Recently I heard that one in ten people in the UK are lonely. The lonely old lady is probably the most obvious stereotype. However, a report by the Mental Health Foundation suggests that loneliness is increasing amongst young people. Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK says that loneliness tends to be triggered by a big life event such as bereavement, poor health, money problems, children leaving home, divorce, friends dying. There are also social changes such as an increased number of people choosing to live alone (this has apparently almost doubled between 1973 and 2011). One study suggests that people of working age who live alone increase their risk of depression by up to 80% compared to those who live in families. Modern life has a lot to answer for. Social networking allows people to keep in touch – far better than in the past. Or is it? The changed way in which we keep in touch – less face to face contact, is this really better? Loneliness can lead to mental health problems such as depression, stress and anxiety. So, what can be done about it? Joining a group such as a local church, joining community outreach programmes, doing voluntary work, getting involved in small social groups will all help to keep a good social life. However, since we know that exercise can reduce the very health problems which are highlighted by loneliness; joining an exercise class would be ideal. Classes which encourage a social element, ‘walking and talking’ is a wonderful way to make friends.
Ali Ward used to be very fit but suddenly she realised that at 31yrs of age she could no longer rely on her fitness from youth. Maybe you can identify with Ali’s situation: ‘I’d had an active childhood, exercised up until my mid-twenties. So it was with surprise, and a bit of shame, when I realised how unfit I’d become around 2 years ago. I walked up a hill in the Lake District and my heart was pounding for a good 5 or more minutes afterwards. I thought “I’m not even 30 never mind 60!” It took me another year to do something about it.
So it was with excitement, trepidation and some Olympic fever that I joined SE Fitness. I began to forget about what I used to be able to do and focussed on what I was achieving.
I haven’t looked back. Yes it was hard work at first but everyone was in the same boat and the group leaders were patient and encouraging. There’s a real feeling of camaraderie in all the groups.
When it got dark, and poured with rain, (and snow) we kept turning up, others more often than me, but truly I felt better for making the effort and always finished with a smile on my face. I think exercising with others or at least with a structure helps me and a lot of other people.’
So Ali’s advice is: ‘now the sun’s shining why don’t you have a go at moving and doing something? A walk once a week finishing in the coffee shop? Try something you used to love or something new. Lots of places offer free ‘taster’ sessions and with more and more activities offered through Leisure Centres, exercise needn’t be expensive. Sutton Park and the canal paths are free! ‘
When people start a new exercise class should we be asking whether they live in a house or a bungalow? At first this might seem a very odd question but actually it begins to make sense. I was listening to the Jeremy Vine show recently discussing the benefits of older people down-sizing to a bungalow. According to Vine this would then free up a lot of larger houses for families and have some positive impact on the housing crisis. Listeners were discussing a new problem that is already affecting those who live in bungalows – ‘bungalow knees’. I started to link the knee problems people get when they start exercising to their living conditions. The conclusion I come to is that those who live in bungalows are missing out on vital exercise. If you don’t use it you lose it!
The good news is that it is quite simple to address – the important thing is to recognize it in the first place. A few ideas: when out use the stairs rather than a lift, if you live in a dorma bungalow make sure you use the stairs every day, if you use the bus use the upstairs, use the stairs instead of the escalator, use the stepper in a gym.
So, just a few ways to keep your knees functioning as they should.
David Taylor started running with us exactly 12 months ago. He has offered to share his story with our readers.
‘Last year I suffered an overwhelming bout of depression. The black dog really had got out of control and I had to leave work. My GP was fantastic and supportive; I was referred to the local Community Mental health Clinic, who, with a combination of talking therapy and medication started me on the road to recovery. I realised, however that a piece of self- help therapy would further assist my getting better: exercise.
A friend suggested that I look at running with a group and so I turned up at the Wyndley Leisure Centre one morning and was welcomed with open arms. I have never been a natural for running and found the prospect of joining a group a little daunting but I was put at ease. In the first week I could not manage to run for more than a minute, I was very unfit.
After a couple of months of 2 or 3 sessions a week I completed a 5km in a time I was pleased with. Dr Roger Bannister’s record is safe with me but I felt great all the same.
Some mornings the black dog would keep me in bed – it happens – but it was far easier to get back at the running. It pushed me enough but not too much and I gained confidence. Running in a group is a sociable event, and Sutton Park is just fantastic for the soul. Sun in the trees, steam coming off the tracks after a summer rain shower, snow weighing down the boughs, there is always something to enjoy and marvel at.
Now, I have recovered well in both mind and body and the black dog is back in his box. Running has done me the world of good’
If David’s story inspires you, why not try our free taster sessions on Saturday May 4th at 9am?
A few of my leaders commented on the progress of Lisa Porter who has been running with us for over a year. Below is Lisa’s journey:
‘Despite being a keen athlete at school I’d always been overweight as an adult. I first joined SE Fitness in January 2012, part way through my weight loss ‘journey’. I had lost about 3 stone at that point, but it was creeping back on and I certainly wasn’t fit. I think I really only signed up to satisfy myself that running wasn’t for me, but I’m still here 15 months later! I remember feeling quite relieved at my first session that there were lots of people like me, of all shapes and sizes, and not everyone was a professional looking athlete. With the support of the leaders I progressed from the beginner groups, where I could just about run for a minute, into the ‘Run Fitness’ groups and felt able in October last year to tackle my first 10km run. A photo of me at that run made me realise that the time was now right to try and lose the rest of the weight. I hadn’t put any on since taking up running, so I knew if I could finally achieve a healthy weight then this time it would stay off. A combination of regular running & Weight Watchers means I have lost another 2 stone and now find myself in ‘Run Plus’, the group for faster runners and I’m both proud, and surprised, to be there. I ‘m running about 5 miles, twice a week and feel quite frustrated when I can’t get out there to run. The social aspect of a running group and the support we give each other is really motivating. Chatting to the others means you can run a couple of miles without really noticing and there is always someone there to spur you on. If I can do it-anyone can!’
Chocolate eggs – the good and the bad
I noticed in Bristol there is an exhibition which features an original Crème egg 50 years old! Probably best not to eat this one but I wonder just how many of us have indulged in more chocolate than usual in the last couple of weeks or so. Apparently, Easter accounts for around 10 per cent of the UK chocolate spending for the year. Whilst most of this is made from milk chocolate, it is the dark that comes with the health benefits. The key ingredient cacao contains antioxidants called flavonoids that help protect cells from cancer-causing free radicals.
Scientists in Toronto discovered that these antioxidants cut the risk of stroke by more than a fifth and also that stroke patients were 50 per cent less likely to die if they ate chocolate regularly. A study at a University Hospital in Cologne looked at the effect of eating white or dark chocolate on blood pressure. The dark chocolate showed a drop in systolic blood pressure.
Other benefits of eating dark chocolate are; it may reduce cholesterol levels, improves mood and helps with depression, increases blood flow to the skin, improving complexion, improves memory, soothes coughs and reduces the risk of dementia. A study in the British Medical Journal revealed that dark chocolate may help you live longer.
By the way one crème egg comes with around 180 calories – a walk of 1.5miles would burn this one off. So, everything in moderation – there is no harm in eating a bit of chocolate and it may even be good for you.
Elaine Reading phoned me at the end of January explaining that she had had both knees replaced and wanted to get back into walking. I suggested she tried our absolute beginner group. I called Elaine after her first walk to see how she had got on, she said she was in a lot of pain with swelling but the ice packs had helped!
You can imagine how pleased I am 6 weeks later to learn how she has stuck with the walking and is gaining the rewards. I feel her story could motivate others who feel it is an impossible road back to fitness…….
‘There was no way I could walk two miles. I knew by the panic in my friends’ eyes that they were imagining rescue helicopters hovering over Sutton Park as I told them of my plan. It wasn’t long ago that I was a fully paid up member of the the blue badge parking scheme, so two miles was my Everest expedition.
Diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my twenties and now in my early sixties, I had put off the inevitable knee replacement until last summer and then had them both replaced together. With hindsight that was not the best decision I have made, one at a time would have been more sensible.
But joining the SE Fitness beginners walking group was one of my better ideas. I needed emotional support as I lacked confidence and received this from the two leaders who took turns walking at my tortoise pace and giving me constant reassurance.
An hour later I was in seventh heaven, although I did have ice packs on my knees and pain killers in my blood as soon as I got home! But I had done it; the feeling of elation was incredible.
Six weeks on I am walking fast and easily, no more ice packs or painkillers and now I am wondering when I will be able to move up to the three mile group. I have total confidence that I will be given all the support and encouragement I need to reach my goals. Now, exactly how far is base camp on Everest?’
I have really enjoyed watching how the daylight hours lengthen week by week and now we are to be rewarded with that extra hour in just one weeks’ time. I love the changing seasons but spring will always be my favourite.
Many of our readers will have been travelling to and from work in the dark for many months. But now with spring on the horizon, alongside the clocks moving forward, what a great opportunity to get into the fitness habit.
So, it is time to dust down those running shoes, clean the mud off those walking boots, service your bike and check out your outdoor gear. Walking, cycling or running on the trails of Sutton Park is now possible even after work. The Park is getting greener as shoots begin to spring showing new life – the gorse is beginning to flower more strongly as it does at this time of year, trees are ready to burst into leaf and the daffodils are out. It is well documented that those who exercise in parks or green spaces can reap the benefits of improved mental health, mood & self-esteem.
Plan to fit in a 20 minute walk as soon as you get home from work or even stop off on your way home. The temptation to stay in once you have had that cup of tea may be just too much. I believe you will feel a lot better when you sit down to your evening meal – refreshed and energized. Not only are you getting the benefit of exercise but also getting a dose of natural vitamin D from being in the daylight. Take a moment to listen to the birds and enjoy nature.
In the world of fitness and exercise, carbohydrates are of particular interest – their prime function is to provide energy. This is our fuel for exercise and healthy living. It is so important that marathon runners will ‘carbo load’ to help them run the entire 26.2 miles. That is, they over load their system with carbohydrates to take them the distance. There are still diets that reduce or even eliminate carbohydrates, many times I hear people say they are cutting down on their bread, for instance, in order to lose weight.
According to latest research they would be better to cut down on sausages, salami and bacon. These processed meats have been shown to increase our risk of various cancers and heart disease. This research was based on a study of around 450,000 people in 10 European countries, looking at their diet and health over a number of years. Eating a lot of processed meat causes 3% of premature deaths and increases the risk of dying from heart disease by 72% and cancer by 11%.
The World Cancer Fund says that by eating just 50g of processed meat (one sausage or two slices of bacon) per day can increase risk of cancer. The latest paper advises we consume around 20g of processed meat – everything in moderation. The problem with the processed meat as with processed foods in general is the high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats.
In the UK in the 1980’s around 8% of men were considered obese and now we are looking at 17%. For women the rate has increased from 9% to 21%. For children almost 1 in 5 is considered obese. This obesity is not only the outcome of overeating but also eating too much of the wrong food. If we can reduce the amount of processed food in our diet we will probably have a healthier diet.
The World Health Organization recommends we do 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week – equivalent to half an hour a day of brisk walking.
A new study looking at 654,827 adults showed that even half this amount of exercise, that is just 15 minutes of exercise a day was associated with an average of 1.8 extra years of life. Those who reported doing 150 minutes a week lived between 3.4 and 4.5 years longer than those doing no exercise. The results proved that being more active gave increased longevity among normal, overweight and obese people.
This study further suggests that it might be better to be active and obese than inactive and of normal weight.
Those who were inactive and obese died an estimated 7.2 years earlier than those who were normal weight and reported doing 150 minutes of exercise each week.
This study shows that no matter what shape or size we are, by moving briskly each day, we are adding years to our lives. With the additional benefits gained through being physically fit these added years can be enjoyed to the full.