Sitting too much really is bad for you

Image: comicpie via Flickr


Being a couch potato isn’t an ideal way to spend the day (which is probably why we curl up on the sofa in the evening-curling isn’t really sitting, is it?) and we all know that exercise is really good for us, mentally and physically. Did you know though that prolonged sitting is actually really, really bad for you?


A study of more than 200,000 Australians showed that the more people sat, the higher the risk of death. This study took into account age, gender, weight, general health status and exercise which would all affect the death risk.


The interesting finding was that although exercise did reduce the risk of prolonged sitting, it doesn’t completely cancel it out. What does this mean? It means that a person sitting 11 hours a day and works out 3 times a week is probably not any better off than a person who does minimal exercise but is on their feet most of the day. Surprising, huh?


Exercise is important, and the more you can incorporate it into your lifestyle the better. However these findings suggest that if you couldn’t make it to the gym this week then it’s not the end of the world but you can benefit your health in other easy ways:


1.  Stand on public transport.

I can often be found standing in an almost empty train carriage. It’s just a habit of mine, but after reading about this research, there is even more reason to stay away from sitting on the commute.


2.  Get up when you’re thinking.

Unfortunately most of us are tied to the desk in some way or another. But when you’re not physically using the computer, stand up. I read my newspapers standing up at the kitchen counter, because I have a really nice view of the duck pond from the kitchen window. Some people are investing in “standing desks”, or you could just get up when you have a brainstorming session or talking on the phone.


3.  Walk, walk, walk.

The recent weather (“the wettest drought since records began”) doesn’t make it fun but if it’s practical, resist the urge to be dropped off door-to-door. I have a friend who gets into her car to drive down the road and around the corner to the local shop. She’s a dear girl, but don’t be like her.


The key point to remember is that while we should all strive for physical activity, we should also be focusing on just simply getting up and moving about.


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4 ways to de-clutter your mind and feel calmer

Bird_flying

 

A friend I hadn’t seen for a while remarked the other day that I seemed different. Not more relaxed per se but calmer. Without wanting to invoke images of Mother Nature with flowing locks being gently teased by the breeze and a calm serene smile on my face as I stand basking in the soft glow from the strategically placed lamp (this is definitely not a description of me) but I understood what she meant. So I thanked her graciously for the compliment.

 

What does this say about either me or my friend you may ask? In fact, is this even a compliment or was she implying that I’m usually a complete nightmare to be around? Am I juggling too many things and starting to feel the strains of spreading myself too thin?

 

Everything around you is what you make of it.

 

My friend couldn’t put a finger on it, but I had been getting rid of unnecessary clutter in my day to day activities. This in turn removed a lot of the mini frustrations that can (if you let them) add up. A case of the straw and camel’s back if you will.

 

What easy changes can you apply?

 

1. Stop checking your email every five minutes.

My brain is like a magpie, anything and everything can attract its attention. While this is great, the domino effect of accumulated interesting articles and videos and blogs and emails and texts and messages means that sometimes things can get a bit out of control. One easy way to help clear that spaghetti junction of information that really works for me is to turn off my email. This allows me to work for a specified period of time without being distracted. Two hours later I’m finished with everything I need to do and I can get on with responding to any emails.

 

2. Remove those red flags.

I am usually quite composed and personable, but wrath to those who taunt me with their terrible points of view or bad grammar.

I avoid certain newspapers to avoid having to rant till the cows come home (and then I’ll probably rant to the cows). This means I’ve instructed my friends to not email me links to the article about the silly person who was stuck in a tree for hours or other silly amusing fun if it comes from certain tabloids.

Bad grammar is harder to predict, and therefore much harder to avoid. Sign makers, I’m sure, are doing it purposely to mock me (Luxury apartments with own balcony’s anyone?).

Your red flag may be waiting ages at the supermarket checkout on your Sunday shop. Try changing the day or time you shop, or better yet find a shop that invests in more staff working to give you a better shopping experience.

 

3. Turn off the 24/7 culture.

I have not had a TV for over five years, and it’s wonderful (although I probably still spend way too much time on youtube). Some people call it channel surfing and it does seem to have quite a sedative effect on them, but I couldn’t find a more irritating activity to spend an evening doing. There is nothing worse than that feeling that I’m probably missing a really good program right now but by the time I go through all 300 channels I will have missed it again as it goes to commercials. So now I choose the shows I want to watch (please email me for my Christmas DVD wishlist) when I want.

Another bonus to not owning a TV is that I don’t have to be subjected to the 21st century phenomenon of 24 hour breaking news. I remember I was a friend’s house once and the news on TV was reporting on a place where a natural disaster had struck. Endless reams of footage looped over and over again. I absolutely advocate reading newspapers and being aware of the world close and beyond, but there is no need to subject our brains to this kind of image and information overload.

 

4. Don’t text and drive (your life).

Smartphones have a lot to answer for by providing an easy platform to access all the social media in our lives. Ignore the temptation to check your emails, Facebook, Twitter, whatsapp or plain old texts all the time.

I am the worst offender. A few months ago I found myself checking my phone during dinner, and then throughout the movie afterwards. I was paying attention to what my boyfriend was saying, but let’s be honest, even if you’re a multitasking master, you’re still not focusing on something 100%. The people around you deserve to spend some time with just you. Just like using mobile phones while driving is now banned, you should try banning your phone while you’re spending quality time with your loved ones watching Police Academy 29.

 

What other things do you do to help make your life that little bit easier? Let me know and do share this with your friends.

 

Photo credit: Alan Strakey via flickr

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Stressed? 7 things you need to remember

Clothes_to_the_wind

 

In my previous post, it was reported that stress is now the most common reason for long-term sick leave.

 

Stress, and the depression that can sometimes accompany it, is not something that we should expect to have to deal with alone. Whether the cause of the stress is due to work, relationships or life changes, here are some things you need to remember:

 

1.  Self-care. You are the most important person in the story. No matter what the cause of the stress is, remember to take care of yourself first and foremost.

 

2.  Pinpoint the problem. I know this sounds slightly obvious, but even if you can’t change the situation right away, knowing the cause makes you aware of the problem so that there’s always the potential for change.

 

3.  As in pain, everyone’s threshold is different. You may have a friend who seems to live (and flourish) in a highly chaotic and stressful lifestyle, juggling work and family and volunteer work. However, you are not your friend, and it’s okay to say that you’ve taken on too much and to take a small step back. This is not defeat, it’s self-preservation.

 

4.  Make sure it actually is stress. Stress is such a strong word, and it can be very empowering to some people to know that they aren’t failures and that there is good reason they’re struggling at that specific point in time. However, because it’s such a powerful word, it can often be a crutch that may be overused. Perhaps it’s just a new situation that needs adjusting to and once you’ve adapted it is no longer a big issue. This way you can save your resources to tackle the bigger problems.

 

5.  Seek out things you enjoy that bring out the good feeling endorphins. That could be a zumba class near work or home (there is no need to trek half way across town unless you really, really love that particular class); acupuncture to give that calming and reenergizing feeling; massage to ease away the physical stresses; a local book club where you can meet other people outside of your usual circles; the world really is your oyster.

 

6.  Eat well. A healthy mind and body makes an incredible difference to how you can deal with the effects of stress. If you are feeling run down, the chances of being ill increases and you may find that mentally it seems much harder to cope.

 

7.  Finally if it’s getting a bit much, do seek outside help. This could be talking to a good friend you trust, a healthcare practitioner or a counsellor. Sometimes just a bit of release is all you need knowing that confidentiality will be kept. Other times you may need more directed guidance in which case a talking therapy can do wonders.

 

Photo credit: Jonatas Cunha via flickr

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Pointspace’s monthly roundup | September

Fairway

 

After the calm of the summer, London sprang back into life. I settled into my new neighbourhoods of Marylebone and Regent’s Park and explored quiet side streets with my kick-scooter (which has now become quite famous at The Hale Clinic). London Fashion Week and the impossibly fashionable crowd came and went. Autumn made an appearance with crisp mornings but much more favourable afternoons than we’ve had all summer.

 

What else caught my eye this month?

 

Growing up, September was always a time of anticipation. After having devoured all eight books that I had borrowed from the school library (that was the maximum allowed over the summer holidays and I was meant to ration them) within the first week, it wouldn’t be long before I yearned to be back in school.

 

I was a model student and I relished learning. Aside from PE and French III, there was probably not a single subject I didn’t enjoy, and I never encountered the stereotypical attitude of humanities versus science. The rarity of having not just one but quite a few great teachers probably had something to do with my love of books and knowledge.


I also spent my entire education from grades 1 – 12 walking through the same corridors and eating from the same canteen; and if that wasn’t enough, it was a small school with the entire student population in my final year never topping 130. I don’t think I fully appreciated the nurturing atmosphere of such a small-knit community (after all my first grade teacher was still there when I graduated high school) but I am certain that experience has played a large part in shaping the person that I am today.


I can clearly remember the time we painted Mr Men characters onto panes of glass in the windows of our classroom and also five years later when Mike and I accidentally broke the window of another classroom with a misjudged catch of the volleyball. I remember my father teaching me the multiplication table when we waited at the airport during a particularly heavy snowfall and then reciting them to an amazed Mrs Kalamboukas a year later.


I remember first learning about recessive and dominant genes of hamsters in the sixth grade and then rediscovering them (and fruitflies) in more detail in the eighth grade and again in the tenth grade. I remember how we never managed to squeeze much World History into one academic year but 250 years of American History seemed to drag on and on. I remember jamming my finger during volleyball practice and having the most peculiar handwriting for an entire month. I remember loving the language of algebra and trigonometry and then the dismay at the gibberish (to me) of pre-calculus. I remember giving the speech as valedictorian of my graduating class and the sense of excitement at a decidedly close of one chapter and the beginning of another narrative.


1.  Imagine then if I forgot everything. Not just the memories and smells and laughter, but all the knowledge. Imagine not remembering how to tie your shoelaces or tell time, not being able to use a protractor or use a computer. Su Meck, now an undergraduate at Smith College in Massachusetts USA, recounts in this New York Times artilce how a freak accident wiped away her entire memory of the past 23 years of her life.

 

2.  Those of you who know me would know I am not entirely pleased with the overuse of antibiotics and the growing resistance of superbugs to antibiotics is a very true and alarming fact. Now research is also showing that antibiotics is permanently altering the state of our gut, which in turn may lead to an increase in allergies,  asthma and weight gain.

 

3.  I came across this really well explained exercise that can help if you experience back pain. It’s also a good reminder that staying active and moving is never a bad thing for your body.


4.  We are often told that beauty is skin deep and is only in the eye of the beholder, but research is showing that the beauty routines (whether it’s a lovely eye cream or having a facial acupuncture treatment) are an important part of our daily “self-care”. Self-care, as defined by Michelle Segar PhD, a behavioural psychologist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, is “any activity that nurtures, restores and truly feeds the self.” This is why something as simple as a pedicure or a new shade of lipstick can make you feel good. She argues that taking care of yourself (whether through facial treatments or exercise) will make you look better and therefore make you feel better.


5.  Sara Calabro is an acupuncturist based in Oregon, USA. Here she writes a lovely article describing the importance and effects of autumn on our bodies from Chinese medicine’s point of view.

 

6.  In our busy lives trying to fit in work, family, friends it is so easy to forget to stop and enjoy the simple things. I discovered this short video, Industrial Revolutions, showcasing Danny MacAskill’s amazing talents and it is an absolute delight. Watch it, let your eyes soak in the colours and tap your foot to the music, you can’t not feel better afterwards.

 

Photo credit: Nana B Agyei via flickr

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Health and Wellbeing | Keep the royal celebrations going

Flag_mats

 

So the bunting’s come down and the royal wedding has been a success. The world has watched and delighted in all the colours and uniforms, the horses and pageantry, the ceremonial and the helium balloons tied to the back of the Aston Martin.

 

A celebratory spirit in the air.

 

I am not very knowledgeable on the British royal family. The arrangement of titles (Duchess of this, Earl of that) baffles me, especially when they all seem to relate to the same person. I did enjoy the examples of marketing genius on display; who knew I could buy Royal Icing Sugar or Royal Massage Oil? My favourite was from Krispy Kreme, which diverted attention from the royal couple with the tagline under an image of two glazed donuts: “Don’t forget the rings, Harry”.

 

Union Jacks abounded and it did seem like April this year has become Christmas by proxy, what with the London Marathon at the beginning of the month, the Easter bank holidays and the Wedding (complete with its own twitter #rw2011). I admire the crowds who camped out overnight (some of them a few nights) to get the best view, and was quite astonished to hear that a lot of them came from quite a way away.

 

The general public cheeriness gives us all a respite from the continuous strains of modern life. The flags will come down and the souvenir mugs will be put away but we don’t have to put the uplifting mood to the back of the closet.

 

Keep the party mood going in other areas of your life.

 

Social community is important, whether it be your local pub, the weekly zumba class or your knitting club. As I’ve written before, loneliness affects our health a lot more than we think.

 

Keeping your body and mind agile with exercise and crossword puzzles is excellent but it’s also nice to give your brain a sense of anticipation. So meet up with your friends for a chat even if it’s only once a month, or go watch that 3D Werner Herzog movie about the Chauvet caves. Financial and family commitments mean you might not be able to go for spa weekends away every three weeks but you can plan little events in your diary to help you de-stress. Some people have weekly acupuncture treatments to help them feel calmer or more energized. Others look forward to their hour of bliss having a facial and there are those who love nothing better than meeting up for Thursday poker night.

 

Even if you don’t believe in the monarchy, believe in all the newspapers and magazines and supplements and leaflets telling you that last weekend was party time and have that as a running theme. It is inevitable that some days will be more overwhelming than others or you may lay awake some nights but it’s easier to bounce back up if you take control.

 

What do you think? Is it unrealistic to try to maintain the anticipation and excitement leading up to the culmination of a joyous event all the time?

 

And for those of you who have perhaps overindulged in too many Easter eggs or drink these past two weeks, try some root ginger in your food or in a glass of honey water. Your stomachs will thank you.

 

Photo credit: Nick Richards via flickr

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Health and Wellbeing | “Are you happy? It’s the only way to be, kid.”

Laugh

 

As an acupuncturist, I don’t limit myself to seeing patients with just knee pain. I do offer pain relief but I also get to see people with no specific diagnosis and not feeling quite themselves.

 

I suppose back in the day (when we all lived in a little house on the prairie, in the depths of the middles ages, in a cave with Neanderthal décor?) the usual response would be just to shrug it off and get on with it. I’m not saying trying to run away from a hairy predator that I would also like for dinner is a lifestyle to be envious of, but I do think the simpler days made stresses on our mind and body so much easier to handle.

 

With life’s stresses, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself.

 

However, ignoring your problems and just carrying on is no longer a viable option in today’s world. The physical discomfort of pain tend to mean people are more likely to seek help whether it be acupuncture, massage, medication, exercise, yoga… the list goes on. When the slightly off feeling is more abstract, then people have more difficulty putting a finger on it making it harder to see what exactly it is that needs resolving.

 

A traditional acupuncturist can help you have a better sense of wellbeing by removing or regulating qi stagnation, allowing you to feel more calm yet revitalized.

 

If the mind is at ease, the body will follow.

 

I am often reminded by my patients’ attitudes how important a positive outlook has on your health and appearance. Constant worrying and anxiety will lead to a subtle (often unconscious) tensing of the face muscles resulting in lines and wrinkles. Excessive comfort eating will lead to weight gain and detrimental effect to your health. Stress from work and other situations beyond our control cannot be helped, unless you are willing to walk away from your job and settle somewhere far far away, but little unnecessary irritations should be avoided.

 

My boiler had spent the last month acting like a temperamental teenager – it felt like I saw the plumber more often than my boyfriend. I could have flown off the handle and demanded he sorted it out then and there, but a) that wasn’t possible or practical due to parts and b) I didn’t let it affect my mood. There was still heating (although not at the times I’d set) and I was still warm, and also it was nice to have an amicable atmosphere in my hallway than one of tension and blame.

 

What else can you do to dilute the effects of stress? Find pleasure in things around you:

 

Go to the library or bookstore and enjoy some Dr. Seuss or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Bleach manga or a Mills and Boon novel.


Turn off the news. I don’t mean bury your head in the sand, but there is a distinction between knowing the news and watching the constant flood of images 24/7. There is just no need.


Treat yourself to the gorgeous triple chocolate caramel shortcake from that stall in Greenwich Market. Or that lovely crusty bread lavished with butter or tickets to see the comedian even though you could watch their DVD (there is a difference!) or that chunky mustard cardigan or a night in with some bad straight-to-TV movies on a Friday night. Whatever it is, make it a small treat that your body and wallet would appreciate.


Set yourself a goal. Run for charity and try to raise the target you set or aim to complete the half marathon or learn to roller-skate or grow a tomato plant or spend more time catching up with friends.


Smile when you first wake up, at your partner or flatmate or children, at the train driver, at the person serving you coffee, at the pizza delivery driver. Smile!

 

“It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.”

 

What do you do to remind yourself that the cliché isn’t just cheesy, it’s also quite true?

 

Photo credit: Gillian via flickr

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Health and wellbeing | Six things we can learn from a construction site

Lego_construction

 

Just outside my window the large empty warehouses are being knocked down. Yes this new complex will boast apartments and offices with riverside views, with new shops and restaurants thus boosting the sense of community. Add to that the proposed (and promised) new stop for the riverboat and we will be spoiled for choice in terms of alternatives should leaves on tracks disrupt my train service. But as we speak readers, my view is turning into a construction site.

 

However as construction sites go, this is probably the best one to be right across from. With a glossy sign at the entrance to monthly letters updating residents, the people responsible are apparently dedicated to “considerate construction”. Perhaps it’s due to my amazing double glazing or the fact that they’re knocking down sections of walls rather than manically wielding a wrecking ball but I have almost forgotten that they’re there. Add to that the projected timeline for this whole project from start to completion is almost a decade (albeit probably due to the archaeological issues rather than preference on the part of the developers) rather than a few years!

 

We shall see in a few months time whether I shall still be this calm about the construction when the warmer weather will mean opened windows. However we can learn a few things from the considerate construction ideal.

 

1.  Consider your surroundings.

Yes, it would be great if land was unlimited and we didn’t have the tight urban spaces that define city dwelling. However, people need places to live and there will always be developers ready to jump at any opportunity (let’s leave the issue of affordable housing or lack thereof for another time). The best they can do is to actively put an effort into not making the lives of local residents any more unbearable than it has to be. In my case, the developers are knocking down the wall that shields us from the road last, so that it can act as a barrier for longer.

How about you? Our day to day interactions create an environment of cause and effect and it’s up to us to make that effect a positive one or at least strive for it. One easy way is to not bring work home. Or bring it home but don’t invite it through the door to have dinner AND a drink after that AND tuck it into bed. It’s inevitable many people will have to work on that project or take a while to unwind from a long day even if no actual work needs to be done, but don’t give it anymore time than is necessary.

 

2.  Plan a realistic and considerate schedule.

Based on all the house programs on TV, I know for a fact that you can renovate a house in three weeks. But that involves long days of bashing and drilling and building and dumping which must be hell for the neighbours (although that side is never shown on TV).

I see the same being done to our health. It is not unheard of for a lifelong couch potato to suddenly attack the treadmill and steps in the height of the summer day or in the slashing horizontal rain. What happens to many of those people? They probably give up after a month.

Give yourself a plan that considers the future not just the next two weeks. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

 

3.  Think regeneration and community.

A very popular idea of redevelopment is how to build more housing but also benefit the local community. Every town hall wishes it could have a successful concept that involved good responsible building with local materials while increasing green space and community centers for a better quality of life.

Do something that you enjoy. Join an adult ballet class for beginners to build your agility and strength while in a social environment. Instead of knitting or reading at home, join a local club so you can get out of the house and get some fresh air.

 

4.  Insulation and all things green.

Everyone knows that insulation and good windows lead to a draught-free home which saves us money on heating which in turn leads to a healthy and happy wallet.  Many people make a conscious effort to use responsibly-sourced materials and local tradesman.

We can take this idea for our own health as well. Wear more layers and turn the heating down at home. I’ll admit I’m one of those who like the cosy tropical temperatures when it’s snowing outside, but a bit of fresh air does do wonders for the ventilation. Many people find it hard to eat only local produce so how about trying to eat only things that are in season? When I was growing up, strawberries were only sold in the summer, then cherries in July and August, with watermelon and melon a nice seasonal constant. Then there were pears in the autumn and oranges in the winter with figs reappearing in the spring. Tomatoes could be found all year round but no one really had them in their salads in the winter, because well it just didn’t feel right.

 

5. Get feedback from your proposals and meetings.

Planning permission involves applications and meetings and feedback and comments from local residents to ensure everyone gets a fair representation.

This can work in your life as well. If friends and family are commenting that you look more tired than usual, maybe you should take a moment to examine if something’s changed or you’re taking on too much. Sometimes it takes people from the outside to make us realize what we easily miss.

 

6. Wear a hard hat and high visibility clothes.

Finally, make sure you take care of yourself. Stretch before and after you exercise. Wash your hands. Don’t have unprotected sex. Let your doctor know of any alternative therapies you may be using. And let your alternative therapist know of any medication (this includes aspirin!) you’re taking. Don’t drive when you’ve just had a really bad argument or emotional upset. Wear sensible shoes in the snow. Remember to use sunscreen.

 

What about you? Are you the project manager of a well-developed socially and ethically sound renovation or are you living in one corner of the house you’re gutting and plumbing? 

 

Photo credit: Loozrboy via flickr

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Four Easy Ways to Avoid Unnecessary Injuries

Nano

Image: Martin Strattner

 

I woke up the other day with “iphone hand”. I first noticed when I realized I couldn’t quite hold my toothbrush, and pressing on the sore point (Hegu for those of you interested in acupuncture) sent the ache shooting up to my elbow.

 

I make a conscious effort to sit without slouching and to walk with my head held high (it has a wonderful effect on my mood as well as my posture) and here I am, victim to a rookie mistake.


I can’t hold my cup of tea!


The previous night while leaning on my side in bed, I used the ipod touch for a bit of pre-sleep browsing (another no-no!). It has been documented anecdotally that the touchscreen flicking causes the thumb to strain itself in an unnatural way. I didn’t do myself any favours either by being on the side of my itouch-using hand which caused me to tighten my grip on it as I continued to thumb-flick without a care in the world.

 

The result was a hand that ached and my jar opening ability severely hampered. Sigh.

 

A little b it of acupuncture eased the problem but the truth is, this was such a silly injury. It made me think of some easy ways to avoid silly problems.

 

1. Bend your knees, slightly.

Your knees aren’t only designed for going up and down stairs and to help lift heavy objects. I bend my knees when I’m standing on the train or bus, I find it helps me absorb the shocks and jolts better. I also bend my knees ever so slightly when I’m chopping at the kitchen counter or washing up the dishes. And I bend my knees a lot more when I’m putting laundry into the washing machine, and when I’m brushing my teeth. It’s becomesuch a habit now I do it without thinking.

 

2.  Drink water.

Often, a headache or dizziness is your body’s way of telling you it’s parched. Sometimes you eat because you think you’re hungry when really your body is just thirsty. Make it a regular factor in your day; drink little and frequently, don’t down 3 liters in 15 minutes!

Besides the health factor, it also does wonders for your skin.

 

3.  Don’t hold one position for long periods of time.

I wouldn’t have had iphone claw if I had relaxed my hand at regular intervals. Office workers are reminded to blink and stretch and waiters who have to stand all day should try standing on their toes every now and then just to stretch. If you’re flying long haul, try not to sit during the entire flight. Incorporate a little walk around into your bathroom break.

 

4.  Turn down the volume.

We spend an awful lot of our day with earphones in our ears (and listening to some people’s music despite those earphones being in their ears). We only have one set of ears and it’s only wise that we try to preserve their health. Loud music is damaging to the ears, but loud music blasting that close to the ears is very damaging. If I can hear your music through your earphones, either the volume is too loud or you need better earphones which don’t bleed, thus allowing you to turn down the volume.

And if you’re a cyclist, runner, jogger or pedestrian, you really shouldn’t have both earphones in. How are you meant to be aware of your surroundings if you are entirely in your own musically-lovely world??

 

What other things do you do to avoid unnecessary injuries?  

 

Other posts you may be interested in:

How to Avoid Back Pain | Preventing and treating back pain

Help your body fight against the effects of winter’s dry air