Upgrade your health this World Wellbeing Week

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

World Wellbeing Week is an opportunity for us to evaluate our physical and mental health and what more we can be doing to support our wellness.

What does wellbeing mean to you?  Officially it means ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’.  So how could you improve your wellbeing?

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips.

Make some dietary tweaks

Trying to make dietary changes too quickly can often be very stressful.  And it may be that your diet is pretty healthy, but it just needs improving in certain areas.  So, why not resolve to just change one thing?

shutterstock_585346478 whole wheat pasta June17

Each mealtime is an opportunity to re-fuel the body and take in essential nutrients.  The body needs 45 nutrients (including water) in any one day, so each mealtime should count.  Maybe swap white refined bread and pasta for brown, which will provide much more fibre and essential nutrients. Or cut down on overall sugar content, remembering that many foods have hidden sugars, such as cereals, sauces, baked beans and other tinned and packaged foods.

A pile of sugar with the words 'no sugar' in

Sugar in all its forms (and that includes honey) depletes the body of other nutrients and upsets blood sugar balance, making weight more difficult to manage.  If sugar is an issue for you, any reductions you can make are going to be positive.

Figure out an exercise plan

It doesn’t need to be formal or involve a gym, but exercise and keeping active is a very important part of overall wellbeing.  The body was not intended to be sedentary so it’s just a question of moving around more.

Close up of woman working out at home

Whether that means scheduling a daily 30-minute walk, taking up a new sport, dancing around the room every hour if you’re working from home, or starting a more formal routine, exercise needs to be planned daily into your day. It’s essential for good circulation, maintaining muscle mass and also helps support mental wellbeing.

Swap bad fats for good fats

Dietary fat is an essential macronutrient.  It is not only used as an energy source but is also needed to absorb our fat-soluble vitamins.  However, saturated fats, found in butter, red meat and refined foods should be eaten in moderation as they can raise cholesterol levels and cause heart problems.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

The essential omega-3 and 6 fats, however, are, as the name suggests, essential, and need to be eaten in the diet.  They are utilised for a healthy heart, brain, eyes, joints, and hormones.  Oily fish and nuts and seeds are the best sources, so make sure you’re eating these on a regular basis.  If your skin is dry, this may also be a sign that you are lacking in omega-3s.

Prioritise mental wellbeing

Thankfully, mental health is no longer a taboo subject and people are openly discussing issues, and hopefully seeking help if needed.  However, it’s important that we all check in with ourselves to make sure we are prioritising our mental wellbeing.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Perhaps it’s time to practise meditation; the benefits are enormous, once you’re able to fully engage with it.  You will feel more balanced and hopefully less stressed.  Even five minutes of daily deep breathing can help alleviate stress. Sometimes the simplest of things can have the most effective results.

Is sleep an issue?

We know that sleep has become even more problematic for many of us since the pandemic, generally caused by anxiety.  We also know just how important sleep is for overall health.  At the very least, poor sleep encourages production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which is part of the reason we tend to eat more after a poor night’s sleep, making weight gain more likely.

Leisure,And,People,Concept,-,Young,Woman,Reading,Book,In

Such is the importance of sleep that a bedtime routine needs to be established.  Watching TV or electronic devices stimulates the brain making it more difficult to switch off.  Much better is to read a book or magazine an hour before bed.

shutterstock_496046788 woman holding mug of milk Apr19

Having a warm, milky drink before bedtime is not just an old wives’ tale, it has a scientific basis.  Milk (plant and dairy) contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin.  Therefore, it’s a great to have a milky drink about an hour before turning in. Additionally, certain herbs, especially valerian and passionflower are well researched at helping with sleep issues, so don’t be afraid to seek them out in supplement form.

Small changes can have big results when it comes to our health and wellbeing, so try to include a few of these tips into your daily life.

Stay well.

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

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

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

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

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

Feel alive with Vitamin B5

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

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

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

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

Cut down on the agitators

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

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

shutterstock_391949488 green tea Nov16

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

Make an achievable plan

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

shutterstock_243120193 woman writing in note pad diary Feb17

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

Get some help from nature

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

shutterstock_390988804 green leafy vegetables Dec16

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

Exercise your stresses away

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

shutterstock_218997220 woman walking trainers Mar18

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

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

Stay well.

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

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Top wellbeing tips for getting back into work

 

Woman working at her desk in office

Whether you’re coming off furlough or just heading back into the office a few days per week, getting back into the swing of things should be an enjoyable experience. 

Nothing feels quite normal at the moment, and it probably won’t for a long time.  Therefore, trying to keep yourself happy and healthy with a varied diet and balanced lifestyle can really get that feel-good factor going at work.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five to back to work tips.

Have a happy lunch

Whether you take your lunch to work,  eat out or take out, or there’s a staff canteen, what you eat at this time of day can have a massive impact on mood, motivation and energy.  Our happy hormone, serotonin, needs the amino acid, tryptophan, plus other nutrients for its production.  The good news is that tryptophan is found in many different protein-containing foods so there’s plenty of choice. Best lunchtime foods to consider are chicken, eggs, fish, soya produce, including tofu, cheese, turkey, pumpkin and sesame seeds. Combine with some vegetables or salad.

You can always cook some extra the night before and eat it for lunch the next day, or quickly rustle up a healthy salad using any of the above ingredients.

Exercise

For some, doing regular exercise has been an absolute saviour during lockdown, helping to keep a balanced mood and energy levels high.  However, for many it’s not been possible and home-working has made some of us more sedentary.

A woman in a business suit having a walk during her lunch break

If you can walk or cycle to work, this can really help increase activity levels without thinking about it too much.  If not, why not resolve to get into a routine by walking every lunchtime. Now gyms and sports centres have re-opened, if you feel comfortable to use them, why not consider working out or joining a class before work, during lunchtime or after work.

Try not to graze

Home working has meant the fridge and store cupboard have been much more accessible, therefore the temptation to graze and overeat is never far away.  Now that you’re physically not in front of them, it should be much easier to banish grazing.

The body needs definite breaks between meals so that it can enter the post-absorptive phase of digestion.  Constant grazing doesn’t allow this to happen and the body will start storing more fat than it would otherwise do.  Try to stick to eating three satisfying  and well-balacned meals a day and resist the urge to snack if can, especially if you’re not really hungry.

Sliced apple and cheese snack

If you do find you are hungry between meals think of protein and fruit as your go-to snack: think of cheese with apple, nuts with dried fruit or hummus with crudités.

Sleep

Many people have reported being able to get more sleep because they haven’t had the daily commute. However, some have found sleep more difficult due to heightened anxiety levels.  Whatever your situation, poor sleep is going to impact on how you feel and function at work.

Woman asleep in bed

Make sleep a priority and aim for seven to eight hours per night. Having a good bedtime routine can help massively, and most importantly, turn off electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime.  Blue light is known to keep us awake.

Be kind to yourself

This is most important of all. Life has been challenging for everyone for many different reasons over the last few months and will continue to be for some time.  It’s also given us a chance to evaluate what’s working and what’s not in our lives.

A post it showing mind, body, soul and spirit being important in self care

Crucially, it’s made us appreciate the little things in life that matter and also confirmed that none of us are invincible.  Try to avoid giving yourself negative messages. For example, if you’ve put on some weight during lockdown, resolve to improve your diet and get more exercise but don’t beat yourself up.  Additionally, allow yourself some ‘down time’ to just be in your own headspace – your thought processes will become much clearer as a result.

So, with a little preparation, the next back to work phase can be enjoyable and rewarding.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

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Five ways to boost your wellbeing for the rest of 2020

a group of books with titles which describe a healthy lifestyle

Clearly, this year has not turned out as any of us could ever have believed as we started the new year in 2020.  For many of us, hopes, dreams and plans have had to be changed or put on hold due to the lockdown. 

However, there’s still half a year to go, and whilst we are going to be adjusting to a ‘new normal’ it’s actually the perfect time to set some goals (if you haven’t already!)

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ways to maximise your wellbeing during the second half of your year.

Diet

This is generally at the top of our priority list when talking about making wellbeing changes.  There are very few people who think they have the perfect diet delivering optimal health.  Indeed, most of us realise our diet could be better but don’t necessarily know how to change things. It may be that you feel you are too busy or find it challenging to improve things.

PLate to show balanced diet 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 vegetables

If, like many people, you’ve put on some extra kilos during lockdown, then why not resolve to make some improvements to your diet right now?  If you’ve been drinking too much alcohol, then restrict it to just one or two nights a week.  If you’re addicted to sugar, then make sure you’re eating protein at every meal which will help stop sugar cravings.  Taking some additional chromium, a key mineral for balancing blood sugar levels, can really put a stop to sugar cravings and help you to feel more balanced generally. And as always aim for as much colour on your plate as possible: fruits and vegetables provide a wealth of health-boosting vitamins and minerals – try to eat at least 5 portions a day.

Exercise

With restrictions on outdoor exercise now eased, and some of us having more time on their hands, why not set yourself some exercise targets for the next six months.  Sometimes it helps to have a specific event to train for, maybe a 5 or 10k run, or a charity bike ride or hike, whatever floats your boat.

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

If you’ve lost your mojo for exercise during lockdown and you’re starting from a low base, then that’s no problem; just congratulate yourself for making the decision and do what needs to be done.  Walking is one of the best exercises for weight loss.  Start with a half hour walk daily and work up your pace and distance.  Remember any exercise is better than none and nothing beats getting your heart rate up in the open air.

Health

The body is an amazing piece of machinery that mostly just keeps working and working whatever we throw at it.  However, if we don’t treat it as well as we should, it can lose tolerance, meaning it stops working quite as well.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Over the next 6 months resolve to address any health issues you’re concerned about. Things like low energy are so often related to diet and lack of certain nutrients, especially the B-vitamins found in whole grains, meat, dairy, and fruit and vegetables. Remember that the body is very clever at telling you what’s wrong so it’s always worth listening and then taking appropriate action.

Work

Work for many of us is turbulent right now or very different to ‘normal’.  Maybe you’re working from home more, or you’re having to work harder than ever. Perhaps your having some down time.  Whatever is going on for you, it’s a great time to assess what you want from your work.  Is it serving you well?  What can be improved?

Woman working from home in front of a laptop

During tricky times, many people make life-changing decisions, and take a completely different road.  Fear of the unknown often stops us making changes, hence we get stuck with situations that are not quite right.  There are some big shifts going on in our lives right now, some we can’t control, but many we can.  If you’ve been feeling less than happy with you work life, then resolve to use this time to address issues.  And if you need to talk to someone outside of your friends and family network, a life coach can often help unravel what it is you’re looking for.

Long term plans

Some of us feel the need to have a longer-term plan and look out over the next 5-10 years.  This is no bad thing as it allows the mind to focus on goals and objectives. Writing plans down also helps; seeing everything on paper really puts thoughts into perspective.

Close up on woman writing in a pad

Many of our plans will have been put on hold right now.  One thing is for certain: nothing stays the same forever and normality will return at some point.  Any work you put in now to yourself, and into your life plans, will stand you in good stead even if it feels like not much can change in the short term.

There’s still a whole half year left of 2020 – make it work for you!

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.

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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