Thursday, March 29, 2007

Is exercise good for you?

Look up 'exercise' on Google, and you will soon find that the popular wisdom is an overwhelming 'YES'.

Benefits touted include:

1. Strengthening cardiovascular and respiratory functions

2. Strengthening muscles and bones

3. Weight management

4. Preventing diabetes

5. Managing mood swings

7. Managing pain and stress

8. Reducing the incidence of some types of cancer

7. Better sleep

What is not said often enough is that millions of people live long and healthy lives without doing a second of 'organised exercise'. And that people who faithfully maintain strict exercise regimes are not spared the myriad of maladies that are humanity's lot.

I do believe that regular exercise is important and beneficial. However, like food, there are good and bad kinds of exercise, too much is every bit as damaging as too little, and each person will need to find a particular 'exercise diet' to suit their aims, physique and life-situation.

In subsequent blogs I'll be taking a look at a variety of exercise options, and providing my 'half-baked, biased and flawed opinion' on their pros and cons.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Play to your strengths

Most western schooling systems are (in theory!) geared towards exposing young people to a wide range of mental and physical disciplines, including reading, writing, 'rithmetic, religion and recreation. Rumour has it that common-sense never made it onto the curriculum, simply because it can't be twisted into beginning with an 'R'.

As we move through the educational system, we are encouraged to identify our weaknesses and our strengths; to ameliorate the former, and strengthen the latter. The problem is, a lot of people continue through their adult lives concentrating on what they can't do, rather than strengthening what they can.

Life is finite. It's not being 'anal' or 'driven' to move toward putting some focus in our lives. It is common sense.

You could do worse than take a few minutes to write down the things that you find easy to do, things that you tend to get lost in, losing all sense of time while you are involved in them, things that bring you a great sense of happiness and fulfilment. Then cross out the ones that involve eating, drinking and sex, and see what you are left with.

Most of us know what these things are without even writing a list. And yet, a lot of people spend a lot of their lives doing things that they aren't good at, and don't enjoy. Some of those things are unavoidable. Others are things we have drifted into, and now feel that we can't get out of them without upsetting or disappointing people.

I was once involved in a Church survey where we gave out anonymous questionnaires to all the volunteer leaders. The questions included ones that asked whether they were happy in the work they were doing, and whether there was other Church work they felt their skills would be better suited to.

The responses were surprising. There were a lot of people who weren't happy, and felt that there were other things they'd be better suited to. And a quick mixing and matching of the skill-sets showed that if they were shuffled around, the Church work could continue with everyone doing stuff they were good at, and DID want to do.

The even more surprising thing was that when the whole group was confronted with this, and the suggestion was made that people should come forward and work on ways of re-distributing the leadership roles, nobody did. People were happier being comfortably miserable, than making a fresh start with something they knew they'd be better at.

I'm have a deep suspicion that this is not a unique scenario.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Common Sense Maxims #1

20 years ago I was reading an interview with Amy Grant. In it she related a conversation she had with the veteran preacher/author Chuck Swindoll.

At the end of their time together, Amy asked him if he had any life-advice for her, and braced herself for a challenging anecdote laced with deep spiritual truths.

To her surprise, Chuck's advice consisted of just two words:

"Turn up".

20 years later, I still consider it to be one of the most profound pieces of advice I have ever read.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Get up!

Author/playwright Jean Kerr is quoted as saying:

"The average, healthy, well-adjusted adult gets up at seven-thirty in the morning feeling just plain terrible."

The web is full of advice on why this is the case, including:

- lack of sleep

- too much light/noise in the room

- going to bed too early/too late

- wrong mattress

- wrong room temperature

- too much alcohol

- too much food

- irregular sleep patterns

All of these factors probably play a part. But from the anecdotal evidence of many people, I don't know of anyone who bounds out of bed in the morning, raring to face another day!

The two main reasons for this are:

1. Our metabolism has slowed to a crawl, and we have been without food for as much as half a day. When we wake up, our body is on a 'go-slow'.

2. Bed is a 'safe place'. While we are in bed, we don't have to face up to the responsibilities of the day.

I have learned not to trust my feelings when I first wake up. I often feel a bit 'under the weather'. The tasks ahead of me often seem much more dificult than they are. I never feel like getting up and going to the gym. I always feel like 'just a few more minutes sleep' would be a good idea.

So, I tell the little red cartoon devil on my shoulder that I know he is a liar, that I've tried his tactics, and they really don't work. Then I haul myself out of my rack, make myself a coffee, eat a protein bar, brush my teeth, pull on my sweatshirt and baggies, and drive to the gym.

On weekends/days off/holidays, I get up, make myself some breakfast, and do some light manual tasks like tidying the kitchen, putting clothes in the washing machine or going for a brisk walk.

After about an hour (assuming you really aren't unwell), your body will have 'defrosted', and you're as ready as you'll ever be to face a new day.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The carrots principle

I hate the taste of carrots. My mum also dislikes them but, convinced that my eyesight depended on it (yes, she did ask me "Have you ever seen a rabbit with glasses?") she diligently applied herself to including them in my evening meals. Mum put carrots behind things, under things, wrapped in things, even mashing them into potatoes (which meant I hated the taste of the potatoes as well!).

With all attempts at escaping this torture finally exhausted (reasoning, begging, moaning, feigning death, moving the carrots onto my brother's plate...) I resigned myself to my miserable fate, and began working on coping strategies. The one that worked best for me was eating the carrots first, getting the foul deed over and done with, so I could enjoy the rest of my meal.

Why am I telling you this? Because when you have a variety of tasks to perform with similar priority levels, do the ones you want to do least, first. You'll get more done, and you'll finish the day in a better frame of mind.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


If possible, keep all the keys you need on one ring.

Regularly check your keyring's contents, and remove the ones you don't need.

Have backups of all your important keys, hidden in a safe place, or better still, with friends who live nearby.

Keep your keys in the same place all the time. I have a clip on my laptop bag for them.

Don't leave them on the ledge by the front door window. Bad people know people leave them there. The keys also give the bad people access to a courtesy getaway vehicle.

Oh, and if you are by yourself in a house, and leave the house to put stuff in the bin, take your keys with you. It is a little known fact that all front doors have a 'self-close when the house is empty and the last person to leave hasn't got any keys on them' function (SCWTHIEATLPTLHGAKOT™). And, yes, it has happened to me. Twice.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Nutrition #2 - Food groups

The three basic food groups are - protein, carbohydrates and fat. Making sure your diet contains the the correct proportions and quantities of these food groups will help your body work efficiently.

Current recommendations from clever people who 'know a thing or two about what we should and shouldn't eat' say you should aim for:

• 40% carbohydrate
• 30% protein
• 30% fat

Carbohydrates - sugars and starches - are found in bread, potatoes, rice, cereals and pasta. Undigestible carbohydrate called 'fibre' is present in wholegrain and unprocessed foods such as wholemeal pasta, brown rice and whole-wheat bread. Fibre helps food move through your body at the correct pace. Fresh fruit and vegetables are an excellent source of carbohydrates and fibre.

Protein is found in meat and fish. Nuts, eggs, beans, peas and lentils are also rich in protein.

Fat is found in just about everything you like the taste of. Bodies (especially female bodies) need fat to function properly.

There are four different types of fat. The first three are (in the right proportions) good for you.

• Polyunsaturated fats: Sunflower oil, Safflower oil, Corn oil

• Monounsaturated fats: Peanut oil, Olive oil, Avocado oil

• Saturated fats: Butter, Coconut oil

The 'baddies' of the bunch are synthetic trans fats. Synthetic trans fats are created by bubbling hydrogen through vegetable oil. They are what make most margarines and spreads 'spreadable'. And they are currently being blamed for everything from high cholesterol, heart disease, narrowing blood vessels, obesity and diabetes, to gun crime and global warming.

In the UK the term 'trans fats' doesn't have to be included on food labels, but when you see 'hydrogenated vegetable oil' on the ingredients list this means there are trans fats in the product. Other aliases for trans fats include partially hydrogenated vegetable fat or trans fatty acids.

Trans fats can be found in just about all processed foods from biscuits to pastry and cereal. Most fast food and take-out restaurants use hydrogenated vegetable oils for deep fat frying.

In Denmark trans fats are banned and in America it is now obligatory to put them on nutritional labels.

The occasional portion of chips is not going to kill you. But minimising trans fat consumption is a good idea.

Oh, and to make these three food groups usable, we need vitamins and minerals. These are the ingredients that facilitate the thousands of chemical reactions that make our body work, as well as providing the building blocks for bones and other structural tissues. Fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, meat and fish are good sources.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Now is good

Humans live in time and space. And until someone finds a way to make practical use of quantum theory, each of us is allotted the same linear 24 hours each day in which to get things done. And each of us has thousands of things that we could do at any one time.

I'm going to look at procrastination in more detail another time (that wasn't meant to be funny), however, here's a maxim that (I think) I made up all by myself:

"If it is definitely going to need to be done, and you can do it now, do it now."

It's never going to win any prizes for succinctnessness, but as a principle for getting things done, it takes a lot of beating.

Someone has sent you an email suggesting you get together some time. The temptation is to reply some time in the future. Why not check your diary, and reply now?

A friend's birthday is coming up in a week or so. You've got a couple of minutes spare while a document is printing. You've got an appropriate card (What do you mean, you don't keep a stock of appropriate cards? I can feel another blog coming on...). Write an appropriately hilarious age-related missive, address the envelope, write 'not to be opened until *insert birthdate*' on the flap and pop it in the first pillar box you see(yes, yes, you WILL need to put a stamp on it as well!).

Your car's petrol tank is a quarter-full (or, for the pessimists amongst you, three-quarters empty). You're in plenty of time for whatever appointment you're driving towards, and you're approaching a petrol station. Pull over, and fill up now. Not when the needle is hovering on the 'E', and you're already running late!

Give it a try, you'll be surprised how applying the IIIDGTNTBDAYCDINDIN™ maxim frees up your days, and minimises that awful 'there's no way I'm going to get everything done that I need to get done' (TNWIAGTGEDTINTGD™, damn, I'm good at this acronym thing!) feeling.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Getting organised #4

When you've taken a container out of the fridge and dispensed its contents into another vessel, return the container to the fridge. Unless the container is now empty, in which case put it in the appropriate recycling/disposal receptacle.

Do the same with tins and cereal boxes taken out of cupboards.

And when you've finished with a drinking vessel/plate, clean it, dry it and put it back where it came from. (If there isn't a place for it, make one!)

Books, magazines, writing implements, remote control units... none of them put themselves back either. It's your job.

It's not a difficult concept to grasp. It's not a difficult habit to cultivate. But most people don't do it, resulting in a cluttered house, hours wasted searching for stuff and (eventually) extended tidying sessions.