Stress

With everything that is going on at the moment, I thought to change gears, so to speak, and talk about stress. Most importantly; how to deal with it and keep yourself calm and healthy during times of stress.  Stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”  This can be external (coming from the environment, psychological, for example death of a loved one, or social situations).  It can also be internal (an illness or a medical procedure).

When stress kicks in, it initiates the “fight or flight- “response; a complex reaction of endocrinologic and neurologic systems.  It is the way our bodies respond to any kind of demand.

Stress is not always harmful.  For example, when we need to learn for an exam, or go for an interview, the body excretes adrenalin (a chemical that can make your heartrate go up).  This makes you more alert, helps you to concentrate and have clear, sharp focus and thoughts.

Stress, however, can become a problem and can cause harm (more in that in a minute), if we don’t get rid of our stress.  When we “bottle our feelings” up, or don’t take “time out” to relax after a busy day / week at work or school, then the body starts to break down its own immune system to try and cope.

When this happens, and your immune system is low, you are not only more prone to illness and disease, but you will become more and more irritable, angry, tired and even tearful.  What is disease?  Dis-ease is when the body is not happy with how its functioning; there is a dis-ease somewhere in the body.  And the only way, for our bodies to cope, is to let you know (sending out a signal/s) like tiredness, sleepiness, and so on.  When we ignore the signs, then the immune system kicks in.  Alas, when we have depleted our bodies’ reserves, nothing is left for the body but to become ill, in order to not only heal itself, but also to give us a wake-up call, so to speak, to slow down, rest, recover / recouperate and get rid of our stress.

I am sure many of you know that exercise is one of the many ways to help you get rid of stress.  Deep breathing is another wonderful way; when you focus on inhaling for 8 – 10 counts, deeply and slowly, and then exhaling the same way, you not only slow down your heartrate (which spikes when you stress or get angry), but you also calm the mind.  As more oxygen can now flow in and out of the body, your whole body starts to relax; your muscles relax, the areas where you normally carry your stress relax, and you can “think before you speak,” become calm and focused.

It is important to maintain a strong immune system, whether or not you are under severe stress or not.  The stronger the immune system, the better chance you have of either not getting ill, or, if you do, to get over it far quicker.

Vitamins, minerals, omega oil, the type of food you eat and drink, all play an important role.

Vitamin C (found in citrus fruit, parsley, and so forth), Vitamin D (direct sunlight or tablet-form), Vitamin A (yellow and orange fruit and vegetables), Zinc (supplements), and Vitamin B6 & B12 (found in meats or supplement if you are vegetarian), are all important.  Vitamin 12, for example, plays an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system and it is the first vitamin that the body uses when under stress!

Food sources like Red and Yellow bell peppers, Broccoli, Garlic, Spinach, Yoghurt, Almonds and other nuts, Seeds (linseed, sunflower seed, and so forth), Papaya, Bone broth, Poultry (think of your gran’s or mom’s homemade Chicken soup), Green tea (preferably the organic tea), and spices like Turmeric, Oregano, Garlic, and Ginger, can all help to maintain a healthy immune system.

Staying hydrated by drinking enough water is important, as well as getting enough sleep.  Do make sure that you sleep enough hours, in a dark room, without any lights (natural and artificial), in order to give your body and mind time to replenish, renew, rebuild and heal.  If you have your cell phone next to your bed, or the television is on “sleep,” that can also disturb your sleep, because the brain cannot “switch off” completely.  It is important to “switch off” as this is the only time that your body has to renew and heal itself!

Another tip, which I mentioned in previous blogs, is to maintain a healthy gut.  When the pH-level in your gut is too acidic, it creates a wonderful place for germs and viruses to breed.  If, however, your pH-level is alkaline, the chance of something breeding is minimal; if not zero.

All in all, I would like to mention and even stress, that “that which you fear you attract.”  Instead of “going crazy” take a step back, take a deep breath, go outside if it is possible, and know that, “this too shall pass.”  When you don’t take care of yourself, get rid of your stress either by meditating, exercising, journaling, or relaxing in a hot tub, not only will your body suffer, but also the people around you.

My late grandfather always said “if you worry, you die, if you don’t worry, you might also die…so why worry?” 

Natural antibiotics

I am sure all of us, at one point or another, were given antibiotics by our medical practitioner or pharmacist.  In this article I am not going to defend it, nor am I going to tell you not to use it.  Instead I am going to tell you, my readers, more about antibiotics that you can find in your kitchen cupboard and in the supermarkets or health shops.

Garlic

Garlic not only has antibiotic- and antiviral properties, but also antifungal and antimicrobial properties.  It can help your body to get rid of invading organisms and supports your immune system at the same time.  Because garlic is a strong antioxidant, it rids the body of free radicals, therefore preventing them from damaging your cells.  For the body to absorb it optimally, crush or chew it before swallowing – this releases the active enzymes it contains.  You might be thinking: eat it raw?  No way!  If that doesn’t appeal to you, you can soak it in warm water and drink it as a tea, use it when you cook, or buy a natural, good-quality tablet at your nearest pharmacy or health shop.

Oregano oil

Oregano oil fights infections and keeps parasites at bay.  A study, that was published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, found that oregano oil wipes out at least 5 different types of bacteria!  What is more, is that this herbal oil can be used in many different ways.  For example, you can add some drops in hot water and breathe it in for sinus infections, you can place some drops in a foot bath to get rid of toenail fungus, and you can even clean your home with it to keep bacteria at bay!

Do make sure that the oregano oil is organic and medicinal (should you want to ingest it).  Best to always dilute it with some water or mix it with a carrier like olive oil, before you take it orally.  If you have never used this orally, best to make sure you are not allergic to it.  I would suggest to just boil it (like a tea) and inhale it – again this should not be done if you are allergic.  As always, if in doubt, speak to a medical practitioner or pharmacist that have knowledge of natural, herbal medicine, before drinking it.

Honey

Honey is one of the oldest known natural antibiotics in the world.  It contains a compound called hydrogen peroxide, which apparently account for its antibacterial properties. Honey has a high sugar content, but interestingly, it is this high sugar content that seems to stop the growth of some bacterial species.  It has low pH levels that contribute to dehydrating bacteria, which causes them to die off.

Honey can be directly applied to a skin-injury to ward off infection and can be used for treating coughs and sore throats. Best to use raw, organic honey as refined types may have some of the benefits stripped away.  Be careful if you are sensitive to / allergic to honey.  Some people cannot use any kind of honey, so always check before you use it orally.

Ginger

Ginger has been used as a natural antibiotic for thousands of years.  In Asia ginger is served with many dishes as it has food poisoning prevention properties. Ginger has antibiotic effects against some of the deadliest food-borne pathogens like salmonella, listeria and campylobacter.  It also possesses antiviral properties that can help your body overcome invading pathogens.  Ginger is wonderful to use if you are nauseous or suffer from flatulence or gas.

Making some tea with fresh, raw ginger pieces, steeped for a few minutes, is wonderful.  You can add fresh lemon juice, a touch of cayenne pepper, and/or garlic – a highly effective immune boosting tonic that will help you to overcome infections naturally.

As I have said in my introduction, antibiotics is sometimes necessary.  When you have to use it, make sure to take something like Interflora (a probiotic) as antibiotics can break down the flora in our gut / stomach.  Something as simple as treating the wrong types of infections with antibiotics, or forgetting to / not wanting to finish the antibiotics’ course, can cause the bacteria to become resistant to their mechanism of action and start to thrive.  Viral infections, for example, cannot be treated successfully with antibiotics, therefore it might be a good idea to first turn to Mother Nature (and your kitchen cupboard), before using prescription antibiotics.

So yes, by all means, have that pizza or pasta-dish with garlic, oregano, etc, etc, and let us remember what generations before us used, long before medicinal antibiotics came on the market!

Exercises / movements that’ll keep your circulation going whilst on a flight (and even at your desk)

I am sure we all stretch, stand up and walk around a bit when we’re on a long-haul flight; and even when we’re at the office, sitting for long hours a day.  Our bodies are not made to be / stay still all the time – movement is vital.  Not only to keep blood circulation going, but also to maintain the oxygen-flow in and out of the body.

Here are a few exercises / movements that you can do, whether you are in an aeroplane or at your office desk.

Seated-exercises  This can be done whether / not you are able to get out of your seat in the plane:

  • Heel and toe lifts:  sitting up straight, with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, lift your heels up (as if you are standing on your toes).  Then leave your heels on the floor and lift your toes.  Repeat this a number of times (with or without shoes on, as long as the shoes or socks don’t pinch you).
  • Head-, neck-, and shoulder rolls:  slowly drop your chin to your chest, then slowly roll it to the right and left.  Another way is to keep your head up and look over to the right-, then left-side.  You can also tilt your head (as if you want to touch your shoulder with your ear), to the right and to the left.  Please do this slowly and never roll the head back.  You can look slightly up at the ceiling, but never “squash” your neck vertebrae.  Not only is it bad for circulation, but it is also dangerous, as the neck vertebrae is not as thick as the rest of the vertebrae in your spine
  • Flexing and pointing your feet and hands are another easy way to keep the blood flowing.
  • Flinger flicks / Castanets:  spread out your finger, then bring your pinkies in toward the centre of the “heels” of your hands, then back out, without moving any of your other fingers.  Do this 10 times, then repeat with the other fingers.  Now do one finger at a time (as if you are playing castanets). 

To do the flicks, simply imagine that you are flicking water off your fingers, by tapping your thumb with each finger individually.

  • Spread out your fingers and/or your toes (if you’re not wearing shoes) as if they are a fan; in other words, try to create spaces in-between your fingers and toes.
  • Imagine that you have to use your toes to pick up a pencil on the floor.  Curl the toes, then relax them.  Repeat a few times.
  • Do the same as above, but instead arch your foot as if you have to pick the pencil up by lifting part of your foot up as well as your toes.
  • Interlink your fingers and, if you don’t know your neighbour, straighten your arms in the air and stretch your back.  This is a good way to separate the vertebrae and get oxygen and blood flowing.  This stretch can also be done to the front of the body – you will notice that your shoulder blades curve forward, so make sure to roll the shoulders back once you are sitting upright again.
  • Moving slightly forward in your seat, interlock your fingers behind your back, stretch the arms down and lift your head slightly to look up.  Again not above your head, but in front of you towards the roof.
  • A good lower back stretch, is to curve your back by pulling the tummy in and imagining that your belly button is touching the seat.  Doing this a few times is a good and easy way to release tension in the lower area.
  • Another good stretch for your back is to curl down slowly and touch the floor, then gently curl back into a straightened position. 
  • Crossing your one leg over the other, to form the number 4, lean slightly forward.  This will stretch your hips.
  • Sitting up straight, twist to the right, then left, making sure not to go too far.  It should feel comfortable, not uncomfortable.
  • Lastly, you can bring your one bent knee up to your chest, then the other.  Starting with the right leg is best, as the lymphatic system functions by flowing up on the right-side of the body towards the heart, then down the left-side of the body.

Standing exercises

  • Just like sitting, you can stretch your arms overhead or in front of you and reach either up towards the ceiling or as far forward as possible.  this can also be done behind you.
  • If you have space and nobody is going to be bothered, stretch one arm overhead by bending one / both knees slightly.  Bend over to the other side.
  • Whilst standing, lift your heels off the floor for 10 times, then bend your knees and, without locking the knees, raise your toes off the floor for 10 times.
  • Step out to the front with one leg.  Bend the front leg, making sure that the knee is in line with your ankle.  Straighten the back leg, trying not to bend the knee, and see if you can put your ankle down on the floor.  This is a good stretch for the hips and thighs.
  • Standing in the same position as above, bend the back leg, again making sure the knee is not over the toes, and straighten the front leg.  Lift the toes off the floor, lean slightly forward, keeping the front leg straightened at all times.  Slowly come back up, point and flex the foot and repeat with the other leg.  This is a good stretch for the hamstrings.
  • Standing in a V-position with your legs evenly spaced, gently bend the one knee and feel the stretch in the inner thigh.  Repeat on the other side.  And as always, make sure the knees are not over the toes, but rather behind them when you bend your knees.

Flying can be dreaded; especially if it is a very long flight.  One can only sleep for so many hours, read for so many hours, and sometimes the chatter can also start to dwindle.  Keeping our bodies moving, even when we’re in a small, restricted area like an aeroplane, is not only good for us physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

When our bodies move, our minds move, and we have the energy to “hang in there…we are almost at our destination!”

Take care and remember, keep yourself nourished, hydrated, and move around!  Soon enough you will hear:  “ladies and gentleman…we have landed!”

How to stay comfortable, and keep the circulation going, on aeroplane-trips

Whether you are catching a short- or a long flight, planes are not always the most comfortable place to be in – unless, of course, you can afford to fly business class or first class.

Overall, the airlines main objective is to pack as many bodies as possible, into the aeroplane; thus, seats are created to optimize space and not passengers’ comfort.  In recent years, premium economy-class has been added to various airlines, which have roomier legroom, wider seats, and so forth.  No matter in which class you fly, our bodies are not made to sit for such a long period at a time (especially on long flights).  Reading an article in a magazine written specifically about Pilates, I came across a few good tips that will help to make your journey more comfortable, and teach you a few movements / stretches to keep the circulation going.

One of the first things is to try and book seats that is side-by-side (especially when you are not flying alone).  This way you can sleep, stretch, move, and so on, without bothering a stranger (s).  Seats that are on the aisles are always a good option; not only for getting up faster and easier, but also because you can stand up and move more freely.  Seats at the exit-doors have more legroom but don’t recline; so for a long flight rather book seats that can recline. 

Many people use a special neck pillow, but there is also pillows on the market that covers your entire back, shoulders and head.  Airlines do have pillows, but if you are using your own pillow, use the airline pillow to support your lower-back (lumbar spine-) area. 

Staying hydrated is a must.  Make sure to drink enough water, as the air-conditioning in the plane can make you thirsty and dry out your skin.  Some people like to have a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage with their meals.  However, be careful not to drink too much (even when it is for free).  Due to the air pressure and altitude, alcohol can make you tipsy very quickly, as well as dehydrate you faster (same goes for caffeine).  Rather opt for water and/or juice or other non-alcoholic beverages. 

Make sure to have something to eat.  Some people don’t like the food served on planes – if you prefer to eat your own, make sure to stock up on granola bars, dried nuts and/or fruits, protein bars, and other snacks that not only satisfies your hunger pangs, but also keep your blood sugar at a good level.

Watching a movie, reading a book, listening to music, or playing a card game, for example, are all things that you can do to stay busy – and, of course – sleep!

Getting up, standing, walking around (if possible) and stretching is important.  Another tip is not to cross your legs when you are sitting, as this will cut off circulation.  Rather just cross your ankles.

Some people keep their shoes on, so make sure your shoes are comfortable.  Due to air pressure your feet and ankles can swell; make sure your shoes, socks and your pants, are not tight.  Many people like to take their shoes off; you can easily do that as all airlines provide socks that you can wear over yours. 

A tip for all the men (and some young people as well):  make sure there is nothing in your trousers’ back pockets, as there is nothing more uncomfortable to sit on your wallet or keys!

Many health practitioners also advise older people to wear special socks and/or take ½ an aspirin to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT).  Before you do it, please ask your health care practitioner about it, as every person is different.

All in all, flying does not have to be dreaded.  By wearing the right clothes, making sure that you have a comfortable seat, and keeping your body hydrated and nourished, flying can, in fact be enjoyed!

Next week I will give you some easy exercises that you can do on the plane; and, in fact, even at the office!  Until next week…happy flying!

Keeping your food safe and yourself healthy

No matter what time of the year, it is crucial that we keep our foods safe from food borne bacteria.  Whether we are preparing a meal, or sitting down to a meal, it is always important to make sure that we (and the food that we are handling) are clean.  Here are a few tips from the food safety experts:

  1. Clean your hands!!  Washing your hands before you eat, before you prepare a meal, and after handling raw food, is extremely important and should be one of the “non-negotiable” rules / lifestyle-choices we make.  Washing our hands is one of the easiest ways to keep bugs and bacteria at bay.
  2. If you, like me, like to cook in bulk, make sure there is space in the fridge / freezer to store the bulk.  Only take it out of the freezer when you are going to eat it.  If you want to take it out the night before, make sure to put it into the fridge, so that it can unfreeze there without going off (especially meat and fish).
  3. Avoid cross contamination.  For example, never put cooked meat in the same dish that contained raw meat / poultry.  Also avoid using the same utensils for raw- and cooked food.
  4. Cold foods should be kept cold (below 4 °C or 39.2°F); and hot foods hot.  Also let warm / hot food cool off before placing it into the fridge.

Food poisoning, better known as gastro-enteritis, happens when a person becomes ill from eating food that has been contaminated by micro-organisms, or the toxins it produced.  Symptoms can include stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea and fever.  Food poisoning can rear its head anywhere between 4 – 48 hours.

Young babies, the elderly and those with a low immune system, are more severely affected by this.  Seeking medical help is important; as you lose a lot of fluids due to the symptoms.  Therefore, it is always advisable to take electrolytes to help put back the important body-salts, and so forth, that gets lost when ill.

Here are a few examples of the most common bacteria that causes gastro-enteritis:

  • Staphylococci- found on a person’s skin (also in sores or skin infections), in noses and throats.  This is transferred through the unhygienic handling of food;
  • Salmonellae – found on raw poultry, meats and products linked to meat, as well as the droppings of rats, mice, and the stools of humans and certain animals;
  • E-Coli – found in the stools of animals and humans.

When we go to the grocery store, it is the job of the store to make sure that the produce is fresh and safe to buy.  It is the job of the buyers to make sure that fresh foods are packed away as quickly as possible (especially things like fish, meat, cheese, milk, butter, yogurt, salad, and anything else that needs to be kept cold); especially on a hot summer’s day.  When you are out shopping, do look out for cans that are bulging or are “blown” – do not buy it – as it can contain botulism (a highly dangerous toxin that occurs when canned food has not been processed properly).

Another thing to remember is to separate any household cleaning supplies and other non-edibles from foodstuffs.  Frozen foods should be packed together to help maintain the cold temperature for as long as possible.  Raw meat and poultry should not be packed with cooked / deli foods like cheese or cold meats, as salmonella may be present in the raw meats.

Now that the shopping is done and you’re at home and your groceries are packed away, remember to never overcrowd the fridge with too many bowls, etc.  if you have any leftovers, try to eat it within 2 – 3 days, or else freeze it. 

Transferring canned food into a glass or plastic container with a lid, will keep it fresher for longer.  Lastly, if there is a power outage, keep the door closed for as long as possible. Food should be safe as long as the power is not out for longer than 4 hours.  Perishables, like dairy- and meat products, could go off faster (even salad), so be careful before eating it.  If you can, freeze the food and milk that you won’t use immediately and, wherever possible, buy long-life products like milk and canned foods.  Another great idea is to pack ice packs around perishable foods to help it to stay cold for as long as possible!

To all the men out there – a recent study indicated that men are more susceptible to gastro-enteritis than women!  Why?  Because women are more likely to wash their hands after going to the bathroom than men! So, boys and men…do as the girls and ladies do…wash your hands regularly.

Valentine’s Day – where does it come from and why do we celebrate it?

Valentine’s Day, also known as Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is celebrated worldwide, every year on February the 14th

Originating as a Western Christian feast day, where one or two early saints (Valentinus), were honoured, it is recognized today as a significant cultural, religious, as well as a commercial celebration of romance and romantic love.

There are various different stories / legends associated with February the 14th.  One is a written account of Saint Valentine of Rome’s imprisonment for performing weddings for soldiers who were, apparently, forbidden to marry (this, however, could never be proven).  Another legend is that Saint Valentine restored the sight of his judge’s blind daughter just before his execution.  In his farewell letter he wrote to her, he signed it “Your Valentine.”  The Feast of Saint Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I in AD 496, to be celebrated on February 14, in honour of the Christian martyr, Saint Valentine of Rome, who died on that date in AD 269.

It was first associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.  In the 18th century, in England, it grew into an occasion where couples expressed their love for each other, by giving each other flowers, confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines), to each other.  Today symbols like heart-shaped chocolates, cards, doves, Cupid and the colour red and pink, are used on Valentine’s Day. 

Since the 19th century, handwritten and/or handmade valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.  In Europe, for example, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers as a “romantic symbol” and as an “invitation to unlock the giver’s heart.”  It is also given to children to ward off epilepsy (called Saint Valentine’s Malady).  In the Anglican Communion as well as the Lutheran Church, Saint is a Valentine’s Day is an official fest day.  In the Eastern Orthodox Church Saint Valentine’s Day is also celebrated, but on July the 6th and July the 30th.  July the 6th is in honour of the Roman presbyter, Saint Valentine, and July the 30th is in honour of Hieromartyr Valentine, Bishop of Interana (modern-day Terni).

Another legend about Valentine’s Day is that Saint Valentine cut hearts from parchment and gave it to the soldiers and persecuted Christians, as a reminder to the men of their vows and God’s love.  This could be a reason why hearts are widely used today.  Although the European folk traditions, connected with Saint Valentine and St. Valentine’s Day, have become marginalized by modern Anglo-American customs that focus on the romantic love, there are some remaining associations connecting the saint with the advent of spring.

While the sending of cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts, originated in the UK, Valentine’s Day is still connected with various regional customs in the UK.  For example, in Norfolk, a character by the name of “Jack” Valentine, knocks on the rear door of the houses, leaving sweets and presents for the children.  Although he left sweets, many children were still scared of this unknown, mystical person.

In Slovenia, Saint Valentine (also known as Zdravko), was one of the saints of spring, the saint of good health and the patron of the beekeepers and the pilgrims.   There is a proverb that says “Saint Valentine brings the keys of roots.”  Plants and flowers start to grow on this day; thus, it has been celebrated as the day when the first work in the vineyards and in the fields commences.  Another belief is that birds propose to each other or marry on that day.  A proverb says “Valentin – prvi spomladin” (“Valentine – the first spring saint”).

In some cultures, and social circles, Valentine’s Day is a day to appreciate friends.  For example, in Finland, they refer to Valentine’s Day as “Friends day,” which is more about remembering all friends rather than focusing solely on romance. In   Guatemala, it is known as the Day of Love and Friendship. It is similar to Valentine’s Day customs and traditions in countries such as the United States but it is also a time for many to show their appreciation for their friends.

In some places, especially White Carniola, Saint Valentine Day marks the beginning of spring.  Only recently has it been celebrated as the day of love.  Traditionally, it was March the 12th – Saint Gregory’s day; or it was February the 12th – Saint Vincent’s Day.  The patron saint of love was called Saint Anthony, whose day has been celebrated on June the 13th.

Whether you are celebrating romance, friendship or both, Valentine’s Day-customs should actually be celebrated each day.  Whether you are single, in a relationship or married, it is not just a day to spend money, but also to remember that love and friendship, go hand-in-hand.  We and our loved ones (romantically or otherwise), is special and unique.  Let us be grateful every day for all the people in our lives that brightens up our days, hold our hands, give us a shoulder to cry on when needed, and most of all, love us unconditionally.

After all; the greatest gift you can give someone is unconditional love:  love that doesn’t expect something in return, love that never judges, humiliates, is sarcastic or just rude, love that is pure.  Pure, unconditional love, is love without any strings attached; it is a space / place where you can be your authentic self.

Enjoy the day and to all of my readers, happy Saint Valentine’s Day!

Different ways to make sure your immune system stays strong

Your immune system is your body’s defence mechanism that protects you from diseases.  In order for the immune system to function optimally, it must detect a wide variety of pathogens, for example viruses, parasitic worms and bacteria.  This must be distinguished from the body’s own healthy tissue. When the body’s immune system is down, one not only gets ill quicker or catch a cold easier, but the body will struggle to “get over” the illness and your chances double to become ill, again, when the immune system is not functioning properly.

More and more people today suffer from chronic tiredness, anger, depression, stress and overall exhaustion.  Two things play a role:  the world we live in today is geared on consumerism; everything is “fast:” fast cars, fast food, fast trains, and so forth.  This is creating stress and strain for both adults and children alike, as they struggle to keep up with the pace.  The second thing that plays a role is our diet, general lack of nutrition and not getting rid of our stress.  Food stores and fast food-places have made life “easier” for us to grab a meal on the go.  However, these meals more often than not, lack the essential nutrients that we need.  Even the “healthier” options contain hidden ingredients like extra sugar and salt; not to mention the huge amounts of sugar that goes into your soda’s, ice teas, and energy drinks.

The debate is still on regarding fruit juices, as this also contains sugar.  However, when you dilute it with ice or water, or whether you drink it as is, moderation is the key.  I personally believe that fruit juice is a better option than soda; just make sure to read the labels first to make sure that there is not many / any synthetic things added, or extra sugars and/or preservatives. Now the question is; what can you do to keep your immune system strong?

Apart from eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, adding salads, nuts, oily fish and spices like garlic and turmeric to your diet, is a good way to start.  Drinking enough water, exercising, getting enough sleep, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, and getting rid of stress, will also play a big role.  Getting out into the fresh air (even on a crisp, cold winter’s morning), can do wonders for your mood, skin and circulation. 

Vitamins B (B-complex), C and D, as well as Omega-oils, are important.  When we are ill or under stress, our bodies’ immune system uses vitamin B to help it to cope.  It is important to add this to your shopping bag if you don’t eat meat or don’t eat a lot of red meat, as vitamins B6 and B12 are more concentrated in red meats.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, so make sure to take it every morning, before breakfast.  If you have a sensitive digestive system, make sure to buy a buffered vitamin C.

Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), is important as it helps the body to make serotonin (the happy hormone).  For my readers that live in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as the elderly, adding a good vitamin D-tablet to your shopping trolley is a great way to get your dose of vitamin D in.

Omega oils not only play an important role in keeping the immune system strong and healthy, but is also important for your brain’s development and health.  If you are allergic to shellfish, look out for a brand that uses flaxseed and/or other seeds instead.

Maintaining a healthy gut is also a good idea, as is keeping the body in a more alkaline state.  Research is being done to prove that there is a link between your gut’s health and your body’s overall health and strong immune system.  An alkaline gut is better than an acidic gut, and in order to maintain the balance, you can take something like Dr. A. Vogel’s Multiforce Alkaline Powder once a week or once a month.

Very important for staying healthy and keeping bugs at bay, is to wash your hands regularly.  Whether you worked in the garden, come home from work, went to the bathroom, were our shopping, or want to prepare food, always make sure to wash your hands with soap and water.    

Lastly; when you are out and about and you sneeze, sneeze into your bent elbow-area, not your hands; as this will lessen your chance of catching a bug.  Never rub your eyes, mouth or even your nose, when your hands are not clean. 

Life today is not always easy, but if you can take a time-out, switch off and learn to relax and destress, you are hallway there.  When it happens and you do come down with a cold or flu, having a strong immune system will not only help you to get over it easier, but your chance of it getting worse, is far less, because your body’s defences are stronger and more prepared, as it were! Take care of your health and remember, a healthy body + a healthy mind = a happy life!

healthy body/mind

“If music is the food of love, play on…” and in this case, teach on!

Music has been around for hundreds of years; stirring our deepest emotions.  In every culture, every country, mothers sing or hum a lullaby to their baby.  An English mother might sing “Twinkle, Twinkle” or “Hush, Little Baby,” while a Zulu mother sings “Thula Baba.”  No matter the culture or language; studies have shown that remarkably similar tones and ways of singing, accompanied by a swaying motion, are found.

Babies, in utero, can hear sounds from 24 weeks!  Although muffled, the child can hear the mother’s voice.  According to Dr. Annette Lotter, a doctor in education specializing in brain profiling, says that when a mother or father makes aggressive or harsh sounds, the baby’s heart rate increases and they feel anxious and scared.  Soft and happy music and voices, makes the baby feel safe and happy.  This is proof that an unborn not only hears but also experiences different emotions and sounds from an extremely early age – laying the foundation for their own emotional intelligence throughout life!

Music is the universal language, used to lift our spirits, make us smile, dance and even moves us to tears.  Therefore, if music affects emotions, can it affect intellect?  Dr. Lotter says that there are 5 brain states, ranging from deep sleep to shock.  Brain waves vary throughout the day in response to stimulation.  Music influences brain activity and we respond emotionally and physically.  For example, listening to heavy rock or metal music, not only affects our nervous system in a damaging way, but it can also make us more aggressive.  Relaxing, classical or other music on the other hand, makes us calm and is not just good for our brain, but also our emotional state and nerves.

Many studies have been done and has proven that there is a definite link between certain types of music and studying.  Baroque-music (think Mozart) influences the child’s brain wave activity.  A normal heartbeat is about 60 – 75 beat per minute and in order to induce alpha brain waves (needed for studying), playing music with that number of beats, is excellent.  Classical or instrumental music is best, as there are no words to distract the child whilst learning.  Using relaxing music to help a child go to relax and/or go to sleep is another tool to use that’ll induce melatonin-production and a deep sleep.  Dr. Lotter further explains that, if a child is agitated or stressed, the non-dominant hemisphere in the cortex switches off, which is not a good learning state.  Have you ever tried to recall a name or telephone number when stressed or in shock?

Another positive when playing passive music for about 10 – 15 minutes, is when you want your child to calm down after a day of play / activities.  This will help to get their brain waves back into alpha state, which accommodates learning and sleep.

I am certain that you have heard about the Mozart-effect?  In the early 1990s a study found that, after listening to classical music (especially Mozart), students showed an improvement in certain spatial-temporal tests.  Many studies have also indicated that there is a positive link between the Mozart-effect and studying languages and maths.  American neurologist, Oliver Sacks, call this “orange juice to the brain,”  because it is the most profoundest, non-chemical medication that can treat various conditions, for example depression, organic diseases and anxiety.  In his book “Musicophilia:  Tales of Music and the Brain,” (Knopf), Dr. Sacks describes the way music is proven to calm agitation, improve emotional intelligence and stimulate both memory and linguistic ability. 

Learning to play music, instead of just listening to it, has a positive influence over non-musical intelligence (linguistic-, spatial- and mathematical skills).  Numerous studies have pointed to a correlation between playing an instrument and achieving higher grades.  Due to MRI technologies, scientists can now also see that musicians really do have significantly more grey matter in certain parts of their brains!

A South African psychologist and co-founder of the South African Music Appreciation & Development School, Dr. Lydia Dreyer, believes that music will stimulate a child’s overall development; particularly when it is introduced through age-appropriate activities. Not only will it develop music-appreciation skills, but it will also develop intellectual, emotional, social, motor, listening and concentration skills in a playful manner.

No matter what instrument you learn to play, each require different visual, spatial and auditory skills.  It teaches a child to focus and multi-task, as well as teaching patience, practice and precision.  Not only does a child learn to read music, but he / she also learn to keep the beat, play the right notes, learn to play loud and soft, fast and slow, and he / she learns to co-ordinate his / her hands, eyes, ears and breathing!  There are also many personal and interpersonal skills that get a big boost and, by learning that a piece of music can take time, effort and patience, a child learns about organisational skills and time management from an early age.  A sense of achievement comes through every time a child learns a new piece of music or technique.

Looking at the research done, one can easily see the correlation between maths and music.  in a bar of music, for example, the beat is sub-divided into whole notes, half-notes, quarter-notes, and so forth.  In a nutshell you are dealing with fractions; and reading / clapping to the beat, therefore, involves both counting notes and rhythms.

Music and language have similar traits.  Both consist of rhythm, tone and pitch.  Until the age of 6, a child can easily learn to speak more than 1 language.  Instead of trying to remember words grammatically, the child listens to the sound of the words.  So too with learning music.  A child recognizes the different sounds and pitch; as the child gets older, he / she they can distinguish between the different instruments, pitch, harmonies, as well as musicality (especially if there is a person(s) singing).

When interacting with music through clapping, dancing, marching, and so on, the child’s motor skills are developed and the child learns about spatial orientation, co-ordination, and understanding the body in space.

Another wonderful thing about learning to play an instrument, is that many times it involves being part of an orchestra, band or choir.  Teamwork, discipline and co-operation are quickly learnt, because you have to listen to each other, wait your turn, be on time (for practise, performance and when playing your piece of music), and work as a unit.

Even if your child doesn’t have any interest in becoming a musician, just giving him / her the opportunity to learn about it, not only widens the child’s knowledge, but also teaches music appreciation.  There are hundreds of adults today that appreciate good music.  As an ex-teacher myself, I can honestly say that learning to play musical instruments were not just a lot of fun, but it made me a well-rounded adult today!

Tip:  if your child doesn’t gel with the music teacher, don’t force the child to stay with that teacher.  Look for a new one, because often the teacher can make / break the child’s interest and/or love and appreciation of music.

Are your beauty products actually speeding up the ageing process?

Have you ever found yourself standing in front of rows and rows of cleansers, toners, moisturizers, body creams, and so forth, not having a clue which brand is best, or which products will work best on your skin?  We are so bombarded today by advertisers and media by “new technologies” and “miracle ingredients,” that it can be quite overwhelming when it comes to choosing the right products.  Add to that the many articles written about products that are bad for you and the environment, versus the trusted brands that do have certain ingredients in that, according to these articles, are bad for the environment. Here are a few tips that, hopefully, make it easier when it comes to decision-making time.

Age-accelerating irritants

Harsh scrubs, alcohol and fragrance can cause irritation, inflammation and sensitivity, and damage the skin’s protective layer – especially if you are allergic or have a sensitive skin.  When using products that contain one of more of these ingredients, it can dehydrate your skin and make it more vulnerable to environmental damage; making you look older.  It is best to avoid products containing parabens, phthalates and triclosan (can disrupt your hormones too!), as well as products containing harsh detergents and surfactants like sodium lauryl sulphate, fragrances and petrochemicals.

More H2O than moisture

Many of the moisturizers are water-based.  At first your skin will feel hydrated and nourished, but as the water starts to evaporate, your skin end up feeling tighter and even dryer than before.  This in turn causes faster ageing.  Best to avoid these water-based moisturizers that don’t contain hydrophilic groups like amine and hydroxide.  These ingredients bond with the water and lock it into the skin; keeping your skin hydrated all day.

Cleansers and toners that dehydrates the skin

Cleansers and toners are used to clear away dirt and excess oils, right?  Yes, but did you know that using it is just as important to maintain your skin’s moisture and that the wrong products can affect your moisturizer and serum’s ability to penetrate your skin’s layers and do their work?  So, look our for age-appropriate cleansers and stay clear of alcohol-based toners, which only dehydrates the skin. 

What should you add / be on the lookout for?

Alpha-hydroxide acid (AHA) is a chemical that exfoliates the skin.  Ingredients like lactic glycolic acids separate the bonds that hold the dry, dead skin on the surface. These acids help your skin to shed these dead cells naturally and evenly, leaving it looking and feeling smoother and younger.  Do take care not to use a product that has more than 10% AHAs in, as this can irritate your and make it more sensitive than normal.

Serum is non-negotiable

Serum is an important add-on to your beauty routine; especially if you are older than 40.  It is one of the most powerful concentrated products that targets specific skin concerns, for example dark marks.  Serums contain potent doses of ingredients that are light and absorbed quickly, and deliver fast results.

Eye-creams / -gels

Because the areas around the eyes are very sensitive, dot the cream / gel and gently stroke it in.  Careful not to use too much or to rub vigorously and don’t put any cream / gel too close to the eyes.  Using eye-creams / -gels regularly should tackle dark circles, crow’s feet and puffiness.

Sunscreen

The jury is still out – some people believe sunscreen is not good for you, others live by it!  Most day creams contain SPF 15 +.  However, if you don’t use a product with added sunscreen in, do add it to your list when you are out and about in the sun.  We do need sunshine in order for our bodies to absorb and store Vitamin D.

However, roasting in the sun (especially between 10:00 and 14:00), is not a good idea.  Our faces and hands quickly give away our age; make sure to either use a day cream or moisturizer with sunscreen in, or apply some before you put on your make-up; especially if you are going to be in the sun for long periods.

An anti-ageing morning-routine

It is one thing to choose the right products, but make sure to use them in the right order as well to maximize their benefits.  In the morning start with a gentle cleanser.  Then apply your serum sparingly (just a little bit goes a long way as it is quite potent).  If needed, apply an eye-cream / -gel and lastly, your moisturizer.

An anti-ageing night-time routine

Ladies, when it comes to taking off your make-up, use a richer cleanser, micellar water or wipes.  Never go to bed with your make-up on; no matter how tired you are!  Not only will it rub off on your pillow, but it will clog your pores and leave you with a dull, break-out prone skin!  Next apply a serum (try using one that stimulates collagen; look out for the ingredient retinal).  An eye-cream / -gel is then gently applied and lastly a night cream / -gel.  Exfoliate once / twice a week.  But be careful not to over exfoliate, as this can strip your skin not only from its natural oils, but also dry out your skin.

Sometimes we are pressed for time and we don’t have time or energy to go through the above-mentioned routine.  It is OK – I believe that, unless you were sweating during the night, that it is not always the end to not wash your face with a cleanser.  Putting a moisturizer on before you put on your make-up is always a good idea.  Some day-creams contain many active ingredients that not only moisturizes your skin but also evens’ out fine lines, while protecting it against free radicals and the sun.  And remember: always remove your make-up before hopping into bed.

A few last tips 

On the other hand, you might find you are using more products during winter or when you are in an area where the air is dry.  Even then, give your skin a chance to breathe.

Give your skin time to breathe!  Unless you have an extremely dry skin (which can be due to not drinking enough water or not adding enough Omega-oils to your diet), try to skip 1 / 2 nights without putting any creams, gels, serums, and so on, on your face.  There are millions of pores and sweat glands under your skin and it needs to breathe.  Using too much, every day and night, of all the above-mentioned products, can clog the pores and cause break-outs.  When you are lucky enough to live in a humid area, you might find you use less creams.  That is fine. 

Lastly; using too much of a product, too often, will leave your skin more irritated, prone to break-outs and even more sensitive.  Read the labels and never over-use a product.  Your skin can only absorb so much, so remember “less is more.”

Happy shopping and only use products that work for your skin.

Ageing – part of life and not the end of the world

Age is but a number – or so the saying goes.  Getting older is not something that anyone can stop.  Even with the latest skincare products and other treatments today, all of us are going to get older at some point in time.

I do believe that what we say to ourselves and others regarding ageing, plays a huge role in how quickly we become old.  I have met many “young” 70- / 80-year olds, and I have met “old” 60-year olds.  It is a mindset indeed!

Even though ageing is an inevitable part of life, there are some proactive ways to follow, that will ensure that you look and feel your best, regardless of your age.

Healthy eating

“You are what you eat” and if you want to stay healthy for longer, then limit your intake of alcohol, sugar, salt and processed foods.  Add more wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, unsaturated fats, dairy and healthy carbohydrates, to your diet.  This will help you maintain a healthy heart and healthy weight, as well as lower your risk for a stroke and high cholesterol.  When your eating habits are balanced, it will help the body in fighting off inflammation (which can lead to artery, joint, tissue and organ damage, as well as cause arthritis).

Increasing your intake of berries, green tea, cacao, Omega-3 fatty acids (found in pilchards and salmon), walnuts, flaxseeds, calcium-rich foods like bony fish, dairy and seeds, can aid the ageing body to stay healthy and strong.  Red peppers, guava, citrus foods and tomato, are also beneficial.  Not only for their vitamin content, but also for collagen production.  Collagen is important for skin elasticity and firmness, and declines as we get older.

A good multi-vitamin supplement, as well as added Vitamin C, Calcium & Magnesium (with Boron and Zinc), as well as Omega 3 & 6, can be added to your diet.  Vitamin D is another important vitamin.  No matter where you live, if you don’t spend a lot of time in the sun, then make sure to take vitamin D.  it is important for brain functioning and can help to keep depression and/or moodiness, at bay.  Brands like Solal, Solgar, Biogen, Vital and Nutrivite, are all good.

Drink enough water

As we age, our sense of thirst can be inhibited due to our age.  Thus, make sure to drink enough water daily to avoid dehydration this can lead to fatigue, constipation, headaches, fuzzy thinking and even an inability to cope well with heat.  Drinking enough water will energize your muscles, assist with kidney and bowel function, balance the body’s fluids, keep your skin supple, as well as assist with weight maintenance.  According to the latest research, women should aim for 8 – 9 cups of water and men around 13.  Do remember that black tea, without added milk and sugar, can also count as water.  Fizzy water (sparkling water, however, does not count, as it often contains added sugar, etc).  Too many caffeinated drinks; and especially sugary drinks, can cause the skin to wrinkle and cell structures to harden.

Drinking alcohol in moderation, or staying clear of it completely, is another important habit to learn and follow (even when we are younger).  Not only does excessive drinking deplete the body of nutrients needed for cell regeneration and carrying oxygen, but it can also create havoc in your life in general.

Research indicates that resveratrol (found in red wine), has anti-ageing properties.  Do remember that you do not have to finish the bottle!  Instead, follow the French…they have one small glass of wine every evening with their meal.

Exercising

Not only does it help you to lose those extra kilo’s and maintain a healthy weight, but it is vital to keep moving to keep circulation going.  After the age of 30, your body does not make bones anymore; thus, it is vital to keep doing weight-bearing exercises to help the body to build and maintain strong bones.  Any exercise like walking, swimming, cycling, Pilates, Yoga and Water (Aqua) Aerobics, are good ways to maintain flexibility, strong bones, and overall health.

Time and again research have proven that exercise boosts endorphins (the happy hormones) and promotes better brain power.  Walking just 10 minutes a day can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 40%, as well as reduce anxiety and stress (which have an effect on your brain’s ageing).  “Movement is life;” so put on your trainers and get the blood pumping!

We all know that smoking has been linked, time and again, to lung cancer, heart disease and stroke.  But did you know it can also speed up ageing?  When you smoke, the carbon monoxide and nicotine displace oxygen and reduces the blood flow to your skin, leaving it dry, discoloured and dull.  Many vital nutrients also get lost due to smoking and yes, even if you take supplements, the damage caused by smoking (e-cigarettes included), is long-term and permanent.  Best never to start!

Stress less

Stress increases the amount of cortisol and norepinephrine-hormones, whilst suppressing your immune system.  When you are constantly stressing, it leads to the hardening of your arteries, not to mention the negative effect it has on your mood, energy levels and your interactions with those around you.  Long-term stress can also cause an inability to learn, compromised memory capacity and premature ageing.

Therefore, how you manage your time is important.  Making time for socializing, sleeping well, eating healthy, keeping active, quitting smoking and drinking moderately, can all help you live a balanced and happy life.

Snoozing

Not getting enough and / or a good night’s rest regularly, can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, weight gain and looking far older and tired than what you are.  Having a good night’s rest boost your memory and concentration, reduces the risk of a heart attack and stroke, and also improves your mood.  It is during sleep that the human growth hormone-production (HGH) is at its highest.  This hormone doesn’t only play a part in looking younger, but also helps you to have have more energy, feel revitalized and ready for the day. 

Socializing

Socializing is good for our physical, emotional and cognitive health.  People who connect on social levels can also cope better with stress.  So, whether you are sending an e-mail, WhatsApp, phoning someone or getting together, make time for your friends and family.

We cannot stop Father Clock from ticking, but we can change the way in which we change.  Making changes to live a healthier, happier and balanced life, will not only add more years to your life, but will also let you age gracefully.