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

How to Break the Snooze Habit

Snooze Button This morning I woke up to the sound of raindrops not so gently tapping on my bedroom window, just moments before my alarm started blaring in my ear. That alarm is the obvious sign that I need to get up and at ‘em and meet my buddies for a run. But you know what, the rain, cold and pitch black outdoors beat me today and instead I turned the alarm off and snuggled back into my doona. This doesn’t happen very often but when it does, it is inevitable that when I do eventually wake up and get stuck into my day, I beat myself up about not doing my daily exercise. I am not a very nice person to be around if I don’t get my body into some fitness action to start the day. And the thing is, if I miss my morning workout, with three young children and a business to run, the opportunity to get out and exercise doesn’t present itself again that day.

I know lots of people experience the same problem with the good old snooze button. Your arm gets a good workout but not much else. The question is, how can we ditch the dithering, avoid the snooze button and get away from our happy place under the blankets?

  • Put your alarm out of arms reach. Whether it is an alarm clock on your bedside table or on your phone, put it far enough away that you have to physically get out of bed to reach it. It’s way too easy to get your arm into snooze action if your alarm is close and handy. Placing it by the bedroom door is probably the best place so that you can just keep moving on out and get your gear on.
  • If you are a serial alarm avoider, have you heard about the alarm clock that runs away and hides to get you out of bed? You can choose from either the Clocky or Tocky, both runaway alarm clocks that are super durable and can jump from a 3 feet high nightstand. It just keeps up the alarm until you get yourself out of bed to find it – destined to become your best friend or worst enemy.
  • Set your alarm for the ACTUAL time you need to get out of bed not the time that allows you to hit the snooze button 50 times. This is one of my own downfalls because my alarm repeats every seven minutes and I often factor in a couple of these intervals before I get up. The reality is, the quality of this interval sleeping is never good and it much preferable to just get up already!
  • Have your exercise clothes and equipment at the ready the night before. It can be rather difficult to find ones exercise gear when still in the slumber zone (especially if its still dark), so don’t place that hurdle in front of yourself.
  • If you need to have small snack or drink before your workout, prepare it the night before, eliminating any need for using sharp instruments when your body is not yet functioning – because lets face it, that cannot end well.

Dare to leave the flock

walking sts of viterbo

I don’t do jaywalking.  It is forever linked with my 15 year old self and a very heavy hand gripping my shoulder.

A hand that appeared out of nowhere while I casually flicked through the clothes rack of my favourite department store. The burly policeman attached to the hand had followed me unseen from the moment I crossed the busy city street, initially with a green light but caught in the transition to flashing danger red.

The paralysing fear was overwhelming and something I have never forgotten.

Why then, many years down the track, did I find myself crossing a crazy busy intersection with a horde of other commuters against the lights? Simply because I switched off my brain, became a sheep and went for the basic default option of following the crowd.

But isn’t that exactly what we do in other parts of our lives when confronted by irrefutable evidence that something or anything needs to change?  Those somethings are the things we need to do to improve our physical and mental performance and well-being.

We follow the crowd rather than stand out from it. We so easily revert to the default position which requires no thought, no action and no configuration.

Hitting the snooze button instead of getting up and exercising, broken relationships and ineffective communication, making poor food choices, putting up with a stressful job, getting caught up in social drinking, being mindless rather than mindful and not striving for more than the average.

Resist the default.

 

Take a look outside

Fiona Wood

Dr Fiona Wood is a woman of many talents and maximises every possible opportunity to put them to good use. She became instantly known worldwide when the tragic events of the 2002 Bali bombings unfolded, with her team working day and night to care for badly burned victims.  It was during this time that the “spray on skin” cell technology pioneered by Dr Wood was used extensively and, in recognition of this work with the Bali bombing victims, Fiona was named a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003. Understandably, she describes this time in her life as brutal, with the workload, emotional toll and the travel hours extreme. For Fiona, in her line of work, the external environment of care could vary widely from a bombsite to a hospital bed to the scene of an accident at the side of the road.

When contemplating making changes to your own health behaviour, assessing your own external environment is crucial to success. Although your environment may not be as extreme as those that Fiona Wood finds herself in, it can change many times over a day or week and being aware of each scenario means that you can adapt and plan accordingly. Take a look at what is going on around you and think about the things that impact on your ability to lead a healthy lifestyle such as:

Do you work too much or do you need to change the way you work?

Identifying the ‘stuff’ that stresses you out and figuring out a way to reduce or eliminate it.

Do you get rave reviews when you cook or do your skills need a little fine-tuning?

Do you have food in the pantry or is the cupboard bare? Being organised with a shopping routine makes it easier to eat well. If you don’t have time to get to the shops (or even if you do), spend a fraction of the time doing it online and avoid all the temptations that are costly to your wallet and your body.

Have you got somewhere to exercise? Access to facilities, clothing and equipment to enable exercise are going to be pretty important for a successful fitness bid.

Are you racking up enough zzzz’s? The quality and quantity of your sleep routine can dictate the outcome of whether you exercise, what and how much you eat and how productive you are during the day.

Financial health – your income and budget can impact some aspects of leading a healthy life but sometimes its more about prioritising  how we spend our money.

The weather – we all know that rain is plain old water but factoring it into your exercise plans removes another barrier.  Perhaps you don’t want to get onto your bike in the pelting rain but Plan B might be the gym or weights at home for some strength training. Conversely, it is usually too hot to run during the day in summer (in Australia at least) but early mornings are too good to miss.

Skill power – are you aware of the skills required to steer your health in the right direction? How will you find out what skills you need? If you don’t possess these skills, how can you get them?

Looking after the environment in this case means your own patch of well-being.  Does it mean engaging a personal trainer or finding an exercise buddy, seeking out help from health professionals such as your GP, Dietitian or Psychologist? Upskilling of self by learning meditation, taking cooking classes, shopping online, doing a short course or further studies? Information is only a click away and it is yours to access.

Improving the quality of your life and reducing your risk factors for chronic disease or having enough energy to play with the kids after a hard days work are all worthy outcomes.   Of course, let’s not forget feeling good about yourself, being happy with your body and feeling fit and strong. These are great results not only for yourself but also for your loved ones.  Take a look around and see what you find.

 

Will you be my buddy?

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 are literally yelling for help with their bodies. Despite the prevalence of obesity and lifestyle diseases skyrocketing, just 2% of the Australian state and federal budget is spent on preventative health with the bulk of it spent on the treatment of disease. Of course, 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 clearly 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 good left to my own devices.  Despite 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 because I don’t want to let them down.  My buddies and I agreed from the outset that rain is just water and unless it is hailing 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 could 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

  1. Exercise goals that match
  2. 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, I will give it a miss”. 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.
  3. 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
  4. Time available – Ensure that you meet at a time with minimal distractions that suits both of you
  5. Compatibility.

Of course, the buddy system can be easily applied to any aspect of your health that you are wanting to improve not just exercise. 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 whilst enjoying the fresh air is medicine for the soul and lets not forget one of the greatest benefits, fun.

Dynamic Duo
Dynamic Duo

 

Calm, Happiness and Balance

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On the first day of every year it is unbelievably tempting to lay down the New Year resolutions isnt it? It is the very first question asked by EVERYONE you stumble across in the beginnings of the new year and there is always unspoken pressure to come up with a list that is unusual, different and a cut above the rest. Isnt it curious that despite declaring grand plans for ones self, usually related to physical shape, size and well-being, beyond February no-one bothers to mention said resolutions again? The reason is simple, by the second month of the year they are a mere memory as very few people actually carry out and maintain their stated resolutions.

According to Mark Murphy, author of “Hard Goals: The Secret of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be”, people set goals all the time but 70% never end up getting carried out in any significant way. There is no doubt that most of us are aware of conventional wisdom that tells us goal setting should be SMART (specific, measurable,achievable, realistic and time limited). However, Murphy says that the key factor in sticking with resolutions isn’t that the goals aren’t clear or measurable, its that people don’t care enough about them. He does have a point when you consider that so many of our New Year resolutions are connected to our eating and exercise habits yet so few of us actually implement the desired changes on a monotonously annual basis. Mark Murphy believes that goals need to be HARD – heartfelt, animated, required and difficult to be successful. A great example of this is aiming to quit smoking because you know you should as opposed to quitting because it means you will be able to play with your kids and watch them grow up. Its all about having emotional skin in the game.

My good friend Trudy is a Deputy Principal at a busy primary school, wife and mother of two and like many of us juggles a variety of balls, some of which inevitably fall to the ground at times. In January she came up with a plan of attack for the year and designed her very own manifesto for 2013. A manifesto is defined as “A public declaration of a plan or intentions” which covers it quite nicely as Trudy has declared to all that she is simply aiming for Calm, Happiness and Balance in her life. Although a manifesto could be interpreted as a rework of goals, it can be used as an anchor to remind you of what you are trying to achieve by using a number of simple words that can be written in opportune places  (diary, phone, computer or other device, steering wheel – very important if you are choosing calm, or fridge) to remind you.

What is your personal HARD manifesto for 2013?

Are you on Empty?

Today I would simply like to share a great post by my friend and colleague Dr Jenny Brockis on the issue of checking the level of your brain fuel.  The topic could not be more vital as we gear up for the Festive Season scamper. Her tips could be a crucial factor in whether you make it to the finish line. Check out the wisdom of Dr Jenny Brockis right now.  Your brain and body will thank you.  

The Twelve Days of Christmas (with a twist)

Thanks to three kids 8 years and under, I have a lot of Christmas books.  One in particular is a huge favourite with the kids and that is ‘The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas’ by Heath McKenzie.  So, I thought what fun it would be if I could share twelve performance tips with a twist with you over the next 12 days.  What? I can see you counting your fingers and working out that today is in fact the 2nd day of Christmas, not the first.  This is because like everyone else, I feel like a mouse on a wheel and the first day of Christmas simply slipped me by.  So let me catch you up. On the first day of christmas my true love gave to me…. a kookaburra in a gum tree. Clearly this means that we should get active and climb a tree or fly a kite maybe?.  Just in case you can’t do that, pick a form of physical activity that you enjoy because its time to start putting some exercise in the bank.  We all know that the festive season means party, party, party. Its just like managing a bank account and if you are budgeting for a big ticket item (like a party or event), this means doing some saving. Given that the light streams through the windows before 5am, it is so much easier to get up at the moment and get moving. Remember the key elements of a successful workout:

  • Don’t hit the snooze button – it always seems like a good idea at the time but its a secret trick to keep you in bed
  • Put your alarm far enough away from you so that you HAVE to get out of bed to shut it up. I have put it down the hallway before.
  • Find a buddy – someone who will stick with you thick and thin and won’t let you down
  • Put your clothes and shoes out the night before, theres nothing like prior preparation to prevent PP
  • Get a sweat up and burn some fat that may have inadvertently deposited itself whilst out socialising

Oh, and just do it.