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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Pointspace’s September roundup | Acupuncture does help for chronic pain and proven to treat tension-type headaches and migraines

Image: Katie Blench via Flickr


London said good bye to the Paralympic Games and hello to Christmas goods in the shops (yes really, mince pies and Santa-shaped chocolates). I discovered two really interesting facts:

  • Did you know Paralympic sprinter Jerome Singleton has degrees in math, physics and engineering and worked for NASA and CERN?
  • To celebrate the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, a symbolic meal of apples and honey is eaten to represent hopes for sweetness in the months to come. So sweet.


1.  We all know that hand washing is the easiest and simplest form of defense against infections and cross transmissions. Indeed, Florence Nightingale was talking about it over a hundred years ago. We teach little kids the importance of hand washing. I have chronically dry skin from washing my hands before, during and after every acupuncture treatment with a client. So why is it that I still see people in public bathrooms splash a bit of water about, or even worse, just walk out? And why is it that there are still healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, who don’t practice regular hand hygiene?


2.  Acupuncture isn’t a cure-all for every symptom and condition under the sun, but there are certain issues that it is very effective for, pain relief being one of them. Due to the way clinical trials are designed though, it’s been somewhat difficult to really find a way to show acupuncture in a scientific setting. While we should be careful when using words like ‘proof’, a new study with evidence in support of an acupuncture analgesic effect is still interesting.

The study, published in the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine on September 10th, showed that for each of the four conditions (back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain) the analgesic effect of true acupuncture was slightly better than that of placebo acupuncture. However, the difference between true acupuncture and usual care alone was found to be much larger and of clinical significance.


3.  The same study also appeared in Medpage Today which provides physicians a clinical perspective on the breaking medical news that their patients are reading.  It discussed not only the analysis but also the mechanisms of acupuncture. “How acupuncture works” seems to be a defining question for many, a question which medical and technological advances can’t provide an answer for just yet. In an invited commentary accompanying the meta-analysis, Andrew L. Avins, MD asks:

“But whether that should mean acupuncture has no value for patients, largely because of uncertainty as to its mechanisms of action, is a crucial concern…. Perhaps a more productive strategy at this point would be to provide whatever benefits we can for our patients, while we continue to explore more carefully all mechanisms of healing.”

This is a welcome sensibility. As with the creation of the universe, just because we don’t know how it works doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.


4. It was a busy month for acupuncture. Information released by NICE (National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence) on September 19th reported that overuse of painkillers is one of the most common causes of headaches affecting about one in 50 people. Women are five times more likely to suffer from these.

For tension headaches and migraines, NICE concluded that acupuncture is effective and recommended it as a preventative treatment. Read the full NICE report here.


5.  Bacon having a high salt content should be non news by now. But the very first sentence surprised me, bread is the biggest source of salt in the UK diet?


6.  This article got the geek in me very excited. One, it’s about genetics and two, it uses the word “holistic” to describe the complete picture instead of referring to alternative therapies or lifestyles.


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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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Can acupuncture help with weight loss?

Image: Advantage Lendl via Flickr


People often ask me if acupuncture can help them lose weight. The fact of the matter is that an acupuncturist can help support your weight loss plan by offering advice based on Chinese food therapy. They can also help improve your general sense of wellbeing and to maintain good health which helps relieve the effects of stress and emotions.


However there is no magical acupuncture point which helps the weight magically drop away. You will still have to exercise and do all the usual hard work, but it can be easier and you will be more successful with the help of traditional Chinese medicine.


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pointspace’s August roundup | 5 Most Common Side Effects of Acupuncture

Image: Nick J Webb via Flickr


It’s been a slow start, but this summer was fabulous. I returned from my holiday to Hong Kong wonderfully recharged and refreshed, and London was basking in its post-Games glow. The Indian summer came as promised, what a delight it was to feel the warmth of the sun. For many people summer is the easiest time to be healthy, either through food or exercise, so carry on the good work through September!


Honey mangoes are delicious and juicy, so make sure you get some before the season ends in September. Don’t be fooled by imitations in supermarkets, the Pakistani ones are the best so seek them out at your local market or ethnic shops.


When I was in Hong Kong I spent a few days in Guangzhou, a city 3 hours train ride away in southern China. I met up with a family friend who had retired early last year. She told me about the upcoming tennis competition in the senior league that she was a member of. Before, she used to play tennis once a week; since retiring she had increased it to five days a week, 2 hours each time. Another friend in Hong Kong mentioned how he played tennis for two hours before work if he happened to have a late shift.


1. When you think of Asia and exercise, images of organised crowds of seniors slowly going through the moves of Tai Chi often come to mind. But it’s not just slow fluidity, it appears that any kind of activity is encouraged and embraced in China. London 2012 is meant to inspire a generation, presumably of future Olympians, but as the BBC reports, it should also inspire the over-70s.


2.  British cyclist Bradley Wiggins is the first person to win the Tour de France and Olympic gold in the same year. He was spotted this month having a cigarette while on holiday, and he’s not the only athlete to be seen smoking. So what impact does it have on their performance?


3.  Concerns about iron deficiency have eased with the wide availability of iron-fortified foods and drinks. Now more attention is being paid to the opposite problem: iron overload, which can cause serious problems, particularly in older people.


4.  Acupuncture does have side effects. The unintended consequences of acupuncture, while not life-threatening, should not be overlooked. The side effects of acupuncture occur frequently and can seriously impact on your quality of life. Read the five most common side effects of acupuncture.


5.  There’s something about black and white public service films. Poor Adralene can’t figure out why she’s unpopular, slouching into her chair at a party. “Her party dress is just as pretty, just as becoming as the clothing the others are wearing. And Adralene has a sense of humour…” What is it about Adralene? Turns out it’s her poor posture!


This film and others can be found at the Prelinger Archive.


6.  And now fast forward back to technicolour 2012 and here’s the ultimate guide to good posture: office edition.


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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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While I am recharging my batteries on holiday, I’m going to share two of my favourite articles. This second one is from the blog that you may have missed.


I have been embracing my culture. More precisely I have been trying to read the historical novel Three Kingdoms which is widely popular in China and neighbouring countries. Think King Arthur but older and grander.


I remember one Korean 12-year-old re-enacting excitedly a scene which involved sending covered boats down a river in the dark of night, camouflaged by mist. The enemy, thinking they were being attacked, aimed all their arrows at the boats and let fire. The boats were eventually recovered by the good guys, which were now completely covered with arrows they so desperately needed. This was one of the turning points for their fortunes and an example of strategy genius that has made many boys (and men) go into slight crises.


I had no idea what he was talking about.


So now, after almost a decade of trying, I’m finally midway through the book. I have been lucky enough to find a very good English translation (which is oh so important) and despite there being 15 characters introduced in the first chapter alone (some with other names they sometimes go by) I have to admit it’s been quite good so far.


To be honest, I dusted this book and gave it another try this time because there are just too many epic martial arts movies that are based on these events. There have been two which are particularly well choreographed with enough horsemen to scare off the “Lord of the Rings” series, but everything was just too complicated without any knowledge on the history behind it. So, bring on the original novel!


In chapter ten, Kongming, a counsel for one of the good guys (Liu Bei) was fighting off criticism for why his side hadn’t overthrown the enemy if they were as good as they said they were. Liu Bei’s men and resources at this point were vastly outnumbered by Cao Cao (one of the bad guys) and they were covering ground at a snail’s pace. Kongming retaliated:

“When a man is gravely ill, he must be fed weak gruel and medicated with mild tonics until his internal state is readjusted and balanced and his condition gradually stabilizes. Only then can meat be added to his diet and powerful drugs used to cure him. Thus is the root of the disease eradicated and the man’s health restored. If you do not wait until breath and pulse are calm and steady but precipitately use powerful drugs and rich food, the attempt to cure the patient is sure to fail.”


This brilliantly summarises the theories of Chinese medicine (and strategies of warfare so it seems) but it can also be applied to other things.

The main concept is not one of wait and bide your time, but of building a strong foundation:

  • A ballerina does not jump right into the Swan Lake, she spends years at the barre perfecting her technique.
  • The head chef doesn’t get to that level without knowing how to slice carrots thinly and quickly with dangerously sharp knives.
  • The accountant running the London Marathon for the first time will have spent months preparing for the event.
  • After recovering from a serious injury, the patient needs to undergo relentless physical rehabilitation before they can take those first steps again.


Nowadays with the constant access of information available 24/7, people’s perception of time seems to be somewhat warped. I get frustrated if I’m still waiting to be connected to a customer representative until I look and see I’ve only been on the phone for 54 seconds. I’ve spoken to people (not my patients) who don’t think that acupuncture / TCM / massage / physiotherapy / (delete as appropriate) worked for their chronic condition when they’ve only had two sessions.


Sometimes we should just take a step back and realize that a house built carefully and with consideration is the strongest house on the street.


How else can you apply this thought to everyday situations? Let me know, and if you enjoyed reading this, feel free to forward it on.


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