Posts in "Health"

Avoiding Temptations – ‘Surf the Urge’

I was listening to The Knowledge Project’ podcast about business and productivity where Nir Eyal, the author of ‘Indistractable’ was interviewed.

His book teaches us to stay away from distractions so you can do your deep work, but as I was listening to him talk, every time he said ‘work’, I replaced the word with ‘health’ and it worked exactly the same!

Eyal speaks about how distractions are not extrinsic, but intrinsic.

We love to blame Facebook and Instagram for wasting hours of our lives, but what we are actually doing is trying to escape the intrinsic feeling of discomfort. Discomfort of trying to write something on a blank page, discomfort of solving a hard problem, of having a tough conversation, discomfort of growth.

If we can master the intrinsic feeling of discomfort, we can avoid distraction. Or when it comes to our health, we can not give in to temptations.

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Is Too Much Sitting Causing Heart Disease?

Our understanding of sitting and heart disease dates back to 1953 where a study was done on bus drivers and conductors. The bus drivers sat down all day, but the conductors were standing up and walking up and down the stairs checking the passengers’ tickets. The researchers found that the drivers were 30% more likely to have a heart attack and they had them much younger and with worse outcomes than the conductors.

Since then, other studies have started to explain why. We have started to discover that excesses of a type of fatty acid known as ‘triglycerides’ can cause heart disease.

Triglycerides float around our bloodstream, particularly if we over-eat high carb meals, but the body has a solution to this. When we use our muscles in exercise (including gentle exercise like walking), our muscle activity uses an enzyme called ‘lipoprotein lipase’. Scientists nickname this enzyme the ‘triglyceride vacuum cleaner’ because it scoops up the triglycerides in its chemical reactions and therefore takes them out the bloodstream.

So, despite all the long fancy words, it’s actually quite simple. If we eat too much, the levels of triglycerides build up in our blood, but if we exercise and move, chemical reactions mop up the excess and help prevent heart disease. Wonderful!

But here’s where it gets interesting. It’s not just about how much movement we do, it’s also related to how we rest. 

Researchers followed a hunter-gatherer tribe called the Hadza tribe in Africa. They found that although they are active when they are searching for food, building their homes and being social, they also rest for ten hours a day, which is even more than us Westerners! The big difference though is that their resting position is mostly sitting in a deep squat, rather than sitting on chairs.

Although they find it perfectly comfortable to sit in the squat because they do it so often, it requires much more muscle activity in the legs and core than sitting in a chair where the muscles are completely passive.

This muscle activity activates the lipoprotein lipase and scoops up the triglycerides and is one of the reasons this tribe have almost non-existent levels of heart disease.

What can we learn from this in the developed world? I appreciate it’s unlikely you are going to adopt this deep squat as your preferred resting position!

Thankfully we don’t need to, we just need some muscle activation to do the work. The simplest strategy for this is to use a standing desk or get up from sitting every 20 minutes to do some light exercise.

If you are working from home and no one can see you, you can even do a few squats or lunges (although this might look a little odd in the office, admittedly). 

I sound like a bit of a broken record when I chat with my patients because I am always telling them to get up often and move around. This has wonderful benefits for your joints, but now you can think that you are helping to prevent heart disease too.

References:

All references are taken from https://www.newscientist.com/

How to Get the Most Out of Your New Years Resolutions

As we pass into the new year, it can be a time to reflect and plan for what’s to come. Many of us try to make big changes – ‘new year, new me’.

Over the years I have tried many different goal setting strategies. Something I have come to learn is that although goals can help guide our lives in the right direction, they are not what make us happy. Imagine the Olympian who achieves the gold medal and thinks ‘what now?’. We need goals to drive us, but what’s far more important is the lifestyle we create to get there.

There is another dark side of setting goals – sometimes they end up too daunting! It is so common to start our New Year with a grand plan to clean up an area of our life and become a better version of ourselves, but when we start trying, we realise that’s actually quite a hard thing to do. 

With this in mind, I have three solutions for you. 

I am going to use an example that is right up my street as an osteopath, and that’s how to build the habit of stretching. Many of my patients found that 2020 tightened them up due to less walking (no commuting etc) and more sitting at a home desk. 

Let’s say you wanted to feel looser and you had a specific goal of being able to touch your toes. As someone who has had the same goal in my life, I can tell you that stretching your hamstrings everyday SUCKS! There are some stretches I do that feel blissful. I fall deep into the stretch, breathe and meditate my woes away. Not so with the hamstrings. When I get into a deep hamstring stretch my only goal is to not vomit on the carpet. I hate it.

So how do you overcome a hurdle like this, when the thing you want to achieve is on the other side of hardship?

Well, you start small. So small it feels too small. You just put a light stretch through the hamstrings, to the point where a voice in your head says, ‘this can’t be doing anything, it’s too easy’. But if you turn up every day, it will do something. After a week or so, you will notice that the level of stretch you started with no longer feels like a stretch, you’ll have to push a bit further. This will feel like a success! And with that feeling of success, it will bring an undercurrent of motivation, a feeling of curiosity. What if you kept going? How far could you get?

This leads us on to the next lesson. Don’t wait for motivation to get started. We have this belief that we need to be motivated in order to start a new habit. Well thankfully, that’s a myth! As you build this perpetual cycle of success leading to motivation, and motivation leading to more success, and on and on, you will create your own motivation.

Once you become a motivated person, we end up at our final lesson … you will feel your identity changing. This is probably the most powerful part of any new habit – the moment you identify with the thing that you’re doing. Rather than someone who has to stretch, you are someone who stretches. The moment you are someone who does ‘the thing’, the easier it becomes to stick to the habit. When you feel in your mind that you are someone who stretches every day, when you get home from work feeling a bit tired in the evening, and all you want to do is slump on the sofa watching Netflix, there will be a little voice in your head saying, ‘get on the floor, you can stretch those hamstrings and watch Netflix’. 

To accelerate this process of changing your identity, all you need to do is change your language. When you do this, you may feel a pang of imposter syndrome, like you’re not allowed to use the language you’re using but ignore that! I give you permission to dropkick that voice out your mind.

Rather than think, ‘I need to stretch’, you think, ‘I am someone who stretches every day’. Rather than feel daunted by going for a run 3 times a week, say, ‘I am a runner’. And rather than struggle to come up with meal plans as part of your weight-loss strategy, say to yourself, ‘I am someone who uses food to care for my wellbeing’.

With these three things in place – start small, don’t wait to be motivated and changing your identity – you will be sure to get off to a good start with your goals. And most importantly, they will be sustainable.

The Discipline Myth

Have you ever wanted to change something in your life and thought, ‘if only I were more disciplined I could achieve that’?

Or maybe you’re a bit harsher on yourself and end up in a spiral of negative chat in your mind, beating yourself up for not doing the things that you know will help your health.

Or maybe you look at someone else who has achieved those things, comparing yourself to them and think that ‘it’s okay for them’ because they have more discipline.

Well, I have some good news for you. Discipline is a myth!

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A ‘Net-Positive’ Day

Life comes in waves. When we’re riding high, everything feels easy, but when we’re low it feels like we’ll never get back on form, the whole world is against us.

Like an economic life-cycle, some waves occur over a period of months, some days and some minute to minute, second to second.

You may have heard yourself say, “that was a good Summer”, or “I hated that Winter”, and what you are doing is taking note of all the ups and downs in the previous months and figuring what the net result is.

Did the goods outweigh the bads, or was it the other way round? Continue reading

What Is the Best Way to Stretch?

Fitness can be broadly split into three categories: cardio, strength and flexibility. It’s not quite as simple as that, but that covers the basics.

As a teen, I had the cardio one covered. I did not stop. Early morning swimming training, badminton every lunchtime, running most evenings, football training a couple of times a week, cycling to see mates … my heart and lungs were sorted!

However, I was no Arnold Schwarzenegger! Having had the rapid growth of a boy destined to be 6 foot 2, my arms and legs were more spaghetti than penne. I was not exactly what you would call ‘strong’.

And if you asked me to touch my toes? I’d be lucky to get past my knees. My muscles felt like lead wires, creaking under the tension. But, I was 16, so I didn’t care. Continue reading

Why Don’t We Do the Things We Know to Be Good for Us?

I’m currently reaping the benefits of a low sugar month which I am doing in conjunction with my ’30 Day Habits’ group which I run in Facebook. I have a clearer head, better sleep, I’ve leaned up a little and my running feels better.

I have done this many times in my life, I’ve managed to break the sugar addiction and I always feel better for it. But then I go back.

Why is that?! Everything about life is better when I’m eating less sugar. Not only is my energy better, but I am more productive, calmer, my mood improves and I am a better communicator with those around me. Why wouldn’t I want to be like this always?

The same goes for other habits of health. Exercise, stretching, meditation and a good night’s sleep are all essential for optimal health and they make life feel good. But as with the diet, the good routine of these things comes and goes.

This is something that has fascinated me both in my life and in that of my patients.

We all know what’s good for us, so why don’t we do it?

After years of wondering, I think I have finally found the answer. Continue reading

The Most Important Lesson in Health … It’s Not What You Think

I was reminded this week of the longest-standing study in health and happiness.

I stumbled across it a couple of years ago when browsing TED Talks, which is one of my favourite ways to waste time. It makes procrastination feel that little bit more noble.

The Harvard study started back in 1938 and is still going to this day. Rather than focus on disease, this study set out to discover what made people healthy.

Then World War 2 happened.

The results coming in were fascinating and they managed to keep the research going. After the war, in the poverty and rationing that followed, the results were equally fascinating.

The researchers weren’t finding what they expected. Continue reading