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

Answer 1 CELLULITE

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.

Question 2 LUMP IN BREAST

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

Answer 2 LUMP IN BREAST

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.

Old Enough to Know Better

Ouch my achy back, I’ve done it again!

It’s that time of year when my delightful small garden calls out for attention.  Given a fine day I’m more than happy to respond but I do get carried away with my enthusiasm. I know I’m old enough to know better, and I know I’m informed enough to prepare my ageing body for such an event by stretching it out.  Trouble is I only intended to prune a plant or two, cut back a hedge or two, or dig a patch or two.  But I ended up doing it all, scaling ladders to hedge, digging deep to plant, and heaving rubbish to tip.  End result…severe back ache which happens every spring. So when will I learn?

What to do?

My local Osteopath Mark, to whom I have resorted for sympathy and treatment, advises me to attack the garden for half an hour at a time, rest for 10 minutes, then attack again to help prevent problems. Of course keeping my back strong and supple is the best way to avoid getting back pain. Regular exercise, maintaining good posture and lifting correctly all helps.   Most times my back pain gets better on its own and I don’t feel the need to see a doctor. The pain usually lasts for a several days so I remain as active as possible and try to continue with my daily activities. I sometimes take over-the-counter painkillers such as Ibuprofen if I’m really uncomfortable, which usually occurs at night time.

Although it can be difficult to keep cheerful and to be optimistic when I’m in pain, I know it’s important to stay positive as this helps me recover faster. Of course I’m now religiously doing the stretches and movements Mark has advised me to do, and promising myself not to act so impulsively next time! Back pain isn’t funny but sometimes a little laugh helps, especially if you realise its bad news – when you get to the age your back goes out more than you do!

What better motivation do I need for doing my preparation exercises than that?

Question 1 STRESS

I know I am fortunate to have a busy life and shouldn’t complain but I find myself getting stressed out. My friends are losing patience and I know I need to get a grip. How can I stop panicking and getting angry, its irritating my friends?

Ruth Stein, Watford

Answer

Stress is an instinctive reaction for self-survival which automatically switches your body to a state of red alert.   So Ruth when you feel fear and your senses sharpen hormones flood into your bloodstream.   You breathe more deeply, your heart rate soars and your muscles tense ready for action.   Some stress is an essential part of everyday life and helps keep us out of danger.   For example we need to be alert when we cross the road.   But sometimes we all feel we can’t cope with our stress, even simple things make us “blow a fuse”.   Know the difference because this is distress and is detrimental to your health.   Pent-up feelings push up blood pressure and put a strain on the whole body including the heart.   So learn not to panic and find ways to reduce your stress levels

To be happy and productive you need to manage your life, have a positive action plan and take control.   Create a routine, set yourself realistic goals, and learn to prioritise and focus.    Don’t say yes to everything you are asked to do, you are only human, so guard your time jealously.

Ruth make a list of things that cause you stress and consciously try to relax and tackle the source of the problem wherever possible.  Gentle rhythmic cycling, jogging or swimming reduces tension; helps release pent up energy and encourages deep refreshing sleep.   Yoga, body conditioning classes and relaxation techniques are also helpful.

Question 2 DARK CIRCLES UNDER EYES

Hi Diana I have been very busy lately with lots of late nights and I haven’t been getting enough rest.  My problem is it shows around my eyes which look puffy and have dark circles under them!  What can I do to brighten them up!

Lucy Craig, Glasgow

Answer 2

Well Lucy I have a several homemade remedies to help with your puffy eyes.    Either you can apply cold, damp used tea bags to each eye, or slices of cucumber, or cotton pads soaked in witch hazel, or simply 2 cold teaspoons (all kept in fridge).  Give yourself time off, lie back, apply and relax for a soothing 10 mins.  All the above can work wonders!

With regard to the dark circles, they may indicate an excess of alcohol, cigarettes or coffee?  If that’s the case cut back!  In the meantime, try applying thin slices of potato or taking a brisk walk will get the lymphatic drainage system going to clear away the toxin build up, the cause of dark circles. Matt concealer helps disguise dark circles if all else fails!  If you have under eye bags you can again kick start the lymphatic drainage by tapping along lower eye socket with your fingertips – working from the inside to outer corner of your eyes.

Lucy you’ll soon be bright eyed and bushy tailed again!

Life Is Like A Bicycle

That great US Statesman Claude Pepper once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. You don’t fall off unless you plan to stop pedaling.”

Well, I don’t plan to stop pedaling any time soon and last week something rather exciting happened to me.  As a mature woman I took possession of a new bike…possibly only the 4th bike I’ve ever owned!  Cycling at my age is still an option, only riding my new bike is somewhat different from previous “wheels” because it is motorized!

Styles of bicycles change over the years, but cycling is timeless and my super new white bike (with green trimmings of course) is what the cycling trade call an eBike by GTech [I bought it online as I do or most things nowadays]! It looks like rides like a conventional mountain bike, but has an added boost of electric power which gives me an extra push.  This “push” reminds me of when as a little girl my Dad would give my back that little extra “power push” as I wobbled off on my first 2 wheeler bike.

My new bike is just so thrilling to ride pedaling like on a conventional bike but making the ride easier by giving that extra boost of power when needed, such as up and down hilly slopes.  It’s suitable for young and old alike with its electric power helping one travel for longer and making the journey enjoyable.

At first I was concerned that my new form of transport would not do the job of helping me to keep fit.  However, it is such a pleasurable experience that I get on my Ebike two to three times more often, riding out in the fresh air fearlessly covering longer distances than I did on my conventional mountain bike. I can go fast if required thanks to its small light motor. This doesn’t make the bike at all heavy and its light enough for me to carry up my front steps. The electric motor’s detachable battery comes inside with me, to re-charge in the kitchen alongside my mobile phone. How 21st century am I?

As I’ve proudly pedaled along on my new GTech eBike I’ve met several people for whom manual cycling had become too painful because of arthritis, back, knee problems and hip replacements. In their 60’s and 70’s they have all splashed out on eBikes. They love the freedom of cycling, feel fit and tell me their electric bikes are the best thing ever because they can now cycle further without pain.

It goes without saying that we were all wearing safety helmets and reflective jackets. You don’t get older without getting wiser!

Q1 – Skin tags

Please can you advise me what to do with a couple of small flesh coloured growths that are hanging off my skin? One is on my neck and the other in my armpit. They don’t hurt but I really dislike them and they don’t look very nice! Jennifer Armitage…Salisbury

A1 – Skin tags

Well Jennifer, I do understand your concerns. But, skin tags (acrochordons) are small harmless growths that look similar to warts; they are very common, knobbly and hang off the skin, whereas warts are usually flat. They’re particularly common in older people and people with diabetes.  Pregnant women may develop skin tags, caused by changes in their hormone levels.

Mostly flesh coloured or brown they vary in size from a few millimeters up to 5cm wide and are often found on the neck, armpits, under the breasts or around the groin, under the folds of the buttocks or on eyelids.

Overweight people with excess folds of skin and skin chafing, may develop tags where skin rubs against skin – or clothing. Skin tags are harmless and don’t usually cause pain or discomfort.  If skin tags are small with a narrow base it’s possible to remove them yourself, by tying off the base of the tag with dental floss or cotton thread. This cuts off its blood supply and makes it drop off.  Or you could cut it off with fine sterile scissors.

Some skin tags die from a lack of blood supply and just fall off if the tissue has twisted. Don’t attempt to remove large skin tags yourself, they will bleed heavily.  They can easily be burnt or frozen off so talk to your GP for advice. However, removing skin tags is regarded as cosmetic surgery and rarely available through the NHS. The NHS will only carry out cosmetic surgery procedures if the problem is affecting your physical or mental health.

If the unsightly tags are upsetting you, or snag on clothing, Jewellery and bleed, you may still want them removed. You usually need to pay for this procedure so consider making an appointment with a privately practicing GP. Sometimes they can be surgically removed using a local anesthetic.

Q2 – Comfortable house shoes

Dear Diana, I work from home and spend a good part of my weekdays around the house. I’m also a fidget so leave my desk 100 times a day to do little jobs around the house, up and down stairs, etc.   I tend to wear slippers for comfort but I’m realising this is not good for my feet. My home is cool, even in summer, so I’m looking for a recommendation for a ‘house shoe’.  Here is my wish list. Kind regards, Anna Everitt …. Bristol

Essential;

  • Comfortable – for all day wear
  • Supportive – for all day wear
  • Suitable to wear socks with

Nice to have;

  • Modern style (neutral and inconspicuous)
  • Light outdoor use for taking bins out
  • Washable

A2 – Comfortable house shoes

Phew!  Anne this is a bit of a tall order but I have a few suggestions.  Like you I work from home spending my time at the PC and taking regular breaks to do a few chores around the house and garden.  Consequently, my requirements are somewhat similar to yours so I look for shoes made of natural, supple, durable leather with a fabric lining.  Leather allows the foot to breathe and can provide long term comfort and gentle support.  Shoes need to have a generous space in which to be able to spread your toes naturally, with soles that are shock absorbing, non-slip and provide underfoot cushioning.  Probably like you I don high heels and dress up for special occasions or conversely fall into the habit of slopping around the house in non-supporting “ballet type” light, flat shoes.

Neither shoe is good for feet if worn over long periods and both can cause back pain, so look instead for comfortable shoes with posture correct heel height to encourage a good walking position.  Feet vary in both length and width, but happily many of the great shoes around this season have adjustable Velcro fastenings or laces to ensure a great fit.  These comfort shoes are no longer just practical and fuddy duddy, but come in exciting colours and designs to suit most tastes and can look great with both trousers and skirts. The best selection of shoes and sandals I have discovered recently are by Padders, Hotters and Clarks.  Happy ambling!

Great Posture Never Goes Out of Style

Diana Moran – The Lady 21st April 2016 – Great posture never goes out of style.

“Jane reminds us that God is in his heaven, the monarch on his throne and the pelvis firmly beneath the ribcage. Apparently rock and roll liberated the pelvis and it hasn’t been the same since” says the delightful Emma Thompson on her heroine – Jane Austen.

Our posture is the position in which we hold our body upright against gravity while standing, sitting or lying down. But if like me you sometimes stand or sit incorrectly the result is a headache or back pain! Ouch. Our bodies were designed to move with rhythm and ease, just watch a good gardener scything through tall grass, his whole body moving in harmony and natural grace. Sitting down is something we do to take the weight off our feet, but our daily routine should be a mixture of sitting, standing and moving. But, the style and pace of our modern life makes it difficult to maintain this balance, so we spend much of our time hunched up over a desk peering at a screen or driving long distances straining our eyes, with pain and discomfort resulting from these uncomfortable postures.  We need to retrain our bodies to sit and to stand correctly.

Correcting our posture can feel awkward at first because our body has become used to our bad habits, but with correct posture and our body in good alignment we can alleviate headaches, back or neck pain, and fatigue.  Every morning I stretch for 10 minutes, checking any pains or strains before I start the day. And good posture involves training our bodies to stand, walk, sit and lie in positions where less strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments.  Strength and flexibility exercises correct muscle imbalances, improve body awareness, makes our backs strong and resilient and alleviate muscle tension.  Standing (or sitting) tall will boost your bearing and self-confidence and help you look and feel younger! Great posture never goes out of style.

Question

My 80-year-old mother suffers from osteoporosis.   She recently fell and broke her hip and is in danger of losing her physical independence.   I’ve heard that osteoporosis can run in families.   Is this true?   If so what can I do to avoid it?  Anne D – Berkshire

Answer

Dear Anne, I’m sorry to learn of your mother’s accident.   Osteoporosis – fragile bone disease affects 3 million people in the UK.  1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men will break a bone mainly as a result of poor bone health.

However, in many cases it is a preventable disease, and not just a consequence of growing older.  Look at your lifestyle. Does it include a well-balanced diet containing plenty of calcium plus vitamin D to build strong bones, and regular weight bearing exercise? This changes have been found to help prevent the disease.   Some women are more at risk genetically and you need to be aware of this.   So, Anne, please consult your doctor.   He may recommend a change in lifestyle, HRT (hormone replacement therapy) or specialized drugs to slow down bone loss and maintain bone density.   Talk to your Doctor about your bone density.  It can be monitored with a bone scan (Dexa) screening although it’s not always available on the NHS.  Alternatively, you could contact a private clinic that would perform a bone scan for a fee. Good luck Anne and for more information www.nos.org.uk

Question

As the years go by I find I need to eat less than I used to.   What are your Golden rules (or should I say Green rules) for a healthy eating plan as we get older? Margaret P – London

Answer

Dear Margaret, don’t worry! As we age we can make more of our lives by eating a healthy well balanced diet, it’s that simple! A poor diet can all too often be linked to certain preventable diseases or conditions.  For example, an excess of sugary foods leads to tooth decay and obesity, too much fat in the diet contributes to heart disease whilst too little fibre causes constipation and possible cancer of the colon and bowel. Eating too much of the wrong foods makes the skin, especially on the face, pallid and spotty.

Let’s not forget we eat to give our bodies energy in order to function.   All foods and drinks contain calories which are a measure of energy needed for our body to function and to repair.  The main sources of energy come from Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats.   Many people need less food and those excess calories simply get stored up as unsightly fat deposits around our bodies! So what foods should we be eating?  Well I like to keep things simple, so let’s cut through the maze of advice and look at my basic rules for a well-balanced and nutritious diet.

Eat less of the 3 S’s

  • LESS Saturated fats (Cut down on the amount of red meat by substituting chicken or fish).
  • LESS Sugar
  • LESS Salt

Eat more of the 3 F’s

  • MORE Fish
  • MORE Fibre (Fibre helps improve the digestion)
  • MORE Fruits and vegetables

It’s that simple Margaret – I look forward to knowing how you get on!

Friendship – The Secret to A Longer Life

The harsh reality of life for us females in the 21st century is the need to work hard and for longer if we want to enjoy the extended longevity of life. Maintaining good health is an important tool in order for us to succeed, so we need to learn how to help ourselves by tackling some of the issues which affect our wellbeing, such as physical and mental fitness, nutrition and relationships.  Of course working hard is important, but so too is playing hard, and we need to get the balance right if we are to keep fit and be well.   Play mates, whether they are male or female can play their part too in keeping us happy, healthy and wise.

I think a true friendship is one of the most important relationships we can have with another person. Some people will be fortunate to remain close friends forever throughout life.  I make a great effort to keep up the relationships I share with my special old friends, and try to make them aware of how lucky I feel for having them beside me, through both the good and bad times. I enjoy telling those special friends how much I care about them, and express my joy at having them in my life, and how I cherish our relationships both night and day.

Life is full of physical, emotional and mental challenges and the knowledge that we are not alone is important to us all, whatever our age. The old saying “A problem shared is a problem halved” is so true.  Bottling up emotion and worry can be seriously detrimental to our health and simply talking through our concerns can make all the difference to one’s state of mind.   Although many of us have families who would listen to us, we often would prefer to shield them from our worries and concerns.

With some friends we sense that our souls are closely connected, and as soul mates we know that wherever we are, whatever we do or whatever we say – they’ll be there for us – to listen and still remain friends.  I am sure you have many good friends but because of distance you are unable to talk as often as you would like to.  However, when you do it’s quite remarkable how you are able to pick up straight away where you may have left off years ago.  Perhaps this is what’s meant by “Forever Friends”!

Question 1 – SUMMER LEGS

I am looking down at my legs in despair; they haven’t seen the light of day since last summer.  Do you have any tips on how I can make them look half reasonable for my summer holiday which is in a month’s time? Maureen Chilcott – Edinburgh

Answer 1

You can help your poor pins by giving them a little TLC!  Start by removing unsightly hair, and then exfoliate by giving them a good scrubbing to remove dry scaly skin.  An old fashioned “loofah” does a good job, towel dry and pile on a nourishing skin cream. If you have cellulite use one of the special brand creams containing caffeine and anti-oxidants to target the problem areas. When applying any creams or lotions massage the whole length of legs, starting from toes and working upwards with sweeping strokes, to boost circulation and reduce water retention.

It’s never been easier to give your legs a healthy glow and by simply using a fake tan avoiding skin damage from the sun’s rays. Some products can be applied professionally in the beauty salon, it’s not cheap but the results are worth it.

Other self-tanning products can be applied at home before going to bed.  They are colourless, dry quickly and give spectacular results by morning without ruining your bed linen.  Some well-known brands of moisturisers also contain a gentle fake tan, which applied daily will build up to transform your pale legs with a subtle glow. Look out for the latest self-tan products which come in the form of in-shower tanning lotions to give you a glowing pair of pins the moment you step out!

Question 2 – MAKE UP TIPS

Diana I have been so busy bringing up my family for the past 10 years and have neglected myself, particular my looks.  I’ve lost my confidence and am now totally stupid when it comes to applying makeup.   Do you have any tips to help me? After so long I feel I need to learn and start all over again! Jennifer McNally…Swindon

Answer 2 

Always make up in daylight if possible. Overhead lights cast downward shadows and if the light is behind you, you can’t see enough. Get into a good routine.  Start with moisturising day cream or a simple tinted moisturiser containing SPF (sun protection factor). And that’s it!   Or, if you are more adventurous, use a foundation matching your skin colour (or blend two colours together if you can’t find a good match).

Squeeze a small amount into palm of hand, apply sparingly with tips of fingers. Now for a concealer, best applied with brush, around eyes, spots, high colour and blemishes. Pat into place. Maybe finish with a light dusting of loose powder, but avoid crow’s feet and smoking lines, (powder accentuates them).  Less is best!

If you’re brave, experiment with colour.  Use blush (powder, cream or tube) apply to “apple” of your cheek for a healthy glow.  Coloured eyeshadow can flatter and “bring out” eyes.  Apply with fingertip or brush, but don’t overdo it (avoid shiny eyeshadow).  Accentuate eyes further with eyeliner and mascara.  Brown is kinder than black especially if you are not used to make up. However waterproof mascara is difficult to remove and harsh make up removers may break lashes.

Well shaped eyebrows complete grooming so tame, comb and define. Finally use a lip liner pencil to draw shape, fill in with a flattering colour, or simply lip gloss or jelly for a more natural look.

Have fun Jennifer and wait for the compliments!

Beauty Really Is Skin Deep

Some years ago when I was writing a book about ways to avoid premature ageing I was amused to read a quote by Erwin Tschachler, a Professor of Dermatology who said “Ideally we should do a study of ageing in a Nunnery, with subjects who have stayed out of the sun and subjects who have lived their lives without vices”!

Sounds a bit boring to me but I get his point!  Skin reflects our lifestyle and some of us succumb to vices such as smoking, excess alcohol and processed foods.  However, stress and lack of sleep, certain medications, inactivity and over exposure to the sun all contribute to the ageing process. Our skin is the body’s only external organ, protecting what is inside and keeping harmful things on the outside.  It effectively retains essential fluids, protects internal organs, resists infections and acts as a physical barrier to damage.

We spend a lot of time and money worrying about the top layer of skin, the epidermis, which we see daily in the mirror.   But skin has 2 more layers, the middle dermis and lower hypodermis. And beauty really is skin deep, because what goes on below the surface in the dermis and hypodermis is what really matters. These lower layers contain hair follicles, nerve endings, connective tissue, blood vessels, sebaceous and sweat glands, and collagen fibres. This is where the skin process begins, with new cells being constantly formed and renewed.  It takes approximately 30 days for these new cells to find their way up from the lower layers to the top layer.

What we see in the mirror when they finally reach the skins surface are old cells, which are then shed naturally in a continuous process.  But the older we get the longer this process takes!  So what’s new? The most damaging factor is over exposure to the sun which affects the skin cells causing cell damage, but also poses health threats including skin cancers.  The effects from the sunburn may not be visible for years (40 years in my case) but harmful rays will have done their damage.   I learnt the hard way to protect my skin, particularly sensitive facial skin from sun’s harmful rays and pollutants. I use sunscreen containing SPF 15 (sun protection factor).  I consider higher than SPF 30 or extreme sun block unnecessary as we all need some sunlight (Vit D) to protect us from osteoporosis

Beauty can be ageless, it depends on knowing what your body and skin needs most.  Adequate sleep speeds the healing process, and nourishing maintains it helping us look and feel our best. “We can’t beat Old Father Time – no but some women drive a mighty close bargain with him”

Question

When I brush my teeth I have noticed that my gums have become incredibly sensitive, and often hurt for a while after brushing. They don’t bleed but it has become quite an annoyance. Are there any toothpastes I could buy without irritating ingredients? Do you have any other suggestions?

Francis Hird, Cambridge

Answer 

Francis making simple changes such as using desensitizing toothpaste and brushing less vigorously could make a difference.  Many types of toothpaste contain harmful chemicals so I personally use Sensodyne toothpaste specially designed for sensitive teeth. Brushing after we have been eating or drinking acidic foods which soften and make our teeth more vulnerable, may cause the enamel to be more easily worn away. Maybe you are one of those people who often grind your teeth during the day or more usually during sleep?  If yes, this can expose the lower layer of dentine making the teeth more sensitive. Gum disease (Gingivitis) can also cause receding gums and if left untreated can lead to Peritonitis which damages tissue and the bone supporting your teeth.  Francis your symptoms could be more than just a nuisance, because receding gums leave dentine exposed making the teeth very sensitive.  I think it’s time to pay your Dentist a visit to be sure your tooth pain is not the result of a more serious condition. Keep smiling!

Question

During a recent holiday to Crete my husband noticed that the whites of my eyes had developed a slightly yellowish tinge. That was a month ago now and my eyes still haven’t returned to normal. My sight hasn’t been affected and the colour change is minimal but noticeable to me. I am 51; could this be a side effect of the menopause?

Rona Gower, Cheltenham

Answer

Well Rona, by co-incidence I have just read the result of a small study claiming a link between yellow eyes and Menopausal 50-59-year-old women who had been taking Hormone replacement therapy, or Prempro.  I will look out for further studies.

But normally the whites of eyes or sclera are white in colour, but one can get yellow sclera (also called scleral icterus) caused by a high level of bilirubin in the bloodstream.  Bilirubin is made in the liver and is yellow in colour.  If a person suffers from liver disease, the liver can no longer process the breakdown of red blood cells and bilirubin, its natural metabolic product, and no longer enters the bile. Instead it builds up in the blood and tissues, including the sclera of the eyes.

One of the first signs is yellowing, probably caused by blocked bile ducts, leading to a backup of bilirubin.  More seriously it could be a sign of Cirrhosis of the liver due to an excess of alcohol damaging the liver. Or Hepatitis, caused by toxins – but most commonly by a virus that infects the liver, resulting in its dysfunction. Bilirubin backs up and the individual will suffer from jaundice.  Rona, since your eyes have been affected for over a month I would advise you to drink plenty of water and to talk to your GP mentioning any medications you may be taking.