Gym Junkies of a Different Kind

The gym I test my strength in a couple of times each week is a little different to most others. It’s a local council run facility full of gym junkies (of the nicest possible variety)  and I feel extremely confident I’m never going to see anyone prancing around posing and flexing their muscles. Unless that flexing is to get rid of a muscle spasm.

Some days I’m the youngest by a good 20-30 years but the time I spend there each week provides a priceless package of inspiration and entertainment on top of the fitness benefit.

Five years ago, these gym junkies were featured in a segment on Today Tonight as a result of their fitness and health ethic and you can meet some of them by watching here.

Who Are The Main Players At The Gym?

Take Anton for example: in the vicinity of 70+ years young, who collects his friend Judy on the way to the gym and walks in each morning primed for a chat to solve the issues of the world. Judy can lift so much more weight than me and annoyingly can hold a plank whilst smiling for a couple of years.  I can’t.

Then there is Tom Senior; an almost 86-year-old diabetic who comes even when he doesn’t feel like it. He keeps turning up because he knows from experience that the moment exercise feels great is when you are finished. Plus the company is scintillating.

Tom Junior, also a ex professional cricketer and a mere chick in comparison, is currently doing the rounds of the gym on the bike while he deals with knees that are not happy with years of bowling. And lets not forget Ali, Trudy, Jo and myself who just try and keep up with these guys. 

These gym buddies of mine love a good chat and the odd critique of gym performance, and there is often a great deal of collective tsking when someone demonstrates a new exercise or skill. 

In reality, you can get some good ideas from what others are doing around you. It is too easy to just keep doing what you are doing, which can get you in a rut pretty quickly.

It got me thinking about what the current fitness trends are, so naturally I went straight to Google to find out.

What Are The Fitness Trends Of 2019?

  1. Wearable Technology – this includes everything from fitness trackers, heart rate monitors and GPS trackers.  These days we can track pretty much everything. Sigh.
  2. Group Training – this is classified as a class with more than five participants and could include cardio based classes, dancing, spin classes, boot camps and the like.  I do like group training, especially when you can hide behind someone else for those moments when you are quite simply dying.
  3. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – this is where you engage in a series of high intensity bouts of exercise followed by a short period of rest and recovery.  Let’s just say this is not my favourite and I would prefer to call it RUUUUUUNNNN AWAAAYYYY.
  4. Fitness Programs for Older Adults – my gym buddies are a case in point but lets face it, keeping and staying fit as we get older is probably the Number 1 health tip.
  5. Body Weight Training– Maintaining our muscle mass is crucial, vital, integral and central to the very core of our health. Our physical strength, balance and sending fuel to our brains (muscle mass controls this one) is what keeps us upright and being able to hold conversations when we are 100. Do it, do it, do it.
  6. Employing Certified Fitness Professionals – I am fairly confident that you wouldn’t get your hair cut by a lawn mower. Quite frankly, you could lose ears and perhaps even your scalp.  Choosing a qualified, certified fitness professional is good sense unless you are ok with injuring yourself.
  7. Functional Fitness Training – this involves strength training and other activities to improve balance, coordination, strength and endurance to improve daily living activities.
  8. Personal Training – for some people working with a personal trainer is what keeps them focused and on track. A qualified personal trainer can design workouts specific to you rather than say, your neighbour down the street.
  9. Yoga – oh yoga. Some of you will know that I am a converted lover of yoga and for many reasons it is quite simply a necessary part of my life. So necessary that I will travel a long way to run my Italian Yoga and Wellness Retreat every year. If you haven’t tried it yet – mix up a few different varieties of yoga and or add some extreme heat or attempt the downward dog suspended from the ceiling. I’m not sure whether that last one actually happens but I am sure someone has tried it. Perhaps stick to just the one kind of yoga in one sitting and you don’t have to do it in the blistering heat amid communal sweat to get a benefit.
  10. Exercise is Medicine – imagine doctors including exercise as the prescription rather than drugs. Some already do but healthy professionals do this all the time.  Prevention is always preferable to finding a cure.

The best type of exercise is the one that you actually do. Choose something that you enjoy doing, grab a friend and let the endorphins (and no, this is not a species of dolphins) do their work.

9 Reasons Why You NEED to Take Holidays

What! Holidays? 

Holidays beckon me and it is time for me to say ‘ciao for now’ and head off to Italy to run my annual Yoga and Wellness Retreat.  Although I am going there to work (yes, yes I know that it doesn’t sound like it), I will squeeze in a hike across 120km of the Via Francigena and a week off to eat all that lovely Italian food.

I usually take holidays around this time of the year and although it can seem super tricky to get these locked in and organised, I am well aware that I am not indispensable. It suits our ego’s to think that we are. We are not.

All of us need to take well-deserved breaks from our day-to-day lives.  Sometimes the hardest thing about taking a holiday and unplugging is not in the planning or execution but in the decision that it is ok to leave behind commitments and people that need you. Holidays don’t need to be expensive, lavish affairs and some of the best feature a tent, a swag and the stars. The benefits flow through your business and personal lives, improving relationships and revving up your productivity, something that may have been lying dormant for a while.

1. Stimulate your mind with a new culture

If you are taking your holidays out of your own country, there is no doubt you will get to experience the world in a different way. New customs and cultures are fascinating and all add to good old life experience. It is so easy to have a narrow focus in our day-to-day lives and travelling to a different country is a great way to widen our lens. My cultural experiences do in fact include a Naked Cowgirl standing on a median strip in the middle of New York. I sure learn’t a ton of things about marketing services I was completely unaware of all at the same time.

2. Improve your physical fitness

Sightseeing is a fabulous way of walking miles without really noticing and holidays often provide an opportunity to try new or different ways of exercising. This might be cycling around a medieval walled city in Italy under the canopy of ancient leafy trees, yoga by a azure pool in a tropical climate, hiking in majestic mountains, skiing in fluffy white powder snow or a bracing bush walk whilst admiring stunning wildflower displays and dodging the wildlife. The beauty is, none of these feel like exercise, yet your body reaps the benefits.

3. Physical and emotional well-being

It goes without saying that taking that step away from daily reality can only be good for your physical and emotional well-being. Everyone needs a pattern interrupt in their lives.

4. Get some sun 

Isn’t it lovely it is to feel the warmth of the sun when you are escaping cold weather back home? Of course, protecting your skin is important even when on holidays but relaxing in a warm climate is an ideal opportunity to get some Vitamin D. Even in countries that see plenty of harsh sunlight, Vitamin D deficiency is thought to affect one third of the population, resulting in some major health consequences. For many European countries, there is Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression to consider, which affects more and more people during the winter months due to a lack of sunshiny goodness.

5. Sleep my pretty one 

One of the best things about holidays is the complete lack of need for an alarm clock, no agenda, no schedule and no commitments (unless you count eating, having a good time and catching planes on schedule). This means that you can totally relax, get enough sleep and discover the deep kind of rest that your body truly needs to recharge the batteries. Sleep strengthens your immune system and relieves stress allowing your body to rejuvenate.

6. Unplug the technology

The joy of not having to answer a phone, deal with messages or read email should not be underestimated. Our lives revolve around technology and the expectation that we are ‘on the grid’ 24/7 can be truly exhausting. Unplugging on holiday means that you can truly relax and be fully present and connected with those around you. Don’t forget, although you are special and unique, you are not indispensable.

7. Get some happiness

Removing yourself from everyday worries gives you the space to appreciate the good things in life. You don’t need to go looking for happiness when it often finds you in the moment.

8. Reconnect with family, friends or your self

In our fast paced go get ‘em world it is too easy to go weeks and months without truly connecting with your family, your friends and most especially yourself. Breaks and holidays are perfect opportunities to reconnect and have those meaningful conversations that go beyond the standard ‘how are you?’

9. Inspiration

I get some of my best and exciting ideas when on holidays, simply because I have the time and the space in my head to let them in. When we are locked into our daily routines, creativity and inspiration can be flowing at a mere trickle but when in holiday mode, space and opportunity abounds.

Whilst on these said holidays, I will be taking a break from writing and chatting to you all BUT I will return with fresh ideas and a zing in my step in early August.

Arrivederci and ci vediamo a tutti!

 

Peak Performance – What is your Go To Tip?

The area of peak performance has fascinated me ever since I attempted to cycle the long and hilly 96 km in the Sydney to Wollongong race, with disastrous results back in the 90’s.  My performance on the day was spectacularly dismal due to my poor preparation on the day and complete lack of knowledge but the hard lessons I learned that day have never left me.

Prior Preparation does Prevent Poor Performance (apparently)

Performance is a funny thing though – it means different things to each of us and there is no doubt that it is one thing to perform but quite another to achieve success. It is this link between performance and success that inspired me to discover what some of the worlds top performers are doing in their lives to enable them to be at the top of their field. Innate talent and motivation are common threads but quite often they have physical or mental tactics and strategies that they have developed and honed over the years to gain an advantage, enabling them to get to and stay at the top of their field.

Ready, Set…Go

This path of discovery led to me penning my second book, Ready, Set…Go and I was fortunate enough to interview around 30 people from all walks of life.  They are people that I admire for various reasons and I knew that they were making a difference in the world.

The people I interviewed included international artist Ken Done, award winning chef Rick Stein, Former Prime Minister John Howard, Boost Juice founder Janine Allis and award winning author Andy Griffiths amongst many other amazing people.

The thing is, you don’t need to be in the public eye to have the ability to inspire others by what you do. It is often regular folk going about their day to day life that are doing super amazing things in this world.

Over to you

I am absolutely positive that no matter who you are, you are expected to ‘perform’ from the minute your feet touch the floor each morning. Think of the myriad roles that you play each day at work, at home, as a friend and as a family member.

Each one of you taking the time to sit and read this blog on performance, have particular ways to manage your energy, time, well-being and well, performance.  

And I would love to know what they are.  

We can all learn so much from each other. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the ways in which this community right here manages their own personal performance?

Your tip could be specific to a particular area of your health like Former Prime Minister John Howard who advises us to “Establish an exercise routine and stick to it.” In his 11 year tenure leading Australia, Mr Howard missed only a handful of his daily 4km brisk walks and that was due to security risk.

Your tip might be one that can be applied to any area of life just like Olympic gymnast Lauren Mitchell’s

“Success is the sum of small parts, added up every day”

or perhaps like V8 Supercar Champion Craig Lowndes, who firmly believes that

“Focus and concentration are your friends”

How Do You Manage Your Personal Performance?

Whatever or however it is, I would love to hear about it.  And then, imagine if I gathered all of your tips and I collated them to share with everyone? A go to list that you can use in your own life perhaps?

All you need to do is share in the comments or send me an email at julie@juliemeek.com.au.  You can make yourself known or go under the radar and be anonymous – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the sharing of the wisdom that you possess because it is truly valuable to us all.

Ready, Set…Go!

 

 

 

As the Story Goes

I often get asked about my story.  My reason or my passion for what I do.

If you have already heard my story, feel free to speed read to the end and I’ll speak to you next week.

If you haven’t heard my story, you will be thankful to know that it is no ‘Gone with the Wind’ tome.

It’s certainly not easy deciding what you want to do when you are a grown-up. Somehow, through a stroke of luck, a change in the wind or perhaps just chance, I decided what I wanted to do when I turned 14 years of age.

I did what I needed to do to make this happen through school and university but the real education and the passion for what I do, didn’t really start until after I had the piece of paper.

When I graduated from uni, work for Dietitian’s was thin on the ground in Perth and my only true hope of a job was someone falling off the perch. Harsh but true.

Given the cold hard facts, time was of the essence, so it seemed like a fine idea to put all my worldly belongings and my prized green Gemini on a truck and send it across the Nullabor. The lure of my very first grown up job took me to Cootamundra, a tiny little sheep and wheat town in NSW.  I found myself in the Nurses Quarters in my single room overlooking a parched paddock inhabited by three lonely sheep wandering around. As sad as they looked, I did note amidst a bucket of tears that at least they had two friends. 

And therein lay my first problem. I was a no mates with not a single prospect in sight. Enter the Hot Cross Bun. Their comfort was immense and my love affair was immediate and oh SO enduring.  I am thankful that way back then, the little fruity delights didn’t appear on the shelves on Boxing Day because the collateral damage would have been quite literally enormous. Whilst comforting myself with the Easter goodies (and perhaps a few other food delights) I set about formulating a plan to gather some friends.  

Cootamundra, like many other country towns had a happening pub scene and with ten of them in a 500m strip catering to 5000 thirsty townsfolk they were clearly the path to friendship. I managed to gather some lovely friends and we had some hilarious times (I think).  After six months of swilling beer and a concerted effort at eating every Hot Cross Bun that wasn’t nailed down, my boyfriend at the time started making comments about the extra ‘bits’ I had acquired.  I was indignantly upset. How dare he tell such lies!

More time passed and unbeknown to me, more bits tacked themselves onto my body. In hindsight I think the beer may have affected my vision. I can only imagine the shaky confidence that the locals had in their new and only Dietitian who was advising them on losing weight while she was fattening up like a little piggy.  Eventually the evidence became too great even for me and in a pivotal moment when getting out of the bath, I had to face the fact that I had morphed into something like a Shar-Pei dog, the breed with many folds of skin.  

With a successful deposit of 10kg of heavy duty weight, the golden run of beer and Hot Cross Buns was over. 

It’s fair to say that the road back was long and arduous and the vision of the first hot cross bun on the shelves each year on the 4th of January never fails to remind me of what could have been. 

Each year, when I look at those first batch of Hot Cross Buns on the shelves, I remember that nobody is immune from making poor choices whether they be about food, exercise or any other lifestyle behaviour or habit. Including me. That is what drives me to assist you.

I don’t have all the answers (as my kids keep telling me) but I do have a collection of experience and education that could just help you along your journey to health and wellbeing. The way I see it, we are all in the proverbial trench together here. But I might just have the shovel.

What about your story – do you have an experience that continually nudges you along the preferred path?

 

Italy, Yoga and Retreat – 3 Things That Should Be on Your Bucket List

You may remember me writing earlier this year about my rocky relationship with yoga. I am happy to say that although I am still no expert, each week it gets less rocky and to be quite honest; in the past few months it has been my saving grace.

This year marked the second round of my Italian Yoga and Wellness Retreats.

I have been fortunate enough to lead and meet some truly lovely people who have been looking for a mixture of things – yoga yes, relaxation yes, exceptional food yes and the beautiful Italian culture and history, all yes. Quite the international cohort, this retreat has attracted people from Australia, UK, Scotland, Canada, USA and Switzerland all looking for a slice of wellness.

 

 

As a Dietitian and Performance Specialist, I show people how to weave movement, healthy food, sleep and less stress into their lives to enable them to access their best performance on a mental and physical basis. The thing is, sometimes, it is not always possible to do this at your back door and distance and space are required. Sometimes the lessons that we teach others are the ones we learn ourselves.

On the last day of the retreat this year, my Dad passed away very unexpectedly. There are few words to describe how I felt being in another country without my family nearby, while the world crashed around me.

The beautiful people at my retreat went from having a fabulous week of yoga and completely immersing themselves in relaxation and wellness, to watching me having a complete meltdown. I will be forever grateful for their care and compassion on that day.

In the time since, whilst dealing with the loss of my Dad, regular yoga has been key to my mental and physical well-being. I could not have gotten by without it.

Like me, the yoga experience of the people attending the retreats varies hugely, all the way from never having done a single move through to occasional yoginess and then right up to getting bendy every other day. Somehow, our yogi Vicki caters to each level, making it comfortable yet challenging for each and every person. With gentle firmness throughout the session, she reminds us that we could do better or we could do more in particular poses and encourages us to imagine what could happen if we held a pose for just that bit longer. Vicki makes everyone want to go that bit further and not to forget that time and space are essential for anything to grow.

But let’s face it – for most of us, considering making a trip to Italy for a retreat might seem self-indulgent at best. Especially when many people have to consider the logistical challenges of child-care, work and finances to even make this happen. Committing to a retreat in another country is no snap decision and how do you know if it is for you?

It’s in the little and the big things and just like beauty, I think it is in the eye of the beholder. It’s having time and the space to check in with your physical and mental wellbeing, the opportunity to create a plan for how you could implement positive changes in your day to day life, feeling that sense of increased flexibility and strength in your body, the joy that comes from making new friendships and laughing a bucket load, the increased energy that results from putting the freshest, healthiest ingredients into your body and your senses being taken to another level by being soaked in Italian history, culture and countryside.

Registrations are now open for my 2018 Italian Yoga and Wellness Retreat, 18-25 August 2018. If you or anyone you know would like to find some Zen, drop me a line at julie@juliemeek.com.au

For more information and all the details, head over my the Italian Retreats Page.

Namaste.

Chicken, Ricotta and Spinach Lupinsagne aka Lasagne

Lasagne gets me thinking about Italy, cheesy sauce, accordion music and red and white checked tablecloths. You might not have exactly the same vision but lasagne is a true crowd pleaser and one of those dishes that just makes you sigh with happiness doesn’t it?

Traditionally, lasagne can be loaded with béchamel sauce (delicious yes but high on the fat side of things), sheets of pasta and cheese upon cheese.
That might seem like a good thing (and as an occasional food, it really is) but for an everyday kind of dish, a few tweaks is all it takes to bump up the protein and reduce the fat, to tick the nutrition boxes and turn it into the ideal recovery meal post exercise.

Perfect timing because there is a new protein rich kid on the block, which packs a serious nutrition punch. This little goodie is the humble lupin – a unique legume that contains 40% protein, 40% fibre with a small amount of carbohydrate and fat and is completely gluten free. 85% of the world’s crop of lupins is grown in Western Australia which is pretty cool. Yay for the sandgropers.

So after a bit of experimenting, I have concocted Chicken, Ricotta and Spinach Lupinsagne and it tastes fantastic! This recipe is high in protein and fibre and is packed full of vegetables and flavour. It uses lupin flakes produced by The Lupin Co. which are so versatile and have so much to give our bodies, including a protein punch.

Chicken, Ricotta and Spinach Lupinsagne

Ingredients
1-tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 x cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, grated
1 large zucchini, grated
1 x 400g tin canned, diced tomatoes
20 basil fresh leaves
500g lean chicken mince
1-cup chicken stock
1-cup lupin flakes
1kg reduced fat ricotta cheese
150g baby spinach leaves,
2 eggs, beaten
5 x fresh lasagne sheets
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Method
Cook the onion and garlic together in the oil until golden brown and then add the chicken mince and stir until cooked through.

Add the carrot, zucchini, tomatoes, chicken stock and basil, bring to the boil and then simmer for 15-20 minutes until the mixture is reduced a little. While the mixture is simmering, cook the lupins in boiling water and cook for 3 minutes and then drain and rinse in cold water. Just before you take the chicken mixture off the heat – add the cooked lupins and stir well.

Meanwhile, place the spinach leaves in a microwave proof bowl into the microwave and cook for 1 minute until wilted slightly. Once cooled, squeeze out excess water and add to the ricotta along with the beaten eggs. Stir the ricotta mixture until smooth.

Spray a large lasagne dish with cooking oil and place some of the mince mixture on the bottom of the dish followed by lasagne sheets to fit and then half of the mince mixture on top of this followed by half of the ricotta mixture and repeat these steps once more finishing with the ricotta layer.

Cover with foil and cook in a moderate oven for 30 minutes, remove the foil, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and cook for a further 15 minutes.

Nutrition Per Serve:

Energy 312 calories, protein 27g, fat 12g, carbohydrate 19g, fibre 8g

This Lupinsagne is perfect for an everyday dinner and also a great recovery meal post exercise.

Watch this space for more lupinlicious recipes.

Buon appetito!

Theme vs. resolution – what’s yours for 2017?

Yesterday my good friends over at Kale and Co. posted a comment on social media that echoed my thoughts to a tee.

“January was a trial run. Let’s DO this February”

For me, with three kids, January is all about school holidays and the beach. No writing, a small amount of work and this year, watching the Gilmore Girls from scratch. I know, but hey.

January, for so many of us, is a time that we reflect on the year that just flew past and make plans, resolutions and goals for the next one. The thing is, I don’t do resolutions. This is simply because I don’t want to make promises to myself that maybe I won’t keep and then feel disappointed in my lack of potential achievement.

Does this sound remotely familiar to you at all?

It is all too easy to jump on the New Year Resolution bandwagon. Everyone around you leaps on as soon as the clock ticks New Year. If that is you and the bandwagon is still moving, well done. But if not, there is another way.

Although resolutions don’t appeal to me, I do like to have a theme for my year to guide me in choosing a direction or pathway each day, week and month. This year I have chosen theme x 3, but you might like to stick to one of your own or many – just remember not to overload your dance card, which does make the doing a little harder.

Theme 1: Accept the things you cannot change

I have come to realise that I invest a crazy amount of energy worrying about or trying to change situations, people, personalities and relationships that I simply cannot, no matter how hard I try. Have you noticed how much this can greatly affect your physical and mental health and wellbeing if you let it? For the past month, I have applied this thought to so many things and the instant relief of letting them go has been enormous.
Of course, these are never one off thoughts, situations or people never to be seen again and there have been days when ‘Accept the things you cannot change’ has been on constant repeat in my brain but it really works. This is not at all about giving up or giving in but it is about acknowledging what you actually have control of. Or not.

The insightful Mahatma Gandhi looks at this another way, which puts the power back in your court.

“Be the change you want to see in the world”

Theme 2: Make it Happen

How often have you promised yourself that you are going to do something or catch up with someone or had a dream that has never seen the light of day?

In our current world of busyness and overload, it is easy to see why this happens but the question is, how can we actually make these things happen

Once upon a time, I used to donate blood and it has been my intention ever since to do it again. Soon. So, when I finally rang in January to make an appointment, it was a shock to be told that 15 years had passed since my last donation. Wow. I know how vitally important giving blood is to our community and yet I hadn’t made it happen. Whilst enjoying my little slice of fruit cake and packet of chips in the tea-room post vampire session, I realised that the simple solution for me to donate regularly, is to make my appointments in advance. Lightbulb moment that took me 15 years to arrive at.

For you this might be choosing healthy food or putting together an exercise plan or getting more sleep – what are the barriers to you actually implementing a behaviour and how can you make it happen?

Theme 3: Give Back

I like to think that I am a community minded person. I give my love and support to my friends and family, I am passionate about my work helping others (that includes you!) and as a family we financially support charities whenever we are able. Yet, it is is so easy to unthinkingly be centred on ‘me’ and I know there are other ways I can incorporate ‘giving’ into my everyday life.

Being charitable and helping others does not have to be a financial donation. Lets face it, in tough financial times, many people find it hard enough to support their own families. Nonetheless, being kind to others can be as simple as passing on a parking ticket that is still active, cooking a meal for someone who can’t do it themselves, brightening up someone’s day by giving them a heartfelt compliment or spending 5 minutes talking to your elderly neighbour who lives alone, instead of giving them a quick wave before rushing inside as soon as you turn into the driveway.

Giving actually makes us feel good because we get what researchers call a ‘helpers high’ and studies show that kinder people actually live longer, healthier lives.

These are my themes for 2017 – what are you working on?

12 Tips for a Healthy Festive Season – make a list and check it twice

There are just two sleeps until the jolly man arrives to spread festive cheer and joy! For most of us the festive cheer and joy has been gathering momentum for a while and very often involves things to eat, things to drink, things to eat, things to drink……

Here are my 12 Tips for a Healthy Festive Season to assist your body over the break. Don’t forget to check it twice.

I like to move it, move it

We all know that the festive season means party, party, party. It’s just like managing a bank account and if you are budgeting for big ticket items (like parties or events), this means doing some saving. Choose an exercise that you enjoy and buddy up with a friend.

Choose your drop

We all know that Santa likes the odd drink or two to go with his midnight snacks. The thing is, the nuts, chips, dips and their friends make you drink more. It’s not your fault, they are addictive and persuasive. Fat and alcohol are mates too and togetherness promotes fat storage. Think about eating a healthy snack or meal before you hit the party. This will eliminate the need to pounce on platters of finger food as they sail by and most importantly, less excess baggage in January.

Cold as ice

Summer is hot right? Instead of grabbing a sugary icy pole, try blending some watermelon, fresh lime and ice for a refreshing and healthy treat. Perfect for summer. Simple too. Just remember not to get your tongue stuck on them, it’s awkward.

Chocolate

Chocolate contains a bunch of powerful antioxidants that can do good works in our bodies. Don’t go crazy though – two squares of good quality dark chocolate will do the trick, you don’t need the whole box that you were given!

What’s the time Mr Wolf?

Don’t eat too late at night – this is when your body is least active and not burning a lot of fuel. Eating foods loaded with sugar and fat can mean disturbed sleep and tired eyes the next morning.

Zing

Let’s face it, the festive season can be tiring. Aside from endless festivities – ongoing tiredness and fatigue can be caused by iron deficiency. Iron is essential as it helps oxygen sail around your blood stream and everyone’s after more oxygen aren’t they? Lean red meat is one of the high scorers in the iron department and is a great source of protein and zinc too. Breakfast cereal and legumes are decent sources of plant based iron but need a friend in the form of Vitamin C to assist absorption. Pump that iron people.

Gone fishing

It seems that Western Australia is the favourite place for sharks to hang out. Sharks are multi-skilled, as the finned hunters are not only scary but nutritious too, being low in fat and high in protein. Shark, fish and other seafood (fresh and tinned) are the perfect summer protein full of omega-3 fats which promote healthy hearts and brain function. We can all do with those.

Carb down

Low carb beers are low in carbohydrates but they still contain alcohol and therefore kilojoules. Choosing a low carb beer over a full strength beer will save you about 100 kilojoules. Low carb beer are not the same as ‘light’ beers which are lower in alcohol, so watch out for the false promises of beer advertisers. If you are concerned about your weight try choosing a beer that you enjoy and drinking a bit less of it.

Safety in numbers

With all the mountains of food that we are preparing and eating during the festive season it is easy to get busy and forget about storing our food correctly. To avoid an unhappy stomach and poisoning all of your guests in the process, don’t leave food uncovered on the bench or table, put it straight into the fridge.

It’s all in the eyes

With the year coming to a close, it is no wonder that our eyes can get weary and sore and this can be especially so at night when we are behind the wheel. Carrots are a rich source of beta-carotene which is a form of Vitamin A, known as the ‘vision vitamin’ because it helps prevent night blindness. You never know when you need your night vision goggles on whilst out socialising over summer, so get crunching on a carrot every day.

Mindfulness

Before you eat – be selective, gather only what you need, roll it around a few times and savour it, chew slowly and enjoy. Being mindful means everything tastes so much better and can prevent you from overeating.

Relax, don’t do it

We made it to the end of 2016! Refreshing and regrouping is essential for your well-being and we all need rest and relaxation for a healthy brain and body. Make sure you carve some out for yourself.

Wishing you all a safe, healthy and happy festive season and break! Well done on what you have achieved this year and here’s to next year being your best yet. Thanks so much for being part of my community and I look forward to speaking to you all in 2017.

Steptember – will you putting a spring in your step?

Yippee, just one more sleep until spring and Steptember. Nope, its not a spelling error, Steptember is just an innovative way of repurposing the first month of a new season in an energetic way.

Steptember has been initiated by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and they are asking us to take 10,000 steps a day for 28 days straight to assist people with cerebral palsy – a condition that affects movement. I love that they are asking Australia to get stepping because the positive side effects of moving more are so many.

Imagine that you are in store looking at a label with the following benefits listed:

This product can assist in the prevention and management of heart problems, diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and lung problems including asthma. It can also aid in keeping the joints and muscles mobile, increase strength and balance and is a great way of putting bone in the bank. You will be more productive in the two hours after you take it with a 24-hour improvement and if you take it for 20 minutes every second day, it will halve the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. And last but not least, it makes you look and feel a million dollars.

If this were a description of a drug, everyone would be falling over each other to get it. Here we are describing a multi-faceted performance enhancer called exercise and the benefits are obvious immediately, impressive in their magnitude and wide reaching. Despite this, although backed by irrefutable clinical evidence, little or no cost and a glowing rap sheet, around 70% of Australians are not getting enough of it for optimal health.
In the world of health promotion, exercise is continually on the agenda and yet in many first world countries the rates are well below ideal with dramatic negative impact on almost all major diseases.

Regular exercisers are familiar with the feeling of endorphin release during exercise and many people report this as being a major factor in increasing their motivation for wanting to do more. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain medication and are neurotransmitters found in the pituitary gland and around the nervous system. Endorphins interact with human opiate receptors, which reduce your perception of pain. Serotonin, an endorphin associated with depression, is usually produced in response to pain and stress but there is increasing evidence that this also occurs during exercise. The good news is that the amount of exercise does not need to be excessive and around 20-30 minutes at a moderate intensity can cause endorphin release. Exercising to exhaustion can cause endorphin levels to drop significantly but on the upside new exercisers may experience stronger effects of endorphins than someone who has been exercising regularly.

The Australian Government has some practical advice for those contemplating an exercise routine:

  • Think of movement as an opportunity not an inconvenience -opportunities to improve your health include walking the kids to school, parking your car further away from your destination
  • Be active everyday in as many ways as you can
  • Put together 30 minutes of exercise each day – you can accumulate 30 minutes of exercise across the day when the opportunity arises
  • If you can, enjoy some vigorous exercise for extra health and fitness

But back to Steptember. On the back of a long and cold winter, spring seems the perfect time to kick-start a new exercise routine doesn’t it? Gunning for 10,000 steps each day for 28 days in Steptember, also seems like a perfect way to get yourself started.

There are a few different ways to keep track of your daily steps – you can try a Fitbit or similar device or most smartphones come with an inbuilt tracker you can use too. Measuring your daily stepping action can be a powerful way of being accountable and can provide the motivation you sometimes need to have to keep your health at the forefront of your mind.

But here’s the kicker. Its one thing to think about doing 10,000 steps every day but quite another to actually do them. Research shows when it comes to achieving goals, the chance of success increases by 33% if it is shared with others and by up to 72% if money is put on the line. A super cool concept called Promise or Pay combines these two approaches to help you stick to your goals by donating to charity if you don’t follow through and encouraging others to donate if you succeed. To me, Steptember and Promise or Pay seem to be the perfect marriage.

Are you joining me in stepping it out in Steptember?

The beauty of a wellness retreat

A yoga and wellness retreat. Have you ever been to one?

To be quite honest, yoga and I have had a rather rocky relationship over many years. There have been many times that I have been so discouraged with my ineptitude that I lost all hope of the relationship going anywhere. There was certainly no zen to be found in any of our encounters. I tried courses. I tried programs. I tried just going. And yet, so many of the poses continued to be unavailable to me on a regular basis.

After a few years of much needed separation, one of my friends invited me to join her for a yoga class with a teacher she described quite simply as fabulous. Naturally I was wary of rekindling something that so far had produced only angst, suffering and anti-zen. But you know what? As I walked out of Mia’s cosy, calm and welcoming studio that day, everything had changed.

I got me some zen.

As a Performance Specialist, I show people how to weave movement, healthy food, sleep and less stress into their lives to enable them to access their best performance on a mental and physical basis. Of course, I can advise people how to do this in person, over the phone, in an online course or through sharing the written word but these are all delivered over short periods of time.

My friend Siobhan, a fellow Australian, had moved to Italy seven years previously and had been running amazing yoga retreats in the ever popular Tuscan region of Italy. We have much in common in the wellness arena and ironically fuelled by many a caffeine driven conversation, I quickly realised that bringing people together for an wellness retreat was something I would love to do. My mission was to incorporate all aspects of wellness and health in addition to amazing food, local wine full of antioxidants, a spectacular and restful setting, a spot of culture and a healthy dose of fun all underpinned by oodles of zen in the form of yoga incorporated into each day. Tall order you say?

Well, now more than two years of busting yoga moves, I have just realised a dream and finished running my very first Yoga and Wellness Retreat in Tuscany, Italy.

It seems that there are people around the world that agree with my tall order and last month, fourteen people joined me at the Yoga in Italy’s Il Borghino villa in the hills overlooking beautiful Lucca, Tuscany for seven days and nights. Quite the international cohort, the retreat attracted people from Western Australia, the UK, Scotland, Canada and the US, all looking for a slice of wellness.

By bringing people together from various corners of the world with unique personalities, outlooks and different life experiences, I worried that my retreat goers wouldn’t like each other or they wouldn’t enjoy what I had planned or the yoga would be too hard or too easy or they would struggle with vegetarian food. The list goes on. It became obvious within the first few hours of everyone arriving that I needn’t have spent a single second wasting energy on creating those elaborate scenarios. I had 14 beautiful people along for the ride and let’s face it – anyone making the effort to travel to a yoga and wellness retreat in a foreign country requires a positive mindset and willingness to be open to new experiences.

On that first night, whilst enjoying our welcome dinner of authentic Italian lasagne overlooking the shimmering pool under the stars, accompanied by the wine grown around us and fireflies drifting between the garden foliage, the week stretched deliciously ahead.

Each morning started with freshly brewed coffee or tea followed by 90 minutes of Iyengar yoga. Let’s be clear from the outset that I have not performed miracles and become a yoga teacher in the shortest time frame known to man. No, no, no.

Our yogi Vicki was a New Yorker but had been living in Italy for the past eight years. Along with everyone else in the group, I have never experienced yoga like this before. It is difficult to find the right words to describe Vicki – her way of teaching, her life lessons and the way that she instilled the love of yoga into every single person over seven special days was truly unique. The yoga experience in the room varied hugely, all the way from never having done a single move through to occasional yoginess and then right up to getting bendy every other day. Somehow Vicki catered to each level, making it comfortable yet challenging for each and every person and with gentle firmness throughout the session, she would remind us that we could do better or we could do more in particular poses and encouraged us to imagine what could happen if we held a pose for just that bit longer. Vicki made us all want to go that bit further and reminded us not to forget that time and space are essential for anything to grow. Namaste Vicki.

An activity marked each day and included – a scenic walk down (and of course, then back up again) to the very picturesque Tenuta Maria Teresa – a local vineyard where we sampled their wares, a bike and walking cultural tour of Lucca with the talented and entertaining Federico, a hike between the villages and over the mountains of the Cinque Terre with all its spectacular views and scrumptious seafood, a night out at the Puccini opera in one of the oldest churches in Italy and a delectable cooking lesson making pesto, gnocchi and tiramisu with Maria Angela our 76 year old chef.

Almost everyone at the retreat was not vegetarian and yet, the food was one of the highlights. Maria Angela makes the food each day with love, love, love and it showed in every single dish she created. There were ooh’s and aah’s around the table at every mealtime and animated discussions about whether we could recreate these delights back home. Thankfully, last year Maria Angela and Siobhan compiled “Food for Thought,’ a cookbook containing all the ancient recipes that are prepared on a daily basis for the yoga and wellness retreats. I think I have ticked off five items so far – only another 30 to go! Time and space, time and space.

How do you know if a retreat has been successful? It’s in the little and the big things and just like beauty, I think it is in the eye of the beholder. It’s having time and the space to check in with your physical and mental wellbeing, the opportunity to create a plan for how you could implement positive changes in your day to day life, feeling that sense of increased flexibility and strength in your body, the joy that comes from making new friendships and laughing a bucketload, the increased energy that results from putting the freshest, healthiest ingredients into your body and your senses being taken to another level by being soaked in Italian history, culture and countryside.

As retreat leader, I took so much away from those seven days. I know that the conversations that were had and the fact that my gorgeous group of attendees were refusing to entertain the idea of leaving Il Borghino EVER, were pretty clear indicators that they too, took much away back to their corner of the globe. Ciao for now Italia.

I truly believe that we all need something to look forward to and with that in mind, registrations are open for my 2017 Italian Yoga and Wellness Retreats. The first week in June is fully booked but the second week from the 1st-8th July is now open. If you or anyone you know would like to find some zen, drop me a line at julie@juliemeek.com.au for a brochure and further details.