Category: Health

Mainly documenting my attempts to get and stay fit and healthy as a busy, working from home, father…

Getting Out Of The House

View over Upper Fulwood

If you work from home I think it’s important that you make getting out of the house part of your daily routine. It’s good for your sanity and gives you a reason to get dressed in the morning!

Joking aside, if you are like me and prone to a touch of social anxiety creeping up on you over a few days, then getting out and about is crucial to keep you in a more balanced, less anxious place.

I’ve been lucky enough to work from home for over 12 years. It’s a great way to make your living and it comes with a lot of freedom to decide upon your own working schedule, and the flexibility to work around your family’s needs, but it can lead to you spending a lot of your day on your own, indoors.

I’ve mentioned before about how I like to use podcasts to replace a bit of that human interaction. And I also try to get out at least once in the day, often more, and there are a number of different things I do that enable me to leave the house.

Most days I take the kids to and from school which is a great opportunity to talk to friends albeit just for a few minutes.

Twice a week I go to the gym, this is usually early in the morning or on Saturdays, but it’s still a trip out to a place full of other people, doing the same thing as me – trying to get fit!

And then on “non-gym” days I go for a walk or a cycle. Being outdoors gives me a healthy change of environment and an experience of open space that offers a welcome contrast to the four walls and computer screen of work. It’s relaxing, good exercise, and an opportunity to practice my long focusing!

I’m lucky where I live, Sheffield is a city with a lot of green spaces. There are beautiful leafy green Victorian suburbs near my house to walk around, and the countryside and Peak District are only a short cycle away.

Getting out also gets me a daily dose of sun rays which allows for a bit of vital vitamin D production.

So make sure you get out and about, talk to people, get some exercise, get some sun, it makes working from home much easier.

My First New Bike In 35 Years

My New Bike at Redmires Reservoir

If you’ve been following along you’ll know that I’ve been trying to improve my health over the last eighteen months or so with a good diet and regular exercise, which usually includes two visits a week to the gym, regular walking, constructive use of my break times, and the odd longer hike.

I find it’s important to have a good amount of variation in my fitness routine to stop boredom creeping in, and so the more activities I can do, to change things up, the better. The next thing I’d like to add in, now I’m getting a bit fitter, is cycling.

My kids are 8 and 10 and have just started riding their bikes more confidently down the park, so it’s an excellent opportunity for us to go out as a family and do something fun, that is also good for us. The weather is starting to improve and just down the road the Peak District has a lot of great cycle tracks. So we want to go out on family trips trail riding and I also want to replace some of my daily walks with local cycle rides.

But I haven’t got a bike!

When I was a kid I used to ride a lot. I had various bikes, usually second hand or even built using old bike frames that my dad picked up at the tip – I remember you could just climb over the rubbish tip back then and pick up the stuff you wanted and take it home! Sometimes they were a bit too big for me, or old-fashioned, but I always had a bike of some description and I rode them far and wide.

Unfortunately, things have changed a lot for kids, they don’t have the freedom I had when I was their age and the only way they will get out regularly on their bikes is if we come with them.

When I was around twelve or thirteen I got my first new bike for my birthday, a full size Falcon touring bike in limited edition sparkly “plum”. I went to the shop and chose the bike, waited for it to be delivered and built, and rode it home. I loved that bike, and rode it to school for a couple of years until I just stopped riding as I moved on to other teenage things. I had the bike around for a good while after that but never rode it much and eventually just left it along the way somewhere. That was twenty years ago. That was my last bike.

And the same is true for my wife, neither of us have bikes and we can’t continue to run up and down alongside the kids in the park much longer – two new bikes are required!

It seems bikes have changed quite a bit in the last 35 years! Aluminium frames, suspension, disc brakes, hybrids, quick fire gear levers, there’s a lot more choice than there used to be and they’re available across a wide range of budgets.

We’ve managed to find a couple of really nice bikes from Halfords, not right at the bottom end, but not too expensive. I’ve gone for a mountain bike and Sam has gone for a hybrid. We’ve got lightweight frames, front suspension, easy fire gears, and I’ve even got disk brakes!

It’s very exciting, as I say I haven’t had a bike for twenty years and I can’t wait to pick it up and start adding some cycling into my life again.

Update: Picked up my new bike a few days ago and I’m already enjoying riding it (see above photo of bike leaning against the railings of Redmires Reservoirs), and it’s made me realise I still have a long way to go fitness wise!

Resisting Treats and Snacks

Healthy Treats

Sticking to a good diet can be hard. Very hard. I find the temptation of treats and snacks particularly hard to resist. There is nothing I like more than indulging in chocolate, peanuts, crisps, biscuits, or the odd piece of rich cheesecake, particularly when I’m tired or bored in the evening.

And will power alone won’t take you very far – if you are completely cutting out sugary and fatty treats then you will likely fail after a couple of weeks relying upon will power alone. We also have a Tesco garage/mini-supermarket just around the corner that mainly sells snack food! It only takes two minutes to nip over there and stock up on crisps and chocolate – that’s a lot of will power required for a long time.

And working from home makes it doubly difficult. Every time I go to the kitchen it’s all there – all the food we have in the house! So if your work is tough or you’re having a bad day, a nice little snack can cheer you up, give you a little “hit” of positivity!

So, these are the techniques I’ve developed to help me stay on the right track:

1. Don’t have it in the cupboard

If you can, start by clearing out any foods you don’t want to eat, don’t have the biscuits, chocolate, or crisps in the house. At least then you have to make an effort to go out and buy them. You can’t always do this if your family or house-mates are not cutting out all of these foods. But if you can, clear it all out.

2. Eat good meals

Another benefit of working from home is that I can cook a proper meal for lunch. I usually have a large salad or stir fry with lots of vegetables and some fish or meat. It makes eating a pleasant experience that I look forward to, and all those vegs keep me full in the afternoon.

In the evening I’ll do the same, try to eat healthily, and have a proper cooked meal. Filling up on good food can help keep the snacking urges at bay.

3. Have a good supply of healthier snacks

This has been key for me. Even though I eat good meals twice a day I do still get hungry in between. And this is very likely to be the case if you are trying to lose weight, as you have to take in less calories than you use. I find that if I’m hungry before I eat my main meals then I’m usually on the right track for weight loss.

Later in the evening is usually the most difficult time for me. This is when I get tired and bored and start to crave a little something sweet. This is when I rely upon having a range of more healthy snacks in the cupboard.

I usually have a good collection of Nakd bars (these are just “smooshed” together fruit with no added sugar or other bad stuff), fruit – a good range – apples, oranges, pears, blueberries, and strawberries, and greek yoghurt (to add the berries to).

So with these snacks I can usually find a decent enough sugary hit. Even if I eat a Nakd bar, an orange, and a small bowl of greek yoghurt sweetened with a handful of blueberries it’s better than my previous evening snack outs of a bar of chocolate and a large packet of crisps.

It’s about stopping those cravings just enough to see you through. And yes the fruit and Naked bars do have a high carb content so they won’t suit everyone’s diet, but they are also high in fibre and vitamins and they are just wholefood fruit, and the greek yoghurt is unsweetened.

These are my preferred healthier snacks to see me through and they won’t suit everyone, you’ll have your own preferences. But having better alternatives around to see you through those more tricky times has worked well for me to help stay on a better diet and avoid snacking out on hundreds of empty calories.

Longer Walks

View from Stanage Pole

The photo above is the view from Stanage Pole – a larch tree pole that marks the boundary between South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, Sheffield and Hathersage. It’s an ancient place, there’s been a marker here since at least 1550 and probably long before. The stones around the base show “graffiti” from many dates since then. The latest version of the pole was only erected last week!

It’s in the Peak District National Park, the first UK national park formed in 1951. It’s also just 5 miles from my house and so we walked there!

I’ve been walking as part of my fitness plan for quite some time now. On the days I don’t go to the gym I try to walk a couple of miles before lunch, different gradients, different surfaces, different speeds, to get my daily “movement nutrition” in. And I’ve been looking to add in the occasional longer hike for some time now.

My fitness has improved a lot over the past few months, and a longer walk over rougher, more tricky terrain adds in a further element to building body strength and stamina, and the positive mental benefits of being out in a large more natural environment are not to be underestimated.

This was the first of those hikes and we managed almost 9 miles. The weather has improved dramatically this week, it’s sunny and warmer, there’s been a real sense of summer. But with the weather at this time of year still prone to be very changeable, we decided to make the most of it.

Living in Sheffield, particularly the south-west of the city gives you very easy access to this beautiful and historic landscape. And although I’ve lived here for over 20 years I’ve only recently started to become aware of the possibilites of gettting out and about more.

It’s sometimes hard to understand the state of mind that a previous version of yourself had. I have a real focus on fitness at the moment, both physically and mentally, and that means I want to get out of the house and the urban environment as much as I can. Walking and exploring in this beautiful part of the country fits really well with that.

And as a young child I was the same. Although I grew up in Birmingham – a very large city – I lived in the greener suburbs and I was always out – cycling, fishing, messing about in rivers, or up to something with my friends or my cub pack! Then life moves on, your focus changes, school, college, career, and most of my live has been without a focus on fitness or getting outdoors – and even with a resistance to fitness of any kind – even walking.

But rather than lamenting the loss of all those years of possibilities and experiences, I’m just happy to be where I am now, going on longer walks, exploring, starting new adventures. I have a very reasonable goal of just one longer walk a month at the moment, although I’d be happy to go up to one a fortnight if I can find the time.

It’s hard to carve out the time from a working week to do this, we do go out at the weekend with the kids as well but that is a different experience and not quite up to the 9 or 10 miles yet. But if you can improve your productivity in your focused work time enough then it is possible to sneak in the odd longer walk.

Using Your Breaks to Move Better

I’m always looking for opportunities to improve my movement and working environment, however small.

At the moment, I’m trying to add in more working positions apart from sitting to my day, but that project is going to take some time. In the meantime I’m finding plenty of little tweaks to my routine that can help with my goals of getting stronger and more flexible.

We all know it’s good to take very regular breaks if you’re a computer worker, 10 minutes out of each hour to stretch your legs and get away from the screen, and I try to do that – I move around and go and make a brew.

But since I’ve been focusing more on my health, I’ve been utilising these 10 minute breaks to do a little bit more…

1. The stairs

I’ve always just walked up and down the stairs without much thought, not really that fast, unless I’m in a hurry, but now I make a point of doing a bit more on the way up, mixing it up a bit, two stairs at a time, or running up as fast as I can.

In our house we have a family bathroom on the first floor, but we also have an en-suite bathroom off the attic bedroom (which is where my desk currently lives!). So if I’m working downstairs and need to go to the loo, I’ll make a point of going up both flights of stairs as quickly as I can to the attic rather than just the one – it’s like a mini burst of HIT every time I need to pee!

If I’m working in the attic, after my ten minute break is over, I’ll do my double staircase mini HIT on the way back up.

Do be careful on stairs though, they are dangerous, hence why I only do these things going up, never coming down!

And as an aside, if I’m out I’ll always use stairs rather than lifts or escalators in any building that I can. We don’t have sky-scrapers in Sheffield so it’s only ever a few flights at most. There are very few occasions where you can justify using escalators or lifts apart from idleness!

2. Stretch while waiting for the kettle to boil

I’m working on my flexibility and so I have a lot of different stretches that I can dip into at any time. I’ve got a yoga block down in the kitchen and while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil I can do the odd calf stretch, or squat, or try to touch my toes.

3. Aeropress mini workout

I use an Aeropress to make coffee. It’s a nifty little gadget that uses air pressure to push water through your coffee and a filter – they make great coffee, quickly. I tend to use an expresso grind which actually offers quite a lot of resistance when using the Aeropress. I used to just use my forearm with all my body weight behind it to push down the plunger but now I’ve been mixing it up a bit, with my arms half or fully extended, and core muscles engaged – it actually feels like a good upper body exercise! Do make sure you have a very stable cup if you’re doing this though as you could easily end up with coffee everywhere – you’ve been warned!

4. Eye exercises

As part of my experiment into myopia I’m taking my glasses off as much as possible, so that’s really all the time except for working, reading, driving, and watching TV. And I’m also taking any opportunity I can to look into the distance and work my eye muscles as much as possible. So when I have a moment left in my 10 minutes I’ll open the attic window and look into the distance for a couple of minutes – if the weather is nice!

These little things might seem pretty daft, and I don’t do them all every break I have. Maybe they’re hardly worth doing at all but every little helps.

These are the things I’m currently doing and no doubt they’ll change as I no longer need them or find other things to add in. And they won’t be relevant or practical for a lot of people, but I’ve just laid them out here to show you the kinds of positive little practices that you can develop in those small moments you have available throughout the day.