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 🙂

2021 Book review

When it comes to books I am a shameless, grabby piglet. I have to set boundaries before entering Waterstones and limit both my Kindle and Audible downloads to one book at a time (the £1 Audible sale is like a drug!). The problem is, once I start a book, I find a dozen others on the subject and fall down a rabbit hole. If there is a “readers anonymous” group, I should join.

Narrowing down to a top 5 was impossible, so these are my top 5 from 2021 (though most were published well before 2021) with some other suggestions to take you down the rabbit hole with me…

I’ll start with the best self book I’ve read in a long time – “Rip It Up: Forget positive thinking, it’s time for positive action”.  Do you want to lose weight, feel younger, be more attractive, or be able to change other people minds? This is the book for you! Based on science, this is a book about how small movements can change your life. With super simple ideas to follow, this can make a big difference in a very short time.

Also worth reading:

59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot” Richard Wiseman

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” – Jen Sincero

One of my favourite books this year has been “The Awakened Ape” by Jedan Pradas. The book is described as “A sprawling journey, featuring Jevan’s adventures with naked Amazonian tribes and retreats with enlightened monks to learn the secrets of optimal well-being.” Though I drew the line at never using soap again!

Also worth reading:

The Art of Living” – Thich That Hanh

Bringing Home the Dharma” – Jack Kornfield

My next book is Sarah Gilbert’s “Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine and the Race Against the Virus”. This was a really interesting deep dive into how it was possible to create a new vaccine in such a short space of time – spoiler – it revolves around removing all the red tape… it left me feeling very reassured about the Astra Zeneca vaccine and the fight against upcoming outbreaks.

Also worth reading:

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World” – Laura Spinney

I am a big believer in the benefits of breath work and meditation and I practice daily. “A Practical Guide to Breathwork: A Remedy for the Modern Human Condition” by Jesse Coomer was a lovely easy read with some great practical exercise for improving your breath work to relieve stress and live better. Whether you want to feel more energised or sit back and relax, whether you are new to breath work or a seasoned practitioner, this is the book for you. It’s relaxing to read as well as put into practice.

Also worth reading:

Live True: A Mindfulness Guide to Authenticity” – Ora Nadrich

The Art of Breathing” – Danny Penman

Becoming the Iceman: Pushing Past Perceived Limits” – Wim Hof

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” – James Nestor

And finally, for a little light reading. “The Night circus” by Erin Morgenstern. This is the only fiction book on my list simply because I normally read fiction right before going to sleep and whenever I am on holiday. And it’s safe to say, there weren’t many opportunities for travel or holidays last year, so I haven’t ready nearly as much fiction as I normally would. This is a beautifully written book that gives nothing away by its cover. “The circus arrives without warning. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.” I guess you’ll just have to read it to find out what happens…

Also worth reading:

Snow Crash” – Neil Stephenson (but only for the geeks among you)

A Pinch of Magic” – Michelle Harrison (teenage fiction is not just for teenagers!)

Exercise in the morning or evening?

“Ever since online Zumba started, I’ve been doing two classes a week, one in the evening and one in the morning. I’ve never been a morning person, and I have definitely noticed the difference. At the end of an evening session, I’m all bouncy and have plenty left in the tank; but even before the end of a morning session, I feel as if I’m running on empty – and for the exact same playlist! So, my question is – is one of them better for me? Would the morning one be a better workout (burning more calories), or does it make no difference how I feel?”

Let’s look at the science. In one study1, subjects walked for sixty minutes at different times of the day. Over twenty-four hours, they burned off 432 fat calories after exercising in the evening and 446 fat calories after walking in the afternoon. What about a pre-breakfast walk? The same amount of exercise before breakfast resulted in 717 calories of fat loss. Over the course of a day, timing truly does matter if your question is one of fat loss.

However, if you want to view this from the perspective of how you feel, in another study2 they found that human exercise performance is better in the evening compared to the morning, as [athletes] consume less oxygen, that is, they use less energy, for the same intensity of exercise in the evening versus the morning. So you may feel better exercising in the evening because you have more energy left over at the end. But of course, you may well have burnt less fat.

So if you’re more concerned about your weight and controlling their blood sugar — and less about shaving a minute or two from your marathon time — you might be better to go for morning classes and have breakfast later. But if you just want to have a fun workout and get moving whilst still feeling full of energy afterwards, the evenings are probably for you!

Either way, what matters is you are up and exercising and keeping moving. It all helps contribute to a long and active life 🙂

(1) Iwayama K, Kurihara R, Nabekura Y, et al. Exercise increases 24-h fat oxidation only when it is performed before breakfast. EBioMedicine. 2015;2(12):2003–9

(2) Cell Metabolism, Ezagouri, Zwighaft, and Sobel et al.: “Physiological and Molecular Dissection of Daily Variance in Exercise Capacity” DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2019.03.012

How can I keep motivating myself to exercise?

Lockdown has been a difficult time for many people to motivate themselves to exercise so here are some tips to get you going:

  1. Remove any barriers to exercise. Identify all your barriers to exercising and eliminate as many as possible. Foe example, set your sportswear out the night before so when you get up you can jump straight into it. Book your Zumba classes a week in advance so you are already committed and set up. If you are exercising indoors at home, clear the space you need hours before your workout so it doesn’t feel like a chore to get going. Build a habit so you exercise on the same days or at the same time.
  2. Surround yourself by motivated people. Chat to someone else from Zumba and tell them you will join them at the same time for a class so there is some peer pressure for yourself and you can be motivated knowing someone else is doing it. Maybe even video call each other so you can do the class together. Try a crazy website like Stickk or Pavlok to keep the pressure on.
  3. Set a specific goal. General goals like “do more exercise” are harder to stick to than specific goals like “Do 2 Zumba classes a week”. A specific goal is easier to monitor and harder to find excuses for because it’s clear if you’ve met the goal or not. I use the 2 day rule. I can miss a workout any day I like, but never two days in a row. This way, at worst, I will exercise every other day.
  4. Keep a diary of how you felt after each workout, as well as you how you felt after missing a work out. When you start to feel demotivated check back through the diary and see how good you felt after a workout to remind yourself it’s worth it. Even if you felt physically worn out, your mood was most probably elevated and you felt proud of yourself for putting in the effort. This motivates you to keep on going.
  5. Improve your diet so you feel physically better. Feeling sluggish and tired is never going to make exercise easy. There is a really interesting book I just read called “How not to diet” that may give you some great ideas on how to loose weight, become leaner and boost your energy. Here is a quick review….

“How not to diet” by Michael Greger is a very readable book on the science of dieting. It debunks plenty of myths about diets and provides a plan for looking weight (specifically fat) and becoming healthier. It goes beyond the usual “eat less fat” approach and shows you some great ways to maximise weight loss – time of day to eat, which meals should be bigger, should you reduce calories in every meal or skip a meal instead, what meals should be daily composed of… Dr Greger clearly has a bias towards plant based, low fat eating, but that’s no bad thing and many of his points are still balanced. There is also a cookbook you can order to go alongside. It’s a really interesting book and worth your time, even if you skip to the chapters that are important to you. After all, your health is worth it!! Incidentally Dr Greger also wrote the rather fabulous “How not to die” book too…

Grab yourself a copy here.

A coronavirus Question!

Should I wash all the shopping that I buy?

A great question! Whilst there is no science to suggest you can catch coronavirus directly from food, what about if someone has sneezed on your food and covered it in the virus? We do know that the virus can live for many hours on hard surfaces so here is some advice from Joseph G. Allen (assistant professor of exposure and assessment science at Harvard University.)

“Shop when you need to (keeping six feet from other customers) and load items into your cart or basket. Keep your hands away from your face while shopping, and wash them as soon as you’re home. Put away your groceries, and then wash your hands again. If you wait even a few hours before using anything you just purchased, most of the virus that was on any package will be significantly reduced. If you need to use something immediately, and want to take extra precautions, wipe the package down with a disinfectant. Last, wash all fruits and vegetables as you normally would.”

Will a cold shower boost my immune system?

A study from the Thrombosis Research Institute in London, suggests that cold water boosts the circulation and stimulates immune cell production. It is thought that during the process of the body trying to warm itself up after being cold, the body’s metabolism speeds up which activates the immune system.   The immune system starts to produce more white blood cells; the presence of more white blood cells means that your body is better equipped to fight infection.

And, as it happens, saunas may have a great immune boosting function too. The Journal of human kinetics conducted a study showing that after a sauna session, an increased number of white blood cells, lymphocyte, neutrophil and basophil counts was reported in the white blood cell profile.

Isolation and connection

Isolation and sleep

I cant sleep at night and thought it was to do with my thyroid but I have the computer HUB on my bedside cabinet which has a blue light on all the time. Looking for your advice…

Melatonin is the hormone that helps us fall asleep. It’s usually first produced between 9 and 10pm under dim light conditions resulting in an energy drop until 6am when your circadian rhythm is reset by light which sends signals to your brain to stop it producing melatonin, and instead produce a spike of cortisol during the morning to wake you up.

The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrains the production of melatonin, and only 2 hours of computer use at maximum brightness can suppress your normal night time melatonin release and disrupt your sleep pattern. Beware of your smart devices as most screens emit blue light. And most certainly beware of anything with blue lights on!

Avoid electronic screens in the two hours before bed, use dim lights in the house and, if you sleep in a room near outside lights, invest in some quality black out blinds (or an eye mask) to keep out the light whilst you sleep. If you can’t turn off or move lights (like standby lights on devices), consider covering them with black electrical tape so they don’t continue to disturb your sleep.

What exercises can I do at home that build muscle?

Okay, there are tons of options here. If you want something structured that doesn’t require any equipment other than a chair and only takes 7 minutes, you need to try the (imaginatively named) 7 minute workout! Here is everything you need to know: I’ve used this plenty of times when travelling and have the app on my phone if I’m staying in a hotel.

If you want something really versatile, consider investing in a TRX system. You just need the TRX itself (pretty pricy at £80): and a door to hang it from. There are loads of great muscle building exercises you can try with it And again, it’s perfect for travel too.

And if you are looking for something in-between, purchase a cheap resistance band and follow a workout like this one

How do I stop feeling so dizzy when I turn at Zumba?

Dizzy when you spin at Zumba? Check out this quick guide to “spot turn”…

What muscles do I build in Zumba?

Zumba is a great way to build your muscles mass. The muscles that get the most work are your gluteals, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves. These are the muscles that make up your bottom and legs. Think of all that hip wiggling you do in class! Your abdominal muscles have to keep you upright and stable so they get a pretty good work out too.

Your shoulders and arms don’t have to do as much work, but when you are new to Zumba, or we have a few tracks in the playlist that keep your arms in the air, you soon feel the burn. These upper body moves are also great for maintaining flexibility and keeping our arms moving into our old age. 

And here’s the really good news. On top of building new muscles, bone also responds to exercise by becoming stronger. After the age of 40 we tend to lose bone mass which puts us at risk of falls resulting in broken bones. Exercising and having a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D can help us keep a healthy bone mass into our later years. Which in turn, will keep us coming to Zumba!!

How do I stay healthy over Christmas?

I have one simple answer! Eat more veg 🙂 It’s that easy.

Why so simple?

  • All the fibre in veg will fill you up and reduce your temptation to eat more junk.
  • It will keep your gut healthy by feeding your good gut bacteria and keeping things moving.
  • Veg high in magnesium (green leaves, bananas, avocados**) can reduce inflammation and promote good sleep.
  • Veg high in vitamin C (generally the brightly coloured ones like peppers), can help boost your immune system and fight off colds and bugs.

** yes I know an avocado isn’t a vegetable. it’s a single seeded berry to be exact. But that seemed a bit too OCD, even for me!

So here is a fab sprout-slaw recipe to boost your veg intake over Christmas. Why embrace the sprout? It’s high in fibre, rich in vitamins A (eye health), K (blood clotting and bone health) and C (immune system), low in calories and high in omega-3 fatty acids (brain health).

  • 250g of finely sliced sprouts
  • 2 grated medium carrots
  • 1 finely sliced, medium red onion
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 150ml of mayo
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • Juice from one small lemon
  • Some chilli flakes if you are feeling adventurous!!

Fling it all in a bowl, mix well and chill until you are ready to serve. Easy!

Halve your calories without eating less!

“Eat rice cold for fewer calories” the BBC article read. It went on, “Scientists say they have found a way to make rice less calorific – boil it with coconut oil and then refrigerate for half a day before eating. According to the Sri Lankan researchers, treating rice in this way reduces its calories by up to 60%.”

So I decided to put this to the test. It’s not a great experiment, but I’m not publishing it, so I figured I could bend the research rules a little!

I boiled a bowl of rice with a teaspoon of coconut oil and split it into two. I ate one half whilst it was still hot, the other half was left in the fridge over night. I ate this second half at the same time the following evening. To test the effect on the amount of calories, I measured my blood sugar before I ate, and then every 30 mins afterwards. This would show me how much sugar was entering my blood stream. In theory, if the second bowl had less calories, I would see less sugar in my blood.

And lo! It was true. You can see from the orange line (the chilled bowl of rice), less sugar enters my blood.

So how does this work? Starch is a type of carbohydrate found in rice. Cooling causes the starch to become resistant to digestion, allowing it to pass through your digestive system without being absorbed by your body. Hence, there are less calories in the food. This theory works for pasta too. So go ahead and cook your rice and pasta (with a teaspoon of coconut oil) the day before you are going to eat it. Refrigerate it and then eat it the next day (it’s fine to heat it again, this won’t affect the starches) to consume less calories 🙂

Why do I sweat more than other people?

Let me start by introducing you to your sweat glands! You have between 2 and 4 million sweat glands all over your body. There are two types; Eccrine glands found all over your body that sweat (without any smell) to help cool you down, and apocrine glands that are found in your armpits and groin. The apocrine glands produce a thick fluid that produces that unpleasant odour when it comes into contact with the bacteria on your skin. 

So what makes one person sweat more than another?

  • Your glands may produce more sweat than other peoples.
  • You may have more sweat glands than others.
  • If you don’t exercise often you tend to heat up quicker and sweat more.
  • If you are fit you tend to work harder, generating more heat than less fit people.
  • If you wear tighter fabrics you sweat more.
  • If you have more body fat it won’t insulate you much to make you sweat more, but carrying more weight means your muscles work harder and that’s what can make you sweat more.
  • If you grew up in a hot country you sweat more as your body has adapted to dealing with the heat.
  • Caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods will make you sweat.
  • If you are Tracey Barron, for some unknown reason, you just don’t sweat at all!!
  • And of course, some diseases can make you sweat more. So it you suddenly find yourself excessively sweating, it may be time for a trip to the doctor…

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!

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 ?

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


  • 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.

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

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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