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.

Lacing up with the Perth Run Collective

I have become part of something that is pretty darn special. This ‘thing’ is all about having fun, staying healthy and fit and joining a bunch of other people all on the same page. Last year, lululemon athletica started up a Perth Run Collective in the city, designed to encourage people to run for fitness while having fun at the same time. A novel concept some may say but this collective has been a huge success and continues to grow like a beautiful weed. On the back of this, it made perfect sense to get this baby out into the ‘burbs and last weekend the northern suburbs got the lululemon Perth Run Collective cranking, with over 30 peeps from beginners to competent runners taking part in the first week of the Winter Reset program.

In the world of exercise and health being part of a collective is something that I feel super passionate about.

Our first lesson in preventative health happens in kindergarten when we are allocated a ‘buddy’ to do an activity, go to the bathroom, walk between classrooms or cross the road together. Buddies keep an eye on each other, look out for danger and yell for help if it is needed.

Fast forward to life as an adult and many people in first world countries need help with their health. Although the prevalence of obesity and lifestyle diseases is skyrocketing, just 2% of the Australian state and federal budgets is spent on preventative health with the bulk of the health budget spent on the treatment of disease. Treatment of disease is vital and often urgent but far more costly than prevention. It is interesting that this type of imbalance also occurs within our own group of friends and family. When someone that we love or care for becomes seriously unwell or incapacitated everyone mobilizes to get them better or out of hospital and this is key to their recovery and the crowded hospital system. Yet, how much time do we spend encouraging or enabling the same people to prevent sickness in the first place? The buddy system that we had as kids could be a very effective strategy to improve and maintain our health as adults.

I love to exercise and while I invest time on a daily basis, I also know that I am not as good left to my own devices. Regardless of my best intentions, my alarm clock and I are not the best of friends. I know that for my exercise routine to run smoothly and without incident, I need to have a weekly schedule of exercise sessions locked in and matched up with a buddy. Rachel, Belinda, Karin and Dave all have a special place in my week and they enable me to improve my fitness (hopefully I am doing the same for them too). Having an exercise buddy means increased motivation, faster progression (especially if they are faster or fitter than you), increased experimentation and knowledge, new and enhanced friendships and a good dose of fun.

Having an exercise buddy is a powerful motivator for me because I don’t want to let them down. My buddies and I agreed from the outset that rain is just water and unless hail or lightening is streaking across the sky, we are going. The added bonus of kicking off at the crack of dawn is that nobody else needs us. This is harder for those with young kids waking early but it can be an opportunity to combine strength training and cardio by pushing them in the pram.

Choosing an exercise buddy should be considered with great care. If you get the initial check right, it could be a long and healthy relationship but if not, your health and friendships could suffer.

What to look for in an exercise buddy:

  • Exercise goals that match
  • Commitment – when exercising alone, it is too easy to take your foot off the pedal. Without a buddy it is easy to tell yourself “Having one day off won’t hurt” or “I don’t feel like it.” If your exercise buddy is already on their way to meet you or is counting on you, you’re far less likely to do something like that.
  • Fitness level – it is essential that you choose someone at the same or slightly higher fitness level than you. My exercise buddies continually push me to go faster and harder which means improved fitness, strength and flexibility
  • Time available – ensure that you meet at a time with minimal distractions that suits both of you

I have come to realize that the value of an exercise buddy lies not just in health and fitness but can be so valuable in other areas of your life. Exercise buddies can spend a lot of time together over the journey and often talk about things other than exercise. Solving the issues of the world while enjoying the fresh air are medicine for the soul and, let’s not forget one of the greatest benefits, fun.

If you would like to be part of the inspiring lululemon athletica Perth Run Collective and find not one but a heap of buddies, you can join us Tuesday nights at 5.45pm at the Perth city store and/or Sunday mornings at 8.00am at Clarko Reserve, Karrinyup Road in Trigg.

What are you waiting for?

Be Well Week

Be-Well-Week

On April 17th 2007, the world as I knew it fell apart. My Dad was unexpectedly diagnosed with bowel cancer. Within one week he underwent surgery to remove 40cm of his bowel and was told that there were traces in his lymph nodes also. Within two weeks he had started a 6-month course of chemotherapy.

After the initial bouts of endless crying, I then became very angry. I was questioning why my Dad had bowel cancer when every time I looked at him he was eating fruit and vegetables, he ate whole grain bread, high fibre cereal and threw psyllium husk on anything that sat still long enough.

I then thought, what is the point of eating all this healthy food if we are going to end up with bowel cancer anyway? The thing is, although bowel cancer does have a strong genetic link, what you eat, how much you move and your general state of health affairs play a big role too.

Each year in Australia, 6,800 Australian women are diagnosed with bowel cancer and it’s the third leading cause of cancer deaths in Australia. Many of us know that cancer does not discriminate and 530 of those women diagnosed with bowel cancer are under the age of 50 years old.

For me, having a direct genetic link means that I need to be vigilant with check-ups including a colonoscopy every five years, not exactly what I would call a fun day out but knowing that it can save my life gets me there every time. If you don’t have that link though, a quicker and simpler way of checking is through a stool sample. Both women and men are advised to start screening for bowel cancer from 50 years of age but despite this, surveys in 2014 showed that only just over a third of women in this age bracket had been tested in the past couple of years. The perception that bowel cancer screening is messy and embarrassing, as well as a fear of receiving bad news are among the top reasons many women put off screening for the disease. It might sound icky but the ickiness factor is really non-existent compared to the reality of enduring cancer and all that it brings.

This week marks the inaugural Bowel Cancer Australia’s Be Well Week, aimed at women.  Don’t worry, men are not being brushed under the carpet, their turn will come later in the year. For this week and of course beyond, the message is simple.  Eat Well. Move Well, Be Well.  For great resources, information and delicious recipes, go here to check them all out.

Opera singer, Beverley Sills once suggested to “Be like a postage stamp, stick to one thing until you get there.” I often remind myself of these words because at times I find myself making the simple things complicated.  Don’t we all do just that with our health and well-being sometimes?

What is the one thing that you can do this week to eat well, move well or be well? Is it eating breakfast to start your day with energy, grabbing a piece of fruit instead of one of those fancy shmanzy doughnuts, taking a walk at lunchtime, being mindful about reducing stress in your life or getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep each night?

Don’t worry about the long list you might have, just tackle one of them. Sometimes we just need to start something.

Bowel cancer kills around 80 Australians each week. Fortunately, my Dad was one of the lucky ones and survived his fight.

What are you going to do in Be Well Week to avoid getting into the fight?

 

3 ways to make exercise fun again

Making Exercise Fun Before I start complaining about my lack of motivation to exercise based on the wet, cold and dark, I will acknowledge that I do live in Perth and that our cold weather is not exactly the same as other colder, wetter places. However, it’s all relative isn’t it?  At 5.30am my fingertips and ears still lose all circulation the minute I hit the frosty air and I can’t see where I am going through the inky darkness that surrounds me. So I am guessing that you get where I am at right now with propelling my body into action?  And yes, you would be correct in thinking that I have lost that loving feeling on every exercise front. Part of my job is to motivate other people, so I have been casting around in my own head as to what tactics I can employ to spark that flame of exercise excitement. In the process of doing this, I realised that the inspiration was right in front of me.  My three kids. They get their heart rate up all the time through so many different activities, but they don’t think about it as exercise, just fun. As they are the role models for fun, the next logical step was to consult with them to brain storm how I was going to start making exercise ‘yay’ again.  Drum roll please…the team came up with Three Ways to make exercise fun again and they might just appeal to you too:

1. Get Skippy My own Dad has always been an avid skipper and taught my siblings and I the techniques and tricks with the rope as soon as we could jump. I even won the 100m skipping event in my primary school sports carnival so I am ALL over skipping.  That is, I thought I was until I picked up the rope again.  I was immediately reminded that it is a great cardio exercise that engages your arms, core and legs and can improve bone density, coordination and balance.  Try and throw in a couple of two-minute bursts of skipping each day and you will benefit hugely. It is worth investing in a decent skipping rope and don’t forget to keep your knees slightly bent to avoid jarring knees and backs but there is no need to hurdle over the rope either, small jumps and good form are the ticket. 2. Be a tramp Like so many families with young kids, we have a trampoline in the backyard and I literally have to walk no more than 10 steps from the back door to get on it. NASA claim that the health benefits of trampolines significantly outweigh the benefits of running in that we can burn calories 15% more efficiently doing the bounce instead of pounding the pavement. Great news. But that’s not all. The action of using a trampoline helps to strengthen the tendons, ligaments and muscles around the joints and really helps engage our core muscles. And let’s not forget the increased blood flow to brain and body, firing up our mental alertness and assisting us to get warm when the days are a little on the brisk side.  Even in Perth. 3.  Hello Hula Keeping the old hula hoop where it should be on ones hips is really not one of my fortes, which I have been told many times by the ones who do know how. It is certainly a playground favourite but research shows that hula hooping compares with boot camp, aerobics and cardio kick-boxing in the fitness stakes.  Studies have found that flinging that hoop around has the potential to strengthen the muscles in your back, arms, abdomen and legs and improve balance and flexibility.  I figure that the less skilled you are at keeping that hoop in the right place, the more energy you will burn.  That bit is my own research and I am standing by it.

Lets hope these playground exercises get me going – I do think they will. What about you?  Do you have any playground activities that you use to put the fun back into exercise?    

Healthy Bones – Are you taking action?

Healthy bones This week, the 3rd – 9th August brings with it Healthy Bones Action Week, which calls on Australians of all ages to take three simple actions to build and maintain healthy bones:

  1. Increase daily serves of calcium through milk, cheese or yoghurt
  2. Go for a walk or commit to some regular exercise that you love
  3. Spend time outdoors to get more Vitamin D (which is essential for strong bones)

Don’t worry, everyone has a job to do. The biggest opportunity to build bones is when you are a kid, so if you have some under your wing, look at what they can do to make that happen. Teenagers are in the spotlight too, as the teen years are a major growth period and this is when they build one-quarter of their adult bone mass. Peak bone mass is reached when you are in your late twenties but it is super important that you continue to tick all your KPI’s, including getting enough calcium, exercise and Vitamin D to maintain the bone you have built when younger. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose calcium and other minerals, making them more likely to fracture.  In Australia, osteoporosis affects 1.2 million people, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men. The arrival of this week is always a good reminder to stop and do a quick audit of where your calcium intake is at. Aside from food, there are hereditary and lifestyle factors to consider too. I love dairy products, but still need to do a daily check just to make sure I’m ticking all the boxes. Depending on your age group you will need somewhere between 1000-1300mg per day. There are plenty of good sources (see box below) but it becomes obvious that it is not easy to get what you need from non-dairy sources. Broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables but I can’t eat almost 400 grams to get one serve of calcium! What Healthy Bones Action are YOU taking this week? Calcium sources