Mindfulness

According to the Oxford dictionary mindful refers to “taking thought or care of.”  What exactly does it mean?  In many magazines there are articles written about it; life coaches tell people to be more mindful when they are working, eating, communicating, socializing and even when they are stressing!

So, let’s explore!  Being mindful refers to being present, being in the now, and being aware of your thoughts and actions.  Mindfulness is when you focus on your actions, words and thoughts.  For example, instead of eating and watching television at the same time, sit down around the dining room table and enjoy the meal.  Be aware of what you eat, what it tastes like, smells like and, if you are with others, enjoy being together, sharing a meal.

Being in the now (in the present) is another way to look at mindfulness.  When you are in the now or present in the moment, you are aware of your thoughts, words, actions and that of the other person(s).  There is no hanging on the past or worrying about the future.  You are fully present in today; in the moment. 

Not easy but worth a try!  When you are present and aware, you start to see and appreciate people and things more; you build strong relationships (both with yourself and with family, friends and colleagues), and most of all, you “see and enjoy” nature and life!  In today’s world, where many people are rushed, stressed, tired and/or overworked, it is not easy to savour a moment and just “be,” because our minds race back into the past (where regrets live) or into the future (where worries / stress reside).

When you are in the now, you savour each moment and enjoy everything you see and/or hear (like the birds singing or a beautiful flower).  This causes your body to respond by excreting serotonin (happy hormones) and your mind start to practice being fully present in a moment.  When you worry about things gone by or about things that did not yet happen, you start to over-analyse, stress and worry, and stop enjoying the moment, the surroundings, the people, and so forth.

How do one go about being more mindful?  Well, as the word implies; it all starts in your mind.  When you change your thoughts and thought-patterns everything around you start to change and your perception of a situation / person changes as well.  Think of energy:  like attracts like; negative attracts negative.  In order to change the outside (your perspective on life, your reactions to situations / people and your overall view of everything and everyone), you need to change the inside.  A well-known speaker and author, Suzie Orman said: “Your thoughts create your feelings, your feelings create your words, your words create your actions, and your actions create your destiny!”

Start with baby-steps.  Take a deep breath in and zoom in on the task at hand / the place you are in at the moment and stop your thoughts from running away.  What is done, is done and what hasn’t been done yet, will still be done.  There is time.  Focus on what needs to be done now and it’ll be done faster and without the unnecessary stress.  Many psychologists and teachers believe that minimal stress can be good, but overstressing, overanalysing, worrying, and so forth, are not.  In fact, many believe that negative emotions, feelings and words, are fear-driven and stems from our ego’s.  When we can get the ego out of the way (as it were), then we can say, do and be in the present more mindfully and more cheerfully.  When there is lots to do, make a list and prioritize what must be done first.  Then tick it off the list once it has been done.  This will help you to stay focused and it’ll keep you more relaxed; knowing that things are getting done.

Sometimes things can get too much and we often find ourselves not knowing where to start.  Watch your thoughts!  Instead of saying “I’m overwhelmed, I’m so tired, I’m so stressed,” and so forth, stop and change it immediately.  We are not just flesh and bones, but have emotions, a spirit and a soul as well.  Whatever you constantly say to yourself, will be picked up by the body and the physical outcome(s) – in the beforementioned examples – will be tiredness, stress, quick temperedness, and even depression.  Many illnesses like colds, flu and cancers, stem from being overstressed, overworked and wanting to do too many things at a time.

If you find it difficult, write a positive statement on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere where you will see it.  For example, “Today I choose to be happy and healthy” or “Today I have the energy to finish all my tasks” or “I am full of energy and I choose to see the positive in everything and everyone.”

Another tip to help you get through all your workload is to delegate.  At home, for example, you can work together as a team, each member having a certain task(s) to do in and around the house.  At work, if you cannot delegate, stick with a to do-list and prioritize what has to be done first.  Stay focused, check your thoughts, be aware of what you think and feel, and deep breathes.  Using a dairy or a calendar can make life much easier and help you to stay focused on your to do-lists.

All in all, mindfulness should not be seen as something that only some people can achieve.  Anybody and everybody can change their perspective, thus changing the outcome. All you need to do is make a conscious decision and then do it!  We are never too young or too old to start being in the present and to stop worrying about what is past and what is future.  It is only the now that counts.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not yet here….so why worry?

Be mindful, be aware, be present, be in the now, and savour every minute of every day.  As my granddad used to say: “If you worry you die, if you don’t worry you might also die.  So why worry?”

What happens when you stop exercising?

Ever wondered what happens to your body when you stop to exercise?  I’m not referring to taking a break from your routine, or taking time-out in-between exercises.  What if you start off doing really well; then start to slack down and come to a stop?  Let us have a look – you might just be surprised!

After just 2 weeks without any exercise, a number of physiological changes occur:  your muscle strength goes back to where it was before you started exercising a week, month, or year ago.  How quickly this happens depend on your age, how fit you were before you stopped and for how long did you exercise.

There are varied opinions regarding the loss of muscle mass.  For one, there is a difference in lifting weights and doing an aerobics / Pilates-exercise routine.  If you only take a day / 2-break in-between, there will not be any noticeable changes.  If, for example, you train regularly and stop for a few weeks, you won’t lose your strength and muscle mass.  However, you might find that, once you start again, then you get out of breath easier and/or sweat more than usual.  This is because your cardio-vascular system must get used to the exercising again and, in many cases, your brain and body need to be in agreement too!

Resting anything from 1 – 3 days in-between is healthy and vital, according to the American Council on Exercise.  Even if you take a week off from your routine, it is all good.  The most important thing is to start again after the break – something that is not always easy to do; especially those people who are not used to exercising and/or has just started with an exercise programme.

Let’s look a bit deeper into what happens when you stop exercising.  As mentioned above, you become short of breath (and not just when you start exercising again after a very long break).  As we all know, the heart is the pump that pumps blood and oxygen through the body.  After only 2 weeks of not exercising, your heart starts to lose its ability to transport extra blood and your body’s ability to use oxygen optimally, starts to diminish.  The hard work you put in for the last 2 – 3 months, are lost within 2 – 4 weeks (according to American research). 

According to a research study, published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise-journal, highly trained athletes’ fat percentage picks up after 5 weeks!  Stopping any form of exercise will cause weight gain.  Why?  One reason is that you lose muscle mass and therefore your metabolism slows down (due to the loss of muscle mass less fat is burned).  Another reason is that, if you move around less but still eat as if you are exercising, you will not only be back to square 1, but will also pick up more weight because the more kilojoules you consume, the more body fat your body is going to store.

Oxygen is vital for our body as well as optimum brain functioning.  When you exercise, oxygen gets transported to the brain far better and you often find you feel more awake and energized.  However, when you don’t exercise, you often feel a bit under the weather, tired, edgy and can even have episodes of “brain fog.”  BDNF (a neurological function that stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps the cells to connect) increases when you exercise.  Dopamine-levels decrease as well, making you more irritable and feeling tired.  A low level of BDNF and dopamine are linked to depression.  When you exercise your body also excretes serotonin (commonly known as the “happy” hormones) and a lack or low level thereof, can also add fuel to the fire (so to speak) when it comes to feeling depressed, tired, irritable, and so forth.

Did you know that a lack of exercise can cause you to sleep poorly?  Exercising places metabolic- and mechanical stress on your muscles.  Your body makes hormones (like the growth hormone and testosterone) when you are in a deep REM-sleep, as well as heals muscle tissue that might have been injured during exercising.  A lack of exercise creates high levels of energy when you are in the REM-state, thus you wake up feeling tired and lack energy.

A last point I want to mention is quite interesting.  Research has found that, the fitter you are, the more you see sudden changes when you stop exercising.  This is due to the body being used to exercise on a regular base.  Luckily, once you start again, you will be back where you were far quicker than somebody who never exercised, then started, but stopped again, only to start again after weeks / months / years.

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So…what do you do if this happens?  First of all; don’t beat yourself up about it.  Acknowledge and admit that you fell of the wagon (so to speak) and take responsibility for it.  Then stand up and start again.  Diarise a date and time to start exercising again; just as you would diarise an important meeting or social event and stick to it!  Starting slowly is better than not starting at all.  Instead of going to the gym 5x per week, go 2x per week.  If you don’t like the gym, then dust of your tekkies and go for a morning walk over the weekend.  If you don’t feel comfortable to walk outside on your own, then go to a mall and walk inside and up-and-down the ramps.  There are many ways to start getting back into your exercise routine and/or starting an exercise routine. 

For example, use the stairs wherever possible instead of the lift, park your car further away when you go shopping, get up from your chair / sofa by using your legs instead of your arms, play outside, or go for a swim (if the weather allows).

Baby-steps is better than no steps at all!  Rather start exercising slowly, then build it up.  Even just going for a brisk walk every Saturday, early morning or after work, even for 10 minutes at first, is a good start.  If you have any health problems start walking, swimming or doing low intensity-exercises like Pilates and Water Aerobics.  It is important to take care of your health and listen to your body.  Once you exercise more often and for longer than 30 minutes per session / per day, for example, then you can start with more cardio- and higher intensity-exercises. 

It is always better to start slowly – you might not see results immediately, but I can assure you, give yourself 6 months and you will be amazed!  Remember – your body is made to move, it wants to move, so no more excuses…get up and start moving.  After all, movement is life!     

Skipping meals

Over the years I had many clients, family members and friends, telling me that they either skip breakfast, or skip lunch.  Sometimes even supper!  The question on everybody’s minds were: is it good to skip a meal or not?

It is a yes and no-answer.  Skipping breakfast is a no-answer!  There are at least 6 – 8 hours between going to bed and waking up for most people and, if you start the day on an empty stomach (or just a cup of coffee), you’ll soon notice that your concentration dwindles, you might start to get a headache, get dizzy and/or nauseas, your blood sugar drops making you tired, you get grumpy / moody, and so forth. 

Just like your car needs petrol to get you from point A to B, so too does your body.  Food is a source of energy as well as nutrition.  Some people struggle with a big breakfast, but my advice is to have something small: whether a piece of fruit or 2, a healthy bar (e.g. Jungle Oats), a shake, or a slice of toast with marmite, egg, jam and cheese on, will help the body to “wake-up” and be ready for the day ahead.  Kickstarting your metabolism is not just a way to wake your body up but also a great way to help you stay fit, healthy and/or lose weight (if that is what you want).  A small bowl of muesli with or without yogurt is another light breakfast.

Skipping breakfast can also be one of the main reasons why you pick up weight and/or struggle to lose it.  The reason?  When you don’t eat breakfast when you wake up your body goes into survival-mode.  By late morning, when you then do eat something, instead of converting it into energy, it stores the food in the form of fat.  This survival-mode that the body goes into, tells the body to “hold on” as it were, to the food as it doesn’t know when and/or if there is a next meal on the table. 

Another meal that many people overlook, especially those working in an office-environment, is lunch.  Instead of taking their lunchbreak, they either skimp on it or eat at their desks.  In the Sunday Times was an article written about why it is not good to take a lunchbreak or to skimp on the time you spend away from your desk.  What I’d like to add to what has been written already, is that, if you eat while working, reading, watching television or, in this case, a computer screen, you are not mindful of what you are doing.  When you are not mindful (in the now) when you eat, you often don’t chew properly and you can’t enjoy the meal (your attention is not with what you eat).  The mind-body connection is missing; your concentration is not with your meal but with what you are doing (your work / browsing the internet), therefore your digestive system cannot do its job properly.  That is: to digest and use the food as nutrition and energy.  When your attention is not in the moment; when you are not smelling and savouring the food that you eat, when your mind is “somewhere else,” the messages to your stomach is confusing.  The stomach, after all, is not called the second brain for no reason!  Did you know that many people believe that you have to chew your food 40 times in order for you digestive system to utilize it properly?!

Another downside to not taking a lunchbreak at work, is that you can easily develop a bad posture due to sitting for too long, blood circulation is restricted due to the bent-knee position your sitting in, your energy levels dip, and your interaction with colleagues are lessened (socializing is part of human nature).  It is vital to stand up, stretch your legs and, if at all possible, go outside and get some fresh air.  Sitting in an office with the air-conditioning on all day is not very healthy either (yes, even when it is a hot summer’s day outside).  Research has shown that old air-conditioning systems play a role in people getting ill or struggling to get over an illness like a cold or flu. 

This leaves us with our last meal of the day – supper.  Is it good or bad to skip this?  I would say yes and no, again 😉 If you are not hungry at all, it is ok to skip supper.  However, I would not advise a person with low blood pressure to skip any meal; not even supper!  If you don’t feel like having a big meal (which you shouldn’t have after 19:00), then have something light.

A good breakfast that includes fibre, fruit and protein, will keep your blood sugar levels constant, give you the energy you need for the day and keep your brain clear.  Food is not just used by the body as a source of energy, but is also important for brain functioning. 

The most important thing to remember about meals is:  whether you eat three meals per day, or skip one, never skip breakfast and make time for your lunchbreak at the office and take it!  You cannot run on empty, nor is it good for your overall health if you don’t eat in the mornings!  The same goes for taking / not taking your lunchbreak.  Taking that well-deserved break will not only get your energy levels up again, but will also get the blood and oxygen circulating – just what you need to make it to the end of another day at the office!

No time to sit down for breakfast?  Overslept?  Make sure there are fruit, bars (Jungle Oats have a good selection), or a healthy shake that you can have with milk or water, in your cupboard, in case you have to “eat on the run.” 

Thus, in a nutshell.  The most important meal of the day is breakfast.  Whether you eat a good “English-breakfast,” muesli with or without yoghurt, drink a healthy, home-made smoothie, or have toast with protein (cheese or eggs) and some fruit; do take the time to eat something. 

Building and maintaining a strong, healthy immune system

Your immune system is the “shield of protection” that keeps illnesses, viruses and bacteria, at bay.  The stronger and healthier your immune system is, the less chance you have to develop an illness, catch a cold or get the flu.

Many nutritionists will tell you that a weak immune system stems from a diet lacking in adequate amounts of nutrients.  It is important to eat from all the food groups, making sure you take a daily dose of Vitamin C and Vitamins B’s (especially vitamin B6 and B12), as well as the necessary minerals like zinc, selenium, folate, and so forth.  Eating balanced, healthy meals that include fibre, high amounts of vegetables and fruit, fortified cereals, proteins, minimizing alcohol consumption, not smoking, washing your hands every time you come home from the shops / school / after you went to the restroom and before you prepare meals, as well as exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight, are all role-players in aiding the immune system.  It is important to get adequate sleep, drinking plenty of water and minimizing and/or getting rid of stress.  In today’s world stress is one of the major causes of illnesses as well as 80% of the cancers!  So; start today by signing up for a yoga class, a meditation group, breathe deeper (inhale and exhale slowly for 8 – 10 counts as an easy way to relax the mind and body), and start to listen to classical music.  There are many links of YouTube, for example, where you can listen to classical music, relaxation music and mediational channels. 

Be careful when advertisements advertise products that can “boost” the immune system.  There are a vast number of different cells in the body, and, like everything else in the body, new cells are formed naturally every day.  Did you know that athletes who engage in “blood doping” (pumping blood into their systems as a means of boosting their blood cell-count and enhancing performance), runs the risk of strokes? 

Another thing to keep in mind is that it is vital to keep your immune system strong when the seasons start to change.  As we are moving into summer or winter (depending where you live), we can still have chilly nights and/or rainy, cold days. Thus, it is vital to keep the immune system strong to keep a cold / flu at bay.  When you are outside in the sun, for example, and you go indoors into an airconditioned building, your chance of catching a cold can increase if your immune system is low.  On the flip side is winter-time when we spend more time indoors in heated rooms than outdoors in the cold!  Regardless of the latter, go out, open your windows to get fresh air in and, when the sun is out, go out and catch a dose of vitamin D (another important vitamin)!

Remember the days when your grandparents / parents were young and they had to drink Scot’s Emulsion (Omega oils) when the seasons change?  The simple reason – it keeps the immune system strong!

Looking after yourself as you age, and after the elderly people, is important.  Some people age well while others catch illnesses more often.  Nobody is 100% sure why, but scientists think it is because of the decrease in T cells (the latter fight off infections).  However, nutrition plays a key role; especially when the elderly person(s) live in a retirement centre where certain food groups are either limited in their meals or not included at all.  Another key factor is the fact that elderly people eat less because they are not as active as the younger generation.  Micronutrient malnutrition (where a person is deficient in certain essential vitamins and trace minerals), can start to develop.  It is important that the older people supplement their diets with a good vitamin complex, make sure to take vitamin A, C & D, and add Omega 3-oil to their diets.  Vitamin B6 & B12 are also very important.  Vitamin B6 is only found in red meat, so taking a supplement when you don’t eat meat / not a lot of red meat, is a great way of making sure your iron levels are where it should be and your blood cells are getting all the nourishment it should.  Not only is it the elderly that is more susceptible to getting ill, but also those people living in poverty (regardless of their age).  There is evidence that indicates that micronutrient deficiencies (including zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6 & B12, C and E), play a role in a weak immune system.

Whether you are ill, just getting over a cold, or stressed, the body’s first response is to fight it off.  However, if the body’s immune system is too weak, then you stay ill for much longer (or get worse), you get ill again, and so forth.  Vitamin B6 & B12 should be taken in a combination-form, and plays a vital role, as this is the first vitamins that get depleted when your body is “under attack” from illness or stress.

There is a saying that goes: “the best defence is a strong defence.”  Thus, a strong immune system is the best defence against viruses, germs, stress-related illnesses and more serious illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular disease and others.  And it all starts with the choices we make for ourselves and our children: what to eat, to start exercising, to not smoke (or to stop), and to take care of our bodies: physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally.  After all, “if you want to change the outside, you must first change the inside.”

Remember to watch your thoughts and reactions to people and situations. The nervous system is a very intricate, sensitive part of the body. Thoughts, words, people’s reactions, and even the type of music you listen to, can affect your body, mind and soul. Have a positive outlook, an attitude of gratitude, and remember; nothing is set in stone! Deep breathes, relax, and let go!

I am going to leave you with these three quotes that I once read on Facebook…

  • “In order to change we must be sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  ~Author Unknown;
  • “By cleansing your body on a regular basis and eliminating as many toxins as possible from your environment, your body can begin to heal itself, prevent disease, and become stronger and more resilient than you ever dreamed possible!”  ~Dr. Edward Group III;
  • “Today, more than 95% of all chronic disease is caused by food choice, toxic food ingredients, nutritional deficiencies and lack of physical exercise.”  ~Mike Adams.

Summer tips and tricks

I am sure my readers in the Northern Hemisphere cannot wait for summer to arrive! Long holidays, warm sun and eating ice-cream are sure on top of the “to do-list!” One of the only thing most of us think about is:  sleeping in, going on holiday, enjoying treats like burgers and milkshakes, and ultimately just relaxing!

There are a big variety of healthier options to choose from when you would like to keep your weight in check and your diet going, even during the holidays and festivities.  Salads, yes, is a simple and easy light lunch (for example) to make.  We are blessed with lots of fresh ingredients that are readily available to us.  The plus side of it is that you can also make your own.  For example, if the usual lettuce, cucumber, tomato and feta cheese, is in need of a new look, why not add some grated carrots, grated beetroot, baby corn, baby spinach, and/or any other greens (avocado or peas).

For some fibre and extra protein, opt for chickpeas and/or beans.  High in fibre and low in calories!

Being on holiday doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself now and again.  The big rule of thumb is: it is not what you eat, it is the amount (and size), that matters!  Have an ice-cream or milkshake, or a latté, or whatever you want.  Just don’t have it every single day!  And not more than 1 either!

If you do have a cheat meal, for example, remember not to beat yourself up about it!  Instead of restricting yourself, relax and enjoy!  A great tip from another health expert is:  have a treat; just go back to your healthier eating patterns the next morning.  Most importantly is to relax, enjoy the break and, if you do pick up a kilo or two, go back to your exercise and diet-routines in the New Year!  The latter is not always easy…but New Year’s resolutions is another topic that we can look at later.  Even if you do eat and drink things you usually don’t or more than usual, just work it off!  How?  Go for a walk or a jog early morning or late afternoon after the heat of the day; have a swim in the ocean or swimming pool; instead of driving everywhere, why not walk (if you stay in a walking distance from where you want to be of course); hire bicycles and go for a ride!  Many options to choose from – even playing sport on the beach, for example, works up a sweat and is fun as well.

Other healthier options to choose from is a light salad dressing instead of salad cream; snacking on nuts, raisins, dried fruit and vegetable chips, instead of chips; adding extra fruit and vegetables (raw if possible), to your breakfasts and lunches, and opting for low-fat instead of full cream.  Not only are fruit and vegetables high in fibre and natural fructose, but it will also make you feel fuller for longer. 

Craving a hamburger?  Then go on – have one!  But instead of eating chips with it, ask for a side salad.  Or, like Lisa Raleigh (fitness trainer) would suggest, have the burger and chips, then eat a salad tomorrow!

Want a glass of wine with dinner?  Then have one…maximum 2.

Water, as we all know, is extremely important when we’re out and about in the sun.  Drink enough so that you stay hydrated.  Did you know that, when you are thirsty, your body has already started to dehydrate?  If you don’t like the taste of plain water, instead of spending lots of cash on bottled water, put some fresh mint, slices of lemon, strawberries or other berries, in the water.  Another good idea is to boil the tap water and let it cool down, then drink it as is or flavour it with one of the examples mentioned earlier.  It is not just a quick and easy way to drink water, but also healthier and less plastic polluting our environment!  Stay out of direct sunlight from 11:00 – 14:00.  Take extra care when you’re on the beach, because the sand and water reflect the sunlight (even when you’re sitting under an umbrella!  Put on sunscreen (especially when you have been swimming) and make sure your face and neck is well covered when you want to tan.  Also take care and put extra sunscreen on behind your ears, behind your knees, on your feet (top and bottom), and on your face (including your eyelids) and neck/chest-area.  Wear a hat!  There are many styles to choose from; just make sure that it covers your face and/or the back of your neck.  If you want some colour but don’t like lying in the sun, opt for a fake tan.  There are many products on the market and places to go to for a spray tan.

Do wear sunglasses when your outside for longer periods.  Your eyes are very sensitive to light and it is extremely important to keep direct sunlight out!  The bigger the frame, the better the eyes are protected.  Make sure your children also wear theirs when they are out and about. 

Wherever you are this summer, make sure your drink plenty of water, enjoy the variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, take care of your eyes, hair and skin and enjoy the sunny days! 

Hearty dessert for cold days

Don’t let winter and cold days dampen your spirits to eat healthy and still enjoy warm puddings and other treats!  Just because it is cold outside and you want to watch your weight, does not mean you have to skip the desserts.

Here is a delicious treat by one of my favourite chefs, Jamie Oliver.

Ginger, pear and almond cake

This is a flourless, upside-down cake.  The base is made of ginger-poached pears and almonds instead of flour.  This makes it suitable for gluten-intolerant family members and friends.

Ingredients

200 g butter

200 g caster sugar

4 large free-range eggs

220 g ground almonds

CARAMELISED GINGER PEARS

300 g ginger

1 vanilla pod

550 g caster sugar

4 pears

20 g butter

Method

For the pears, peel and finely grate the ginger. Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds, then place it all into a pan.

Add 400g of the sugar and 700ml of water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for a few minutes for the flavours to develop.

Using a spoon, carefully lower the pears into the hot liquid and simmer for 10 minutes, until tender.

Remove the pears from the liquid and set aside to cool.

Line the base of a 25cm springform cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Combine the remaining 150g sugar and 100ml of water in a pan and place over a high heat, simmering for about 15 minutes until it turns a dark golden brown.

Stir in the butter until you get a caramel, then pour it into the cake tin.

Cut the cooled pears into slices and carefully arrange them in the warm caramel.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas 4.

For the cake, beat the butter and sugar with a whisk until smooth (an electric one will be best for this).

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each one. Add the almonds and mix to combine.

Pour the cake mixture over the pears and bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until firm to the touch.

Leave to cool in the tin, then remove and carefully flip upside down to serve.

Interesting facts: 

Ginger is an excellent source of pain relief, relieves colds and flu, nausea and inflammation.  It is good for cardiovascular health and it also helps to relieve muscle pain (experienced after strenuous exercise), as well as menstrual pain.

Almonds reduce the risks of a heart attack, they protect the artery walls, they fight “bad” cholesterol, helps build strong bones and teeth, contains healthy fats – good for brain health, good for the nervous system, help to lower insulin-rise in the body after meals and has an alkalizing effect on the body. 3

Health tips for men of 40+ years

Men in their 40’s

During your 40s “bad habits” of earlier years can come back to haunt you.  Not taking care of your diet, lack of exercise, being exposed to the sun too much, and other habits, can become visible.  However, it is never too late to make the necessary changes.  Here are a few tips: 

First stop is to go for regular check-ups (health screens);

Taking care of your teeth (going for check-ups every 6 months – a year; as recommended by your dentist);

Taking care of your eyes and going for check-ups every 1 – 2 years (or as recommended by your eye specialist);

Having your blood pressure and BMI checked, as well as cholesterol- and diabetes screening, will keep your mind at ease;

Having a baseline EKG and skin exam done;

Other tests, if recommended by your health practitioner, is colorectal cancer, testicular exam, and so forth.

Emotional- and mental fitness are just as important as physical fitness.  Also make sure that you eat well, get enough sleep and take “time out” to just be in the moment!  Many men in their 40s are settled in their careers and/or in a relationship.  But it is still important to make time for yourself.  To do something on your own that you enjoy.  Whether it is going for a jog or reading a book, take some “me time” and recharge your batteries.  Dr. Phil McGraw, many years ago, said that he always goes to the gym to play squash after work before he goes home.  That way he not only gets rid of the stress of work, but it clears his head and, when he gets home, he can give his attention to his family.

Men in their 50s and older

By now you, hopefully, think of your life as a “vintage wine; tapped from fine old kegs.”  You have been looking after yourself, you go for regular check-ups and am happy with your life in general.  Now it is important to “dig deeper” and make sure that your “ticker” and cholesterol-levels are in a good state.  Cardiovascular disease (also known as atherosclerosis), refers to the hardening of the arteries due to the build-up of cholesterol.  This plague builds up in the arteries of the heart and brain and, when it becomes unstable, forms a blood clot, which causes a heart attack or stroke.  It is interesting to note that cholesterol is not the problem.  It is chronic, low-grade inflammation!

High levels of inflammation in the body form small tears on the lining of the arteries.  Plaque (in the form of cholesterol) is sent, by the body, to “patch up” the tears.  However, if the inflammation continues, so does the small tears and the build-up of cholesterol.  The best thing to do for this condition is mild to moderate exercises and watching what you eat and how much.  As mentioned in my previous article, processed foods can cause havoc when eaten too much and too often.  Not only is there many hidden sugars and salt in, but often omega-6.  Omega-6 is not bad, but in excess it is pro-inflammatory; whilst omega-3 is anti-inflammatory! 

Erectile dysfunction is another issue and can happen to men 40 years and older.  Speak to your health practitioner about this, because it often happens due to the hardening of the arteries and/or stress.

Another thing that can stick its head out is joint pain / discomfort.  Overuse due to sports or injuries can play a key role.  If it becomes a problem have it looked at.  Make sure that the exercises you do are not making it worse.  Jogging is something that many people love, but it is also one of the sports that can cause knee- and/or hip pain due to the impact on the joints.  If you jog, for example, and there is a feeling of numbness or pain in your knee, hip, leg or back, have it looked at.  Walking fast, cycling and swimming are good alternatives to jogging.  So too is Rebounding (as mentioned in a previous article).  Again, whatever you do to keep fit, always remember to warm up and cool down / stretch properly afterwards.  5 – 10 minutes of warm-up and 10 minutes (at least) for stretching, is important.

Osteoporosis is something that usually occurs as we age, but it can also develop at a younger age.  This usually occurs due to a lack of vitamin D and hormonal changes; when the bones (usually in the hip, wrist and spine) become brittle and fragile due to the loss of tissue.  In the beginning it starts off as Osteopenia – the protein and mineral content of the bone reduces.  Bone tissue is constantly being broken down and replaced.  However, when the rate of replacement does not keep up with the rate of being broken down, osteoporosis occurs.  Doctor Sanua believes that osteoporosis is on the increase due to poor-quality diet, lack of exercise and high insulin-levels.  A high intake of processed carbohydrates and sugars (junk food and ready-made meals), as well as the overuse of antacids and the side-effects of certain medications like thyroid medication, can all play a huge role in the development of osteoporosis.

Question:  what to do to minimize your chances and/or not develop it at all?

Firstly:  look at your diet.  Instead of going on a strict diet, eat a balanced meal, making sure you eat the right amounts of all the food groups. 

Secondly:  get up and move! It is vital to keep your body flexible and strong.  After the age of 30 both men and women start to lose bone-density.  When you exercise, use light – medium hand weights, a Pilates ball or do any other weight-bearing exercises to help you build and maintain strong bone-density.

Thirdly:  make sure that you get enough calcium, magnesium and potassium in.  If you are taking a supplement, make sure that it has calcium and magnesium in one tablet.  Calcium cannot be absorbed by the body unless it is taken in conjunction with magnesium.  Taking this at night is also better as the body absorbs it much easier.

Fourthly:  do not drink more than 2 alcoholic-beverages per day, as alcohol can deplete your body of the necessary minerals, etc, it needs, it dehydrates you and it can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis.

Whether you are in your 20s, 50s, 60s or older, remember that “movement is life” and that “you are what you eat.”  So, to all the men out there, keep up the good work of taking care of yourself in a holistic way.  And if you’ve been slacking a little bit, it is ok!  We do!

One is never too old to start, never too old to change, and never too old to learn!

Men’s health in the spotlight

In general, men don’t go to a doctor very often.  However, it is important for men of all ages to realize that being healthy encompasses being emotionally, physically and mentally fit and that seeing a health practitioner is not such a bad thing!  It is great to see young men exercising, but taking care of your mental- and emotional health is just as important as brushing your teeth and washing your face.

In this article and the next one, we are going to look at the different age groups and what they need to consider when it comes to staying healthy and strong, regardless of your age.

Men in their 20s

Young men in their 20’s is, in general, the healthiest of their peers.  With the correct diet, not smoking and drinking heavily, the correct exercise-regime, and cognitive practices, they can stay “on top of their game” (as it were). However, stress can develop due to peer pressure, pressure at home, due to studies and/or work, and so forth.  At first stress develops as a chronic, low-grade inflammation that is not easily detectable, but it is the root of most illnesses and can start to develop at any given period.  Therefore, it is important to tackle your lifestyle and make changes early on to prevent the inflammation to develop into a more serious condition.  Also important for this age group is to have their blood pressure checked, as well as their cholesterol (especially if there is anybody in their family with blood pressure and/or cholesterol problems).

When it comes to diet and exercise, the biggest problem is diet.  Men in their 20s are inclined to eat more take-outs, processed foods and plenty of meat, but skimp on fruit and vegetables.  This result in high-sugar, high-processed fat and high-processed-carbohydrates eating pattern.  It is a highly acidic diet and the foundation for inflammation in the body.  In the short-term these eating habits will cause a lack of energy, weight gain, increased stress levels and a lowered immune system.  In the long-term, however, it will lower your quality of life and can develop into life-threatening diseases.  Did you know that a bad diet has the ability to lower male sperm count?  Numerous studies were conducted and concluded that a bad diet, as well as GMO’s, preservatives, and so forth, decrease male sperm and can make men infertile!

Exercise, as we know, is not only important but also vital when it comes to circulation of the blood and oxygen through the body, as well as helping the lymphatic system to get rid of toxins inside the body.  Exercises should be consistent; it doesn’t have to be done in one go.  Recent studies indicate that exercising in small segments throughout the day is just as effective.  All in all, the aim is to exercise for 30 minutes per day.  An example:

20 push-ups when you get out of bed – staying in plank for the last minute;

Taking the stairs wherever possible;

Parking further away from entrances and walking that extra bit;

If you have a dog, walk for an extra 15+ minutes;

Before you get ready to relax on the couch after work / study, go for a walk / run.  Not only is it good to get the circulation going again (especially if you’ve been sitting most of the day), but it is a great way to clear your head and get rid of stress;

Buy yourself a mini trampoline – only 20 minutes a day is what is needed.  You can walk on it, bounce on it, lie on it do to sit-ups, do push-ups, and many other things (for more info on this read my previous article on Rebounding aka Lymphasizing).

Lastly, if you are sexually active, please use a condom.  Don’t think STD’s “can’t happen to me,” because research has shown that individuals in their 20s are at the highest risk for contracting it!

When it comes to your body and health, ignorance, in this case, is not bliss.

Men in their 30s

Men in their 30s can have more stress due to work, family life, and so forth.  Doctor Bux (a specialist in men’s health), believes that finding balance is key to a healthy body, mind and spirit. 
“When balance is off [Dr. Bux said], illness and disease is present in all.”  It is not easy to stay clear of stress, but it is important to keep it at bay, as long-term stress can increase your risk for lifestyle disease e.g. heart disease, Type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and poor mental health.

Another factor that can reduce your quality of health and wellbeing is the lack of quality sleep.  Not only does it play a key role in your general mood, but also in your overall thinking, productivity and the way you handle situations.  Another downside of not sleeping enough, is gaining weight, the lowering of testosterone and lowering of libido levels.  It is important to sleep between 6 – 8 hours per night.  While sleeping your body repairs itself and at midnight, the growth hormone that repairs your muscle cells, surges.  But do make sure that, even if you do only sleep 6 / 7 hours, that you’re in bed before midnight!

Once in your 30s your flexibility starts to diminish.  Why?  Firstly because of sitting for longer hours; secondly, the activities you do doesn’t call for a full range of motion, resulting in shortening of the muscles and connective tissue.

Many men (especially in their 20s and 30s), do not stretch enough.  But I, together with the doctors and other specialists, cannot stress enough how important warm up and stretching is.  It is more important than the exercises themselves!  Why?  If you don’t warm up properly, you double your chance of injury.  When you don’t cool down before you head for the door, your muscles cannot go back to “normal” and stays contracted. 

Remember:  it only takes 20 seconds for your body to turn ATP into ADP (protein acid that makes your muscles contract) and if you don’t stretch after a workout, the protein acid remains in the muscles and connective tissues.  This will, in turn, not only speed up your chance for injuries, but it shortens the muscles to such a degree that you can end up struggling to touch the back of your head when you are older!  The build-up of protein acid can also create inflammation and this chronic inflammation (from not stretching) develops into arthritis (there is a number of younger people getting arthritis these days; not just older people).

So, what classes can you do for stretching?  Pilates and Yoga.  Both uses the full range of your body, builds core strength, builds stamina, flexibility and stretches your whole body.  An added bonus is that it teaches you to breathe correctly and more deeply, helping to relax body and mind, and get rid of stress.

To regain your strength, do interval training:  10 minutes jogging, 45 seconds sprinting and 90 seconds walking; repeat 8 – 12 times.  If you don’t like jogging, brisk walking or cycling can also be done.  Swimming is another great way to regain overall strength and stamina.

There is an analogy that states: “if your body were a car, it would require less fuel as it got older.”  Doctor Sanua (medical doctor and functional medicine practitioner) says that your body consumes 12 fewer calories per day for each year after the age of 30.  Reducing your portion sizes can help, but nutrient quality is vital.  Doctor Sanua says a Mediterranean diet is a good example of eating well-balanced meals.  As always, remember to drink plenty of water, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and add fibre to your diet (so that your digestive system stays on tract).

In my next article we will look at tips for men 40 years and older.  Regardless of your age; it is important that you look after your body; physically, mentally and emotionally.  It is never too early to start and it is never too late to make changes! ��c

Health-risks that affect men

In this article I want to look at some of the most common cancers that affect men; not to scare anybody, but to bring awareness.

  • Breast cancer

In men, breast cancer cells’ form and grow within the breast tissue.  Although it is uncommon, 1% of men can develop this type of cancer (according to Doctor Ramiah, a specialist oncologist).

The risk factors include:  hormone treatments (e.g. taking anabolic steroids), alcohol consumption, being overweight, lack of exercise, liver disease, family history of breast cancer (not definitely but can play a role), being exposed to environmental hormones (e.g. pesticides, hormones in meat), previous radiation (especially to the chest as a child), and genes (the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene).

Symptoms to look out for:  a lump in the breast, nipple discharge, nipple pain, an inverted nipple, and/or a swollen gland under the arm (in or next to the armpit).  According to Doctor Ramiah, swelling on both sides is usually due to gynaecomastia (male breast enlargement caused by a disease or medication).  Best if you speak to your health practitioner about it.

  • Lung cancer

This is caused by abnormal growths (cells) within one or both lungs.  These cells can damage the lungs, block the airways that are needed to bring air into the lungs, and can spread to other parts of the body.

The biggest risk factor by far is tobacco smoke, vaping and e-cigarettes, as well as second hand smoke.

Symptoms to look out for:  a persistent cough, chest pain, coughing up sputum (especially discoloured or with blood in), recurring chest infections, shortness of breath (even when walking a short distance), wheezing, struggling to inhale deeply, changes in your voice, and unexplained weight loss. 

  • Prostate cancer

This is the most common cancer in men worldwide and starts in the prostate (which is the organ lying just below the urinary bladder).

Risk factors include:  ageing, ethnicity (interestingly black men have a slightly higher chance, according to research, than white men), family history of prostate cancer, and certain genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2).

Symptoms to look out for:  frequent urination, a blockage / obstruction of the urine stream / a weak stream, difficulty initiating urination, straining to empty the bladder, pain or burning when urinating, blood in the seminal fluid, and back or bone pain, unexplained weight loss and swelling of the legs (the latter symptoms are usually an indication that the prostate cancer has spread).

  • Colorectal cancer

This type of cancer can either start in the colon or rectum.  Luckily if this is caught in the early stages, it can be cured (according to Doctor Ramiah).

Risk factors include:  family history of polyps or colon cancer, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, Lynch syndrome or FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis, a high-fat, low-fibre diet, and smoking.

Symptoms to look out for:  a change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, persistent abdominal discomfort, and fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting and unexplained weight loss.

  • Gastric cancer

This cancer develops in the lining cells of the stomach.

Risk factors:  Helicobacter pylori infection, smoking, Pernicious anaemia, inherited cancer syndromes (e.g. FAP), Type A-blood group, and family history.

Symptoms to look out for:  decreased appetite, unexplained weight loss, abdominal discomfort and/or pain, heartburn, nausea, vomiting (with / without blood), and anaemia.

  • Liver cancer

This starts in the liver (unlike other types of cancer that starts somewhere else in the body and then spreads to the liver).

Risk factors include:  chronic infection due to the hepatitis B- or hepatitis C-virus, cirrhosis of the liver, Type-2 diabetes, Aflatoxins, high levels of alcohol-consumption (including binge drinking), and the use of anabolic steroids.

Symptoms to look out for:  pain in the top right of the abdomen, unexplained weight loss, fatigue and/or weakness, and possible jaundice.

  • Testicular cancer

These tumours start in the testes; usually in the germ cells (cells which produce immature sperm) and become cancerous.  It is not known why it becomes cancerous, but it is highly treatable.

Risk factors include:  family history, ethnicity (slightly more common in white men), and an undescended testicle.

Symptoms to look out for:  a painless lump / swelling of the testicle, pain in the testicle (with / without a lump), change in the feel of the testicle, lower abdominal pain, and the build-up of fluid in the scrotum.

  • Skin cancer

This is quite a common cancer, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun or on a sunbed.  It is important to check your moles regularly and, if there is any change in colour or size, to seek medical help straightaway.  The same applies for skin pigmentation.  Best advice is to stay out of the sun between 11 am and 2 pm.  If you do need to be in the sun during that time, wear a hat and use sunblock.

There are different treatments for the different cancers mentioned above.  Men and boys alike should not feel or be treated differently; especially when it comes to their health.  Whenever you discover / realize that there is a change that you are not comfortable with, speak to your health practitioner or doctor as soon as possible.  It is always best to catch the cancer in its early stage and it is even more crucial to look after your body and your health from an early age.  The sooner you start, the better chance you have of not developing cancer (even if it does run in your family).

As a Nutritionist, my advice is simple:  look after your health from a young age.  When there is peer pressure that tries to get you to start smoking, to drink excessively and/or to use anabolic steroids, be different, stay strong and say no.  I know it is easier said than done – but why be like everybody else?  Numerous studies have shown that cigarette smoke, for example, kills certain cells in the lungs and the brain for good! 

Another thing to start early is exercising and eating healthy, balanced meals.  As you have read, eating more of the one food group than others and/or leaving one group out completely, might bring short-term results, but in the long-term, it is not balanced and sustainable.  Just like our bodies and organs work together as a unit, so too do we need to consume food from all the different food groups (just remember to minimize and/or eliminate processed, junk foods and refined sugars and starches), and as always, drink your water, keep your immune system strong and keep moving!!

Prebiotics or probiotics…

I am sure you all have heard, read and/or used probiotics at some point during your life.  Basically, probiotics refer to the good bacteria that resides inside your GI-tract (your gut).  Did you know that there are over 100 trillion good bacteria, 1000+ species and between 7000 – 9000 strains of these species, inside of you?  Indeed, that is something to think about!

Where does the word probiotics come from?  In Latin “Pro” means “for” and “biotic” means “life” or “bios.”  Probiotics are live microscopic organisms that reside in the GI-tract (gut) and are “pro-life.”

These good bacteria are essential as it helps the body to not only absorb the necessary nutrients from the food we eat, but it also aids in improving the immune function and supports the integrity of the intestines’ wall.  

Prebiotics refer to the non-digestible carbohydrates that trigger the growth of the good bacteria in the gut.  An example is soluble fibre inulin (found in wheat, bananas, garlic, onion, asparagus and artichokes).

Let us quickly talk about the gut.  It consists of the small and large intestine.  This is the part where energy is extracted from food, where nutrients (like vitamins and minerals) and water are absorbed, and where waste is removed (through the colon and ultimately the rectum). 

So now the big question is:  do you take probiotics or not?!  According to Doctor Mikhail (Mike) Varshavski, the average, healthy person does not need to take a supplement.  However, there are times when it is needed:

  • If you are taking / has taken antibiotics;
  • Have traveller’s diarrhoea;
  • Have antibiotic-associated diarrhoea;
  • Have ulcerative colitis or leaky gut-syndrome;
  • If a child has NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis);
  • If you are on the Pill;
  • If you are taking pain-medication;
  • If you are taking anti-inflammatory medication;
  • If you are suffering from food poisoning;
  • If you are suffering from yeast infections and/or problem skin;
  • If you are depressed or moody;
  • If you have food cravings.

From the above we can see that most of the time, when the equilibrium (balance inside the gut) has been changed, destroyed or disturbed, our body reacts in a negative way (because its natural state of balance has been disrupted). For example, if you suffer from depression or moodiness, there is a very good chance that there is trouble in the gut.  Why?  Because probiotics can increase serotonin production (the “happy” hormone that is a neurotransmitter) and 90% of it is actually made in our digestive system!    No wonder the gut is called the “second brain” by so many!  Studies have found that there is a definite connection between the gut and the mind, which influences your appetite, your emotions and your mood!  Communication between these parts of our body takes place via the brain-gut-axis and signals flow in both directions.  There is a network of neurons distributed in the gut’s wall, known as the enteric nervous system and these nerves are more than that in your spinal column!  No wonder your stomach “ties into a knot” when you are nervous or stressed and many people stop eating as well!

So, how do you keep the balance between the good and the bad bacteria in your gut?

By choosing foods rich in probiotics and making healthy choices.  For example, yoghurt, cottage cheese, buttermilk, kefir, aged cheeses, miso, tempeh, lassi, fermented foods like sauerkraut, and pickled foods, are all rich in probiotics.

Minimize and/or stay clear of refined carbohydrates (white pasta, white bread, etc), sugars (even artificial sweeteners), overuse and/or inappropriate use of antibiotics, get a good night’s sleep and get rid of stress, especially chronic or prolonged stress.  Learn to meditate, do exercises (yoga, walking, swimming, anything that will take your mind off your worries) and breathe!

Lastly; speak to your health practitioner before you start taking a supplement.  There are so many different varieties and brands to choose from that it can be overwhelming.  Look at the dates, how to store it and the CFU’s (5 billion or more is a good number), and try to use enteric-coated probiotics.

I want to end of with a quick story that I heard many years ago.  The body’s organs were arguing over who is the most important.  The lungs said “we were” for breathing; the brain said it was, because it tells the organs how and when to work, and so forth.  When the stomach said it was, all the other organs laughed…. until it started shutting down and the body started to get headaches, got thirsty, moody, depressed, constipated, bloated, and so on!

Our bodies function as a unit and no organ is more or less important than the other.  As with the prebiotics and probiotics, there must be an internal mutualism and balance in our whole body in order to survive and function optimally.