Holidays.. for many it means a trip to some foreign city or some sun-kissed destinations. For me, holiday-time= travel and explore new destinations, and while you will not find me sunbathing on a beach as I have always been the beach-walker type, holidays often mean trying the local foods and relax a little... which often has meant coming back with some extra weight, and not just in my bags! But I have recently learnt how to enjoy the local foods healthily (next post- stay tuned) and that you can easily incorporate fitness into your holiday too (of whichever nature it is!).
So, let's have a look at some of my favourite activities
If you are a runner (and if you are not, there are many reasons to become one, or try) then my best advice is to get up early and get a little run in before your day begins, a 20 minutes should do fine. If you are on a city-break type holiday, seeing the city as it awakens has the added benefit to help you paint you a better picture of it, enhancing your experience (but don't be too tempted by those bakery smells, maybe on your way back). If you fancy running longer distances, I find that exploring a new place by running is great, especially if you are short on time, I like to call them run-explorations, and if you map it well you may even get to see all the sights on one go which is perfect for weekend breaks or small stops.
If you are somewhere remote, you may even be lucky enough to find some trails to challenge yourself on and reward yourself with beautiful views!
Instead of renting a motor-powered vehicle to roam around, rent a bicycle and use it to go explore, or to go to far away beaches, You will appreciate them even more after you worked hard to get there! Roadtrip anyone?
Beach walks are a great way to burn down some calories while effectively sunbathing (make sure to walk in both direction to achieve some tanning both back and front), it will be amazing on your legs and bums as walking on the sand is a lot harder than walking on hard ground!
And by swim I don't mean just splash around.. Aim to do one longer swim everyday, maybe have a goal in mind such as swim the length of the beach and back, or go round the buoy (once, twice.. maybe increase it everyday?) - afterwards feel free to splash around!
Even better - find an open air swimming pool, and find a good time when it isn't too busy to get a 40-60 minutes session in!
In these days and age is possible to find gym equipments outdoors pretty much everywhere! Or you can make your own if you find a fixed bar high enough that allows you to do some pull ups and some benches for push-ups, triceps dips etc... children playing areas are actually pretty amazing gyms (just make sure to go when no kids are there if you don't want funny looks from the parents!)
Whilst I don't really like to call yoga 'exercise', it can definitely be aaand you can do it anywhere! Your hotel room, outside the tent, the park, the beach.. choose your spot!
Trying new activities
trying new activities can be a great perk of a holiday, so why not go and get a paddleboard or a windsurf lesson?
Or... Choose a sporty holiday
Surfing, Climbing, Skiing, Snowboarding, Windsurfing, Hiking, Canoeing.... you can go on a sporty holiday where the main aim is, well.. to do the sport of choice! They are great choices, not just in term of fitness but they will also help you improve on such sport, dedicating one week or more to it. You can choose organised trips which have the added benefit of introducing you to like-minded people, or plan your own with some friends.. so what are you waiting for? Stop reading and go out to enjoy!
Gluten.. for those of you not aware, gluten is a protein found in some grains such as wheat, barley and rye. For some people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, the ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the small intestine, leading to disfunction in nutrient absorption, thus having important consequences for their nutrition. However, this disease is relatively rare, affecting 1 in 100 (1%) people worldwide.. While gluten free diet is proliferating. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is increasing, and the only diagnosis for this is self-diagnosis by removing the gluten food groups. The number of people going 'gluten free' is increasing exponentially and those who have gone gluten free report increased health... I, myself, have accidentally gone 'gluten-free' and feel increasingly healthy. Although, I am gluten free as I have eliminated most grains out of my diet (I am eating fairly low carb and high protein diet) and moreover I cook everything from scratch using non-processed ingredients.
Which brings me to the first point of this post: are all gluten-free approaches healthy?
Just take a packet of 'gluten free' bread.. you will see that they contain a very long list of ingredients, amongst other flours such as rice, starches (maize, tapioca), and to my horror many 'syrups' (inverted sugar syrup, glucose syrup, corn syrup), oils, added fibres, thickeners... Erhm, that doesn't sound good to me! Same goes for other 'gluten free' products such as cereals..
Basically most companies have now caught on the fact that many people want to go gluten-free and know they can charge more for a product, they will do their best to make it cheap to produce to have the most income from it... Maybe is my conspiracy mind talking BUT I do believe big companies play with our health on a daily basis...
So what is the right way to go gluten free? Eliminate those foods, don't try to replace them - and if you want to replace that cake or that bread, then it's time to take on the challenge in the kitchen and try some gluten free baking! With many recipes out there (self promo: try my recipe tab!), from pinterest to many gluten free baking blogs.. just type on google and you will be inundated with many recipes from easy to hard levels. Go on : take the challenge!
This leads me to the second point of this post: Are we actually gluten intolerant or is it something else?
I recently came across a very interesting documentary called 'Gluten: a gut feeling' and within this very interesting analysis there was a point that caught my attention, nonetheless because I already thought about this before: the way we produce baking products has changed dramatically. Again, growing demand and the desire of companies to make things cheaper has lead to changes in the way we produce and mill our wheat, which, in short, has made it potentially unhealthy for us (great article to go deeper on the subject matter here). Moreover, the way we make our bread has changed, with industrial bakers no longer leaving bread to raise with the yeast overnight (shortening the times = cheaper, larger production) which doesn't let the yeast process some of the gluten leaving our body to do the job (and some are less equipped than other)!
What's my final point? If you believe to be gluten intolerant and eating gluten products makes you poorly then listen to your body. But don't replace gluten foods with their gluten free counterparts, you will do yourself further harm than good. Try cook from as simple ingredients as possible, go for older grains, maybe mill your own flour if you have the means, shop at markets and from local sources avoiding overly processed foods. By eating fresher and knowing what exactly goes in your food your body will be surely thankful!
While it's only Wednesday, the countdown to Friday has begun for many of us.
Friday symbolises the end of the work week for many, the beginning of two days of relax and adventure (or perhaps some chores). Either way, work week over - let's party to that!
On Friday evenings most people, to begin the destress process from the week before, turn to pubs for one, two, three, just one more...ten? fifteen? (more? ) pints of the golden stuff (beer), glasses of the smooth burgundy drink, mixes of sweet, sugar-laiden, tasty, craze-inducing pitches. These will not only "help" to take the stress away (at least for the night), and help loosen up the tongue ( I mean talking, what are you thinking dirty mind?), perhaps leading to fun adventures and encounters, surely making fun conversations (for those partaking anyway), and even more surely leading to a nasty wake up (you have an headache you say? Stomach pain I hear you scream?).
I am not denying that I, too, have taken part in many of these Friday festivities, However, I have to say that lately I found a much better way to de-stress on a Friday (and actually doing so on most days of the week so I don't arrive on a Friday overloaded with cortisol and tension): Run and exercise! And complement with some yoga. Running in particular, especially if done outdoors in a nice forest park, with or without a good playlist (depending on the mood), has a great impact on my mental health. I would start a run with a cluttered brain, full of thoughts, stressed about the many things to do (especially lately, with the end of the phd, the imminent leaving of the country and the start of a new job!), and I will end a run with the perfect email to write, or a clear plan of attack, or just a calm mindset that tells me 'I can do it all'. But I promise I don't spend the run overanalysing things, I mostly just look at the trees around, or think about my legs moving, or where am I turning next (I don't plan my routes and sometimes I get a bit lost, but I love it!). Swimming also helps, although the repetitive up and down the lane can be frustrating and if you are stressed about something is easy to keep thinking about it while in the pool. Outdoor swimming on the other hand is very reinvigorating albeit very cold so impossible to stay for longer than 10-15 min (for me here anyway - the mediterranean will be a different story...).
I complement my running with gym classes and weight training which make my body feel strong and give me a strong mind-body connection. And on Wednesday we climb (indoors :( ) , which puts my strength to a challenge, puts my brain on a new level of puzzle solving, and my mind on a new level of trust (climbing requires as much mental strength as physical, I am learning that you need to believe in your capabilities otherwise you will not make it to the top - but if you believe you will be surprised!). I also do yoga to refocus, train my mind to be present, challenge my balance and deep stretch when I need to. Plus - the week training prepares me for any weekend adventure that may come my way: surf? hike a mountain? Cycle? Bouldering? I am up for it!
Parkrun is a great way to get out of the Friday night beer times - or anyway what started getting me out of it! The 5km fun runs are at 9.30 on Sat morning, and as much as they are only fun runs - they are still 5Km and I prefer to run hangover free. Nowadays, just one drink gives me a funny feeling in the morning, so I still went out when invited but stuck to a diet coke (then replaced by sparkling water as now I am also very very careful with the processed drinks!). This not only considerably reduced my alcohol consumption to only one drink occasionally, but now I have not had a drink in more than two months and the idea of not needing it and the hidden calories behind that glass made me realise that I can easily go forever without (okay, unless mum opens up a bottle of some organic prosecco to celebrate my phd and my new job - but only one glass with some food - in Italy and in my house in particular we have a drink-with-food policy whether is dinner or aperitivo).
So here, skip the party and go do something active next weekend - I promise you will be better for it! No depressive side or comedown to this all-natural drug !
As a natural fibres advocate, I decided to scout for some good fabric for my sporty life.
3. good fit
4. not losing shape after a few days (goes with points 1 and 3)
6. not synthetic
7. good for the skin
9. not breaking the bank!
As this post gets published, I am likely getting ready to run my 9th parkrun - on a beach!
Yes, I am being a 'tourist' today and making the most of my weekend by being up the north coast of Ireland and running the Portrush parkrun before a surf (finally some swell!)!
But what is parkrun? And why do I love it so much?
Let me give you some background on my running - let's just say it dates back to...hmm... just a few months ago! Yes, one day in February I decided to start running. No particular reasons apart from the fact that I always hated the idea of running, and I decided it was time to face the hate and trying to see if I could understand why so many people love it ( I know I know I sound mental...).
My first running attempt was a 5 Km of mixed walk and run which lasted a whole 45 minutes and left me exhausted. Exhausted but also happy. And so I gave it a couple more attempts, getting slowly better, until the walk and run became continuous run for 15 then 20 then 25 and eventually a whole 30 minutes..
Some of my surfing friends were talking about parkruns and one day I decided to challenge myself and join them in their local 'Ormeau parkrun'. I remember that Saturday morning, so worried that I wasn't going to be able to finish the 5Km, let alone finish them in a reasonable amount of time. Worried I will come last. Worried people would have to wait for me. Planning my escape route just in case. And yet there I was, at the start line, surrounded by at least 2-300 people who looked like runners. 3,2,1 GO - first loop, 2 Km, done. Second loop, harder, pushing through, tired and yet surrounded by others like me, encouraging smiles. One of my surfing friends next to me running at a similar pace, faces that I recognise in the crowds. Volunteers at every corners, telling you where to go, clapping, smiling, 'nearly there' one says. People ahead (many), people behind (some). Finally crossed the finish line, a chip gets handed to me, my barcode scanned - my time will be online soon. A few hours later, my time is online. 29:45 - I am proud to have done it, let alone done it sub 30.
8 Park runs later I have a personal best of 24:25 (hopefully to be closer to 24:00 soon), and the faces in the crowd have become more and more recognisable. I find myself smiling as I overtake, challenging the person just next to me as we continuously overtake each other, and smiling at that tall dad pushing twins that manages every week without a doubt to zoom past me.
I have been taking other running challenges since, signed up for races and take up running alone in my own time, yet the 9.30 saturday morning run is my favourite. There is something about familiarity, community, encouragement, smiling faces, everyone being on the same boat - up early on a saturday to run.
I love that this run is run entirely by volunteers - many of them. From the ones organising 'behind the scenes', via the ones at corners telling you where to go and clapping as you go past, to the ones recording and organising the times. I owe them a huge thank you - they transformed my hate in love!
I guess I didn't answer the 'what is parkrun' question:
An extract from their site : parkrun organise free, weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. They are open to everyone, free, and are safe and easy to take part in. These events take place in pleasant parkland surroundings and we encourage people of every ability to take part; from those taking their first steps in running to Olympians; from juniors to those with more experience; we welcome you all.
As you can see is very inclusive. Through the map you can easily find the running circuits closer to your home, or to your current location. After you sign up and get your personal barcode you can also be a 'tourist' (as they call them at my local parkrun) and attend other runs, maybe for convenience or for a change of scenery and path. I am really excited about my beachrun this weekend, and hope it goes well. I am super thankful to the organisers who quickly responded to my facebook enquiry about beach running shoes vs barefoot for providing me with great info in a super quick time (and remember they are volunteers!).
I love this kind of community efforts, I believe they are so important - so let's keep them going!
Brushing our teeth - we all do it (or should be) at least twice or three times daily, we are reminded by our parents to do so when we are young and further reminded by our dentists later in life.. and we do it, somewhat innately, a mechanic action.
We are supposed to keep the same toothbrush for a maximum of three months and then change it. This means the average person uses 4 toothbrushes per year, which multiplied by the average western human life spans makes it around 280 toothbrushes (Insert shocked face here). And apparently, since their invention in the 1930s, every single plastic toothbrush produced still exists somewhere on the planet! Not at all surprisingly considering plastic can have lifespan of thousands of years, and moreover we are not even sure whether it does biodegrade at all or just gets broken down into more and more microscopic pieces which can cause enormous damage to living organisms (including us humans!).
'What about recycling?", I hear you ask. For the answer, take a quick look at your toothbrush and notice how many different types of plastics are involved. So - unless you efficiently divide them all before throwing away (and even then I am not sure how many of the pieces would be currently recyclable material) it is impossible.
Faced with these facts, and embracing a low-plastic lifestyle, I have been converted to trying bamboo toothbrushes. The ones I bought are from F.E.T.E (From Earth to Earth) made with bamboo handles (that might be useful to use in arts and crafts at the end of their life due to their nice design) and recyclable nylon bristles (that can be pulled out)!
Spring is here and summer is around the corner (for us in the North hemisphere - sorry Southern readers!).
The sun is out and many of us have already taken advantage, lying in the local parks/beaches/ taking our arms and legs out of clothes prisons.. and I am personally getting excited over my summer holiday plans!
However, after years of recklessness in the sun, playing on my 'mediterranean skin', i finally grew up and realised how dangerous the sun can be. Beauty and danger in a big yellow ball...
But how to protect yourself while enjoying your time out and avoid hiding?
Now. This topic is full of controversy and contradictions.
First of all, with many options out there - all promising to be the 'best'- how should you choose?
Many filters are available: in order for a filter to be effective it has to absorb both UV-A and UV-B rays, however it also has to be safe, thus non-toxic, photo-stable, resistant to high temperatures, remain "superficial" on the skin without going past the 'stratum corneum' of our skins...
It's easily understandable by reading this simple list that a single compound is unlikely to fulfil all the above requirements. Many (most) sunscreen available contain a mix of 'active compounds' (typically a mix of organic and inorganic/mineral filters) and additives to make them cosmetically pleasing (plus perfumes). Many organic compounds are often found in mixes, as often one compound can help 'stabilise' the others, however we need to be careful as these chemical compounds can act as 'endocrine disruptors'.
Moreover, efficacy and safety of the products depends grandly on where in the planet you are buying such products: different countries have different regulatory strategies - for example while in the EU they are considered 'cosmetics' and the priority is given to efficacy, in the US they are considered 'pharmaceutical' and the FDA thus gives priority to the safety of these products.
So what can you do?
There are creams out there made entirely of mineral compounds. A commonly used one is zinc oxide and you can find 'natural' sunscreens containing all natural ingredients and zinc oxide. This can be in nano or non-nano formula, and the non-nano formula is often recommended as there are some potential issues with nano particles entering your body.
I have mine from Badger - and so far love the face stick for surfing! (Still with a whole-body wetsuit here! so only face needs to be protected...). Only ingredients listed are Non-Nano, Uncoated Zinc Oxide 22.5% and *Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, *Cera Alba (Beeswax), *Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, *Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Tocopherol (Sunflower Vitamin E) (*from Organic sources!).
Added benefit is that the oils protect my skin from wind and salt! :) Will let you know how summer time goes.
Before you continue on, let me clarify that this is not gonna be a post about weight loss diets - so those looking to obtain a summer/bikini ready body may not find this useful, however whatever reason made you click on this link I encourage you to continue on and, hopefully, get some inspiration.
I want to talk about our diets environmental impacts
If you watched the documentary "Cowspiracy" you are probably already somewhat aware of the environmental impacts of our diet
If you haven't, or are just in need of a refresher, here are some facts:
- With increases in "wealth" , refined sugars, fats, oils and meats are increasingly common in most diets
- This dietary shifts will lead to an estimated 80% increase in greenhouse gases by 2050, just around the corner (Tilman & Clark. 2014)
- Non-vegetarian meals are estimated to have 1.5-2 times environmental impact compared to vegetarian meals (Reijenders & Soret 2003)
- The environmental impact is due to land-use change. With an increase of demands for animal produces more land needs to be created, leading to deforestation efforts.
- Already around 75% of global agricultural land is used for livestock rearing and the production of crops to feed said livestock (Foley et al. 2011). We could use less land to feed humans on the same vegetarian sources of proteins (e.g. legumes, soybeans..)
- Deforestation and land-use changes are a major source of biodiversity loss, perhaps even more than climate change! (Tasser et al. 2017)
Todays post is a little challenge about your beauty regimen.
Go to your bathroom and count how many face creams/face washers/skin toners do you have on your shelfs.
Probably more than one of each - am I right?
How many of them came with promises which sounded a lot like magic and you fell trap of companies carefully designed advertisements to make you buy it? How many of them delivered on their promises? Probably none and you kept on buying new ones -yet your skin is still extremely dry, or the opposite extremely oily, or worse of all "combination" ?
Now let me ask you to go and read the labels on such bottles - what is the ratio of chemicals to natural ingredients? Unless you are already pretty conscious of what products you use, chances are these are 100% chemicals, even the most expensive brands. Even the "all natural" often contain only 80% natural ingredients with the remaining 20% being chemical components.
And do you really want to slather your face with chemicals everyday?
I am gonna tell you a "one step" secret, that works pretty well on my combination skin (a nightmare, right?) and not only washes but also moisturises! So you won't only save money and save your skin from chemical and save the environment from many empty (often un-recyclable) cream containers, but you will also save TIME! Score :)
Simple ingredients you need: some pure coconut oil (it lasts so long! If you get it from a foreign food shop it will be cheaper as well... and they use it for cooking so surely it's good on your skin) and some cotton pads. Pure essential oils are optional, but the coconut oil can smell a little. I like using the 'Bitter orange', not only it smells fantastic and relaxing but its properties are good for an oily skin... (But remember not to expose to the sun after using citrus based essential oils and always always check their properties before use, they may be contraindicated for skin or any conditions you may have).
How to use: slather some coconut oil on the cotton pad (and add essential oil at this stage) pass it on your skin, you will already see that the pad goes a bit brown with dirt (oil washes oil, dirt is more oil soluble than water - so you will remove all traces of the smog, dirt, make up or whatever is on your skin!), then with the other side of the pad (to be conservative! but you are allowed a new one..) you can take the leftover off. Your skin will be clean and moisturised... in one single step!
Enjoy and let me know how you get on, if it works for your skin types :)
Between the Easter break and being away from home and my usual routine, thus eating differently than normal I felt in need for a little detox time to kick start the healthy routine again!
I haven't actually done a juice cleanse before and I have always been quite skeptical of them, but after reading some more I decided that it would be a good way to go.
Now.. with many companies out there offering juice cleanses - how do you choose?
I wanted something as local as possible and with as little impact as possible.
So I came across "Skinny Malinkys" - made fresh in Northern Ireland (where I currently am).
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