Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Hazards of Chronic Mild Dehydration

Before this morning's pearls of wisdom are dispensed I would like to take a moment to thank my loyal readers for their support this year.

May I also wish you all a safe and peaceful 2009.

I am doing the unthinkable and turning my computer off until after January 5th. This will be quite a challenge for me as I spend far too much time on my computer and need to find a better balance.

I hope the quality of today's post makes up for any downtime. It's way too contentious and way too long. But it has to last you two weeks.

Here goes ...

Routine water loss occurs when we breathe, perspire, or go to the loo. (Note to reader ... not a very salubrious start, I know ... please bear with me).

During the course of a normal day, this can add up to several liters or more that needs to be replaced.

Short term our body cleverly shifts water from cells into blood vessels ... but, if this is not replenished, signs and symptoms of dehydration will quickly become apparent. If all is functioning as it should our bodies will limit the amount of water lost in urine and we should feel thirsty. In practice, many of us ignore our thirst, or we mistake it for hunger.

And we get away with this (or so we think) because of our sedentary, cosetted lifestyles.

Under normal circumstances many of us flirt with mild dehydration over sustained periods. This is where things start to go wrong.

Heartburn, for instance, is a major thirst signal. Why do you think that symptoms are always worse after overindulging in coffee and alcohol? What is really causing "acid reflux"?

What do we do in response? We pop antacids! Eventually this causes inflammation of the stomach and duodenum. Left unchecked ... ulcers, hiatus hernia ... possibly even cancers of the stomach, intestines, pancreas and liver? Woah! This is serious stuff.

Or should I say "could be" as prevailing medical knowledge is still unclear as to the "exact" cause of such maladies.

What about these other nasties?

Back pain ... as discs and joints in the spinal column dehydrate and become arthritic over time. How does modern medicine respond? You got it ... painkillers, acupuncture, manipulation, eventually surgery. Relieve the symptoms temporarily, exacerbate the problem, ignore the root cause.

Migraine headaches ... a powerful sign that the eyes and brain need water.

Chest pain (angina) ... better ask your doctor about this one.

Constipation ... leading to pain, colitus, hemorrhoids and worse. Oh ... and back pain.

And the list goes on ... adult-onset diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, even asthma. Chronic water shortage can invariably be implicated somewhere in the chain of events that lead to these diseases.

And because by the time the disease has shown itself it's usually too late to change our habits, we continue to subscribe to the culture that tries to cure, rather than seeking to prevent.

Open your eyes (and minds)! So what if you don't like the taste of water. So what if there's no fizzy bubbles, stimulants or sexy taste. Inconvenient? How inconvenient is a decade plus of needless suffering?

A clean, balanced body loves water.

Until the new year ... peace.

Go safe. Be happy. Laugh. Stop thinking so much. Life is short.

Spare a thought for those turkeys.

Friday, 19 December 2008

We Are Not Drinking Enough Water

Seems simple enough ... and we've heard it a thousand times. Eight glasses a day is the recommendation we hear most commonly.

So why is this so important and why is something so straight-forward so often forgotten? And why is the magic number "eight" ... all genders, all sizes, all climates, all metabolisms?

Well, for starters us humans are mostly water. Lean muscle tissue is about 75% water, while fat is only around 14%. This accounts for the reason why men are more full of it ... water ... than ladies!

Interestingly enough, this also means that water can account for anywhere from less than half, to more than three-quarters, of our body weight, depending of course on how much lard we are carrying. Sobering thought! But definitely no justification to drink less.

Most adults are somewhere around 50 - 65 percent water ... and that fraction also varies depending on hormones, consumption habits and a whole host of inter-related factors.

And because H2O is so fundamentally important to our physiology, you'd think we'd take our hydration levels a little more seriously?

Well ... we don't (even when we think we do, we forget). Most of us are in a state of chronic dehydration. And most of us have no idea just how serious this is.

In my next post, I'll tell you what this is doing to our bodies. This is one you won't want to miss!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Quick Fix: "Fast Food" Health

Wasn't sure what direction my post would take today ... then it hit me!

So many of us are looking for the quick fix: that ellusive shortcut to balance, health and happiness.

It's as if people lurch from magic bullet to magic bullet, ceaselessly scavenging more hope (do sharks that stop swimming really drown?).

The diet that promises to help you lose ten pounds in as many days ...

The six magic exercises that will transform you from , hmmm ... overweight to hardbody when everything else you've tried has failed.

Eat whatever you want, in front of the TV, and incinerate fat with the touch of a button ... in just ten minutes a day.

Why is it that we still want so badly to believe that the next great thing will be the panacaea to all our problems? As a certifiable cynic I have my theories:

- the horde of "wannabee" affiliate marketers is actually a hungrier crowd than the gurus are willing to reveal (oops, sorry ... wrong blog!)
- most of us are sadly too lazy to turn the tide once the rot has set in
- we are a profoundly naive species
- immediate gratification is in our DNA ... that's not going to change
- a billion dollar industry can't be wrong

I guess I'll put myself out of business right now and reveal ... drum roll please ... there are no shortcuts, you do have to be patient, moderation is a lovely concept that doesn't work, goals only work for a few of us, variety is the spice of life, overkill cardio doesn't work, it's all about the hormones, drink more water, sleep deeper, for longer, more regularly ...

Okay, okay ... I won't give away all my secrets! (Maybe I do have something to say after all).

I feel so much better.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Youth Obesity: Fat Chance Things Will Change

Catchy title ... but sadly all true! Nothing will change until we have a total paradigm shift in our mentality.

When things go wrong, it's not politically correct to blame the parents. So we blame everyone else that we can think of ... schools, teachers, the government ... blah, blah, blah. What a cop out!

No wonder our kids are getting fat and unhappy. They have no leadership where it counts. At home ... from the very adults that should be setting an example.

What chance does any kid have if their own parents can't communicate effectively with them? Once the rot starts, families never get out of fire-fighting mode ... and as things get progressively worse, so the excuse machine starts and the blame is placed, diverting attention from the source.

Every day the media tells us the problem is getting worse ... and every day some genius comes out with another angle on fixing the problem. Meals at schools should be healthier. Kids should become more active. TV and computers are the root of all evil.

Sorry ... the real problem is lack of communication skills. Parents are told it's not their responsibility ... and kids are told that they are in some way defective, in need of help, correction, whatever.

So here's what to do about it.

- stop nagging, lecturing or otherwise pointing out that your kid has a problem ... they don't. You do.

- get informed ... learn about clean eating and healthy movement and how to effectively make the incremental small changes that add up to long term, sustainable, permanent habits.

- accept that the process will take time and that you will need patience and yes, maturity.

- lead by example. Believe it or not, kids want direction ... but from someone they respect, someone who makes them feel good about themselves. Who's going to take advice about healthy eating from "leadership" that serves up TV dinners and fizzy drinks for dinner?

- "But my kids won't eat anything else" ... stop making excuses, stop pandering to them. Show them a better way by showing them you care about them ... and yourselves.

- get outside and move about. Have fun. Don't "work out" ... that's for adults. And that's why most adults also don't develop the habit of activity. It's just not enjoyable if you're measuring all the time. Spontaneity works for adults too! And start off slowly. Consistency wins the day ... because it's manageable.

So, take responsibility, get informed, show some leadership, stop being critical and start being patient. Have some fun ... together ... outside ... as a family!

Remember, this is a process, not a destination. And these are your kids. You can never stop trying.

(I first alluded to this problem in my earler post of Friday 14 November, 2008).

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Organic Food Production Standards: Friend or Foe?

Because of the commercial advantage afforded by the use of the word "organic", comprehensive legislation has evolved in the US, European Union, Japan and other countries ostensibly to protect the consumer.

However, as with all legislation governing the food industry, the devil is once again in the detail. Most people, for example, are unaware that there is a distinction between "100% organic" (the real McCoy), "organic" (at least 95% organic) and "made with organic ingredients" (minimum 70% organic ingredients).

It's sad because people willing to invest in protecting their own health ... and I include myself in this group ... do not want to be misled, again, by cleverly worded half-truths. Just call it what it is. There should be no mileage in compromise.

If we think we are buying "organic" (should mean totally free of all nasties) ... and we're willing to pay a premium for these perceived benefits ... then we should get what we pay for, without compromise. If this is impractical ... then fine, just tell us clearly without making a meal about the product being "organic".

Call me a purist, but I'm sick of being misled ... finding out the real truth and then feeling stupid. I even accept that this view may be crude ... and do not mean to disrespect the vast majority of very sophisticated legislation that has been orchestrated around organic food production.

But why go so far ... and then shoot yourself in the foot at the point where it really matters ... consumer perception, in its most basic form?

Won't disenchanted potential customers miss out because they don't trust the real benefits? How sad is that? How many people have you spoken to who just don't care because they have become jaded?

People who want to lead healthy lives and take responsibility for their own health deserve standards that are completely transparent and free from agenda, political implication or industry lobby. This should in no way be punitive to organic farmers ... ever. But why allow the word "organic" to become a marketing term?

Just tell us the truth ... without any slick nuances or disguised technical exceptions. The value should still be able to stand on its own!

Friday, 5 December 2008

Brain Health: Keep Your Brain Fit

A healthy brain is something most of us take for granted.

Yet our brain plays a critical role in virtually everything we do. From sleeping to moving, thinking to feeling ... these functions are so automatic that the idea of losing our faculties is inconceivable to most ... but very scary to some.

So what can we do to keep our brains healthy as we age?

Just as our bodies do, so too do our brains naturally deteriorate with advancing years. Unsurprisingly, we can minimise the rate of this decline ... or accelerate it.

Here are a few tips to keep your brain healthy:

- Keep your mind active. Mental stimulation increases brain vitality, protects existing brain cells and the connections between them ... and may even generate new cells according to cutting edge research. So be curious and get involved.

- Become a social butterfly. Recreation and social interaction is stimulating both physically and mentally. Inter-cellular connectivity is enhanced because stress is reduced.

- Become more physically active. This stimulates blood flow and reduces risk of heart disease, diabetes ... and stroke.

- Eat a healthy diet. Reduced cholesterol equates to reduced stroke risk. A whole host of foods are considered "brain-healthy" including dark green leafy vegetables, fruit and cold water fish rich in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoicacid). If the brain cell membranes can be kept healthy, then brain signals transmit better.

- Stop doing drugs. Drugs are known to cause long term brain damage like learning and memory problems. What we still don't yet have enough experience with is whether this damage translates into dementia in later years.

You cannot control your genetics any more than you can control getting older. But healthy habits will give you an edge and make your life more fulfilling along the way.

So Einstein ... maybe curiosity didn't kill the cat!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Common Myths About Heart Disease

Sadly, numerous myths exist about heart disease.

One of the most pervasive is that the genetic component trumps everything else. If heart disease runs in your family, there's nothing you can do to protect yourself. While family history is considered a risk factor, in no way does this absolve you from taking responsibility for your own health.

Another myth is that only men get heart attacks. Surprisingly, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women too! Sorry ladies.

Here's another: if your cholesterol is "normal" you have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, cholesterol is not the only risk factor. Blood pressure, smoking and diabetes are up there to. Also playing a contributing role are stress, obesity, gender, family history and age.

And here's the one that really hurts people because, by the time you learn the truth, irreversable damage has already occurred: the biggest danger from smoking is lung cancer. We've all seen the posters of blackened, damaged lungs. But how many kids that smoke understand the damage it's doing to their circulation?

So what can we do to reduce our risk?

First, see your doctor and get a check-up. Get an appreciation of your numbers: body composition, girth measurements, blood pressure ... your doctor may want more.

Get active ... just heed medical advice, learn to listen to your body and take things slow.

Master your emotions. This may be easier said than done, but there is also an element of maturity involved. Bottom line: negative emotions like rage, hostility, misguided aggression, impatience, holding grudges ... all impact heart health far more than you realize.

Eat fresh foods. Stop killing yourself by over-eating the wrong foods. Processed foods contain empty calories and create cravings and imbalances that can lead to food addiction, obesity and diabetes. If this sounds over-dramatic, you may need a reality check.

Stop poisoning yourself. Too much harmful fat, salt, sugar and stimulants ... we already covered that in the point above. Add to this cigarette smoke, excess alcohol, toxic fumes and other hidden dangers and many people are treating their bodies like a dumping ground for hazardous waste. Your body is your temple ... start respecting yourself!

And finally, get outside and get some fresh air and a little sunlight. If it's cold and raining, enjoy the nip on your face. Breathe, laugh, immerse yourself in nature. There's no charge ... really.

Rant over ... you get the point. You're in charge of your own health. No-one else.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Softly, Softly, Catch a Monkey.

Obesity can be defined very simply as excess body fat.

Notably "fat" not "weight" ... and this is really where the waters start to get muddy. Everyone is obsessed with weight loss, probably for one simple reason. Weight loss is simple to measure and the feedback is immediate. Fat loss, on the other hand, is a little harder to quantify. Immediate gratification versus a little bit of effort.

Determining the true extent of the real problem is worth it though ... because obese individuals risk a myriad of health problems including:

- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- dyslipidemia (abnormal blood fats, cholesterol)
- type 2 diabetes ("adult onset" diabetes)
- coronary heart disease
- stroke
- gallbladder disease
- osteoarthritis
- sleep apnea (sleep disturbance)
- respiratory problems
- some cancers (colon, breast, endometrial)

And the list goes on ... glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, increased visceral fat tissue, hormonal imbalances, deep-vein thrombosis, kidney disease, psychological distress and more.

The solution appears simple. Consume less calories and expend more calories (aerobic exercise and resistance training), creating a caloric deficit. And do this without "unreasonable" calorie restriction. Softly, softly, catch a monkey. Incremental tweaking, if you will.

However, for the changes in this strategy to be sustainable you must enjoy both your eating plan and your exercise regime ... and be committed to a lifestyle change that is lifelong!

Not quite so easy!

If in doubt, please re-read the list above. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Why Should We warm Up?

So many misconceptions surround the simple matter of "warming up".

Why should we do it? Is there a correct way of doing it? How long should we do it? What type of stretches, if any, should we do? Everyone you speak to seems to have an opinion on these and other questions ... so I thought I'd take a bash at demistifying some of what's out there. Most of us do little more than a few token movements that achieve very little.

The overall objective of any warm up is to prepare our systems to perform at optimum efficiency. This means not just muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments ... but also our heart, blood vessels, lungs ... even our nervous system.

When we warm up correctly our muscles become more pliable. For those with an appetite for jargon ... "soft tissue viscosity" decreases, while chemical and metabolic function is enhanced.

This protects our body and prepares it for exercise that is more aggressive and more intense. It's not enough to go and sit in a warm bath ... the process needs to be active and involve muscle contraction and controlled movement that gradually increases in intensity. This creates heat and stimulates biochemical processes. We breathe a little harder, we start to perspire and our blood starts to really flow as it gets shunted to the muscles doing the work.

It is wise to start with a general warm up, carefully limbering up all your joints. I like to progress systematically through my body, ending with the body parts that will be most challenged in the "meat" of the workout. So, if I plan on focusing on my upper body, I would start with toes, ankles, knees and hips ... progressing through lumbar spine, thoracic spine and neck ... then finishing with fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders.

After maybe ten minutes, I incorporate a mild aerobic element, increasing my rate of movement to increase blood flow and improve my flexibility. I may do any combination of swings, leans, twists, easy accelerations, even shadow-boxing ... wherever my imagination takes me. This may take me only five minutes and when I feel I'm ready I will carefully introduce some dynamic stretches, swinging my arms in opposition to each other and raising my legs to the front, sides and back. I concentrate on aligning my body for minimum stress and I slowly increase my range of motion in each direction and with each repetition, tapering my effort once I reach my comfortable limit of flexibility.

Not only is the whole process gradual and therefore not unduly stressful to my body, but it also protects me from injury by increasing my body awareness. In effect, I am less prone to reckless movement, or miscalculation.

Once you have warmed up, then completed the main body of your workout, it is equally important to cool down gently. I like to think of this as "letting the bees settle" ... five to ten minutes of gradual winding down.

This respect for our body's engine allows metabolic waste and stress chemicals to dissipate more efficiently. More effective recovery translates into quicker results and better adaptation. You will actually feel less discomfort and be better prepared to get more out of subsequent workouts.

Once you appreciate this your warm up/cool down will become every bit as essential as your main routine.

Until next time ...

Friday, 21 November 2008

Quinoa: Nutritional Powerhouse

Nutritionally considered a "supergrain", quinoa (most commonly pronounced "KEEN-wah") is technically not a grain, but the seed of a distant relative to spinach.

An important food for over 6000 years in the Andes mountains of Peru, quinoa is known as the "mother of all grains". It is an excellent source of high quality protein containing both the amino acids lysine (absent in most grains) and methionine (absent in beans) ... so it is an attractive choice to anyone looking for "complete" protein in their diets.

Although fairly non-descript, the taste grows on you ... as does the fact that it is also a good source of fibre, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and B vitamins.

If we are to approach anything remotely close to a "balanced" diet, then variety must be a key strategy ... and this is one option definitely worth considering. Organic quinoa is readily available and it's gluten-free and easy to digest.

To make it even more interesting, I usually prepare it in combination with brown basmati rice and wild rice, something that is truly delicious!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Supplements: Necessary, or Redundant?

Every day we are exposed to a plethora of harmful toxins in our food, water and the air we breathe.

In addition to reducing our exposure, we can use supplements to help eliminate toxins and reduce damage from the excess free radicals that result from this toxic overload.

Many causes of death and disease are largely preventable with healthier diet and lifestyle choices. Information is readily available highlighting what constitutes a healthy diet.

However, when we look closely at the average supermarket trolley, it's no secret that many people are falling well short of these guidelines. Refined and processed foods, laden with "empty" calories, harmful fats, sugar and salt are the order of the day. Are we really leading labels ... and if so, do we understand their implications? Also, just how nutritious are those pristine, perfectly shaped, tasteless fruit and vegetables?

If price is really the reason why so few people choose organic options, then why does the liquor aisle dwarf the organic food section?

We can bury our heads in the sand for only so long. Our kids deserve better ... and so do we. Get informed and learn more about how you can protect yourself and your family.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Come on parents ...

I must thank Staci Rose who commented on my earlier post "A Stitch in Time ...".

While I appreciate that it's a challenge for all parents to engender a culture of physical activity in their kids, particularly in their most formative years ... we cannot abrogate them from their responsibility to do so.

This is where the seeds are sown.

Activity should not be the exclusive province of the educational system. Parents should lead by example. If kids have fun playing outdoors and don't associate it with competition or, even worse, humiliation ... then they may have a fighting chance to embrace continued activity as they get older.

You may be able to tell I'm not a parent?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Stand and Deliver

Weight management is one of the most formidable challenges facing anyone looking at starting a fitness program.

Inately you sense that you are losing ground. On the surface it seems so simple ... eat less, exercise more, job done. The mirror doesn't pull any punches. Your body, stiff and immobile, carries the same clear message. Friends, family and strangers aren't that subtle either.

So why then is something so apparently obvious and straightforward, such a beast to tame?

Quite simply, because every message you get, on every level, only re-enforces the pickled emotions that got you there in the first place. Putting on weight, getting fatter, has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with the way you feel about yourself.

For some of you, the catalyst to do something will be fear ... something someone said, the way you feel after you walk up the stairs, a lucky escape from a potentially lethal event.

Some of you may be driven by disgust and self-loathing ... enough is enough!

Maybe for you it's far less intense ... you've been toying with the idea of taking action ... and finally you just feel ready? You just know.

Whatever drives you, here are three keys to successful weight management:

- your reason should be sufficiently compelling

- your focus should be absolutely clear and specific

- and, when you decide to take action, giving up is not an option

Along the way, you will face the three imposters of discouragement, distraction and impatience. Just keep going and don't look back. Never, ever look back.

The rewards are so worth it!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A stitch in time ...

Recently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released its "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans" in an effort to get people of all ages and physical conditions in the U.S. moving on a daily basis.

Significantly, this is the first time the Federal government has issued comprehensive recommendations of this nature. A detailed breakdown can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/ or www.health.gov/paguidelines and, quite frankly, there is nothing earth-shattering about the specifics. In fact, research strongly suggests that people should be encouraged to exceed, rather than merely meet, these minimum levels.

I must admit that I find the necessity for such intervention to be a sad indictment on the state of our global awareness of wellness issues. Until the paradigm shifts from "cure" to "prevention" the human race will continue to look to medical science instead of our own good selves to be the custodian of public health. So yes, this development is crucial.

I'll say it again ... it's time we take responsibility for our own health and physical wellbeing. Enough consistent, unambiguous information exists for many of us to make an informed decision.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Restoring Good Posture and Healthy Movement

Our bodies are designed to move.

When we are young we move freely, with natural grace and abandon. As we age, we acquire emotional baggage, our complex psychological response to pain. This manifests itself in our posture and affects the way we move.

Inhibition and dysfunction may be compounded by physical injury.

Our bodies start to cheat, adapting to take the path of least resistance ... perverting nature's design.

More discomfort. More adjustment. Less freedom of movement. The cold fingers of inactivity slowly weave their tendrils of constraint.

You have to break the cycle, confront your pain, gently start the process of rechallenging balance and normal function. This takes knowledge, persistence, maybe even courage and patience. But consistent, daily re-awakening will soon free you up again.

Moderate activity plus carefully structured strength, length and balance work ... combined with sensible consumption and sleeping habits will be your keys to an active life free from pain.

Not long now before my site goes live!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Enter Sandman

So many people settle for less than a good night's sleep.

This can go on for years ... you take ages to fall asleep, toss and turn endlessly, then "wake up" feeling absolutely shattered. Then you're tired all day ... until bed time, of course. This deficit accrues over time, leading to all manner of maladies, none of which you take that seriously.

You just think of it as "acceptable" attrition. Your body wears down. Lethargy compounds. And you adapt ... sort of.

However, hormonal imbalances start causing subtle changes ... abdominal fat deposits, mood swings, lost vitality, impaired ability to deal with stress. A litany of woes, none of which appear to directly implicate something so simple as a lack of quality sleep!

It's time to alter your expectations. You can enjoy consistent, deep, restful slumber and wake up refreshed. Here's how to turn things around:

- Eat light, healthy and early ... go to bed without feeling stuffed

- Turn off the TV after dinner ... bright, flashing lights and graphic, emotive content excite and stimulate our minds and are not conducive to relaxation

- Allow yourself to wind down ... go for a walk, talk with your spouse or family, read, take a hot bath, stretch, relax, calm yourself, chill

- Drink water ... assist your vital organs by hydrating properly and stop worrying about trips to the bathroom

- Stop worrying, period! ... tomorrow is another day so just let it go

- Use your breathing ... calm your nervous system with quiet, measured exhalations and let the inhalations take care of themselves

- Stop drinking coffee, stimulants and alcohol ... you may have convinced yourself you need these to fall asleep, but they dehydrate you and disturb any chance of a restful night

- Flush the artificial pills ... forget over-the-counter medication as natural means are far more effective and don't create dependence

- Learn to nest ... a supportive, comfortable, cosy bed in secure, quiet and dark surroundings makes a great investment

I could go on, but invariably if you try what I have suggested and lighten up on yourself a little, then things will get better.

Sleep well.

Friday, 24 October 2008

One More Piece of the Puzzle

Recovery is a crucial, yet under-rated aspect of fitness development.

We tend to think that if we push ourselves sufficiently hard when we exercise that this will be where all the benefits accrue. Instead, try seeing exercise as a stimulus, with the real benefits coming afterwards, between sessions when your body is able to repair and adapt.

When you understand this, then you will stop pushing so hard and start finessing ... working smart. Again, it's all about getting the balance right. Upset this invisible equilibrium and your body will soon tell you. The mallaise that results from over-training takes all the fun out of getting in back into shape. Continue to ignore what your body is trying to tell you and your immune system will continue to weaken, leaving you ill, injured, or both!

So, what other elements are important to understand with respect to recuperation?

- proper nutrition ... your body needs building blocks and a favourable internal environment to grow and restore

- quality sleep ... of sufficient duration, without disturbance and for a consistent period each and every night ... the kind where you wake up refreshed, not shattered

- intelligent stretching ... post-exercise and throughout your day

- massage ... if you're fortunate enough to have the time and resources to enjoy a regular session then you already know the benefits

A quick word about massage ... if you aren't able to organise someone to do it for you, then learn how to massage yourself. It's enormously therapeutic, far easier and less conspicuous than you may imagine and a brilliant workout in its own right! Next time you're sitting at your computer, start with the top of your thighs ... and learn the magic of strong hands and fingers.

In my next post I'll give you tips on how to get a better night's sleep. See you then ...

Monday, 20 October 2008

Feels So Good

Few things feel as delicious as a really good stretch.

While cats have figured this out and stretch instinctively at every opportunity, us humans are notorious for missing the boat when it comes to body awareness.

However, if you do allow yourself a brief stretch when you wake up or when you have been seated for a while you may notice two things:

- it feels really good
- we naturally contract our muscles while we stretch without even thinking about it

In fact it is this contraction coupled with a sense of release that relieves residual tension so effectively.

There are so many ways one can stretch. All have their place. My recommendation is that you experiment with your own body and learn what each method feels like and what effect it achieves for you.

Again, for safety, let me reitterate that:

- you should never stretch cold muscles
- you should always move with control

In very simplistic terms a muscle attaches to a bone, then crosses a joint, before attaching to another bone. When the muscle changes length, movement is created.

When we stretch we attempt to increase the distance between those two attachment points. The theory being that if we can permanently increase this distance, we will also increase the range of pain-free, natural motion around that joint.

The reality is that most of us are taught to use the ground, our body weight, or some fixed object to support our limb at its outer range of possible motion ... then we "force" it just a little bit further until it hurts ... and attempt to endure this for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. Ouch!!!

This method is crude and hardly conducive to permanent improvement in available range of movement. It also hurts and carries a degree of risk because the execution is generally fairly mindless.

Learning to stretch effectively is all about personal discovery and experimentation.

Here's three distinct concepts for you to try separately from one another:

- "active" stretching, where you use the strength of one group of muscles to lengthen the opposing muscle group, unaided by any external passive resistance
- "oppositional" stretching, where you consciously contract the same muscles you are lengthening against an external force opposing the movement
- "longer duration" stretching, where you slowly ease out towards the end of your available range, then quieten your mind as you release even further over a period of at least 5 minutes

To the uninitiated, all three of these concepts will appear fairly advanced. In reality, once you start trying them and gain a fuller understanding and appreciation of what they involve, you will begin your journey towards truly loving the time you spend stretching.

And you will learn that stretching can be as much about strengthening as about release and recalibration. With time you will also learn that stretching is as much mental as physical.


Friday, 17 October 2008

The Importance of Intelligent Stretching

No single aspect of exercise is more misunderstood than stretching.

Even amongst seasoned campaigners, stretching is seldom seen as anything more than just an afterthought. People rush through a few cursory movements before an exercise routine in the misguided belief that this is helping them warm up.

In fact, stretching should ideally be done both before and after a workout.

For the layperson stretching before is generally not practical because of time constraints. Cold muscles should never be stretched and this is why it is counter-productive for you to stretch beforehand ... it just takes too long to prepare your body correctly.

Stretching after exercise is crucial and should be done for the following reasons:

- to reduce muscle and joint stiffness
- to minimise the incidence of scar tissue and inflammation
- to extend the limits of your functional, pain-free range of movement
- to counteract the muscle-shortening effect of repetitive, limited-range movement
- to eliminate metabolic residues produced during your session
- to minimise the incidence of painful "knots" of localised muscle tightness
- to promote body awareness, postural integrity and core strength

Think of this part of your routine as a recalibration for the next day. Remember too that, although your muscles are warm, they are also vulnerable due to fatigue. Particularly after longer duration, more intense exercise, I always recommend letting the "bees" calm down a little first, then stretching with purpose and caution.

In my next post I'll discuss some of the ways you can stretch and how to really enjoy your stretching. You'll also learn how to integrate stretching with strengthening.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Finding Your Balance

The number of overweight and obese people in the United States and Britain has risen to unprecedented levels in recent years.

This increase has spawned a huge number of weight-loss fads as people scramble to find quick-fix solutions and remedies. More and more people are finding out the hard way that there is no magic bullet.

In simple terms, when someone consumes more calories than they expend, that individual will gain weight. Knowing this, it is natural for most people to assume that if they subject themselves to a Spartan regime of restricted calories and excessive exercise, that will get the job done.

In reality this only creates further havoc. They cannot sustain the diet and they overtrain and perhaps even injure themselves. The result ... metabolic imbalance, enforced inactivity and further emotional setback.

The reason this approach is never effective is that it is a knee-jerk reaction motivated by immediate gratification rather than sensible and enlightened planning.

Three contributing factors make up our total energy expenditure:

- the energy we use for normal function and survival
- the energy we use to digest and absorb nutrients
- the energy we expend during physical activity

Of these, physical activity is the easiest to manipulate. The "energy cost" of digesting certain foods may also vary to a degree. But the sensible approach is not the artificial quick fix.

Getting your balance right involves not only sensible habits, but also body awareness. Someone who hones this will begin to recognise when a given behaviour is harmful ... and will instinctively adjust. But this process is gradual and natural and is not something that is meant to be accelerated, outwitted or second-guessed.

I'll certainly talk more about the detail of sensible habits on my site, but my message today is for you to forget diets and extreme measures and take things slow and easy. Small incremental steps are what it takes to achieve and maintain the balance necessary for optimum health and vitality.

It takes time to settle into equilibrium. Learn patience.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


One of the greatest obstacles to health recovery is mindset.

If you're no longer active chances are:

- you've put on a few extra pounds
- you don't feel great about yourself
- you can feel that things "aren't quite right"
- you're depressed and unmotivated
- you don't know where to start

The first thing you can do is sort out your frame of mind. Something got you surfing the net looking for a solution. Fear? Self-doubt? Self-loathing? Drowning in your own lethargy? Any number of these?

Ok ... so the desire to fix things is very real. Great catalyst for action!

What about attitude?

Depressed people are notorious for sabotaging their progress with "stinking thinking". Do you program your mind with positive messages ... or are you a total cynic? Understand that your thoughts have a huge impact on your reality. Getting your head straight is a process rather than a decision or an event. It's the cummulative effect of constructive thinking that will make you a winner.

Got a goal to focus on? Something specific, achievable and simple to measure ... something you've written down and embraced with every strand of your DNA? I don't have to tell you that "losing weight" is way too general to be of any use to you!

So what's still missing?

Commitment! This is the one factor that will differentiate between your success and failure. It's not rational, nor even logical ... it's pure emotion.

And it takes character and fighting spirit to stay the course and see things through.

So ... do you have it?

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Essential Elements for Optimum Health

The obvious essential components of any healthy lifestyle are no secret:

- a balanced diet
- regular exercise
- adequate sleep and recuperation
- careful exposure to ample sunlight
- plenty of fresh air
- the right mindset

Of course, I'll be talking about these ... but I won't be rehashing the same old generalities. Instead, I'll do my very best to make you really start to think and learn more about yourself.

You see, we all know that the list above is what we need. But some of us still battle? We know what we should be doing, but it still seems like such a monumental effort.

I will try to demystify this for you. It's not the "what" that's at issue here ... it's the "how" and the "why" that need to be understood before we can start developing constructive habits that are effortless to sustain. Without this knowledge all the best intentions in the world won't be enough.

Your first port of call though must be your doctor. Even if you think you're young, strong and risk-free!

This blog (and my site) will contain information that you may find useful ... but it's certainly not intended to replace sound advice from a medical professional. Any time anyone is considering changes in diet, exercise or lifestyle habits ... it would be reckless to ignore this advice. Be absolutely candid about your intentions, any medications you have been taking, or any other concerns you may have, no matter how trivial you think they are.

Prevention is far better than cure and an integral part of any successful program is your commitment to yourself and your willingness to take responsibility for your own wellbeing.

So let's do things right!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

My new blog starts today!

This is all very new to me, but here goes ...

In the next few weeks I'm planning to launch my new website. I'll be writing articles aimed at helping unfit people regain their health in a safe and sensible manner.

As someone who spent years in corporate business working hard and not paying attention to my health, I know exactly how easy it is to let things slip.

Before you know it you're tired and depleted and a shadow of what you could be. And all these bad habits have crept up on you ...

But you can fix things. You can become more active and start eating right again. And you can do this safely and intelligently. As a personal trainer and a Pilates teacher I can show you exactly what to do and give you the tools to get back on track.

I'd welcome input from any of you out there. Let me know what you'd like to see and how I can make a difference in your lives.

I could actually get used to this ...