With the forced lockdown, loss of a livelihood, fear of infection and being confined with family members many of you might be experiencing higher levels of stress than normal. How does that stress manifest in you? Do you turn to comfort food, run to the hills, reach for the bottle, or lift heavy weights?
How you respond as ‘a stressed person’ very much depends on your previous experience and responses to stress. In essence, our stress response has been learned, moulded and practiced over several years.
Stress is the body's response to any adjustment that necessitates a change or reaction. The body reacts to these changes with either a physical, mental, or emotional response and occasionally a combination of all three. There is no getting away from the fact that stress is a natural part of everyday life and fortunately we have evolved to both experience and react to both positive and negative stress. Our brain and autonomic nervous system have a hard-wired built-in stress response that causes physiological changes to allow the body to combat stressful situations. This stress response, also known as the "fight or flight response", was a key element in the evolution of humans, enabling them to escape danger and hunt for food.
Our environment has changed dramatically, but stress still plays a role in our life and for some of the time it can have a positive impact, keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. Psychologists refer to “good stress,” as “eustress”. If you have ever ridden a roller coaster, parachuted from a plane or been on a first date, you will have experienced this stress. Feelings of excitement, quickening pulse and hormones surging minus threat or fear!
There are many triggers for this good stress, and it keeps us feeling alive and excited about life. Stress, however, turns out to be negative when an individual or group must cope with continuous challenges devoid of respite or relaxation amid the period of stress. Consequently, prolonged activation of the stress response leads to physical, mental, and emotional deterioration.
To override stressors, we have learned to react and respond to stress in different ways, hence the habitual cravings for food, or the need to exercise. Therein, lies a solution, if we can learn to respond one way (habit), evidently, we can also learn how to re-programme our minds and practise an alternative way of behaving (new habit).
How well did you sleep last night, did you get your full 8 hours of slumbering bliss, or were you ruffled, stressed and restless?
Sleep is at the cornerstone of good health and considered vital in helping your immune system perform at its optimum level, yet two-thirds of adults in the developed world fail to obtain the recommended 8 hours sleep. In fact, sleep is so essential to every component of our wellbeing that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had now declared a sleep loss epidemic throughout industrialised nations. Scientist have started lobbying doctors to start “prescribing sleep” – but do not mistake this for a plea for prescribing sleeping pills.
Feeling fresh and vibrant as you jump out of the bed in the morning is something we may all yearn for but may seem so far away as we struggle to roll out on the right side of bed each day. But what really happens to the body and brain as we sleep and why is it so important?
Society’s apathy towards sleep is in part caused by the historic failure of science to explain sleep and why we need it.
Here’s what we know:
Humans, along with all other species, require some form of sleep. Sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs. Our body requires long periods of sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones. Precisely how this takes place and why our bodies are calibrated for such a long period of sleep is still not fully understood. However, research has repeatedly shown how important sleep is for both your physical and mental health. From anxiety and depression to type 2 diabetes and cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease - prolonged paucity of sleep is associated with numerous of the most serious health conditions. Perhaps you have noticed that your feel hungrier when you are tired? This is no coincidence. When you are sleep deprived you release a hormone that makes you feel hungry whilst suppressing the companion hormone that tells you you’ve have eaten enough. Sleep deprivation can therefore have a negative impact on any attempts of dieting. Sleep alone isn’t a magic cure to all ailments. But as research into sleep increases, what is becoming clear is that good sleep is the foundation upon which our health can be built. The shorter you sleep, the shorter your life span.
Unfortunately, we are unable to ‘pay back’ any sleep debt once it has been accumulated, but it doesn’t hurt to log as many extra hours of sleep as you can, particularly if you're sleep deprived.
Being consistent with your sleep habits and creating healthy routines as well as a calming sleep environment can help play a significant role in reaching your daily sleep needs. Although all humans have a circadian rhythm, our 24-hour body clock which conducts life’ biological rhythmic symphony – the differences from person to person is striking. For some people (about 40%), their peak of wakefulness arrives early in the day, and sleepiness early at night. For others – such as the “evening types” – going to bed late and subsequently wake up late the following morning is preferable. The remaining fall somewhere in between. Society’s work schedule is of course strongly biased towards the early start times that punish owls and favour larks! Let’s hope society will gradually adapt to this in order to increase work performance and health maintenance.
So, what can YOU do to improve your health and sleep cycle?
BACK PAIN AND SLEEP
What if back pain disturbs your sleep? Does your sleeping position help, or does it contribute to your pain and poor sleep? Our Clinic Director, Kristine Hagen offers some advice.
Your good night’s rest may be disturbed by your lower back, but your poor sleeping posture may be exacerbating the situation.
Everyone sleeps differently, but the best way to avoid pain and the creation of pain is to maintain the natural curve of your spine when lying in bed. By doing so, you are ensuring your head, shoulders, and hips are in alignment and your back is properly supported. The best way to achieve this is by sleeping on your back or on your side. However, as many people find it uncomfortable to sleep on their back or they find it causes them to snore, try out the following postures and tips to help you find relief and a perfect night’s sleep.
It also minimizes pressure points and ensures good alignment of the head, neck, and spine. It makes breathing an easier task – don’t forget – we breathe the volume of an Olympic swimming pool every 24 hours, so a lot of this breathing work is done whilst you are asleep.
Placing a bolster cushion under the knees can provide additional support and help maintain the natural curve of the spine.
To adopt this sleeping position:
4. Sleeping on the front with pillow under the stomach
Lying on the front of the body is usually considered the worst sleeping posture. However, those who habitually turn to sleep on their front may also want to try hugging a large pillow against their chest and stomach to aid sleep and keep their back aligned.
Sleeping on the front may also benefit some people with a herniated disc (those who struggle to bend forward). This position can also help people with acute facet joint irritation.
To adopt this sleeping position:
Get into bed and roll on to your front.
Place a slim pillow underneath your abdomen and hips to raise the mid-section.
Use a flat pillow for your head or consider sleeping without one.
5. Sleeping on the front with the head face down
Often or not, when you sleep on the front, your head is usually turned to one side. This places further stress on the neck, shoulders, and back.
To avoid this, place a firm pillow or tightly rolled-up towel to prop up your forehead, allowing room for you to breathe. This should be done in addition to placing a pillow under your stomach.
To adopt this sleeping position:
Get into bed and roll onto your front.
Place a slim pillow underneath your stomach and hips to raise the middle of your body.
Place a pillow or rolled-up towel under your forehead to create adequate breathing space between your mouth and the mattress.
Sleep well tonight!
It looks like sunshine is forecast for the next few days, so no excuses, clean up the BBQ and cook up these delicious burgers.
What will happen to the office plants over the next 12 weeks with no one there to feed or water them? What will happen to your body if you have given up on exercise just because your gym has shut? To really understand what happens to your body when you neglect it, it helps to have an appreciation of how it gets into shape.
If you have ever attempted the couch to 5k or similar, you will know that once the initial hurdle of getting your ‘arse’ moving has been cleared, it only takes a couple of sessions for you to feel fitter and have more energy. The science behind this outcome, is covered in A levels and degree courses, but here is the simplified version. Each cell in your body contains a ‘power generator’ known as mitochondria, whose job is to turn oxygen and nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP powers the metabolic activities of your cells. What is significant for you to know is that after just a couple of workouts, the mitochondrial activity in your cells will increase rapidly. As your cells have more mitochondrial activity, your energy production will become more efficient, thus making exercise easier from this point forward. Plus, you will feel a significant improvement in your general health & wellbeing as mitochondria also protect your cells and make them stronger.
It takes around 4 weeks of regular training and by this we mean exercising for three to five hours per week before changes in your muscle mass will finally become visible and your muscles will grow stronger.
With the increase in muscle mass and improvements in fitness levels, your metabolic rate will also start to increase. Having a faster metabolism means burning more calories whilst resting with the potential to change shape and lose weight.
As your fitness improves, you will be able to step up a gear, walking, running faster, further or increasing the intensity of your gym workout with higher reps, heavier weights and longer sessions. This will not only raise your fitness another notch, but with the increased release of endorphins from your brain, you will find yourself in a happier place. Your heart will also grow stronger and become more efficient, lowering resting heart rate and decreasing your blood pressure, which will significantly lower the risk of heart attack.
Movement is medicine!
Much of what we have discussed so far assumes that there is an underlying level of fitness to begin with, but what if you are in pain and discomfort, can exercise help? According to research from Nuffield Health there is an estimated three million people in the UK taking long-term sick leave or unable to work due to back pain, plus up to six million people living with undiagnosed back pain, which could be avoided or treated with advice, therapy or exercise.
It isn’t only those who perform ‘heavy’ manual work for a living that are in danger, those who sit at a desk all day also are at increased risk since their abdominal and back muscles become weak. According to the 2014 Review, Prevention of Low Back Pain by Dr Maher et al. exercise can play a significant role in helping those with lower back pain. According to Dr Maher "exercise strengthens the muscles that support and control the spine, meaning that your spine is better able to cope with the load that you put on it during daily life, secondly the tissues that make up the spine, ligaments, discs and bones need regular movement and activity to stay strong and healthy." Exercise, movement and motion are our medicine; they should become our daily prescription for healthy living.
What happens now?
Once your exercise routine becomes a habit and you have become used to enjoying the benefits of feeling fit and healthy with lots of energy, chances are you will likely find that it becomes a way of life. But what happens if an injury, illness, or ‘life’ gets in the way? What happens to your health and wellbeing once your fitness plans have been derailed?
Where did it go?
Injuries aside, the loss of cardiovascular fitness will be the first thing you notice, followed by declines in muscle structure, power, agility, strength, mobility, stamina, and coordination. Your body starts to lower the number of extra red blood cells it creates, since you are not recruiting them anymore. After a week or so they will be back to normal, pre workout levels. On top of this, the mitochondrial density in your muscle mass can decrease by 50% over the course of a week. Andreas Bergdahl, assistant professor in cardiovascular physiology at Montreal’s Concordia University believes the rate of loss is largely dependent on age. The older we are, the quicker we lose our muscle mass, once you have reached the age of 55, this can equate to 1 pound, (0.5 kilo) of muscle per year.
What have I done?
With the reduction in number and size of muscle cells combined with the increase in size of fat cells, you will start to see changes in your appearance. The lean and toned presence that you worked hard to achieve, begins to fade. If you adopt a completely sedentary lifestyle, you may become prone to a whole host of related health complications, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, plus issues with joints and ligaments that are no longer experiencing the movement repertoire that they so need.
The psychological and emotional impact from the absence of physical activity can probably cause greater harm to the individual. The lack of exercise has led to psychological effects, including depression and lower self-esteem.
It appears that the sudden adoption of a sedentary lifestyle, especially after a phase of regular training or exercise, has an extremely adverse effect on the body.
It’s not all bad!
Fortunately, your muscle ‘memory’ remains for a long time, so the healthier and better shape you were in to begin with means the less time it will take to get back to where you want to be! Your muscle fibres “remember” previous training movements so that when you get back to exercising after a prolonged layoff, you are able regain lost muscle swiftly.
With a bit of gentle coaxing and consistency, your muscles, blood vessels, and lungs will get back in to shape and maybe you will lose some weight in the process.
Naturally, the longer you go without exercise, the longer the process of recovery, but if you follow these guidelines, you will help you get back to feeling healthy and vibrant in no time.
Gradually ease back into your workouts to avoid injury.
Slowly build up to a less-intense version of your regular workout, before ploughing into the ‘intense’ version you were performing before your respite.
Patience and dedication are crucial, remember, you can regain your fitness, it just needs time and investment. Small setbacks and minor blips are just part and parcel of your quest for healthy active lifestyle.
Two roads diverged in a wood -Which path should you take?
When you are stand in front of an elevator, there are often just two buttons that you can press, one goes up and one goes down. When it comes to our health and wellbeing the scenario is very much the same. Doing nothing will only result in diminishing returns, whereas investing in your health and wellbeing has so many positives, not just physical, but mental and emotional benefits abound. As in all aspects of life, we have a choice, which button will you press today?
here to edit.
There are several exercises that will help strengthen your lower back. Try these three stretching exercises to help make your back stronger and better toned:
Finally, no matter how comfortable you are at your desk, prolonged, static posture is not good for your back. Try to remember to stand, stretch and walk at least a minute or two every half hour. Moving about and stretching on a regular basis throughout the day will help keep your joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons loose, which in turn will help you feel more comfortable, more relaxed and more productive.
While it’s a natural tendency to want to rest our backs by sitting rather than standing, in many cases it’s bad sitting posture that’s contributing to the problem.
Being mindful of preserving a correct sitting position, keeping core muscles toned to support the spine will help keep your back in its best possible shape.
The enforced lockdown and working from home may mean that you are sitting at your desks for longer periods than normal. Plus, your chair and desk may not be set up as well as your office, so you may be experiencing more discomfort. Whether you experience it as a sharp, searing pain or a dull ache, lower back pain can affect up to 80% of the population at some point in their working life.
Causes of lower back pain when sitting down
Not all back pain is the same, and there are many possible causes.
Upper back pain when sitting
Many people experience pain in their necks and upper backs as a result of craning forward while sitting to look at a computer monitor or phone display. An adult head weights almost 5kgs - nearly the same as a 5litre bottle of water! Now imagine how hard it would be to carry the 5litre bottle of water in front of you with outstretched arms, and whether it would be easier to carry it closer to your body. For every inch your head moves forward from the centre of your body, you add a load of around 11kgs to your neck and back muscles - no wonder they complain when we sit badly in front of a computer or phone screen.
Although it’s tempting to sprawl out and watch television for hours, this can also easily throw your back out of alignment.
That uncomfortable feeling of stiffness when you finally do move or stand up is telling you something.
Home remedies for lower back pain when sitting
In addition to improving your posture when sitting, try these at-home remedies for lower back pain:
With plenty of time on your hands plus the knead to exercise and de-stress, there has never been a better time to make your own bread! (providing you can get hold of flour!) This loaf is made using a ‘poolish’, a yeasted pre-fermentation similar to a sourdough starter that’s classically used in French bread-making. The grains and slow proving create a complex flavour and chewy crust. Recipe makes a 900g loaf
With the prospect 12 weeks at home, here are just a few reasons why you can be better off with a set routine:
Developing and sticking with a routine that is congruent with your goals is one of the surest ways to ensure success. It is also perfectly okay to set aside certain times to do nothing. What matters is that you are conscious and alert to your choices. The next few weeks and months pose differing challenges for us all. Each of us has different goals, needs, desires, and resources. That is why it is essential to decide exactly what you want to achieve then develop your routine around your life.
Next week we will be discussing the benefits of 12 weeks with exercise and healthy living compared to 12 weeks of no exercise nor healthy living!
With the Golf Season just around the corner, its vital that you prepare your shoulders, hips and spine for season ahead. Having discomfort or disfunction in just one joint or muscle can make 18 holes seem like 108. During an average round, with practice swings included, you will probably swing your club 70-100 times and that’s no fun when you are carrying an injury! High profile professional golfers suffer from injury, but the amateur player may be more at risk than Rory Mcllroy or Tiger Woods. Poor technique, inadequate stretching prior and post-match and incorrectly carrying heavy golf bags are the main contributors to pain and discomfort. However, following a few simple tips can help solve the problem allowing you to play golf better, with less effort and have more fun at the same time.
This is a really healthy and relatively simple midweek supper that has lots of textures and is bursting with flavour, enjoy!
Warm Salad of Spiced Kale, Bulgar Wheat and Puy Lentils - Sabrina Ghayour
100 g dried Puy lentils
100 g bulgar wheat
olive oil, for frying
1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
6 fat garlic cloves, bashed and thinly sliced
2 long red chillies, thinly sliced
400 g kale, stalks removed, leaves roughly torn up
2 tsp. ground turmeric
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Finely grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons and juice of 1
Generous handfuls of pumpkin seeds
100 g feta cheese, crumbled
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
lemon wedges, to serve
Boil the Puy lentils and bulgar wheat separately according to the packet instructions, then rinse immediately under cold water until cold. Drain well, then combine them in a large mixing bowl.
Set a large saucepan over a medium-high heat, drizzle in a little olive oil, then add the cumin seeds. Once the seeds begin to sizzle and pop, add the garlic and the chilli slices and stir well, ensuring the garlic doesn’t burn. Meanwhile, wash the kale leaves and drain, without shaking off excess water (which will add moisture during the cooking process). Set aside.
When the garlic has sweated and is translucent, add the dry spices and lemon zest and stir well. Add a little more oil if the spices dry up too much. Add the slightly wet kale to the pan (it should sizzle) and stir for 1 minute to ensure the garlic and spice mixture coats the leaves well. Cover the saucepan with a lid and allow the contents to steam for 2 minutes. Stir well again and take the pan off the heat. Replace the lid for another couple of minutes.
Lift off the saucepan lid and transfer the contents of the pan to the bowl containing the Puy lentil and bulgar wheat. Give the ingredients a good mix, pour in the lemon juice, season generously with salt and pepper and add a little extra drizzle of olive oil, if desired. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary, then stir in the pumpkin seeds. Transfer to a large serving platter. Crumble the feta cheese over the top and serve with lemon wedges.
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