Christmas Season Survival Tips from our Dietician, Alex Cook

Christmas Season Survival Tips from our Dietician, Alex Cook

Christmas is a season to eat and be merry of course, but many use it as an excuse to overindulge. Many claim putting on weight over the festive season is part and parcel of celebrations but in reality, it is not necessary and can be avoided. Maintain focus on your longer term goals, whether that’s simply to be healthier overall, or even as hardcore as preparing for competitive events in the new year; keeping them in mind will help you decide where to draw your lines!

We are not advising anyone to restrict their food intake, but if you want to enjoy the next few weeks without overdoing it, follow our Christmas survival top tips to control the festive urge!

 

  1. Maintain your routine – Although it’s only natural for things to go a little awry over Christmas time, try and keep some things the same. Maintaining some basic principles of drinking plenty of water, having a good breakfast and making sure you hit 5 fruit and vegetables a day will stand you in good stead. Think about planning your exercise in where you can too, something is better than nothing, especially if the Christmas week is a little hectic with family and commitments.  
  2. Don’t feel guilty – if you do go a little overboard, banish the guilt. Don’t use words such as “cheat day” or “bad” food. You need to enjoy yourself so get rid of negative talk. Enjoy your time and your food and if you think you slightly overdo it, just cut back a bit the next day. Think about balancing it across the week, if you have one day you’ve overindulged for a staff party or such, you can still eat really well and clean on the other days.   
  3. Don’t feel obliged – It is ok to say no! Just because someone has offered or made something, you don’t have to eat it. Don’t feel pressured by the “but it’s Christmas” comment. Eat and drink what you are comfortable with and don’t eat or drink to please others. 
  4. Have a protein rich snack before you go out – Protein takes longer to digest and therefore keeps you full up for longer. If you go out feeling really hungry, you are more likely to yield to monster portions when faced with the option. Have some hummus and raw veg or greek yogurt with seeds and nuts – that will keep hunger at bay. 
  5. Avoid buying too much food – Having cupboards bursting with foods can be a recipe for disaster. The temptation to eat more than you need is there as a result of not wanting it to “go to waste”. Try and only buy what you need and avoid over-sized boxes, tins of biscuits and crisps etc…if they are there, you will only be tempted to eat more. 
  6. Back away from that buffet! – Buffets can be a dangerous place, bitesize food makes it feel like you’re not eating a lot when you are. Make sure you fill half your plate up with veggies or salad, then protein based foods such as chicken or fish and then the smallest portion carbohydrates like bread or potatoes. Take time selecting your food and once your plate is full, move away to avoid the oh-so-easy grazing and hopefully to do some dancing!

 

Top Winter Riding Safety Tips from Our Cycling Expert, Jonny Bellis

Top Winter Riding Safety Tips from Our Cycling Expert, Jonny Bellis

Riding in the winter is key to maintaining a good level of fitness and setting you up for the next season. However, it can be dangerous as the nights draw in and the weather turns cold, wet and windy. Staying safe on the road is key, and the last thing you want is an incident or a bad experience to derail your season preparation!

Here are my top tips for riding safely in the winter and making the most of your time in the saddle!

  • Lights – lights on the front (white) and back (red) of your bike are crucial to ensuring you are visible out on the road. Chances are if you’re commuting you will be doing so in the dark, as daylight hours are reduced. Similarly if you are on the club run at the weekend, foggy, misty, or overcast conditions are more likely in the winter months. Strong lights to show what’s ahead will make your rides safer, as well as making vehicles aware of you on the road.
  • Training indoors – on the indoor trainer (turbo or rollers), wattbike or similar. If it is icy, pouring with rain, snowy, frosty or below 3C, you reduce the risk of illness and crashing by training indoors. Turbo trainers are a great tool for training – allowing you to do controlled efforts while staying warm, dry and comfortable. You can get as much benefit from a 50 minute ride with efforts indoors, as you can from a two hour road ride in the cold, where you will be taking risks. No dirty bike to wash too, bonus!
  • Winter kit – You need to be prepared for all types of weather when riding in the winter. Warm gloves are key to ensuring you have feeling in your hands to brake and change gear. A warm, waterproof jacket is also a great bit of kit, as is a thermal baselayer to wear under your jersey. You could also take a rain cape for your back pocket, just in case of showers. It’s wise to wear a buff around your neck, to keep your neck and chest warm, especially for if you stop and don’t want your body temperature to drop too much. This can also be pulled up around the face to minimise the amount of cold air you are breathing in.
  • Roads – Due to bad weather, the condition of roads may be compromised so extra care is needed. As I mention in my beginner 12-week plan, look out for potholes or cracks in the road, and identify them to the group you are riding with. Some potholes may be covered with water or leaves and simply look like a puddle, so try to maintain concentration and be aware. Signalling the road surface is even more important riding in groups, to ensure everyone stays upright. Roads may also be more slippery so cornering and stopping needs to be done with extra care. Don’t grab your brakes, and when cornering, go a little more slowly in and out of the bends.
  • Winter Tyres! – During the winter months, with bad weather conditions and poor road surface, you have the option to change to a more durable tyre. Tyre brands will all have several winter options that are generally heavier, grippier and thicker, to reduce the likelihood of punctures or skidding.
  • Fuelling on the bike – You will burn more calories on the bike when you are cold as your body works harder to stay warm. Therefore fuelling sufficiently on the bike is crucial to ensuring you can enjoy longer rides in the winter. Even though it is cold you still need to drink and make sure you eat a good mix of carbohydrate and protein every 30 minutes to keep your resources topped up. 

wintercycling

Riding in the winter is tough and it’s hard to stay motivated when the weather is grim and there are less hours of light to ride in. However, you will be grateful for the winter miles next summer when the sun is shining and you’re feeling fit – so enjoy riding your bike, and with these tips you can stay safe out on the roads too!

Article by Jonny Bellis OLY – Former professional road cyclist with Team Saxo Bank, and elite private coach. 

Jonny Bellis was one of Britain’s most promising, up and coming cyclists; a member of the GB squad with the likes of Mark Cavendish, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy and part of the world’s number one professional road team, Team Saxo Bank. When Jonny won bronze in the Under 23 World Road Race in 2007, he became the first British male rider to medal in over 40 years and also represented Team GB in the 2008 Beijing Olympics at the age of just 19.

His burgeoning career took a monumental detour after a horror scooter accident in 2009. He spent 3 weeks in an induced coma, contracted repeat life-threatening infections, suffered a stroke and was told he’d be paralysed from the neck down. In just over a year after this tragedy and after a gruelling recovery process, he incredibly made it back to the start line at the top of his game at the Tour of Britain. He retired in 2015 and now inspires the next generation as a coach. He provides a true and unique depth of experience and we’re proud to have him on board as our cycling expert.

Download the Amplify Life app for free to follow Jonny’s expert plans and get stuck into your training journey! To speak to Jonny directly about 1-1 coaching you can contact him through his website below.

www.belliscoaching.co.uk
@jonnybelliss

Martin Yelling’s Long Run Home

Martin Yelling’s Long Run Home

We’re proud to be backing today’s stage of the Long Run Home and donating money to Martin Yelling’s chosen charities (see below).

So far Martin has run 133 miles in four days and today he’ll cover a total of 32 miles between Crackington Haven and Padstow. Martin’s goal for the long run home goal is to run the entire South West Coast path, a total of 630 miles in  21 days.

Check out where Martin’s running, by clicking on the image below.

Martin Yelling's Long Run Home
Martin Yelling’s Long Run Home

We’re supporting Martin who is running the south west coast path for three charities he cares about: The Southmead Hospital Charity, Julia’s House and MacMillan Cancer Support. You can too sponsor Martin at: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/MartinYelling128.

Martin sets off Martin and runner

For more action today:

* Stage discussion: https://www.facebook.com/events/1048183521933746/
* Live tracking of Martin for every stage: http://live.opentracking.co.uk/longrunhome/

 

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.