Wednesday, 30 June 2010

#8.Stress management

Stress is the silent killer. You often don't know you are suffering from stress related disease. The difference between blood flow and blood clot can be millimetres. It is also something which we think we will deal with when the time comes. Some stress is actually good for us as stress/overload is how the body is able to grow and repair. However, psychological stress is the real problem.

An older client said to me, "I don't understand young people and stress. If they want to experience stress, they should try living on rations." This is a common misconception. Regardless of how ridiculous it seems, if you think the world is about to end because you haven't got your favourite locker at the gym, you can experience a heightened state of stress. Your brain can't differentiate between an actual stressor (being chased by a lion) and a psychological stressor (your interpretation). The mind is powerful enough to make you think that it is really happening. The body then starts a chain reaction of chemical messengers because it thinks there is real danger. The truth is it is all in our head. We all know those people who get worked up over the most ridiculous things.

Perception is reality so to help reduce stress levels, it is all about changing the lens you look at life with. This is only half the battle. Life will send you challenges which can get you all hot and bothered again. If you argue with yourself in the shower or continue an argument you had with a collegue, later on, by yourself, this applies to you! Getting some objectivity on your life can bring you into the present which will dramatically improve stress levels. Most people who experience stress are worried about things that haven't happened yet. Or things that happened in the past. It has been described by some experts as a symptom of the human consciousness. We worry about tomorrow when today hasn't happened yet.

Holidays are great because they take you away from life inside your own head and allow you to switch off. Boxing classes and general exercise are also great as you can take out your frustration in a controlled environment. Spending time with kids can also be a good stress reliever. Kids live life in the present and can bring you down to earth with a bump! Anything which makes you switch off is as important as work.

A friend of a friend dropped down dead in a gym not long ago. Stress related disease has been cited as a cause of death. This should be a reminder that we all need to take our health seriously. The truth is the majority of what we consider 'important' isn't that important. If you catch yourself getting worked up, ask yourself if it is really worth dying for?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

7. Make time for breakfast

I have mentioned this before in earlier posts. The importance of eating a good breakfast is so important it needs repeating.

A study was done in California on girls between the ages of 9 and 19. The girls who ate breakfast on 3 consecutive days had a BMI of 0.7 units lower than those who didn't. It was even lower than those who ate cereal, so something is better than nothing. The study showed that as the girls got older, breakfast consumption dropped and those who again skipped breakfast, ate higher fat foods later on in the day. The breakfast eaters were also better at food planning and made better choices throughout the day.

A Harvard study showed that those who ate breakfast (cereals) found that participants were 17% less likely to die over the next few years of any cause and 20% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease. Having no time for breakfast is not an excuse. You make time to fill up your car otherwise it will not go anywhere. We are exactly the same.

The clue is in the name 'break-fast'. You need to break the fast from the night.

Monday, 28 June 2010

6. Increase your fruit and vegetable intake

We all know that eating more fruit and vegetables are good for us. They contain cancer fighting and anti-aging properties which we can't get from anywhere else in our diet. Government guidelines state that we need 5 portions a day to keep us healthy. However, a recent study showed that eating 5 portions a day had negligible health benefits. One could read this and think "what is the point." The point you would be missing (which the study failed to point out) is that 5 a day is not enough to provide us with the necessary health benefits. We need to be eating much more.

Try a week of eating 10 portions a day. If you struggle to eat this amount, try adding juices or smoothies to your diet. Try to avoid buying them off the shelf. Get them as fresh as possible.

Here is a possible food plan.

Breakfast: 2-3 pieces of fruit

Snacks: 3 pieces throughout the day.

Lunch: salad containing 2 vegetables

Dinner: 2-3 pieces/portions of vegetables.

Don't be surprised if you lose a few pounds too.

Friday, 25 June 2010

5. Eat small and often

When your body breaks down food for energy, it converts carbohydrates into glycogen. Some is stored in your liver and drip feeds your body and vital organs with energy. It only has 4 hours worth of supply. Also, the body requires a certain amount of calories to stay alive. If we drop beneath this, the body starts a chain reaction of biochemical and physiological adaptations to ensure it survives. One of them is to slow down your metabolism. Once your body feels starvation your metabolic rate drops. This can be as much as 20% within 24 hours. Add to this the breakdown of protein in the body and you have a sluggish, acidic environment which isn't conducive to providing you with much energy. The longer this cycle persists, the weaker your immune system will be.

We need to top up energy levels with some protein, fruit, nuts and seeds in between main meals. In simpler times, we would forage for berries and seeds. Think like a caveman (or caveperson if this manages to get to Harriet Harman). The danger time is 2-5. This is most likely an unproductive time of the day for you. Also, have you ever suffered the wrath of a hungry child? Imagine a hungry employee who isn't nice at the best of times. Don't wait for it to happen, keep some healthy snacks with you.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

4. Rehydrate.

Working in an air-conditioned environment, alcohol, coffee, exercise and speech, all tax our water reserves. The more we do of any of the above activities, the more water we need to bring us back into balance. We need roughly 2 litres per day to stay hydrated. The rest should come from fruit and vegetables. If you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.

65-90% of human cells consist of water. Weight loss during a workout is due to lost water and needs replacing. Weigh yourself before and after a particularly sweaty workout to see what you have lost. A pound of weight loss is about 1/2 litre of lost water. A method used for extreme weight loss in boxing circles is to dehydrate the body so fighters can make a weigh in. Immediately after, they rehydrate themselves. It seems odd to potentially dehydrate a nerve cell then beat the living hell out of it for 12 rounds.

Electrolyte balance in the body is crucial for optimal nerve function. Without key electrolytes, muscle weakness or severe muscle contractions may occur. An old wives tale of adding table salt to your water isn't enough as refined salt has high levels of sodium ( we already have far too much in our modern diet). Unrefined salt has higher levels of potassium (which we need), but can be hard to get hold of. Instead, I add electrolytes to my workout water. This is even more crucial for those who like endurance events or training.

Signs of dehydration include dark urine, muscle tingling and cramps. Any more than 10% water loss can be fatal. If you like to drink alcohol, drink water between each drink and couple of glasses when you get home. You'll feel better in the morning.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Get a regular massage

Have you ever had that feeling when you get out of bed and need to contort your body in different positions just like a cat to get moving? All of a sudden, things start to loosen up and you are ready to go. Why do we do this? Can a muscle relax this quickly? No. What you are in fact doing is loosening up a flat band of tissue beneath the skin called fascia. It separates different layers of tissue and encloses the muscles. Muscles need to be able to slide smoothly against each other to function properly. Fascia contracts (around the muscle) when you go to sleep and needs loosening up in the morning otherwise you feel stiff. You sit down at your desk all day and go to bed to repeat the cycle day after day. 10 years later, you feel old because you are getting stiffer and more injury prone. The problem isn't age, it is the lack of maintenance work done to keep your body working at optimum levels.

A good massage helps to stretch and release the fascia much more than static stretching ever could. Stretching is even less affective when you get a build up of scar tissue in the muscle or fascia. In fact, the little bounce like stretch men do before they embark on a run doesn't stretch the muscle very much. Most likely, it stretches the fascia a bit, but mainly doesn't do much to prevent injuries.

We are generally bad at body maintenance work. If you are guilty of this, get a massage booked weeks or months in advance. Base the regularity around what you can afford. It could be weekly, monthly or every 6 months. Other benefits of massage include, better sleep, less headaches and quicker recover time between workouts. When you have a good massage, you can't believe how rubbish you felt before.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Down time

We spend the majority of our lives working and continually try to fit more into the day. Our time is finite yet we try to negotiate more time out of our day at the cost of our health. We send e-mails on the go and can be contacted all over the world. Switching off is getting ever harder to do.

Down time is important as it is the time we are able to switch off from the stress of life. If you live out of the city, you will experience the deep sigh of relief as the amount of commuters slowly decreases and the stations become more spaced out. It could be the first few days on holiday when you want to sleep or just think about nothing while you listen to the oceans waves. It could be the time when you melt into the couch and just unwind or time spent with your family. This time is important and needs scheduling into your day.

People who practice meditation are able to slow down their pulse, lower blood pressure as well as reducing the amount of cortisol the adrenal glands produce. All these factors contribute to heart disease. Heart disease is the silent killer and is completely avoidable through lifestyle changes.

Every day schedule in some down time where you can just think about nothing. It is hard to do but you will not regret it.

Monday, 21 June 2010

1. Get proper sleep

Everyone has different sleep needs but the average wakefulness in adults is 16 hours. Sleep is like the refresh button on your browser. It is the time when you burn the most amount of fat. It is also the time when your body regulates metabolism and hormone secretion. The changes shown in endocrine function due to a lack of sleep resemble advanced early ageing and the early signs of diabetes. People who sleep less tend to die young and it can increase your chances of contracting age related disease. Try getting to bed an hour early and you will feel the difference.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

All protein is not the same

I was discussing with a client what good sources of protein would be for breakfast. A gym member overheard our discussion and mentioned that yoghurt would be a good alternative. Although, technically she was correct, eating yoghurt for the purpose of getting a dose of protein is a waste of time and here is why.

Protein consists of amino acids which are the building blocks of life. Different permutations exist in foods which are split into 2 categories. Complete and incomplete. We need complete protein for the body to assimilate it into tissue. Animal based protein is a complete source, however, most plant based protein isn't. Whether you are a body builder or stay at home parent, we all need protein. Here are some of the symptoms of a lack of protein in your diet:

Thinning or brittle hair; ridges in toenails; light skin which burns easily in the sun; general weakness; slowness in healing; difficulty in sleeping; fainting.

The amount depends on your activity level. Active people and pregnant women need more protein as there is more building and breakdown occurring. Pregnant women in particular need more as there are huge amounts of energetic growth occurring for both the fetus and the mother. It helps to regulate appetite as well as getting more omega 3 in your diet (grass fed cattle). Inadequate protein consumption leads to cetabolism which contributes to high cholesterol and an acidic environment which are the conditions in which disease tends to flourish.

15-35% of our diet should be protein. Currently it is far less. We currently consume protein and don't consider what I call the 'protein hit' of food. We hear the word protein and think that we have consumed sufficient amounts.

This is the protein hit Per 100g

Turkey 35g (breast)
venison 35g
chicken 32g (breast)
Halibut 25g
eggs 12.5
cheese 12.5 (cottage)
yoghurt 4

The most obvious thing you should notice is that the protein content in meat is much higher. Even though I haven't stated it, dairy will have higher saturated fat levels than lean meats. If you think you are eating yoghurt for it's protein content, you might as well eat a caterpillar. If you cut meat out of your diet, be aware you are massively reducing your protein intake which will be hard to replace. The average person would need to consume around 6 tins of chickpeas to get their minimum protein intake. Exercisers would need 10+ tins! You would also need to replace iron, zinc, vitamin B12, B6, just to name a few. I forgot to mention that as wheat, nuts and beans are types of incomplete proteins, up to 50% of the protein is lost during the process, so you may need more! There is a reason why a crocodile eats once a year and a horse eats all the time.