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.

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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.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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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.

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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Women’s health: nutrition at every life stage

group of women of varying ages in a yoga class

Women’s health needs vary throughout their lives.  There are many years spent balancing hormones and this can have other knock-on health implications.

Thankfully there are some vitamins and minerals which can specifically offer solutions to women at every life stage.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at which are the top nutrients women should be focusing on during their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

The fertility years – 30’s

A group of women in their 30's

More women are now having babies in their 30’s than in their 20’s in the UK. And there are certain nutrients that can help support fertility.

It’s important to ensure the body is being fed specific nutrients such as the mineral zinc, needed for fertility as well as immune health.  Oysters (also aphrodisiacs), whole grains, seafood, beef, beans and mushrooms are all good sources so make sure they feature in your daily diet.  Zinc also helps with hormone balance which will help manage fluctuations better.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

In terms of looking after your hair, skin and nails, then the beauty vitamin is biotin.  It’s found in organ meats, soya products, oats and dairy.  Also make sure you are eating a varied, colourful diet, with plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to keep you looking your best from the inside out.

The Peri-menopause years – 40’s

Group of women in their 40's

However, much we try to avoid saying the ‘M’ word, unfortunately menopause can start to become noticeable during our 40’s.  The average age for menopause is 51, however, during the 5-10 years leading up to it we may start to notice various symptoms. It’s sometimes difficult to differentiate what’s down to peri-menopause symptoms and what’s caused by stress.  Anxiety, low mood, unwanted weight gain, poor sleep and heavy periods can all be problematic.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Thankfully there is some nutritional help at hand. Top of the list for supporting both stress and peri-menopause symptoms is vitamin B6. It’s needed to produce brain neurotransmitters, helps with the stress response and keeps female hormones in good balance.  Cereals, beans, poultry, fish and dark leafy greens are your hormone-friendly foods.

The Menopause years – 50’s

A group of women in their 50's looking at a photo on the screen of a camera

Around 80% of women suffer from menopause symptoms in varying degrees.  Some are so debilitating that women have to stop working, have relationship issues or just feel total despair.  The good news is that there’s much that can be done to alleviate symptoms.  Top of the list are phytoestrogen foods which help to balance falling levels of oestrogen naturally.

A range of phytoestrogen foods

Soya products such as soya milk and tofu, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, beans (especially edamame beans) and chickpeas are all great sources of phytoestrogens so try to have some at every mealtime.

Disturbed sleep can also be a problem during these years; if you’re struggling, the herb valerian, taken about an hour before bedtime is very effective and it won’t make you feel drowsy in the morning.

And if you’re looking for natural support for the symptoms of the menopause you could try Black Cohosh – a traditional herbal remedy used to help hot flushes, night sweats, disturbed sleep and mood swings.

The Freedom years – 60’s

Group of retired women in their 60's walking on a beach

Hormonal fluctuations are diminishing, family life and work pressures should be lessened and hopefully there’s finally a lot more time on your hands!  However, it’s also time when you need to be taking really good care of your bones.

Peak bone density is reached during your 30’s (or earlier) so bone strength can decline thereafter, and this can really accelerate after the menopause due to lack of oestrogen.  Make sure you’re eating plenty of bone-loving calcium-rich foods.  It’s not all about dairy. Soya products, green leafy vegetables, oily fish including bones (such as tinned fish) and nuts and seeds are all great sources.

A range of foods containing calcium

Additionally, calcium can’t do it’s work within bone structure without the ‘sunshine’ vitamin D.  During winter months, it’s impossible to get enough from the sun itself, so do make sure you’re taking a daily vitamin D supplement.

Exercise is also essential for bone health and mental wellbeing so make sure you’re doing some every day. It’s not about going to the gym if that’s not your bag, but simply about being as active as possible and enjoying what you’re doing.

So, with a little careful planning, us women can help meet our health needs with specific nutrition throughout all our life stages. 

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All images: Shutterstock

 

Taking care of your mind matters: top nutrition and wellbeing advice for better emotional health

Two strawberries and a banana placed to make a smiley face

There’s much coverage in the Press and on social media about the importance of talking openly about mental health, and rightly so: there should be no stigma around the topic. Interestingly, getting your diet right can also be an important contributor to good emotional health.

So how can we help ourselves and look after our mental wellbeing through nutrition? 

This Time to Talk Day, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top nutrition and wellbeing tips for a happier mind.

Ditch the sugar

There is an important link between the gut and brain health. Eating foods, namely sugar, with no nutritional value and which deplete nutrients, should be avoided.  Most importantly, sugar can be something that many people are addicted to.  Like any addictive substance, it has side effects, one of them being low mood.

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

Being addicted to fizzy drinks, even the diet kind is not uncommon.  Many people are drinking between five and ten cans daily.  Not only does this deplete nutrients but sugar or sweeteners upset brain chemistry, both of which can cause low mood, irritability and lack of concentration.  They also upset blood sugar balance, leading to low energy levels and weight gain. Yes, even diet drinks can make you put on weight. Sugar, in all its forms, needs to be moderated as much as possible if you want to balance your mood.

Good mood foods

Certain foods can contribute to a much happier mood. Nutrient-dense foods contain key vitamins and minerals needed to produce the brain’s happy hormones and neurotransmitters.  Key to this are the B-vitamins which are also needed for a balanced nervous system.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

The good news is that B-vitamins are widely available in many foods including whole grains, meat, eggs, legumes, seeds and dark leafy vegetables.  Plus, bananas are a really good source of vitamin B6, a great transportable snack.

Protein-rich foods including chicken and turkey, eggs, soya products, as well as oats are also good sources of the amino acid tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin.  Try to include protein at every mealtime for best effects.

Get more of the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin because it’s made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However, it is also the sunshine vitamin because it plays an important role in balancing your mood. Whilst vitamin D is essential for bones, teeth and a healthy immune system, deficiency will cause low mood, even depression.

Vitamin D and a sunshine symbol written in the sand

During the darker, winter months, the only way to get enough is to take a daily supplement: even foods which contain Vitamin D deliver very little. Public Health England recommends a minimum supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily for everyone. Taking a vitamin D supplement daily is a really easy way of boosting mood naturally.

Get talking

We are all becoming more aware of the increased prevalence of emotional wellbeing issues and the fact it’s being more widely talked in general about can make a real difference to people suffering.  It’s always good to try and talk to a family member or close friend if you are feeling low or anxious. And it’s always good to talk to someone you know who you think may be having challenges.

Two women talking about mental health

Whilst many people bottle up their feelings, this can often make matters worse.  Putting on a ‘brave face’ and keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’ might have been the norm years ago, but it can certainly cause more problems than it solves.

Getting outside professional help from a counsellor or psychotherapist can provide much-needed support.  Most will offer a free initial session because it’s important to feel comfortable: it’s well worth investing the time to find the right person to help you.

Try some happy herbs

As we know, Traditional Herbal Remedies (or licensed herbal medicines) can be incredibly powerful and make a real improvement to many health complaints.  Top of the list for low mood is St John’s Wort which helps raise serotonin levels.  It can be bought in pharmacies and health food shops but always look out for Licensed Medicinal Herbs with the ‘THR’ symbol.

Close up of a St John's Wort Flower with blue sky background

Herbs don’t work as quickly as pharmaceutical drugs, so you may need to wait two to three weeks before noticing improvements, but it’s certainly worth trying the natural approach.

Additionally, the herb passionflower is incredibly calming.  Anxiety often accompanies low mood, and the two herbs work very well together.  Passionflower tends to work faster and can also be used before a stressful event as well as for longer term.

So, make looking after your emotional wellbeing a top priority during 2020.

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It’s all about balance: how to have your best year yet

Ven diagram with work, life, and health crossing and leading to the word balance

It’s all about balance – an often-used expression but it’s so appropriate when we’re talking about diet and lifestyle.  The body likes to be in a state of equilibrium, which is why it has so many in-built systems to keep it this way. 

However, we don’t always look after our bodies as well as we should, and we can upset the balance quite easily.

 Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, talks about how to better balance both your diet and lifestyle and have your best year yet!

Feast don’t fad

Well, maybe not a total blowout!  But the point here is to avoid fad diets, especially ones that advocate strict calorie restriction.  We know the body likes to be balanced and if it thinks it’s going to starve it will slow metabolism down to preserve energy stores.

It is true that you will lose weight initially but it’s not sustainable to live feeling permanently hungry. Research suggests weight goes back on once ‘normal’ eating is resumed, and sometimes even more!

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

If you’re still struggling to shift those excess pounds from Christmas, then key advice is to be mindful of portion sizes.  Stick to three balanced meals a day and avoid snacking, if possible, in-between.  This ensures the body can enter the post-absorptive phase of digestion, take in nutrients and avoid insulin spikes which ultimately lead to fat being deposited.

A range of high protein foods

Keep protein levels high at every meal, whether this is from fish, meat, poultry, eggs, soya, dairy, beans or nuts.  Contrary to popular belief, it’s protein that keeps you feeling fuller for longer, not carbs.  Protein keeps blood sugar levels balanced so energy will also be sustained.

A balanced meal of chicken, rice and vegetables

Think about the quantities on your plate too; if it’s piled high, it’s too much.  The protein source should be about the size of your outstretched palm (think about a chicken breast) and carbohydrate no bigger than a fist. And then fill the rest of your plate with nutrient-rich vegetables. Keep the rules simple: try to cook ‘from scratch’ (using frozen fruit and veg is fine) and banish nutrient-poor cakes, biscuits and pastries as much as possible.

Balance your mind

If you’re rushing around in a constant state of stress then it’s going to take its toll sooner or later.  The body has amazing powers of adaptation so many people continue living their life this way for years.  However, at some point the body loses tolerance and you can fall into what’s called adrenal exhaustion. This is when the adrenal glands secreting our stress hormones, such as cortisol, can’t take any more.

Close up on woman meditating in shadow with sunset background

Clearly, it’s difficult to avoid all stress in your life – we all work and play hard.  However, be strict with yourself.  Even taking 20-minutes out of every day with a calming app can make a huge difference.  You’ll feel refreshed afterwards and you’ll sleep better at night.

Close up on woman writing in a pad

It’s also good to put some mental boundaries in place too.  Instead of going to bed with all your worries on top of you, write them down before bedtime and visualise a block.  Tell yourself that it is tomorrow’s issue, not for worrying about right now.  If you need help with better balancing your mind then, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or neuro linguistic programming (NLP) are very effective.

Balance your lifestyle

Once you feel more balanced in your thought processes, then you’ll feel better equipped to tackle any issues in your life that need resolving and might be sending you off balance.

Two hikers enjoying a walk

The human body evolved to be active and it doesn’t like being sedentary.  Blood flow to the brain is so much better too when you’re active, not to mention the feel-good endorphins that are released, giving you an extra boost.  Just a brisk walk around the block every day will help. Find an activity you enjoy and are happy to do several times a week – you are much more likely to stay active if you’re doing something you love.

CLose up of woman reading a book relaxing by the fireplace

If you work long hours, or there’s lots of stress in your home life, you need to be able to take yourself out of this at regular intervals.  Whether that’s learning a new skill, reading a book, going for a walk, listening to a Ted talk or joining a networking group, there’s no end of available options.  Plus, try to take regular holidays, even for short breaks.  Whilst you might not necessarily be feeling the negative effects of long-term stress right now, managing this on a daily basis will put you in the best position to deal with it when it comes along.

So, resolve to be better balanced in all areas of your life in 2020!

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Start the year right: how to stay on track in 2020

Woman with arms in the air with sunrise background and the number 2020 to represent the new year

If you’re like so many people who make New Year’s resolutions, often at the stroke of midnight when recollection can be a little hazy, you’re certainly not alone!  However, why not make your resolutions for next year slightly in advance and start the new year in the right frame of mind?

You’re much more likely to stick to them and your diet and lifestyle habits will stay on track.

Here are Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer’s five top tips for starting the year right.

Don’t over promise yourself

New Year’s resolutions need to be doable and sustainable.  For example, if you say you’re going to lose eight kilos by the end of January, this may be possible if you starve yourself (not advised), but then you’ll end up putting all the weight back on (and more) which will be very demotivating.

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

The key to sustained weight loss is slow and steady – around a kilo a week is good.  If you’ve been eating lots of sugary and calorie-laden snacks over the Christmas period, then simply cutting back on these and eating three well-balanced meals a day is going to make a huge difference.  Fad diets don’t work because they’re not sustainable. They lead to nutrient deficiencies and energy dips, plus being ravenously hungry sets you up for failure.

Plug your nutrient gaps

The body has amazing powers of adaptation.  Most of us push ourselves hard, fail to adequately replenish lost nutrients, but somehow the body keeps going.  However, at some point, the body will start to complain, and this can happen in many ways that can adversely affect our health.

A selection of fruit and vegetables covering all colours of the rainbow

People often comment they have felt so bad for so long they can’t remember what it’s like to feel good.  Much of this is down to nutrient depletion.  The body is a machine that needs to be properly fuelled with nutrient-rich food.  Resolve to make each meal count in 2020.  Look at the colour on your plate – the variety gives a good indication of nutrient levels.  Be wary of any processed foods; the closer a food is eaten to its natural state, the more nutrients you’ll be consuming.

Move more

If you’re already into a good exercise routine, then well done!  However, many people don’t reach even the minimal recommend levels of exercise (five times a week for at least 30 minutes).  Exercise is crucial for health; it supports the immune system and it’s great for the heart and circulation. Exercise also stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins and it helps with weight management and preventing type 2 diabetes.

Two hikers enjoying a walk

Importantly, don’t set yourself up to fail.  If you hate the gym, that’s never going to change so don’t resolve to start a gym programme.  Instead, plan an exercise programme you’ll enjoy, even if it’s simply taking more walks, or starting cycling.  There’s no limit to options for exercise.  Even working from a stand-up desk is better for you than sitting down all day.

Limit screen time

Our 24/7 lifestyles with a never-ending stream of emails, messages and social media activity is not great for emotional wellbeing, let alone stress.  If you’re ‘addicted’ to social media, then why not resolve to manage the time you’re engaged with it and set yourself limits. There’s lots of research to suggest that looking at social media too much can contribute to feelings of anxiety and low mood.

Woman in bed looking at her mobile phone

If your workload is high and emails are non-stop, then you need to put some time management in place.  If work colleagues are set on sending emails around the clock, resolve to be off-line for adequate periods.  There needs to be a break between work and non-work-related activities for the brain to have some downtime.

Be optimally hydrated

The simplest changes can sometimes make an enormous difference to how we look and feel.  None more so than ensuring the body is sufficiently hydrated.  We often forget to drink water during the winter months when it’s cold outside.  However, the body still needs at least six to eight glasses of water daily – more if you’re taking regular exercise. As an indicator, your urine should be clear during the day.

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

However, if plain water’s not your thing, then liven it up with some fresh lemon and crushed ginger.  Herbal and fruit teas also count towards your hydration targets, as do fruits and vegetables.

Caffeinated teas and coffee are not great at hydrating, partly because coffee tends to work as a diuretic and tea is high in tannins which can stop the absorption of essential minerals.  Resolve to ditch the stimulants as much as possible and hydrate optimally.  Your heath and skin will thank you for it.

If you start the year right, without too many wild expectations, you’re much more likely to be hitting your goals throughout the year – and at the end of the year too!

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