Winter survival guide – don’t let colds and flu in

Cold snaps, endless drizzle, an extra hour in bed at the weekend and Frankenstorms add up to one thing: winter is on the horizon. If colder months usually leave you sniffling and flu-ridden, now is the time to take action against viral infections and bugs. Your digestion, sleep, diet and activity levels all affect your immune system, so what steps can you take to minimize your Kleenex consumption this winter?

1. PROTEIN

You absolutely have to consume good quality protein in winter months to enable your brain to make serotonin and melatonin, the brain hormones that make you feel happy and alert, or sleepy and sluggish. Our brains are finely tuned but dark days can throw this delicate hormone balance out of whack. So why not start the day with some freshly poached eggs, take in a yummy chicken soup for lunch and then cook up a storm in the slow cooker with a chicken thigh curry or a steak casserole.

2. OILS

Whenever I mention oils to a new client the stock response I get is, “well I try to eat mackerel and salmon.” Guess work aint’ gonna’ cut it sista’. Get yourself a good quality omega oil complex and take it, religiously. If there was one thing that you knew you could take which would cut down your risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes and would help to keep you looking good for longer you’d take it, right? Well oils are it. In the winter months your brain needs essential fats to help synthesise those essential brain hormones. Your digestive system also needs it to absorb nutrients and eliminate fats and guess what poor digestive health or poor nutrient absorption leads to … bleurghness. Oils are also anti-flammatory for the body, so great for those joint aches and pains and can help you to lose fat.

You still need to consume essential fats in the form of avocados, nuts, seeds and fish for all their vitamin credentials but a steady supply of omega oils will do wonders for your health and your mood.  I’d suggest a complex like Aliment Nutrition’s Omega Oil Plus (which tastes of orange oil not fish) as a minimum, one teaspoon three times a day with food or one teaspoon for children or tots.

3. VITAMIN D

The sunshine vitamin just does not get enough press. As well as managing calcium levels in your bones and warding off conditions like diabetes and cancer, vitamin D is vital for your immune system and several studies have pointed to a vitamin D deficiency as a major risk factor to developing auto-immune disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. According to a 2010 study published by the Endocrinology & Metabolism Clinics of North America, vitamin D also helps to control harmful microbes (think bacteria, fungi and viruses) by producing antibiotic substances.

We get most of our vitamin D from the sun but summer 2012 has been a washout. You can get some vitamin D from oily fish but most of us in the UK at least need to consider a supplement, especially if you rarely expose your skin to the sun, are dark skinned, have a very low fat diet (vitamin D is fat soluble) or are very overweight (vitamin D is blood borne so the bigger you are, the more dilute vitamin D becomes).

In our house we use Aliment Nutrition’s Vitamin D Spray and always have it with our oils.

4. GET COLOURFUL WITH YOUR VEGGIES

When salad days are over it can be tempting to pass over veggies in favour of a brown or beige dinner. But now is the time to enjoy harvest fruits and get multi-coloured. Consider a veggie box, Ashlyn’s farm in North Weald do home delivery http://www.ashlynsfarmshop.co.uk/ashlyns-farm-shop/.

Chard, beetroot, squash (and of course pumpkin) and dark greens are all in season at the moment.

5. EXERCISE IN DAYLIGHT

And finally … getting active in the morning, outside is just about the best thing you can do to avoid SAD. The light and the activity will help boost cortisol levels in the morning so you feel alert for the rest of the day and, perhaps more importantly, sleepy at night. Now is the time to get started, before the grey sets in!

How to beat the Winter Blues

Fit School P.E. classes now running every Saturday morning at 8am in Waltham Abbey Gardens. A fun start to the weekend (£25 a month).

Fit School Pilates classes every Monday evening and Tuesday 12-1 in Epping. Pilates for Pregnancy Saturdays 10.15 in Epping and Post Natal 9.30am in Epping.

For information on all classes email fitschoolessex@gmail.com

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Salt is good for you – as long as it’s pink.

Salt. Elixir of flavour, bursting with trace minerals, nature’s antiseptic (cat owners will know the joy that is bathing pussy’s poorly paw in a saline solution), ancient preserver of food stuffs, foe of snow and water softener. But in modern times, salt has become eeeevillll.

The invention of table salt, saw the once as precious as gold preserving agent stripped of all trace minerals, resulting in off-white, sad looking, 97-99% sodium chloride, wrapped in preserving agents, additives and fluoride in little pots in kitchen cupboards and cafe tables all over the world.

Now meet himalayan crystal salt. Less refined than sea salt and full of nature’s gold. And – even better … it’s pink!

The body needs salt. It’s vital for our cells, nerves, digestion and for the absorption and elimination of waste. But we don’t get any of this good stuff from cheap table salt – instead it just adds to the toxicity.

Salt cleanses, it’s been used for years as a detoxing agent. Plus do you remember the arrival of floatation tanks? Floating in your own, sanitized Dead Sea. Well you can recreate this at home, in the bath, with your own salts. The clever thing in himalayan crystal salt is that particles are small enough to enter the body and blood stream. The power of osmosis enables toxins to pass out and goodness to pass in.

I always recommend salt baths to me pre and post natal ladies for three very important reasons:

  1. Nothing beats a salt bath for pregnancy aches and pains. The properties in pink salt help with pain relief and circulation around tired hips and backs.
  2. Salt baths can also help with breast engorgement, relieving that full, porn star fullness you feel in the early days of motherhood.
  3. Nature’s antiseptic is brilliant for sewn up, swollen bits. You don’t have to look, you can just sit in a bath and feel the tingling, healing feeling. It has the same effect on cracked nipples too.

So whether you choose to put it in your salt cellar, look at it via a pretty pink salt lamp or bathe in it, if you’re into the unrefined life, I’d suggest you invest in some of the pink stuff.

You can buy pink salt direct from here http://www.himalayancrystalsalt.co.uk/ but I’m planning on doing a bulk order soon so if you’d like to try out some bath salts just let me know and I’ll make sure I buy enough for everyone.

How to train your pelvic floor like an Olympian

Last night the lovely women’s health physiotherapist, Melissa Millman came to talk with my pregnant and post natal ladies about the very important subject of pelvic floor.

I’ve interviewed the top gynaecologists and experts in this field for features and I’ve attended workshops with the top women’s health exercise professionals in the UK but I’m always learning. This part of a woman’s anatomy is still the subject of a great deal of scientific research and in particular, its role in sexual function.  I wanted to share some important reminders and some new learnings from last night’s talk.

Conversations with your midwife in your booking in appointment.

How many of you, during your booking in appointment, had a conversation with your midwife about pelvic floor health? Did you know it’s part of the NICE guidelines for your midwife to talk about it at this point (National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence)? Why? Well prevention is better than cure. If you start training your pelvic floor effectively from ten weeks into your pregnancy you have around seven months to make a difference.

Stress incontinence in early pregnancy.

It’s not all about post natal leaks. Some women experience a little leakage in the first trimesters of pregnancy. Why? According to Melissa it’s most common in women who are sensitive to hormonal shifts. In early pregnancy your oestrogen drops and progesterone rises, this is to ensure your body tissues become lax enough to allow for foetal growth. However, this laxity affects your whole body.

Take the urethra, your wee tube. It’s surrounded by two layers of pelvic floor muscle. One is conscious and can be trained much like you’d train a bicep, but the other is unconscious or involuntary. So in some women, the involuntary muscle becomes a bit too lax and allows leakage. This can be particularly unpleasant if you’re suffering from morning sickness.

Training the ‘trainable’ muscles can help make up for involuntary muscle weakness but also just knowing this is normal and non-permanent can help.

Train until you fatigue

It’s one thing doing a quick squeeze every now and again but if you really want to build up strength in your pelvic floor muscles you need to train them like you’d train your body in the gym – until you reach fatigue. You need to finish your training session and feel like you’ve worked out. The same is true for your pelvic floor muscles.

Slow and quick

Don’t forget that you need to do your quick, strong squeezes immediately after your slow ones. Think of it like warming up in the park before you do your short sprints.

Squeeze before you sneeze

If you are aware of a little leakage when you sneeze, research has shown that if you squeeze your pelvic floor before you sneeze you can minimize the problem.

Never stop!

The biggest age group of women experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction is post menopausal.  You need to work pelvic floor exercises into your life, for life, to ensure you don’t become one of the one in three women who frequently visit the shelves next to tampons in the supermarket.

Ten ways to lose fat and get more energy

1. Cut out refined sugars.  Not just extra cakes, pastries and chocolate but all those occasional sweeties or sugars in coffee too. Just ditch it. Going cold turkey can feel tough at first but if you can get through the first week you’ll notice the difference, in your waist line as well as your energy levels. If you’re struggling, try out some of my sugar alternative recipes like the date and walnut flapjacks.

2. Eat more greens. Especially watercress, spinach and broccoli, which are loaded full of nutrients and will also help to alkalise your body. You can whizz them up in a greens drink (try whizzing a juiced apple with the juice of a lime, avocado and spinach), add them to a soup or curry or just eat them as a salad. Eat greens with every meal, yes, that means with breakfast too. And whilst we’re on breakfast …

3.  … Scrap the cereal. A sure fire way to spend the day hungry and grumpy is to start the day by eating sugary grains, puffed full of air. DO NOT BE SCARED OF PROTEIN AT BREAKFAST TIME. Add an extra egg to your scramble pan instead of toast, or treat yourself to smoked salmon. Protein at breakfast time is THE best way to balance your energy levels and mood for the day, especially in winter, since your brain needs protein to create both wakeful and sleepy hormones.

4. Cut out bread. It’s not the devil but it does no favours to a lady with love handles. Switch refined carbs like bread, rice and pasta to sweet potatoes, quinoa and whole grain basmati. Little changes = big energy changes.

5. Drink. Lots of water. There is no side step on this one. You’ve just gotta’ suck it up and do it. Herbal teas, fizzy water yes yes, all good but the plain old wet stuff is what your body needs to stay tip top. Studies consistently  show that water is the secret weapon in fat loss and that modern times may have mucked up our natural thirst/hunger signals, meaning we often eat when we’re actually thirsty. If you want to get rid of fat and toxins, you need to provide the means of transport – WATER. At least two litres.

6. Indulge yourself in fatty acids. From avocados to mackerel do not be afraid of the calories that come from essential fatty acids. Fact: No one ever got obese from an avocado obsession. And if you want the science, well we all have fat cells. What do you want to fill yours with? Nice, brain boosting, easy to process essential fatty acids or artery clogging, toxic lard? Your choice.

7. Eat protein with every meal. Aim for a fist sized portion with every meal for starters. It could be in a soup, in a casserole or griddled, Nigella style but make sure you have it. This will balance your mood and your appetite. Make it good quality protein that’s not pumped with filler. Talk to your local butcher or go for free range in the supermarket. Switch from breast meat to thigh meat if your budget is tight and good quality casserole steak or mince for a cheaper, slow cook option.

8. Find something energetic that you enjoy doing, or that at least makes you feel good. In the winter months it’s vital to exercise. Treat it like medicine. Do it for your sanity. A brisk walk outside in the  morning or a twenty minute run in the winter sun can do wonders for your mood and energy levels.

9. Plan your meals. Business, life, children, work and socialising can all wreak havoc with your good intentions, especially if your fridge is empty. Plan your meals for the week and include a couple of freezer options. Then buy it all and stick to it. It just makes life so much easier.

10. And finally … sleep. Sleep deprivation is a friend of fat. You need good quality sleep to create the full hormone leptin. Skip your zzz’s and your appetite will be on your case all day. So turn in, turn off and …. (sorry I must have dropped off).

Pilates and the very post natal participant – banishing saggy bottoms everywhere

WE ♥ GRANNIES. Well in fact in my Pilates classes we love everyone but someone asked the other day, ‘just how post natal can you be to come to Pilates?’

We have a special term for ladies who are on to their second generation of parenting and that is: VERY POST NATAL. Not because we are shy of the grandparent word but because it’s important to recognise the unique needs of women who are peri-menopausal or who have indeed tipped over the other side of hot flushes.

You see (and here’s me chatting about lady parts again) once women enter a certain time of life, hormonal changes, combined with the effects of giving birth some years previous and the lacklustre reality of ageing muscles can spell lady troubles.  Not necessarily big ones but perhaps weaknesses in one’s nether regions that we’d rather weren’t there.

Then you get the whole fat redistribution thing, where your formerly pert buttocks suddenly reappear somewhere around the top of your trousers and your metabolism plummets as your lean muscle mass ebbs off into the ether.

You can do something about all of these things.  Pilates isn’t a cure all for everything but it’s a great start. Especially when it comes to strengthening your buttocks, tummies and pelvic floor to help bolster your body against injuries.

Here are a few things Pilates can really help with for those in their golden years:

  • Balance and reduced risk of falls
  • Reduced risk of prolapse or incontinence
  • Better sex and orgasms – I actually have this on good authority from one participant’s husband who shall remain nameless
  • Improved posture
  • More restful sleep
  • Fewer chronic back issues and/or joint related injuries

I should also add that my oldest male participant was 75 and my oldest female, 80. Both were fabulous and kept up with the youngun’s whilst barely breaking a sweat and only occasionally breaking wind. Mr Pilates was nearly 84 when he died, still fighting fit (he died of smoke inhalation from a fire in his New York studio).