Deep Breathing to Combat Stress and Enhance Exercise Performance

We only use a small amount of our lung capacity in everyday life. In order for us to keep our lungs healthy, we should practice deep breathing to oxygenate our blood, which supplies nutrients to our entire body. Oxygen is a fuel in its own right for our bodies and the brain:

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-       Our lungs take in oxygen, burning food and releasing energy through a process called oxidation, which eliminates the carbon dioxide produced

-       Oxygen helps to destroy harmful bacteria in our bodies without removing the good bacteria that we need

-       All the metabolic processes in our bodies are regulated by oxygen! It makes the brain more powerful and stable, allowing it to process lots of information every second.

Anxiety and stress shorten our breathing pattern, so conscious deep breathing is recommended as it relaxes both our body and mind, slowing down our hurried pace and helping to stop the mind racing.

If you do not meditate or practice a deep breathing technique every day, exercise is the best way to improve your lung health and is very accessible to anyone without having to learn an addition skill. The more activity you do, the more oxygen is required by the body to aid performance, allowing the body to work more efficiently which leads to better results.

So, no matter the activity, dancing, swimming, walking, running or at rest, one of the best techniques is breathing from your diaphragm - breathing in through the nose and mouth, filling the stomach area with air then slowly exhaling as the stomach reduces. However, we need to clear our lungs of pollutants in urban areas and should be careful of the air we breathe... 

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When feeling anxious or stressed, diaphragm breathing can help to clear your head and release tension. When lifting weights, it can help you to lift more and exert more force with less effort. If you are running, you should aim to stabilise your breathing pattern, whereas when stretching you need to aim for extra-long inhales and exhales to help you to relax and lengthen muscle tissue.

The Carbohydrate Myth – Are Carbs Bad to Eat?

With the backlash against so-called “clean eating”, where whole food groups are labelled good and bad, a more common-sense anti-fad approach has been gaining strength.

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 Not only are these fads depriving us of necessary nutrients, at their worst they can be downright dangerous. Without carbs for fuel, in extreme cases, the body becomes catabolic, meaning it starts to break down lean muscle tissue for food.

Carbs are an excellent energy source for us. If our bodies need to use fat or protein, it takes longer for the body to convert these to energy. Good, healthy carbs are brain and mood food. However, make sure to control your portion size if you wish to reduce your weight leading into the spring and summer

I am advocating the use of low GI foods, which are highly nutritious: high-fibre whole foods such as organic brown basmati rice, sweet potatoes with the skin on, and small amounts of whole grain pasta. Always add a bit of fat to slow down the break-down of sugar in the body. Also, oats, which can be eaten as savoury or sweet, are excellent for providing fuel.

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Remember, many vegetables, nuts and beans have medium to high levels of carbs, so we are already eating carbs when we eat these foods too!

If you are a working mum or in a high-powered job, or even partaking in sports, you would not imagine eating starchy foods as they do not harm the body, especially if you need fuel to perform. We a need balance of all food groups. Fermented breads such as sourdough are great because they help good bacteria in the gut.

 

Top Tip - Resistant Starch

Place a bowl of cooked starches (pasta, sweet potatoes, rice) in the fridge and cool down, reheat and eat later in the day – this causes the starch to become more resistant and fibrous, which increases your fibre intake. Great for the brain and your mood!

Fake Meat - The Emperor’s New Clothes?

Are we being conned into believing that fake meat is good for us? Did you start the New Year with Veganuary, believing that it was the healthy option?

With new vegan brands popping up all the time and all the supermarkets now offering a vegan range, it should be cause for celebration – but the big question remains: are their ranges any better for our health or are they just a cynical marketing ploy?

While offering ready made vegan food will make it easier and more tempting to become vegan, and the new dirty vegan food trend means you don’t have to give up those burgers, pizzas and sausage rolls you love; are we creating more health problems with a high carbohydrate-dominated diet?

Not only are most of these foods processed, stripping many of the original nutrients out, they often consist of refined wheat and gluten.  Also, the benefits and risks of genetically modified soya protein are still a controversial subject.

We know that processed meat is bad for us and can cause cancer, but all processed food consumed in large amounts can be bad for us. The more food we cook from scratch the better.

Pulled BBQ Jackfruit Burger

Pulled BBQ Jackfruit Burger

I think the main three reasons for becoming vegan are:

  1. Ethical and moral

  2. The welfare of animals and environmental concerns, health

  3. The belief that a vegan diet is naturally healthier for the body.

However, the current trend has all the hallmarks of a fad diet and the usual culprits have jumped on the bandwagon, including many celebrities we admire; it is the new salvation diet that we can try and will often discard after the novelty has worn off.  

Veganism can be a healthy lifestyle that is kind to animals and the environment, but vegans must not underestimate the need to eat enough sources of natural protein and the quantity they need to eat to replace certain proteins, good fats, iron, B12, and vitamin D that is abundant in animal sources because  supplements are not as easily absorbed by the body as whole food.

Jackfruit, the latest trendy meat alternative that has a shredded meaty texture and is sold as high in protein, cannot compete with a like sized portion of chicken with 3 grams of protein to 20 grams in chicken. With a jackfruit pizza, for example, although it has nutritional benefits, it is loaded with quick-acting carbs from the fruit and refined carbs in the pizza without the balance of protein you would get from cheese or meat. Many fast food outlets offering vegan food use Seitan, a protein made from wheat gluten, which is an issue for many people. 

Vegan alternatives are expensive too; a classic case is the infamous cauliflower steak, for instance, where a restaurant charged the same as they charged for a quality beefsteak, although the cost was less than a quarter of the price! 

At the end of the day the solution is the same. The tried and tested diet of cooking from scratch as much as possible, getting a healthy balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, vegetables, good fats, vitamins, and minerals whether you are a meat eater, vegetarian or vegan – a healthy diet is all about variety and balance.

Hanging Out for That Large Glass of Wine

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During the menopause alcohol can increase the likelihood of hot flushes because it raises the body temperature. It can also become a go to, seeming to offer comfort when struggling with the physical and mental changes you may be going through. 

Mood elevation is only temporary and can often be followed by a crash. It can also aggravate the hormonal imbalance. Try reducing your intake at this time.

Good Mood Foods No. 1 - Coffee

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Coffee is a great mood lifter, boosting mental focus and alertness and athletic performance. It can even protect against Type 2 diabetes and decrease the risk of depression, but the less you consume the better!

Avoid sugary milky coffee drinks which can cause bloating and limit caffeine consumption to about 300mg a day. Have once a day when you want to be most alert.

I Need Chocolate Now!

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The imbalance of hormones during your period can lower your blood sugar meaning you can crave foods with high sugar and fat content. Try and maintain a healthy balanced diet with all the food groups.

Eating low GI carbs and protein will help you feel fuller longer and curb cravings by stabilising blood sugar levels.

Avoid the quick fix of sugar as it will only make you crash and crave more sugar which will also lead to more bloating, water retention and weight gain.


How to Cope With the Clocks Changing

Every year there is a movement to stop the clocks going back, but for now in the UK the changing of the clocks is here to stay.

We are not machines and the effect on our bodies can be disruptive and a shock to the system. This sudden change disturbs our sleep/wake circadian rhythm and it can take a while to adjust.

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Our routine stays the same but our melatonin levels take a while to catch up with the early sunset. Plus it’s pretty depressing looking out the window at 4pm and it’s already dark!

You can help your body gently ease into the new rhythm by eating at the time you would have eaten before, an hour earlier, and going to go bed earlier, in line with the old time, and gradually adjusting.

Don’t panic if you are waking up early, as you can use this time to meditate, chant, do some deep breathing exercises, yoga, stretching or even start on your emails. For larks this can actually be an advantage!

What Exercises Should You be Doing in the Gym During Menopause?

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Weight-bearing exercise is essential for combating osteoporosis as it is good for bone density.

It can also increase levels of testosterone which boosts the libido.

Cardio is great for weight loss, and heart fitness, but avoid high-intensity during this time as this can aggravate the stress hormones.

What’s Happening to my Libido?

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The sex hormones are the driving force of our libido and during menopause they diminish. You can combat this by rebalancing the hormones with whichever means feels right for you — be it HRT, bio-identical hormone replacement, vitamin and minerals supplements, or adaptogenic herbs such as Maca and Siberian Ginseng. Sometimes a small dose of testosterone can also help.

Is Your Health Ready For the Drop in Temperature?

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I am happy to share that some of my advice on keeping healthy in the winter months was recently featured in two articles on winter health and wellness in Iceni Magazine and Amor Magazine.

Some of the tips include increasing your Vitamin D intake, arranging your space to encourage feelings of wellness, and many more.

You can find the articles here and here.

New edition of Body Cycles - New Year Wellness inspiration!

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I am delighted to announce the release of the second edition of my book Body Cycles on Kindle and Issue, just in time for Christmas and New Year inspiration! 

If you are interested in an alternative to the yearly diet narrative and want a new way of maintaining your health all year-round take a look here.

Burnout Talk at 12 Hay Hill

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Many thanks to everyone who attended my sold-out talk at 12 Hay Hill on stress and professional burnout! I received great feedback from the audience and truly appreciated the support provided from Hay Hill. It's a lovely club.

It is always a rewarding experience to discuss and provide strategies for those who need to manage stress.

Ingredient Spotlight: CUCUMBER

Ingredient Spotlight: CUCUMBER

For my first Ingredient Spotlight post, I celebrate the humble cucumber! I highlight some of its health properties and reveal some of my favourite recipes, giving you new ideas on how to include delicious, healthy and seasonal produce into your diet. 

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Pasta Sauce Magic

Eating good food should be a pleasure, not a burden.

That's why I am always looking for healthy and tasty convenience foods, that make cooking faster, easier and more enjoyable! One of my favourite magic ingredients is pasta sauce, which I love to use on pasta or rice, but also on steamed or baked fish, meat or vegetables.⠀

The problem is that all too often jarred sauces are laden with sugar and additives - even gourmet or organic ones! So I was ecstatic when I found in my local Marks & Spencer this delicious and incredibly well-priced sauce by Italian producer, La Malva Rosa.⠀

It's made with only THREE ingredients: tomatoes, Taggiasca olives (small black olives from the Liguria region) and extra virgin olive oil. And it TASTES AMAZING! You can seriously eat it straight out of the jar… But I suggest that you try to add a few spoonfuls to your roasted vegetables to boost flavour, healthy fats, vitamins and antioxidants. ⠀

** Food Fact: Tomatoes are an interesting exception to the rule that cooking food reduces micronutrients: lycopene is better absorbed when it has been heated, so tinned tomatoes are good for you. This powerful antioxidant is fat soluble - it's absorbed by the body in the presence of fats - which makes the olive oil & tomato pairing a perfect match! ** 

2017 UPDATE

An update from Covent Garden, London on what I have been up to in the first months of 2017.

I talk about my travels to Europe and Africa, the changing seasons, and getting ready for Summer. 

Don't forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel to be the first to watch my upcoming video on Summer Health Tips.