Gardening Is Good For Your Health

We certainly feel like we’ve put in a good day’s work, after gardening for hours on end. But is gardening really considered good exercise? For the most part, yes. According to the University of Virginia, gardening rates up there with other moderate to strenuous forms of exercise, like walking and bicycling. It all depends on what gardening task you are doing and for how long. Like any other form of exercise, you have to be active for at least 30 minutes for there to be a benefit.

What Makes Gardening Good Exercise?

While enjoying yourself in the garden, you are also working all the major muscle groups: legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back and abdomen. Gardening tasks that use these muscles build strength and burn calories.

Besides the exertion involved, gardening has other pluses that make it a good form of exercise and calorie burning. There can be a great deal of stretching involved with gardening, like reaching for weeds or tall branches, bending to plant and extending a rake. Lifting bags of mulch, pushing wheelbarrows and shoveling all provide resistance training similar to weight lifting, which leads to healthier bones and joints. Yet while doing all this, there is minimal jarring and stress on the body, unlike aerobics or jogging.

Losing Weight by Gardening

Losing weight requires you to burn more calories than you consume and so the amount of weight you’ll lose gardening depends on several factors including your size and the task you are performing.

Some general examples from Iowa State University, below, show how some of the more strenuous gardening tasks can really burn calories.

  • Digging Holes – Men: 197 calories, Women: 150 calories
  • Planting – Men: 177 calories, Women: 135 calories
  • Weeding – Men: 157 calories, Women: 156 calories

The National Institute of Health lists gardening for 30 – 45 minutes in its recommended activities for moderate levels of exercise to combat obesity, along with biking 5 miles in 30 minutes and walking 2 miles in the same time.

More Health Benefits of Gardening

Research is showing that gardening for just 30 minutes daily will help:

  • Increase flexibility
  • Strengthen joints
  • Decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Lower your risk for diabetes
  • Slow osteoporosis

Getting the Most Exercise out of Gardening

It takes at least 30 minutes of exercise several days a week, to really receive any health benefits from gardening. However researchers are now saying that you can break that 30 minutes up into shorter active periods throughout the day. As long as each activity lasts at least 8 minutes and is of moderate intensity, when you total them up to 30 minutes per day, you’ll reap the same rewards as if you had been gardening for a half hour straight. So you can do a little weeding in the cool of the morning and go back out to the garden in the evening to prune and trim.

Start slowly, if you’re not used to the exertion. Lift properly, by using your legs. Vary your tasks and your movements and make use of the major muscle groups, to get the most benefit. Aches and pains aren’t necessarily a sign of a good workout. Your muscles may feel tired, but they shouldn’t hurt unless you’re using muscles you haven’t worked in a while or you’re using them wrong.

Gardening isn’t usually enough exercise to forsake your daily walk or swim, but it’s nice to know those tired muscles you feel after turning the compost are actually something good you did for your body and your health. As with any other form of exercise, check with your doctor first, if you’re not used to strenuous exercise. Make sure you incorporate a little stretching before and after gardening and take things slowly in extreme heat. We do garden for the pleasure, after all. Getting in shape and losing weight are just the icing on the cake.


Have Wheels Will Travel

“Have wheels – will travel”.   Cycling is the third most popular recreational activity in the UK with an estimated 3.1 million people riding a bicycle each month.  In the 1980’s the Mountain Bike with its sturdy frame and wide tyres for added stability and durability was introduced, and cycling surged in popularity.   That was when, as an adult I became the proud owner of a bike, and I still love cycling today!  Over the years I have “acquired” other friends cast off bikes, and now my garage houses enough bikes to fit my large or smaller grandchildren and visitors.  We have great fun cycling and exploring the riverside area where I live.

The success of team UK cyclists in the 2012 Olympic Games had a good effect on cycling and highlighted the completive nature of the sport.  The organisers of UK Cycling Events have reported a huge uptake in mass participation events and charity rides since the Olympics.  However the majority of those who re-enter the world of cycling are more likely to do gentler family and social rides than long distance sporting events.  A major retailer reports that vintage style ladies’ bikes designed by Victoria Pendleton, not sporty bikes, are among its best sellers indicating that people are getting on bikes for non-competitive reasons.

As a form of exercise, cycling has broad appeal and most of us from toddlers to pensioners, the able-bodied or people with disabilities can all enjoy cycling.  Cycling is an opportunity to discover places unseen from a car such as woodland paths, unmade tracks, riverside tow paths, and just sometimes – a mountain!  The health benefits are enormous, and all from just pushing pedals around!

Cycling is suitable for people of all ages and abilities, including those with back problems or weight problems, since the body weight is supported during exercise.   It builds stronger leg muscles, (quadriceps and calf), back, arm, neck muscles, it also strengthens our hearts, expands our lungs and improves our circulation.   Unless you are being competitive, cycling is a low-impact type of exercise, so it’s easier on your joints than running or other high-impact aerobic activities.

But it still helps you get into shape!   For example, an hour’s ride will burn up 400 – 650 calories, will tone your legs and bottom and keep you looking and feeling good. If  you ride up hills or off-road, you’ll also work your upper body, and cycling hard and fast is superb aerobic exercise  resulting in a fitter heart and more efficient lungs. The best way to build your cardiovascular fitness on your bike is to ride for at least 150 minutes every week.  To achieve this you could cycle to work a few days during the week or do a couple of shorter rides, with a longer ride at the weekend.  You’ll soon feel the benefits.

Nowadays thousands, young and old don “go faster stripes” to race off on their bikes at high speed in search of fitness and fun.  However we need to keep safe and wearing a cycling helmet is essential, to prevent head injuries if we fall off.  Don’t be tempted to buy a second-hand helmet, it may be damaged and not protect you properly. You should replace your helmet every five years.  When buying check that the helmet is:

  • Marked with the British Standard (BS EN 1078:1997)
  • Fits snugly, positioned squarely on your head
  • Sits just above your eyebrows (not tilted back or tipped forwards)
  • Fastens securely by straps (not twisted) with just enough room for two fingers between chin and strap.

If you intend to cycle at night it’s compulsory to have a white front light, a red rear light and a red rear reflector.   For your further safety you should have amber/yellow pedal reflectors front and back on each pedal.

With these safety precautions in place it’s time to go! If possible miss out cycling on busy roads with dirty vehicles belching out fumes, or if you have to take that particular route, wear a mask.  Whatever your speed a spin outdoors has the added advantage of fresh air, so no matter what the weather is like, get up and go out!  If it’s wet and windy, dress in suitable clothing, don your helmet and be off, the fresh air will clear your head and immediately life begins to look brighter.

Cycling can lift our spirits and will help us put our problems into perspective.  The freedom we feel with the wind blowing on our cheeks, gives us time to identify solutions and put our lives back on track. Cycling is one of the easiest ways to fit exercise into your daily routine because it’s also a form of transport.  It saves you money and is good for the environment.  So don’t delay “on yer bike” and get those wheels turning!


Enjoy the Festive Season!

Most of us love the Festive Season but many of us are tempted to enjoy it that little bit too much, and all too often come the New Year regret our over indulgence, and despair of our excess weight and that feeling of sluggishness. I’ve learnt the hard way that this can be avoided by planning ahead in order to prepare my body for those delicious festive meals, full of calories that pile on the pounds.

One trick is by consciously watching what I eat in the run up to Christmas by cutting down BEFORE the festivities begin. By doing this I am able to enjoy the festive food and drinks on the day – guilt free. During the two weeks prior to the big day I eat sparingly, less bread, sugary foods and drinks, and I concentrate more on just protein and fibre to fill me up. Come party time I’m more able to enjoy the sweet and festive treats without putting on excess weight.

Another trick is to keep myself physically active. This I find is easy to do, what with all the pre Christmas preparations, the buying of gifts, cooking food and general running around visiting family and friends. Luckily all this frantic activity helps me to burn up excess calories. With festive work parties and friendly gatherings occurring at this time of the year another trick concerns party food. Select the snack foods on offer by picking foods that are bright in colour, and small in portion. Better to sample bite size food offerings, which often include sticks of vegetables and fruits, than to eat a large slice of pie loaded with calories.

During the holiday season many of us will be on the move, aboard trains, planes or in the car driving long distances visiting friends and families. For the journeys I make up and down the country I find it best to pack a healthy snack, rather than be tempted to eat rubbish fast food in the buffet car or motorway cafes. Another important tip is to take time when you eat, this allows your brain to keep up with your fork and can prevent you from overeating! Take at least twenty minutes to complete your meal because this is how long it takes for your brain to recognise that your stomach is full!

Alcohol can increase your appetite and your calorie consumption, consequently you’re less likely to do something active the day after partying if you’ve a hangover. So discipline yourself and don’t drink to excess. Instead use your time in the Christmas break to do something physically active and healthy every day for your health’s sake. It’s a holiday period, so make it special by going for an invigorating a walk or take younger members of the family or friends for a swim or a bike ride. If you do have a gym membership then make the most of it now, because it’s more likely to be nice and quiet with many members away elsewhere.

We all like socialising in the festive season and I’m certainly not one to dissuade you! I’m by no means a “party pooper”. I love a drink or two of white wine but am aware of the implications of partying too much! Another of my tips is to make a conscious effort to drink plenty of water throughout the day and in-between alcoholic drinks. By staying hydrated you will help your body counter the dehydrating affects of both travel and alcohol. Water can also help satiate your appetite because thirst is often mistaken for hunger. And remember alcohol is also fattening. So if you plan to booze, don’t plan to lose… especially your figure! All alcoholic beverages are loaded with calories so try to limit your intake if you want to maintain your jean size! And on a more serious note, alcohol inhibits the breakdown of fat and reduces the absorption of nutrients from your food. Disorders of the eyes, skin, joints, heart, digestion and some cancers are a few health problems linked to alcohol abuse.

In order to avoid hangovers “line” your stomach before a drinking session by eating foods such as milk, bread, potato, and pasta which all take a time to digest. Most of us enjoy a party, whether it’s with workmates or the family, but my advice is…don’t mix drinks, do pace yourself, and prevent dehydration by drinking that water alongside your alcohol. Discover the cleansing effect the water has on your body by drinking a glass or two before going to bed and make sure you consume more liquid than the urine you pass out. OK, you will need to pop out to the loo during the night but you will avoid that morning hangover! After the excesses of the Festive Season I like to give myself and my liver a break, in fact I try to avoid it altogether and give up alcohol for a month. By doing this I hope my liver will benefit, and I know from experience that it makes the whole of me perk up, physically and psychologically.

And one final tip…do the best you can… but do remember to enjoy yourself!
I wish you all a Happy Festive Season and a Healthy New Year!

New Year Resolutions

With the Festive Season and its excesses well behind us it’s time to focus on New Year 2015 by looking at simple ways to help us look good and feel great. So what are your New Year Resolutions? Well, the 20th century poet and pacifist Edith Lovejoy Pierce famously said of the year ahead…. “We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”

I love that thought and my New Year resolution is to take the opportunity to continue keeping both mentally and physically fit. I recognize all too well that this is the best opportunity I have to help myself stay independent in my older age! But as the years slip by I also realize that it’s not always easy with my busy lifestyle to stick to my New Year resolution of routines and regimes. I am for ever on the road travelling with my work, or visiting my family who are “up North” and “down South”, and I’m often working on cruise ships or abroad.

So I have to integrate my physical activities and watch what I eat, wherever I am. Consequently I need to be disciplined to take the opportunity of helping myself keep fit anytime, anywhere, and it can prove difficult. There are always temptations that send us off track or crack our good intentions, and in my case my willpower can be cracked and I can be sent off track when I am faced with the temptations of dark chocolate or a glass of Champagne!

So to help me keep well and to I ensure I have the necessary RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamins and minerals, whenever possible I take the opportunity to eat a varied and well-balanced diet. This includes more of the 3 F’s….fresh food, fish plus fruit and vegetables, and less of the 3 S’s.…salt, sugar and saturated fats. Should I not be able to eat my varied diet to boost my wellbeing, because of constantly being on the road, I’ll include a daily supplement such as a multivitamin tablet to help keep my skin, hair, teeth and nails in good condition.

Every day I take 2 Calcium plus vitamin D tablets, to help maintain my strong bones and prevent the fragile bone disease osteoporosis. The fact is that 2 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will break a bone as a result of poor bone health. Many people of my age also take glucosamine to help their joints keep moving!
This year my simple New Year resolutions include

• Health
Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to help ward off colds and flu. “Juicing” the fruits and vegetables makes a pleasant and palatable alternative, ensuring a high intake of protective vitamins. Give your immune system an extra boost, by taking Echinacea in tincture form diluted in water, or a daily capsule.

• Body
Winter skin exposed to wind, cold, UV radiation and the effects of central heating results in skin dehydration and loss of softness and flexibility. So it’s time to replenish and pamper! I massage my body daily with a generous helping of moisturising skin cream, and exfoliate once a week with a body salt scrub.

• Hands and Feet
Skin on our hands and feet become especially dry and vulnerable in winter, leading to irritation, sores and redness. I keep my skin supple and healthy by preventing water and lipids escaping (which causes chapping) by using lots of nourishing hand cream rich in Vitamin A.

• Lips
Our lips are particularly prone to dryness, and more so as we age. Delicate thin, chapped skin is no barrier to bacteria and viruses. Rough, flaky, dry lips look old, and are difficult to make up. So I apply a nourishing lip protection, either on its own or under my lipstick.

• Shape
It’s essential to keep active, and even though it is cold outside we should all aim to take a brisk half-hour walk, 3 times a week. I like to swim, cycle, jog, or garden whenever possible, and find that being active makes my body and complexion glow.

• Social
My final New Year resolution is to contact that old friend, neighbour or family member I’ve been meaning to catch up with for the past year! Maybe you too could take the opportunity to visit someone less fortunate than yourself, or in poor health? If you do, make sure to give them a big smile, it’ll cost you nothing. But your smile could make New Year 2015 feel a whole lot richer for them!

Be Happy, Retirement – Dream or Nightmare

Whoever you are, whatever your age the fact is that we are all getting a little bit older every day and one day may think about “retiring”. Rules of retirement changed in October 2011 when the UK’s default retirement age of 65 was finally abolished stopping employers from compulsorily retiring workers once they reached the age 65. Great news for many 65 year olds, who as a result can now continue in most forms of employment should they so chose.

Traditionally the younger generation assumed older people would retire between 55 and 65 and would then need to be looked after because ageing is an illness! The assumption was that we older folk were incapable of changing our lifestyle, our opinions, our outlook, our religion, or our politics because of our age! Ageism had presumed we’d come to the end of our productive life and therefore we’d be a burden (and a growing burden) on society and the health service.

Potentially this is a big problem for future generations, but those of us not born yesterday realise that forcing people to retire was wasting knowledge, experience and more importantly was leading to early decline for older people who felt they were being thrown onto the rubbish heap. So by shattering the retirement myth of rocking chair and slippers it now means we have the choice of continuing to work on – whether for financial reasons, or because we feel we can, or we want to. Alternatively we can still choose to take retirement and to use that time pursuing our hobbies or fulfilling lifelong dreams.

However, recent figures from AgeUK worryingly show that 3 million people in the UK are aged 80 or over, and amazingly for the first time in history there are 11 million people over the age of 65. This means that nearly 14.7 million people in the UK are 60 or over and even more astonishing there are now more pensioners than there are children under the age of 16.

As an older person I can assure the younger generation that many of us, whether we have chosen to retire or continue working have much to offer, not least of which is experience. Like many of my contemporaries I still work, travelling the world as a fitness guru or nearer to home as a broadcaster and journalist, communicating and encouraging others of “retirement” age on how to continue being a useful, fit and happy member of society.

And it’s fitness that can turn our later years of either work or retirement into a dream. Being healthy can alleviate the increasing strain on the health services which our younger people will have to work hard to fund in the future. Recent research undertaken by Stannah, the stair lift people, revealed that 55+ year olds are amongst the worst in Great Britain for taking their health and fitness seriously. The number of people who do exercise on a regular basis equate to almost half that of their 25-34 year old counterparts. A lack of fitness could turn those later years into a nightmare for this older age group.

The online survey indicated that 98% of those over the age of 55 do understand the purpose of a healthy lifestyle, and that nearly one in five of them have already been medically advised to take regular exercise! The excuses for not doing so range from lack of time, to preferring to exercise at home or outside of the gym, since the fitness industry appears to be designed for a younger audience with minimal options available for those who prefer to exercise at their own pace.

Some of this group wrongly consider they are too old or think that it’s too late to worry about a healthy lifestyle. Others believe that hobbies such as walking or golf are ample exercise, which at least that’s a positive start! But I believe that keeping fit should be available to everyone, no matter what age or fitness ability, and for that reason I created a DVD with home exercises specifically for the over 55’s giving them the convenience and confidence to exercise whenever they like.

Maturing is perceived to be an advantage for many things, wine and cheese come to mind, so let’s apply the same logic to ourselves! Let’s learn to nurture and take care of ourselves, and ideally from an early age. Because trust me you’re never too old or too young to start! Staying active over the years is the first step to helping maintain mobility and independence for all of us. Your wellbeing and fitness will improve your quality of life and could make your later life and eventually your retirement less of a myth and more of a dream!

Please note “EASIFIT” DVD available from Amazon

Be Happy, Legs for Life

Do you have to stand for hours a day in your job (like these ladies in “Are you being served”)?   Have you noticed that when your legs and feet feel tired, your whole body tends to feel tired, achy and you slow down?   It’s as though your total well being is dependent on the fitness of your limbs and if your legs ache and ankles swell you may well have a tendency to varicose veins.  About half the population suffers from some kind of leg problems such as tired, aching legs and about a quarter seek treatment for such conditions as varicose veins or in extreme cases a venous leg ulcer.

Good circulation is important in preventing leg problems.   The blood that flows into the lower leg is helped back to the heart by the pumping action of the calf muscle when we exercise, and by the “one way” valves in the veins themselves.   However if the veins become damaged or the valves stop working properly blood can gather in the lower limb, causing swollen ankles and tired, aching legs.

Today more and more people are on the move for their work or vacation, however the huge increase in world travel, particularly long distance air travel, carries with it the potential health risk of a deep vein thrombosis (commonly known as DVT).   DVT was not previously recognised as a serious travel risk, but has now been proven to affect thousands of air travellers each year.  It can often occur in conjunction with an established illness or condition, where the natural tendency of the blood to clot is increased. A thrombosis is a blood clot, which forms when the platelets of the blood stick together, also sticking to the sidewall of veins, most commonly the veins of the calf.  Other factors increase this tendency including being over 40 years of age, smoking, obesity, pregnancy, taking the contraceptive pill, or having recently undergone major surgery.

Long periods of immobility, particularly on long haul flights can cause circulatory problems, with enforced inactivity and sitting in cramped conditions for long periods of time creating blood flow problems.  An inefficient, sluggish blood flow increases the risk of a thrombosis and is particularly serious when the blood clot gradually increases in size causing an eventual blockage in the vein.   Occasionally bits of the clot will break free, and with a trail of debris behind it can travel up the body to the right side of the heart, where it is pumped on into the lungs, causing serious breathing problems or a pulmonary embolism.

Many air passengers suffer minor symptoms, such as fluid collecting in the lower limbs causing swollen legs and ankles, but others experience more serious symptoms including a rapid heartbeat, palpitations, and breathlessness or coughing.   If a problem does occur, during or after a flight it is essential to seek medical advice as quickly as possible, in order to avoid complications or possible death from cardiac or respiratory failure.

To prevent a DVT, commonly known as “economy class syndrome” (because of the tight cramped seating arrangements in many planes) it is essential to walk up and down the aisles of the aircraft whenever possible during a long flight.  Other easy ways to help avoid DVT are to wear loose comfortable clothing and to avoid crossing your legs especially when sleeping and to do simple leg and feet exercises throughout the duration of the flight.   Long haul flights carry the most risk, but exercise and walking around whenever possible will improve circulation, the calf muscles at the back of the lower leg will pump and encourage the return of blood from the legs and feet back to the heart.

This simple exercise which I call “Rock and Roll” can help to increase your circulation ( you can either sit or stand holding onto the chair back for support).

  • With both feet flat on the floor simply pull up your toes and forefoot whilst keeping your heels on the floor.
  • Now lower your toes down to the floor and with a continuous rolling action lift your heels up.
  • Repeat pulling up and lowering down toes and forefoot in a rock and roll action, 20 times fast and vigorously!  Feel the calf muscles in the back of your lower legs working!

This movement helps pump the blood back up the

leg towards the heart. On a long plane journey the air inside the cabin can become very dry, so it’s advisable to drink plenty of fluids during the flight in order to prevent the body becoming dehydrated. And avoid excess alcohol because dehydration can cause the blood to thicken.  Taking an aspirin before a long flight is a simple precaution which can help thin the blood and discourage blood from clotting.   However aspirin is not advisable for anyone who has an established medical condition such as a stomach ulcer.   If you are concerned about the risks involved with flying long distances, it is a good idea to talk to your GP, particularly if you have had phlebitis or a previous thrombosis.

I hope these simple tips which are suitable for most people will help keep your legs fit for life!

Be Happy, Healthy and Wise

February is the second and shortest month in the Gregorian calendar  with only 28 days in common years, and 29 days in leap years. The birthstone for February is the beautiful amethyst, which symbolizes piety, humility, spiritual wisdom and sincerity.

So this February let’s improve our lives in order to be healthy, happy and wise.  Make a start by being kind to your own self, by setting realistic goals and learning to prioritise and focus on what is important in your life.   Guard your time jealously, don’t say yes to everything you are asked to do, find time to relax and avoid getting stressed out.  I find the best way for me is to create a routine, to make a list of things or people that cause me unhappiness, and to consciously tackle the source of the problem wherever possible.  With a positive action plan its easier to take control of my life and whenever possible (because I’m only human) I don’t allow myself to be put upon by other people.  Over the years I’ve learnt the importance of avoiding situations or insincere people I am not comfortable with, or those I know will cause me stress.

Stress is an instinctive reaction for self-survival which automatically switches your body to a state of red alert.  When you become fearful you breathe more deeply, your heart rate soars and your muscles tense ready for action.   Some stress is important for our self-preservation and will help keep us out of danger, for example we need to be alert and aware when we cross a busy road!  But we can find ourselves in situations where we  feel unable to express our feelings and this resulting pent-up emotion pushes up blood pressure and put a strain on the whole of our body, including the heart.  We need to distinguish between good and bad stress – because this later one causes DISTRESS and is detrimental to our health.

We are all different, and for many people an absorbing hobby, like art, crafts or music can take our minds off things that cause distress, for others yoga, body conditioning classes and relaxation techniques are beneficial.  Many find physical activities such as gentle rhythmic cycling, jogging or swimming can help reduce tension, release pent up emotions and also encourage deep refreshing sleep.   Being physically active will certainly help reduce tension, but obviously a casual stroll round the corner is not going to be enough if you also want to improve your overall fitness at the same time! So whatever activity you choose to do, do it briskly and correctly and aim to keep those feet moving fast in February to feel the benefit. You could even set yourself the challenge of participating in a charity walk or run!

My running friends assure me that an hour out in the fresh air gets rid of their frustrations and puts their life into perspective.  If running is your thing always ensure you have good fitting and well-cushioned trainers, and aim to run on softer surfaces, such as grass, sand or cross-country as this will reduce the impact on your joints.  Unless you are super competitive run at a pace that feels natural, so you aren’t running too fast or too slow – and enjoy it!  To stay motivated why not find a friend, or perhaps a workmate to join you in your lunch hour for a 30-minute run or brisk walk.  Or maybe back home a close neighbour or friend could join you after work or at weekends enabling you to motivate and support one another?

Incorporate activity into your everyday life by taking the opportunity to get on out there in any place, at any time.  Fit activity into your everyday by walking to work, or at least getting off the train or bus a few stops earlier than usual.  Or set you could set yourself that challenge of a few laps round the park at lunchtime!  All activity gives you a chance to naturally shake off pent up anger and if you are a person who prefers your activity to have a purpose then a dog or an accompanying friend who walks regularly will motivate you.  Still not motivated?  Then think about employing a personal trainer who will provide both motivation and discipline!

Finally, stretching is a fantastic way to improve your physical and mental wellbeing and keep your stress levels in check.  Stretching helps me to relax and improve my posture which has the bonus of making me appear slimmer and younger and it keeps my joints flexible and eases aches and pains! I begin each morning by standing tall and stretching out my entire body like my cat does after a good nap!  On busy days I do my stretching in the evening after a hot bath or another beneficial time to stretch is after physical exercise when the body is warm.  Breathe normally and relax your body completely as you lengthen out your arms, legs, chest, and neck and back.  Never strain, but always hold the stretch for 8 seconds and relax into it.   Yes, you may feel a little stiff and sore at first, which proves that your muscles are elongating in order to reach their full potential, enabling your body to loosen and release stress.

To complete my stretch routine I finally close my eyes for a few minutes and lie quietly visualising myself in my favourite place.  For me this is a warm Caribbean beach with water lapping my feet and gentle winds blowing through my hair and the palm trees above?  Over the years I’ve found that this peaceful moment of tranquillity and humility clears my head, puts my life back into perspective and in this relaxed state I count my blessings.  Wisdom comes with older age!

Wintertime Is No Excuse For Hibernation

Summer 2014 was just fabulous here in the UK but all too soon the inclement weather is once again upon us, so it’s time to prepare our bodies for the onslaught!  Caring for our skin, particularly facial skin is vital during the winter, both men and women need protection from the extreme temperatures and over exposure to cold winds and rain.  Indoors the heat and dryness of fires and central heating during the winter months are hard on our skin.

Facial skin in particular can suffer from over exposure to the elements when we are outdoors.  During winter this can be quite uncomfortable and unfortunately as we age the problem seems to get worse.  How well (or badly) our skin ages depends mostly on genetics and skin type.   10% of skin ageing is intrinsic – and out of our control, and we can look at our parents to see how we might appear in later life.   However, other factors which age skin are extrinsic – and under our control!  These include exposure to the sun and wind, smoking, alcohol, poor diet and lack of exercise.

People who have looked after themselves usually have healthy skin, and look years younger than they actually are in later life.  However, all skin will eventually show some signs of ageing and will be subject to the forces of gravity.  Unfortunately the two main components of our skin, collagen and elastin, decrease with age, causing our skin to sag, resulting in lines and wrinkles.

From 40 years onwards our skin becomes thinner, drier and more uneven, and from our 50’s we notice a lack of firmness with our faces beginning to look longer, especially the jowls, eyelids and the nose. As we continue to age our bones shrink, and the skin and the muscles around them begin to sag. This is particularly noticeable in someone who has lost weight.

Skin reflects our lifestyle and many things we take for granted can contribute to the ageing process – such as stress, smoking, over exposure to the elements, poor diet and lack of sleep.  A huge 80% of the preventable premature ageing is caused by exposure to the sun or by smoking.  Age spots, coarse wrinkles, skin of a leathery texture and small broken blood vessels are the end result.

To keep our skin looking good throughout the winter time we need to keep our bodies hydrated and working efficiently by drinking plenty of water to combat the drying effect of those winds and central heating.  Try to drink 6-8 glasses of liquids a day to replace lost fluids. Remember water is the difference between the plump skin of a plum and the dry shriveled skin of a prune.  Both are the same fruit!

Even in the wintertime it helps to keep your skin comfortable by applying a moisturising day cream and feeding it a nourishing night cream while you sleep. If you intend spending long periods outdoors exposed to the elements, doing the gardening, playing sport or out of necessity working, don’t neglect your skin.

It’s important to apply creams and lotions containing SPF (sun protection factor) to reduce damage – even from winter sunlight. Moisturising and feeding are essential for middle aged and older skins in order to replace the natural oils that dry up as part of the ageing process.  They can help the skin to retain suppleness and a healthy glow.

During the cold winter months it’s important to continue being physically active because exercise is essential to keep your body fit and strong.  For the average person the more varied the activities the more beneficial.  For example an exercise plan which includes treadmill, weights and swimming, performed at any time of the day that suits one’s lifestyle is going to prove beneficial.

Regular, moderate activity can enhance the immune system at the same time as benefiting the body by strengthening bone and muscle.  It helps to maintain suppleness and build stamina and all regular exercise will do more good than harm.  And of course any activity is better than being inactive by doing no exercise at all!

However, do remember the basic exercise rules: warm up thoroughly, increase exercise gradually and build up intensity and repetitions slowly. Always stop if you feel any pain and after activity always ensure a gentle warm down. Even in the coldest weather try to get out into the fresh air when you can, to exercise, garden or just take the dog for a walk!

It’s best to avoid any vigorous exercise before bedtime because in both summer and winter time a good night’s sleep is important for our wellbeing.  The average adult needs 8 hours sleep a night, although some will need more and others less sleep.  However around 1 in 10 people in the UK suffer from insomnia, many resorting to sleeping pills with more than 10 million prescriptions written out every year.

The human body functions according to a circadian rhythm, thought to be controlled by a biological clock located in part of the brain called the hypothalamus.  There are several disorders of our circadian rhythm which can affect our sleep patterns and as a consequence control just how we function during the day. So what can we do to help ourselves if we do have a sleep problem?

We can start by creating a sleep friendly environment in order to encourage a good night’s sleep.  I always find I have a better night’s sleep in a cooler room, so opening your bedroom windows (at least for a few hours before you retire) and making your bedroom a calm and tranquil space will help.  The darker the room the better you’ll sleep and some people find covering their eyes with a mask does the trick.

It’s not always possible to get to bed at a regular time, as I know from my own personal experience, but do try if at all possible to get to bed at the same time each night.  If you can set your body clock to a regular time, even including the weekends, it will improve your sleep pattern.  You should then naturally wake up around the same time if you are getting enough sleep.  So avoid the temptation of having a nap during the day which is guaranteed to upset this pattern.

Alcohol before bed may well help you nod off quickly, but will wake you later in the night and disturb your sleeping pattern.  Instead of that alcoholic night cap try a glass of milk instead.  Far more beneficial, since dairy products contain the amino acid tryptophan, which encourages the production of the brain chemicals, serotonin and melatonin, which helps us go to sleep.

And finally this winter it may pay you to start a new routine by making dinnertime earlier in the evening, and to avoid eating heavy, rich foods within two-hours of your bed time.  Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and this could keep you from a good night’s rest.  And be careful when it comes to eating your favourite spicy or acidic foods in the evening, as they can cause stomach trouble and heartburn, keeping you awake.

Sleeping pills and some natural supplements may provide a short term solution to insomnia but if you continue to have disturbed nights talk to your Doctor about getting medical help to improve your sleeping pattern.   But Wintertime is no time for hibernation, nor is it a time for excuses – so keep active, be well and enjoy the long, cosy winter months!

Top Tips On Staying Healthy

  • Watch your diet –  Swap biscuits and treats for nuts, pulses and seeds, all of which are high protein, minerals and vitamins. Also eat bananas, which have natural sugars which are released slowly into the body, and is a great substitute for other sweet snacks.
  • Exercise – You do not have to stay in shape through exercise  alone.  Doing physical work appropriate to your health can be an extremely effective way of keeping trim and staying healthy. This could be taking dog for brisk walks or working in the garden for 30 minutes.
  • Another form of exercising, while having fun, could be to take up dancing if your health permits. This is a great way of keeping fit and meeting new people.
  •  Look after you – One of my favourite “feel good” tips is to have fresh flowers around your home, something that is guaranteed to make anyone feel great. Another tip is to open windows as much as possible to get fresh air around the house and into your lungs.
  •  Finally, speak with people if you have a problem – a problem shared really is a problem halved, and could result in some good advice. A new perspective from someone could also add clarity to a situation.

Sleep Is The Best Medication

I need more than a cat nap!  But how do I explain to my cat Maisie that I need more than a cat nap to operate efficiently! As Summer Time dawn breaks she wakes me, with a gentle paw tap to my nose, having spent the night curled up on my bed. But it’s far too early in the morning!  Not getting enough sleep doesn’t just make me tired but it impacts on my mood, performance, concentration – and of great importance, the way my body repairs itself.  Consistent sleep-deprivation reduces my body’s ability to maintain the processes required for muscle tissue, growth hormone and repairs – which occur during sleep.

I was interested to read that a recent study by The Sleep Council found those who exercise are more likely to sleep better.  But a word of caution.  I’m of the opinion that it isn’t a good idea to take physical exercise before you go to bed, because the adrenaline is flowing and your heart rate is up. After a workout the brain is very active and with body temperature raised it makes it harder to fall asleep.  Those who want to, or need to exercise in the evening, should do so over two hours before bedtime.

We possibly spend a third of our lives sleeping so it’s important to create an environment that helps us to sleep.  But many of us use our bedrooms for other activities such as discussing important issues with our partners, watching TV or browsing the internet.  Since the bedroom impacts on sleep let’s keep it just for sleep, and possibly for sex, because unlike most vigorous physical activity, sex makes us sleepy.

For our health’s sake, when it comes to work most people need on average seven to eight hours of solid sleep to perform at their best.  If you start scrimping on sleep you’re in danger of becoming too tired to be truly effective.  Try telling that to my cat!

Lack of a good night’s sleep affects both our bodies and minds, and as the research found, also erodes concentration and problem solving ability.  Each hour of sleep lost per night is associated with a temporary loss of one IQ point. “Sleep is the best medication” said the Dali Lama.  Sound advice for both humans and cats!

Question 1 Cosmetic surgery

I am 61 years old and know a lot of women of a similar age who are having “work” done on their faces to help them look younger.  I am nervous and don’t want to take the risk of things going wrong.  Diana what is your view about cosmetic surgery?

Pauline Earle – Manchester

Answer 250 words

Pauline we’re led to believe that superficial beauty leads to happiness and success and some women feel they must have surgery to compete in the workplace and socially.  Many strive to fund expensive surgery and expectations are high as they seek to improve their looks and life.  Maybe feelings of inadequacy do disappear along with wrinkles, but they’d do well to remember their faces and hands will not necessarily match!

The demand for facelifts, body sculpturing and other non-invasive procedures is on the increase with excessive pressure on us all to re-capture youth.  Personally I am nervous about having unnecessary invasive surgery, including facial cosmetic surgery, probably because I’ve needed major invasive surgery in the past due to breast cancer. So I prefer a natural look.

Of course I see familiar signs of ageing, things gradually slipping downwards due to gravity, but I don’t want to look 21 again, nor do I want a blank and expressionless face.  I’m proud of my laughter lines; they show my character and sense of humour.  All skin eventually ages, loses plumpness, becomes thinner and dryer and so I’ve cared for my skin over years by moisturising both day and night.  But skin reflects lifestyle – and inactivity, poor diet, smoking, drinking, sunbathing, stress, lack of fresh air make things worse. Some bad habits can be avoided, like facial expressions which habitually performed over time give us individual looks.  A positive smile uses 7 muscles whilst a negative frown uses 32.  So Pauline be happy – less wrinkles!

Question 2 – Headaches

I often have headaches that last the whole day and the only thing that seems to chase them off is sleep. I have tried paracetamol and ibuprofen but am hesitant to get into the habit to taking anything stronger in case this proves detrimental to my health. Are there any natural remedies you can recommend?
Sarah Fimms, Oxford

Answer – 250 words

Rather than seeking cures for your headaches Sarah I think you should be looking to what causes them.  Most headaches aren’t serious and are easily treated with over-the-counter painkillers and lifestyle changes, such as getting more rest and drinking enough fluids. Regular sleep, reducing stress and staying well hydrated help. Normal, “everyday” headaches are usually tension headaches, linked to things like stress, poor posture, skipping meals or dehydration, and can usually be treated with ordinary painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

The cause of your headaches are unclear but hopefully aren’t severe enough to prevent you doing everyday activities? The constant ache of a tension headache affects both sides of the head, like a tight band stretched around it. They usually last for 30 minutes to several hours, but can last for several days. Migraines are less common with a severe, throbbing pain at the front or side of the head and possibly other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound. Migraines can stop you carrying out your normal daily activities but most people can treat them successfully with over-the-counter medication. They can last for a couple of hours and some people need to stay in bed for days needing stronger medication that’s only available on prescription. Sarah maybe your headaches could possibly be triggered by hormones linked to monthly periods or the menopause?

However, if they aren’t relieved by over-the-counter treatments, or are painful and frequent, I think you should talk to your GP.

Putting A Spring In Your Step

The late great, Marilyn Monroe once said, “Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she can conquer the world.”

Well, with the warmer weather here [honestly!] it’s time to get out and put a spring in our step.  I tend to think flat shoes are good for my feet.  So, I’ve kicked off my heavy winter boots and am now in light fashionable ballet pumps. But these have thin soles and offer little support and indeed can change the way I walk and encourage my arches to drop. [note to self: – maybe they’re why I’m feeling aches and pains in my knees and back?  Everyday shoes with a low broad heel are a more comfortable option.  I must look some out! On second thoughts my achy, creaky body could be the result of overdoing the gardening – but at least I’m being active which is good for my health.

Did you know that the average step is 2.1 – 2.5 feet in length?  Although it sounds a lot just 2,000 steps make a mile.  Sedentary folk walk only 1,000 – 3,000 steps each day, but the majority of us walk between 3,000 – 4,000 steps. For health’s sake we should all aim for 10,000 steps a day (5 miles) minimum.

With all this activity it’s not surprising our feet sometimes develop lumps and bumps and may be in need of a little TLC.  To ensure mine are fit for spring, especially following a winter hidden away in boots, I intend to spend time pampering and treating them to a pedicure, in order to keep me on my toes and in tip top condition for summer.

A change is as good as a rest, and some shoes can exacerbate many common foot complaints.  If like me you’re out a lot and want to wear high heels, make sure you keep a pair of flats in your handbag to change into. Wearing high heels with pointed toes can be uncomfortable and particularly bad if you have bunions. As are restrictive winter boots, keeping the bunions enclosed and adding to the pain.

When you feel pain act fast, because it’s well-known that discomfort shows on the face!  Today I refuse to be a slave to fashion and now older and wiser listen to my body and make footwear changes if necessary.

And what a relief…it makes me look and feel much better!

Question 1 CELLULITE  

My husband and I recently retired and have booked a summer cruise to celebrate.   My only worry is that my thighs and bottom are not in good shape for lazing around a swimming pool all day!   Is there anything I can do to shift cellulite in time? Janet Poole – Bristol


Janet you are not alone!   Cellulite is a word horribly engraved on most women’s minds if not their bottoms and thighs! This stubborn “orange peel” type skin affects so many women at many stages of life, with hormones playing an important part in its formation – at puberty, during pregnancy and around the time of the menopause.

A combination of a good diet and exercise is my advice to rid you of it. A critical assessment of one’s eating habits is essential. Out go fats, refined sugar, excess salt and alcohol. In come lean meats, raw vegetables, skimmed milk and plenty of water and fresh fruit juices.  The aim is to purify your body’s system and rid it of excess toxins which encourage cellulite.

Exercise will tone and strengthen your body and massage will work on cellulite spots by breaking down the nodules of fat, improving the circulation, and helping disperse excess fluids and toxins. Use over the counter anti-cellulite preparations in massage to soften and revitalize the skin.

One exercise for bottom and thighs is to lie on your back, knees bent, shoulder width apart with arms at your sides.  Clench buttocks, pull in tum and lift pelvis up off floor transferring weight onto your shoulders.  Hold for 10 seconds, relax down, and repeat 6 times. Janet that will turn your wobble into a wiggle! Enjoy your cruise.


My partner recently discovered a small lump the size of a pea in my right breast.   I am terrified it might be something awful and don’t want to see my doctor.   What do you think I should do? Jessica Brown – Liverpool


Jessica, with a breast lump, however small my advice is to go and see your GP as soon as you can. The chances are it’s nothing serious, but it might be something that needs attention and if diagnosed earlier, treatment can be more successful. I know first-hand the effects breast cancer can have on someone. I was 47 when I was diagnosed and my advice is that all women should get to know their breasts and to recognize if there are changes.  According to Breast Cancer Care the signs and symptoms of breast cancer can include:

  • a lump or thickening that feels different from the rest of the breast tissue
  • a change in size or shape of the breast
  • redness or a rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
  • a change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like orange peel)
  • discharge (liquid) that comes from the nipple without squeezing
  • your nipple becoming inverted (pulled in) or changing its position or shape
  • a swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone
  • constant pain in your breast or your armpit

The older you get, the more important it is to be aware, as one in three women who are diagnosed are over 70.  Each year 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK – that’s one person every 10 minutes.

Fair Skin And Freckles – Sun Damage

It was the late and great Noel Coward coined the phrase only “Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” I am reminded of it whenever I see everyone raising their faces to the Sun whenever it deigns to peek through our British clouds.

My dad had reddish coloured hair, freckles and a naturally pale skin. He also loved to sit in the sun and encouraged me as a child to do the same, to be outside and active in the fresh air and sunshine.  Being sporty I was OK with that, but was disappointed and embarrassed by my constantly pink (read red) skin when I came back indoors!  Of course this was over 50 years ago when it was fashionable to have a “tan”. But like so many of my generation I’m now paying for my misdemeanours.

Scientists have established a link between skin cancers, redheads, fair skin and freckles. Redheads make up 6% of the UK population compared to a mere 1 to 2 % worldwide. Ultraviolet rays, either from sunlight, or artificially generated from sunbeds, can seriously damage one’s DNA.  Having inherited genes from my father, the fair skin and freckles in particular has put me at higher risk of skin cancer.  Nowadays we know to protect our skin with sun protection factor (SPF) and people are advised to spend time in the shade between 11 am and 3pm, to cover up and to wear a T shirt, hat and sunglasses.

Sadly none of this advice was available to my generation back in the 50’s and 60’s when a tan was desirable and fashionable. We smothered ourselves in olive or coconut oil, exposed ourselves our lily white skins, and “fried” in the midday sun.  On our hugely popular package holidays to “The Continent” little did we realise we were stacking up problems which would present themselves as skin cancers or pre-cancerous skin conditions some 30, 40 years later.

My skin damage first became evident on my shins, some 15 years ago. Basal cell carcinoma was diagnosed and treated with horrible creams (a type of local chemotherapy). More recent treatments for sun damage now presenting on my face have been more worrying.   Treatments include “freezing” but for some of the more serious sun damage, minor surgery is the suggested option. If you recognise the link between redheads, freckles, fair skin and a risk of skin cancer get your sun damage checked out.   Take my advice, cover up, use a sunscreen of at least SPF15 on the bits that you cannot cover up, and re-apply sunscreen regularly. And most importantly avoid being “out in the midday sun!”

Question 1

I recently lost my husband and feel so low. We had over 50 years together; I miss him so much it’s making me feel quite unwell. My hubby did everything for me, we had a good social life and my family are concerned. What can I do to help myself come to terms with my lonely life?

Dorothy Webb – Newcastle

Answer 1

Dorothy I’m sorry you’re feeling unable to cope after the loss of your dear husband. It’s quite understandable, but wellbeing is not just about our bodies, it’s about our mind and spirit too. Being active can help reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, stress and worry, so make an effort to get out there, and get talking. Talking through personal worries will often halve your problems, or at least put them into perspective.  You are blessed with family, not everyone is so fortunate and many find themselves living alone not through choice.  This can follow divorce or the death of a partner leading to isolation and depression. Social interaction can reduce the feelings of loneliness and can lift your spirit. Climbing out of the spiral of depression takes a lot of effort and self-motivation Living alone it’s important you maintain mobility and keep your body strong. Having a positive attitude is all important and you might benefit from an exercise class at your local Sports Centre.  Classes can be social and a source of support. I you find it difficult to take part in physical activities ask your doctor or physiotherapist for their help and advice.

Question 2

With the short light summer nights, I am having a problem getting enough sleep.  I do not want to resort to sleeping pills.  What can I do to help myself? Jacky Williams Leicester

Answer 2 

Dear Jackie – would it help to say you’re not alone? Many of us have sleeping problems. Adults, on average need 8 hours sleep a night, but around 1 in 10 people in the UK suffer from insomnia and resort to sleeping tablets. Sleeping pills can provide a short term solution but for permanent solutions create a sleep friendly environment by making the bedroom a calm and tranquil space. Open the bedroom window a couple of hours before bedtime to keep it cool.  Light has a huge impact on sleep patterns, so keep the bedroom dark and you’ll sleep better.  Block light from windows with heavy curtains and cover up electrical items.  You could even try a sleep mask to cover your eyes.

Set your body clock by going to bed when you feel tired at a regular time even at weekends, so that you don’t toss and turn. Steer clear of alcohol before bed that nightcap may make you fall asleep faster but alcohol reduces your sleep quality, waking you up during the night.  Have a glass of milk; dairy products are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps increase the production of the sleep inducing brain chemicals, serotonin and melatonin.  Avoid heavy, rich foods and vigorous exercise within two-hours of bed time.