Fitness and Exercise

Ethical, environmentally friendly workout wear!

Super excited to get my new Sundried vest top and thrilled to be working with these guys as one of their brand ambassadors.

Ethical, conservation friendly workout wear from a small uk business – and this top is made from recycled plastic bottles! What’s not to love! 🙌🏼

Love this top – comfy, cool and sweat wicking! I’d highly recommend it (phew! Glad it met my expectations! 😬🤣)

If anyone else is keen to save the planet while you workout then you can get 50 percent off by using the code ‘NANCY’ on their site! Go check them out (www.sundried.com) ! 🏃🏼‍♀️

Articles, Nutrition

Are you addicted to sugar? How do you cut down?

Are you a sugar addict? I am. If you’ve ever tried to cut down on sugar and sweet foods I’m sure you’ve realised how difficult it can be. Sugar not only tastes good, but gives us an instant energy boost and at 3 or 4 pm on a grey afternoon when you’re falling asleep at your desk, it’s not surprising a quick hit of sugar in the form of sweets, chocolate, soft drinks etc seems like an easy option.

Although willpower plays a big part in this, it’s not all about willpower. Even if you make the conscious decision to cut back on the junk, chances are you may find yourself reaching for dried fruits or something at that time instead… another sugar hit…So why do we crave it?

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When it comes to sugar (and some other junk foods), it’s more about the brain not functioning quite as it should. The system in the brain that should regulate appetite and food intake and prevent us overeating, often doesn’t work. Why?

It makes us feel good

Studies have shown that eating foods that contain a lot of sugar result in a large amount of dopamine being released in the reward centre of brain. That means it makes us feel good. When you stimulate this area repeatedly i.e. by eating sugary foods frequently and in large amounts, the dopamine receptors start to down regulate i.e. they require more sugar to respond in the same way. This means that you need to eat more to get the same effect and reward.  In addition sugar also acts in a similar way to opioids on the brain (compounds which have an addictive effect on the brian) and means that withdrawal from sugar can mimic the effects of withdrawal from opiates and other similar pyschostimulants.

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In this way sugar behaves in a similar way to drugs such as nicotine and cocaine (Journal of Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews). There are numerous studies which show that the overall effect of these neurochemical adaptations is a mild, but well defined dependency (Journal of Neuroscience and The Handbook of Obesity). Animal studies have shown four behavioural components of addiction which are linked to sugar – bingeing (consuming a large amount in a limited window of time), withdrawal (behavioural and physical signs becoming apparent when sugar is not available e.g anxiety), craving (increased efforts or extreme motivation to obtain sugar) and cross-sensitzation (animals sensitized to one drug may show increased intake of a different drug if they can’t get their sugar fix. In other words, one drug acts as a “gateway” to another i.e. when they can’t get sugar, they will consume other substances which produce the same response in the brain) .  All these behavioural responses link to those neural adaptations in dopamine and opioid receptors which suggest dependency on sugar is a real phenomenon. Although human studies are limited the evidence suggests this to be the case for us too and I’m sure some of you recognise elements of this yourself.

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It’s in the genes

From an evolutionary perspective it makes sense for humans to have an inherent desire to consume foods high in simple carbohydrates and sugar, which are high in energy and calories, and would have been harder to come by in the environment in our evolutionary past. However in modern times this desire can lead to issues such as obesity, bulimia and a dependence on palatable, easy to consume food – junk food.   The concept of sugar addiction has largely been based on anecdotal reports, case studies, and self-help books but recent reviews of the literature and comparisons with animal studies are giving credence to this theory and there is mounting evidence that sugar is indeed addictive (Journal of Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews and Journal of Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care).

So sugar is evil then?

Having said all that sugar isn’t inherently bad or evil. You need sugar to survive. Glucose is the primary fuel we need to support daily functions and activities. Excess intake of glucose though is where the problem lies.  There are two problems that arise:

1.Fat storage – Any time you consume more fuel than your body needs (which is very easy when eating high sugar foods) your liver’s ability to store excess glucose as glycogen reaches it’s maximum and excess sugar is converted in to fatty acids, which are ultimately stored as fat. This will be stored wherever you tend to store fat – that might be stomach, butt, hips, thighs etc.

2. Insulin spikes – Excess sugar consumption leads to excess insulin production. Whenever you consume simple carbohydrates e.g. fruit juice, white bread. Sugary drinks, sweets, etc Insulin is released and the insulin levels in your blood rise. This means two things – firstly fat burning is turned off, so the sugar that’s just been ingested can be immediately used for energy. Which is great – so some is used for fuel straight away, but in the grand scheme of things this won’t be much, unless you’re in the middle of a really strenuous workout or endurance race!

So then insulin helps to convert the sugar to glycogen to store in your muscles – which is great… if your muscles are empty of glycogen, however in reality most of us already have pretty full stores of glycogen in our muscles so the excess sugar is actually converted to fat and stored around the body. After this the blood sugar levels will drop which means the body stops producing insulin. This feedback mechanism is slightly delayed however so blood sugar levels fall even lower than normal which leads to an increase in appetite (which means eating more food!) and production of a stress hormone cortisol. This triggers the release of stored energy from the liver to increase blood sugar levels. Now this combined with whatever you eat means you are back in the cycle of increased blood sugar and fat storage. So you end up in a continuous cycle – it’s like a rollercoaster of blood sugar levels. The cortisol in the blood can also lead to other issues like depression, allergies, immune weakness, chronic fatigue syndrome and other serious side effects.

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So if this sounds like you – what can you do?

  1. Don’t blame yourself

It’s human nature to want to eat nice tasting, high calorie things. You don’t need to blame yourself or feel guilty or ashamed. Be kind to yourself and compassionate, and above all forgive yourself. Then you can move on and actually do something about it.

  1. Sugar addiction is emotional as well as physiological

As I’ve already discussed, there is increasing evidence for physiological addiction to sugar, and at the very least the cycle of blood sugar highs and lows acts like an addiction, causing you to consume more. Often though we also crave and indulge in sugar as an emotional response – to manage stress, to cope with loneliness or boredom, to deal with anger etc. It’s the emotional component that’s the hardest to deal with.

For some people it may simply be a case of willpower, but for many it isn’t as simple as this. Using “control” to change your relationship with sugar often fails – trying to control cravings, emotions, thoughts, diet etc can often result in failure. When it fails you try harder and harder, when this doesn’t work you get frustrated, discouraged and you feel more and more helpless and the willpower fades. First you need to recognise that no matter how much sugar you eat it doesn’t work – it doesn’t bring you stress relief, happiness, rest, alleviate boredom etc. It may bring a few minutes of relief but that’s all. So embrace that fact – recognise it, believe it, repeat it to yourself. Then you need to reward yourself – not punish yourself and take practical steps (see below)

  1. Keep a food diary

Start by keeping a food diary – be honest, and track how much sugar you are actually eating, and record how you feel afterwards. What triggered the sugar craving/binge? How were you feeling before you binged? What had you been doing that day? What had you eaten that day already? etc

Do this for a week, then step back and take a look – are there any patterns? If there are you can start to address them using the tips below.

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  1. Look after yourself

Cutting down sugar isn’t easy so you need to look after your body in the process and you need to make it as easy as possible. So you need to:

  • Eat breakfast every morning – something like a protein smoothie or shake, or quinoa porridge that has protein and fats in
  • Ensure every meal has protein and fat in it
  • Eat Regularly
  • Drink more water, less juice and less soft drinks
  • Sort out a good bedtime routine to ensure you get a decent amount of sleep (lack of sleep can often drive sugar cravings as you feel tired and need the boost that sugar gives).

These steps are particularly important for those of use who succumb to the mid-afternoon snack attack!

  1. Eat Coconut oil

I’ve already told you about how fab coconut oil is (read all about it here) – now I’m not suggesting it’s the magic bullet but including it in your diet will help you to cut down on the sugar in several ways. It’s an instant energy source for one which means that if your body is craving that lift that you get from sugar it will get it from the coconut oil. So your body will use the medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil for fuel, in the same way it would use the sugar, but without the insulin spike. This means you don’t get the crash! It’s also filling too.  So try cooking your meals with it, adding a little to your shake, or having a stash of protein balls or healthy flapjacks made with coconut oil handy. If all else fails you could even have a teaspoon of it raw (or mixed with some raw cacao).

  1. Don’t buy the junk

I’m terrible for this – once I’ve bought something I feel I need to eat it! So if you’re like that too, then just don’t buy it! Avoid buying treats, biscuits, chocolate etc. If like me you’re a sucker when you get to the supermarket and just start loading your trolley with stuff then see if you can switch to online shopping. I find I buy much less of the bad stuff but using ocado – I’m not surfing the aisles being attracted by naughty foods! IF you do buy it or get given it and hate seeing it go to waste why not donate to a local food bank.

I bet there are cries of – but I need to buy it for the kids… well ask yourself – do you? Really? Would it not be 100 times better to make a batch of homemade, unrefined sugar free flapjacks or chocolate treat bars for their break-time snack than shoving a rubbish chocolate biscuit bar in their back pack? And yes it does take time to make that stuff but then it’s up to you – if you can resist eating it then by all means buy it for them, but if you know you can’t, then spend 10 mins whipping up the treat bars for the week on a Sunday evening while you’re waiting for the veg to boil….Just a thought…

  1. Replace the sugar with other things.

It’s not just about cutting out the sweets, it’s also about cutting back on the refined sugars and simple carbohydrates like white bread, white pasta, potatoes etc. So what kind of carbohydrates can you eat to avoid de-stabilizing blood sugar levels?

Well fruit is generally good – berries, apples, oranges, pears, plums, grapes, bananas (not overly ripened), grapefruit etc but try to avoid juices – their often filled with additional sweeteners, and also you’ll be consuming a lot more fruit sugar in a glass of juice than you would by eating the fruit whole.

What about more substantial foods? You need to go for complex carbs so opt for porridge, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato, whole wheat options (if you’re eating wheat), beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, corn, sweet potatoes and soy.

Try to avoid processed foods as much as possible as they tend to be full of extra refined sugars and avoid the “low fat” choices for products as they are often low in fat but high in sugars – instead go for full fat and have less!

Desperate for a lift mid-afternoon – try a small handful of almonds and cranberries, or a  frozen date with a smear of peanut butter (it’s like eating peanut butter caramel!), or for a treat try one of these raw “caramel” balls.

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  1. Don’t deprive yourself.

Make sure you allow yourself some treats at some point. But recognise where your problems lie – for example, for me chocolate after dinner is my weakness. Once I start getting in to the habit of having it I can’t stop (and I mean, I really can’t stop – I’m a chocolate monster!!) so I know that if I want a treat I’m better off having that treat mid-afternoon, not after dinner. So I’ll have my Willies chocolate bar at 4pm, that does it for me – I’ve had my treat, had my chocolate and I feel good. After dinner when I crave something sweet I’ll try go for a raw chocolate treat, or a bowl of fruit and soya yoghurt instead.  If you need alternatives check out Pure and Simple Bakes.

  1. Avoid stress – Ha! Easier said than done right?

We all get stressed and anxious but if you’re a sugar fiend then this is likely to trigger another craving so try to be mindful and address the stress before it takes over. You can try the breathing exercise I talk about in my article on overthinking as a starting point. Talk to a friend, write a journal, go for a walk or run – whatever you need to do to help you de-stress, that keeps you out of the kitchen.

  1. Plan – You never know when you might get caught out somewhere and need a snack, so rather than being at the mercy of whatever the nearest shop has on offer make sure you keep some healthier sweet snacks in your bag – A little bag of nuts and dried fruit, or a raw bar, or a homemade fruit and nut protein bar, a sachet of nut butter….

So there you go – if you’re a fellow sugar addict have a go at some of these tips and see how you get on! I’ll be trying them too 🙂

Nancy 🙂

xx

(This article was originally published on Pureformfitness.co.uk)

Articles, Mindset and Motivation

Do you think too much? How to stop over-thinking & find happiness in the moment

Hands up if you’re an over-thinker? Do you worry about past mistakes or current stresses, do you run through the various possible outcomes of every decision you take? Are you constantly asking what if? Do you over-analyse situations and social interactions – so and so didn’t smile when I said hello at the gym today… what have I done? Doesn’t she/he like me anymore? Have I annoyed them? … etc. This kind of dissecting, over-analysing and over-thinking  can lead to a spiral of negative thinking and self doubt.

For some it’s worries about present situations or actions which may lead to negative outcomes in the future, for others it may be worrying endlessly about things that have happened in the past, or over-analysing situations and experiences or even linking one bad thing to all the other bad things that have ever happened in your life. All this can result in feelings of anxiety, sadness and even depression.  When you focus on everything that can go wrong, it’s hard to think about all the things that have gone right.

So if you find yourself doing this then you are also an over-thinker or ruminator.  Studies have linked this pattern of thinking (if left unchecked) to anxiety, depression and ill health. And girls, I’m afraid we’re far more likely to behave like this than men.

So my hand is firmly up. I’m an over-thinker. I over-analyse, I dwell, I re-think, I run through hundreds of scenarios in my head, I agonise over decisions (most decisions!)… Most people may not believe me, but those closest to me know this to be true. As an over-thinker, and a sensitive one at that, I’m prone to obsessing over things – reading things in to situations or interactions that aren’t actually there. We all try to stay positive right? but I’d be lying if I said I never have negative thoughts – we all do – it’s natural. It’s how you respond to them and whether you let them take over your thinking that matters.

Being an over-thinker isn’t a bad thing in itself. It doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact psychological studies have shown that many over-thinkers are lovely, intelligent, caring people who truly value relationships and care very deeply for the people in their lives – which is one of the reasons they over-think. Sadly though the worrying, constant need for reassurance, obsessive behaviour and anxiety can push those very people away which further isolates over-thinkers and can spiral into serious anxiety and depression.  But this is not something that can simply be switched on or off, if you are an over-thinker (on any level) then it’s a pattern of thinking that requires a lot of work to get out of. If you know an over-thinker be compassionate to that – they may drive you crazy but it’s coming from a place of love, self doubt and insecurity – do your best to support them through it and maybe share some of these tips with them.

These tips are based on personal experience and pyschological research. If you feel you have a tendency to over-think then give them a try.

Admit you are an overthinker and forgive yourself

It sounds like a cliche but the first step to addressing any problem is admitting that you have it. There’s a scale there from those who might just obsess over things from time to time, through to people who find that anxiety about the future is actually stopping them enjoying the present. So if you are somewhere on this scale then yep, welcome to the club, you’re a ruminator too 🙂 If you’re not sure – ask your closest friends or family – they’ll know.

Now forgive yourself. This pattern of thinking is hard-wired in to the brain. Thoughts and memories are linked – that is the way the brain works, and so when something triggers those links it can easily lead to a series of negative thoughts and memories that have little to do with the original trigger e.g. when you drop your shopping and break the eggs, on the same day you got stuck in traffic, it’s raining, it was raining all weekend, you didn’t get the gardening done, you burnt the toast, forgot to call your friend, you’re a failure, no wonder you have no friends, in fact you deserve to have no friends, you’re rubbish…. all you do is sit around doing nothing and wasting your life…….. etc etc

In actual fact few of those events in that example are directly linked, but once something triggers a bad mood or negative thought it becomes much easier to see connections that may not exist between all the bad events that have happened in your life.  This pattern becomes learned – the more frequently you think like this the more likely you are to think like this again in the future – it’s a vicious cycle – but one that can be broken IF you’re aware of it.

What you can do to help break the pattern? Here are a few things that may help.

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Exercise and keep busy

Exercise is a great way to both occupy the mind and make you feel happier. We all know that exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones!) so what better way to help bring you out of that negative thinking than leaping around for a bit! It doesn’t have to be organised exercise like a fitness class, you could go for a cycle, swim, even a brisk walk – the more absorbing and mentally stimulating it is the better though so it pulls you out of the obsessive thinking.

Just keeping the mind busy also helps – games and hobbies are great for this – arts and crafts, painting, gardening, jewelry making, sewing, baking, drawing, playing cards, even computer games, doing a jigsaw all help. Or how about something more social – join a local club or volunteer, you never know you may meet new people as a result too, and have some fun.

Talk less

I’m definitely guilty of this one – lots of overthinkers, especially women, want to talk it out when they’re feeling stressed or worried. Now this can help – so I’m not suggesting you don’t talk, but when you get to the point that you’re just rehashing the same stuff over and over again, dissecting every little detail for the umpteenth time then you may end up talking yourself into an even more negative frame of mind. This can be even worse if it’s two overthinkers talking together! You can easily lead each other into even more anxiety. Studies have shown a link between co-rumination amongst female friends and increases in the stress hormone cortisol.

So what can you do – well talk less is one option, or talk to someone who isn’t an overthinker – or at least doesn’t overthink WITH you and will let you talk through it but stop you before you end up rehashing everything over and over.  You can also write it down, leave it for a while, then come back and read your thoughts/worries back to yourself out loud – you may find some of them seem a little silly once you do that and this will help you to dismiss them.

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Calm yourself

If you do find yourself starting to get anxious or over think then one simple thing to do to help is to calm yourself by focusing on your breathing. When your mind starts to race it can be hard to stop it racing to all the negative places so try to pause and breathe. There are lots of breathing techniques out there but one that’s easy and really works is the ‘4-7-8’ technique:

– breathe in through your nose for a count of 4

– hold your breath for 7

– breathe out through your mouth (making a whooshing sound) for 8

– repeat three or four times

By inhaling over a 4 counts you are taking in more oxygen, when you hold for 7 as much as possible of that oxygen will get in to your bloodstream initially, and then by exhaling for 8 you expel as much carbon dioxide as possible. This combats and shallow breathing and mild hyperventilation you may experience when you’re anxious or worrying and will calm you down.

Enjoy the present, be grateful and practice mindfulness

This may sound easier said than done but it’s one of the most important things you can do. The past is the past – you can’t change it, the future hasn’t happened yet so worrying about it isn’t going to help. Try to focus on today. One way to do this is to practice mindfulness. This is a form of meditation where you focus on the present moment, without dissecting or worrying about it. As obsessive, overthinking thoughts come in to your head you acknowledge them, then let them go. There are various techniques you can learn to help with this – find out more at the Mental Health Foundation Be Mindful site here (including online resources, courses and links loads of great resources). There are also other ways to practice mindfulness by being fully aware of your surroundings and what is around you every day, and there’s lots of information on the Action of Happiness site.

Another great little trick is to focus on the positive things in life, no matter how small they are. Those of you who are friends with me on facebook will no doubt be fully aware of the 100 Happy Days Challenge. It’s simple – you post a photo every day for 100 days of something that has made you happy that day – it can be anything – your morning cuppa, lunch with a friend, cuddles with the cat, absolutely anything. I’m nearly at day 400! I enjoyed it so much and found it was a brilliant way to record all the little things that make you smile – and when you’re feeling a bit low, or overthinking things you can go back and look at them and it will cheer you up. There’s more info at the 100 Happy Days Challenge site.

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I’ve also got a ‘Happy Jar’. It’s just a normal jar actually, nothing particularly happy about it but I keep a pad of paper and pen near it, and I jot down anything that’s made me smile, or any “good” things I want to record on the paper, fold it up and tuck it in the jar. At the end of the year I tip them all out and read them (a fab new year’s eve ritual) – it makes me smile, sometimes laugh out loud, and reminds me of some of the good or funny things that have happened over the year that I’d otherwise forget. I don’t do it religiously every day, it’s not meant to be a chore, but I record stuff as and when. And if you’re having a really bad day – reach in, unfold one of them and read it – it will probably make you smile 🙂 It’s a fantastic way of making you feel grateful for the little things in life, taking the focus away from the negative and helping when you are over-thinking – about anything!

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If you find over-thinking is taking over and you need more help then do talk to your GP about it, or you can find a local therapist from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

Nancy 🙂

xx

 

(This article was originally published on Pureformfitness.co.uk)

Articles, Fitness and Exercise

How to get the best out of your exercise class or personal training session?

It sounds simple doesn’t – all you need to do is turn up and do the class, or turn up and be beasted by your trainer and you’ll get fitter. Well, yes, on some levels that’s true but you could be getting so much more out of your sessions. Have you ever wondered why your trainer or class instructor was telling you to do a particular exercise? Have you ever wondered if there was a different movement you could do that would get the same results? Maybe one that was less scary to try? Are you doing everything you can to maximise the benefits of your time spent working out? Here are a few tips. Now many of the things I mention here you may think only apply to personal training or one on one sessions but think about bringing them in to your exercise classes too – I promise you’ll see the benefits.

Be prepared

Ok so this may be an obvious one but you’ve got to be prepared for your session. This doesn’t mean a massive time investment or lots of thought, but just a few simple things. You don’t want to miss your session because you forgot to have your kit with you right? So make sure you have your kit with you or keep a spare set at work, or factor in the time you need to get home and get changed. I often hear people telling me they can’t make the evening classes at the gym as there isn’t time to get home, get changed, eat and get there after work. I get that – but if it’s a class you really want to do then the simple solution is to take your gym bag to work, have a high protein snack in it to eat on your way and head straight to the gym from work! Simple 😉

Being prepared also means preparing your body so hydrate well before you start – try to drink 500ml – 1 litre of water in the hour or so before you train or do your class, also do get some fuel in – something light and high in protein would be good (a protein shake, some nuts, a banana etc).

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Be there

Yes you do actually have to be there 😉 Easier said than done though right? Life’s busy, things get in the way, the train’s delayed, the weather is pants – the last thing you fancy is getting in to some lycra and jumping around… now whilst it’s much harder to skip a personal training session (you will usually have to pay for cancelling last minute), exercise classes can be really easy to skip. The intention is there, you mean to go every Tuesday night… but… somehow you never make it…well start by actually scheduling it in to your diary – write it down, block out the time and make it a priority – not something you can choose to do or not. If it’s a class you enjoy then it’s important you allow yourself the time to go to it – it’s YOU time and it’s vital. Don’t arrange things for that time if you can possibly help it – treat it like a work meeting that you can’t just skip. If there’s a booking system at your gym – book in, it will make you far more likely to attend. And then once again, give yourself the time to get there.

Be present

So you’ve made it to your session – be it pump, aerobics, or a PT session. Now you have to actually be present. Again this is far easier in a PT scenario as if you start to zone out your trainer should notice and bring you back to the workout. In an exercise class it’s very easy to just go through the motions. You’ve made the effort to get to the session – so try to put everything else out of your mind – the shopping can wait, that big deal at work isn’t going anywhere, the kids are being looked after (presumably! 😉 ). Engage with the class – that doesn’t mean you have to sing, shout or respond when the instructor tries to get the class to join in, but just be focused on the workout in whatever way works for you. Some people like to be up front, singing, clapping, wiggling, connecting with the instructor… others prefer to focus on getting the moves right, watching their form in the mirror, or just enjoying the music – that’s all fine – whatever works for you!

Be open about your goals

If you’re having PT sessions then hopefully your trainer has discussed your goals with you – if they haven’t then you need a new trainer! But have you been completely open? Is there some crazy goal you actually want to achieve but are too scared to mention? Tell us. No goal is crazy, and no goal is wrong. Never exercised before but want to run a marathon? – fab! Regular weight lifter but really want to up your flexibility and master the splits? – also fab! Anything goes!

Fitness instructors and personal trainers do what we do because we want to help people reach their goals – that’s one of the biggest things I love about my job so we want to know what you’re trying to achieve. We want you to succeed 🙂

This doesn’t just apply to one on one sessions – talk to your group exercise instructor if you have specific goals. You may just find they’re able to give you some tips to help support your route to that goal in class and in turn you will start to get more out of the session. They may also be able to recommend other classes to try that will help you that you’d never thought of, or ways to modify moves etc. At the very least you’ll find another supporter who will be cheering you on your way 🙂

Be questioning

What’s the point of that exercise? Trainers and instructors love movement – we love how the body moves, we love what certain moves do for the body and we want to share that knowledge. Of course we also don’t want to bore you rigid in sessions harping on about it so we often hold back on the “why” – but if you want to know more – ask! Why is a knee repeater in bodystep such a powerful exercise? What does a plank actually do for me? Why am I doing a wide legged squat….?  We are desperate to tell you why exercises are so great and what they will do for you – so ask!

“I don’t understand that exercise?” – tell me – if you don’t understand it, then I didn’t explain it well and if you’re in a class then I bet you’re not the only one thinking that. So you’ve done me a favour – I can now explain it another way and make sure everyone gets it. If it’s in a one on one session then this is even more important – remember that the PT session is YOUR time. Yes it’s about getting those reps done but it’s more important you understand the exercise and what you’re meant to be doing than just bashing them out for the sake of it.

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Be critical

I think I may be opening myself up for a whole world of abuse here.. but that’s good too 😉 Be critical – if you don’t like an exercise – say so. Chances are that if you don’t like it there’s a good reason for it and it might be a reason I can fix! So what don’t you like about it? Is it weird? Does it hurt? Do you feel like you’re rubbish at it? Lots of this can be fixed with some simple cues or explanation from your instructor or trainer or we can modify it for you. Maybe part of the reason you don’t like it is because it’s uncomfortable – so it could be I need to give you a modification, or suggest some other exercises that you could do outside the class or session to improve your joint mobility for this exercise. Do you feel like you’re just getting it wrong? Well I can spend some time with you at the end of class or whenever and we can go through it together to help you get it right. Do you feel the move is just too advanced for you? Well I can give you something else to try first to build up to it…   Instructors are happy to do that – it only takes a few mins and if it makes you feel stronger and happier in class or your PT session then that’s brilliant!

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Be aware of your body

Most importantly be aware of pain. If something hurts – and I mean really hurts (not just the aching muscle/ mucle burn pain) then that’s not right and you need to tell us – the last thing we want to do is hurt you. We can probably modify things for you but we might also need to refer you to someone to check it out. Chances are we know a fair few physios, osteopaths, etc so can give you a personal recommendation. Or we may be able to refer you to another trainer with a special skill set.

In general though think about your body – so when you’re doing an exercise try to look at yourself in the mirror (yes, I know, as cringeworthy as that may seem). If you’re in a group exercise class try to position yourself so you get a glimpse in the mirror (even from the back), or if you’re in the gym and you’re near a mirror check out your form. Now if you’re doing a one on one you’ve got the trainer watching you but it never hurts to watch yourself too and see if what you think you’re doing translates to what you’re actually doing. In classes – take a look – if the instructor is telling you to keep your chest lifted, is it? Is your knee over your ankle? Is your butt in line with your shoulders etc etc It’s not vain to look at yourself – it’s sensible and will help you to become more body aware. More often than not our bodies just don’t do quite what we think they are doing and it takes are while for muscle memory to develop, so help it along by keeping an eye on yourself.

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So there you go – a few tips for getting even more out of your sessions. Working with a personal trainer or instructor should be just that – working WITH them – never be worried about starting up a conversation about the workout.  It really is OK to ask questions, tell us that you like (or don’t like) certain exercises and, most importantly of all, tell us that something hurts. And if you don’t feel like you’re being listened to then find a new trainer, or another class! This is your leisure time so make it work for you! 🙂

Nancy 🙂

xx

(This article was originally published on Pureformfitness.co.uk)

Articles, Nutrition

I’ve got a lovely bunch of… Coconut oil…

Coconut oil – it’s all the buzz right? Everyone is always saying how good it is…  there are articles all over the web

about it being a super food… but it’s a saturated fat… so how can that be? Is it really that good for you? Is it actually super? I thought I’d do a little investigation and see…

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But saturated fats are evil…

Coconut oil is a saturated fat – which in general we’ve been told we need to avoid right? In fact coconut oil is one of the richest sources of saturated fats, with almost 90% of the fatty acids in it being saturated. But recent studies have actually suggested that saturated fats aren’t as bad as they were once thought to be – a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which involved over 11,000 participants found no significant link between increased consumption of saturated fats and heart disease. More research is needed but that’s a good start. So you don’t need to be quite as scared of saturated fats as we once were.

At any rate coconut oil specifically is a pretty special kind of saturated fat because it contains medium chain triglycerides. Most fatty acids in foods high in saturated fats like cheese or steak etc are long-chain fatty acids. The medium-chain fatty acids are metabolised differently to long-chain ones. They are removed from the digestive tract and processed by the liver and used as a quick energy source, or converted into ketone bodies. This means there is less chance for them to be stored as fat in the body and are a great energy boost. There is also evidence that these ketone bodies may help in the treatment of epilepsy and Alzheimer’s (more on that later).

Anthropological studies of some populations of people who consume high quantities of coconut and coconut fat have found little or no evidence of heart disease and strokes e.g. South Pacific communities such as the Tokelauans and Kitavans (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Journal of International Medicine). These populations eat over 60% of their calories from coconuts and are the biggest consumers of saturated fats in the world, yet show very low rates of cardiovascular disease. That is further evidence that coconut oil isn’t all bad.

Energy Boost…

Medium-chain fatty acids are not only metabolised differently but can actually impact positively on energy expenditure. Studies have shown that medium-chain triglycerides from coconut oil can increase energy expenditure compared to the same amount of calories from long-chain fatty acids (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). In one other study (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition) just 15 – 30g of medium-chain triglycerides per day increased overall energy expenditure by 5%.

Anti-bacterial…

Fifty percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil is a fatty acid called Lauric Acid. This gets broken down in to a monoglyceride called monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill bacteria, viruses and fungi (journal of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy) and studies have shown in particular that they can kill Staphlococcus Aureus (a very serious pathogen for humans – Journal of Bacteriology) and Candida Albicans – a common source of yeast infections in humans (Journal of Medicinal Food). There’s also some evidence that they can help in the treatment of acne (Journal of Investigative Dermatology)– but so far these are only in-vitro experiments so more research is needed, so don’t go coating your face in it just yet!

Cholesterol…

Lauric acid does however increase the levels of cholesterol in the blood more than any other fatty acid.. oh oh… that doesn’t sound good though right?

Well luckily most of the increase is in high-density lipoprotein (HDL or the “good” blood cholesterol”) – which is what we want.  HDL’s are good because they remove excess cholesterol from the tissues and transport it to the liver. Here it’s converted in to bile salts which are then used by the digestive system to break down fats. LDL’s do the opposite – they transport cholesterol to tissues to be used to create cell membranes etc which is also great, until there are more LDL’s than the tissues need… which is when they start to dump cholesterol in the arteries resulting in reduced build up of fat in the artery walls. So HDL’s can prevent and even reduce atherosclerosis which means less risk of heart disease, strokes and other vascular diseases. Whoop whoop! As a result lauric acid has been characterised as having “a more favourable effect on total HDL cholesterol than any other fatty acid, either saturated or unsaturated” (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). Much more research needs to be done but it’s certainly promising.

Feeling hungry?

Studies have also shown that coconut oil may reduce hunger, due to the medium-chain fatty acids it contains and the way they are metabolised (Journal of Obesity). Another study found that those eating more medium-chain fatty acids ate fewer calories overall each day, and those eating them for breakfast ate less at lunch (International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). These studies were short and with limited participants but if the effect were to last over the long term then it could have a significant influence on body weight and managing weight gain. So pop a little coconut oil in your morning smoothie to help curb those cravings.

Insides out…

It’s not just good for your insides, it’s good for your outsides too! It’s proven to help moisturise and increase the lipid content of dry skin (Journal of Dermatitis). It can also protect hair and skin from damage from the sun’s UV rays – blocking about 20% of the UV (Journal of Cosmetic Science). So do look out for skin and hair products which contain coconut oil. There’s also evidence that it can help prevent bad breath and improve dental health if used like a mouthwash (Indian Journal of Dental Research). Although swishing out your mouth with coconut oil doesn’t sound very pleasant, it could be used in addition to normal dental care routines.

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Epilepsy and Alzheimer’s…

As I mentioned earlier, the ketone bodies produced from eating coconut oil might help in treating epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. For those with drug-resistant epilepsy a very low carbohydrate, high fat diet is often prescribed. This leads to high concentrations of ketone bodies in the blood which is linked to a vastly reduced rate of seizures in these patients. Because the fatty acids in coconut oil are rapidly turned into ketone bodies it is often used in such cases (Journal of Nutrition, and Journal of Epilepsia).

Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain in which there appears to be a reduced ability for certain parts of the brain to use glucose for energy. There has been speculation that ketones might be able to be used as an alternative energy source for these malfunctioning brain cells, therefore reducing the symptoms (BMC Neuroscience). A study conducted in 2006 (Neurobiology of Ageing)  showed that consumption of medium-chain triglycerides immediately improved brain function in patients with milder forms of Alzheimer’s. Other studies have supported these findings and there are many studies now looking in to medium-chain triglycerides as potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease (Nutrition and Metabolism, and Neurotherapeutics).

Waist shrinkage…

So coconut oil sounds pretty awesome so far right? but guess what – it gets better!

The fact that coconut oil can reduce appetite and increase fat burning means it can also help you lose weight. Specifically it seems like it may be effective at helping to reduce abdominal fat – fat which lodges in the abdominal cavity and around the internal organs. Waist circumference has been used as a good general marker for the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity. Accumulation of this type of fat has been linked to heart disease and strokes.  A study in the journal Lipids studied obese women who had a predominance of fat in the abdomen. This was a blind study – half the group were given a placebo of bean oil, the other half were given 30ml of coconut oil a day, they all followed the same diet and walked 50 mins a day. All the participants lost weight and BMI over the 12 week study, but those taking the coconut oil showed a significantly larger reduction in weight and, specifically, their waist circumference dropped far more than the other group. In addition, those taking coconut oil showed reduced levels of blood cholesterol as well.  A similar study on men, found a reduction of an inch in waist circumference after only 4 weeks of supplementing with coconut oil (30ml per day) (ISRN Pharmacology). Only an inch I hear you cry? Well yes but… this was with no change in exercise or restriction of calories… just the addition of coconut oil!

Now don’t get too excited and think that this means you can skip your gym session, stuff your face with chocolate and have a spoonful of coconut oil and your waist will disappear… sadly that’s not the case. What this means is that it would be a great idea to switch your current cooking oil to coconut oil, or pop a little in your pre-workout shake  and continue with your workouts and sensible eating, and you will be simply boosting your efforts.

Super duper miracle food… or…

After reading all that, you could be forgiven for thinking – well Nancy you’ve just confirmed that coconut oil is indeed the super duper miracle food we’ve all read about on the internet… and well yes it is pretty cool… but it’s not perfect. When it comes to essential fatty acids coconut oil is pretty rubbish. It contains only small amounts of linoleic acid (omega-6) and zero linolenic acids (omega 3) – which we need! Of course no oil is perfect – olive oil also has little omega-3’s and is unstable at even moderate cooking temperatures, rapeseed (canola) oil is a partially oxidised oil (which means it’s rancid) which is linked to inflammation in the body. Palm oil isn’t great either – it’s a great vitamin A and other antioxidant source (but only in it’s natural unprocessed form), but it’s a highly saturated fat and is linked to insulin resistance and heart disease, and it’s production destroys thousands  of acres of rainforest every year – so that’s not good…

So what does this mean? It means that coconut oil is NOT a superfood, but it’s also not terrible either. It’s a great thing to include as part of a varied diet. If you’re going to use it go for the Virgin Coconut oil and have a teaspoon in your shake, use it to make some yummy brownies, use it when you do a stir fry etc.. but if you’re having a salad then use a little olive or macadamia oil, throw some nuts in or add some flax seed or avocado. And don’t just shove spoonfuls of coconut oil in because you think it will do you good – it’s still calories! So the take home message it – mix it up. Variety is the spice of life!

Nancy 🙂

xx

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(This article was originally published on pureformfitness.co.uk)

Articles, Fitness and Exercise

Exercise myths that might be holding you back

There’s so much advice out there about weight loss and exercise that it can be hard to separate the fact from fiction. So often I overhear participants talking about various exercise tips which are nothing but myths. So here are ten of the most common myths I hear that you shouldn’t believe.

#1 – Lots of steady state cardio will help you lose weight

When you’re trying to lose weight it’s far too easy to get sucked in to a pattern of stead-state cardio overload. You’ re loving your spin classes and long runs on the treadmill, some days you even mix it up with a bit of elliptical trainer work. You’re fitting in 5 sessions a week – with all that cardio surely you’re burning fat and losing weight… but your body shape isn’t changing and you’re not losing weight… sound familiar?

The problem with all that cardio is that it doesn’t really do much in terms of increasing fat burning, and can actually end up causing you to gain weight because it can make you very hungry afterwards leading to overeating after your sessions. Now I’m not saying all cardio is bad – obviously it isn’t, but it’s about balance. Aim for 2 – 3 cardio sessions a week, and then in the other two introduce some resistance work – weights in the gym, bodypump etc. When you do your cardio sessions make sure you’re including some high intensity interval work – which is a great way to burn fat.

This links in to the myth of the fat-burning zone – now whilst it’s true that exercising at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate will burn a higher percentage of fat calories, you burn fewer calories overall. That’s not to say it’s not good to include this in to your workout but setting the treadmill on 5 miles per hour and jogging for 45 minutes every day for months  is not going to do very much to change how your body looks. If it’s the only thing you’re doing you’re going to find you plateau and don’t see results.

So mix it up!

#2 Lifting heavy weights will make you bulk

I hear this so much, mostly from women! – “I don’t want to lift weights because I just want to get toned, not all muscly and big”… Well good news – you’re not going to get bulky. For women particularly it’s extremely hard to get bulky and build big chunky muscles. Women have too much oestrogen and not enough testosterone to build really large muscles. Even for men it’s not that easy to build big muscles! Of course, by lifting heavier weights in the gym or your pump class you’re going to build muscle and strength but you’re unlikely to be lifting anything heavy enough to make you look like a body builder and ladies – you’re certainly not going to get chunky – look at me – I lift big weights and I’m not massive! So chill. The truth is that by building your muscles you’re actually going to burn more calories and increase your metabolic rate, even when you’re just sitting at your desk, or watching tv –  win win!

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#3 Lots of abdominal exercises will give you a flat belly

Sadly it won’t. Yes doing abdominal exercises will strengthen the muscles of your core which means they’ll be toned, but if they’re still under a layer of fat you won’t see them. Abs are made in the kitchen – not from doing lots of sit-ups. Yes you need to strengthen those muscles so they look good when you do lose the fat, but you need a diet low in refined carbohydrates and full of lean proteins, healthy fats, and lots of vegetables, on top of a fat-burning resistance and cardio workouts.

#4 Your weight loss can plateau in only a few weeks

I often hear people talking about how they’ve been doing their new exercise/diet plan for a few weeks and have started to plateau… they feel low, they’re demotivated and they think that’s it and they may as well give up… Well good news – hope is not lost! A study has found that it takes about 6 months for an individual to reach a weight loss plateau (Journal of the American Dietetic Association). I can certainly relate to this – it took me about 6 months too. So if you are only a few weeks in to your new regime and your weight loss has slowed, then it’s probably time to re-check your diet, as you won’t have hit a plateau with your exercise. It’s more likely that increased activity is making you hungry and you may not be eating the right things (i.e. not enough protein or slow-release carbs).

#5 Doing lots of squats will give you a bigger butt

Squatting is not going to give you a big butt – sitting on it, on the sofa and not working out will! Squats are still awesome though. What squats will do is strengthen your glutes which means your butt will appear to be lifted, and will be firmer and stronger. Make sure you’re squatting properly – sitting back like you’re sitting into a chair and then squeeze your butt as you rise back up to standing.

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#6 Working out on an empty stomach burns more fat

Lots of people think that if you work out first thing in the morning before you eat that your body will have to use its fat reserves to fuel itself. Sadly this isn’t quite the case. In actual fact studies have shown that you need some glucose in your bloodstream in order to kick the body in to fat-burning. If you run out of glucose you start burning muscle. So always have something before you workout. For me a protein shake does the trick – I can have half before I do my workout and half after – it’s light, easy to digest and packed full of what you need to get the body going and burning fat (check out the recipes here and here).

#7 You can target trouble spots

This is probably the most common thing I hear from participants. They just want to lose a bit on their inner thighs, or stomachs or wherever… don’t we all! 🙂 Unfortunately it’s all down to genetics – the body burns fat from different areas preferentially in different people, regardless of the exercises you are doing. So for some the belly fat will be last to go, for others it’s butt or thighs and doing lots of sit-ups, or squats isn’t going to change that. However, as I’ve said before, targetting those muscles so that they are toned beneath the fat means that when you do lose it you will be looking awesome. Focus on whole body workouts and a protein packed, low refined carbs diet to lose overall body fat.

#8 Doing core work first builds better abs

Strengthening and working the core is really important and something everyone should do, but heading straight for the abs mat and bashing out a load of crunches, planks etc is not doing as much good as you probably think it is. It’s vital to remember that your core muscles are working in every single standing strength exercise that you do. So that includes squats, lunges, shoulder presses, even bicep curls and you’ll be recruiting your core during these exercises to enable you to balance. So if you’ve already worked your core and they’re fatigued you’re likely to perform these exercises less well which will affect your progress at best, but could cause serious injury at worst. It’s better to do your ab work last, that way you can maintain a strong core for the rest of your work out, and it means you can reduce the time spent doing just ab work at the end. Of course this only works if you really focus on actively engaging your core during those other exercises – so draw that belly button back to your spine the whole time and hold that belly tight.

#9 Isolation exercise overload is the way to build strength

It’s really easy to get into the habit of focusing on specific exercises for specific muscles – so heading up to the gym and doing three tricep exercises, then three bicep exercises, then three hamstring exercises and three quad moves etc etc. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if you have specific goals and want to build certain muscles then that’s cool. But if you’re looking for overall strength and fitness then the majority of your workout should involve compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, chest presses etc These work more than one muscle at once and will deliver much better results. Chat to the PT’s at your gym if you need some advice on specifics or grab Colette or I in class or on facebook if you want to know more.

#10 Who needs rest?! More workouts equals better results

Ok ok, I know – pot, kettle, black…. but I’m very aware of the problems of not enough rest! One of the biggest mistakes people make is too much exercise. You’re loving the workouts – you’re hitting the gym every day, sometimes twice or three times a day and it’s all the same sort of stuff…. you’re going to find you either stop seeing results and/or you burn out. Remember your body needs time to rest and recover and it’s during the rest time that your body builds new muscle tissue to make you stronger. If you don’t rest your progress will slow. Aim for one day off a week at least, and ensure a couple of your sessions are lower intensity. For the average gym-goer wanting to lose some weight and get fit a good aim is 2 – 3 cardio based sessions, 2 strength sessions, 1 – 2 stretch/”relax” based sessions (e.g.  body balance, stretch, yoga etc).

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So there you go – ten myths busted! Did you buy in to any of these – I think we all have at some point. If so, it’s no biggie, just change what you’re doing and you’ll see the benefits.

Nancy 🙂

xx

(This article was originally posted on pureformfitness.co.uk)

Articles, Nutrition

Cinnamon – Why we all need a bit more spice in our lives

You can’t open magazines, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at the moment without being told about how eating some wondrous superfood will be the cure to every health problem known to man. These headline grabbing stories claim that all you need to do is eat these every day foods, drinks and spices and you’ll live a disease-free, medical drug free life. At best these articles are interesting, but at worse they are misleading and can be dangerous. Claims that turmeric, coconut oil and hemp oil are cancer cures, cashew nuts are better than antidepressants, raisins will detox your liver – the list is endless.  There are many reports of people abandoning medical treatment in favour of some of these super-foods, often with tragic consequences. However there is often also a little truth behind these claims, so I thought I’d take a closer look at a common spice, which has been claimed to help treat cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, even HIV and delve a little in to the science behind it to provide you with some reliable information.

Cinnamon is a spice I absolutely adore – on my coffee, in my morning smoothie, sprinkled over stewed apple, in biscuits… any way at all! It’s been prized for its medicinal properties for thousands of years and there are also some really interesting scientific studies out there about its effects. So I thought I would share some pretty cool cinnamon facts with you.

What is Cinnamon?

Cinnamon is actually the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree which is a type of Laurel that grows in tropical regions of the world from South America to South-east Asia. The inner bark is harvested, allowed to dry and then sold as sticks or ground in to a powder. The majority of commercial cinnamon comes from Sri-Lanka and Indonesia.

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Cinnamon has been traded around the world since as early as 2000 BC, when it was imported in to Egypt. It has been so highly prized that it was considered a gift fit for Kings, and even Gods. It is still prized today though it is decidedly more common!

There are many varieties of cinnamon but the two main types are Ceylon cinnamon or “true “ cinnamon, and Cassia cinnamon which is the cinnamon you generally find in the shops. Both taste the same but the Ceylon cinnamon has a slightly more delicate flavour. It’s usually available in health food shops and if you have the choice it’s definitely worth buying.

The distinct smell and flavour of cinnamon is due to a compound which both varieties contain called cinnamaldehyde and it’s this compound that is also responsible for the medicinal effects of cinnamon.

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Why is it so good?

Well firstly, cinnamon is packed with antioxidants, specifically polyphenols. Antioxidants are great as they protect the body’s cells from oxidative damage due to free radicals. In a study that compared the antioxidant activity of 26 spices, cinnamon was found to have the greatest antioxidant capacity, even outranking so called “superfoods” like garlic and oregano (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry). Cinnamon has also been shown to be so powerful that it can be used as a natural food preservative.

Cinnamon also has anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation in the body isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s a protective mechanism which helps the body fight infection and repair tissue damage. But it can be a problem if it becomes long term (chronic) or if it is directed against the body’s own tissues. The antioxidants that are so prolific in cinnamon are extremely good anti-inflammatories and studies have shown it can help to reduce muscle soreness in female athletes so is a great option for including in your post-workout shake (find my favourite recipe here). It may also be helpful for those suffering from arthritis.

Heart Disease and Diabetes

Cinnamon has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes, one of the world’s most common causes of premature death. A study of people with type-2 diabetes showed that 1g of cinnamon per day reduced levels of serum glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in the blood, whilst levels of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) remained the same and didn’t reduce. This suggests inclusion of cinnamon in the diet of people with type-2 diabetes may reduce the risk factors associated with diabetes and heart disease.  A large review study concluded that an even smaller dose of just 120 milligrams of cinnamon per day can have the same effects (Annals of Family Medicine). In this study cinnamon also increased levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol.  Studies in animals have also linked cinnamon consumption to a reduction in blood pressure, though this is yet to be tested in humans.  Overall though this suggests that adding cinnamon to your diet could cut some of the main risk factors for heart disease which is definitely a good thing.

Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin is a key hormone for regulating the metabolism and for energy use in the body. Its main role is involved in the transfer of blood sugar from the bloodstream into the cells. Many people are, however, resistant to the effects of insulin. Insulin resistance is one of the symptoms of conditions such as type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.  Studies have shown that consumption of cinnamon extract by people with metabolic syndrome improves fasting blood glucose, systolic blood pressure, percentage body fat and increased lean body mass compared with the placebo groups. This suggests (and test tube studies confirm this) that cinnamon can help insulin to do its job and reduce blood sugar levels.

As well as reducing blood sugar through affecting insulin resistance, cinnamon also affects blood sugar in other ways. It has been shown to decrease the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream after a meal. It does this by slowing down the breakdown of carbohydrates, through interfering with the digestive enzymes. In addition, a compound in cinnamon (a hydroxychalcone) acts as an insulin mimic and encourages cells to take up more glucose from the blood itself. Both these combined mean glucose uptake is improved and blood sugar levels are stabilised. Many human studies have demonstrated that cinnamon has anti-diabetic effects through lowering fasting blood sugar levels up to 29% (European Journal of Clinical Investigation). What’s great about cinnamon is that it is also generally very well tolerated and so is something that is easy, and pleasant to take. These data suggest that cinnamon could really help those with type 2 diabetes to assist in controlling blood sugar levels. It’s important though to realise that taking cinnamon doesn’t replace standard forms of management – such as insulin therapy, antidiabetic agents and lifestyle changes and the dose required is quite high, up to 6g per day (2 tsp), BUT what it can do is help and it certainly won’t do any harm.

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What about other conditions?

Well cinnamon has been shown to have a beneficial effect on some neurological conditions. Diseases which cause progressive loss of the structure or function of brain cells are known as neurodegenerative diseases.  Two of the most well-known are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Although human studies have not been extensively trialled yet, studies in animals have shown that compounds in cinnamon seem to inhibit the build-up of a protein called “tau” in the brain, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s and can lead to an improvement of the symptoms associated with this build-up. In a study looking at Parkinson’s in mice, cinnamon helped to protect neurons, improve motor function and normalise neurotransmitter levels (Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology). These studies are very recent, only 2014, and much more investigation need to be done in humans, but it’s certainly promising.

Cinnamon and Cancer

One of the hallmarks of cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells. One again studies are limited to in vitro (test tubes) and animal studies but they suggest that cinnamon extracts may protect against cancer.  These studies have shown that it reduces the growth of cancer cells, and the formation of blood vessels in tumours (which in turn inhibits growth). It also appears to be toxic to cancer cells, causing them to die. A study in mice with colon cancer specifically revealed that cinnamon (and cardamom) activated “detoxifying” enzymes in the colon (known as GST – glutathione S-transferase). These naturally occurring enzymes target and breakdown environmental and other toxins from outside the body including drugs, pesticides, carcinogens etc. By activating them in mice with colon cancer cinnamon protected against further growth of the cancer. This has been further supported by test tube experiments showing that cinnamon activated a protective antioxidant response in human colon cells.  This means there could be tremendous potential for cancer treatment and prevention with cinnamon and its extract. Of course whether it works in humans is another matter but it’s looking good so far and more studies are taking place all the time.

Cinnamon as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal agent

Cinnamaldehyde has been shown to inhibit both bacterial infections and fungal infections. A study in the journal “Allergy” showed that cinnamon oil was very effective at treating respiratory tract fungal infections. It’s also been shown to inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, including Listeria and Salmonella (American Journal of Chinese Medicine).

Cinnamon oil has also been shown to be more effective than clove oil in inhibiting the pathogens (bacteria and yeast) involved in tooth decay (Journal of Pharmacy Research). It also helps to reduce bad breath by reducing the number of anaerobic bacteria in the mouth (which release sulphur compounds that produce the bad breath smell) (Journal of Clinical Dentistry).

There is also evidence in test tube trials of human cells that cinnamon can help to inhibit HIV infected cells. A study investigated 69 medicinal plants and cinnamon was found to be the most effective (Indian Journal of Medical Research and Current HIV Research). It was also shown to block entry of HIV into healthy cells (journal of Antiviral Chemistry and Chemotherapy). Much more research needs to be done but once again cinnamon shows promise.

So there you go…

So there you go – that’s why we need a little more spice in our lives! It seems that some of those amazing claims about cinnamon may well be true – at least  on some level and all in all Cinnamon seems to be a pretty good thing to include in your diet. So load it up – add a tsp to your coffee, or sprinkle it on top of your cappuccino instead of chocolate, stir in to your porridge, add to your smoothies or include in your desserts and baking (it’s divine sprinkled on top of nut butter spread on toast!). You can even use it in savoury dishes like chilis. There’s a fab little infographic below with ideas for using the cinnamon sticks and  there are lots of recipes that use it, so do check them out some baked good recipes at Pure and Simple Bakes.  Enjoy!

Nancy 🙂

xx

(This article was originally published on pureformfitness.co.uk)

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