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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A day in the life of a Nutritionist: top tips for daily health

A chalk board with the words Healthy Lifestyle written on alongside other words which represent this

For many of us a new year means a new start and a revamp of our diet and exercise. And then there comes another lockdown. For some of us this is motivating and increases our focus on our own wellness, getting out for our daily walks and trying new dishes at home. For others we may have lost our motivation to keep moving and eat well.

So, with this in mind we thought we would ask Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer to share her daily routine and provide us with some insights and inspiration.

Take it away Suzie!

I’m frequently asked about my own eating and lifestyle habits.  And I always answer by saying that I am certainly not ‘perfect’ 100% of the time but aim for 80-90%.  This has become even more important to me during the pandemic because keeping ourselves as healthy as possible is certainly the best protection we can have.

Morning

I normally start the day with a small amount of apple cider vinegar and a glass of warm water with fresh lemon to help cleanse the liver and kickstart the digestive system. Plus, it helps alkalise the body. After about an hour I’ll generally have some porridge oats (from whole grain oats) with some oat or almond milk, topped with berries.  I also sprinkle a tablespoon of flaxseeds on the top for additional omega-3 healthy fats and fibre.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

As an alternative, or if I’ve done an early workout, I’ll have a power smoothie. This is made mainly with protein powder (usually pea protein, as whey protein can cause digestive upsets later in the day) and not too overloaded with fruit – I just choose a couple.

I generally take most of my supplements after breakfast too.  A daily multivitamin and mineral should be taken early on in the day in order to enjoy its energising benefits.  I’ll always take omega-3s from fish oil which are great for skin, joints, the heart and brain. In fact, I definitely notice the difference with my memory when I don’t take them! I’ll generally include either some probiotics or prebiotics such as inulin (depending on how well my digestion is working).

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

I also take additional vitamin D.  Quite apart from it being essential for the immune system, vitamin D is important for supporting normal bone health and for helping stiff joints, which I tend to get if I’ve been overdoing the workouts.

Lunch

I’m a great fan of eggs; they are a brilliant source of protein and brain-boosting phospholipids. Therefore, lunch will often be a spinach and mushroom omelette which will keep me feeling full for a good few hours and stop the classic ‘3 pm slump’!  Alternatively, I’ll have a smoked mackerel salad or avocado on sourdough bread.

Spinach and mushroom om

Depending on how the day’s running I might do a workout before lunch. I’m so lucky living in Brighton and being able to work out on the beach with a trainer a couple of times a week, which keeps me motivated.  Fitness apps are a great way to get moving at home but for me personally I dislike jumping around in my lounge!  During the working week I will always take a walk, even for half an hour, to get out in the fresh air.  It’s great for clearing the mind and also brilliant exercise.  I also try and do longer and more challenging walks at the weekends.

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

Dinner

During the week, I tend to keep things really simple: wild salmon or chicken breast with sweet potato and veggies.  I’m also a great fan of venison steaks as they are very low in fat, high in protein and tend to be more free-range than other meats.  I cook them as I would any piece of meat so they’re soft and tender, not chewy at all.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

I absolutely love chocolate and allow myself a few squares of dark chocolate each day as it’s packed with antioxidants. Because of its strong flavour, I find that I don’t need to eat too much.

Sleep

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

I struggle to get to sleep, so I try to have a warm bath about an hour before bedtime and I’ve found Epsom salts to be really helpful.  Plus, they make my skin feel super soft and smooth.  I’ll also take some L-Theanine about half an hour before bedtime.  It’s an amino acid that stimulates GABA, one of our calming neurotransmitters, which helps stop a busy brain. It does need to be taken on an empty stomach though.  However, sometimes I change things up a little and use the herbs passionflower and valerian, both of which have plenty of research for helping sleep.

Final thoughts

The body loves routine, and whilst most of us are out of our usual routine at the moment, I certainly find that the more I can fuel my body with plenty of nutrients, the better I’m able to weather the storm, both physically and emotionally. I hope my ‘day in the life’ has given you some motivation and ideas for including some more healthy habits into your daily routine.

Stay well.

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Top tips to boost your health, mood and motivation

a group of books with titles which describe a healthy lifestyle

With January out of the way, and the hope of a more positive 2021 in the world around us, now is a great time to really focus on your own wellbeing. This means looking closely at your diet and lifestyle as both of these factors have a direct correlation to your self-esteem and how good we feel inside.

What we put into our bodies and what we get out of them can have a big impact on our feelings of well-being and positivity.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at three key areas and shares some top tips.

Be honest about food

We all know our own eating habits and the foods we love.  Indeed, there’s a biochemical reason why we sometimes binge on certain foods which is down to the feel-good endorphins they stimulate.  However, this doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the healthiest foods. It can be a good idea to write down everything we eat daily (and be honest!) and then look at it over a period of a few weeks to see what’s really going on.

Woman writing in diary

Eating too many sugar-laden foods will not only pile on the kilos but upset mental wellbeing.  There’s much research to confirm this. Treats are still permitted of course but maybe try to have just one treat day per week, so you don’t feel you’re missing out.

Range of foods to show a balanced diet

Base your diet around protein (poultry, beans, legumes, eggs, meat, white and oily fish), healthy fats (including nuts and avocados) and non-processed carbohydrates (whole grains, plenty of vegetables and some fruit). Not only will sugar cravings disappear, you’ll feel more balanced generally.  And cutting out or reducing stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and fizzy drinks will have a really positive effect on your mood and how well you sleep.

Move more

With the current lockdown and cold January weather, the motivation to exercise can be difficult.  However, the less you move, the less you want to move.  Even if you’re home-schooling, home working or key working, try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.

Whether it’s going for a brisk walk, using an exercise app or following YouTube videos go for anything that gets the body moving and stimulates blood to the brain.  The brain needs good blood flow in order to receive nutrients from which it can manufacture key neurotransmitters, amongst performing many other vital functions.

Close up of woman working out at home

Additionally, if you’re worried about weight gain during lockdown, just moving more will help you to feel positive, improve self-esteem and burn some calories at the same time.  If it helps, why not meet a friend outside for a socially distanced walk and then you’ll have a definite appointment to keep.

Find the joy

With so much depressing news right now, we sometimes just need to switch off, both externally and internally.  There’s so much ‘noise’ everywhere, plus most of us are living a 24/7 lifestyle with emails, social media and family commitments never ending within the blur of home/work lifestyles. However, the mind needs to take a break in order to avoid being overwhelm and feeling overloaded.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

For 20 minutes each day try to find at least one thing to think about (for example a meditation session), or do (perhaps listening to some music or a podcast that you love) or just being in your own physical and mental space (take yourself off to a room on your own).  Doing this for a short time every day and thinking about or doing something that makes you feel joyful will lead to a more positive mindset.

Close up of a woman by the ocean

Thoughts of sitting on a beach or at your favourite holiday spot are a great way for many of us to look to the future and the reality of this happening might not be too far away.  There’s also nothing to stop you envisioning things in your life that you’d like to happen.  Imagine yourself in those situations to help bring a more positive outlook to your day.

The body works as a whole; what we eat affects how we look, how we feel, our energy levels, mood and sleep. Equally, lifestyle factors and listening and responding to our body’s basic needs will help to generate positivity which will lead to better self-esteem and a more fulfilling life.

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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Five ways to improve your fitness through nutrition

Woman in work out gear pausing to drink a bottle of water

We’re all in a slightly strange world right now and everyone has been affected in some way or another.  However, by keeping physically fit, you’re more likely to be able to cope better with what life throws your way.

It’s amazing how much we can influence fitness levels just by making a few dietary tweaks along the way.

This National Fitness Day clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for improving your fitness through nutrition.

Protein

Many people associate carbohydrate foods with fitness and endurance.  Whilst carbohydrates are clearly very important (they are one of our key macro nutrients), protein is key.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Protein is essential for repair and for building bones and muscles, as well as hormone and immune function.  All these factors are key when improving fitness levels and overall wellness.  Eating too little protein can cause the body to ‘break down’ rather than build stronger, leaner muscle mass.  Indeed, the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active the body is, and the more calories are burned at rest.  That doesn’t mean by eating lots of protein, you’re going to look like pop-eye!  You’ll simply be building a strong base.

A range of high protein foods

So how much protein do we need?  Clearly it depends on exertion levels and those undertaking serious body building sports will need much more.  However, for overall great health, ensure you’re eating some protein at every meal.  Eggs are great for breakfast; chicken, turkey, fish, soya produce, beans, meat, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein for lunch and dinner. A bowl of white pasta with a tomato-based sauce is not going to cut it from a protein perspective, so try to plan your meals around protein.

Ditch the junk

Refined foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and ready meals are all sources of carbohydrates, but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits, just empty calories.  In fact, these foods upset blood sugar balance and deplete rather than enhance energy levels.

A woman kicking away donuts to represent cutting out junk food

Alcohol, fizzy drinks and too many caffeinated drinks also have the same effect.  There is research to suggest that exercising after having a strong coffee does help improve fat burning which is great.  However, if you’re a caffeine junkie, consuming lots of coffee throughout the day, then you’ll get that ‘tired but wired’ feeling, and anxiety levels will increase; certainly not what’s needed especially at the moment.  Be mindful of how much you’re consuming overall.  The odd treat is fine but not every day.

Nutrients for sleep

Rest and peaceful sleep are essential for improving fitness levels and for wellness generally.  The body repairs, detoxifies and absorbs nutrients whilst we’re asleep so it’s important to ensure yours is as good as it can be.

Close up of woman sleeping

A good bedtime routine is essential.  Turning off all electronic devices around two hours before bedtime is also important as blue light affects the brain and will keep you awake.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan helps produce melatonin, our sleep hormone; great foods to eat are oats, bananas, soya produce, eggs, chicken, turkey, nuts and dairy.  The ‘old-wives tale’ recommends a warm, milk drink before bedtime and this rings true.  Half a cup of either milk or soya milk with a few almonds about an hour before bedtime is one of the most effective and easiest ways of getting a good night’s sleep.

Hydration

All athletes know that being properly hydrated can make all the difference when it comes to performance.  Whilst we’re not all about to run a marathon, it’s important to keep well hydrated throughout the day.  Your body will retain water making you look puffier if you’re not drinking enough.

CLose up of a woman holdnig a glass of water

 

Herbal and fruit teas can count towards the target of 1 ½ – 2 litres daily but there is no substitute for plain water for keeping everything running smoothly and energy levels in good shape.

Energy-dense foods

Whilst protein is essential for fitness, eating energy-rich foods are also needed for keeping everything in good balance.  For healthy carbohydrates think whole grains in the form of oats, quinoa, wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread, beans, as well as green leafy veg and energy-dense vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

A bowl of sweet potato wedges

It is, however, important to be mindful of portion sizes; we all know when our plate is overly filled.  As with everything, it’s all about balance!

So, follow the above 5 steps in order to improve your fitness levels through good nutrition and overall wellbeing.

Stay well.

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Enjoy a staycation: top tips for holidaying at home

A road sign saying 'staycation'

With a massive increase in staycations this year for obvious reasons, many of us are disappointed at not being able to plan our annual ‘get-away’. 

However, maybe just changing our mindset can make us realise that staying at home can be hugely fun too.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyers shares some wonderfully healthy and fun staycation tips.

Healthy cocktails

Cocktails often remind us of holidays and fun times so why not get your mix on at home?  Cocktails are traditionally very sugary and calorific which can bring on feelings of guilt and dampen down the enjoyment.  But all is not lost because there are many ways you can enjoy cocktails without the guilt pangs!

Grapefruit margarita cocktail

Why not mix up a great summertime Skinny Margarita?  Simply use Tequila, Triple Sec, freshly squeezed lime juice and some freshly squeezed ruby or pink grapefruit juice.  Finish off with a wedge of lime. Grapefruit has been associated with weight loss, and whilst simply eating or drinking grapefruit juice is not going to solve all your weight issues, it’s low in calories and sugar, high in fibre, and, most importantly, a delicious addition to this margarita!

Eat Mediterranean food

You might not be in the Med but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of their delicious traditional recipes, without spending hours in the kitchen.  Think about a traditional Turkish Mezze which is both easy and can be super-healthy too. Plus, it makes a great sharing platter for entertaining friends and family.

Hummus and beetroot dips mezze platter

Dips and hummus always play a key role in any mezze plate.  Traditional hummus is made from chickpeas which are loaded with protein, energising B-vitamins and phytoestrogens for hormone balancing.  Create a beetroot dip (an amazing super food), mixed with garlic and natural yoghurt, and throw together a traditional olive salad, with fresh green leaves and feta cheese.  Roast some red peppers and include loads of crudities and toasted pittas to fully enjoy the dips. A great way of bringing the Med to you!

Spend time outdoors

Holidays are very much associated with being outdoors, so make sure your staycation doesn’t disappoint on that front.  Why not try some new activities?  Or head for the coast and do some water sports; paddle boarding is incredibly popular right now and can be mastered fairly quickly.

Family cycling in countryside

Bike rides are a great family activity and enable you to view places you might not otherwise see, and from a different scenic perspective.  Lots of landmarks and views can get missed on car journeys so get out and about on foot to explore your local area.

Relaxation

It’s not all about rushing about; having some down time is very important for overall health and wellbeing.  Life has been and continues to be stressful for many people and long-term stress can raise cortisol levels.  Symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, poor sleep and unwanted weight gain are all signs your stress hormones need support.

Woman reading in garden

To be effective and properly restful, you need to give yourself real ‘down-time’.  Whether that’s just reading a book or listening to some music in the garden find something that works for you.  You can also try taking an adaptogenic herb such as ashwagandha which helps manage stress and reduces cortisol levels.  Holidays are all about investing in some ‘you’ time, so make this happen.

Have fun!

Most important!  Staying at home doesn’t have to be dull.  Like any holiday it needs a little planning so that you really enjoy the time you have, and you can look back and feel you’ve had a proper break.

Children looking at giraffes at the zoo

Why not plan the days with a calendar in front of you? Research local attractions for day trips, catch up with friends and family if you can, and do things that you wouldn’t generally get time to do.

Whatever you decide, you deserve some time off. So, make the most of every staycation moment!

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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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.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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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