Common Energy Sappers

Common Energy Sappers

On our soon to be launched Dashboard, we ask you every day what your energy levels are like to get an overall picture of your health and wellness. Feeling Tired All The Time (TATT) is one of the most common reasons people visit their GPs, and as many as one in five report feeling unusually tired with one in 10 have prolonged fatigue, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Here, health journalist Jo Waters explores the most common reasons for depleted energy. 

Lack of sleep and poor quality sleep

  • Not enough sleep: Sleep is often the first casualty for busy people so try and get enough – adults aged 18 to 64 need seven to nine hours, according to the US National Sleep Foundation.
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea: If you’re waking feeling groggy and with headaches even after 7 to 9 hours of sleep , it’s possible you have sleep quality problems due to obstructive sleep apnoea. This is where your airways momentarily collapse for a few seconds several times a minute, depriving you of oxygen while you sleep. You might not even be aware of it (or you may wake up others with your snoring!). See a doctor for an assessment.
  • Insomnia: If you suffer from problems getting to and staying asleep, avoid day time naps, exercising too close to bedtime, caffeinated drinks in the evenings and deal with sources of stress and pain that wake you. 

Poor diet and vitamin/mineral deficiencies

Eating a balanced diet providing you with enough calories and a full range of vitamins and minerals from all food groups is crucial for energy levels, as is not skipping meals.

  • Lack of iron: Iron-deficiency anaemia is caused by a lack of iron in the diet due to low levels of haemoglobin (red blood cells) which carry oxygen around the body. Women below the age of the menopause are particularly at risk if they have heavy periods, as well as pregnant women. Runners may also be at risk of anaemia because the impact of the foot on hard surfaces causes red blood vessels to burst, a condition called foot stroke haemolysis. Ask your GP for a blood test to check your iron levels. Rich sources of iron in food include red meat, leafy green vegetables, eggs and dried apricots. Boost iron absorption by drinking a vitamin C-rich juice at meal times, but avoid tea and coffee because this can inhibit it.
  • B12 deficiency: Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include extreme tiredness, lack of energy, depression and muscle weakness. The most common cause is pernicious anaemia where your immune system attacks healthy cells in your stomach, preventing absorption of vitamin B12. B12 deficiency is also more common in people who eat a vegan diet (no meat, fish or dairy products). You may need B12 injections or supplements to pep up your B12 levels.

Common medical causes of tiredness

  • Type 2 diabetes: An estimated 12.3 Million people in the UK are at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to function properly or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin. Symptoms include tiredness, weight loss, thirst and passing large amounts of urine. Your GP can run blood tests to check your sugar levels. If diagnosed early you may be able to control your diabetes with diet and exercise alone, but some patients also need medication.
  • Underactive thyroid: This is where your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough of a hormone called thyroxin for a healthy metabolism. Symptoms may include feeling tired, muscle aches, thinning hair, sudden weight gain, dry skin and a hoarse voice. See your GP to arrange for a thyroid function test. If diagnosed you’ll need to take thyroxine tablets.

Psychological causes of tiredness

Stress, anxiety or depression can make life feel like a struggle and sap your energy as well as affect your sleep. See your doctors to talk about your feelings you may need to be referred for a talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy or need a course of antidepressants.

Too much or too little exercise

If you’re training remember to have regular rest days and to plan your exercise so you don’t overdo it. Exercising generally though should leave you feeling more energised. A University of Georgia study found healthy adults who began exercising lightly, three days a week for just 20 minutes reported higher energy levels and less tiredness after six weeks.

5 Ways to Kick Start Your Motivation

5 Ways to Kick Start Your Motivation

You’ve committed to getting fitter and healthier, and you are full of enthusiasm at the moment to get started in the New Year right? However, you have a track record of dropping out when life gets in the way, and are worried it will happen again.
Here are our tactics to help you stay on track and succeed in your journey.

  1. Set yourself a goal: Setting a goal gives you an end to your plan of action. A well-known longitudinal study of Harvard graduates found that those who had clearly defined, written, goals were the ones who went on to achieve the greatest success.
  2. Find something you enjoy: Eating plans and exercise can seem like a chore. But finding something you love to do is simple, running or dog walking, tennis or even gardening are all great ways to exercise. Cooking is fun and experimenting with healthy nutrients and ingredients can be as enjoyable as the eating!
  3. Make healthy your default setting: New research has found the most consistent exercisers are those who made it into a specific type of habit – such as jumping out of bed automatically when they hear their alarm and heading for the gym. The aim is to make being healthy your default setting so you don’t have to think about it. Plan your workouts, record what you eat, and the nutrients you take in. Be as methodical and practical as you would work meetings or social events – that way they’ll actually happen. You can have excuses or results, not both!
  4. Tell people what you’re doing: Good friends will want to encourage you on your getting healthier plans (and some may even join you – so even better). If you’ve made a public commitment, you’ll have more motivation to carry on and earn their praise. Setting up a Just Giving sponsorship page for a charity event can be a great motivator too, once people have donated money for your chosen charity you’ll have the added incentive of not wanting to let them down.
  5. Track your progress: Whether it’s a wearable, a phone app, or simply a pen and paper, tracking your health and fitness progress and using data, stats and graphs will get you to your goal faster. Being able to go back and look at what you were doing when things were going really well for you is invaluable, you can use it as motivation to get you back on track and as a blueprint of personal success.

Staying motivated

  • Dangle the carrot: If you respond to bribery, promise yourself rewards for your exertions. If you smash that weekend class you’ve been meaning to get to or run a certain distance – reward yourself with a big meal, a luxurious bath, or put some money towards a sports massage each time you hit your goals.
  • Download some music for workouts: We all have our favourite songs that make us run that bit faster or dig in the cross trainer with more oomph. Load them onto your i-Pod or make a killer Spotify playlist, and see your motivation rise!
  • Work with your body clock: Are you an owl or a lark? Is it realistic for you to get up an hour earlier and run before work, or will you find it easier to pop to the gym after work? If neither are realistic (particularly tough for working parents), think about how you can fit more exercise into your daily routine – brisk walks at lunchtime, walking all or part of the way to or from work and then maybe some classes and a long run at the weekend may be the best solution.
  • Eat to suit your day: Don’t believe you have to rigidly stick to one particular time of day to eat. Research has found if you are under-eating or over-eating for your needs, your performance and recovery and management of your weight will all be affected. What matters is the nutrients you get in over your day, so manage eating plans to suit your lifestyle.
  • Talk to an expert: An assessment of your fitness and nutrition goals are worth the investment. An expert can give you a fresh perspective and advise you on how train, more about your physiological needs and what to eat. Our Amplify Life expert training plans and coaching advice will give you extra support as you face the new year full steam ahead!

How To Be Mindful

How To Be Mindful

Are you permanently stressed–out, constantly mulling over the past and worrying endlessly about the future? Do you lie in bed fretting – just wishing your mind would go quiet so you can sleep? Many of us in the 21st century live in a heightened state of anxiety, chasing our own tails, unable to relax and enjoy what is happening in the moment, living inside our own heads and failing to notice what is all around us.

Mindfulness is a mental health toolkit designed to teach people to live in and enjoy the moment, putting aside your troubles from the past and not fretting about what lies ahead.

Some describe mindfulness as treating yourself more kindly or teaching you to rediscover your joie de vivre. Of course it’s now a new idea – we’ve all heard the expression “smell the roses” and the concept of enjoying and learning to live in the moment is the basis of ancient Buddhism.

If you apply it to physical exercise – for example, running – it’s about becoming more aware of your body in the moment, of each step you take, concentrating on your feet and how they feel and focusing on your breath, so you are in the moment, enhancing your enjoyment.

Does it work?

If mindfulness sounds a bit hippy–dippy–summer–of–love–ish – be reassured it is an approach that’s underpinned by a solid basis in scientific research. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence recommends mindfulness as a way of preventing depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression. Research has shown it as effective as antidepressants.

The benefits of mindfulness in preventing serious depression and emotional distress have been proven by 10 clinical trials, according to the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, based at Oxford University.

Having said that it’s not a one-size-fits-all cure for depression and anxiety in everyone and research is still ongoing into who benefits most from mindfulness.

Also it’s not just a treatment for people with clinical depression – it can be a useful approach for anyone who is stressed out, rushing around and at risk of burnout as a way of “checking-in” with yourself and what’s going on around you. You don’t have to be stressed or ill to benefit from the strategies it can teach you to live with more appreciation and less anxiety.

What are you taught?

You’re encouraged to:

  • Reconnect with your body and the sensations you experience.
  • To make a conscious effort to be aware of the sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment – come off auto pilot in other words.
  • Remind yourself to notice your everyday surroundings – sometimes it’s suggested you do this at a set time of day – but it doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged on the floor – it could be sitting on a train to work or a few minutes sitting in your garden or other quiet place.
  • Name your thoughts and feelings – for instance be able to recognise a negative thought – like a cloud in the sky or a bus passing by – without necessarily being affected by it.

How can I learn to be mindful?

Sessions are typically offered in a group situation and last eight weeks and include meditation and breathing exercises and are available through the NHS in some areas. But there are also free online courses that have been scientifically validated.

There also books and CDs to guide, such as Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman (available from Amazon £10.49 ) which comes with an accompanying CD with meditation exercises.

  • Find out more by watching this YouTube lecture by Professor Mark Williams of Oxford University’s Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

Sleep, and Why It Matters!

Sleep, and Why It Matters!

It’s amazing how even the fittest, healthiest people who eat well and make the effort to work out can neglect their sleep needs.

Busy people often cut back on sleep when under pressure – failing to realise sleep issues can lead to long term health problems such as an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even dementia, as well as short term drowsiness and tiredness.

But there are more subtle effects too – including the effects on higher executive function –  the higher level cognitive skills you need for planning, problem-solving and working memory. This can lead you to being under par at work. Sleep deprivation can also affect your self-control, emotions and decision-making.

Why sleep quality matters too

It’s not just sleep quantity that matters – but sleep quality too. If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) – where your airways momentarily collapse for a few seconds several times a minute, depriving you of oxygen while you sleep – you might not even be aware of it, but it’s interfering with your body’s metabolic processes. This can raise your blood sugar and blood pressure and lead to weight gain, heart disease and diabetes.

If you snore and suffer daytime sleepiness you could have undiagnosed OSA, so it’s important to get tested and treated. Other risk factors for sleep apnoea include being overweight, having a thick neck, smoking and having a large tongue or large tonsils or adenoids.

Why your body needs sleep

We spend a third of our life asleep, but don’t think of it as time wasted.  When you’re sleeping your blood pressure drops, breathing slows down and the body goes to work on  repairing and rebuilding tissue. Sleep is also the time when hormones are released which are essential for growth and muscle development and the regulation of ghrelin and leptin,  the “hunger” hormones which control appetite (sleep deprived people tend to eat more and gain weight). Cerebral spinal fluid is pumped more quickly throughout the brain during sleep, washing  out  waste so you wake up mentally refreshed.

How much sleep  do you actually need?

Mrs Thatcher famously got by on three hours sleep a night but most of us need a lot more  than that. After a two year study, the US National Sleep Foundation revised its recommendations in 2015 as to how many hours we need per night, as follows:

  • school age kids (six to 13): 10 to 13 hours;
  • teens (14 to 17): eight to 10 hours;
  • adults (18 to 64): seven to nine hours;
  • older adults (over 65): seven to eight hours.

What about power naps?

A short day time nap of under 40 minutes can refresh you – but nap for any longer and you may be raising your risk of metabolic syndrome, the medical name for a number of symptoms that can lead to heart disease including high blood pressure, excess fat around your middle and high blood sugar and cholesterol, according to new research from the University of Tokyo.

How to sleep better

Unfortunately, insomnia, difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep long enough to feel refreshed, affects one in three people.

But there are some simple ways to sleep better including:

  • Sticking to a set time for bedtime and getting up – even at weekends and on holiday.
  • Keeping your bedroom cool and dark with no light pollution, a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Practising a winding-down routine with a warm bath, relaxing music and a milky drink before bedtime.
  • Saving worrying for daylight hours. Write down what’s worrying you and block it out when you’re in bed.
  • Avoiding heavy meals, too much alcohol and smoking for two to three hours before bedtime.
  • Getting treatment for medical conditions that wake you at night including joint pain, restless legs syndrome, cramps and nocturnal trips to the loo.

Why You Need To Stay Hydrated

Why You Need To Stay Hydrated

If you’re a runner or gym bunny it’s probably already on your radar that you need to keep your fluid levels topped up before, during and after exercise, but even the most sedentary of office workers need to take care to keep hydrated, too.

Dehydration is a growing problem

Surprisingly, despite our cool and wet climate, dehydration is a growing problem in the UK; a survey by the National Hydration Council revealed dehydration was the cause of tiredness and fatigue in one in 10 GP consultations for the complaint. And hospital admissions for dehydration rose by 57 per cent between 2003 and 2013/14.

Dehydration and exercise

Research has found it’s not uncommon for athletes to lose six to 10 per cent of their body weight due to water loss during strenuous events. But even being as little as two per cent dehydrated can affect performance. Visit the Amplify Shop for a great range of hydration products you can take on board whilst training.

Athletes are especially vulnerable to dehydration at the beginning of a new season when they are not acclimatised to changing weather conditions or sudden increases in activity levels.

How much do you need to drink?

Drinking enough fluids is something most of us don’t think about enough especially when we’re busy. We rely on our thirst sensation to prompt us to top-up but experts warn this is unreliable because by the time we feel thirsty we’re already dehydrated.

Official guidelines from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends an intake of 2.5 litres of water (fluid) for men and 2.0 litres of fluid for women per day, via food and drink. EFSA says of this 2.5 or 2 litres a day, 70 to 80 per cent should come from drinks, and the rest from food.

Obviously, there are lots of variables – if you exercise, you’re advised to drink extra fluids, for example, a large glass of water (200ml) for every 45 minutes of exercise as a rough guide. You may need to drink more if you’re working out in hot weather though and the extra intake you may need will depend on your body size and how intensely you exercise.

If you’re pregnant you need to drink an extra 0.3 litres of water a day and 0.7 litres more a day is you are breastfeeding – on top of the normal 2 litres a day recommended.

Does it matter what you drink? 

The short answer is not really… Water is the healthiest option as it is calorie and fat-free, but tea and coffee are okay as well but bear in mind they can have a mild diuretic effect and make you pass more urine if you drink a lot of them. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect too, so it you are on a boozy night out, try to drink water between refills.

How do you know you are dehydrated?

Water makes up for 75 per cent of our body weight and performs several vital functions in the body including carrying nutrients and waste products, controlling body temperature, lubricating moving parts and acting as a shock absorber for joints. It also makes up 73 per cent of the brain.

This is why the symptoms of being dehydrated are quite literally felt throughout the body and include headaches, concentration problems, tiredness , dry eyes, constipation, greater susceptibility to urinary tract infections such as cystitis and kidney stones, as well as migraines.

Severe symptoms

More severe symptoms include a rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, not passing urine for eight hours, feeling tired or confused, a weak pulse , sunken eyes, semi-consciousness, dry skin which sags slowly back into position when pinched, cold hands and feet and seizures. These symptoms need urgent medical attention, usually rehydration on an IV drip in hospital.

10 Reasons to Walk 10,000 Steps A Day

10 Reasons to Walk 10,000 Steps A Day

Walking 10,000 steps (approximately five miles) a day has proven health benefits, is free and can be done at any time by most people whatever their shape, size, or age. It’s a sure way to get you from from couch to active! Here are 10 reasons to get those boots on… and get walking! By Jo Waters.

1. You’ll live longer. Research published in 2015 found walking just 15 minutes a day could help people over 60 live longer – cutting their risk of dying by 22 per cent compared with those in the same age group  who did no exercise – so even short bursts of walking are better than none.

2. Weight loss/maintenance: A 45 year-old weighing 70kg (11 stone) will burn 440 calories by walking 10,000  steps a day. Walking two miles (3.2km) a day four times a week can help reduce weight by 1lb a month.

3. Builds joint strength: Even if you have osteoarthritis (the wear-and-tear kind) you shouldn’t stop walking as research studies have confirmed regular walking strengthens the muscles supporting joints, reducing pain and prolonging the time until a hip or knee replacement may be needed.

4. Cuts your risk factors for heart disease: Brisk walking will cut your blood pressure, help boost levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, as well as helping to reduce your weight.

5. Helps prevent cancer recurrence: Research has shown regular walking and can reduce the risk of recurrence of cancer by 50 per cent in colorectal cancer survivors and up to 40 per cent in breast cancer survivors.

6. Relieves stress and prevents depression: Regular exercise releases the body’s natural painkillers – endorphins – and reduces the risk of becoming depressed by 30 per cent.

7. Reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes: Walking helps lower your blood sugar and your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

8. Cuts your dementia risk: A study by the University of Pittsburgh reported walking six miles a week protects brain size and preserves memory.

9. Helps you get your dose of Vitamin D. Walking to and from work or taking the kids to school, nipping out in the middle of the day for a 20 minute trot? You’ll also benefit from the sunshine and absorb some vitamin D the natural way.

10. It helps you sleep. Moderate intensity exercise, including walking, boosts the effect of natural sleep hormones such as melatonin. A 2003 US study looking at post-menopausal women and sleeping patterns, compared two groups for a year and found the walkers suffered less sleep issues than those who were in active.

May is National Walking Month. Find out more here: https://www.livingstreets.org.uk/what-you-can-do/campaigns/national-walking-month-2016

7 Ways to Eat Yourself Young

7 Ways to Eat Yourself Young

Expert sports nutritionist Lucy Ann Prideaux has the low down on anti-ageing eating.

  1. Keep it simple Caring for the body comes down to three things – breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you think I’m being rather simplistic here, you’re right, I am. Eating a good diet is simple. In fact, it is the easiest and simplest thing in the world. You can either eat and drink your way to disease, or eat your way to health and wellness. It is your choice. Prepare simple meals using plenty of fresh, colourful, natural foods, and you can’t go far wrong.
  2.  Drink green tea Green tea is full of health-producing, disease-reducing and anti-ageing antioxidants. A cup of green tea provides plenty of natural plant chemicals called polyphenols. Their high anti-oxidant activity protects the body from damaging free radicals (rogue molecules), which can accelerate the ageing process, both inside the body and outside. A daily cup or two of green tea is a great way to get a good dose of helpful antioxidants.
  3.  Eat berries Berries are also full of anti-ageing antioxidants, and disease-fighting vitamin C. They will help provide your body with a powerful arsenal against ageing by flooding your system with vital nutrients. 
  4. Eat like a bird Nuts and seeds are some of the richest sources of many essential fats from the omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 family of fatty acids. Essential fats are pivotal to the health of the brain, body, hair and skin. The oils from almonds, walnuts and flaxseeds for example can help to alleviate dry skin, reduce inflammation in the body, help control cholesterol levels, and regenerate cells. Nuts and seeds also contain important protein for cellular regeneration, and fibre for colon health.
  5. Opt for healthy fats Healthy superfood fat comes from food such as avocado and olives. Rich in healthy oil for glowing skin, fibre and plant sterols to help control cholesterol, avocado also boasts alkalising minerals such as potassium, and the anti-ageing and protective nutrient vitamin A. Olives and olive oil are particular signatures of the Mediterranean diet, renowned for it’s ability to prevent heart disease and cancer, and promote life longevity.
  6. Eat an apple a day (it keeps the doctor away) One of the most accessible and healthy fruits happens to be the apple. Apples have excellent free-radical scavenging properties, helping to keep you from going ‘rusty’ on the inside. Apple pectin is the main fibre present in this wonder food, perfect for sound intestinal health.
  7. Choose the right colours Green, red, pink and orange are all good natural food choices. Spinach, kale, watercress, broccoli, tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon contain lutein and lycopene, powerful antioxidants that will help keep your eyes looking clear and youthful and help protect against a common eye disease called age-related macular degeneration. Pumpkin and other squash such as butternut, onion or acorn and sweet potato are loaded with minerals and phytonutrients such as beta-carotene, as well as vitamin C that nourish the skin, and keep the insides glowing, too.