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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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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Give your eyes a break


Put a spring in your step

Image: mozzercork via Flickr


Spring is a wonderful time when the days get longer and everyone steps out of the shadows of the dark days we’ve had. As much fun as the festive holidays and the New Year brought us, seeing daffodils in bloom do wonders to help shake the mental cobwebs.


With the warmer weather, qi and blood flow freely and towards the surface of the skin. Just like a bear coming out of hibernation, our yang qi is also coming out after having gone deeper into the ground during winter. This is a time of growth and development as the yang qi flows easily through our bodies.


Cast your mind to the first spring bank holiday – the great British Easter escape. Encouraged by glorious weather and a few days of rest, many choose this time to have a well-deserved break. Like yang qi, everyone flows along towards the main arteries of the country via cars, trains and planes. The extra surge of people (and possible engineering works and other delays) results in traffic jams and crowding. It’s all very frustrating.

 
In our bodies, traffic jams and crowds mean stagnation or obstruction of qi. Qi stagnation can cause pain and the organ in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that detests stagnation the most is the liver. Liver qi stagnation can cause irritability, a sense of frustration or just simple crankiness. Add on additional lifestyle stresses like relationships or work, and it’s a sure-fire recipe to lashing out or feeling overwhelmed.


Physically, you may experience headaches (especially behind the eyes), dizziness or hypochondriac pain (tightness or sharpness along the side of your ribcage). You may feel thirstier than usual and occasionally have a bitter taste in the mouth.


Acupuncture can help “soothe” or “smooth” the qi in your body just as you would smooth out the creases when you make your bed.


In the spring you should aim to give your body’s qi full rein to flow freely so that it can support the growth it needs. To help your body awaken from its deep sleep (a gentle alarm is better than cold water in the face) try these tips to have an enjoyable spring:


1.  Go outside and get some fresh air. If you’ve been cooped up indoors all winter only to brave the underground, now is the perfect time to get off one stop early and walk to your destination. The weather can still be a bit temperamental though, so do make sure you don’t under dress and end up feeling chilly.


2.  Smile, de-clutter and plan. Just as you would spring clean your home now is also a good time to dream and plan for what you want in your life. Think about things you want to rid (physically or mentally) and do it! Organising during this time of year gives it a great sense of adventure – it’s no coincidence that many high school teachers prepare their students for university decisions during these months. Have a moment and think about what you would like to change.


3.  A whole array of fruit and vegetables are in season again. Get in your dark leafy greens such as spinach and sprouts, but also have fennel and rice which are mildly warming. Just as you would start to put away your winter wardrobe, lamb, ginger and hot spicy foods should also give way to fresher, greener meals. The changes in the weather (chilly then warm then windy) mean you shouldn’t abandon warming foods completely and spring onions (and some ginger) are good to have in your kitchen.


4.  Do some gentle stretching to keep the joints and tendons supple. Now is also the time to take up your favourite exercise again if you had been disheartened by the cold, dark days.


5.  If you’re prone to seasonal allergies, take care of them now instead of waiting till the symptoms arrive.


6.  Take care of yourself. Some people have a tendency to give it their all when spring comes around and then overtax themselves. Just remind yourself (because you do know yourself best) that you don’t have to take on the new hobby and marathon training and start that new class just because it’s the season of birth and growth. In the same token if you feel like you do have a little more to give, then definitely go for it.


7. Get a maintenance acupuncture tune-up. Even if you only have acupuncture a few times a year, a new season is a great reminder to have one to help rebalance little niggles, address existing issues or adjust your body with the outside environment.


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6 things your acupuncturist should tell you

Faqs

 

In my acupuncture practice, I ask many questions and get many answers. I also get asked many questions (and occasionally a few apologies for all the questions, as if it’s a taboo to want to be informed). I love questions because there’s nothing better than seeing someone enthusiastic about their own health and wellbeing. Of course, the more questions I get asked, the more I’m learning as well because I start to see the common concerns people are having.

 

Acupuncture is a very personal experience especially if you’re looking for a new practitioner or trying acupuncture for the first time. As with many things, opinions can be subjective (my favourite book may be a chore for someone else) and just as an acupuncturist is a person, you must “connect” with them on some level. Bear that in mind when you get a referral; it’s okay to not bond with the practitioner your friend is raving about.

 

Your main concern is going to be whether the practitioner can help you with your specific problem. After that though you should also get answers to a few other things, and if your acupuncturist is good, you might not even need to ask.

 

1.  How many treatments will you need?

Here’s a secret: on your first visit you acupuncturist doesn’t actually know how many treatments you’ll need. Different people respond to acupuncture differently, and some people feel the benefits of it a lot faster than others. The general rule of thumb is that the longer you’ve had the problem, the longer it will take to feel better. Around the 3rd session I can see how you’re responding and can then be more specific about your treatment plan: perhaps that’s all you need, maybe you need a few more or sometimes I can see that acupuncture isn’t the answer for you.

 

2.  What is their specialty?

Some acupuncturists have an interest in a special area and they tend to treat those conditions well. Are you looking for an acupuncturist who can treat your particular condition or are you looking for a practitioner who knows many modalities such as massage and acupuncture and reflexology and herbal medicine? It all depends on why you are seeking treatment.

 

3.  How qualified are they?

The current regulations in the UK mean not all acupuncturists are created equal. The education and training required can vary widely from five year degree levels to only a few months worth of weekend courses. It is also not against the law for a massage therapist or physiotherapist to offer acupuncture after basic training. With the demand for acupuncture increasing it is likely we will see more, not less of this.

It goes without saying that there are doctors, physiotherapists, massage therapists and osteopaths who are also talented traditional acupuncturists and have spent years learning their skills. However, as long as there are no laws against it, it is a case of buyer beware so find out before you get treatment.

 

4.  Do you just have to show up?

Traditional acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) which emphasises a lot on your entire wellbeing. Sometimes your condition can be due to lifestyle factors, such as stress or a poor diet. There’s only so much acupuncture and I can do to help you, you need to help yourself as well. Your practitioner can offer advice on what areas you can improve to complement your treatments.

 

5.  What about the needles?

Acupuncture needles are very fine and almost hair-like, unlike the hypodermic needles used for injections, blood samples or medical procedures which are thick and hollow Most people do not consider the insertion to be painful, and many do not feel it at all. In my experience, I have noticed that the nervousness makes the person expect the worse and it usually takes them a while to notice that the needle has already been inserted. Sterile, disposable needles are only used once, and then disposed of in the proper way.

 

6.  Does your acupuncturist answer your questions?

You are the most important person in the treatment room so it goes without saying that you should feel completely comfortable, physically and mentally. If your acupuncturist doesn’t have the time to answer your questions or beats around the bush, then it’s time to find someone better.

 

27 February – 3 March is the UK’s first Acupuncture Awareness Week, supported by the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC).

 

Photo credit: Steve Mueller

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Give your eyes a break

Closed_dog_eyes

 

If you spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen (or an ipad or a smartphone or a kindle or just plain reading) it’s important that you take breaks to help relax your eyes.

 

When I was young my father placed my desk in a prime spot in the living room. It faced a window that had a gorgeous view of the Panorama countryside (back before it was all built up with villas), specked with trees in the far distance that I was meant to look at every half hour or so. Here in London, I have plants dotted around the living room so there is always something natural and green to look at.   

 

When you’re engrossed in your work on the screen, sometimes it’s hard to remember to blink, let alone look away. I recently discovered this very cool piece of software to help with that.

 

Called the Eye Defender, it sits in the system tray and pops up after a fixed interval to show a visual training for your eyes. See the video below in full screen. 

 

  

You’re meant to follow the pointers with your eyes without moving your head (here’s a good opportunity to make sure your monitor is at the correct height) and it should help relax your eyes.

 

Another good tip you can try anywhere (I find myself doing this on the train a lot after a long day) is to look up as high as you can (again without moving your head) and then back to the middle. Then look at what would be one o’clock and back to the middle. Slowly work your way around the clock, going back to the center each time. When you’ve finished a circle, do it again anti-clockwise, and repeat about 3 times or until you’ve reached your station. 

 

Photo credit: Jane Rahman via flickr

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Hearty breakfast recipes

Heart_banana

 

It’s such common knowledge that it’s almost a cliché: having a good breakfast really does make a difference to your day.

 

We’ve all heard the excuses:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I can’t fathom eating that much in the morning.
  • I can’t face cooked food in the morning.
  • I’m not hungry.
  • I feel fine.

 

The biggest obstacle you need to overcome is that of it being morning. Trust me, if you can have an almond croissant in the morning, which let’s face it is pretty much an almond dessert, then you can have a proper breakfast.

 

And by proper breakfast I don’t mean the full English, a regular of a hangover. They can be light and delicious, and not take hours to prepare. The fact they’re cooked or warm food that you can’t eat on the go means you’re not damaging the spleen and stomach. Give these ideas a try:

 

Ham and cheese omelette

Yummy and light (go easy on the oil; it’s a hot frying pan that’s more important). Protein is the perfect start to your day and it’s much better than having sausages. Add a generous sprinkle of oregano just before you take it off the heat.

 

Smoked salmon and avocado with watercress salad and Greek yogurt

Light and simple, this is hearty and heart-friendly. If you’re feeling fanciful, add in a soft-boiled egg – you’d be amazed at the difference it makes.

 

Mix it up and experiment with the ingredients, try scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on a toasted muffin, or avocado and boiled egg with ham. Have fun, get into the rhythm and after a few days, I promise you will be hungry in the mornings.

  

Photo credit: Nina Matthews via flickr

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