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Trouble Sleeping? 7 Tips to Help You Sleep Better

Most people at some stage experience trouble sleeping – and all the symptoms that go with it like tiredness, feeling irritable, depressed, exhausted and unable to do the things you want to do.

As we all feel better after a good night’s sleep, establishing a pattern of sleeping well every night of the week is a goal worth working towards.

A recent study by Cambridge University and RAND Europe found that getting less than 7 hours of sleep can have a significant negative impact on productivity. Participants who slept for 6 hours or less were noticeably less productive during the daytime than those who slept at least 7 hours. That extra hour makes a massive difference!

In terms of your health, benefits of sleeping well include reduced stress levels, better mood, an improved immune system and lower risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

Sleeping well is also important for losing weight. Lack of sleep can cause poor appetite regulation – meaning you are more likely to make bad food choices. Tiredness also negatively impacts on your motivation towards exercise.

All great reasons to make getting more sleep a priority!

If you are struggling with sleep, I can empathise as this is something I have worked for years to improve. The effort though is really worthwhile.

Sleeping Better: How to Do It

Consistency is key when it comes to improving your sleep quality. You need to examine your daily routine and tweak the things that negatively impact on your sleep

Here are my Super 7 tips for sleeping better – all based on research AND personal experience!

  1. Establish a regular bedtime – allowing enough time to unwind and fit in at least 7 hours sleep. Avoid sleeping in, so your time in bed is the same every day.
  2. Reduce your daily caffeine intake and cut it out completely in the evening. Drink water, herbal teas and other non-caffeinated fluids, but not too much to avoid having to get up in the night!
  3. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime: allow at least two hours for your food to settle after dinner.
  4. Reduce your exposure to light in the 1-2 hours before bedtime. Dim the lights, turn off computers and TVs and avoid back-lit devices: including tablets for reading.
  5. Allow time to unwind before you go to sleep so your mind is relaxed. Try the following:
    • Reading a book or magazine
    • Meditation or breathing exercise
    • Listen to relaxing music, an audio book or podcast
    • Take a warm bath
    • Prepare things for the following morning
    • Write your thoughts in a journal
  6. Avoid all social media, answering emails and watching TV an hour before going to sleep: all these activities stimulate rather than relax your mind.
  7. Have a strategy for getting back to sleep if you wake up during the night, such as meditation or a breathing exercise. Reading a book can help too. Allow your focus to be on relaxation rather than fixating on trying to sleep: let this happen when your mind is ready.

Changing long standing sleep patterns can be a challenge, but one that’s worth taking on. 

It’s a great long term investment in your health, happiness and productivity.

If you enjoyed this, check out my others articles.

Photo illustration showing a man experiencing anxious thoughts

Claim Your Calm: 9 Go-to Fixes To Crush Your Anxiety

Here are my 9 recommended fixes to try for tackling anxious thoughts whenever they come up. Each one will work as a quick fix when you need it. For greater impact, integrating some of these strategies into your routine will improve your long term wellbeing too. We're all different, so you may find some techniques work better for you than others. Having a choice of options means there are lots of things to try, helping you figure out what works best for you.

Read more

Image of people doing running training together in a group looking motivated

Keep on Running: 10 Training Tips to Stay Motivated

The Spring is a great time to get into running. Or jump back in and start your running training again if you’ve had a break. The days are getting longer, the weather is improving and there are big events on TV like the London Marathon and the Great Manchester Run to motivate and inspire you.

So far so good. The trick though is to maintain your motivation to keep running after your initial rush of enthusiasm has passed. While other fun things are happening over the summer and when Autumn hits as the days get shorter and the weather less inviting.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to have some tools to help you stay motivated to keep going out there, getting fitter and improving your health. Before I became a Life Coach, I became a runner (I started training in my late 20’s) and later a qualified Athletics Coach. I would like to share with you 10 tips to help keep you on track with your running training when the temptation to stay inside starts to bite.

10 Running Training Tips to Help You Stay Motivated

Set Yourself a Training Goal

A great way to keep focused and give yourself a purpose to get out and run is to set yourself a training goal. There are a number of ways to do this, but one of the best is to enter an event to give yourself something to train for. You can also align this with improving your health and fitness as you progress.

There are lots of running events you can enter, and with most races or ‘runs’ you will find people of all levels taking part. You can tailor your running goal to what motivates you, whether it is to aim for a particular time, raise money for charity or ‘just getting round’. The fact that you have a specific date that your hard training is geared towards can be really motivational.

Be realistic when choosing an event. If you’ve never run before, don’t choose a marathon for your first race. It takes a lot of training over a prolonged period to properly get ready to run 26.2 miles. A 10k is much more realistic and achievable for the vast majority of people and this can be a stepping stone towards your marathon running ambitions.

If your event is a few months away, you can measure your progress in training by doing one of the hundreds of 5k Parkruns that take place every week for free at local parks across the UK and overseas. Seeing your personal best improve over time will quantify what your efforts are allowing your body to do. This will demonstrate to you how much fitter and stronger you are becoming and you’ll be able to appreciate that your hard work is paying off.

Try to Prevent Injury in Training

A surefire way to lose motivation for running is to pick up an injury. Running training will seem like a pain rather than a pleasure. Runners get injured for lots of reasons, but there are a few simple things you can do to try and avoid hurting yourself.

Firstly, make sure you have got a decent pair of running shoes that match how you run. The easiest way to do this is to go to a running shop and have a ‘gait analysis’ done. This involves jogging on a treadmill while a member of staff observes how your feet land, using a camera. This service is normally free of charge and the staff will be able to show you what type of shoe is most appropriate for you. And if you feel daunted about going to a running shop, then don’t be.

These days people of all abilities go to specialist running shops, they’re not just for experienced runners. This is the single biggest piece of advice I would give to any new runner who is about to start training. Getting some specialist advice at this stage is the best way to avoid needing specialist medical help further down the line.

My two other top running training tips are to allow yourself a proper warm up when you start running. This can be as simple as making sure you start your run really steadily before picking up the pace, right through to doing some dynamic moves and active stretches before you start running. For the latter, you’ll find lots of examples on YouTube. Lastly, allow some time to do some static stretches after you’ve finished running. Work all major muscle groups and hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds. Again, you’ll find lots of examples of stretches you can do online.

Running with a Friend or in Group

Having someone else to run with makes it much less likely that you will back out of a planned session as you won’t want to let the other person down. If you know someone else of similar ability, planning to do your training together will give you both the motivation to get out the front door. If you don’t have any friends to run with, try joining a running group or club. There’s lots to choose from and the vast majority will be really friendly and welcoming towards new runners. If you live in England, the best starting point for finding a group is www.runtogether.co.uk . You could also search for groups on social media, ask your local running shop or speak to a sports development officer at the council.

Create a Regular Routine

The best way to stick to anything is to make it part of your routine. So do it at the same time on the same day every week. This way it becomes a habit and just part of what you do, along with everything else. It takes a few weeks for a habit to become established, but once you’ve done this it will be much easier to keep going. It is much better than just aiming to run two or three times a week with no regular pattern, which will make it a lot more likely you’ll find an excuse not to do it.

Humans are creatures of habit, whether we like to admit it or not!

Put it in your diary

If you like to use the calendar on your phone or a traditional paper diary, make an appointment with yourself to complete your running training and treat it with the same importance as other things. Plan at least a week in advance. If you’re the sort of person who hates missing things they’ve scheduled, this will work well for you.

Alter your perception

Your motivation to do something, running included, will be heavily influenced by how you perceive it. If you hate going out running when the weather’s not very nice, because you don’t like being cold or wet, you will create a negative perception towards running training in these conditions.

The good news is that you can alter or ‘reframe’ your perceptions. If you switch the negative connotations to positive ones, you will increase the pleasure you get from running. So rather than dreading running in the rain, look forward to the feeling of training outside in the fresh air, feeling the invigorating sensation of rain beating down. Most experienced runners will tell you how much running in the rain makes them feel alive. Just make sure you’re dressed appropriately and there’s nothing to fear.

Running with music

This isn’t for everyone, but scientific studies have demonstrated the positive impact that running to really uptempo and inspiring music has on performance. Put simply, you can make yourself want to run harder and for longer in training. So create yourself a running playlist with enough upbeat songs to last the duration of your run, whatever type of music you like.

If you like running with music, this will enhance your enjoyment of training and create another good reason for you to put on your running shoes and go out. Please pay attention to personal safety though. Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings and only wear headphones when it’s safe to do so.

Inspiring books

Inspirational stories about running and about people who have had to overcome the odds to achieve their goals is another way to stay motivated while you are training. Reading about how people have overcome often great adversity to realise their dreams really lifts your mood. It will make your simple lack of motivation seem trivial in comparison.

Over the years, I have read lots of great books like this. Three that I recommend which have really helped to motivate me are ‘Inspiration’ by Steve Redgrave, ‘Paula: My Story So Far’ by Paula Radcliffe and ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami.

Reward yourself

You’re investing time and putting lots of effort in to get fitter and be healthier. According to the British Heart Foundation, over 20 million people in the UK are classed as physically inactive, so by running you’re doing something really great to reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease and other serious medical conditions.

It is recommended that people do a combination of training activities that are both aerobic and which strengthen major muscle groups. The good news is that running achieves both, so doing at least 75 minutes of running split into two or more sessions every week means you are meeting national exercise guidelines for adults under 65.

So reward yourself for your hard work. Not with chocolate or a takeaway, but something healthy or which you enjoy doing. You deserve it.

Inspire yourself

Always keep in mind the reason you started running. Whether it’s to get fitter, lose weight, meet new people, raise money for charity, or one of the other many great reasons for running, it is good to remind yourself why you’re doing it.

Write these reasons down or cut out pictures to represent them. Be as creative or artistic as you like to be. Stick your efforts on to a noticeboard, the back of a door or a wall that you will see every time you should be getting ready to go out for a run. Take a moment to have a look, remind yourself why you wanted to start running training and what you’re aiming to achieve.

You will find this a really powerful tool to help you get your running shoes on and get out there.

If your training would benefit from the support of someone who is both a trained running and life coach, check out the personal coaching services that I offer and get in touch to have a chat about how I can help.

Image showing a perfect place to practice mindfulness meditation - a beach on a beautiful sunny day with a bridge reaching out into the ocean

Introducing Mindfulness Meditation: Reasons to be Mindful

In recent years ‘mindfulness’ has crept increasingly into public consciousness. It has been widely championed as an effective approach for managing the stresses of modern day living, and the benefits of being mindful are talked of at length on television, radio and in newspapers and magazines. However, despite this, to most people mindfulness is still something that remains misunderstood and untried.

Although it may seem like a recent phenomenon, mindfulness has in fact been around for longer than many people realise. It dates back to the work of American Professsor Jon Kabat-Zinn, who in the late 1970s founded a stress reduction programme known as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). In the intervening years, there has been extensive scientific research into the effectiveness of mindfulness, with studies providing strong evidence that regular practice can lead to a range of benefits for practitioners, such as reduced anxiety, better concentration, improved memory function and enhanced mood.

Indeed, in the treatment of people with mental health issues, there is a drive within the medical community to encourage mindfulness techniques in place of drug therapies.

There is massive potential for industry too. Employers who encourage mindfulness among their workforce can reap many benefits, among them reduced absence, lower levels of stress, increased morale and enhanced productivity.

So what is mindfulness and how does it work?

Put simply, mindfulness is a mental state whereby thinking is focused entirely on the present moment. This is achieved by concentrating the mind on what is happening right now, rather than thinking about the past or the future. As thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations come up, they are acknowledged and accepted, before calmly being allowed to drift from consciousness.

A key outcome of mindfulness is the realisation that ‘you are not your thoughts.’ Thoughts are transient and will just come and go, so they are not the whole person. This is really powerful for people experiencing a lot of negative and potentially self harming thoughts. Through the heightened self-awareness that can be developed through mindfulness, it is possible to ‘catch’ thoughts as they come up and then make rational choices about whether or not to act on them. In essence, this means taking back control of your mind when it feels like your thoughts are running away from you.

It is this practice of being better able to control your thoughts that is the strongest benefit for people who experience anxiety. Feeling stressed and anxious is normally due to either worrying about what has happened in the past, or apprehension about what may occur in the future. Being able to train your mind to bring thoughts back to the present can help to alleviate this type of potentially life inhibiting anxiety.

How do I practice mindfulness?

There are a number of ways to incorporate mindful thinking and practice into day to day life, with some small changes potentially providing exponentially larger benefits. At the heart of mindfulness though is the practice of mindfulness meditation.

This is where mindfulness links back thousands of years to the teachings of Buddhism, which emphasises the importance of Dhyana, or meditation, which is a practice where the mind’s attention is focussed on one specific occurrence, such as the breath or a particular thought or mental image. Following this initial focusing, the aim is to maintain a calm mind while the person becomes more aware of their surroundings, letting go of any thoughts or sensations that might otherwise cause distraction or stress.

For people who haven’t previously attempted to meditate, the prospect of doing so may seem daunting. However, there are some simple and straightforward yet highly effective meditations that a beginner can start with. Perhaps the easiest to attempt first is a breath-based mindfulness meditation, a simple example of which is outlined below.

Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners

1.     Find a peaceful spot where you won’t be disturbed. Turn off all devices or appliances that may cause distraction and interrupt your meditation. The only thing you may want is a gentle sounding alarm set for when you want to end your meditation. 10 minutes is a good length to begin off with.

2.     Make sure you are wearing comfortable clothing and remove shoes or anything else that may be constricting.

3.     Sit comfortably, either cross legged on a cushion, or on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Straighten your upper body rather than slouching, but avoid your back being stiff.

4.     Close your eyes or allow your gaze to soften.

5.     Take three deep breaths. As you exhale, imagine you are breathing out all the stress and anxiety you have been feeling.

6.     Working upwards through the body and starting with your feet, survey where you may be holding any tension in your muscles. Particular areas to think about are the jaw, shoulders, back and pelvis. Anywhere you notice tension, relax your muscles to release it so that your body feels relaxed and heavier.

7.     Take three more deep breaths and then continue breathing in and out through your nose.

8.     Start to focus only on the present. If your mind interrupts and starts thinking about something else, concentrate on the sound of your breathing to help you refocus.

9.     The time between thoughts that come into your mind will start to lengthen. When you will feel your body physically relax further and your mind become clearer, this is a sign that your meditation has really started. By this point, you will be feeling a comforting sense of calm.

10.  Remain in this state for as long as it feels physically comfortable to do so, or until the alarm you set sounds. Open your eyes and reflect on how your body and mind now feel, compared to when your meditation began.

Try and take time each day to meditate, whenever feels the best time for you. Making it roughly the same time each day will help your practice to become a habit.

What else can I do?

In addition to mindfulness meditation, there are many other ways in which you can be more mindful and improve your quality of life. The most important considerations are making an effort to be kinder to yourself; and removing some of the distractions that may otherwise be present in your life. This will allow you to focus on the here and now. Here are six simple things you can try:

1.     Do one thing at a time: focus all of your attention on what you are doing rather than ‘multi-tasking’ and thinking about one thing while doing another.

2.     Slow things down: instead of rushing from one task to the next, take a moment and pause between things. Be more deliberate, take your time and focus on what you are doing, every time you do something.

3.     Make your day more manageable: try to avoid planning so many things that you have to either rush each task or do multiple things at once. Prioritise things and only plan in what you know you can get through. If you have time leftover, you can either reward yourself by resting or you could get a head start on the next day.

4.     Take at least five minutes each day to do nothing. This will allow some breathing space when you are not thinking, planning or remembering things. Within this time you can meditate, enjoy the quiet space around you; or listen to some soothing music.

5.     Practice Yoga. Yoga requires focus and concentration on your body as you move into, work through and move out of each posture. This keeps your mind focused on the present tense, and regular practice will also lead to physical benefits, such as improved strength and greater flexibility.

6.     Do things regularly that allow you to ‘switch off’. Something you enjoy doing that involves being kind to yourself and removes the distractions of other things in your life. This might be taking a long, relaxing bath; closing your eyes and listening to music; sitting quietly and reading a positive, uplifting book; or stroking and cuddling up to your pet. The key things are that the activity is pleasurable, involves focussing mainly with one sense; and it keeps your mind in the present tense.

Further Reading

There are lots of books and online resources to help you learn more about mindfulness, including mindfulness meditation and other activities that you can try. Here are two that I recommend for you to start with:

‘A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled’ by Ruby Wax, paperback RRP £8.99. This is an enjoyable and easy to read guide written by the comedian and actress, who is now a trained mindfulness practitioner.

‘Getting Started With Mindfulness on Mind’ on the Mindful website This page Includes tips on mindfulness and some simple, guided meditations for you to try.

Image of foods to eat well and live a healthy lifestyle

4 Steps to Conquer Your Food Cravings, Eat Well and Feel Better

For many of us, trying to eat healthily feels like a constant battle. Most people have the best of intentions, and will have some understanding of what they should be eating and what they are better off avoiding. So what are the reasons why we find eating well so hard? And when we decide we want to eat healthily, what can we do to stay on track?

There is an imponderable number of books available which pertain to have the answers, and which promise to be the elixir to help us eat well, manage our weight and be healthy. Approaches to healthy eating and weight management go in and out of fashion very quickly.

Over the years I have had more than a passing interest in this area, not least because I care a lot about my own health and fitness, but also because I am an athletics as well as a life coach.

I’m not a qualified nutritionist, but I see it as part of my role to be well informed when it comes to eating well. The approach of scientist Stephan Guyenet in his recent book ‘The Hungry Brain’ really struck a chord with me for two reasons. Firstly due to his scientifically based rationale for why we struggle to eat well; and secondly because of the very practical and easy to follow four step strategy he proposes we use to reduce our risk of over indulging in foods that are not consistent with a healthy lifestyle.

Guyunet proposes that we know we should eat healthier food, which implies a conscious, rational brain concerned about health, body weight and appearance. Therefore, the fact that we often choose not to eat healthily also implies the existence of a non-conscious, intuitive brain that cares more about immediate things – such as the big slab or cake or bowl of ice cream that may be in front of us!

It is this conflict between the conscious and non-conscious brain that explains the food choices we make and why we overeat even when we don’t ‘want’ to. As the non-conscious brain is more influential in day-to-day life, we need to raise our consciousness and understand our brain better to help it to make good decisions around eating.

The brain is in charge of appetite, eating behaviour, physical activity and body fatness. Guyunet proposes the following strategy to help the conscious brain win the battle that it faces with the non-conscious brain on a daily basis.

1. Fix Your Food Environment

The brain has a reward system that evolved in an age when food was harder to come by and finding enough calories to survive was often hard work. This reward system collects cues from our external senses and our digestive tract, guiding us towards fat, sugar, starch and salt – hence why we crave some foods more than others. Unfortunately, this reward system hasn’t evolved to cope with our modern environment, which is chock full of easy access, highly palatable, calorie dense foods.

In essence, we are hardwired to crave unhealthy food in excess, which drives us to overconsume. This explains the reason why when we walk past a bakery we feel hungry at the smell of freshly baked bread, pastries and cakes, and suddenly have a strong urge to eat. Yet if weren’t exposed to this stimulus, we wouldn’t feel hungry and need to fight the urge to eat fattening food.

The way to help our brain navigate this temptation is to reduce our exposure to food cues, and there are three simple steps Guyunet proposes we take:

1.     Ged rid of tempting, calorie dense foods that are easy to grab from your home and workplace. If these foods aren’t there, you can’t eat them.

2.     Reduce general exposure to food cues, such as adverts for food on TV or programmes that promote high fat, calorie rich foods – no more ‘Great British Bake-Off’!

3.     Put up barriers to eating. Only have food in your kitchen that you have to prepare in order to eat it. Or if you want to have ‘easy access’ foods to hand, choose things that are good for you, such as fruit or nuts.

2. Manage Your Appetite

Our bodies have a food regulating system, the lipostat, that has one job alone: to prevent our weight from dropping.

We also have the satiety system, which regulates food intake on a meal-to-meal basis. This make us feel full and reduces our drive to continue eating when we have had enough food.

The satiety system, as well as receiving information from the digestive tract, also takes cues from the reward system. It tends to shut down when we eat ‘highly rewarding’ foods such as pizza, cakes or ice cream. Therefore, our brain tells us that it’s ok to keep eating these foods and we can easily get to a point where we have had too much. Often paying the price by feeling bloated later on.

There is a way to help the brain understand that you’re not starving when you don’t need to eat. Choose foods that send strong satiety signals to the brain, but which contain a moderate number of calories:

1.     Choose foods that have a lower calorie density, higher protein and/or fibre content, with a moderate level of palatability.

2.     This means foods closer to their natural state as opposed to processed foods: fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, beans and lentils. And if you eat them, fresh meats, fish/seafood and eggs.

3.     Be careful with flour based foods as they are calorie dense, even when made using wholegrains. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans and oatmeal are better sources of starch.

4.     Try to completely avoid foods based on white flour, as these have a high calorie density and low fibre content.

3. Be active

There are at least two ways in which regular physical activity can help to manage your appetite and your weight:

1.     The more active you are, the more calories you burn. Therefore, you’re less likely to over eat as you are using more of the calories you consume. You’ll probably eat more when you are active, but studies suggest that the extra calories you consume will be more than compensated for by the amount you burn.

2.     Physical activity may help maintain lipostat levels in the brain. This positively impacts on our fat regulating system and encourages lower body weight in the long run.

Whether or not you have a goal related to weight management, regular physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Taking some form of aerobic or strength building exercise each day is one of the best investments you can make to maintain good health throughout your life.

4. Address Stress

For some people, psychological stress sharply increases cortisol levels, which impacts on the lipostat – our fat regulating system. This results in increased food intake and greater accumulation of body fat. This is especially the case in stressful situations over which we feel we have little control.

In addition, when we feel stressed we tend to reach for ‘comfort foods’ that help to dampen our stress response system by making us feel better.

You will probably be aware if you are a stress eater. Taking action to reduce your stress levels will not only benefit your eating habits but also improve your quality of life overall. Stress management is a topic in its own right, beyond the scope of this article, but three things you could try are:

1.     Look into what causes you stress and try to work out how you can make changes to this area of your life so you feel things are more under your control.

2.     When we feel stressed, it is normally things in the future that we are worried about. Using meditation or mindfulness exercises can help bring your mind back to the present.

3.     Rather than eating when you feel stressed, do something constructive instead. This could be going for a run or some other form of exercise; talking to a friend; reading; or doing something else you find relaxing.

My goal in writing this article is to help raise your awareness around the issues covered. It is based on one source, ‘The Hungry Brain’ by Stephan F. Guyenet, but I encourage you to read further from this and other sources so you can learn more about the impact of eating on your health and wellbeing. This will help you to make more informed choices about what’s best for you.

Eating better and leading a healthier lifestyle are popular areas to be coached on. If you would like to make some changes, this is something I can help you with. Please contact me by email at [email protected] if you’d like to arrange a free consulation.