Hands Up – Volunteering for better health

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Voluntary work is a great way of gaining experience within a certain field or to help support your local community or charity. There are numerous options available and the health & fitness industry is no exception.

In term of health matters – the NHS offer a huge number of volunteering options that are admin based either helping within a department office or reception, as well as a number of positions assisting professional counsellors, cairopractors, doctors and even project work.

Local charities and organisations helping the elderly, Weight Management,  as well as Mental and Physical Health conditions  also need your help – again this can either be administration based or more practically based assisting with care – where even simply visiting and chatting to someone can be a huge relief and source of enjoyment for them.

On the fitness side local councils are also on the look-out for volunteers – from assistant instructors and swim coaches for the disabled, to lifestyle groups such as running or walking groups, sport specific projects such as cycling or functional movement for the elderly as well as afterschool exercise and sports clubs for children. One of the things that I did was to help run a sports day at a primary school round the corner from me.

From health & fitness  point of view- whatever your cause – one of the biggest things you can do to help is to take part in fundraising. Many charities organise specific events throughout the UK such as the Race For Life walks for breast cancer but there are other options here too such as events like Triathalons, Tough Mudder style obstacle courses, abseiling, parachuting and bungee jumps for those brave enough amongst us to tackle them where you can raise money for any charity or cause close to your heart.

As well as the physical benefits for yourself in taking part in these activities or voluntary work it also helps improves your mental health and state knowing that your help is providing that group with much needed assistance and helping to improve the health, fitness and lives of others too.

Your local Council website will usually have a section on volunteering and where you should then be able to find those related to sports and health matters or for more health related opportunities have a look at the NHS web page or contact the local organisation or charity of your choice depending on your interests and let them know what skills you can offer.

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Fitness Furries – The Health Benefits of Pets

Benefits of pets

If you’ve ever owned a pet, you probably already know how much fun and love they can bring, but they can also provide a number of mental and physical health benefits.

Studies have found that when compared to non-pet owners, those who have a pet are less likely to suffer from depression, have lower blood pressure in stressful situations and have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels  which are the indicators of heart disease.

One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that dogs,cats and even reptiles, fulfill the basic human need to touch. Even hardened criminals in prison have shown long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with our furry friends. Stroking, hugging, touching or even simply watching our pets elevates our levels of serotonin and dopamine, which help us to be calm and relaxed.

Pets can bring about a number of healthy lifestyle changes such as – Providing structure and routine to your day, giving both joy and a sense of purpose (particularly if they have come from a rescue centre). They can also provide companionship  – helping to reduce loneliness or anxiety and improve self-esteem.

Dogs especially are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and improve cardiovascular health, where research has shown dog owners are far more likely to meet their dialy exercise requirements.  I should alos point out that many animal rescue centres are open to volunteer dog walkers if you are not able to have a dog in your home.

More than any other animal, dogs have evolved to become acutely attuned to human behavior and emotions. While dogs are able to understand many of the words we use, they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures, as such can be trained to provide assistance to those with a disability, whether physical or metal helping to provide a better qualiy of life for the person.

But it doesn’t stop there….Not only do children who grow up with pets have less risk of allergies and asthma, many also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy from having pet.

As well as these benefits, owning a pet can have a number of negative impacts to your life, such as allergies, cost, long-term responsibility and time as well as their eventual loss. Each animal will also have it’s own personality and possible behaviour issues which may require additional time training and these should be considered before taking them home. Please also consider Rescue centres, as they offer a number of different pets not just dogs and cats, as well as providing options to adopt or perhaps act as a volunteer dog walker or play carer, so you can still get the same health benefits without as many downsides.

 

Food Basics – What Should We Be Eating?

Basic CMYK

This week I have been going back to basics of what we actually should be eating.

We all know that we should be watching our calories but just as important is where those calories come from.

You know the guideline about eating “5 a day”? This comes from the NHS EatWell plate which highlights the proportions of different food groups that make up a healthy diet.

In truth the “5 a day” is an oversimplification – it actually suggests a minimum  of 2 portions of fruit and  3 veg – along with portion guides for carbs, protein, dairy and even fats and sugars.

When it comes to fruit & veg, they should ideally be eaten whole and include the skin where possible.  Unfortunately juice only counts as 1 portion no matter how much you drink! A fresh smoothie on the other hand is great way to include more in your diet. Try using lots of different coloured veg to maximise the nutrition benefits.

Carbs include bread, pasta, potatoes and rice – the healthiest option is to avoid or limit any white carbs – so think more about using whole meal bread, pasta and rice and use sweet potatoes and squashes instead of white potatoes for your mash, roasts and chips.

Protein should come from a variety of sources, so limit red meats such as beef (which are higher in fat) and try to eat fish at least twice per week, as well as including some non-animal sources like nuts and beans.

When cooking try to steam, flash fry or bake in a small drizzle of oil (either olive or coconut) and avoid boiling and deep fat frying as these methods lose the most nutrients.

Try to cook from fresh when possible and avoid pre-made sauces which often contain lots of sugar.

In terms of Dairy use the lower fat varieties and for a bit of  good news – fats and sugars do form part of a healthy diet so you don’t need to completely avoid crisps and sweets to be healthy – it’s about getting the balance right!

This is why I don’t like “diets”  – they ban the things you enjoy, can restrict your calorie intake too much (to the point of starvation) and can leave you lacking in vital nutrients. While they may help in losing weight at the start, inevitably you end up hating the restrictions and (as they are usually temporary) go back to how you were eating before and put the weight back on – but more on this another time….for now, going back to basics, it is far better to eat a balanced diet that matches your body’s needs.

Getting back to the EatWell plate – the number of portions you should have, depends on your daily calorie requirement – for the average male and female with moderate activity levels this works out at approximately 2500 and 2000 respectively. If you are more active, you would need more or if you are a little more sedentary then you would need less.

If you want to calculate your individual calorie requirement you could use an online calculator such as this: Daily Calorie Calculator

Which takes into account gender, age, height and weight as well as activity levels.

A lot of people struggle with portion size – to make it easy you can use your hand as a guide: a portion of protein (eg meat) should be the size of your palm, a portion of fruit or veg the size of your open hand and a portion of carbs the size of your fist.

That’s it for the basics – if you need more help, phone apps like My Fitness Pal or VirtuaGym’s Calorie,Carb & Fat Counter can help track both your calorie and nutrient intake, and the web is full of videos and recipes for quick healthy and tasty meals – or you can even get in touch with me 😀

In a future post I’ll look a little deeper into macro nutrients, supplements, food choices/alternatives and my dislike of diets 😉

Until next time…..

Healthy food infograph