Walking For Health – and Holidays!

August 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport, Health

As my regular readers know, I am all in favour of exercise provided it is enjoyable! So although you will never find me working out in a gym I do appreciate walking in a number of environments. The health benefits of walking are well-known and indeed I couldn’t put it better than this quote: “Walking is by far the best prescription for the 21st century”, says Professor Sir Muir Gray, Chief Knowledge Officer of the NHS and Director of the National Campaign for Walking.

New statistics released by online service NHS MidLifeCheck reveal that 49 is the age when men are most likely to start taking stock of their diet and lifestyle and the results certainly indicate that as well is taking stock they need to take immediate action as these statistics show:..

• 63% of men are overweight with 21% considered to be obese.

• 31% did just 0-30 minutes of brisk physical activity in the previous week.

• 29% admit their emotional (mental) wellbeing is poor, with varying combinations of depression, high stress levels and pessimism.

• The average man is over 2 stone overweight and carries around a whopping 37-inch waist.

Just in case you’re feeling smug ladies it seems that we also need to be paying more attention to our health as a recent piece of research in Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggests that heart disease amongst women is also rising and walking is an excellent cardiovascular workout which in turn, burns fat.. Walking of course has far more benefits than just helping us lose weight and lower blood pressure because if performed in green, open spaces – rather than on a treadmill at the gym — it is clinically known to reduce stress, alleviate muscle tension and significantly improve mood and self-esteem.

If you want to combine those benefits with a holiday that takes place in a peaceful environment with stunning scenery then you might want to investigate Upland Escapes who offer several different locations (including France, Italy, Austria and Gran Canaria) to give the you exactly that. They are an award-winning company (Best in a Mountain Environment – Winner – Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2009) whose stated aim is to help you rejuvenate body and mind by offering walks to make your soul sing and who wouldn’t want that!

On an Upland Escapes walking holiday, there are no fixed itineraries and no timetables, so you can design your own day and go at the pace that suits you best. In each Upland destination there are a variety of activities on offer, such as horse-back riding, mountain biking and canoeing, which provide variety for those seeking more physical exercise and are ideal for families. Another bonus — at least for me — is the fact that they also provides nutritious and delicious deli-style packed lunches, full of healthy, organic local ingredients, chosen to compliment the season, so that your goal to eat more healthily can be worked towards, even on holiday.

If you can’t spare a week – or don’t fancy putting yourself at the mercy of the airlines — then they also offer one day walking experiences in England. For more information visit www.uplandescapes.com or call 01367 851 111

Want to boost your IQ

June 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport

Exercise is the keystone for healthy living, but it is not often advocated to help you to boost your IQ. We already know that older people who exercise three or more times a week have a significantly reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Whatever your age, if you exercise regularly you have a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of dementia, and even as little as 15 minutes of exercise, three days a week, cuts your risk significantly. One short, brisk, walk every day can make a real difference, but what is new is that recent studies have shown that some forms of exercise may actually help you think better, while others have little or no impact on your brain matter. Here’s three suggestions for what works, and what doesn’t, for those ‘little grey cells’.

Aerobic Training:
In 2006, Arthur Kramer of the University of Illinois used MRIs to prove that aerobic exercise builds grey and white matter in the brains of older adults. Later studies found that more aerobically fit schoolkids also perform better on cognitive tests. Widely accepted now that aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do to stay mentally agile into old age.
Impact on intelligence: STRONG

Weight Training:
It might make you feel good to have ripped muscles, but researchers have found only the most tenuous link between heavy resistance training and improved cognitive function.
Impact on intelligence: NEGLIBIBLE

You need as much oxygen as you can get, particularly for brain function, but under stress we tend to hold our breath and reduce our intake which can certainly affect our memory. Yoga can break that habit by helping you learn to breathe correctly which results in less stress and more oxygen.
Impact on intelligence: POSSIBLY STRONG

Can imaginary exercise make you fit?

February 3, 2008 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport, Health

As I firmly believe I will become a great cook merely by owning cookbooks, then this piece of research really intrigued me. Breakthrough research in the field of exercise physiology has yielded stunning revelations about the way we get fit. The big surprise, though, is not what we “have” to do, but what we might “not” have to do. Apparently this is part of the metaphysical belief system that your thoughts create your reality, certainly something I agree with though whether it can improve my fitness I remain to be convinced.

For decades, exercise scientists have worked to discover how we get fit. Getting stronger, we were told, was about creating enough resistance in a muscle to create millions of micro-tears that would, over days, weeks and months, rebuild themselves, bigger, leaner and stronger. So when we lift weights, sprint or engage in pretty much any kind of exercise, we set this whole process in motion. The entire cycle is known as hypertrophy and it’s always been considered a pretty mechanical experience.

Now it appears, that building muscle is not nearly as mechanical as everyone thought. A recent study at Bishop’s University, Quebec, reveals you may be able to make nearly identical gains in strength and fitness without any effort. That study measured the strength gains in three different groups of people two lots did different types of exercise and the third control group did nothing but think about exercising. The end result? The ‘thinkers’ had a 24% increase in strength, almost the same as the group that trained three times a week.

Actually, nobody knows exactly, but your mind is the key to the conundrum. Through it’s connection to the endocrine system (the body’s chemical plant), different thoughts and mental states release hormones that can dramatically accelerate or retard muscle growth. Other chemicals work on different organs to either fire-up or slow-down your metabolism – think of the ‘fight or flight’ response’ – and how fast your body responds to a perceived threat.

A Harvard study reported in February 2007 appears to also confirm this theory when they looked at the impact of your thoughts on calories burned. In that study, the housekeeping staff in a major hotel were told that what they did on a daily basis qualified as the amount of exercise needed to be fit and healthy. They didn’t change their routine, did nothing differently and just kept on with their jobs. However, armed with this new knowledge, within four weeks the group had lost weight and lowered their blood pressure, body-fat percentage, waist-hip ratio and Body Mass Index, all without going near a gym. A control group, doing the same job, were not told that their job qualified as exercise and none of that group saw any of those health or fitness improvements.

Another factor that comes into play is your body’s nervous system. The signal that makes a muscle contract begins as an electrical impulse in your brain. That impulse is transmitted through your body’s electrical circuitry or nerves to the muscle. How efficiently that impulse is delivered and how receptive your muscle is to that impulse determines, in large part, how forcefully that muscle can contract. The more fully and the faster it contracts, the stronger we say it is. We call this process neuromuscular facilitation and you can repeatedly ‘visualise’ a muscle contracting, without ever actually contracting it and that’s how many sports coaches teach injured players to slow down the inevitable loss of strength during recovery from an injury.

So it appears that simply visualising an exercise may provide a nearly equivalent strength-building benefit as actually working-out. Anyone want to join me in a ‘keep fit’ routine that involves visualising yourself taking a brisk walk? Time to get out my own meditation CD and starting a daily meditation which I intend taking in my recliner with my two cats for company. They may as well get the benefits too, don’t you think? If you want to know more about my meditation CD please visit my website here:  www.catalystonline.co.uk/potential.htm

China has longevity licked

Generally speaking, you would think China would be an unhealthy place to live given all the bad press they have received about their lack of food standards, dangerous lead-laced toys, environmental abuses, exorbitant pollution, and widespread poverty. However, there are two surprising facts that have emerged recently: China boasts a life expectancy surprisingly close to that of the United States and perhaps not surprisingly they do this by spending a lot less money.

The US life expectancy is about 78 years, compared to China’s of 73 years overall, though it rises to around 80 years in cities like Beijing and Shanghai and Hong Kong is out in front with over 82 years. What do the Chinese pay for these extra years of life? Just $277 a head on healthcare in a year, compared to the United States where it is a staggering $6,100 a head each year.

The Chinese are great smokers, live with the many health hazards inherent with living in hugely over-crowded cities and in one of the most polluted countries on earth. So what is their secret? Well it is very simple and down to the fact that daily exercise is widespread and woven into the Chinese culture, offering more than just a way to burn calories. It also enforces social interaction, limiting the isolation that so often comes with old age in the West. Any visitor to China is struck by the way masses of people can be seen practicing tai-chi, aerobics, games, and even open air ballroom dancing. Every day exercise is vital for health and longevity and if you want to try something different from your usual morning or evening walk, then studies have pinpointed several benefits of Tai Chi, as it stimulates your central nervous system, lowers your blood pressure, relieves stress, tones muscles and helps with digestion and waste elimination. If you want to find a teacher locally, then ask at your local alternative health centre or shop for a personal recommendation or visit www.taichifinder.co.uk and just search your postcode.