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.

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How to continue your Lent healthy-eating habits beyond Easter

An easter basket fillwed with flowers and colourful decorated eggs

As those of us who have been giving up certain food or drink for Lent are aware, the 40 days ends this weekend with the Easter celebration.  Whilst we may not be celebrating as, perhaps, we had planned with friends and family, it is a great opportunity to think about the changes you have made over the last 40 days.  

If you’ve worked hard during this period to stay away from certain foods, why not keep up the good work and permanently swap them out of your diet?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great alternatives for you to try.

Crisps

Crisps are a guilty pleasure for many of us who often eat a bag per day with our lunch. A typical bag of crisps contains around 171 calories, a small amount of protein (around 2 grams) and over 10 grams of fat, offering very little nutrient value.

A pot of hummus with pitta bread as a healthy snack

Why not swap crisps for some healthier crackers such as pumpkin and linseed crisp breads, oat cakes or rice cakes. These all make great snacks when energy levels are flagging, and hunger pangs are kicking in, especially if you add some protein: try them with hummus, cottage cheese, avocado or your favourite nut butter.

Alcohol

Most people report how much better they feel when they have a sustained amount of time without drinking alcohol.  And these benefits increase the longer you’re tee total.  Drinking alcohol can become habitual but if you change up your routine, you can break the habit.  Alcohol consumption depletes other nutrients, especially B-vitamins needed for energy. And, of course, alcohol is high in calories: a standard glass of wine contains around 160 calories, whilst a pint of beer contains almost 200 calories – about the same as a slice of pizza.

An alcohol-free cocktail with mint leaves

There are so many alcohol-free but great tasting alternatives to wine, beer and spirits right now, so you don’t need to feel left out. Why not create some delicious alcohol-free cocktails? Serve these drinks in special glasses as if they’re the real thing. Even just trying to cut down post Lent will improve your health exponentially.

Chocolate

If you were a fan of big bars of milk chocolate, then changing to a minimum 70% dark chocolate option (preferably organic) is certainly permitted as a lovely treat.

Squares of dark chocolate

Cocoa naturally contains flavonoids – plant compounds that are high in antioxidants and have also been found to help reduce high blood pressure.  Two or three squares a day will certainly deliver some good health benefits whilst hopefully satisfying any sweet cravings.

Cheese

It’s amazing how many people are addicted to cheese!  Clearly, it does contain many health benefits, being high in protein and bone-loving calcium.  However, it’s also high in amines which can trigger migraines (especially soft cheese) and disrupt sleep if eaten too late into the evening.  Most importantly, cheese has a high fat content so should be eaten in moderation to ensure it doesn’t adversely affect weight and blood fat levels.

Goats cheese round

There are many alternative, delicious vegan cheeses available now, often made from coconut or soy.  If cheese is your weakness, why not try to change it up as much as you can with some alternatives?

Cakes

There are very few of us who don’t enjoy cakes in some form or another. However, if this was your ‘go-to’ treat pre-Lent, then try not to fall back into the same pattern post-Easter. Cakes are calorie high and nutrient sparse; sugar in all its forms robs the body of other nutrients. Have this in mind before you reach for a slice.

Homemade flapjacks

There are some great sweet and healthier alternatives that you can create in your own kitchen. Think homemade muesli bars or flapjacks, fruit pizza made with oatmeal, chocolate covered bananas, or fruit loaf. They all contain some health benefits (especially energising B-vitamins and immune-loving vitamin C) and should help you manage any sweet cravings.

So, celebrate your 40-day resolve this weekend, and plan your next 40 days and beyond to be even healthier with these delicious alternatives!

Stay well.

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How to stay healthy during the lock down

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

It’s “National Walk to Work Day” today. But in these strange times, very few of us are likely to be walking into work.  However, we can still embrace this day and use the time to take good care of ourselves, continue exercising or even start a new fitness regime. 

It’s very possible to stay healthy and fit even during ‘lockdown’.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five tips to help boost your wellness during these difficult times.

 

Walk if you can

Walking is still one of the best, but often most under-rated forms of exercise. It’s also great for improving immune system function. Try to walk briskly and get the heart rate elevated.  If you’re able to get outside now, and it’s safe to do so, make your daily exercise really count.  And if you’re not used to walking very far, try to go a little further each day, but always walk for at least 30 minutes if possible.

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

Whilst walking is great exercise for the whole body, including the legs, leg muscles still need further challenging.  Why not stop every ten minutes or so and do 10-20 squats? This is one of the best exercises you can do for the legs.  Keep squats as low as possible for best effects.

Create an ‘at-home’ circuit

Short, sharp circuits, often referred to as HIIT (high intensity interval training), are incredibly effective for weight loss and fitness.  Even better, you can set up a simple circuit in your living room.  Jumping jacks, burpees, side, forward and back lungs, jumping squats, high knees carried out in a continuous loop will certainly get the heart racing.

Close up of woman working out at home

The beauty of this type of training is that it raises your metabolic rate, so you’ll get the ‘after-burn’ if you do this first thing in the morning.  There are plenty of circuits you can find on-line.  Whilst it may be hard to keep your motivation up right now, if you do find yourself with more time on your hands, then try to use the time purposefully.  You may find your fitness levels improving, especially if you’re someone who generally struggles to find time to exercise.

Look after your good bacteria

Whilst it’s important to keep the outer body working well, you need to look after the internal too.  Clearly, we don’t know everything that’s going on within and often the body doesn’t tell us until we get sick.  But prevention is always better than cure and what you eat can have a significant impact on wellbeing.

A range of green vegetables

It’s super-important right now to look after your immune system to protect yourself as best you can.  The beneficial bacteria in your gut (also known as friendly flora) are the gatekeepers to the immune system. It needs nourishing and feeding with the right foods. Try including natural yoghurt, fermented foods such as tofu, tempeh, kefir and kombucha, plenty of green leafy vegetables and asparagus.  Drinking green tea is also good for feeding the gut bacteria.

Sleep well

Having enough sleep is essential for a healthy immune system.  It’s also essential for a healthy mind and body.  Stress and anxiety can really impact our ability to get a good night’s sleep.  If you are badly affected, then try to take steps to minimise them.

Close up of woman sleeping

Sometimes reverting to a simple routine can be helpful.  Start with a warm bath, using some essential lavender oil, light some candles, read a book and download a calming app.  Limit the time you read or listen to the News right now as this can exacerbate stress.  Sometimes, you must cocoon yourself in order to get your sleep patterns on track.

Plan and enjoy your meals

It’s often difficult now to get the food you want when you want it.  However, try to ensure you’re eating nutrient-dense foods as much as possible.  Choose unrefined, whole grains rather than white, refined foods and keep sugar intake as low as possible; sugar is very detrimental to immune system function. Choose well balanced meals with protein and plenty of vegetables.

Chicken breast with side salad representing balanced meal

Clearly, if you’re stuck indoors for long periods, it’s very tempting to snack but do try and put the fridge in isolation as well as yourself; your health will be much better for it.

So, whilst we all come to terms with the new way of the world, try to move more and keep well through a good diet and exercise regime.

Stay well.

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How to stay healthy and fit through the crisis

WOman holding a weight in one hand and plate of fruit and veg in the other

With the likelihood of a prolonged period of social distancing and home working, our normal everyday routine will become very disrupted.  Whether you’ve got a little more time on your hands because you’re not travelling to work, or you’re having to work much longer hours because you’re a key worker, it’s most important to keep as fit and healthy as possible during these challenging times.

Finding new ways to keep fit or new dishes to try will help to boost your morale and wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for lasting wellness.

Load up on fruits and veggies

It seems like the shelves have been stripped bare of dried goods, such as pasta and rice, but fruits and vegetables are hopefully still available, certainly in lots of areas.  Also, don’t forget the corner shops and local farmer’s shops which still seem to be well-stocked.

A range of fruits and vegetables

Protecting the immune system is the most important thing you can do right now and there’s a variety of ways you can really help yourself and your family.  Fruit and vegetables are some of the richest sources of immune-boosting vitamin C, a great anti-viral agent.  Whilst it’s not going to cure the virus, having strong immunity will put you in better to shape to fight it if you are unlucky enough to succumb.

If you’re used to having pasta-based meals, then why not try more vegetable-based ones?  Sweet potato curry or sweet potato vegetable pie (loaded with immune-boosting beta-carotene), roasted veggies with chicken, fish or tofu, cauliflower curry, fajitas with avocado and red peppers – it’s just about getting more creative with your choice of dishes.

Sweet potato shepherd's pie

If you’re one of the 72% of the population currently not eating the minimum five-a-day of fruits and vegetables, then use this time to eat as many as you can daily.  Frozen are just as good as fresh as they’ve generally been frozen quickly after harvest.  Make your meals as colourful as possible!

Take a vitamin D supplement

We are all advised by Public Health England to take a vitamin D supplement through the winter months.  Never has there been a more important time to be taking a vitamin D supplement; vitamin D is essential for the immune system. And even though some sunshine has appeared, it can never produce enough vitamin D on the skin to be fully effective.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

Better still, take a daily multivitamin which includes a minimum of 10 micrograms (ug) of vitamin D: a multivitamin will also help plug any other nutrient deficiencies and further protect the immune system. You can also get some vitamin D from foods; eggs, mushrooms and fish are good sources, plus certain fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.

Sleep and rest well

In these times of heightened anxiety, stress can have a detrimental effect on the immune system.  It’s therefore really important to make sure you’re getting sufficient rest and seven or eight hours sleep per night.  Lack of sleep suppresses T cells in the immune system, which are needed to fight viruses and infections.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

Equally, trying to take some relaxation during the day, can help you to sleep better at night.  Try using a calming app, practising meditation, reading a book – whatever you find helpful.  Also try to keep to regular bedtimes.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

If you’re used to being a social butterfly, clearly everyone’s wings have been clipped for a while.  Use the time to cut down on caffeine and alcohol as both will stop the body from sleeping peacefully.  If you’re in the situation of being indoors much more, then take the opportunity to re-think your life and try to ditch those foods or activities that are not promoting good health.

Warm yourself from the inside

It’s crucially important to keep the body hydrated to protect vital organs and make your internal environment more difficult for viruses to enter.

Glass of water with lemon

Additionally, if you’re dehydrated, your brain is going to feel foggy, concentration will be poor and energy levels low.  The body really likes warm drinks (about blood temperature).  Start the day with some warm lemon water to flush through the liver.  You can also sip this with some immune-boosting ginger throughout the day.

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

There’s a myriad of herbal teas which also boost immunity; echinacea, peppermint, red bush, green, rosehip and turmeric. Have one on the go throughout the day.  Soups containing loads of vegetables are also great immune boosters; chicken broth is thought to help fight viruses.  If you can boil up the bones to make a chicken stock first, even better!

Get some exercise

This is more difficult now with formal exercising venues, as well as public parks, largely being closed.  However, even if it’s a stroll around the block, getting some fresh air (away from other people) is great for the immune system.  However excessive exercise actually depletes immunity, so for some perhaps an enforced ‘slow-down’ may be good. Don’t overdo it.

Close up on woman's trainers walking in forest

Get creative with some kind of exercise routine. Running up and down stairs, press-ups, core exercise, squats and lunges can all be carried out at home.  Yoga, Pilates and other stretching exercises only require a mat: there are plenty of free videos online to follow in order to keep motivated.

A woman practising yoga in her living room

Most importantly, try to stay positive.  This is a phase in time that will pass.  However, the more you can do to keep yourself healthy the better you’ll come out the other side.

Stay well.

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

All images: Shutterstock

 

Eat well: five ways to overhaul your diet

Close of up happy woman eating breakfast bowl of porridge and banana

We can all get ‘stuck in a rut’ with our diet at times.  Maybe you have run out of ideas as to what to eat or get confused as to what’s good and what’s not. Or perhaps you are struggling to get your normal food items during the current situation.

This may be the time to try some new foods or mix it up and try some different meal ideas and recipes.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for overhauling your diet for maximum health benefits.

Add some mood-boosting foods

During these rather glum times with everyone feeling low in mood, give yourself a turbo-charge with these foods to help put a smile on your face.  First-up is salmon; oily fish is loaded with mood-boosting omega-3 fats.  Plus, it’s so easy to cook. The simplest way is baked in the oven with some lemon juice and chopped chives or tarragon.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Bananas are high in vitamin B6, needed to produce brain neurotransmitters.  Why not added some chopped bananas to your morning cereal or porridge or eat as a mid-morning snack?

Squares of dark chocolate

Treat yourself to some dark chocolate. It contains tryptophan – an amino acid which produces our happy hormone, serotonin. There’s much research to suggest that people who eat dark chocolate suffer fewer depressive symptoms.  You can officially now eat dark chocolate guilt-free!

Look after your liver

Liver health is key to feeling happy or sad; if your liver is sluggish, then you can feel ‘down in the dumps’. Vitamin C-rich foods such as grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges are all liver-friendly.

Citrus fruits including lemon, orange and grapefruit

Additionally, berry fruits and green foods such as leafy vegetables as well as green algae, including chlorella, really aid good liver detoxification.  Why not whizz up a morning smoothie and throw in as much as you can, plus include some powdered chlorella and hemp protein to power-up your morning?

Eat enough protein

People often think about carbohydrates for energy, but protein is equally as important.  Crucially, protein is needed for good immune-system function, especially key right now.  Make sure you’re eating some protein at each meal, whether from animal or vegetable sources.

A range of food high in protein

Fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, meat, offal, soya, beans, legumes ……. there’s so much choice.  Plus, grains contain some protein; quinoa is especially protein rich.  However, whilst pasta does contain some protein, if you’re making a dish with just a tomato-based source and nothing else, then it’s best to add some other protein source. Protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so you’ll not be looking for snacks during the day.

Keep your immune system in good shape

We know protein is essential for a good immune system.  However, there are other nutrients equally as important.  Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and the mineral zinc are top of the list.

A range of colourful fruit and vegetables

Red, yellow and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene which the body turns into vitamin A as needed, so carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers are your best friends right now.  The most useful source of vitamin D is from sunlight, which is sadly lacking at the moment, so ensure you’re supplementing daily to keep your immune system in good shape.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables so check your plate at every mealtime to ensure you’re eating part of a rainbow.  Plus, zinc is found in seafood, whole grains, eggs and red meat so keep a check on how much you’ve got in your diet.  Its advisable to be supplementing with a good multivitamin and mineral as it’s especially important to plug any nutrient gaps.

Keep it simple

Overhauling your diet doesn’t need to be over-complicated.  Sometimes just taking simple steps can make a whole difference.  For example, one of the best investments you can ever make is to buy a slow cooker.  You can literally throw everything in at the start of your day and you’ll have a delicious meal by dinner time, with very little effort.  All the nutrients are retained because it’s cooked in the same pot.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

Stir-fries, one pot meals, and simple pasta meals take very little time.  Try to have some frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer – their nutrient content is great – so you’ll never be without your rainbow!

So, with a few simple dietary changes, you can really boost your energy, immunity and overall health during the coming weeks and months.

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Why eating more vegetables is so good for you

Happy woman holding a brown paper bag of vegetables in her kitchen

There are many reasons why vegetables should feature very highly in your daily diet. Packed full of nutrients, the range of vegetables available to us all year round makes including them in our meals every day pretty easy.

This month why not take the Veg Pledge and increase your vegetable intake?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five great reasons why you should.

Vegetables are loaded with nutrients

Vegetables are the most nutrient-dense food groups on the planet.  The human body needs around 45 nutrients daily (including water) and a very large proportion of these are found in vegetables.

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

If you eat a wide variety of vegetables, then you’ll certainly be loading yourself up with a good range of nutrients.  First up are vitamins, most of which can’t be made in the body so have to be eaten very regularly.  Vitamins such as A, C, and E are all key for the immune system. The B vitamins are needed for energy and a healthy nervous system and brain. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth.  And that’s just the beginning!

The body contains a range of trace minerals that are utilised for many body functions, so must be eaten regularly as well.  Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, with most of it being stored in the bones.  Magnesium is key for bone health but also for the heart. Potassium and sodium should also be in good balance to support our cell make-up.

Vegetables are packed with antioxidants

Antioxidants protect the body against free radical damage.  Free radicals come from the environment but also from within the body.  Whilst the body has its own antioxidant systems, it needs more protection from foods we eat, including vegetables.  The richer and darker the colour, the more antioxidants the vegetable provides; broccoli and kale, for example, are packed with antioxidants.

A range of orange vegetables

The colour of the vegetable also gives a clue as to the different types of antioxidant it contains.  For example, orange and red vegetables contain lots of carotenoids. Some of these are turned into vitamin A in the body. Others serve to protect the body against disease, the aging process and from nasty bugs and infections.

Vegetables are loaded with fibre

We need around 30 grams of fibre in the diet each day to help the digestive tract run smoothly.  Fibre is also needed to aid liver detoxification, balance blood sugar levels and keep cholesterol levels in check, just for starters.

Close up on woman's stomach with hands making a heart shape to show a healthy tummy

Foods contain soluble and insoluble fibre, and we need both, but vegetables contain high levels of soluble fibre.  As an example, there’s around three grams of fibre in a cup of cauliflower so the body needs plenty more from food sources to keep the levels topped up. There are of course other foods, especially whole grains, which contain plenty of fibre.

Vegetables are good for the environment

There’s so much research to suggest that adopting a primarily plant-based diet is very beneficial for health.  However, with climate change and environmental issues of real concern right now, eating more vegetables and less meat is seen as a very good thing.

close upof woman carrying basket of in season fruit and vegetables

Ideally, we should be trying to eat foods in season.  We’ve got very used to being able to eat a whole range of vegetables throughout the year due to the wide availability. Farmer’s markets and local growers should be supported as much as possible and are the best places to find in-season, fresh produce.  Plus, if you can find organic growers then you’ll be reducing your own intake of pesticides and well as being kinder to the environment.

Make vegetables the main event

You can use vegetables in so many ways, not just as side dishes, but also as mains.  Think vegetable curries, risottos and soups or put some of your favourites in a slow cooker with some stock for a lovely warming winter meal.

A bowl of vegetable soup surrounded by vegetables

The varying and wonderful tastes of vegetables can also be enhanced with plenty of delicious and health-giving herbs and spices.  For example, why not try garlic, ginger,  chilli, turmeric, paprika, basil, rosemary or sage. There are so many herbs and spices that can be added to vegetables to both enhance taste and have additional health benefits so get creative!

CLose up of a pestle and mortar surrounded by herbs and spices

 

Eating delicious food is one of life’s pleasures and there are certainly many ways to make vegetables tasty and a big part of your everyday diet. Five-a-day is the minimum you should be aiming for but the more the better!

So, take the veg pledge and enjoy creating vegetable-based dishes this season.

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.

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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