Thursday, April 26, 2007



- excellent cardio-vascular exercise.

- just need a bicycle and a road.

- can be included with 'real-life' activities, as transport to work/shops.


- can put strain on knees and lower back

- weather-dependent for all but the most hardy

- risk of injury from motor vehicles

- doesn't exercise upper body

Tuesday, April 24, 2007



- Employs all the major muscle groups.

- Improves cardio-vascular endurance.

- Kind to joints and connective tissues.

- Not weather-dependent (if using an indoor pool)


- Doesn't develop 'posture' musculature.

- Requires access to a suitable swimming pool.

- One word, 'elastoplasts'.

- There is some evidence that swimming encourages the body to increase its fat levels.

If you are going to do swimming as part of your exercise programme, find a pool that provides lane swimming facilities. Set yourself an amount of time (say 20 minutes), and swim laps at a constant pace until too tired to swim with good style.

Rest for a couple of minutes, then repeat the process. As you progress, work on swimming faster, and for longer. 30-40 minutes, 3 times a week, will maintain your cardio-vascular fitness at a good level.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Using a heart rate monitor

The first accurate wireless heart rate monitor was invented by Polar Electro in 1977 as a training tool for the Finnish National Cross Country Ski Team. 30 years later, heart rate monitors are used by the majority of serious athletes in a wide range of sports.

A typical sports heart rate monitor consists of a chest strap containing electrodes that contact the skin and detect the tiny electrical signals produced by the heart. When a heart beat is detected a radio signal is sent out to a receiver (usually wrist-mounted) which calculates and displays the current heart rate.

If you are engaged (or plan to engage) in regular cardio-vascular exercise (running, swimming, stepper machines, rowing etc...) a heart rate monitor will help you make sure you are exercising at the optimum intensity for the goals you are seeking to achieve.

Commonly quoted heart rate zones are:

Maintain Healthy Heart: 50-60%

Weight Management: 60-70%

Increase Stamina: 70-80%

Serious athlete: 80-90%

Elite athlete: 90-100%

There are a number of ways of calculating your personal heart rate zones, the simplest one is

223 - your age

However, this can be out by as much as 15 beats per minute.

A more accurate formula is:

205.8 − (0.685 x age)

This is accurate within 6 beats per minute, which is plenty good enough to get you started (I'll outline a more accurate method in a later blog).

Cardio-vascular fitness relies on you keeping your heart beating at an elevated rate for over 20 minutes. If your heart isn't beating fast enough, you won't be getting any benefit. If it is beating too fast, your body will grind, puffing and wheezing to a halt, and if this happens too quickly, your cardio-vascular system won't benefit.

Using a heart rate monitor aids my training in a number of ways:

1. It lets me know when I'm exercising too hard. Once I see the numbers going above a certain level, I can slow down, or even stop, without being worried that I'm cheating. It has helped me not hate running, allowing me to exercise at a much lower (and yet still beneficial) level.

2. Exercise can be monotonous. Having a heart rate monitor allows you to vary the intensity of your sessions in a manageable and quantifiable manner.

3. It lets me know when I've rested for long enough. When the numbers go below a certain figure, I know I've got to up the pace.

Heart rate monitors are available from a wide range of retailers, including Amazon and Argos, from around £25 upwards. Don't buy one that doesn't employ a chest strap, they are unlikely to be accurate. The more expensive devices will have more features and functions, but won't be any better at monitoring your heart rate.

In a future blog I'll explain how you can use a heart rate monitor to measure improvements in cardio-vascular fitness.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007



- Can be done just about anywhere.

- Only essential equipment is loose clothing and a good pair of shoes (see end of article)

- Stresses the bones of the lower body, stimulating them to retain minerals.

- Stimulates the cardiovascular and muscular systems.

- Employs the large leg muscle groups, stimulating calorie consumption.


- Can cause injuries to ankles, knees, hips, and lower back.

- Can overstress the front region of the lower leg, causing connective tissue irritation (shin-splints).

- Doesn't exercise the upper body much.

- Weather-dependent (for all but the most committed!).

- Not suited to (warning, scientific term approaching) 'big boned' people.


Budget to pay between £60 and £80 for a decent pair of running shoes.

The majority of training shoes are not suitable for running in. In fact, the majority of training shoes are not suitable for walking in.

Buy your running shoes from a shop where 'proper' runners go to buy their shoes. An easy way to find out if the people at the shop know their stuff is to ask them to check if you pronate or supinate. Someone who knows about running will oblige. If they burst out laughing, go somewhere else!

A pronated foot rolls inwards at the ankle, the midfoot bulges inwards and the longitudinal arch flattens. Those who over-pronate generally have flexible joints, so need running shoes that give a high level of support - a firmer anti-pronation post on the inside of the midsole; a firm or dual density midsole; and a a firm heel counter.

A supinated foot rolls outwards at the ankle and has a high arch. They tend to be more rigid and are poor at absorbing shock, so they will need running shoes with a lot of cushioning. Cushioned shoes tend to be poor at motion control.

Shop in the later part of the afternoon - that's when your feet are largest, and feet swell when running.

Modern running shoes should feel comfortable from the moment you try them on, they don't need 'breaking in', so if they feel uncomfortable, try another brand/style.

Wear the same kind of socks you plan to wear when running. The shoes will provide the padding, so don't assume you need to wear thick sports socks.

Running shoes last about 1000km before their padding/support breaks down. Keep a note of your progress, and replace your shoes regularly, your joints will thank you for it.

If you are planning on running regularly, my advice would be to invest in a heart rate monitor. More about this on the next blog.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Calorie bible

Want to know the nutritional content of just about anything? This book will help.

It contains information on a wide range of foods, both fresh and processed, including calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates.

Available from for £6.49

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Eggs are a nutrient-rich, affordable contributor to a healthy diet. Not only do eggs contain the highest quality source of protein available but they also contain a large percentage of the vitamins and minerals required by humans (vitamin C being the most notable exception).

Egg protein is of such high quality that it is used as the standard by which other proteins are compared. Eggs have a biological value of 93.7%. Milk = 84.5%, Fish = 76%, Beef = 74.3%.

White shelled eggs are produced by hens with white feathers and ear lobes. Brown shelled eggs are produced by hens with red feathers and red ear lobes. There is no difference in taste or nutrition between white and brown eggs.

The stringy piece of material in the egg is not an embryo but a protein called chalazae which acts as a shock absorber for the yolk, helping to prevent it bursting.

Eggs are placed in their cartons large end up to keep the air cell in place and the yolk centered.

Eggs age more in one day at room temperature than in one week in the refrigerator.

If refrigerated, eggs can be safely stored for 4-5 weeks beyond the sell-by date.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Setting goals

"The person who aims at nothing, usually reaches their goal"

Most of us start our lives with the majority of things being planned for us. Our parents provide for us, cook our meals, and choose our holidays. As we move through the educational system, we begin to make choices over what we are going to specialise in. And eventually we seek gainful employment.

However, the majority of people 'drift' through their lives. There is nothing wrong with this, except that a lot of people go around with a deep dissatisfaction that their lives seem to have little structure or purpose. And Clever People Who Research This Kind Of Stuff (CPWRTKOS) tell us that people whose lives have structure and purpose are generally 'happy' people.

Why not spend some time setting some (reasonable) goals for yourself?

Oh, and 'being happy' or 'getting rich' are not goals, they are fantasies. A goal is a specific, measurable thing.

Give quantities, numbers, dates, and times to your aims. Make sure that each of your goals is measurable.

Committing your goals to writing is important. It helps focus your thoughts, and gives you the ability to check back on your progress in the future.

Remember, you only get results from the physical actions you take, not for the great ideas you have. In order to get any kind of tangible results, you must act on an idea. You must build it, implement it, make it real.

The route to your goals will rarely be a straight line. When ships cross oceans, they are (technically) off course most of the time, but their navigation systems continually track their progress and compensate accordingly.

Goal setting works the same way. It gives you motivation and direction for what you need to do each day. As you begin moving towards your goals, you'll gain new knowledge along the way. You may even modify your goals. That's all good. You're making decisions. You're adapting. You're learning. You're learning how to learn.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Feeling drowsy?

It doesn't matter how much sleep I get, if I've been sat in the same place for more than an hour, I become lethargic and sleepy. This is all the more pronounced mid-afternoon. From anecdotal evidence, it seems to be a common experience.

Stimulants like caffeine and sugar give you a temporary energy boost, but the subsequent 'crash' leaves you feeling sick and even more sluggish.

The only solution I've found is to move about a bit. This can involve a spot of washing up, a walk around the block, or, my personal favourite, a few rounds of bowling or tennis on the Nintendo Wii (what do you mean you haven't got a Nintendo Wii?).

10 minutes of mild exercise will usually get your circulation going enough to allow you to return to your sedentary chores refreshed and energised.

If you're still feeling tired then a timed nap can do wonders (yes, I know, I know, tricky in a working situation). Set your alarm clock/ phone/ watch to wake you up in 10-15 minutes (any longer than this and you'll enter deep sleep, which makes it much more difficult to wake up).

Be prepared to feel rubbish when the alarm does go off, but get up anyway and within 10 minutes you should be feeling a lot better.

If you're still feeling drowsy, you might be ill. Or genetically bone-idle.