Lets eat the rainbow – orange

The colour orange – blending the happiness of yellow and heat/energy of red.

Orange radiates warmth and sunshine. Our sunrises and sunsets glow with orange tones representing the start and ends of our daylight – the photographs below are great examples with sunrise at Lake Mungo and sunset in Tasmania.

During their time in the sun, orange fruit/vegetable producing plants use orange pigments (carotenoids) to convert sunlight energy to chlorophyl (via photosynthesis).

It’s a great way to think of orange as concentrated sunshine!

Let’s have a look at why orange fruits and vegetable are so special and why they are beneficial to our health and should be included in our diet.

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Lets eat the rainbow – red

I love the colour red. Red cars seem to go faster, red clothes look warmer and red sunsets are – just beautiful. Our blood is red and red may symbolise good fortune and luck in many Asian cultures.

Red symbolises passion, love and joy – red roses are the flower of choice on Valentine’s day.

What about red fruits and vegetables? How do they fit in to the features of red? Are they hot, spicy, passionate, lucky or just beautiful?

Let’s have a look at why red fruits and vegetable are so special and why they are beneficial to our health and should be included in our diet.

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Would you like PFAS with your microwave popcorn?

Popcorn is a pretty healthy snack and when cooked correctly it provides a load of vitamins and minerals, is low fat(excluding butter) and is really high in fibre.

From a health perspective one thing to be aware of is what’s in the packaging used in pre-packaged microwave popcorn bags.

When thinking about processed food, I tend to think about the food that’s inside the package and not the packaging itself. I’m pretty conscious of BPA used in plastic containers but not really done much research into some of the other types of packaging.

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Reconnect with nature

How often do we spend our time outside as if with blinkers on, I’m guilty of this too. Such a hurry to get from A to B, we forget to slow down and take in what’s around us. I often pass others walking to work or the shops, headphones on, head down in their own little world.

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

No wonder pedestrians with headphones on are at risk when crossing roads. So focussed on whats inside their head, they forget that there’s a world outside. No interaction or acknowledgement of their surroundings or others they pass.

When was the last time you took a walk in the park and took time to stand or sit and do nothing but take in the sights around you?

With no distractions.

Our ancestors were closely connected to their environments, they had to be. They needed to know where to find food, water, shelter and also how to avoid predators.

Many of us seem to have lost our connection with nature.

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The lowdown on functional foods

I just got back from a visit to my local supermarket to buy ingredients for tonight’s dinner. I don’t buy a lot of processed foods and I find it interesting checking out what’s on the shelves claiming to have one health benefit or another.

I wandered up and down the aisles (much to my husband’s annoyance) checking out the claims of cholesterol lowering, low fat, high protein etc on food labels.

Foods that claim to have health benefits or reduce the risk of disease are classified as functional foods.

So what are some examples of functional foods? Are functional foods a different species to natural foods?

Well – yes and no.

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I’m a gym convert

I’ve never been into playing sport or jogging.

I love watching tennis or the olympics but I never had the co-ordination or perseverance to actually be good at anything sport-wise. I did pilates reformer for few years and loved it, however I don’t count this as a real gym. I thought gyms were just for men, lifting heavy weights and showing off their muscles.

Around 4 years ago, I had a bit of health setback. Early breast cancer, which I consider myself lucky to have had diagnosed through mammogram screening, no lump or anything palpable. I had the surgery and radiation treatment and then aromatase inhibitor medication for 5 years.

I have a family history of osteoporosis and my medication decreased by my bone density – so I had to look at ways to strengthen my bones.

There’s a gym here in Sydney that only works with people who have had cancer. Unfortunate entry criteria, I know, however I checked it out, everyone there was really professional and we worked out some fitness goals that would suit me. Research has shown that exercise as part of cancer care is really beneficial And may help with adverse effects of cancer treatment (I’ve added a link to the reference at the end of page)

Increasing my bone density would be one and the other – let me see – I know how about a chin-up? Seemed like a good idea!

The gym was really well equiped, well trained health physioligists, fantastic machines and I lost my fear of the gym.

Took me a year, but at the age of 62, I did my first unassisted chin-up.

My first unassisted chin-up – so proud of myself

I became obsessed with doing chin-ups. Every time we walked past a children’s play group I looked to see if there was a suitable bar. Here in Australia, the local councils have been removing all the equipment like monkey bars which means its difficult to find a suitable bar at a height I can reach.

I’m no longer going to the cancer gym. My husband retired and I decided that we should go to the gym together.

I didn’t fancy going to a regular gym – too many fit young people.

In New South Wales (NSW) we have Police Citizens Youth Clubs (PCYC). These clubs were set up to empower young people to reach their potential via fitness and personal growth programs, with the ultimate aim to reduce crime.

Our local PCYC has a well-equiped gym and lucky for us anyone in the community is allowed to join. The membership cost is pretty reasonable and there is a wide range of people who work-out at the gym. There are personal trainers onsite (for a fee) if classes or extra help with training is needed.

I’m still doing my chin-ups and my husband is following my lead. He can do 10 chin-ups now and we are motivating each other.

I’m going to the gym at least 3 times a week now and I love going to the gym.

My next goal – I’d like to be able to do a handstand.

I encourage all women – young and old – to find a gym that is not too intimidating and set yourselves fitness goals – you will be amazed at what you can achieve.

Do you have a fitness story to share – I’d love to hear from you.

Chin-ups at the PCYC gym

Links and references

Police Citizens Youth Clubs – https://www.pcycnsw.org.au

Position Statement regarding Exercise in Cancer Care – https://www.cosa.org.au/media/332488/cosa-position-statement-v4-web-final.pdf



Get a grip

When was the last time you thought about how strong your hands were? Probably when you had to get someone else in your household to help open that pesky jar lid (of course they only opened it because you loosened it first!).

I was blown away by a scene in the latest “Tomb Raider” movie. Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) was hanging from a wrecked airplane, gripping the fuselage as she dangled over a precipice. She appeared to hold her own body weight with ease. Intrigued by her incredible grip strength, I wondered how did she get so strong? After looking into her training preparation for the movie, she was fortunate to have a personal trainer who worked with her to improve her endurance, strength and fitness.

It got me thinking about how most of us would have fared in a similar situation. Its unlikely that will need to save ourselves from falling into a deep precipice, however the ability to hold our own body weight for a period of time is a worthwhile goal. I don’t suggest that we need need to work out like Alicia Vikander, however we need a good grip strength to allow us continue to enjoy our daily activities. For example, to grip a car steering wheel, open jars, work in the garden, play sports like tennis or golf or carry a heavy shopping bag.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

As children, we dangled from playground equipment like monkey bars and didn’t think twice. Over time as we get older, we lose this ability and our innate strength, which is unfortunate. Most adults don’t use playground equipment, however its a great way to build grip strength.

Next time you are at the park see theres a monkey or chin-ups bar and see how strong your grip strength is. Can you hold your body weight while feet are off the floor?

Why is grip strength important as we get older?

Research demonstrates a downside of reduced grip strength on part of our overall health indicators ( see the end of this piece for the reference links).

We all lose muscle mass and strength from around the age of 50, this is known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia may increase the risk of falls, disability and overall fragility. The loss of muscle mass/strength (both men and women) is due to a combination of factors, including (1):

  • a reduction in activity and exercise;
  • obesity (fat replaces muscle);
  • changes within the structure of our muscles;
  • hormonal changes;
  • inadequate protein intake;
  • increased systemic inflammatory processes.

While we can’t help getting older, we do have control over our fitness (strength and flexibility) and our diet.

The results of a clinical trial involving elderly frail nursing home residents, showed progressive resistance training, in combination with multi-nutrient supplementation, improved muscle mass and decreased fragility within the active participant group (diet alone had no benefit) (2).

Grip strength is a good indicator of muscle strength and a window into overall health status. Low grip strength may indicate individuals have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke (3).

What can I do to increase my grip strength?

When we think of exercise, exercising hands and wrists is not usually at the top of the list.

There are ways to increase grip strength at home. Note: if there are any problems with arms, hands or wrists it might be worthwhile checking with health care professionals before starting.

  • Have a look at the recommendations in “Give grip strength a hand” (3) for exercises for your hands and grip strength.
  • Fill a bucket with a small amount of water and lift it up towards knees. Most buckets will hold 9 litres, so that’s 9 kilograms if filled to top measure line. Start low and add water as you build strength.
  • Use a tennis ball or other soft ball and slowly squeeze the ball. Repeat 10 times and swap to the other hand. Increase repetitions as strength increases.
  • Buy a hand grip device from the local gym shop. Try out the range of resistance before buying, its better to buy lower resistance ones and increase the repetitions as strength increases.
  • Hand weights or dumbbells – bicep curls or tricep curls or while standing with weight in each hand lift from knee to hip.

References

(1) Walston, JD 2012, Sarcopenia in older adults, Curr Opin Rheumatol, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4066461/&gt;.

(2) Exercise training and nutritional supplementation for physical frailty in very elderly people 2016, Harvard Medical School, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8190152&gt;.

(3) Give grip strength a hand 2016, Harvard Health Publishing, <https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-aging/give-grip-strength-a-hand&gt;.

(4) Musalek, C & Kirchengast, S 2017, Grip strength as an indicator of health-related quality of life in old age – A pilot study, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,<https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/14/12/1447/pdf >.

Other links to articles and papers

https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/why-a-weak-handshake-is-bad-news-for-your-heart-20150514-gh18xa.html

The PURE study – “Testing hand-grip strength could be a simple, low-cost way to predict heart attack and stroke risk”, <https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150513210142.htm&gt;


Can we lose weight without dieting?

Most think that the best way to lose weight is to go on a formal calorie counting diet. That was not my experience however it is always the case that what you put in your mouth does matter.

I have never dieted in my life – never counted calories, never bought diet foods and never joined weight loss programs. Let me tell you my story.

This is me taken in 2016 – Portugal.

Lets start at about 2012.

My weight gain was a gradual process, a couple of extra grams here or there over a number of years. I didn’t eat junk food and I thought that our diet was pretty healthy overall. Trouble is, I was eating too much of the wrong types of food.

I was diagnosed with coeliac disease in around 2005. Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disease that damages the small intestine and its capacity to absorb nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fats and can lead to severe abdominal discomfort amongst other effects.

As a consequence of this intestinal damage, in 2005 I weighed around 46kg (I’m 5ft 1 1/2 inches) due to my body being starved of nutrients.

By 2012, after being on a gluten-free(GF) diet for 7 years my weight had increased to close to 60kg. I was overweight and feeling pretty bloated.

I was very strict with my diet and only ate GF foods like lots of rice, gluten-free pastas and breads. My protein, fruit and vegetable intake was OK and within recommended guidelines. We had risotto and pasta every week and I snacked on GF biscuits. Over time my weight gradually increased.

Something had to change.

Around 2012, our family went to Fiji for 10 days holiday. To read on the plane and at the resort, I picked up a couple of books that I heard about on the radio – Michael Pollan’s, “In Defence of Food” and Loren Cordain’s, “The Paleo Diet”. These books were a revelation and changed my life. I read both over the 10 days and the information gained allowed me to take control of my weight.

As a family, our diet changed. Our kids still ate mostly the same types of food however my diet (and my husbands) changed. Over the next 6 months I lost 8kg and my husband lost 15kg.

We didn’t diet, we just changed what we ate for a period of time.

How did I do this? My tips are:

  • I cleaned out my pantry and fridge. All biscuits and pasta went in the bin. All snack foods went in the bin.
  • No risotto or white rice. No more GF pasta or any pasta.
  • No GF bread or any bread for my husband.
  • No potato or sweet potato.
  • Cut down on our dairy intake – we still had milk, yoghurt and cheese but just not as much cheese.
  • Our vegetable, fruit, fish and meat intake remained the same. All other vegetables were fine except for potato and sweet potato. No restrictions on the amount we ate.
  • We still had eggs, beans and pulses (lentils etc).
  • Breakfasts were usually some fruit and a boiled egg/s, snacks included nuts or fruit, lunch usually salads or soup and fruit and dinner a protein source and lots of vegetables. Chocolate was ok – mostly dark around 70% with less sugar.

Our exercise remained the same as did alcohol intake. The only thing that changed was the types of food we ate. We found that we weren’t hungry and felt pretty healthy – less bloated. I had no idea how many calories I ate every day and still don’t.

Over the past few years since our weight-loss, we have gradually reintroduced some foods – GF pastas made from alternative grains (lentils, buckwheat etc), brown or wild rice, GF seeded breads, sweet potato and from time to time GF crackers with dips or cheese. My husband (is not coeliac) can eat normal breads and muesli and has them every day.

My husband and I – photo taken in 2018 – Dordogne France

My weight has remained stable as has my husband’s since our weight loss in 2012. No increase or decrease. Pretty happy about that!

My take home message is that it’s equally important what you don’t eat as what you do eat.

BBQ fish and zucchini and snow pea sprouts. Healthy and yummy too.

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*** Note – This program worked for us however it may not work the same way for everyone.

*** It’s important to check with your doctor first if you suffer from diabetes or are on a medically supervised or prescribed diet before introducing these changes to your diet.


How did I start doing my chin-ups?

When I added doing a chin-up to my fitness goals in 2018, I had no idea whether or not I would be able to do one. It did take me a while but I got there in the end. So where did I start?

Here’s what helped me:

  • I bought some strength bands, they are long, strong, thick elastic bands (usually coloured according to resistance) that you can buy from gym shops or online. Not expensive, I think mine were around $20 Australian. I bought two, one thick (gives more resistance) and one thinner (less resistance).
  • My trainer at the gym, used similar bands which allowed me used to using the band. Stretching the band down, I placed 1 foot in the band and grabbed the bar with both hands. Both palms were facing toward me ( facing away is called a pull-up), carefully stepped off the bench. At first my chin-ups were fully supervised to make sure I didn’t injure myself.
  • When not at the gym, I found some playground equipment bars that were high enough off the ground so I can just reach the bar and wrapped my band and back through itself.
  • Pulling myself up to the bar as far as I could, keeping legs as straight as possible and slowly lowering down, over time this built strength and familiarity with the motion.
  • I also did some other exercises at the gym that strengthened my arm muscles ( biceps, triceps and lats) that were important for doing chin-ups.
  • Every time I go near a park now I look for a bar that would suit a chin-up. I got a little obsessed about it, and I guess that’s important because over time I will lose strength if I don’t practice.
  • If you would like to try to do a chin-up, I strongly recommend a couple of sessions at a gym with qualified trainer to start you out and make sure you don’t get injured. And of course if you already have an injury check with your doctor first before attempting. Safety first!