Gardening For Health

Hello all

After a month or so away from my blog, here I am, in the middle of winter, writing about gardening! Mind you, with El Niño giving us the mildest of autumns in the UK (not to mention very wet), the gardening calendar is slightly confused. Here in the ‘burbs, we have blossom out, sodden lawns and a smattering of snow. Nature will cope, although there are bound to be knock-on effects during the next few seasons.

I have gardened here for 15 years; when we moved in, it was, in effect, a blank slate. A few shrubs, a couple of roses, a grotty path leading to a half-collapsed shed, and rat-infested compost heaps, allowed us to landscape and plant (with help of course) the garden we wanted. I have learnt many things over the years:

  1. Looking from the house and wondering where to start to get a grip on problems is not going to solve anything: get your boots and gardening gloves on, grab some tools and get to work.
  2. If you do need help, ask. Don’t let the garden go: it will not sort itself out. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade”.
  3. Don’t keep plants which are wrong for the conditions or are in the wrong place. Move them, give them away or compost them. A garden is a dynamic beast.
  4. First and foremost, take care of the soil.
  5. If you have the space and can afford it, get a greenhouse. Growing from seed (which can of course be done in the house) takes gardening to a whole new level.

” A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust” ~ Gertrude Jekyll.

It is good for the body and soul. Therapeutic gardening is an old concept; hospitals have a long history of providing gardens for patients and in recent times there has been research to show that horticulture offers many benefits. One of the best known gardening charities in the UK is Thrive, which started in 1978. They use gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. Benefits include

  • Better physical health through exercise and learning how to use or strengthen muscles to improve mobility
  • Improved mental health through a sense of purpose and achievement
  • The opportunity to connect with others – reducing feelings of isolation or exclusion
  • Acquiring new skills to improve the chances of finding employment
  • Just feeling better for being outside, in touch with nature and in the ‘great outdoors’

Who needs a gym membership when there is a garden to get stuck into? If you don’t have a garden: volunteer in one, or help a neighbour, look into guerrilla gardening, read some gardening books, dream about spring sowing.

Ultimate greenhouse

On what has been billed ‘Blue Monday’ (apparently today is the most depressing day of the year) you could do worse than to get out into a garden, be mindful of the beauty, listen to the birds and get moving.

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Annie Bee x

Willpower ~ How Does It Work?

I have been giving a lot of thought to the question of willpower. I can’t say I have it in abundance, but when I do decide to do something (even if it is after many years of not doing anything), I do seem to be able to stick to my guns. So much about our health (by which here I mean diet and exercise) comes down to that often elusive willpower.

Anyone with a slightly addictive personality (which refers to a particular set of personality traits that make an individual predisposed to developing addictions) will know about hitting rock bottom. There is often a trigger for deciding that enough is enough, whether it relates to drugs, alcohol abuse or over-eating. These triggers are very personal, but in my experience there comes a moment of compete clarity after which you know change MUST take place. It is only then that you take control of the problem and make changes.

Firstly then, what exactly is willpower?

The American Psychological Association calls willpower

the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.

From what I have researched on the subject, willpower has a finite supply. You therefore need to use it wisely, which is a nuisance frankly. I won’t be the only person out there who has thought it was a bottomless well and the issue was how you can harness as much as possible. On the flip-side, the good news is that you can work on building strategies to improve your use of it.

willpower

One interesting aspect of willpower is that people will often use up the limited supply on family and professional matters, leaving little for themselves. After a taxing day at the office, or with the kids, it is far more difficult to then find the time to keep on making good decisions about food. A recent study showed that people faced with a very stressful work-related task who were then asked to choose between different foods tended to make less healthy choices. Personally I think this is also compounded by the reasoning that a difficult day requires reward. You have had a very tough day at work, or dealing with 3 kids under the age of 7, or 2 moody teenagers, and a large glass of wine at 5.30pm (“the sun is over the yardarm somewhere”) sounds infinitely justifiable. Or, in food terms, you have a had the day from hell in the workplace, so you decide that a takeaway curry will cheer you up instead of the omelette and salad you had originally planned.

So willpower is definitely a tricky one: it is limited and it can be sabotaged fairly easily too. Sounds like other strategies are required. What are some ways of improving your chances of making best use of willpower when it comes to dieting?

  • Have a long-term, achievable goal. Are you going to a wedding in November, to which you would dearly love to get back into your favourite dress? Perhaps you want to be able to run a 5K next year and have realised that shedding some weight will make that goal a great deal easier to achieve? Make a record of your achievements as you go along and set yourself a goal you can meet.
  • Stay well rested. Over-tired people make bad decisions.
  • If you have a bad day, and your diet has seemingly gone out the window, put it behind you. It is done, nothing can be achieved by dwelling on it (except perhaps to work out why it happened and try to take steps to avoid making that mistake again – learn from it). Get back on track and don’t be too hard on yourself.
  • Minimise temptation. We are expecting a lot from willpower – don’t make it doubly hard by putting temptations in your way.

determination

I don’t want to sound preachy, but for those people who say “I simply don’t have the willpower” I would say this: you haven’t hit your rock bottom yet. When you do, and you decide to take control, have an achievable plan and work hard. The benefits are joyous.

Annie Bee x

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Sight Jogging ~ Wait … What?

I read a headline in the paper the other day which said Sight Jogging, but I read it because I thought it said SLIGHT jogging, which is something I do exceptionally well. Whilst I do sometimes call what I do ‘running’, the reality is that it is merely jogging, and (it gets worse) I mix it up with power walking. Anyway, I digress.

So there is this thing called Sight Jogging – like Sight Seeing, but with your running shoes on and presumably with little scope for taking pictures with the flash off inside an ancient church. When I started looking into this new phenomenon (from what I can see, it started in 2014) it struck me it might actually be an elaborate April Fools’. But there are reviews for it on TripAdvisor, so it must be true.

Sight Jogging Vienna

There are Sight Jogging tours in a number of European cities – Brussels, Rome, Dublin, Venice, Prague and Berlin for starters. London of course offers it too. One company is London jogging tours; one of their routes is along the Thames from Tower Hill to the Houses of Parliament, which is about 7km and sounds rather jolly. It says it is perfect for ‘gentle joggers’ and/or ‘recreational joggers’. So what does that mean? Would it suit me, a slight jogger? They say that if the tour is aimed at gentle joggers, there are plenty of stops whereas the other group runs at a more steady pace.  I guess there is just one way to find out.

sight jogging stuttgart

I am not averse to exercising on holiday although some days walking from the sun lounger to the beach bar and back again is more than ample. However, if this is something which appeals to you, it looks like it is also available outside Europe as well – Australia, South Africa, Singapore, Scandinavia and Russia have joined the fun. Eventually, you may be able to sight run the globe. Have a look here to see where in the world it is happening.

As one of the websites helpfully says, “don’t forget to pack your running shoes”. Might be an idea to leave the selfie stick at home though. Jogging along sightseeing with one of those could take someone’s eye out.

If you want to see my thoughts on fartlekking (or interval training as it is more boringly called) please see Fartlekking Post 1 and Fartlekking Post 2.

Have a super weekend.

Annie Bee x

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Surprising Finds #4 ~ The New River

I can’t honestly remember what prompted me to look into this subject further, but I have had great fun recently learning about what is called the New River.

New River collage

Strangely, it is neither a river, nor is it new; it is in fact a man-made construction which has supplied London with fresh drinking water for nigh on 400 years.

When Queen Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) was on the throne, London’s population reached about 180,000. Although watered by the Thames, the city had, since medieval times, been troubled by the amount of pollution which was ending up in the river and the consequent health problems. In 1388, the first statute relating to public health in England was passed by Parliament:

……. So much dung and filth of the garbage and entrails as well as of beasts killed, as of other corruptions, be cast and put in ditches, rivers and other waters…… that the air there is greatly corrupt and infest and many maladies and other intolerable diseases do daily happen…..

Various plans were made to provide the city with clean water, but it wasn’t until 1606 that a Parliamentary Act granted the Corporation of London the power to make a “New River for bringing water to London from Chadwell and Amwell in Hertfordshire”.

Although the distance from Hertford to Islington (in North London) is only 24 miles, the actual course of the New River was nearly 40 miles when it was built. Over its course, there was a gentle gradient to promote the flow of water – which averaged 5.5 inches (8cm/km) per mile. The impressive feat of engineering was completed in 1613 when a formal ceremony took place at the Round Pond in Islington; this is sited near the present New River Head, just below Sadler’s Wells Theatre.This was the original termination point but it currently ends somewhere in Stoke Newington.

The New River remains an essential part of London’s water supply, carrying up to 220 megalitres (48 million gallons) daily for treatment; this represents some 8 per cent of London’s daily water consumption.

Importantly, it comes with a path and I intend to walk the length of it this coming autumn/winter. Hopefully with Mr Bee to keep me company.

Since 1992, Thames Water has worked with local people and partners to create a 45 km [28 mile] long-distance footpath that follows the course of the New River, linking the inner city to the open countryside. The route follows, wherever possible, the historic water channel, as well as some straightened and piped sections between the New River`s starting point near Hertford to its original end in Islington. The route is waymarked throughout its length and all signs display the Path logo ~ Thames Water

There is a good book called “Exploring the New River” by Michael Essex-Lopresti ( buy the book from Amazon ) and also a very helpful leaflet issued by Thames Water which has detailed maps and suggested walks (Thames Water leaflet ). Wikipedia has an entry on it too: wiki info.

Funnily enough we used to live in Highbury and spent many an afternoon walking a very small section of the walk in Canonbury, making sure the baby Bees didn’t fall in! At that time I had no idea this artificial waterway existed. Now I live in Hertfordshire, so there is no excuse not to have a go at walking its length. I have no doubt there are some very pretty pubs along the way which will make the task that bit easier.

New River Walk Canonbury

I will let you know how I get on.

Annie Bee x

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Fartlekking ~ A Few Months On

Hello again

I blogged about interval training back in April  (https://anniebeebuzz.com/2015/04/17/fartlekking-say-what/) and wanted to update you as to how I have got on in the intervening period. There is a bit of a buzz about this form of exercise, which is also known as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) ~ there is some useful info here: http://dailyburn.com/life/fitness/hiit-workouts-for-beginners/ .

After being abroad for the best part of 6 weeks, where my exercise routine was a bit inconsistent but very delightful (Mount Coot-tha in Brisbane and Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas [QLD] were highlights), and then fighting off a nasty bout of cystitis, I am, as it were, back in the saddle.

Here in the ‘burbs, my favourite spot to do my 4 miles is an off-road, disused branch railway, that once linked several towns in Hertfordshire. Always busy with walkers, cyclists, joggers, kids, dogs and the very occasional horse, it is perfect for doing fartlekking (a jolly and funny Scandinavian name for interval training ~ the actual translation is “speed play”).

running outdoors

This week I have been going super fast due to having one of the Baby Bees along for the exercise. I feel like a middle-aged, slightly puffed-out and podgy greyhound which should have been put out to pasture, chasing a zippy hare. It has been delightful though and we make a good team (it strikes me if I have a heart attack she knows how to whistle and yell for help REALLY LOUDLY).

While I am on this route, I make it my business to say hello, smile and sometimes even wave to everyone I see. I have about a 90% return rate on an average outing.The British are well-known for being very buttoned-up, but in fact, are mostly happy to acknowledge me as I jog and power walk along and occasionally break into a sprint, trying all the while to look like I will not need a defibrillator.

While I was in Byron Bay (NSW) recently, I came across this brilliant fitness trail. I was quite puffed out enough just walking to the top of the hill to see the light house https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Byron_Light ) so I didn’t feel the need to have a go, but I was impressed that they were available for anyone to use at any time of the day.

fitness trail Byron Bay

Byron Bay fitness trail

Byron Bay fitness trail

Are they something the UK has managed to find money to introduce? I don’t know of any near where I live, but will have a go at finding out and posting a list. There certainly are companies in the UK selling the concept and the equipment. There is some general info on the subject here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitness_trail

So my exercising is going well. I am fairly fit, have no injuries currently, and love being outside while the weather is reasonable; long may it last. Who needs a gym membership?

outdoor gym

Annie Bee x

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Mall Walking ~ Cheaper Than The Gym

Mr Bee and I are currently watching “Better Call Saul” on Netflix, and in a recent episode, Saul mentioned mall walkers, complaining that they are hard to chase (he is selling them his will-making services) as they are all walking so damned fast.

In the UK, this is a relatively little-known phenomenon; there are pockets of it (hello Bluewater, Kent), but in the US and in Australia it seems a much bigger deal. And what an amazing idea it is.

Mall walking

I believe it all started in America when the first fully enclosed U.S. mall, the Stockdale, opened in Minnesota in 1956 and local doctors suggested patients recovering from heart attacks should exercise there, away from the snow and ice of Minnesota’s harsh winters. The 1980s saw a boom in the construction of malls and by 2001, some 2.5 million people were walking in 1,800 malls in the United States.

“You always have a bathroom, and most malls have security. Even if you have a heart issue, they have defibrillators.”

So if you live near one, what are the benefits? They are under-cover so weather proof. My Mum used to mall walk in Brisbane Australia, mainly because during their summers, it is way too hot to exercise outside if you are elderly, so an early morning brisk hour of walking in the air-conditioned mall was the perfect solution. If the mall allows, you can get the walk done before the shoppers arrive, but then grab a coffee or breakfast with your fellow exercisers. Water fountains are often available, as is seating if you over-do it. From my Mum’s point of view, it was sociable as well as being a good form of exercise. You go at your own pace and there is certainly plenty to look at. The mall owners/managers can benefit from this extra business at an otherwise very slow time of day, and the canny shop owners can work it to their benefit (Senior Citizen specials on offer).

Some years ago I emailed the British Heart Foundation asking whether they had thought of launching a programme of Mall Walking in the UK, but I never heard back. Maybe it is time for the UK to start to promote it. I think a couple of the bigger UK malls do it (the Bullring in Birmingham, The Trafford Centre in Manchester and the White Rose in Leeds as well as Bluewater); the NHS mention it on their website under ‘Get Fit For Free’ which is good, but maybe if the BHF got behind it, it could help us all.

At present I am happiest walking and running outside, but I can imagine in my dotage, I would love to join this merry band of mall walkers. And I will walk super fast if I am being pursued by anyone flogging me their will-writing services.

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Annie Bee x

Sugar? Carbs? Inactivity? What Is Causing The Obesity Crisis?

Everywhere you look these days, there is a vast amount of information on obesity and weight loss. Most of it makes very scary reading.

A few days ago I was listening to the UK’s leading expert on obesity, Susan Jebb OBE, on Radio 4’s The Life Scientific. She is a nutrition scientist, and the Professor of Diet and Population Health at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford; she is also the UK Government’s advisor on obesity in the United Kingdom. One of the headline things I learnt from listening to the interview, is that her many years of research on human metabolism has proved without a doubt that you “cannot get fat without eating too much”. Metabolism is a bit of a red herring in her view and energy intake is KEY: she said that ultimately, obesity is about food intake. Other factors (physical exercise, metabolism etc) play a relatively small role. She did make the very encouraging point though, that a fairly small weight loss  (she gave an example of losing 4kgs which is less than a stone) significantly lowers the risk of diabetes in those predisposed to the disease.

Prof Susan Jebb

Professor Susan Jebb

Obesity and being overweight affects all the organs in the body detrimentally (as well as joints) and is undoubtedly the biggest health threat to the nation.  Another frightening statistic I heard this week was that £1 in every £5 spent by the NHS is as a result of people’s poor lifestyle choices – over-eating, smoking, too much alcohol, drug-taking and inactivity.

One of Prof Jebb’s pieces of research which particularly interests me (in relation to The Side Plate Diet) is entitled, Is plate clearing a risk factor for obesity? A cross-sectional study of self-reported data in US adults. The conclusion was that

….. the tendency to clear one’s plate when eating is associated with increased body weight and may constitute a risk factor for weight gain.

You can read it in full here: http://www.phc.ox.ac.uk/publications/502174

I was on a bit of a research roll at this point, so I also watched the US documentary film, “Fed Up”, about the US food industry. One of the many ideas the film posited was the view that you cannot exercise your way out of being overweight. Physical exercise of course has benefits to your overall health but weight is mainly about the types of food we are eating.The film was jam-packed full of deeply worrying statistics (the growth of Type 2 Diabetes in pre-teens in the US being one) but the main thrust was the very great danger of eating too much sugar, and to some extent, sugar substitutes which have the effect of making you crave more sugary foods. (Note to self: Diet Coke may not be as harmless as it looks).

Sugar , according to the film, is the new tobacco.

Fed Up movie

Today, the following research has made the news, via the British Journal of Sports Medicine

Excess sugar and carbs, not physical inactivity, are behind the surge in obesity.

It’s time to bust the myth that anyone—and that includes athletes—can outrun a bad diet.

Regular exercise is key to staving off serious disease, such as diabetes, heart disease, and dementia, write the authors, but our calorie laden diets now generate more ill-health than physical inactivity, alcohol, and smoking combined. Read more here:

http://press.psprings.co.uk/bjsm/april/bjsm094911.pdf

If you still have a sense of humour after reading that round-up, have a look at Homer Simpson main-lining sugar:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzhIagCwUUc

Homer Simpson

Happy eating!

Annie Bee x

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