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



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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Can loneliness affect your health?


Image: D. Sharon Pruitt


Whether you think Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to show your love and appreciation for someone or is just another example of terrible commercialism, it cannot be denied that the signs and banners and posters all around us can be an unwanted reminder for some that they are alone.


Who is alone and who is lonely?


Many people choose to be alone by staying away from other people, whereas lonely people often feel a lack of support and a great sense of isolation. You don’t have to be Robinson Crusoe shipwrecked on a deserted island to feel the effects of loneliness.


According to a report from the Mental Health Foundation, loneliness affects men and women of all ages, but the younger you are the more likely you are to feel lonely on a regular basis. On the other end of the spectrum the Campaign to End Loneliness (a campaign group of charities) is calling for greater awareness of loneliness among the elderly calling it the “hidden killer”.


Our lifestyle in today’s society is probably the biggest culprit:

  • Increased activity on online social networks rather than face-to-face interaction
  • The fact that more and more people choose to marry and have children later in life
  • Cheaper airfares allowing people to live farther away.


In the case of the elderly, isolation can occur when lack of mobility and the loss of family and friends result in them being trapped in their own homes.


How can feeling lonely affect your health?


The negative effects of loneliness on your wellbeing are similar to that of excessive smoking and alcohol, and exceed the effects of not exercising at all and obesity. This is due to the fact that lonely people tend to

  • Drink more excessively
  • Have unhealthier diets
  • Exercise less often than socially contented people.


A study at Princeton University study at Princeton University in 2006 concluded that rats kept in single occupancy cages were much slower at producing new brain cells than rats allowed to socialize, despite all of them having frequent exercise. No one knows if the same thing happens in humans (the rats were sacrificed) but it is well documented that loneliness affect the brain’s cognitive functions leading to depression, Alzheimer’s, stroke etc.

What can you do to prevent loneliness?

1.  Be active in your local community. This doesn’t mean you have to have full schedule, but consider joining a sports club or book group or you could volunteer for a good cause.


2.  Get offline. Try to make a conscious effort to have real-time interaction with friends and family instead of spending most of your communication online or texting.


3.  Don’t be embarrassed to talk about it. You can seek professional support from your GP, mental health services, youth workers or therapists. Remember though that sometimes it’s best to have help from a friend than from a stranger. 


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Six ways to de-stress your life

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Six ways to de-stress your life



We all know that stress is bad for you and previously, I addressed the effects stress can have on your physical self. I know just as well as the next person that it’s much easier said than done to not let stress take over your life.


So how do you stop stress in its tracks? What if stress is already an unwanted guest in your life? I’ve listed some ways below that I believe are practical options for those of us who cannot afford to just pack up and move to that cave in the mountains (I, for one, love central heating way too much).


1.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

By this I don’t mean go on a liquid diet but rather, think about your current lifestyle. Some of us push ourselves way too much, some without realizing and others because they have no choice. Are you taking on too many things? Can you cut back on some of the activities and tasks?

Another unlikely point: are you socializing too much? Entertaining frequently, even when it’s a perfectly fun and pleasant experience, could be running you down.


2.  Prioritize your responsibilities.

I am actually quite proud of the fact that unlike some in the animal kingdom, we can multi-task. And others even more advanced can juggle both metaphorically and physically! However, we need to take into account the shape and size of those objects we’re juggling. We are all adept at having 3 or 5 metaphorical balls up in the air. You might even be able to juggle seven. But when they are the size of fridge-freezers, it is definitely time to stop and take a step back.

Even Superman would struggle at stopping five locomotives at the same time. It may seem like you can’t drop anything, but you might find that things get completed easier and more efficiently if you do fewer things at a time.

3.  Breathe.

Many, many people meditate and every single one of them advocates it for their mental clarity. However if you find it quite hard to clear your mind, I think just having moments of silence is just as beneficial.

Go for walks along the river or stroll through the park. Try to do it without your headphones and mobile phones. Make a conscious decision to hear the world around you, even if it’s only the leaves crunching under your shoes or the distant whoops and shouts from the children in the play area. Breathe (in through the nose and out through the mouth) and clear your mind.


4.  Don’t dwell on it.

In his brilliant book “Mind Wide Open”, Steven Johnson discussed the effects of fear and subsequent stress levels due to a scare or traumatic situation on our autonomic system. Due to the way the amygdala form grooves in the brain to create memories (the deeper the grooves, the stronger the memories) it’s probably much better for all of us if we dwelled less on unpleasant thoughts and more on the lovely nice stuff.

It must be stressed (no pun intended) that eventually you will need to talk about a distressing incident (holding it inside is never a good thing), but the key is perhaps not to talk (or think) about it while the incident is fresh in the mind.

How can we take this idea and use it to deal with everyday stresses? It may be tempting (and incredibly satisfying) to have a good rant after a particularly irritating and annoying day but by dwelling on it, aren’t we giving it too much significance? It is so much easier to go on and on about a lengthy wait to pay at the local supermarket because they never have enough cashier points open but you are just embedding that experience into your brain in bolded italics. Instead replay nice moments like the time that stranger helped you carry that suitcase up the stairs.

5.  Take it easy.

I know I’m stating the obvious here, and surely if you did take it easy, well then, you wouldn’t be stressed and reading this now. So perhaps what I mean to say is:

5b.  Get rid of irritants.

How come chemicals come with warnings so that we don’t drink it and know to flush our eyes with cold, clean water if it comes into contact with them?

We need the same kind of warnings for our day to day lives. If you’re stuck in traffic, don’t listen to that radio show where people with absurd views phone in. If you’re fed up with waiting in lines to pay, try alternative options like shopping online. If you aren’t terribly impressed with a service, write a complaint letter. The action of writing is cathartic but by mailing the letter (or sending the email) you don’t dwell on it once the action is over. Accept that you will probably never receive a response, but that’s fine; just don’t rant about it afterwards to all your friends, colleagues and the person at the bar.

Frustrations are one of the precursors to stress, so get rid of the frustrations! You might even find that besides being in a better state of mind, you have much more time and energy as a result of it.


6.  Don’t let it build up.

There may be moments where you feel overwhelmed and this is when people who surround themselves with a strong wall of friends, family or confidantes tend to cope better.

Sometimes it may take professional support for your body and mind to get back on track. You can seek advice from your GP, a therapist, or alternative practitioners. For instance, a counsellor could help you discover ways to cope with stress, while a traditional acupuncturist could help with the fatigue and crankiness or digestive disorders associated with stress. Sometimes a treat could break the bonds of the drudge and in that case, a massage could do wonders.


How do you deal with unrelenting pulls at your metaphorical hem? Share your ideas on successfully gliding past the stresses in life. 

Photo credit: Dawn Huczek via flickr

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