Category Archives: Health

How to avoid putting on (too much) weight over the festive period

Very soon we’ll be at that time of year when exercise ,diets , calorie counting and being sensible goes out of the window for a few weeks leading to slimming clubs and gyms getting massive surges of members in January as we haul our overweight frames through the doors.

But does it have to be like that ?weight

Of course not.Weight gain over the holidays is normally down to three things ; eating too much , drinking too much and not exercising enough and it’s possible to enjoy the festive season without piling on the pounds and here are a few tips on how to do it.

Have a large glass of water before going out

Drinking water before going out partying will make you feel slightly more full so you won’t be tempted to overindulge on the food.It’s an easy  tip that is based on research. A 2010 study in the journal Obesity found that adults who drank  water before a meal ate less at the meal and lost more weight over 12 weeks than the group who didn’t drink water before eating.

Have dinners on a small plate

By eating off a smaller plate you will still be able to take part in everything with friends just on a smaller scale. Your calorie intake will also be decreased so if you do drink more then the effect won’t be quite so bad on your waistline.

Eat sitting down rather than standing

Sitting down to eat  helps you consume less food and fewer calories, because you eat more slowly and pay attention to what you’re putting into your mouth. A 2007 study of that was published in the “Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics” found that total calorie consumption was lower in those who ate slowly, compared with those who ate more quickly.

Alternate your alcoholic drink with water

Not only will alternating water with alcohol have an impact on your waistline as you’ll be drinking less and so consuming fewer ’empty’ calories it also dilutes the alcohol you drink so you won’t get so drunk and won’t be suffering the next day.

At buffets go for the healthy option

Sounds obvious I know , but if you’re like me you can’t wait to get hold of the cakes.At a lot of parties you’ll find yourself faced with a buffet rather than a formal sit down meal. You don’t need to deny yourself everything but try and fill yourself up on healthier options like vegetables , cooked meats and the like before diving into the cream cakes.

Offer to be the designated driver occasionally

Not only will this go a significant way towards keeping the extra pounds off it will also get you seriously into your friends’ good books.And who knows , you might find that going out on the town and not drinking is quite enjoyable once in a while.

Do your 10,000 steps each day

With so much to do over the festive period one of the first casualties is organised exercise. This gets put on the back burner as there are just too many other things to do.It’s easy to fit your recommended 10,000 steps into a normal day and still do all the other things that need doing like shopping , wrapping , visiting family and so on. Try and chunk your 10k steps into manageable 10 or 15 minute sections so you don’t become too daunted by having to do 10k in one hit. Most iphones now will have a step counter on them as standard , if not then invest in a cheap pedometer for as little as £3.99.

Christmas is a time for fun and family. It’s natural that we let our normal fitness goals slide a little but if you can follow some or all of the tips above there’s no reason why you shouldn’t look forward to returning to your normal routine in the New Year and avoid the dreaded New Year’s Resolution of ‘This year I will lose weight.’


Dude, do you even breathe ?


Breathing is second nature to us , it’s as natural as …well, breathing. But how many of us actually breathe correctly ?

For many of us after years of sitting in offices hunched over desks breathing shallowly into our lungs we have developed dreadful breathing habits and in one of of the most memorable soundbites of recent years Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative coined the phrase ‘sitting is the new smoking’ describing how our sedentary lifestyles have led to increased widespread health problems.

In Eastern martial arts such as karate, kung-fu and tai-chi those who practise are trained to breathe from the diaphragm not the lungs. This type of breathing is based on the ancient Chinese practice of Qigong.

Why the focus on breathing?

Al Lee, co-author of ‘Perfect Breathing’ blames our sedentary lifestyle. From a high-tech engineering background, he developed an interest in the science behind breathing about 20 years ago. He says the body associates the shallow breathing when sitting with the ‘fight or flight ‘response and as a result ‘Blood pressure rises, the blood becomes more acidic and we are more likely to be emotional and emotionally reactive to our situation’.

 Qigong breathing

‘In qigong breathing the emphasis is on abdominal breathing where air is inhaled through the nose slowly and deeply so that the lower abdomen becomes inflated. As the air is exhaled the lower abdomen is contracted slowly so that the lungs may be completely emptied. Breathing should be long , slow and regular.’ ( Gaiam Life , ‘How Qigong Improves Health’) Al Lee recommends the six second breath , 3 seconds to inhale and 3 to exhale , and repeat for 5 minutes for a month. It is the sort of deceptively simple exercise that can be done anywhere , in the car , watching TV,  waiting for a bus , anything.

So what exactly are the benefits of breathing like this ?

Benefits of Qigong breathing

It is common in the West for us to feel warmed up when we are slightly breathless and our muscles are ‘pumped’ through the inflow of oxygen to the blood cells. This makes us feel ready for what is to follow. However, by following the gentle breathing exercises of qigong the muscles are worked quite differently.

Qigong breathing builds effortless power and looseness . The goal should be a feeling of relaxed power when the muscles, rather than straining and fighting just loosen up and allow the energy ‘chi’ to flow through.In the West we have been led to believe that aerobic exercise is necessary to strengthen the heart and lungs.While aerobic exercise undoubtedly does do this then so does qigong. The slow, deep and regular breathing combine to work oxygen deeper into the tissues than regular exercise provided that you stay within 70% of maximum effort and do not overstrain.

Abdominal , slow and measured breathing works to massage and strengthen all the internal organs and to correct blockages or imbalances in the internal energy or ‘chi’ that run through the body and strengthens the immune system , relieves pain and stress and detoxifies the organs.

In addition Qigong breathing can help speed recovery time from injury and illness .The gentle, non-jarring and low-impact movements of qigong can be done immediately following an injury or operation, particularly if the 70 percent rule is adhered to and no strain is applied. This rule is particularly important during healing, as the body is already overstressed.

Applying the rule of no strain helps injuries to heal fully. The 70 percent rule allows recovery to happen gradually and fully. Injuries that are only partially resolved can progressively weaken other parts of the body and set up conditions for major problems in uninjured areas, immediately or over time.

Given that life expectancy in parts of Japan where this practice is commonplace is amongst the highest in the world , is it worth the risk not to give it a try ?


Karate…a way of living


Some eight years ago now I nervously entered a local dojo to try out karate. I’d always harboured a desire to do a martial art properly but life, as it often does , got in the way.

I remember my first lesson well and the look on my wife’s face when I got home saturated in sweat. I hadn’t worked so hard for years.

I started karate when I was 48 and now I’m a very proud black belt. But you can ask any karateka if that black belt is the most important thing and I guarantee they’ll all say no.

I’ve practised many sports in my life , most of them to a level of ineptitude in keeping with my ability and all those sports have given me is some memories of games I’ve played and several friends.

Karate is different. Karate impacts on every aspect of your life.

The most obvious is fitness. My level of cardio-vascular fitness is probably better now than when I played rugby at university some 30 years ago. The warm up and basic training , not to mention sparring and fitness drills take it out of you like nothing I’ve ever done before.

Muscle toning. The repeated kicking and punching, warm up and cardio exercises linked to karate have a huge impact on muscle toning and the extra training for conditioning can have a positive effect on bone density and stave of effects of arthritis.

Self confidence has soared. This comes from the knowledge that if something did happen , I could probably look after myself. I don’t mean I walk around with a ‘don’t mess with me ‘ look on my face. I haven’t got the face for that. But what it is I think is a sort of inner confidence that you give off by the way you walk and act around others.

Respect is key in all martial arts. If you are concerned, as I was , that you’d be walking into a dojo a nervous wreck and people will laugh if you get it wrong. Don’t. Martial arts are rooted in respect and if the sensei runs classes properly then there will be a series of bows and thanks at the beginning and end of each lesson. These rituals are followed everywhere that karate is practised and are fundamental to the art.

Breathing. What ? Yes, breathing. We generally don’t breathe properly because we breathe into our lungs which is too shallow for us to get the real health benefits. Karate trains you to breathe deeply into the diaphragm and the benefits are too numerous to mention here. Look it up somewhere. I promise you it’s pretty amazing.

Flexibility. Ok I started when I was 48, I’m never going to be able to flick a kick at anyone’s earlobe but I know something , I’m a LOT more flexible than when I started training. Stretching and flexing are part of the general warm up and warm down in classes and you will see the impact very quickly.

So if you want to try something that will impact on EVERY area of your life , that will benefit your health and mental well being and that has NO upper age limit then give karate a try.

Just think , they practise karate in Okinawa and that island has the highest number of centenarians on the planet. Coincidence ??