It appears that over the last 50 years our natural inclination as human beings has been to search out the best life hacks and short cuts to optimum health that we can as the speed in which we live our lives increases.
Whilst historically our exercise routine may have fallen into house husbandry- the essential day to day jobs such as collection and chopping of logs to light our fires or the hours spent tending our animals and vegetables it has now become somewhat of an addition to our working day.
It is this feeling of it being an “addition” that I feel is the very thing that makes it appear like more of a chore in some cases rather than an enjoyment and we can find ourselves dragging our feet to the gym.
There are companies like The Good Gym which I think are brilliant who are bringing the idea of purposeful exercise back into our psyches. Instead of using all that energy up on a treadmill you can do gardening or heavy lifting for those people who are unable to do it like the elderly and run home afterwards!
This is exercise with purpose. Something I think we need to return to as part of our commitment to helping our planet.
Eating with intention is similar. Understanding the nutritional profiles and benefits of certain foods over others can help you feel more empowered and help you take your health in the direction that you want to.
I have made a list of the things which I have implemented into my lifestyle over the years that encompass exercise and nutrition and have made the most difference to me.
Making time for personal reflection
Whether it is 15 minutes or half an hour, taking a moment out for yourself in a busy day allows you to gain a sense of perspective on what is going on in your life. During this time take some deep breaths and to assert some positive affirmations for the future.
Deep breathing and grounding
This needs further expansion (forgive the pun) but seriously breathing deeply has so many positive benefits.
By taking deep breaths, your heart rate slows, more oxygen enters our blood stream and ultimately communicates with the brain to relax, increasing your endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals. Breathing stimulates the lymphatic system- the system that detoxifies the body. Breathing is responsible for 70% of cleansing the body of toxins (the other 30% is through bladder and bowels). If you do not breathe fully, your body must work overtime to release these toxins.
It also improves immunity. When your blood is fully oxygenated, it carries and absorbs nutrients and vitamins more efficiently. This in turn increases our energy. The more oxygen that is in the blood, the better our stamina.
Alongside breathing taking 5 minutes a day to walk bare foot on the earth can have incredible anti-ageing effects for the body as it allows the absorption of negative ions from the earth which act as natural anti-inflammatories.
Going Gluten free
Taking gluten out of my diet improved my energy levels, skin, digestion and mood. Whilst a lot of people don’t appear to have obvious effects from gluten just the way so much of our modern food is manufactured (particularly bread) means what we are eating is usually quite devoid of nutrition, rather indigestible or full of unnecessary additives and pesticides.
It is an interesting experiment to try for 6 weeks and see how different you feel.
Go Green and Raw before 4
Having something raw and green at lunchtime such as a salad with seeds and a nourishing olive or hemp oil dressing is great for increasing our enzymes important for adequate digestion which naturally reduce as we age. Organic, raw greens are packed full of nutrients. Digestion of raw foods is most effective before the hour of 4pm so try and avoid after this time as it can affect your sleep otherwise.
Walk a day…
I have long advocated walking as the best form of exercise to my friends and family. The runners I know swear by running but my feeling is walking puts less pressure on your important knee and hip joints which we know take the greatest wear as we age.
A key part of a good walk in my opinion is the incline, so you can feel yourself perspire and really engage every part of your body to push you upwards.
I like to walk first thing before breakfast to increase my metabolism and set myself up for the day. Continuing the idea of exercise with a purpose, my walks always include my 3 dogs and I will generally bring a basket with me to forage whatever is in season!
People ask me if there are particular foods or supplements I recommend for feeling amazing. Whilst I have one supplement I couldn’t live without which I will name in a moment there is one food that I am obsessed with, and that is hemp.
I have it with my cereal, yogurt or porridge in the morning. I use organic shelled hemp and I often combine this with cold pressed hemp oil. It is one of the most complete foods on the planet containing all your amino acids so a really balanced form of protein especially good if you don’t eat a lot of meat. The essential oils in hemp are incredible for maintaining youthful skin, hair and supple bones.
Cold water Swimming
A german man named Wim Hof has bought the concept of cold water swimming to the masses. He used it to cure the depression he felt after the death of his wife and has been motivating people ever since to embrace the cold in order to combat mental health issues, boost immune systems and cure chronic disease. In the UK now there are plenty of books on wild swimming spots and we are lucky enough to be a smallish island where you are never to far from some wild water! Having grown up in Guernsey it has always been a large part of my life. Down in Devon now I try and go 2 or 3 times a week in the river below where I live and its wonderful that the people who I have introduced to it over the years can now not live without the cold water in their lives.
I mentioned above that I have one supplement I couldn’t live without and that is Magnesium. It is easy to spend a lot of money on the pills that people recommend. Over the years I have refined it down to one. Magnesium is our stress mineral. It is the one that gets depleted most quickly in our modern day world and without it our body finds it hard to switch off. It is necessary for our muscles to relax and lack of it can lead to sleep problems and anxiety. I buy it in powdered form from Solgar – it is worth spending money on a good quality source and add it to a bottle of water at least once a week to keep yourself topped up.
I invite you to try some of the above for yourself. Let me know how you get on!
While winter was a time to conserve our energy stores and slow down, spring is traditionally a time of growth, renewal and new life. It is also a time to cleanse, re-energize and re-evaluate, to make plans for the coming year.
We famously spring clean our homes but what better way to start the year than paying the same attention to our bodies.
In traditional Chinese medicine the organs associated with spring are the liver and gallbladder and it’s these we need to help at this time of year.
Nature assists us in this process by providing bounty all around us. The young nettle shoots picked and infused in hot water act as a diuretic on the kidneys and stimulate the liver to release toxins.
The cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage that we love to hate actually contain antioxidants such as glutathione which assist in removing toxins as well as alkalizing an over acidic system.
As well as good nutrition, Homeopathy a gentle form of complementary medicine can assist this process too; by stimulating your body’s natural ability to heal itself and regain balance.
It works on the principle of “like cures like” – that is, a substance that would cause symptoms in a healthy person is used to cure those same symptoms in illness.
Two key remedies to help with detoxification are Nux Vomica and Sulphur. They both have symptoms of irritability, sluggishness and an increased sensitivity to their environment, all of which indicate an overburdened system.
Taken alternately on a waning moon (a time when elimination happens more easily) for a couple of days can help remove impurities by cleaning all your organs of elimination – your bowel, kidneys, liver and skin.
Due to the high carbohydrate intake over the winter months digestion can slow down which can cause toxins to be reabsorbed into the blood stream. A traditional herb originating in India called Triphala can be taken twice a day before meals which can reduce bloating and speed up the digestive process.
This time of year is notorious for colds which we love to moan about but which are in hindsight vital mechanisms for clearing out rubbish from the lymphatic system, just good house keeping. There are quite a few remedies for colds but three very useful ones are:
Aconite- For the first stage of a cold, brought on by being out in a cold wind. There is typically a sudden onset and the person maybe quite fearful.
Pulsatilla- Indicated by changeable symptoms. The mucus is usually worse in the morning and evening and they feel worse at these times. Often there is a frontal headache with an inability to think clearly. There is a strong tendency to tearfulness as well as being thirstless with a dry mouth.
Arsenicum Album-The nose drips with watery mucus that tends to burn the inside of the nose and top lip causing it to get red and sore. Paroxysms of sneezing with a feeling of blocked up sinuses. Lips are dry and cracked and the voice is hoarse with a lot of mucus needing to be cleared from it.
The tissue salt Ferrum Phos used alongside any of these remedies can help remove congestion and inflammation.
Homeopathic remedies are very safe and gentle but as with all therapies it is wise to consult a trained homeopath for advice.
I like to keep a few essential oils in my first aid kit should I feel the onset of a cold coming or to support the cold as it throws out toxins from your system. Black pepper and eucalyptus are good for this and can make breathing a little easier.
Toxins and particularly heavy metals are a huge part of our life now as they infiltrate the water we drink, the fish we eat and the air we breathe. I recommend keeping some chlorella in your cupboard as it is excellent for supporting the removal of these heavy metals from the system by absorbing the metal ions onto its surface . Try 1 gram mixed with water up to 3 times a day and used over the period of a month to compliment the spring cycles.
Infusing your water is a lovely thing to do in spring. Take a few sprigs of herbs like mint or parsley and place them in a jug of water which you leave in a sunny spot and fill your glass up from during the day. When you have finished the water you can chew on the herbs which have powerful antioxidants and immune boosting essential oils.
Using these fresh herbs in your smoothies is very effective too. Combine a handful of berries, half a banana and a few sprigs of nettle, cleavers, mint or parsley with a little water makes a great aid for your digestion.
Spring is literally the time, like nature we should be blooming so if you don’t feel that way it may be a sign to take a look at your lifestyle habits and make some positive changes. One step at a time.
Over the last year I have heard people talk about the benefits of journaling more than ever – there definitely appears to be a buzz about it.
A favourite guru of mine Oprah Winfrey has kept a journal all her life and often refers back to them, using them as a tool to learn things about herself in the process.
Having never been one for writing a diary or journal and instead preferring something shorter like writing intentions and affirmations I decided to see what it was all about.
However, with keeping a diary usually something done before bed and that not being my most productive time of day, I was keen to look for an alternative.
In order to take advice on the subject I referred to a book that I had been given but never used by a lady called Julia Cameron. An American creativity coach and guru formally married to the film producer Martin Scorsese she appeared to be very much at the forefront of the “journaling” movement having written her book “The Artists Way” in 1992 which has since been republished.
In it she introduced a practise she called Morning Pages (already I liked the sound of it).
The book has been a huge best seller and the practise has been adopted by thousands of people so there is clearly something in it.
What are these mystical morning pages?
The instructions are that you sit down and write three full A4 pages of words. Anything that comes to you. It is best to do it first thing in the morning when you are fresh and keep writing until all 3 pages are done. Those are the rules.
When it comes to what you write. Just write anything. Literally it can be as brilliant or pointless as you like. No one is ever going to read them so don’t worry. Cameron says herself:
“All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity. Worrying about the job, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover’s eye — this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page.”
What is great is that you are not meant to read your morning pages. The idea is to get things out and clear your mind and get it gone.
The connection between the hand and the paper I believe is an important one to recognise. We know it intuitively with other craft work done with our hands. Why don’t morning pages work typed up?
When we write by hand, we slow ourselves down. There is a time lag between the thought appearing in our minds and then on the page. It is hard to keep up with your thoughts, which is key so you can’t sensor what you write.
When we type it is the opposite as most of us can type pretty quicky and usually we cannot think of things fast enough to type.
It is important to stick to the 3 pages. Anymore you don’t have time for on a daily basis realistically and too little and you don’t get much from the exercise as you need to push yourself a little.
It is clearly a discipline if we are doing it every morning. It can be hard to stick to things unless there is a benefit. So, what are the benefits to our health and wellbeing?
The desire to record your daily life and keep a journal or diary has gone on for centuries although the benefits of it for our health and wellbeing were only starting to be realised in the 1960s.
Probably one of the most common reports from people who write journals is that the act of putting thought and feelings on paper helps give useful emotional and mental clarity. However, Dr. James Pennebaker, a researcher in Texas (Centre of Journal Therapy), has conducted studies that show that when people write about emotionally difficult events or feelings for just 20 minutes at a time over three or four days, their immune system functioning increases. Dr. Pennebaker’s studies indicate that the release offered by writing has a direct impact on the body’s capacity to withstand stress and fight off infection and disease.
This is pretty incredible. Writing down your thoughts and anxieties clearing your mind actually helps your body to function better. It makes sense doesn’t it? All those thoughts are baggage, weighing down your system, putting extra pressure on. Take the pressure off and everything can work better.
It is believed that by recording and describing the salient issues in one’s life, one can better understand these issues and eventually diagnose problems that stem from them. Journal therapy has been used effectively for grief and loss; coping with life-threatening or chronic illness; recovery from addictions, eating disorders and trauma; repairing troubled marriages and family relationships; increasing communication skills; developing healthier self-esteem; getting a better perspective on life; and clarifying life goals.
It is clear to say the benefits to our mental health with this technique are potentially great which is important to know when we consider as a nation, we are in the midst of a mental health crisis.
So now spring has sprung and our energy is raised it is a great time to implement new positive habits in our life.
I can confidently say since starting this exercise I feel better for it and definitely have more clarity.
Why not give morning pages a go?
It seems we don’t have anything to lose and everything to gain!
I don’t think I just speak for myself when I say that living a very happy long and happy life is something we all aspire too. Certainly, the long and the happy go hand in hand. Being able to enjoy your life to the full is very important so looking after your health is key.
So, what is the secret? Well, because it is February, the month of love l am starting with the L word. This is something that makes us feel good whether we are sending it out or receiving it.
So how important is love to our longevity and happiness?It all starts with a little self-love don’t you think? When we give enough attention in our life to self-love and self-care, our health is prioritised. We do things that are good for us like maintaining a balanced diet or doing regular exercise. This year, a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those who engage in moderate or vigorous exercise for 150 minutes per week had a lower rate of mortality for all causes. It makes sense. The more oxygen we can move around our cells the more renewal can take place and the more detoxification of waste materials can occur.
Rest and Sleep
Allowing time for relaxation and sleep is also key. In fact, sleep definitely shouldn’t be underrated. The Dalai Lama who recently celebrated his 85th birthday is an advocate of sleep for longevity. He has said in interviews that he wakes up at 3 a.m. and goes to bed at 7 p.m. in order to get a solid eight hours of sleep a night consistently.
But back to love. When we come from a place of love for ourselves our relationships automatically improve with more moments of happiness and connection. When it comes to sharing the love, this takes many forms. Fundamentally it is taking a care and interest in the wellbeing of your fellow humans. Looking out for people and offering them whatever support you are able to give.
This kind of connectedness is something that I believe as a society has been lacking for a long time. Lacking because our world has been sped up with technology making things more efficient but ironically leaving us with less time for one another, resulting in people staring into phones more often than another’s eyes. We forget that we are all in this world together and by helping one another we all progress.
A wonderful example of this support and connectedness is in the book I have been reading recently called Ikigai by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. In it they discuss the secrets of Okinawa in Japan where there are the most centenarians.
Okinawans form close bonds within the local communities. They form what they call Moai’s. These are informal groups of people and their origins lie in hard times of past where farmers would support each other through meagre harvests. They make monthly contributions to the group so that should anyone be short of money they share it with them and in that way help them through difficult times.
And it is not just emotional health but physical health that is supported. Louis Cozolino, a professor of psychology who wrote the book “The Neuroscience of Human Relationships,” discussed that “people who have more social support tend to have better mental health, cardiovascular health, immunological functioning, and cognitive performance.” The article also states that “social relationships help calm our stress-response system” because they lower the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to “wreak havoc on our physical and emotional health.”
Whilst social connection is clearly a key part of longevity the Okinawans have other secrets to share and that word love returns. In Japan most interestingly they don’t have a word for retire, ultimately as they don’t believe in it. They carry on doing what they love until the end. They execute discipline in their daily lives.
Discipline is a form of self-love as through discipline you can improve mental and physical health and agility. They show this through the 80% rule that they have adopted when eating which means they eat to 80% fullness. Ancient wisdom advises against eating until we are full. Digestion uses a lot of energy so long digestive processes increase cellular oxidation. Intuitively we all know when we have got the that point. We know if we tuck into that extra portion, we are going to burst. They also have another eating hack which is that they choose to eat their food on lots of little plates rather than one large one. Whilst having lots of plates makes you feel like you are eating a lot, you end up actually eating less.
As we know stress is one of the largest killers in our society. The lifestyle elements that the Okinawans put in place cleverly reduce the usual physical and emotional pressures and provide support.
For me personally I believe the more time I spend in nature, the longer I will live. Walking barefoot in nature has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and dispels the effects of the electromagnetic stress that surrounds us on the day-to-day basis. My favourite way to pass time is working in a polytunnel or garden and the very act of sowing seeds connects you to the future. Dan Buettner author of the blue zone’s kitchen that looks at areas of the world where people live the longest talks about the positive effect gardening has “Gardening is the epitome of a Blue Zone activity because it’s sort of a nudge: You plant the seeds and you’re going to be nudged in the next three to four months to water it, weed it, harvest it,”
So, it’s not just living people who help us feel connected it is all the living things which we are able to nurture.
So, share the love this February. In a time of isolation our connectedness is needed more than ever.
With so much information at our finger tips via the web, podcasts and books that is often contradictory it can sometimes be overwhelming to know what are ultimately the best food choices for your health.
In order to lessen our reliance on these channels of information as well as moving away from our own often critical overthinking of our food choices we need to spend time developing our relationship with ourselves and our own body. This can also be called developing your intuition.
The definition of intuition is “the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning”.
Our brain is usually the one in charge, calling the shots, instead we need to allow our body to guide us to the correct outcome, using it like a dowser uses a pendulum for an answer.
If this is something that comes naturally to you then great if it doesn’t don’t worry, what is wonderful about our intuition is that it can be developed by all of us with some awareness and intention over time. The most important element is learning to trust ourselves which can often be easier said than done.
Often with our busy lives we don’t have time to slow down and really listen and notice the subtleties of symptoms our body may develop from eating certain foods over others. Left unnoticed these symptoms can turn into intolerances.
One thing that this recent lockdown has enabled I believe is for a reconnection to nature. When we reconnect to nature we reconnect to ourselves and what makes us feel good and what doesn’t. This enables us to better gauge when we feel we are in balance and when we are not quite and instead of ignoring these subtle changes we can look for ways to rectify them.
So what is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is is a framework for helping us establish a better relationship to food, our body image and movement.
It involves eliminating the word diet from our repertoire and practising an unconditional self acceptance and compassion towards ourselves so when we are struggling with food we have the strength to overcome it.
Rather than wanting to be the perfect weight and determining your self worth on what you have eaten or managed not to eat it is about accepting the beautiful person that you are.
Key steps to an intuitive eating way of life are as follows:
In order to avoid overeating it is important to listen to your body when it is feeling full. Eat slowly and chew your food. Maintain hydration levels during the day so when you eat you are not dehydrated and compensating with food.
Listen to Hunger
Hunger is an important natural function of the body.
During your everyday don’t wait till you are starving to eat. Your body doesn’t know the difference between food scarcity and starvation so will compensate for you starving yourself by slowing down the metabolism to conserve energy which can lead to weight gain.
Watch your emotions
We all know it is a disaster to go to the supermarket when we are hungry as our emotions are strong and we end up making impulsive usually more unhealthy food choices but how often do we watch how our eating fluctuates with our other emotions? Become consciously aware of when this happens and consider other methods of soothing yourself that don’t involve food.
Move from emotive eating to mindful eating. Slow down, savour and enjoy the subtle flavours of the food and appreciate each mouthful.
Avoid reactive and habitual behaviour
Be conscious and be guided to what makes your body feel good rather than following habitual behaviour.
Walk down the aisle and feel your way towards the variety of different vegetables and fruit. What do you feel like? What does your body want?
Rather than doing the same shop every week for the same set of meals you do every week focus on variety.
Following the food that is in season is a great and simple starting point for this intuitive eating journey. Eating what is in season means eating what is grown in your local area, it has travelled the least distance and has the most nutrition. It is also most likely to be closest to what our ancestors were eating at that time and as it is grown in the same soil that we live on if often high in the minerals and nutrients we actually need as we are intrinsically connected to our environment whether we realise it or not.
Neutralise your attitude towards food and give yourself permission to eat any food that you want. By restricting certain things you will end up craving them more and put them in the “bad for me” box. An intuitive diet is about moderation. Sometimes the magnesium in chocolate is exactly what your body needs and you should listen to it!
Exercise in the moment
When you are exercising don’t be highly focussed on the outcome you want to achieve but focus on how you feel whilst you are doing it. Focus on what your body likes and what it doesn’t and adapt from there.
Don’t forget that eating should be a pleasurable and satisfying experience.
Allow it be that for you by not diminishing it to what is on your plate, become aware of the environment or company as part of your eating experience and make necessary changes so that it supports you best.
I leave you with a quote from Amanda Levitt (writer and activist)
“ It sometimes is as simple as reminding myself that my body is a good body, that all bodies are good bodies”