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 🙂

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

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!


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