Victoria Hall

Exercise Could Help Ease SAD This Winter

yoga

Darker mornings and longer evenings mean that a lot of us rarely catch much daylight during the week. According to YouGov, around 29 percent of the UK battle with debilitating SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), while almost two thirds of us feel noticeably less happy during the winter months compared to the summer. The lack of sunlight throughout the colder months can affect your melatonin and serotonin levels, and leave you feeling tired, lethargic, anxious and depressed.  

Spring might feel like a long way away, but if you have suffered with symptoms of SAD previously there are a few tricks you can employ to help lift your mood. Earlier this month, a study highlighted how exercise can help alleviate depression and anxiety. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital looked over data from over 8000 people and concluded that regular exercise can help reduce depressive episodes.

“Our findings strongly suggest that, when it comes to depression, genes are not destiny and that being physically active has the potential to neutralize the added risk of future episodes in individuals who are genetically vulnerable,” says Karmel Choi, PhD, of MGH and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and lead author of the study. “On average, about 35 additional minutes of physical activity each day may help people to reduce their risk and protect against future depression episodes.”

This isn’t the first study to outline the benefits exercise can have on our mood. For years, experts have been championing that well-established idea that working out releases mood-boosting endorphins. What makes this study particularly interesting is that the researchers discovered that both high-intensity activities, such as aerobics and dances, and low-intensity forms, including yoga and stretching, can help reduce your chances of having a depressive episode. In fact, the researchers concluded that by adding four hours of exercise into your week can reduce it by 17 percent.

What does four hours of exercise look like? Well, it could be four hours of cardio in the gym, or a weekly 1.5 hour yoga class paired with 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week. If that feels like too much of a commitment but SAD is something you’ve struggled with previously, Shabir has a couple of tricks to help, including two fast-acting supplements – read more, here.

Why Health Experts Want Us All To Start Running

running

We are all well-versed in the benefits of exercising – even if most of us don’t workout nearly enough. There are endless studies highlighting why exercise is so good for us. Earlier this year, researchers at Columbia University discovered that a hormone (irisin) which is produced during exercise could help protect the neurons in our brain from Alzheimer’s, while scientists at the Queen Mary University of London found that working out can help prevent the breakdown of cartilage caused by osteoarthritis. 

This week, a study honed in on the importance of running. Researchers reviewed data from 14 studies and concluded that any amount of running can help lower your risk of death by 27%. Yes, whether you run once a day, once a week or just a couple of times a week, you will help improve your health. The researchers also highlighted that neither your speed nor your distance mattered either. Although they did conclude: ‘Increased rates of participation in running, regardless of its dose, would probably lead to substantial improvements in population health and longevity.’

This isn’t the first time running has been specifically highlighted by the science community. Last year, Brigham Young University found that running can help improve our brain health. “Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on memory of chronic stress,” the study lead, Jeff Edwards said at the time.

Fitness expert and celebrity trainer, Dalton Wong is an advocate of running: “Running is an excellent and low cost cardiovascular exercise that can be done anywhere. It can be suitable for all fitness levels,” says Wong. “Running outside is also an excellent way to connect with nature. Fresh air and vitamin D is always beneficial to the body.”

So, how can we improve our running game?

Invest in your trainers: To fully support your feet and avoid injury, it is worth investing in a decent pair of running shoes.

Check your gait: Plenty of sport shops offer gait analysis, which will correct any form issues and also help prevent injury. Several places offer video analysis, so you can see on the screen where you’re going wrong. 

Download a running app: If finding the motivation is where you seem to fall short and you don’t have the budget for a personal trainer, download an app. Nike’s Running Club app tracks your runs, offers in-app coaching, celebrates your achievements and allows your friends to tap in and offer encouragement. 

Embrace podcasts: Try listening to a podcast rather than music. Start with a 30 minute one (Joan and Jericha season 2 is equally as funny as the first if you enjoy satire) and build up to an hour long one (Off Menu with Ed Gamble and James Acaster or Adam Buxton’s interviews will keep you amused). 

Don’t forget your R&R: There’s nothing worse than enjoying a long, steady run only to wake up feeling sore and stiff two days later. Soaking in a bath of magnesium flakes or massaging Better You’s Magnesium Oil Original Spray into limbs post-run can help ease delayed onset muscle soreness. 

Should We All Be Eating Seasonally?

SeasonalEating

With most of us becoming increasingly aware of our carbon footprint, eating the fruit and vegetables that are in season is common practice for a lot of households these days. Companies such as Odd Box and Farm Drop have made it effortless with their weekly deliveries of locally sourced produce that supermarkets have rejected due to their peculiar shapes and sizes. 

There are other benefits to eating seasonally too. Speak to almost any nutritionist and dietitian about how to eat a healthy, balanced diet and they’ll recommend you shop seasonally as the food is deemed to be more nutrient rich.

It is also a fundamental pillar of Chinese medicine, as founder of Hayo’u explains: “Chinese wisdom has suggested ways to adjust what we do every season to stay in balance with nature. The amount we sleep, the food we eat and the life choices we make can be gently adjusted to bring us into line with the natural cycle.”

So, what should we be eating?

Root vegetables are very much in season. Think carrots, beetroots and artichokes. “Bone stews, warming casseroles, fresh ginger, turmeric and miso soup paste are all good things to indulge in,” says Brindle. 

It’s definitely time to lay-off the salads as it’s thought that eating too much cold, raw food during the winter can play havoc with your digestion. However, warming, hearty soups and stews packed full of grains, cabbage and root vegetables alongside a cup of ginger tea – cue Triple Leaf Tea’s Ginger Tea – can do wonders for you.

Brindle goes as far as to recommend going no colder than room temperature. “I only eat warm food and definitely no ice in my drinks to avoid unnecessary work for my digestion,” says Brindle. “In Chinese medicine, the stomach is described as a bubbling cauldron, full of digestive fires that are put out by the cold. Any raw food sits undigested in your stomach.”

Will eating seasonally fend off colds and lurgies?

As we mentioned, seasonal produce is thought to be more nutrient dense, however you need to eat a lot of vegetables to ensure you’re maintaining the daily amounts to keep your body at optimum health. Hence why Alive Once Daily Multivitamin by Natures Way are one of the most common supplements Shabir recommends to readers.

If you are prone to catching colds throughout autumn and winter it might be worth introducing Daily Immunity by VH into your routine. With the help of probiotics, zinc, vitamin D and C and astragalus, this daily supplement helps to support your immune system. It’s one of those supplements that you don’t realise is working until you stop taking it and start to feel the glands in your throat.

To learn more about Chinese medicine and eating seasonally, check out Katie Brindle’s book, Yang Sheng: The Art Of Chinese Self Healing

Can Lifestyle Changes Improve Your Fertility?

fertility

The ever burgeoning wellness market has taken fertility under its wing over the past year or so. More than a handful of apps that monitor your cycle and deliver daily tips on boosting your fertility have popped up in the App Store. Not to mention a growing number of fertility focused subscription boxes which promise to help you conceive with prenatal vitamins and ovulation tests. 

But, should we be treating fertility as a commodity or take heed from our mothers and make a few lifestyle tweaks? Fertility expert and author of My Fertility Guide: How to get pregnant naturally, Dr Attilio D’Alberto advocates the latter. So, what should we be doing?

Up your vitamin B intake

It’s not uncommon for women to be low in B vitamins, but a deficiency can impact your chances of conceiving. Vitamin B12 is particularly important when it comes to fertility. Dr D’Alberto recommends taking a high does and looking for supplements that contain 50mg of B6 and 1mg of B12. Brands such as Wild Nutrition and VitaBiotics have formulated supplements to help boost your intake of the vital vitamins and nutrients. 

If you want to improve your B12 levels specifically, Shabir regularly recommends investing in Jarrow Formulas Methyl B12 and has written about the supplement, here.

Cut back on your vices

It’s not going to come as much of a surprise, but Dr D’Alberto strongly advocates quitting if you smoke and cutting back on your alcohol in-take. “Drinking two glasses of red wine a week can help your blood, reduce stress levels and regulate hormones,” he says. “But be careful to drink no more than two glasses a week!” If you prefer beer, Dr D’Alberto recommends no more than one or two bottles a week. 

Be mindful of chemicals

“Our bodies are surrounded by numerous chemicals from fragrances in soaps, shampoos and perfumes to make-up and cleaning products as well as nail polish that act like oestrogens,” says Dr D’Alberto. “Unknowingly, we are overdosing on these chemicals, which cause irregular hormone levels in men and women and could result in infertility.” Where possible it is worth switching to natural alternatives, such as PHB Ethical Beauty and opting for fragrance-free formulas.

Monitor your phone time

There is a small amount of research to suggest that the electromagnetic waves from your mobile phone could impact your fertility. It is based on a study that concluded that men who kept their phones in their front pockets had lower sperm levels. However, it should be noted that the men in the study were undergoing fertility treatment. That said, reducing your time spent in front of a screen could help reduce your stress levels and help you get a better night’s sleep, so it’s not a terrible idea.

Get some sleep

Speaking of sleep, everyone can benefit from seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but if you’re hoping to get pregnant, it’s key. “To enhance your fertility, try not to sleep later than 10 p.m. and sleep for seven to eight hours,” says Dr D’Alberto. “It will take  some practice if you’re not used to it, but you’ll notice how much better you will feel for it.” If sleep doesn’t come easily to you, it’s worth looking into Life Extensions Herbal Sleep PM, which helps calm and relax you without involving your hormones. 

While some of these tips might work wonders for you, everyone is different and if you are struggling to conceive we always recommend seeking advice from your doctor. For more information on Dr Attilio D’Alberto, click here.

Does Blue Light Affect Our Health?

bluelight

Over the past few years, there has been plenty of debate about the effects of blue light can have on us. While techies applaud the convenience that brighter, clearer screens offer our hectic schedules, sleep gurus and skin experts have warned about the implications they can have on our sleeping patterns and complexions. 

Last year, a study found that blue light can be detrimental to our eyes and cause damage to our cornea and retina. Researchers from the University of South China warned that we should take protective measures, especially at night to help prevent putting our eyes under oxidative stress.

Earlier this week, another study highlighted that it could be possible that blue light doesn’t just damage our eyes, but it could also affect our brain. Scientists at Oregon State University looked at the effect of blue light has on fruit flies and found that even if it’s not shining directly into your eyes, blue light can damage the neurons in your brain. 

“There is evidence suggesting that increased exposure to artificial light is a risk factor for sleep and circadian disorders,” says co-author of the study, Eileen Chow. “And with the prevalent use of LED lighting and device displays, we are subjected to increasing amounts of light in the blue spectrum, since commonly used LEDs emit a high fraction of blue light.”

Wait, what is blue light?

From your laptop to your smartphone, pretty much every screen in your home emits high-energy visible (HEV) or ‘blue’ light. Even some of your light bulbs give off blue rays. Why have we moved to blue light? Well, essentially it’s super bright and allows you to see your screen clearly in sunlight and it is thought to help boost attention and mood levels.  

How does it impact your body?

Blue light hasn’t been around for long enough for us to fully understand how it affects us, however scientists have been exploring the topic. Plenty of experts agree that blue light can disrupt our circadian rhythm and light exposure at night has been shown to decrease our melatonin (sleep hormone) levels. 

A couple of years back, a study compared the impact of blue light with green light when it comes to our body clock and found that the former suppressed our melatonin levels for twice as long. So, if you’re the kind of person who wakes up in the middle of the night and reaches for your phone, it’s time to take note and potentially invest in a gentler bedside lamp.

There have also been murmurings about the impact of blue light on our skin and some brands have even brought out formulas that promise to help protect our complexions from the premature ageing that is believed to be triggered by our screens.

Can you protect from blue light?

Aside from living by candlelight and limiting your screen time, a very easy trick is to change the light settings on your phone, laptop and computer. If you have an iPhone you’ll find this in your settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift, which you can set a timer for. While there’s not a lot of research around the benefits of the Night Shift setting, it does highlight how bright the standard blue light setting is and will help limit your exposure in the lead up to bedtime. There are also protective blue light filters in the form of glasses and phone cases. 

If you find it hard to get to sleep at night it is worth taking Cherry Night by Viridian as cherries help to boost your melatonin levels over time. Admittedly the powder does take a couple of weeks to kick into action, but you will notice that it is easier to drift off if you take it consistently every night around an hour before you want to go to bed.

For those who are concerned about the damage blue light is doing to their skin and potentially the rest of their body, it’s worth increasing your intake of antioxidants to help protect against free radical damage. Look to supplements such as astaxanthin and fulvic acid to help protect your body. We recommend Ful.Vic.Health Fulvic Acid Elixir – those who prefer tablets should try Ionicell. Fulvic acid is a fabulous antioxidant and it provides 65+ essential macro and trace minerals to your body (learn more about the benefits, here).

While a lot more research needs to be done to discover exactly how to protect our skin from blue light, dermatologists tend to recommend applying a good quality antioxidant, such as a good vitamin C serum. Regardless of your budget, Garden of Wisdom’s Vitamin C Serum 23% and Ferulic Acid is a good place to start and if you want more of a treatment mask, try Lixirskin’s Vitamin C Paste.

This is an area of research that is going to continue to evolve though. “Human lifespan has increased dramatically over the past century as we’ve found ways to treat diseases, and at the same time we have been spending more and more time with artificial light,” says Chow. “As science looks for ways to help people be healthier as they live longer, designing a healthier spectrum of light might be a possibility, not just in terms of sleeping better but in terms of overall health.”

Getting Up Early Doesn’t Work For Everyone

5am alarm clock

While Michelle Obama and Anna Wintour both wake up before 5 am to squeeze in their workout routines, Mark Wahlberg famously takes things to extremes and rises at 2.30 am to complete his brutal daily schedule. With some of the most successful people on the planet claiming that getting up early has played a part in their success, it’s easy for genetically predisposed night owls to feel slightly inadequate. 

There are plenty of books, blogs and probably a handful of apps that will promise to take you from night owl to early bird with a few simple steps. However, before you start trying the back-breaking task of moulding your body clock to Michelle Obama’s take note of the results of a study by the University of California. After monitoring the sleep data of 2,422 people, Louis Ptacek, professor of neurology at the UCSF School of Medicine found that only one in 300 people can function on an very-early-to-bed, very-early-to-wake schedule and it is coded into their genes.

“While most people struggle with getting out of bed at 4 or 5 am., people with advanced sleep phase wake up naturally at this time, rested and ready to take on the day,” said the study’s senior author, Louis Ptacek, MD, professor of neurology at the UCSF School of Medicine. “These extreme early birds tend to function well in the daytime but may have trouble staying awake for social commitments in the evening.”

They’re also more prone to migraines and SAD, so it’s definitely not all roses for extremely early risers. So, rather than trying to change your natural sleeping pattern, a wiser move would be to align your bedtime and wake-up call to ensure you’re getting enough sleep.

How can you get your sleep routine on track? First and foremost, it’s important to stick to a routine – yes, even at the weekend. If you go to bed at 11 pm and wake up at 7 am during the week, don’t be tempted to slip in a lie-in on a Saturday. Keeping your bedroom cool, dark and screen-free are tips that you will have read over and over again, but it’s because they work.

For those who struggle to calm a whirling mind, try taking a warm bath with magnesium flakes about an hour before you want to sleep. Magnesium is an essential mineral and is key for helping us to relax, yet a lot of us are deficient. If you don’t have time to bathe, incorporate ashwagandha into your evening routine. The ancient herb is a renowned adaptogen and helps to ease anxiety – Wild Nutrition’s KSM-66 Ashwagandha Plus is particularly good.