Blowing Hot and Cold 

Hot and Cold Tap heads cross design with chrome

“On the off-chance that anyone fancies a cold dip and hot sauna after, bring towel and swimmers” emailed my yoga instructor, two days before Christmas.

With cabin fever already beckoning,  I dug out my least awful swimsuit without giving the cold/hot message too much thought.  Until  I arrived at the local unheated lido to see that the water temperature was six degrees.

Exactly how cold is six degrees Celsius?

I know now that it’s colder than wading into the North Sea any time in March, when the temperature hovers around seven degrees.  I’d once swum off our eastern shoreline in December (when it’s weirdly a few degrees warmer) when I’d  been tasked by the Today newspaper in 1992 with finding Freddie the Dolphin. Injured and hanging out in Amble Harbour, north of Newcastle, he was apparently lonely and up for visitors.  I hired a boat whose skipper gave me a half wetsuit and pushed me into the freezing sea where the photographer kept me for 25 minutes,  first waiting for Freddie to appear from the inky depths (one of the scariest moments of my life) and then while he barked  “smile, smile, smile” while my shaking hands tried to stroke Freddie’s shammy leather back.

My only defence is that it was the Nineties.  Today’s millennials would have flatly refused, citing health and safety regulations. The whole extraordinary episode evidently sharpened my senses, a common side effect of cold water therapy,  because I  recall writing up the piece extremely quickly in a local pub and filing it over the phone.

Anyway, back to the waters of London’s Parliament Hill Lido which on that sunny December morning looked so very blue and so very freezing.  We followed the example of our north European cousins and went into its new sauna first for a quick warm-up, where the temperature was a cosy 80 degrees.  The bodies inside were as pink as newborns and one man was physically shaking, having  just completed twenty lengths in the icy waters of the 60 metre pool.  Mad.

I intended to do no more than jump in and scoot up a steps within seconds.

Geronimo!

The effect on the body of immersing it in freezing water is instantaneous, regardless of how much body fat you hold, and is one of the biggest jolts you can ever give it.   Otherwise known as the cold shock response, cold receptors in your skin are suddenly stimulated, causing an involuntary gasp, several in my case, followed usually by hyperventilation or very rapid breathing.  Your heart rate rapidly shoots up too – so step away anyone with high blood pressure or heart disease – as blood is diverted from extremities to your main internal organs.  Yet after less than ten minutes back in the sauna I wanted to repeat that surge of exhilaration.  So we plunged in one more time and then ran into the changing rooms, savouring that delicious feeling of your blood returning to the outer edges of your body as you warm up.

I felt invincible for the rest of the day and was back for more in the new year.  This time it was busier and everyone in the sauna seemed to be talking about cold water therapy.   Three young women were chatting to ‘James’ about their new addiction.  “I dreamt about it recently,” said one.  “It’s really helping me get over my broken relationship,” confessed another.  All three took cold showers at home (tap water comes out at around seven degrees) which prompted queries from  James about where they got their power showers, obvs, until the conversation switched to cold water therapy podcast recommendations.

I blame Gwyneth Paltrow and Hugh Fearnly-Wittingstall, both of whom have relayed  the wellness benefits of cold water in the last few weeks. Our favourite double-barrelled named chef tried it out on the TV show Easy Ways to Live Well  in a bid to tackle his anxiety.  He joined a group of cold water converts in a painful 4.3 degree lido and in between loud gasps for breath, was the only one screaming: “OH MY GOD this is so unbelievably cold, it’s SO cold”, while a gaggle of 60 year old matrons, casually treading water, giggled from afar.

There was less laughter but better swimwear on display when Gwyneth Paltrow sent her minions out to Lake Tahoe for The Goop Lab’s Cold Comfort episode on Netflix, which also aired in January (BTW you have to watch the one on female orgasms).  Could freezing  water stop their LA whining and general malaise?  With them to the lake went one of the world’s leading cold water protagonists, a Dane called Wim Hof, aka The Iceman.  He looks like the wild man of Borneo and has done some pretty wild things in his time, including running a half marathon on his bare feet in the snow and climbing Mount Everest in his shorts.  Within a few days, his deep breathing technique had turned a bunch of strung-out goopsters into hardy cold water swimmers who barely gasped as they came up from the freezing lake for air.

So how exactly does the cold-water therapy help? TV personality Dr Zoe Williams said on Fearnley-Whittingstall programme: “One way to think of it is that our stress ‘alert system’ has become over-sensitive in today’s world, and a short blast of freezing cold water every morning reminds it what a real threat feels like, and makes those everyday irritabilities less likely to trigger the full stress response.”

My second plunge into the lido, by now a balmy eight degrees in January, saw me jump into the middle of the pool and swim ten metres to the steps. Initially, all I could think of was that frozen water scene in the film Titantic. On the night of the real disaster, the water was something like minus two degrees and Kate Winslet’s Rose would have frozen solid alongside Jack with his memorably blue lips.  But puffing through that ten metre swim to the ladder felt totally doable. In fact I did the hot sauna/cold plunge routine three times and then strode across Hampstead Heath afterwards with wet hair plastered to my head, but feeling like I was luminous. That night I fell asleep instantly and woke up at 5 am instead of the usual 4 am. Result.

Apart from being mood-enhancing, cold water plunging can help achy joints by  constricting blood vessels and reducing inflammation. It also releases brain positive endorphins,  which is good for depressives,  triggers the aforementioned sleep hormones, and there is even talk of it generally making you live longer.  Biologist and Harvard Professor David Sinclair, who looks a very young  51, explains that slowing down the ageing process may be connected with the cold turning bad white fat into good brown fat.

“Specifically, the sirtuin-3 gene gets activated by cold, which promotes the browning of fat, which we believe is good for us.  Brown fat is full of mitochondria that use energy and speeds up the metabolism.”

I am contemplating daily cold showers and in the meantime dunk my head into a sink of cold water after washing my hair in a bid to leave it super shiny. Add that to the cold pool therapy and I’m slowly getting there.

Wim Hof has said:  “At one point the cold will feel just as comfortable as wearing your favourite pyjamas.”

Well, maybe.  I’m just not sure Gill would ever agree.

Inflammation Could Be Affecting Your Focus

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From achy joints and sore throats to puffy eyes and acne breakouts, inflammation is often the root cause of many health and beauty issues. This week, a new study revealed that it could also be the reason behind ‘brain fog’. Researchers at the University of Birmingham found that inflammation can essentially block the brain’s ability to reach and maintain a state of alertness. 

The study consisted of 20 young men, who were given a salmonella typhoid vaccine to cause temporary inflammation and then two hours later their concentration levels were measured as they looked at simple images on a computer screen.

The men were injected with water on a different day and put through the same cognitive tests. On both days, their blood was taken to assess inflammation levels too. While our ability to prioritise and select when to pay attention and when not to was not impacted by inflammation, the results found that staying alert was. “These results show quite clearly that there’s a very specific part of the brain network that’s affected by inflammation,” says Dr Ali Mazaheri, a senior author of the study. “This could explain ‘brain fog’.”

Co-author of the study, Professor Jane Raymond adds: “This research finding is a major step forward in understanding the links between physical, cognitive, and mental health and tells us that even the mildest of illnesses may reduce alertness.” With around 12 million people in the UK suffering from a chronic medical condition and a lot of them reporting feeling mentally sluggish, this study could offer a new potential line of treatment.

What about those who don’t necessarily suffer with a chronic medical condition, but do suffer with ‘brain fog’ from time to time? Well, taking steps to reduce any inflammation and support your cognitive functions could help.

How can you reduce inflammation?

Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for centuries and is regularly championed today for its anti-inflammatory powers. It is the curcumin in turmeric that is particularly good. While it helps to reduce inflammation throughout your body, research has pinpointed curcumin as a particularly good compound to supporting brain functions too.

“Curcumin’s potent anti-inflammatory properties are theorised to offer protection against cognitive decline which occurs with age,” explains Shabir Daya, co-founder of Victoria Health and registered pharmacist. “The incidences of cognitive decline are markedly lower in populations whose diet includes turmeric and although full blown clinical studies need to be carried out to confirm this, it does nevertheless appear that there is a link between the ingestion of turmeric and brain protection.”

Shabir recommends Curcumin Elite by Life Extension as it has been shown to be absorbed more efficiently than other curcumin supplements – you can read more about this here.

How can you boost your brain’s alertness?

Omega 3 fatty acids have been linked to healthy brain function, including concentration and memory for years. Shabir recommends that taking Lion Heart Pure Omega 3 Fish Oil from your 20s onwards to help support your cognitive functions (just one of the many benefits of omega 3!). If you’re vegan or vegetarian, try Echiomega as a great alternative. 

It goes without saying that getting a better night’s sleep will not only help your body reduce inflammation and relax, but it also ensures you’re more alert and focused during the day. It’s worth making sure your magnesium levels are topped up. Magnesium is a vital mineral for many functions across our body, yet a lot of us run of low levels without realising. Neuro-Mag by Life Extensions is worth the investment if you’re concerned about your levels.

If your sleep patterns are regular ad sufficient and you just need something to help power you through the afternoons, try Limitless Plus by VH. This is Shabir’s natural nootropic formulation and utilises a patented extract derived from a special non-GMO tomato plant called Noomato™, which helps not only speed up the time it takes you to mentally process information, but also aids your recall. The supplement contains another patented complex, Neumentix™ which helps reduce oxidative stress.

While more research needs to be done to fully understand the link between inflammation and our cognitive functions, trying to reduce any inflammation in your body is rarely a bad thing.

Why Blueberries Are The Ultimate Super Fruit

Blueberries

Blueberries have been touted as a super fruit for years thanks to their antioxidant powers. Plenty of studies have cemented their position as the top fruit with research revealing that blueberries can help combat oxidative stress, which is known to exacerbate the natural ageing process and increase the risk of age-related diseases. Read More…

Skincare Brand To Know: Garden Of Wisdom

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After recently discovering a shared love for it in our office, we thought we’d let you in on this game-changer… Garden Of Wisdom.

  • gow-niacinamide-itp

    When a brand gets 5* ratings on just about every beauty site imaginable, we take note. And when we see seriously impressive results for ourselves, well, we go out and clear the shelves. The premise of Garden of Wisdom (it’s become so cult its also known as GOW), is simple: dubbed The Ordinary’s natural equivalent, the formulas have minimal ingredients, allowing the actives to get to work properly. The pH of the acids have been adjusted too so they don’t irritate the skin, yet still perform their roles of exfoliation while enhancing collagen.

    How long has it been around?

    Longer than we even knew! The pros have been making these formulations for over a decade. The products are potent and cruelty free without common skincare additives such as alcohol, silicones or soya. While it’s not technically new, 2019 is very much about brands with easy-to-follow skincare instructions which skip any science speak, making GOW feel very much of the moment. Read More…

The New Generation Of Gua Sha

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Chinese medicine has had a real resurgence this year with plenty of experts and beauty brands taking inspiration from the ancient ritualistic approach. It goes hand-in-hand with the modern concept of self-care and desire felt by many to strike the work/life balance and switch off.

If you follow Gill’s newsletters you’ll already be well-versed in the Hayo’u method and its authentic yet practical take on Chinese medicine and more specifically the Gua Sha massage technique. The skin-boosting Beauty Restorer has become a bestseller and offers a fool-proof approach to facial massage. This autumn, Hayo’u is launching three new tools. We caught up with the founder, Katie Brindle to find out more…

The hair reviver

For some, the idea that a piece of jade stone could in anyway help boost hair growth could be a bit far-fetched. Yet the Beauty Restorer Comb has been expertly cut and chiselled to do just that. Using the same approach as the original Beauty Restorer, the comb works by boosting your circulation to drive nutrients to the follicles in your scalp.

“It also massages the acupressure points of your head, regulating the meridians (energy channels) that flow through the scalp,” says Brindle. “This is great for your overall health.”

The inspiration behind the Beauty Restorer Comb was personal for Brindle. “I inherited thin hair from my mother and grandfather then endless dieting during my teens and early 20s resulted in anything remotely resembling a luscious head of hair,” she says. “Having tried everything on the market to no avail I gave up and resorted to extensions as it was so bad.”

For those who know this feeling all too well, Brindle recommends sweeping the comb across your scalp from your forehead down to your neck. While this can be done at any time of the day, on wet or dry hair, Brindle stresses that it should be done daily for the best results.

The eye brightener

Also known as the Beauty Restorer Precision, this small paddle wand has the potential to magically brighten and smooth your eye and lip areas. “It’s really simple to use, letting you get even closer to fine lines and wrinkles, particularly around the eyes and lips,” says Brindle.

Unlike the other Hayo’u tools, you need to use small ‘flick’ movements when you use this one and use your natural facial contours as a guide. For example, trace your eye socket with small flicks to boost and lift your eye area. Like with the comb, you do need to use the Beauty Restorer Precision regularly to see any difference.

While it was designed for the eyes and lips, you can use this tool all over your body. “The fine tip means you can use it for longer and with pinpoint accuracy to reach every contour, line and wrinkle around your whole face,” says Brindle. “It can also be used on specific areas of muscular tension and joint pain to clear inflammation and stagnation.” If you spend too much time sat at a desk or on your phone, you might find it helpful in treating carpal tunnel syndrome and RSI.

The skin booster

At first glance the Beauty Restorer Lite looks exactly the same as the original. But, upon closer inspection you’ll notice that it is much slimmer and lighter. Brindle designed it for those with more delicate skin. “The older we get, the thinner and more delicate our skin gets – due to the natural loss of elastin and collagen over time, as well as hormonal changes, which weaken it,” she explains.

“Children also need a gentler tool as each layer of their skin is only around one fifth of the thickness of adults.  thinner and more delicate. Each layer of young children’s skin is around one fifth as thick as adult skin,” Brindle adds. The Beauty Restorer Lite can be used in the same way as the original tool, following the traditional Gua Sha method, to help boost circulation and reduce inflammation. It’s also particularly good at helping to clear up teenage acne and breakouts.

For more information on Hayo’u and the Gua Sha rituals, click here.

The Facial Massage Debate

Beauty Jade Tool

Facial massage has been heralded as the one stop shop for plumping, firming and smoothing skin, as well as leaving it with a radiant glow. Unsurprisingly, plenty  of skincare experts advocate the use of massage in some way to improve the quality of your skin.

Most facials incorporate some form of massage too, be it a dedicated section of the treatment or an accompanying technique when the therapist is cleansing or moisturising your skin. The reason is that massaging the skin boosts your circulation and lymphatic drainage, which in turn reduces inflammation and puffiness.

Over the years, massage has evolved into a full workout for your face with some experts claiming that facial exercises could take years off of you. The vigorous massage techniques and pummeling are believed to tone and sculpt your facial muscles, as well as boost that fresh glow. Not everyone is on board though. There are some experts who stress that strong massage can actually breakdown your skin’s collagen and cause more damage than good.

In their book You: Being Beautiful, both Dr Oz and Dr Michael F. Roizen argue that: “Exercising the facial muscles is a sure way to increase wrinkles. The repetitive movements of the skin, over the years, combined with the normal thinning of the collagen and elastin of the dermis, will eventually crack the skin, causing wrinkles.”

So, how should you approach facial massage?

While you want it to supercharge your circulation and get the blood flowing, you don’t want to be too rough with your skin. Hayo’u founder and Chinese medicine expert Katie Brindle developed the Beauty Restorer tool with this in mind. To work in harmony with traditional Chinese massage technique, the jade tool is perfectly shaped to fit into the natural curves of your face and helps you to gently but effectively increase circulation. Jade is renowned for its soothing, cooling powers as well.

How long should you massage your skin for?

It can be for as long or as short as you need. The Hayo’u method promotes one minute and longer 10 minute rituals depending on how much time you have to spare. Plenty of experts recommend using your hands and incorporating massage into simple tasks, such as cleansing. A cleansing oil or balm is the best texture to use as it encourages you to really work the formula into your skin.

Do you have to use tools?

Plenty of therapists use their hands rather than tools to massage their clients skin, so there’s no reason for you to invest in one in order to reap the benefits. However, if you’re not sure how to approach facial massage or want the cooling powers of jade, then we recommend looking into the Beauty Restorer.