We are not designed to be sedentary....
Exercise is fundamental for our immune systems, regulation of cholesterol, blood pressure, heart function, mental function, management of stress hormones etc.
The “etc” here really does mean everything that your body does and its regulation of all functions. It is constantly trying to get you back to a resting state where everything is within “normal” parameters, like blood pressure, blood sugar levels, female hormones, the pH (slightly alkaline) of your blood.
It is when it finds difficulty reaching this point of homeostasis (staying the same) that the real problems occur and when symptoms begin to show; for instance an inability to cope with stress often shows up in symptoms like irritability, insomnia, energy slumps, loss of concentration and depression.
You can see here that the body is struggling to get back to a balanced functioning state. It will also be using up lots of nutrients and may be damaged by elevated...
First published in What Doctor's Don't Tell You Magazine.
We all know the knock-on effects of a bad night’s sleep, but when insomnia becomes chronic it can affect our whole being and ability to function. The daytime fatigue it creates can send us reaching for sugar and stimulants, which in turn affect sleep.
Insomnia falls into two categories; difficulty falling asleep and waking in the night. It tends to be divided into primary insomnia, where sleeplessness is the main symptom and secondary, where sleep is affected by another condition e.g. arthritis, fibromyalgia and depression. From a holistic and psychoneuroimmunological (PNI) perspective - where our bodies work as one completely integrated system – the calming and soothing mechanisms that allow sleep have such far reaching effects on lowering inflammation, modulating immunity and regulating mood and motivation, that promoting sleep quality is a foundation of health; not just the absence of disease, but quality...
Quality over Quantity
It is possible that you can spend nearly two-thirds of your life asleep yet many people place less importance on this time than their waking hours. Easy to do, after all we are unconscious, yet the quality of this time has great influence over the quality of our waking hours.
Sleep is all about recovery – physical, emotional and energetic. In order to function fully whilst waking, we rely on the immune facilities, detoxification, tissue and muscle healing and emotional processing that occur during the wee small hours. If this downtime isn’t respected, we may quickly see symptoms like fatigue, irritability, poor concentration and poor recovery from stress, injury and skin complaints.
Lack of sleep, even at a small accumulative level can lead to craving sugar and stimulants as our bodies try to fuel up in the face of less vitally built-up energy. Indeed too little sleep has been associated with incremental weight gain through increased appetite for...
Our Most Natural Movement
Walking is the best way to improve lower body, reproductive and digestive circulation; in fact any activity that moves the whole body around is beneficial, although cycling can restrict the pelvic area. Physiologically we are designed to walk to get the whole circulation moving and it should be regular, in short doses throughout the day. The lymphatic system does not have a pump like the bloodstream and the heart, and relies on your movement, which is therefore an important part of supporting your immune system. The naturopath Marion Kirkham states “It is the avoidance of being sedentary which is vital; so those who sit at their desks, then lie on their sofa and then go to the gym several times a week are not helping their circulation. This is inconsistent and unnatural.”
The US Surgeon General has recently recommended 10,000 steps per day and it is widely recognised that a minimum of 2 miles a day will keep your circulatory system in working...
We humans have an interesting relationship with energy. We can expect so much of our resources, often underplaying the recovery time we really need and viewing ‘good energy’ simply as the ability to keep going, no matter what... which is akin to expecting your smartphone to keep working without recharging the battery.
In reality, energy that we can rely on and that remains generally stable throughout the day only occurs when we factor downtime and breaks into our daily lives - when we truly connect in to when we are doing too much and need to back off. This can apply to any aspect of our lives; work, play, exercise and anything else.
Energy is finite and shared around the body; when it is needed for digestion or immunity for instance, our want to move around becomes reduced - energy available to our muscle is needed elsewhere and we go into recovery mode.
The truth is energy needs to ebb and flow. We need to allow natural down-times to be able to pick up again...
We humans are built to move continually, but our movement patterns can often add into rather than relieve our 21st century stress states. Our one response to stress – ‘fight, flight or freeze’ – has our whole bodies preparing for a tense, physical reaction, but sedentary habits often leave us stewing in our stress hormones and trapped in ‘constant alert’ with no outlet. The result can be tight muscles, jaw and face, often seen in neck and back issues, as well as headaches, anxiety and insomnia.
The trouble is that many of us have work lives that demand we sit for long periods of time, relegating exercise to defined pockets of time. But our bodies are not designed to be inactive; even if you are notching up the exercise hours, if you are sitting on your behind for more than two hours at a time, you are sending signals to body systems that you are essentially sedentary, causing metabolism and energy regulation to slow down accordingly. Staying in...
A quick guide to some scary words
Numerous substances, including sugars, are added to our food to render it more attractive to us. It can make the food a better colour, prevent it going off, or just improve the look and mouth feel. The important consideration is that these are synthetic compounds, some with well known negative health effects, and most importantly we really don’t know the long-term effects of consuming these chemicals. Many that were once deemed safe decades ago have now been banned due to further research or side-effects seen.
The only real way to avoid the chemicals that fill our supermarkets is to prepare food from natural ingredients that you have prepared yourself, but let’s be realistic – sometimes we all need a little convenience.
There are other health considerations to food choices of course, but if we can firstly rule out ingredients that can be actively detrimental to our health, then we are onto a good start. Paying a bit more money for...
How often do you find yourself working over lunch or suddenly noticing that lunchtime has simply slipped by as you’re absorbed in a task?
It can seem all-important to get that job done and stopping for lunch can slip way down in priority. So if you ever find yourself gulping down a sandwich you barely taste over your keyboard, read on. The reality is that taking time away from work and nourishing your brain is the intelligent choice – skipping lunch and ploughing on is actually a false economy, leaving you depleted resources and the reduced focus that low blood sugar can bring.
Bupa research has shown that only 30% of the average workforce taking an hour’s lunch, feeding into 48% feeling their productivity levels slump in that tricky mid-afternoon slot where they lose nearly 40 minutes of work time.
That higher number suffering the 3-4pm energy slump can also be traced back to stress levels and skipping breakfast. Along with missed lunch, these factors all add up...
First published in What Doctor's Don't Tell You Magazine.
The menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life cycle. It is not an illness, but a passing into a new phase, where we drop away from the more frenzied activity of earlier years and into a more relaxed approach. Hormone fluctuations and resultant symptoms accompany each female biological life stage and changes are felt on all levels; physically, emotional and spiritually as we take stock and prepare to move on.
Menopause follows puberty and childbirth - each is a phase where moving inwards to reflect can help us understand ourselves and make adjustments. Yoga is a system that asks us to be present and meet whatever is arising with kindness and curiosity. At a time where we may have a confused relationship with our bodies, yoga can help us move with, rather than against natural physical tides.
How our changing biology feels
Menopause is defined as the time when monthly periods have stopped for more than 12...
Yoga and Somatics for Immune and Respiratory Health – a sneak preview
After writing my last book Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health, I was already interested in expanding how its elements around the lymphatic system and microbiome linked in with yoga practices and health. This was timed with the first Covid-related lockdown and seemed to flow into a new course on Teaching Yoga for Immune and Respiratory Health. After the fifth round of this course is coming up (June 2021), it seemed a natural progression to follow this content and research into my next book – with the additional ‘Somatics’ in the title above (out early 2022 with Singing Dragon) as that much more accurately described the nature of the physical practice that I teach.
Our bodies and minds have a sublime design, that if we are prepared to listen in, can guide us into what they need moment-to-moment. There are rhythm, pulses and sensations to tune into and connect us to the territory of the immune...
5 Natural (and free) at-your-desk Energisers – body tricks to stop you turning to the sugar and caffeine
When we’re locked into work mode with deadlines and overload, even a quick break may seem impossible.
It’s important to get up and move around, but at those times in between helping ourselves to stay and concentrate can help the achievement that also relieves stress.
Even when we’re just sitting at our desks, we’re using up masses of energy on brain power. At a normal resting state our big brains demand around 20% of our total energy expenditure.
If we’re under pressure, a stressed state can increase that energy proportion to around 70-75% as our brains are vital to survival when our bodies sense this as danger.
Running at that level, it’s easy to see how we can get the craving signals that send us towards the instant energy highs that are sugar and caffeine.
Chocolate, biscuits, tea and coffee can perk up us in the short-term, but they...
How your gut health determines your immune capacity
Digestive health is crucial to all body functions; to provide what they need and keep out potentially harmful cells and tissues. The gastro-intestinal tract (gut) is responsible for digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients and elimination of waste and toxins, but less known is its role in immunity – not just within the gut, but throughout our whole bodies.
Just like the skin on the outside of our bodies, the gut wall is essentially a barrier, constantly decided what is safe to allow inside and what should be kept out. Until food is absorbed into the body and remains in the gut, it is essentially outside the body – like that piece of undigested sweetcorn in the toilet bowl! Health of the gut wall (gut mucosa) is crucial for integrity of our defences and is sensitive to our emotional, stress and trauma responses.
The gut-immune-stress connection
The main anti-inflammatory part of our immune system is housed in...