Thursday, 30 July 2009

Organic Lies?

Ever since I started researching about living a healthy lifestyle, I realised that food was always going to be a "tough nut to crack". I'm talking about sifting through all the red herrings, emotions and agendas (political and economic) to get to the truth.

During the past 5 years I've come to realise two things: most food available is far from nutritious ... and there is no easy way to distinguish fact from fiction. I can only read plenty, keep an open mind and go with my gut instincts.

Trial and error, and personal experimentation are far more useful than 95% of the written word.

So, when I saw a report today by BBC Breakfast proclaiming "Organic 'has no health benefits'", I was instantly provoked. Why? Because a lot was at stake: the sanctity of peoples' spending logics, continued freedom of choice, animal welfare, sustainablity ...

The benefits of "organic" as I understand them are straight forward: reduced exposure to toxic chemicals, access to nutrients essential for continued robust health and more sustainable and palatable methods of harvest and distribution. Oh ... and better taste, if you still have any functional taste-buds remaining.


In exchange for the relative peace of mind that comes with all this, there is a premium to pay. Why? Because economies of scale don't yet exist because people don't understand the implications of toxic, nutritionally-deficient, environmentally-irresponsible choices to their long term health and well-being.

Any perceived benefits fall outside the category of immediate gratification. "Enlightened" consumers want to hear that cheaper is also more prudent.

So now our illustrious Food Standards Agency (FSA) has commisioned an "independant" report under the guise of helping people make "informed decisions".

And the waters are further muddied by "experts" debating whether "57% more beta carotene is statistically significant to health".

Another contentious issue appears to be the timing of this report, which comes before a similar EU report, drawing supposedly different conclusions, could be released.

If it's research, then it must be true. My report is bigger than yours! Please.

So a definitive authority on national television now vindicates the cynics who rail against the idea of paying a premium for anything, by implying that "organic" is nothing more than a cleverly-marketed brand. According to this report, there "is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced foods". So we are all just suckers.

Thank you folks, the damage is done. Please would all conventional commercial farmers make their cheques payable to ...!

How do I feel about this?

Sick to my stomach. Honestly, I don't even know where to start with this one! I'll say this: I think a report like this is reckless and that any discussion about it only serves to confuse issues to the detriment of anything meaningful.

I also think that when an agency comes out with statements such as "there is not sufficient research on the long-term effect of pesticides on human health" it is fence-sitting and backside-covering on a reprehensible scale.

One can only hope that there are sufficient people who will see all this for what it is and will remain undeterred in their personal pursuit of more responsible choices.

Next week ... research shows no clear relationship between obesity and your consumption habits and sedentary lives. Don't worry tax payers ... we've got you covered.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Usain Bolt ... What Might Have Been.

Today's post is going to be different.

I'm not going to discuss anything related to health, but rather I'm going to express my opinion on something that disturbed me recently. Flat out got my goat!

You see, I had the privilege of watching Usain Bolt in action on the track, doing what he does best. And that of course is showing people just how beautifully a human being can run when everything comes together in one package.

Here's a man who is noticeably larger than his competitors, yet far more graceful. He's stronger, yet less bulky. More powerful ... with less apparent effort.

He just flows ... and it's a joy to behold.

Ever watched a cheetah in slow-motion? Usain Bolt is more majestic. His win at last year's Olympics was 9.69 seconds of undiluted fantasy. What athlete has not dreamed of having an extra gear and obliterating the competition while barely letting the tiger out the bag? Throttling down as you exceed all previous known boundaries of human performance.

No journalist was able to find adequate superlatives to describe what no-one had ever seen before. I still get chills remembering the moment when he cut the afterburners and coasted into territory no man had dreamed of before. No words seemed appropriate, or even necessary. Pure, sweet emotion.

A moment that transcended all sport. Sublime dominance tempered with animal grace. A Tyson uppercut. A Federer passing shot. Phelps a body length ahead of that red line. A Jordanesque display that eclipsed all else that had been seen before by us mere mortals.

Surely no moment in sport would ever match those brief seconds?

And then the showboating started. Not content to savour the perfection of the moment, the press wanted more. The "Lightening Bolt". The wiggling hips. The two fingers to the face thing. The in-the-blocks God-given talent thing. It never stops!

Over-indulgence to the point where I cringe when they replay that most sacred moment in track and field. Like an over-blown orgy. Foreplay forgotten. Romance turned to porn. Exquisite taste perverted to nausea.

For me, what should forever be remembered as perfection, has now morphed into another fairly average, fairly crude, totally uninteresting commodity. A heroin addict wretching in a strange silence.

I used to drop everything to relive those moments. Now, it's like watching an ad for online bingo. Loud. Crude. Missable. Because I know, along with the magic, I am going to be subjected to the rest of it.

How sad is that?

When will we learn that less is more? When will we be content to savour the moment? How I wish that Osafa Powell had been blessed instead. How I wish he had the magic dust to go sub 9.5!

To me, he's the man. Kind. Mishievious. Unassuming. Breathtaking. How it breaks my heart to see him play second fiddle with such dignity.

I actually feel sorry for Usain Bolt. I watch him wiggle and perform as the faceless crowds writhe before him, eating up his crassness, baying for more, bleeding him dry.

When he's interviewed he actually seems like a really nice guy. An authentic human being. A dedicated athlete who trains hard and smart. Maybe even an inspiration for aspiring athletes? Down-to-earth. Humble. Out of character in his role as court jester.

While we're on the subject ... let's hope the "bullet from a gun" that Alberto Contador's PR team seems to be spawning following his Tour De France victory won't diminish another great talent.

At the end of the day they are still human.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Pressure On Health Service

For years now the NHS has been used to significant increases above inflation, year on year since its inception in 1948.

The demands keep going up: more elderly people, more technology ... and more preventable illness.

But no-one sees it that way. The success of the NHS continues to be measured purely in terms of increased longevity. Quality of life would seem largely irrelevant. If more people are living longer, then someone must be doing something right.

Now the money is drying up, despite what politicians promise. But the problem will only get progressively worse. More people are getting sicker, sooner.

Possible solutions tabled are for the services to offer less and get more efficient. Bottom line is plenty of rhetoric, but a proven inability to save money. Experts are blaming the "fact" that people are living "healthier" into old age ... despite the apparent contradiction.

People may be living longer statistically, but they are increasingly dependant on medication and attention ... and this costs money. More and more. So compromise has to come ... which means some people will lose out.

Experts proudly proclaim that "all rich countries are having the same problem" ... but yet nobody does anything except identify that eventually this will all become completely unsustainable.

The expectations of more and more people will not be met, which means that an increasing number of promises will become meaningless.

The obvious solution lies in facing reality and being honest about the facts. There is not enough money and more people are getting more dependant. This means the money has to come from somewhere and we simply can't afford to keep everybody happy. This raises the big taboo of co-payments and the possibility of "premium" services leaving those without means out in the cold.

In short we will need to shift from a system that places the burden on those that are ill as opposed to those that are healthy.

And we couldn't have that now, could we?

Friday, 10 July 2009

Stop Smoking Now!

This may be one of the most important posts I have made so far in my brief foray into blogging.

Recently I had a very good friend of mine move to the USA to "find herself". A Pilates teacher for over 5 years, she wanted to learn more about anatomy and just get exposure from a different perspective. I think that what she has undertaken is incredibly courageous and proactive ... and I am guilty of giving her tons of unsolicited advice.

Why? Because I really want to see her take things to the next level ... and because I know she won't take offense when I am direct. She knows me well enough to know I don't ever try to run for mayor!

You see, my friend is a seasoned trainer who really knows her stuff. But she is a smoker. The two are not congruent. I have always maintained that we can only help others in our industry properly if we strive to be authentic. Deep down inside, we all know this.

I salute anyone in our industry who invests in becoming a better, more complete, more competent trainer. That for me, is truly exciting.

So here is an excerpt from a conversation I had with her by email recently.

"Re: your smoking. I'll talk straight with you 'cause you are the kind of person who will appreciate that and I think I know you well enough that you won't get pissed off at me. So here goes:

You can't build a business in the health profession if you smoke. That simple. It's like me trying to be a credible trainer when I am 120kg's. Ludicrous!

You (and all of us in the industry) have to be authentic. You have to quit ... cold turkey ... no chemical (medical) "assistance" ... and accept that you will never smoke again in this lifetime. That, I'm sure, is terrifying. I know, trust me, I've been there ... with interest!

But that's the nature of addiction. I had withdrawals for years, not weeks. But now I am free I realise that it was crucial for me on every level.

When you go through this you will realise you can't possibly help other people if you haven't internalised the wisdom of what I'm saying here.

Health can only exist in the absence of non-contributing stressors. Smoking only loads your body ... it contributes nothing. It's like over-training. Just costs too much with zero benefit."

The rest of my letter was far more innocuous.

I hope that there are other people out there who may read this and be touched enough to quit for life. Just one person will make a difference. I'm sure people may think my approach is harsh or impractical. It's not. It's just how it is. Sorry.

I also fully accept that it is not the only way to quit smoking.

Have a wonderful week ... and please, let me know your opinions. I always value feedback and will do my best to respond honestly and comprehensively.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Sperm Grown In Lab

At what point will we as human beings realise we have overstepped all boundaries?

The big news over the last few days is the "achievement" by scientists in a Newcastle lab to grow sperm from stem cells. The idea is that down the road infertile men may be able to still have kids.

Funny, isn't infertility Nature's way of telling us we are not reproductively viable? People honestly believe they can ignore fundamental natural laws because, as a human being, they have the right to reproduce.

How incredibly selfish!

At what point in time will we as a species do the math and realise that 6 billion humans reproducing recklessly will mean 9 billion, then 15, 25 etc ... exponentially adding to the mess we have already created?

And will these people be independant contributors?

I'm 47 years old. I cannot imagine the chaos I will live in if I am "lucky" enough to make it to 80 years. Pollution. Crime. And even more bogus regulations than we have today.

And more people refusing to take responsibility for anything. All on a planet designed for no more than 3 million human inhabitants (and that's generous).

I can't wait!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Federer Wins 15th Major Title

After over 4 hours of gutwrenching struggle against a tenacious Andy Roddick, Roger Federer made history this afternoon, winning his 15th Major tennis title.

In so doing he eclipsed the seemingly unassailable record of 14 wins, set by tennis icon "Pistol" Pete Sampras.

Roger Federer is again number one in the world, though the victory was probably bitter-sweet as his nemisis Rafael Nadal was unable to defend his title due to injury.

Andy Roddick came agonisingly close, losing a string of rallies in the second set tie-breaker. Had Roddick held his nerve at this crucial stage, he would in all likelihood have spoilt the Federer party.

But he didn't and can hold his head up high. Roddick hopefully will still have his day. Certainly he proved he has both the skills and the character to compete with the game's very best.

Tennis fans can now rest a few months until the US Open. Hopefully Rafa will have returned, Roddick will have recouped, Jokovitch will have found his rhythm again ... and Murray will have continued his meteoric rise in pedigree!

On the ladies' side, Serena triumphed over sister Venus, who appeared injured and only luke warm. The dominance of the Williams sisters continues as both Dementieva and Safina were made to look almost pedestrian in the semis.

Safina may have number one ranking ... but Serena is unquestionably the current queen of ladies tennis.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Quit Smoking And Get Paid

I must apologize to my legions of fans (all 3 of you) for not posting recently.

I know, it's inexcusable. I have violated the unspoken code of professional blogging ... and inconvenienced people. I'm truly sorry.

My instincts tell me never to make excuses, so I won't.

I thought I'd rejoin the fray with a commentary on a clip I came across on BBC Breakfast.

Our illustrious NHS is now using public money to incentivise people to quit smoking in Dundee. That's right folks ... 12.50 GBP per week for twelve weeks if you can prove you haven't succumbed to temptation ... at a weekly "smoking cessation group" no less.

And how is this justified? Well we are all supposed to feel sorry for the poor souls who are battling to meet bills, daily commitments and responsibilities (that dirty word again) and who are therefore unable to prioritise quiting smoking. Twenty first century mathematicians have then extrapolated that ultimately this saves the NHS money down the road.

Why don't we just start situating parasite pods in every major city so that people can abrogate all responsibility and just plug in to the support they so richly deserve? We can feed them, clothe them, keep them entertained and medicated. And we can give them money on demand when the lifestyle becomes too onerous.

I was also fascinated to see that some of these iron-willed gladiators were spending their windfall bucks on white bread, soft drinks and processed meats. A sure-fire recipe for longevity and quality of life! And a curve ball for the statisticians, no doubt.

Add in the sage words of a local doctor who points out that this is working better than other approaches and who knows, maybe we can adopt it nationwide.

This has to be about as bizarre as the concept of mandatory polypills!