and also contain plenty of energising B-vitamins.  Plus, they’re great for keeping blood sugar levels in balance which will also help sustain your energy levels.

Vegetable potato pie

This recipe uses onion and garlic which are both rich in antioxidants, as well as carrots and potatoes which are high in immune-boosting vitamin C.  You’ll also need some tinned tomatoes.  Interestingly, tomatoes are loaded with lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant and is also great for prostate health.  Unusually lycopene is higher in tinned or cooked tomatoes rather than fresh. Best of all this dish will fill you up so you’ll be less tempted to grab unhealthy snacks after dinner.

Salmon Quiche

This is a great way of getting super-healthy omega-3s into your diet from the salmon.  Oily fish is the best source of omega-3s, but as many people don’t like fish, the UK population is deficient in these essential fats.

Salmon quiche

Quiche always has a pastry base and you can use ready-made pastry if you’re short of time. The mixture uses delicious smoked salmon, which also provides a distinctive tase, plus watercress, a great source of iron.  Women are often deficient in iron so it’s an easy way of topping up. You can also add some steamed spinach or broccoli for an additional vitamin and mineral boost.

Bake the pastry base as per instructions while you steam the spinach or broccoli for 5 minutes. Beat up the mixture of salmon, eggs, milk and dill, then add the broccoli or spinach and layer on top of the pastry. This can then be baked in the oven for around 35 minutes. It’s great for feeding a hungry family and can be simply served with a colourful salad.

So, embrace National Baking Week and serve up some deliciously healthy dishes for autumn.

Stay well.

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Get back to nature this ‘Love Parks Week’

Woman walking through a forest glade

It’s ‘Love Parks Week’ and thankfully now all the parks are open again, we can enjoy them at their very best, whilst remembering to socially distance of course!

Spending time outdoors is so important for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five best tips for enjoying our beautiful parks to the full.

Manage your allergies

For many of us who suffer with hay fever, the summer season is bittersweet when pollen levels are especially problematic.  Avoiding grass pollen is the most effective solution but it means missing out on so much.  However, there are certain steps you can take that will make your time in the parks more enjoyable.

CLose up of woman blwoing her nose surrounded by flowers to represent hay fever

Any allergic response in the body involves an immune reaction so it’s important to keep your immune system in good shape.  Make sure you’re taking a vitamin D supplement and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with immune -boosting nutrients.  Bananas have been found to be especially effective for hay fever sufferers, so try to eat one about four times per week.

Additionally, the mineral magnesium (also rich in bananas) helps calm the airways so make sure you’re eating plenty of leafy greens, whole grains, beans and almonds.  Additionally, bromelain, the protein found in pineapples, has strong anti-inflammatory properties but is actually most effective taken in supplement form. It’s readily available in health food stores.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

If you find your eyes are sore after being outside in the park, change all your clothes when you come home, wash your face and lie down in a darkened room with some cucumber slices on your eyes.  Hopefully, you’ll feel refreshed after 20 minutes or so.

Go easy on the sun

Most of us love to feel the warm sun on our skin.  Plus, it also helps top up our vitamin D levels, which are essential for the immune system.  However, do try and be sun aware and wear a minimum of an SPF-30 sunscreen to help prevent burning and premature aging.

Close up of a hand with sun tan lotion in the shape of a face

Beta-carotene, rich in carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and other red, orange and yellow vegetables, is a very powerful antioxidant which helps protect the skin against sun and other free-radical damage.  Whilst it won’t stop the skin burning, it will help minimise the sun’s more aggressive effects.

Put something different in your picnic basket

When packing up a picnic for a day out, we often tend to include the same foods without really thinking about it.  Why not make this week one where you opt for something different?

Instead of making ‘traditional’ sandwiches why not go for some Deli-style treats?  For example, cut some ciabatta bread in half and fill with cream cheese, salami, Mozzarella and roasted red peppers, which are rich in immune boosting vitamin C.

A bowl of homemade beetroot hummus

Additionally, beetroot hummus is a really healthy alternative to ‘normal’ hummus and it’s a great way of including this amazing super food in your diet.  All you need to do is blend some cooked beetroot, chickpeas, garlic, some virgin olive oil, a little lemon and some tahini.  It’s totally delicious on flatbread crackers.

Cycle your way around the park

The last few months has seen a resurgence in cycling, and it’s such a great activity for all the family.  Most parks have cycle routes around or through them and cycling is also a great form of exercise; it tones the legs, heart and butt!

Woman mountain-biking

Make sure you keep well hydrated before, during and after your cycle or day out, especially if it’s hot.  Aim to drink about 200 ml of water or lightly isotonic fluids per hour, depending on outside temperature and the intensity of your cycle.

Walking for enjoyment

Your walk around the park can be anything you want it to be – a gentle stroll or a fast-pace march.  Either way, walking is great for keeping good blood flow around the body.

Woman walking her dog

It’s especially effective if you’re trying to lose weight: try brisk walking after an evening meal – even only for 30 minutes.  The body’s insulin response is much more measured, and it helps stop blood sugar spikes which can lead to increased weight gain.

Whatever you decide to do in your park, celebrate Love Parks Week, get out there and enjoy!

Stay well.

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On your bike: the health benefits of cycling

Tow freinds cycling in the countryside

One of the positives to come out of our recently restricted lives is that many people have taken to two wheels to get some exercise and enjoy the great outdoors. And what better time to get out there than National Bike Week?

Cycling is a great activity for families and small groups of friends but can be just as enjoyable on your own.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at the health benefits of cycling and how to get the most out of your biking.

What are the health benefits?

Lots of people have turned to cycling recently as a great way of keeping fit.  It’s also been a great way to get outdoors, breathe some fresh air and just enjoy the ride. In terms of actual energy consumed, you can burn around 600 calories an hour, or if doing a harder ride, as many as 800.  It’s therefore a great way of keeping weight in check. If you’re going out for an hour’s ride, then you don’t need to take any snacks or extra food; the body has its own amazing energy-storage system. But always travel with a water bottle to keep yourself hydrated.

Close up of a woman mountain biking

Any form of exercise that elevates the heart rate for around 30 minutes helps with fat burning but also overall aerobic fitness.  This is turn has a positive effect on blood pressure, cholesterol levels and protection against Type 2 diabetes.  Additionally, cycling is great for mental wellbeing and you see much more of the world when you’re slightly elevated above the hedge line!

How can I make the most of an hour’s ride?

The beauty of cycling is that you don’t need to go out for hours and hours if time is short.  Why not set yourself small challenges such as trying to get further on a certain route in a fixed amount of time, meaning you’ve cycled faster?  Or try to add some hills or small inclines into your ride.  It’s so much harder trying to get a bike up a hill than running it, so you’ll get a much better cardio workout.

A family going for a bike ride

However, not every ride needs to be about a challenge because the most important part of cycling or any exercise is to enjoy the experience. Notice the landscape around you and be grateful for the opportunity of seeing the great outdoors and to have some headspace.  Vary your routes and try to avoid overly busy roads.

Close up of a bike's water bottle in situ

Clearly, it’s a very different experience riding off-road to on-road which is where a hybrid bike is so useful, so you’re not limited to either.  Importantly, make sure you’re well hydrated when you start the ride and take a good-sized bottle filled with lightly diluted fruit juice with water.  This will provide a very small amount of carbohydrate to keep energy levels up and help the body rehydrate faster, especially when it’s hot.

What about longer rides?

Cycling for half a day or longer, especially with family and friends is a brilliant way of spending some time outdoors.  Clearly, if it’s a family event, then you need to make sure kids have the right gear, especially helmets, and have had plenty of sun cream applied beforehand (you can even get burnt on cloudy days at this time of year).

View of a woman mountain biking

Take plenty of fluids and be careful not to underestimate the amount you might drink; cycling is really thirsty work, especially if you’re tackling more challenging terrain. It’s also a good idea to have some kind of sports drinks with you, as well as water, as they contain electrolytes plus carbohydrates to help avoid dehydration, especially when it’s hot.

Close up of a cyclists snack pot with dried fruit and nuts

If you’re planning on going out for a while, you’ll also need to take some food with you.  Energising bagels with jam (always a kids’ favourite), muesli bars, bananas dried fruits and nuts are good choices.  Traditional sports bars tend to be loaded with sweeteners so are best avoided if possible unless you’re a competitive cyclist, in which case you’ll need more structured meal replacements.

So, whether you’re out for an hour or a day, any time you can spend on a bike will be beneficial for both mind and body.

Stay well.

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Five acts of self-kindness to support your mental well-being

Relaxed woman looking happy sitting outside at a table overlooking a garden

It’s Mental Health Awareness week and with the current lockdown restrictions in place, never has our mental health come into such sharp focus. 

Life is very challenging at the moment for many people. Now is the perfect time to be kind to yourself and focus on your own mental wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for self-care and self-kindness.

Focus on food

What we eat has the most profound effect on mental well-being as anything.  Nothing works in isolation in the body, therefore everything we eat has a massive impact on our brain and emotional health.

As an example, there have been numerous research studies to confirm that diets high in junk foods cause low energy, increased anxiety, poor sleep, nutrient depletion, and of course, weight gain. Be kind to your brain and body and feed it with nutrient dense foods.

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

Make your meals as colourful as possible, including plenty of fruits and vegetables as these are some of the most nutrient-dense foods available to us.  If you can’t always get fresh, then stock up on frozen which are just as good as they retain most of their nutrients having been frozen soon after harvesting.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Omega-3 fats are needed by the brain for it to function at its best. Found in oily fish, flax seeds and other nuts and seeds try to eat some regularly.  Eating whole grain foods rather than ‘white’ refined ones is also important, delivering plenty of B-vitamins and other key nutrients needed to balance stress hormones and instil a sense of wellbeing.

Keep well hydrated

With the body consisting of around 70% water it makes sense that we need to keep well hydrated to ensure the body can perform all its vital processes.  Dehydration also affects mental wellbeing; you can end up feeling foggy, edgy, confused and energy levels will be much lower.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

Caffeinated drinks will cause more anxiety, so keep these to a minimum and instead try some herbal or fruit teas.  Ginseng tea is incredibly restorative, camomile is calming, and mint tea helps digestion.  Don’t forget to also drink plenty of water – around 1 ½ – 2 litres daily is ideal.

Start the day positively

During difficult times, such as now, that brief moment when you open your eyes can often fill you with dread.  What challenges is the day going to bring?  When you wake up, make a point of thinking of three things you are grateful for.

A close up of a typewriter with the word gratitude typed

It doesn’t matter how small they are; it can be something as simple as being able to start a new book or planning a different walk that day.  If you start the day on a more positive mindset, it will help you to cope better throughout the day.

Avoid the word ‘should’

It’s probably one of the most overused words in the English language: we often feel that we ‘should’ be doing something, and this can put more pressure on ourselves.  The word can also convey very negative messages to the mind.  Just because you may have more time on your hands, doesn’t mean you ‘should’ do things that are not going to make you feel good.

A road splitting into three to represent choices

Tell yourself you have a choice – rather than what you ‘should’ do, think about what you ‘want’ to do. Do something that makes you happy, such as watching a movie you’ve been meaning to see or phoning a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while.  Try not to allow your thoughts to drift into a negative or nagging territory and go with your feelings rather than the voice on your shoulder.

Invest in yourself

Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn or a job you’d love to do?  Whilst big changes do take time, learning anything new can be very empowering.

Close up of a woman's hand writing a to do list in a journal

There are so many educational, practical or creative things available, especially at the moment.  We never stop learning and when we’re learning we’re growing as people.  If you’re struggling with self-esteem issues right now, then there are plenty of self-help books, podcasts and webinars available to set you on the right path.  Take some time to make a list of things you’d like to know or do and then give yourself plenty of self-love when you’ve achieved one, however small.

There’s never been a better time to care of our mental wellbeing, as well as supporting the health of others.

Stay well.

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Keep on walking during lockdown: why walking is so important for your health

Woman walking her dog

May is National Walking Month which actually falls at a really appropriate time.  Whilst many of us are on lockdown, and currently restricted on where and how far we can walk, now is the perfect opportunity to make those walks really count and enjoy their wonderful health benefits.

Whether you’re doing a circuit of your neighbourhood or have fields, trails or woods on your doorstep, getting out and about every day is an essential part of staying well.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares why walking is so important for both your physical and mental health.

Heart Health

Walking is great for the heart both from a physical and emotional perspective.  Clearly time outside is limited at the moment, so make the most of every step.  Why not challenge yourself each week and try to get a little further every time?  This means you’ll be walking faster, which in turn raises the heart rate.

CLose up of two hands making a heart shape with the sun in the background

The heart is a muscle that needs to be worked like any other.  Therefore, aim to walk at pace in order to raise your heart rate and fully benefit.  This will help circulation, improve lung capacity, tone the legs and support weight management.  You can burn up to 300 calories in half an hour if you up the pace.

Wmoan outside looking joyful

Just being outside in the fresh air is also great for the soul.  If you’re feeling cooped up indoors, just getting out for an hour can be amazingly restorative.  The adage about ‘clearing your head’ really can happen when you’re out for a walk.  Plus, it’s still possible, depending on where you live, to meet up and walk at a social distance from a friend or relative, if you’re feeling isolated.

Joint Health

Now the gyms are closed, there are many more people out jogging right now, which is a great form of exercise.  However, it can be tough on the joints, especially the knees.  One of the many wonderful things about walking is that you can get fit without joint trauma; it’s much more comfortable for the body generally, and it may even ease joint plain.  Plus, if you tackle some hills, you’ll be getting a great workout for your butt!

A woman with a rucksack enjoying a walk outdoors in a forest

Our legs need to be worked for them to retain and build muscle. Therefore, if this is the only form of exercise you’re able to do right now, try to make it count and do a meaningful march every time you head out for a walk.

Blood sugar levels

Blood sugar needs to be in balance so that you’re also balanced emotionally and physically.  When levels fall, that’s when you get the tell-tale loss of concentration and irritability.  Importantly, it’s key to weight control because excess sugar in the blood stream is stored as fat.

Walking after a meal has been shown to keep blood sugar levels in good balance (even 15 minutes around the block is effective) and any excess calories you’ve eaten will be less likely to be stored as fat.

Immunity

Exercise in general boosts immunity by uprating the production of white blood cells, which are key to immune function.  For athletes and serious exercisers, too much exercise can actually deplete immunity, so more protection of the immune system is needed through nutrition and supplementation. However, for recreational exercisers, it’s an amazing way to put yourself in the best position to fight off any colds and other viruses, so get out there!

Close up of a doctor holding a blackboard with Immune System written on it in chalk

If it’s a sunny day you will also be getting some of the immune-boosting vitamin D. Vitamin D is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight – another great reason to spend more time outdoors.

Energy and positivity

Because walking increases blood flow and, therefore, oxygen around the body, you’ll naturally feel more energised after a walk.  And this oxygen will also reach your brain, allowing your head to feel clearer, and often more creative.

Close up of woman with arms outstretched, smiling in a forest

Walking is a great time for thinking, planning, problem-solving and being aware of the environment around you.  It’s amazing how much more positive you can feel even after just a short walk.  Use the time for just being ‘you’ if you can. Be mindful and enjoy your surroundings – if you’re lucky enough to have a lovely view or open space on your doorstep, then that’s an added bonus.

So, embrace National Walking Month and you’ll definitely be rewarded with some wonderful health benefits.

Stay well.

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Enjoying the great outdoors even though we might feel stuck indoors

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

Our movements are obviously restricted at the moment as to how much we can enjoy being outside.  It’s therefore more important than ever to maximise outside time to give you the most benefit, both mentally and physically. 

There’s always some positivity that comes out of adversity, even if it’s only that we become more appreciative of the world around us.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares the benefits of why we should all be spending some time outdoors during the lockdown.

Mental wellbeing is top priority

There’s never been a more important time to take good care of your mental health.  With these challenging times, feelings of depression and anxiety are much more common.  However, one of the best antidotes to this is getting outside and feeling the fresh air on your skin.

Woman walking over a bridge on the outskirts of the city

The sense of freedom is palpable.  Most importantly, taking a walk, the brisker the better, will help release those feel-good endorphins, and in turn elevate your mood.  It’s also a great opportunity to have some ‘me’ time; listen to a podcast, some music or reflect and take a moment to just be.

Make the time count

It’s also the perfect time to use the great outdoors for meaningful exercise.  If you’re normally a gym-goer or exercise indoors, taking it outside can add a whole new dimension to an exercise routine. The body needs to be challenged in order for strength and fitness levels to improve.  And it’s not too difficult to devise an outdoor exercise plan, improvising where necessary.

Close up of woman doing an arm stretch outdoors

There are so many exercises you do indoors that can be included outside; squats, lunges, press ups, sit ups, leg raises, tricep dips – the list is endless and there are plenty of on-line plans to help.

Jogging is also becoming increasingly popular during these times.  However, if none of these are your bag, walking briskly for at least 30 minutes is great and really helps boost circulation, which in turn helps brain function.

Get on your bike!

This is a great exercise that can be done either alone or with your household family members.  Regardless of our situation right now, the need to protect the climate means anything we can do to help lessen carbon emissions is a positive outcome, so why not use this time to make a start?

Woman mountain-biking

On average, cycling burns around 500-600 calories an hour, depending on the terrain and intensity of exercise.  However far you cycle, it will certainly aid calorie burn particularly when life means we are all being more sedentary than usual right now.

Become a stargazer

Getting outdoors doesn’t always need to be in the hours of daylight.  Studying the night sky is fascinating, plus potentially slightly easier now with less pollution around.  Clearly, there’s a lot to know but it makes for interesting learning and may turn out to be a newly acquired hobby.

Shooting star across the night sky

Depending on where you are, you’ll be seeing different vistas. But with an ever-fluctuating pattern of stars, planetary activity and the moon’s changes, you could quickly become hooked.

Become a nature-lover

It’s important to maximise and cherish your time right now.  It’s also the perfect opportunity to learn new skills and take up additional interests, and what better than one which takes you outdoors. If you’re going for a daily walk, spend time getting to know the nature around you. There are so many fascinating aspects of the natural world to enjoy, whether it be landscapes, plant-life, pond-life, birds or sea-life depending on where you live.

Woman walking through a forest glade

With natural life re-emerging after a long winter, there’s plenty to see.  If you live in a big town or city then seeing nature at its best might not be possible right now, but why not pick a topic and read up on it before seeing it for real.

There’s a whole world outside so try to get out there and enjoy it as much as possible (observing social distancing and current guidelines of course).

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

All images: Shutterstock