A workaholic’s guide to staying healthy

Image: tash lampard/tashmahal via Flickr


It’s Thursday afternoon and you’re feeling hungry. You also have a deadline and don’t have time to make a nice, healthy snack so you reach for the easiest thing which just happens to be some cookies. You munch on these as you spend the next four hours sitting in front of the computer.


Does this sound familiar?


Sure you know the many benefits of staying healthy and active, but let’s admit it- it’s so much easier to stay motivated in the nice sunnier months. Here are some tips to help you stay healthy despite your busy schedules:


1.  Have a brain clearing session

Otherwise known as the “take a break” moment, this means getting up and move away from your work area. If you are tied to a desk during much of the day, go put the kettle on and move about while you wait. If you’re on your feet all day, go to a quiet place (a park if it’s a nice day) and stretch your legs and loosen up your shoulders.

If you can, dedicate half of your lunch break to getting some air outside. Just a little walk around the block can do wonders for your mind and senses.


2.  Be the master of willpower

Research has shown that our amount of willpower is not limitless. Like petrol, it is something we can all run out of so the important thing to remember is to play offense rather than defense. Which scenario is easier: to not have that cheesecake in the fridge or to not have a slice of that cheesecake that’s already in the fridge?

If you find your willpower waning remember what my friend says: “I don’t want to work to lose the weight, so I try not to gain the weight in the first place.”


3. Have water (or herbal teas) at hand

Many people have trouble differentiating thirst from hunger so have a full bottle (not plastic) or glass of water nearby. There’s no need to take great big gulps if you’re not terribly thirsty but just stay comfortably hydrated.


4.  Plan and organise

If you’re a workaholic, chances are you plan and organise a lot of things already to help manage your workload. Are you planning time for yourself though? One of the main reasons people don’t exercise is because they pencil it in their brain but time is never actually set aside.

Put it down as an appointment in your diary and stick to it. Do the same with your acupuncture or massage appointments. If you don’t actually book and commit, there will always be endless tasks that will creep into its place instead.


5.  Eat with mindfulness

You should be aware of every bite that you put into your body. It’s easy to snack away on sweets and savouries so start surrounding yourself with nuts, fruit and vegetables instead.

There will be times when only that packet of crisps will do and that’s fine too. The important thing is to stay mindful so savour every bite of it and let the taste linger. This should help with your cravings and also stop you from munching through another five more bags.


6.  Breathe

Take the time to breathe, even if it’s only for 30 seconds. It can do wonders when you’re feeling stressed. Breathe in deeply through your nose and out your mouth and do it when the annoying colleague is nearby, when you’ve had an intense meeting, during your lunch break. Anywhere is a good place to breathe and take a moment before you jump right back in there.


What tips do you have to stay healthy with a hectic schedule?


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Autumn and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Image: Kara B via Flickr


Just as the leaves on trees begin to dry and fall, the environment all around us is dry.


In traditional Just as the leaves on trees begin to dry and fall, the environment all around us is dry. Chinese medicine (TCM), dryness is the governing factor of autumn. Your hair becomes more prone to static, and the skin is less plump and vibrant than it was during the summer. When things manifest dryness, wrinkles and lines appear, and in extreme cases cracks open and there is roughness. The moisturiser and lotion you used during the summer may not be enough. Although more layers of clothing are worn, do not forget to moisturise your elbows, knees and heels.


At the beginning of autumn the moistening residue of summer can still be felt, but as we go deeper into autumn and the weather turns cool we start to feel the effects of dry-cold coinciding with flu season. In TCM, the lungs are considered to be most susceptible to dryness. When they lack moisture their functions are impaired and hence there is dry cough or a cough that causes pain in the chest. A warm mug of lemon and honey water every morning during autumn will benefit your system.


After a season of growth the time has come for harvesting. How we prepare during this time helps us during the harsher, colder months.


Now is the time for a two-pronged approach: eat to moisten and to warm. Honey is a marvellous yin tonic and therefore perfect to combat dryness. Be sensible and have only a teaspoon or two at most. Pears and peanuts are also wonderfully moistening. Try pu-erh tea, which can be found in Chinese supermarkets. It’s a dark tea (very dark) and the  flavour is strong but still clean and refreshing.


Have your fill of tomatoes before the winter, and include tofu, pine nuts, peanuts and pork. As the weather turns cooler add some warming foods that you had avoided all summer such as leeks, oats, cauliflower, beef and lamb. Deeper into autumn add garlic, cinnamon, chilli, ginger and onions to help stimulate the circulation of qi and bring the defensive energy to the surface which is important during a time when more people are sneezing on the packed underground.


No matter what season, damp can affect the spleen’s functions, so move away from cold or uncooked food and towards soups and stews


This is a time of nurturing and supporting.Make sure to have a scarf with you in case the wind picks up. Wrap yourself up well, especially around the occipital, the area at the base of your head and neck. If you get caught in the rain a nice, hot cup of chai with some honey can be incredibly warming. Have it with a splash of milk.


As in nature with trees shedding their leaves, autumn is characterised by a gradual decline in yang qi as it ebbs towards stillness.


Enjoy the spectacle of autumn, take in the gorgeous colours of the trees, the red and orange and browns. Soak up the rest of the sunlight during your lunch break. This is the perfect time to start a new activity – health and wellness resolutions are much easier to keep now than in the cold, dark winter months. The start of the shorter days and earlier darkness can affect some people. Try to focus and reflect, and don’t dwell on negative issues. Let go and breathe.


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Are you taking care of your eyes? 8 ways for good eye health

Image: D Sharon Pruitt via Flickr


Your eyes are with you from the day you were born, so it’s only fair that you take care of them.


At the computer

A big cause for eye strain in most people is the computer. It’s become such a big part of our lives now that it really is important to remember to take little breaks often and a longer break every hour or so. Our eyes like to change focus often, and it’s never good to be staring at something for too long. They say that you need to repeat something 100 times to become a habit, so make it a habit to have a 30 second daydream. Not only are you refocusing your eyes, you’re also collecting your thoughts.


Walking

Take the time to soak in your surroundings when you’re out and about. It’s best to get yourself back in nature even if it’s just a quick stroll through the park. Be conscious of the birds or the squirrels or the dogs, and notice the twigs and branches and veins on the leaves. Breathe in the air and hear the sounds immediately around you.

Take time out from your book or newspaper when you’re on the train or the bus. Look out the window and let your eyes wander over the many colours and shapes of people, shop windows and street furniture. If I had kept my head down instead of looking around, I would have missed this charity shop’s great window display:


Play

Go out and throw a frisbee or play catch. A few summers ago I tried juggling, and although I never did manage to juggle three balls for more than four seconds, it did get me to use my eyes in a new range of motion Some people bounce a ball against a wall to help them think and it’s a great way to enhance your hand-eye coordination.


Eat

The same healthy diet that’s good for your heart and arteries can also help preserve your eyes and vision. After all, vision depends on tiny capillaries to supply the retina and other parts of the eye with nutrients and oxygen. Studies have shown that there are several key nutrientsthat may help ward off age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Regularly eating these foods can help lead to good eye health:

  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin may help protect against retinal damage and the onset of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration - Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
  • Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation and therefore protect against cell damage and age-related eye diseases - Salmon, tuna, and other oily fish, walnuts and flaxseed
  • Zinc helps with night vision and cataract prevention – Good sources include kidney beans, beef, seafood, poultry and pumpkin seeds
  • Vitamin C helps support blood vessels in the eye and may reduce the risk of cataracts – Fruit and vegetables like oranges, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, and red bell peppers
  • Vitamin E protects the eyes from free radicals – Nuts such as peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, and hazelnuts


Emotions

In Chinese medicine, the liver is linked to the eye, so it’s no coincidence that when you’ve had an angry outburst or a particularly annoying day you tend to get headaches that creep in behind the eyes. Some people who are especially angry or irritable may notice that they have red eyes. Acupuncture can smooth liver qi to remove stagnation and allow it to flow nicely and evenly again or to rebalance the liver and remove excesses.

De-stressing is important: you may find exercise or a physical activity helps or that a softer approach such as meditation or even getting a massage. Start a hobby, practice mindfulness or just go out for a walk (remembering of course, to drink in your surroundings with your eyes).


Acupressure

There are certain acupressure points on the body that you can do yourself.

  • On the foot: press down on the spot between your big toe and the 2nd toe. Press down and hold, you should feel a slight ache or soreness. Don’t press so hard you leave fingerprint marks.
  • On your hand: locate the spot between your thumb and index finger, it’s the “meatier” part. As with the foot, rub and hold down, making sure you don’t press so hard you leave fingerprint marks.
  • On your face: Using your eyebrows as a guide, locate the area outside the bony rim (so between your eyebrow and your eye) and press gently along from the beginning of your eyebrow to the end.


Wear sunglasses

Protect your eyes from UVA and UVB rays to minimise the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. Choose sunglasses that offer UV protection, and polarised lenses help reduce the glare, very handy when you’re driving. Sunglasses may be associated with summer months but they should be with you even in the winter if it’s a particularly bright day -there’s a reason skiers wear shades. Not only will you be protecting your eyes, it will stop you from squinting and getting those furrows between your eyebrows.


Get annual checkups

Even if your vision is fine, you should still have a check up every year with an ophthalmologist or optometrist. And should you suddenly get blurred vision, blind spots, floaters or flashing lights go to A&E immediately.

 
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August Bank Holiday: Healthy ways to make the most of it

Photo credit: Martin Abegglen/twicepix via Flickr


It’s a rare gift to have a day off work, especially for those who are connected 24/7 to the office via emails and smartphones. The August bank holiday is an ideal day to recharge your batteries, as there are no family meals or religious rites to observe. So, if you have the bank holiday off, here are some wellness tips to make the most of it.


1. Unplug
Rewind the clock back 10 years before the advent of smartphones and all-day virtual connection to work. Put your phone away for a few hours and don’t check your emails. Instead, pick up a book or listen to some classical music (try Pachelbel). Take a bubble bath if that’s your thing or just look out the window and watch the colourful scenes unfold.


2. Sleep
Many people suffer from a lack of sleep, whether it’s not having enough hours in the day, or not being able to unwind at the end of the day and staying up awake half the night. Besides being detrimental to our health – research has shown that a lack of sleep can lead us to make unhealthy food choices – it is terrible walking around with the grogginess of a stuffy helmet. Most people agree that a short nap (no more than one hour) is ideal for catching up on a lack of sleep but still allowing you to fall asleep at bedtime. However, if you need to sleep 15 hours, then don’t force yourself to do otherwise. It may seem like a shame to spend half the day in bed (especially if it’s a nice day) but if your body is screaming for it, allow yourself this little bit of decadence.


3. Reconnect
It’s ironic isn’t it that, with all the Facebook and Twitter and online news and cats on Youtube, we don’t make enough time to reconnect with relatives and friends. Loneliness could have negative impacts beyond depression, according to the Mental Health Foundation it could also lead to excessive drinking, unhealthy eating and less motivation to exercise. So meet up with friends, or call them on Skype. Have that chat and a giggle and enjoy each other’s company.


4. Explore
Use your day off to try something new. Join that pottery class you’ve always thought about but never had the time to or try Zumba instead of your usual spinning. Learn a new language or visit that new restaurant. Exploring the things around you create an exhilarating sense of satisfaction that children take for granted. It doesn’t even have to take dedication; I sometimes pop in the Curzon Soho in Central London to see the next available movie. Yes, I’ve been bored to death on occasion but most likely I saw a brilliant movie I would never have thought to watch.


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Easy ways to eat more vegetables every day

Image: woodleywonderworks via Flickr

 
We all know that we should be eating our five-a-day of fruit and veg, and in fact, why stop at five portions? Go for ten! If forced to make a choice, I admit I prefer vegetables over fruit. After my first tentative stab at a Brussels sprout eight years ago I stockpile them when they’re in season. Nothing beats a grilled aubergine topped with feta cheese and the crunchy butteriness of kai lan and choi sum are so moreish.

 
Throw anything at a pasta bake: broccoli, cauliflower, aubergine, onions, leeks, it doesn’t matter, it will be delicious. A simple vegetable stir-fry with mushrooms, greens and eggs is fantastic with some warmed-up tomatoes. Stews are ever so accommodating since you can keep adding to it. I rarely finish my stews in one go, and leftover-reheated stew with new carrots and leeks cannot be beat on a winter’s day. Instead of crusty bread or potatoes, have it with more vegetables: spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, beetroot or cabbage.

 
A horrible experience with broccoli and a juicer means that I’m not terribly enthusiastic about drinking my vegetables – carrot juice is about as far as it goes, and even then why not just crunch on an actual carrot? Avocadoes and watercress never let you down, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or a midnight snack. Lettuce (gem, romaine or just plain leafy) make for great “bases”. I have it with my smoked salmon and eggs in the morning in lieu of a muffin or toast. Try it as a wrap or with your mince: instead of pasta spoon the cooked mince into little “shells” of lettuce.

 
There are some lazy nights when we come home late and just want to flop into a chair. That’s when the handful of salad leaves are so handy. Even if it’s an incredibly lazy evening and pizza is on the cards, I still throw on top any leaves we have in the fridge. You can use rocket to make it feel more authentic, but I think mine is just as fanciful with the glorious purple and green and white colours.

 

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Best way to eat more fruit

Fruit displays help you to eat more fruit.


I have a friend who shies away from buying fruit because they get so comfortable in her flat and before you know it, it’s been awhile since they were brought home and now they’re just a tad mouldier than they were last week.


I know my friend isn’t alone. Whether it’s a lack of time (bananas are so much easier to grab in a rush than kiwis), ripeness (there is a very, very fine line between ripening and… off) or just plain plain-ness (apples tend to get overlooked if you’ve got an exotic fruit salad) eating fruit without wasting isn’t as simple as you would think.


My number one super-easy tip? Display them as part of your decorations! Fruit kept in the back of the drawer in the fridge tend to get forgotten, if they’re out you can’t ignore them.


I have this lovely cake stand that has never held cupcakes, instead it’s played host to oranges, pears, bananas, kiwis, Sharon fruits, and avocadoes. Think of it as living art for your wellbeing.


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Summer and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Image: Audrey/audreyjm529 via Flickr


After its gradual rising during springtime, yang qi is now in full swing in the summer, like the noon sun.


In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) summer is the season of the big yang and is characterized by the fire phase and summer-heat. While the British summer doesn’t immediately bring to mind images of sweltering heat, you can still take advantage of TCM nutrition and dietetics.


When the sun is blazing, barbecues and beer and Pimms in the park are popular. Unfortunately these things can be quite “heaty” for the body so don’t over do it, and balance things out with lots of fruit and vegetables which are in abundance during the summer. Seek out cooling food like salads, green tea, cucumber, tomatoes and spinach help disperse heat and calm the system.


Don’t confuse cooling with cold. Cold foods can impair the function of the spleen according to the theories of traditional Chinese medicine. When the spleen is weakened its ability to transform and transport the nutrients from your food is also disrupted and it could lead to symptoms like indigestion, loose stools, lethargy or dizziness.


The spleen functions best when it’s given warm, nourishing food that’s easily digested. It is summer though, and who wants stews and soups in the heat? Eat light, both in flavours and in portion-size.


You can have your ice cream and eat it too, but don’t overindulge and have five in a row. One of my favourite summer-time salads consists of little boiled jersey potatoes, stir-fried asparagus, cherry tomatoes and tuna all on a bed of salad leaves – served at room temperature.


While sunshine is a wonderful thing, we should still enjoy it responsibly and with respect. Remember to wear SPF, a hat and sunglasses. Always have a bottle of water with you, especially if you travel on public transport. There is nothing worse than being stuck on a packed train or bus in the heat without any water to sip. Heatstroke is a very real thing that isn’t only seen in the tropics. Avoid being in the sun at its strongest (noon – 2pm) and go to a cool, shady place if you feel tired, or a sharp, “stabby” headache coming on.


Growing up, summer was a vast shadow stretching before us, the days spanning into weeks and then into months. What a luxury it was for my friends and I to have such a long period off school to indulge our imaginations and play to our hearts’ content.


The world today for many of us is a lot more complicated. There are many things whirring in our heads, what with all the caps we wear for the different roles in our lives. Use this time to remind yourself of what you love best and maybe, just take a step back and breathe. Sometimes we forget to do that, but it’s an awfully nice feeling to remember.

 
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Food for thought | Mindful eating and Chinese medicine

Image: Nina Matthews Photography via Flickr


Patients often ask for nutritional advice using TCM (Chinese medicine) theory that would complement their treatments. I am always glad when a patient embraces the idea of taking their treatment outside of the treatment room, and I do believe it gives it a larger sense of purpose and responsibility.


Often what I see in my practice is yin deficiency and I often suggest they take some honey in warm water every day to help nourish their yin. Goucizi (or goji berries) also make quite a good yin tonic. It should never be taken longterm though, day in day out, as its very yin-tinkering properties also make it very damp-inducing which is a whole other kettle of fish. I recommend taking it for two weeks (steeped in a glass or two, daily) then having a rest.


If you’re kidney deficient (back pain, knee pain, frequent urination, fatigued or just running on low energy) you can try kidney beans or black beans.


Sometimes though, patients nod when I give them recommendations, but seem more interested in a list of what they can’t or shouldn’t eat. This is when I sometimes go blank because it’s not such a straightforward answer.


TCM relies on a constant flow of change, an ebb and tide to maintain homeostasis. If you’ve overindulged in a portion of salty chips, you’ll naturally feel thirsty and drink some water.


The same goes with our bodies. If you have an excess condition we aim to reduce it, if it’s a deficiency syndrome we tonify your system. Once you’ve reached the balance again, continuing the exact same treatment means we’ll tip on the scale again and you may end up with a deficiency after too much reducing method for too long.


The same goes for foodstuff. Unless it’s an acute symptom like a cough (eat less phlegm inducing food like clementines or mandarins) it’s usually best to learn what you should be eating rather than what you should be avoiding.


Avoidance only makes that thing seem more desirable. How many have failed with a fad diet because they had to cut out something? Harvard nutritionist Lilian Cheung discusses what she calls mindful eating. By not making food an adversary that you need to avoid unless you want to feel guilty and fat, you promote awareness to the things you put in your body. It’s not a matter of dieting or about giving anything up – it’s about experiencing food more intensely.


This is something TCM has known all along. Taking time to eat properly is beneficial for your whole system. Eating on the go, or eating while thinking or worrying damages the organs’ functions in TCM. I suggest sitting down to eat at a table (not your work desk), but you could also easily stand against the kitchen counter. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal setting, but the idea is to make your food the main focus of the moment. Munching through a bag of popcorn is a lot harder when you’re not sitting on the sofa watching TV.


On a social level though it helps promote interaction with others or gives yourself some quiet time. You don’t have to practice monastic silence at meal times; turn off the TV and have a conversation. Try it and see the difference.


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