Dear Tracey…

I am not a doctor nor do I pretend to be one. If you need expert advice on health or wellbeing please speak to your GP. This forum is a light hearted approach to sharing some tips, tricks and techniques for a healthier lifestyle 🙂


Should I care that I can’t touch my toes?

It might be helpful to think, “would it be useful to be able to touch my toes?” If we still lived a life of hunter gathering, you would almost definitely be able to touch your toes, squat right to the ground, shimmy up a tree, and lick your own elbow (you can never lick your own elbow, I just wondered how many people might try it!!). So if there is no need in your lifestyle to be able to touch the floor without bending your knees, it’s probably not something you need to focus your time on achieving. 

That said, being able to touch your toes will increase the flexibility in your legs and lower back. It may help increase mobility in your hips and improve your balance. It could help you be more mobile and be able to exercise better and with less pain. So perhaps it’s worth giving it a go… If you want to be able to touch your toes the BBC has put together a handy little training guide. Let us know how you get on!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/Bz9t2SfndvwpPfX88Y39KN/the-touch-your-toes-challenge-makeyourmove

Bakers cyst

“Dear Tracey. After 15 very painful months and a mountain of chiropractic bills I have finally had a diagnosis that the pain in my right knee is the result of a ‘Bakers Cyst’.  I am trying to research the cause and and appropriate treatment but not getting very far. 

All I really need to know is do I have to stop making my monthly batches of lemon drizzle cake and flapjacks??  I have to be honest the problems only really started after I made Nigella Lawsons chocolate Guinness cake so I’m holding her 100% accountable!
I value your thoughts and expert opinion as always!  S x”

Holy Shitaké, what a Pickle to be in! It takes two to Mango so maybe we can figure this out together. You’ll be pleased to know, it could be Wurst, every cloud has a silver Liming. There’s no need to do the Wok of shame as I think I have a couple of solutions for you.

A Bakers (or popliteal) cyst, is a fluid-filled cyst that causes a bulge and a feeling of tightness behind your knee. The swelling and inflammation can result in pain and discomfort. Definitely see a GP and if you ever have a sharp pain, swelling or redness in your calf get advice straight away. Your GP may suggest painkillers, bandages or an ice pack. They will look for underlying causes too. 

Nigella has a lot to answer for and I would stick to the lemon drizzle cake and flapjacks. But may I also recommend Jodie’s fabulous White Chocolate and Raspberry cheesecake recipe (it sounds bananas but I think you’ll find it quite a-peeling).

Let’s Ketchup again, I think you might be my biggest Flan 😉
Tracey

No Bake white chocolate and raspberry cheesecakeMakes a large, deep cheesecake (reduce ingredients if you have a shallow pan)

This delicious cheesecake can be used for any special occasion or just as a treat (I made one for Tracey’s Birthday). The really delicious combination is not too sickly as the lemon juice and tart raspberries cut through the sweetness.  This is sure to be a hit with your family and friends and is so, so easy – give it a try and let me know how yours came out!

To alter it to a Nutella cheesecake recipe, simply omit the white chocolate and raspberries/raspberry sauce and swirl through a few tablespoons of Nutella to the cheesecake mix. Sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts and fresh strawberries to finish.

For the base

  • 300g digestive biscuits (use gluten free biscuits to make this recipe gluten free)
  • 150g unsalted butter

For the cheesecake

  • 600ml double cream
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 560g cream cheese (2x 280g pots)
  • ½ lemon (just the juice)
  • 100g white chocolate
  • 100g fresh raspberries
  • 6 tablespoons of raspberry coulis/sauce

To decorate

  • 100g fresh raspberries
  • 100g white chocolate

Method

  • Finely crush the biscuits (the rolling pin and bag trick)
  • Melt the butter, mix in with the crushed biscuits and press into a cake tin with a removable bottom (or line a regular tin with parchment paper)
  • Pop in the fridge to cool while you make the cheesecake filling
  • Beat the double cream with the icing sugar until it forms soft, floppy peaks (use an electric whisk if possible)
  • Melt 100g of the white chocolate over a “bain marie” and leave to cool until almost set
  • Very gently fold the cream cheese, lemon juice, cooled white chocolate, chopped raspberries and coulis/sauce 
  • Add this to the biscuit base and level out the top
  • Leave to firm up in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight
  • Once it has been refrigerated, remove it from the tin by running a slim, sharp knife around the edge and popping it out (or removing the parchment paper)
  • Decorate with grated white chocolate and fresh raspberries
  • Enjoy your creation and keep it in the fridge in between eating!

As I get older I find my balance is getting worse. What can I do about it?

Balance is incredibly complicated. Relying on inputs from your muscles, joints, eyes and ears,  your brain can calculate how to adjust your position in space to keep you upright. It’s especially important to have good balance as we get older. 30% of people aged 65 and older will fall at least once a year. That number goes up to 50% for those over 80 years. Not only is falling embarrassing and painful, but it can result in serious injury. 

As we get older, our brains ability to manage all its sensory inputs declines (as do some of those inputs, like eyesight), and this, along with reduced muscle strength and lower bone density, puts us at risk of falling. Also, if we start to feel unstable on our feet we are less likely to exercise, making the problem worse.

The great news is, improving your strength and practicing balancing can reduce the decline. It’s a fine balancing act (pun intended!), to exercise to improve your balance, as you want to challenge yourself, but need to be careful not to end up falling! Or at least not falling where you can hurt yourself.

If you take a look at the exercises that the NHS recommend for improving balance, they include the grapevine and one leg stand. So you are already on the way to improved balance by coming to Zumba!!

There is a study in the British Medical Journal  that used an exercise program to reduce the number of falls in people aged 70 and over. It demonstrated a significant reduction of 31% in the rate of falls for the programme. You can find their program guides here.

So keep active, practice balancing, build strength in your muscles (which will also contribute to improving bone density) and keep on top of your eye, ear and joint health.

Wax or shave?!?

My doctor says I am at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. What can I do?

First, a crash course in type 2 diabetes. When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into the sugar glucose and in response, your pancreas produces the hormone insulin. Insulin allows the glucose in your blood to enter your cells and fuel your body. But in type 2 diabetes, the insulin can’t work properly and the level of glucose in your blood continues to rise, damaging your body. 

The good news is, the effects of diabetes can be managed, and often reversed. Whilst you may need medication (and it’s essential you talk to your doctor about this), some people can manage their diabetes by changing their diet, being more active and losing weight.

Diabetes UK provides loads of information on what to eat. You can find it all here. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/Enjoy-food/Eating-with-diabetes/What-is-a-healthy-balanced-diet

Eating plenty of vegetables is important in any diet. But you may want to avoid starchy foods that cause your blood sugar to rise quickly and make diabetes hard to manage. Focus on choosing foods with a low glycemic index. Try brown rice instead of white, sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, and wholemeal bread rather than white bread. You can also chill starches (like pasta and rice) over night, which reduces the sugar entering your blood stream. I’ll go into this clever hack in detail next week.

How much sleep should I be getting each night?

I used to think as sleep as one of the pillars of health, along with diet, exercise and stress control. It looked something like this:

But having researched deeply into sleep over the last few years I think of it like this. Your body is a bus.

The engine is responsible for exercise, the fuel is your diet, the seating area is your stress control, relationships and sense of community, and the wheels? Well, they are your sleep. Put simply, if you don’t get good quality sleep, then the wheels come off the bus. And that’s not going to end well!

Your body can manage surprisingly well for a very long time on a poor diet, and it will keep going without exercise, and it adapts to stress, but lack of good quality sleep will kill you. And it will do it surprisingly quickly.

Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night will destroy your immune system, double your risk of cancer, set you on the path to Alzheimer’s disease, increase your likelihood of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure as well as contributing to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Need I go on?

So how do you give your sleep the time and effort it deserves? Like this:

  • Avoid all screens (phones, tablets etc), bright lights and heavy exercise for the 2 hours before bed.
  • Relax in the hour before bed.
  • Think of your bedroom as a cave. It should be cool and dark. The drop in temperature will help you sleep. There should be no lights at all. Not even the standby light on an electrical device. And definitely not your phone screen! Get blackout blinds if there are street lights outside your bedroom window.
  • Be in bed by 10pm. Between 10pm and 2am is when your brain cleans itself out and gets rid of toxins.
  • Make sure you have 8 hours planned in bed. It doesn’t matter if you naturally wake up before the 8 hours is up. What matters is you had the opportunity for a full 8 hours sleep. It’s the sleep in the few hours before you wake up that helps you store memories and process emotions. You can’t cut your sleep short at either end of the night.
  • Prize sleep over everything else – you’ll live longer, have a better quality of life and perform better at pretty much everything!!

Don’t let the wheels come off the bus…

Can you explain the FODMAP diet? My doctor recommends I should try it.

I can try! 

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccahrides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols (obviously!!). These are a group of carbohydrates that can aggravate the gut of sensitive people, causing cramps, bloating and wind 😞

The BBC produced this table of example FODMAP foods:

The diet works by removing all of these from your diet, then slowly reintroducing them to find out which ones cause problems and how much of them you can have without any symptoms. You should work with a nutritionist, doctor or other expert to get the diet right (and to make sure you even need to be on it. A health care professional would want to rule out problems like coeliac disease first). 

In essence, you cut all the FODMAPs out for up to 8 weeks, then you test each of the foods by reintroducing them one by one, for 3 days each. After this you can create a modified diet for yourself where you reduce or eliminate (depending on how badly they effect you), each of the foods.

It’s a complicated diet to try and a nutritionist or dietitian would be able to help you work through it. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a boring diet. Check out the BBC’s guide to low FODMAP recipes here.

I have problems with my knee and don’t jump because it jars. How do I improve the strength of my knees?

Not all shoes are created equally. In fact, most performance shoes are designed to support your feet in very specific ways and you need the right tool for the job. 

First and most importantly, speak to your GP or another expert like a physio. It’s important to know what causes the pain and if anything is going to make it worse. Sometimes, the pain in one part of your body is caused by an issue somewhere else. Don’t just forge ahead with strengthening exercises.

Once you know all is well and you can exercise and use those knees, adapt Zumba to suit your needs. You could warm up slowly, avoid jumping altogether, modify the moves to jumps that don’t cause you problems (maybe smaller jumping, or not jumping on all the tracks), take more breaks during the class, and make sure you rest your joints adequately between classes. That’s the joy of Zumba, you can modify and take it as easy as you need.

Finally, to your actual question! Knee strengthening. This was not something I knew much about, so I went hunting around the NHS to see what they said. NHS Scotland has some advice (I believe Scottish knees are much the same as knees from elsewhere in the UK…). It includes instructional videos to get you going. Check it out here.

What do you think about the vegan diet? 

Full disclosure – for 10 years I was vegetarian and almost half of that was as a vegan. I was perfectly healthy and full of energy. Not a single animal product passed my lips, nor did I wear them or use their by-products. My diet now is almost exclusively plant based, with the exception of eggs, bacon (!!!), cheese (the more mouldy the better!) and occasionally dairy milk. I’m not going to mention the moral side of the diet as there just isn’t enough room to write a balanced argument on it! Though I will briefly mention it at the end…

As far as I can see, there are two general types of vegan diet. One that simply swaps out animal products for processed meat “replacements” – like vegan burgers, sausages, cheese (honestly,vegan cheese is nothing like cheese), egg replacement etc. The other, removes the animal products and replaces them with more fruit and veg.
The first option does little to reduce the amount of additives, preservatives, sugar and salt you eat, the second option reduces the chemicals, increases the fibre, increases your vitamins and minerals, boosts your anti-oxidants, and is often a healthy improvement on the standard western diet. I am all for any diet that increases the vegetables that you eat. Hardly anyone comes near to eating enough fibre. Sadly, the western diet leaves us overfed and under-nourished 😞 

My warning about the vegan diet comes down to knowledge of what your body needs and where to get it. Vegans can often be deficient in iron, zinc, calcium, B12 and vitamin D. With the exception of B12, you can get enough of all of these from a vegan diet, but you need to know how. For example, zinc can be found in many beans and whole grains. But phytic acid found in these plants can hinder your zinc absorption. By soaking or sprouting grains and beans before cooking, the phytic acid is reduced and your absorption should increase. 

My diet isn’t vegan anymore, simply so I can get all the nutrients I need without supplements and without difficulty. Oh, and so I can eat bacon 😉

My only tip of the hat to the moral argument for being a vegan is this. Sticking to a good, healthy diet is incredibly difficult for most people. But almost anyone that takes on a diet for moral or religious reasons, sticks to it without effort, and often for their entire life (vegan, veggie, halal, kosher etc…). Staying on a particular diet is easy when you have a bigger reason than just weight loss. So, for any diet, think about the deeper reasons for sticking to it. It may be because you want to be a healthy weight, but a healthy weight means a longer life, a longer life means being around for your children longer so you can support them as they grow. That may be a much better motivation for you to stick with it.

I’m off to enjoy kale smoothie (trust me, they really are good!)…

What should I have for breakfast? 

Breakfast is super important. Even choosing not to have it can be an important decision. It sets you up for the day, and if you get it right in the morning, the rest of the day can be great. There are lots of options I can’t cover them all, but let me tell you what I have and why, it may give you some ideas…

Monday – nothing. I fast from early Sunday evening to late Monday lunchtime. This gives my body the opportunity to break down damaged cells and clear out my digestive system. It also improves my insulin sensitivity.

Tuesday – fried egg yolk (no egg white – I can’t stand the stuff), asparagus, mashed avocado, grilled cherry tomatoes and a green tea. This is a physical day starting with Zumba and I don’t want to be hungry. The eggs and avocado are great for my brain and the veg is a good boost of fibre. I won’t be hungry until mid afternoon and have plenty of energy for class.

Wednesday – Homemade banana and flaxseed pancakes with lemon juice and a green tea. Filling and high in fibre. A study on ground flaxseeds found that they had one of the most potent blood-pressure-lowering effects ever achieved by a dietary intervention. They are also great for reducing breast cancer risk and reducing menstrual breast pain too! We’ve included the pancake recipe from the Eat Clean Plan below. If you want to more about our Eat Clean plan you can find it all here at www.eatcleanplan.com

Thursday – homemade cereal from the Eat Clean Plan and green tea.

Friday – 2 egg omelette with steamed veg (something like broccoli or fine beans). Again, I’m going for the fibre and brain food.

Saturday – smoothie with coconut milk, collagen peptides, a banana, beetroot juice, turmeric, blueberries and some dried Cordyceps mushroom powder (the legal type). The collagen peptides are for my joints, the beetroot to improve the oxygen carrying capacity of my blood, blueberries for my brain and the mushrooms for energy.

Sunday – whatever I darn well please! We can’t be good all the time. Could someone pass the bacon please …

What trainers should I wear for Zumba?

Not all shoes are created equally. In fact, most performance shoes are designed to support your feet in very specific ways and you need the right tool for the job. 

Avoid anything really grippy (such as running shoes) because a rubber sole will grip the floor, limiting your ability to spin and rotate smoothly. And who doesn’t want to spin freely around the room?!?

Talking of spinning, look for a shoe with a“spinspot”. This is a smooth round section on the sole that lines up with the ball of your foot, allowing you to pirouette with ease. Dance specific shoes also tend to be more flexible and allow you to point your toes so that you can look still look elegant when you’re getting down with a cha cha cha. 

Zumba do have their own line of shoes on their website. Whilst funky looking, you need to be sure you’re sitting down before you see the price (may be wait for the sale). 
Here are some suggestions to check out:

But don’t forget your socks! Thicker socks give your shoes a tighter fit, cotton socks retain moisture and can leave your feet feeling sweaty, and compression socks can help decrease soreness after exercising. 

And don’t get me started on laces and lacing methods…

The last word – try the shoes before you buy, make sure they support your feet where you need it, give a dance shop a call and speak to an expert who can help you chose what works for you, and check out these crazy shoes that make music while you dance.


How do I avoid varicose veins?

The short answer is – move more. The longer answer requires a quick lesson in anatomy.

Your body has a hard time pumping the blood from your feet all the way back up to your heart, so it has several cunning tricks to help push your blood back up. One of those tricks is the valves that are present in your veins (the blood vessels that take blood from your tissues back to your lungs to get refilled with oxygen before being pumped back around the body). These tiny valves let your blood flow towards the heart and then close to prevent it from flowing backwards. If your valves become damaged or stretched, your blood can leak back through and flow backwards. This blood then pools, causes the veins to stretch and leaves you with varicose veins.

So how does moving help? As you move around, the muscles in your legs squeeze your veins and help push the blood upwards, reducing any pooling that can stretch and damage your veins. This is particularly important if you have a job that requires standing still for long periods of time. Moving more also helps you maintain a healthy weight, as being overweight puts extra pressure on your veins so they have to work harder to send the blood back to your heart. Age also increases your risk of developing the problem, so the sooner you can start moving more, the better.

But you don’t need to worry about crossing your legs, according to the BBC, there’s no evidence that crossing your legs has anything to do with varicose veins.


How can I curb my chocolate cravings?

Whatever you do next, don’t think about a pink elephant.

You’re thinking about a pink elephant now aren’t you?!

Oddly enough, when we try to suppress our thoughts about something, we tend to think of it more. But we can use this to our advantage when trying not to eat too much chocolate (or anything else for that matter). The next time you start craving chocolate, rather than trying to push it from your mind, embrace it. Think of all the chocolate!! Imagine eating a massive bar of chocolate. One of those huge family bars of dairy milk. In fact, think about eating two of them!!! Picture yourself enveloped in a human sized bar of chocolate. Perhaps you could be having a bath in molten chocolate. You get the idea.

By the time you’ve finished imagining all the chocolate, you should find that your cravings have subsided, and even though you may still have some chocolate, it will be less than if you hadn’t visualised it first.

Other top tips for reducing cravings:

  • Eat protein rich, high fibre foods like beans to stop you getting hungry.
  • Have a glass of water first – it can help you feel full and put you off eating more.
  • Buy really expensive chocolate. And I mean really expensive. You won’t be able to bring yourself to eat a whole bar if it costs a fortune. You’re more likely to savour it and enjoy a small piece.
  • Eat very dark chocolate. It’s bitter flavour makes it hard to eat too much, but it still satisfies those cravings.

Can I do Zumba even though I suffer with…

One of our fabulous Zumba ladies was telling us how she comes to Zumba despite her osteoarthritis. In fact, she comes to Zumba to give her troubled foot the strength it needs in anticipation of her arthritis getting worse. We know there are plenty of other Zumba ladies with aches, pains, syndromes and diseases, that make exercise hard for them. So can you still come to Zumba when you are suffering with a medical problem?

First, check with an expert. Speak to your GP, physio, pharmacist, or whoever knows about your condition. They can tell you what kind of exercise will make it worse or better. But don’t forget, there’s a difference between being told you shouldn’t do it, because you will make your condition worse (take these warnings seriously), and you won’t be able to do it. 

Meet Arthur. Arthur was a disabled veteran of the Gulf War for 15 years, and was told by his doctors that he would never be able to walk on his own, ever again. Then he discovered yoga. The yoga, combined with a never give up attitude completely trasnformed his life. See his amazing story here (warning- you will cry).

The wonderful thing about Zumba is that you can do it at your own pace and build up slowly. If you can’t use your shoulder then work harder with your legs. If you can’t jump, then march on the spot. If you can only mange three tracks, take a break.  All classes are suitable for everyone, but if you are looking for a low impact class that won’t stress your joints, try our wonderful Zumba Gold class every Tuesday at 11:30am( St Saviours Church hall).

If you just turn up to Zumba, you’ve already beaten everyone still sat on the sofa. Use the class to get a little bit fitter and stronger each week. And use the support of everyone around you. You won’t find a more supportive exercise class!

NEVER GIVE UP 

red heart