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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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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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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Acupuncture and Health | Reaching wellness doesn’t happen overnight

Image: Ano Lobb. @healthyrx via Flickr


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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Five misconceptions about acupuncture

Image: Stephen Heron/Steve-h via Flickr


While I am recharging my batteries on holiday, I’m going to share two of my favourite articles. First up is one I wrote for AcuTake, a great source of information on how acupuncture can help you lead a healthier, simpler, more meaningful life.


As an acupuncturist, I do a lot of myth debunking. It’s understandable. After all, acupuncture speaks an entirely different language from the one through which most Westerners learned to see the world. However, with acupuncture continuing to grow in popularity and gain acceptance by mainstream medicine, it’s important to clarify a few myths and misconceptions that have a strong hold in our collective psyche.


Here are the five most common myths and misconceptions I hear about acupuncture.


“Acupuncture is only for pain.”

Ask most people what acupuncture helps with and the overwhelming majority will say pain. It is true that acupuncture can work wonders for back pain, headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, leg pain, postoperative pain, and pretty much any other kind of pain you can think of. However, pain is just one of many ailments for which acupuncture can provide relief.


Acupuncture alleviates digestive problems, menstrual irregularities, allergies, insomnia, stress and anxiety, asthma, and several other conditions. While many acupuncturists are generalists who treat a wide range of ailments, some specialize. So do a little homework before booking an appointment to find out whether an acupuncturist has experience treating whatever you need help with. The AcuTake Acupuncturist Directory, searchable by condition, is a great place to start.


“Acupuncture doesn’t work because I’ve had it once and nothing changed.”

I hear this one a lot. It’s a myth that is easily debunked by thinking about your car. If you go for years without getting your car checked, when you take it to the mechanic it’s going to require more work than if you had come in for regular tune-ups. Similarly, if you’ve had back pain for six months, it will probably take more than one treatment before you notice results.


After your first treatment, an acupuncturist usually will provide an estimate for how many treatments you’re likely to need. This is always an estimate because response times to acupuncture can vary widely, but it’s a good guideline.


Acupuncture is a cumulative process, much like going to the gym: You don’t start running faster or lifting heavier weights after just one trip. That said, most people notice at least some changes after 10 treatments. If you haven’t seen any improvement after giving it 10 appointments, I suggest trying another acupuncturist.


“Acupuncture doesn’t work because we don’t know how it works.”

This is an understandable misconception. When it comes to concepts with which we are unfamiliar, it’s comforting to have solid proof. Although there is tentative evidence of acupuncture’s efficacy, definitive, Western-friendly proof of how acupuncture works is unavailable.


There is good reason for this. Controlled, double-blind trials are inappropriate for studying acupuncture. Most acupuncture research models look at a standard selection of acupuncture points to determine if they are effective for a certain condition. But from an acupuncture perspective, one condition can have several different causes—and therefore would require completely different point selections.


Researchers are beginning to look at acupuncture using MRI. I believe this method of studying acupuncture is the most promising yet. Rather than concentrating on people’s perceptions, which can be misled by placebos or prejudices, the MRI studies look directly at how acupuncture changes brain activity. These MRI studies also address findings from previous research that show effects from fake or “sham” acupuncture. Through MRI, we know that both real and sham acupuncture relieve pain but that the effects on the brain are considerably different.


We may not know yet exactly how acupuncture works, but we are gaining a better understanding of the therapeutic effect that acupuncture causes.


“Acupuncture hurts.”

I disagree with acupuncturists who say that acupuncture needles are so thin you can’t even feel them. In my experience, most people definitely feel acupuncture.


When needles are inserted in the right places, they often produce a feeling of heaviness, kind of like a dull ache. Since this sensation is unfamiliar for most people who have never had acupuncture before, it’s commonly interpreted as pain.


If I describe this dull-achy feeling to people before beginning a treatment, they are less likely to experience the sensation as pain. They are prepared, which means their bodies are less tense. Often the “hurt” associated with acupuncture can be attributed to anxiety about the unknown.


I also make a point of telling my patients that acupuncture—rarely, but on occasion—can cause pain after a treatment. Sometimes needles in certain acupuncture points, after they’re removed, can cause a residual feeling of ache, almost like a bruise. When people understand ahead of time that this is a completely normal outcome, their perception of acupuncture as something that hurts seems to shift.


“Acupuncture is religious.” (Also known as “Acupuncture is voodoo.”)

I have been told, “I don’t believe in acupuncture because I’m a Christian.” Although it’s becoming less common as the general public gets more educated about acupuncture, the myth of acupuncture as a religion or supernatural phenomenon remains.


Acupuncture is not religious, nor is it voodoo. There is nothing supernatural or otherworldly happening during an acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture is a healthcare modality designed to help balance your body’s various, interconnected systems.


I believe some of the misinformation surrounding acupuncture’s origins and intentions stems from the word “qi,” which is often described as “vital energy.”


A better interpretation of what ancient Chinese practitioners meant by qi is simply oxygen. They understood that oxygen and nutrients were needed throughout the body in order for it to function properly. They called it qi and Blood, but acupuncture is merely a tool for moving the oxygen and nutrients our bodies need to thrive.


You don’t need to believe in acupuncture in order to experience its benefits because there is nothing to “believe” in.


If you’re wondering about any other beliefs about acupuncture, check out the AcuTake Acupuncturist Directory, where other acupuncturists from around the world debunk common myths about acupuncture.


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