Fitness, food, health & happiness!
Welcome to my blog! Stay tuned my thoughts and tips on all things fitness, food and wellness.
A little about me, which explains why I write about the things I do....I'm a Yorkshire born, London trained, San Francisco living ex-dancer, Pilates and Yoga Instructor and PT. I love fitness and helping my lovely clients feel stronger and more confident through movement and fitness. I also practice and advocate mindfulness and breathing techniques as a method of stress and anxiety-management. I have a serious love of food and a balanced approach to nutrition; I advocate eating well to stay strong and healthy but not at the expense of depriving yourself. A little of what you love each day is good for the soul (I tell myself as I get my daily chocolate fix!).
There are thousands of websites, blogs and books dedicated to fitness, nutrition and wellness but (when it comes down to it) it's not rocket science. My top tips? Exercise regularly, eat a nutritionally balanced diet, get enough sleep, work to live/don't live to work, travel, experience new things, breathe through the tough times, appreciate and celebrate the good times, live life, laugh lots and love more.
Like the sound of my wellness ethos? Get in touch - i'd love to help you on your wellness journey!
Suffer with back pain? You’re not alone; with 540 million people affected globally, back pain is the main cause of disability worldwide. Whether you’ve slipped a disc or are just struggling with a little lower back niggle, you’re likely to be reaching for the pain killers and looking for those quick fixes. And yes, those fixes might work for a little while but, eventually you’re going to have to put down the pain killers and take a look at the root cause if you want to turn your back on that pain for good!
When it comes to back pain, the fundamental thing to consider is postural alignment. Our sedentary, in-active lifestyles mean that most of us end up deactivating our postural muscles and sitting/standing with poor posture over the course of our day. When we don’t hold ourselves in correct posture, our joints move out of their natural alignment, meaning that the joints themselves and the surrounding ligaments and muscles are put under excessive strain. This, over time, can cause joint deterioration, muscular imbalance and aches and pains (hello back pain!)
This is why we need to consider the shape of our own spine! Did you know that a healthy spine is an 'S' shape with three natural curvatures; an inward/forward curve at the neck (cervical curve) an outward/backward curve at the upper back (thoracic curve) and an inward curve at the lower back (lumbar curve)? These natural curvatures work a bit like a coil, absorbing shock, maintaining balance, and allowing range of motion throughout the spinal column. When we lose these natural curves, through sitting, standing and moving with poor posture, we put excessive strain on the vertebrae and the muscles and ligaments surrounding our spine are forced under continuously excessive strain, resulting in muscular back pain. Additionally, the continual pressure on the inter-vertebral Facet joints (yes our spine has joints!) can break down the joint cartilage and cause degenerative issues such as osteoarthritis and the continual pressure on the inter-vertebral discs can cause disc compression, pain and eventual protrusions (slipped disc...ouch!).
To understand how to correctly align your spine, you need to first understand the unique shape of your own spine! You see the natural curves of the spine vary slightly on each and every person! If, for example, you have an extreme lumbar spine (lower back) curve (often referred to as a condition called Lordosis), the likelihood is that you have excessive compression on the vertebrae at the bottom of your spine and that the surrounding ligaments and muscles are overly tight and sore (causing lower back pain). Similarly, extreme curvatures at the top of the spine (in extreme cases referred to as a condition called Kyphosis) often lead to excessive rounding of the upper back and shoulders and excessive strain on the upper back, chest and neck muscles, causing upper back pain. An excessive sideways curve of the spine (known as Scoliosis) can cause misalignments and resulting joint and muscular issues throughout the body and can put serious strain on the spine itself, causing disc issues.
Of course, there are varying degrees of these excessive curvatures and physiotherapists, Osteopaths and chiropractors can be consulted to help you asses your own spine and help provide corrective programmes. Once you understand your own spine it’s so much easier to understand the exercises you should be doing to help you correct and maintain good posture. With a combination of core strengthening exercises to help you correctly activate your postural muscles and mobility and stretching exercises to stretch out the muscles of your back, neck, shoulders, chest, buttocks, hips and legs, you'll help improve your posture and turn your back on pain!
When it comes to improving your performance in fitness or in sport, your core strength plays a vital role. Whether you're trying to lift heavier, run faster, gain more control in your yoga/Pilates practice or improve your sporting performance, good core strength will provide the stability required for improved control, speed and power.
So what exactly is core stability? We tend to think of it as being our abdominal strength but it is, in fact, much more than this. Core stability can be defined as the ability to maintain control of the position of the pelvis, spine, shoulders and head, in order to provide a stable (but not necessarily still) base of support from which efficient movement can be generated. Core stability is a dynamic process; it allows quality movement to be performed with control and fluidity, whilst also ensuring any unwanted movement is avoided. What does this mean? Well, if you want to master
When considering effective core stability we should look at two very important factors; the abdominal muscles that make up the core and the use of breathing in the dynamic process of core stability.
Here comes the anatomical bit (the inner anatomy geek in me has to come out sometimes). So what exactly makes up the muscles of the core? It's easy to think of the core as being just one set of abdominal muscles. Well, would you be surprised to know that your core is actually made up of four different abdominal muscles, the muscles of the back, the diaphragm and the muscles of the pelvic floor (yes your core stability has a floor!)?
The four abdominal muscles are the rectus abdominis (the 'six pack' at the front of the body) the internal and external obliques (the 'side abs') and the transverse abdominis (the deeper ab that lies close to the spine). So why do we have four different abdominal muscles? Well the first three mentioned help us primarily with bending forward or twisting from side to side. They can also assist in helping to stabilise the spine when performing movements with the extremities but the primary abdominal muscle tasked with controlling the spine is probably the least well known and the most misunderstood. The transverse abdominis is the deepest of the abdominals. Because of it's unique alignment (it is positioned side to aside as opposed to the others which are positioned in more of an up and down direction) and because it is the only abdominal muscle to have a direct attachment to the spine itself, it acts as the body's internal corset by pulling the abdominal contents in closer the spine while simultaneously drawing tension through the back to help stabilise the back when performing strenuous movements. Simply put, this deeper abdominal muscle is your muscular corset of strength!
So now to breathing. Breathing and the muscles involved in the breathing process directly impact upon core stability due to the effect that the functional use of breath has on thoracic and abdominal cavity pressure (basically the pressure within your thorax). The diaphragm, the most important muscle for breathing, which separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity, is responsible for increasing intra-abdominal pressure, which is required for stability.
During inhalation, the diaphragm contracts and lowers towards the abdominal cavity. It moves down very little but does so over a large surface area which, in turn, increases the volume of the thoracic cavity. The thoracic cavity volume increases further as the inhalation continues, the diaphragm continues to contract and the central tendon prevents it from lowering any further which, in turn, forces the lower ribcage to expand upwards and outwards. The increased thoracic cavity volume causes a drop in intra-abdominal pressure (so long as the tone of the abdominals is maintained).
During exhalation, the the diaphragm and other associated muscles begin to relax and the diaphragm moves upwards. The clavicles, sternum and ribs drop with the pull of gravity, further facilitated by contraction of the intercostal muscles and the recoiling of the lungs and the tissue which line the thoracic cavity. The result is a decreased thoracic cavity volume (which expels air from the lungs) and an increase in intra-abdominal pressure.
During exhalation, air can be further expelled from the lungs by contraction of the abdominals, particularly the transversus abdominis, the internal and the external obliques. The engagement of the abdominals facilitate the active exhalation process and breathing out can, therefore, be used to assist connection to the stabilisation process
(basically when you breathe out there is a natural/anatomical increase in core stability!). To activate your core stability, the visual of the hollowing/drawing of the 'navel back to the spine' during an exhalation can, therefore, be an effective technique for teaching the use of deep abdominals for core stability. However, it should be noted that, functionally, this stability needs to be maintained during inhalation and exhalation as core stability is a dynamic process.
In addition to the transversus abdominals and the internal and external obliques, the rectus abdominis also directly influences the maintenance of intra-abdominal pressure for core stability. Rectus is the primary flexor of the lumbar and thoracic spine and, in addition to both sets of obliques, is also responsible for providing an antagonistic (opposing) stability role against the movement of extension of the lumbar and thoracic spine (basically the rectus abdominis provides stability during a backwards bending/extension). The obliques also provide an antagonistic (opposing) stability role against the movements of lumbar and thoracic rotation and lateral flexion.
Now for the pelvic floor (urgh never a comfortable subject I know!)! These collective group of muscles and connective tissues that make up the base of the abdominal cavity, play an important role in core stability. The pelvic floor act with the thoracic diaphragm and the abdominals to maintain the intra-abdominal pressure during exhalation. You can think of your pelvic floor literally as the floor of you core!
Anatomical talk aside, hopefully this post has made you realise that there really is a lot more to your core! Next time you're about to tense your abs to stabilise your movement, instead try taking a deep breadth in and, as you breathe out, draw your 'naval back to spine'. Switch on that natural corset of muscular strength!
Now, I've never been pregnant so, of course, I don't actually know exactly how it feels to have your posture dramatically change and your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles stretch and weaken as your baby bump grows. However, what I do know (and what I have had confirmed by many of my wonderful pre/post natal clients) is that Pilates is one of the safest and most effective exercise methods for staying strong, fit and active during your pregnancy and to help you get your pre-baby body back post pregnancy.
Pilates focuses on developing a strong core. Core strength is invaluable because if your abdominals, back muscles, and pelvic floor muscles are conditioned and strengthened they will support your pregnancy and delivery effectively and comfortably. Additionally, once the baby is born, it doesn't take long to get those core muscles back into shape with Pilates. Your muscle memory will kick back in (even after muscles have been weakened by pregnancy) and muscle fibres will quickly regain their strength through basic yet super effective exercises which engage your deep, core muscles through very targeted and controlled movements.
Another wonderful aspect of using Pilates as a method of fitness is that it is very adaptable and flexible. Most of the exercises used in Pilates workouts can easily be modified to accompany a belly, a sore back, or stretched belly muscles that are aching to get back into shape. Modifications are an important aspect of any exercise program because they allow you to do the exercise to gain the benefit, yet work within your present limitations. For example, for some women towards the end of their pregnancy, the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen (Rectus Abdominals) separate (a condition called diastasis recti). This causes a bulge in the middle of the abdomen where the two muscles separate. Post-pregnancy, much care must be taken not to over engage these muscles in this weakened state and to ensure they are not contracted whilst still in this weakened state. Safe, functional post-pregnancy Pilates exercises will focus on engaging the deeper abdominal muscles (the Transverse Abdominals) and not over-activating the Rectus Abdominals until they have returned to their ore-natal state.
My advice to new mummies? Spend the first five or six weeks (at least - longer if you had any complications during your pregnancy) focusing 100 per cent on your new little bundle of joy and getting used to being a mummy! Then, if and when you feel ready to start moving your body again and re-activating your core muscles, then some gentle Pilates matwork would be an ideal place to start! If you are new to Pilates, check in with your doctor or midwife before you get started. You will need to find a good Pilates instructor who can give you some one-on-one time and who will be able to help you make the necessary modifications in order for you to optimise the exercises. If you've never worked with Pilates exercises before, it's best not to try to do it on your own initially. Pilates exercises are very exact, so in order to get the most benefit, get the proper instruction. If you don't have access to a one-to-one instructor, perhaps try and find a specific post-natal group class, which would be ideal for meeting other new mummies as well as learning Pilates exercises suitable for post-pregnancy!
“Breathing is the first act of life and our last..our very life depends on it. Since we cannot live without breathing it is tragically deplorable to contemplate the millions who have never mastered the art of correct breathing” Joseph Pilates
Inspired by Joseph Pilates (who based his method of Contrology on breathing as the first step to mastering complete control over your mind and body) I am a huge advocate of the power of breathing. I am very passionate about teaching my Pilates and PT clients how to connect their breath to their movement to ensure that every exercise is mindful and controlled. Utilising breath correctly can aid a stronger connection to the deep abdominal muscles (that make up part of your core) which will help stabilise and control your movement. Breathing can, therefore, help provide more power and dynamics into your training. For example, using a strong/dynamic out breadth on the concentric/pulling upwards part of a pull up will aid a connection to the deep-abdominals (Transverse Abs) and help provide power and strength for this part of the movement. Using an inhale on the eccentric/release part of a pull up will help control the lower back down. Breathing also helps enormously with stretching; slowing and deepening the breathing during post-workout stretching will increase blood flow to the muscles and help remove any lactic acid build up. You can use your breath to increase the intensity of your stretches; move into your stretch on an exhale, every time you inhale, hold the stretch and then on each exhale, try to go a little bit further into the stretch, without forcing your muscles.
Breathing can also be an extremely useful tool for remaining mindful and calm during moments of stress and/or anxiety. I, personally, struggle with moments of intense anxiety, often brought on by a busy London lifestyle, rushing around and often feeling overwhelmed by being pulled in too many directions. To manage my anxiety, I practice daily mindful breathing (yes I'm that weirdo on the tube with my eyes closed, breathing heavily!). Anxiety and stress is, unfortunately, a huge part of many people’s lives as we continue to feel the pressure of balancing a successful career with our family and personal life. Take it from someone who once experienced such a severe anxiety attack that I called my manager from the top of ski run to hand in my notice, that breathing REALLY DOES HELP!! How? Well, without going into a scientific thesis, basically practicing slow, deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the system which calms us down) and will reduce anxiety and lower cortisol levels. Simply taking a few deep breaths engages the Vagus nerve which triggers a signal within your nervous system to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and decrease the stress hormone cortisol. So next time you feel yourself in a stressful situation that activates your ‘Fight-or-Flight’ response, stop and breathe! Or even better, introduce daily breathing into your routine as a proactive mechanism for managing stress and anxiety.
Wellness Writer, Alice Muskett, takes us through a simple, effective breathing technique below.
A simple stress busting exercise is to take a few moments to focus purely on your breath. You can do this any time of the day and as regularly as you like - you can even do it in the toilet cubicle at work if you need a quick break from office mayhem. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing that, or just soften your gaze, and focus on your breath as you slowly breathe in and out. You may want to focus on the sensations of air coming in and out of your nostrils, or you may want to put a hand on your belly and feel it moving up and down. You can count 1 as you breathe in, 2 as you breathe out if that helps. Do whatever feels best for you. There's no right or wrong here. The aim is to simply take a mental break. This slows down your thoughts and refocuses your energy. It is a calming, nourishing, exercise that you can use whenever the need arises. For an added boost, silently say 'I am' as you breathe in and 'at peace' as you breathe out.
Check out Alice Muskett's self care blog: The Self Care Life
When it comes to health and wellness, we tend to only think about exercise and nutrition. However, getting enough sleep is also key! It's difficult in our busy lives to get as much sleep as we'd like but maybe after reading this post you'll stop your next Netflix marathon an episode earlier for that extra hour of shut eye! Amongst many others, here are my top reasons for making sleep a priority in your life:
1. Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain - studies show that sleep deprived individuals have a bigger appetite and tend to eat more calories. Sleep deprivation disrupts the daily fluctuations in appetite hormones and is believed to cause poor appetite regulation. This includes higher levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite, and reduced levels of leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite.
2. Good sleep can maximize problem solving skills and enhance memory - poor sleep has been shown to impair brain function. Sleep is important for various aspects of brain function. This includes cognition, concentration, productivity and performance.
3. Good sleep enhances athletic performance - longer sleep has been shown to improve many aspects of athletic and physical performance. A study of over 2,800 women found that poor sleep was linked to slower walking, lower grip strength, and greater difficulty performing independent activities.
4. Poor sleepers have a greater risk of heart disease - sleeping less than 7-8 hours per night is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
5. Sleep affects glucose metabolism and type 2 diabetes risk - sleep deprivation can cause pre-diabetes in healthy adults, in as little as 6 days. Many studies show a strong link between short sleep duration and type 2 diabetes risk.
6. Poor sleep is linked to depression - those with sleeping disorders, such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, also report significantly higher rates of depression than those without. Poor sleeping patterns are strongly linked to depression, particularly for those with a sleeping disorder.
7. Sleep improves immune function - Getting at least 8 hours of sleep can improve immune function and help fight the common cold.
8. Poor sleep is linked to increased inflammation - sleep affects the body’s inflammatory responses. Poor sleep is strongly linked to inflammatory bowel diseases and can increase the risk of disease recurrence.
Did you know that your booty is made up three different muscles? These are: