Monday, 28 January 2013

Is being vegan healthy?

Rachel, Annabelle and Steve
Vegetarians and vegans are people who have plant based diets; they don't eat animal meat.  Vegans go further by completely avoiding any animal products which includes wool, honey, eggs, milk etc.  So, is being a vegan a healthy thing to do?  Are vegan children victims of child abuse?  Do vegans have good or bad diets?  Do vegans live longer than meat eaters?  These are all good questions which people ask and I've pondered some of these myself.  Well, since drifting from an intermittent meat eater to a complete vegetarian a few years ago, this has been on my mind for some time.

We only have three friends who are vegan: Steve, Rachel and their daughter Annabelle.  I  recently invited myself 'round to their house after work one evening for a scrummy meal and a natter.  We spent some time exploring the issue; I have only known them as vegans and I was keen to hear about their journey and what has taken them along that path.

Here goes.  We've known Steve, Rachel and Annabelle since the 1990s and we have always been impressed by their thoughtful, consistent and firm approach on a range of issues.  We admire them for their strong principles.  I think the world needs a few more people like them!  This was a good opportunity to get down to the wholefood reality.....

I asked about the drivers, the reasoning behind veganism.  For Steve and Rachel, they recounted the stories of young animals being exported to the Continent in appalling conditions: I instantly remembered those old news stories.  Young calves were being shipped in crates, shortly to become veal.  Horses were being transported for slaughtering, cattle were (and are) being bred for ever-increasing milk production.  They just didn't want to be part of that anymore.  For me, I sort of knew of this kind of thing had happened (almost everyone watches the news on TV or reads a newspaper) but it hadn't really moved me in the same way.  Perhaps I was starting to recognise my own selfishness; being a vegetarian was about becoming healthier and as a spin-off equalising the food distribution around the world was merely some kind of bonus.  That alone, I realise, is not enough.  Being a vegan because of animal welfare issues was clearly a matter of conscience for them, and for this they-  and the whole vegan movement - should be admired and taken more seriously.

Tell me about the health benefits of being vegan

Firstly, you only have to look at Steve and Rachel to see they're pretty healthy.  No sign of being over weight or anything like that; Annabelle is a delightfully healthy and lively teenage girl.  

We get down to the details and Steve starts to get more serious with me.  He explains the reality is, for vegans, they're less likely to have "lifestyle" health problems.  Vegans tend to live longer.  They are less likely to be constipated and never really need to worry about their weight.  Cancers are less common in vegans along with type 2 diabetes, heart disease and all of the modern-day killers.  Rachel adds that it doesn't happen by chance - you need to take care in what you eat and even vegans can get fat!  Being vegan on it's own doesn't suddenly make you thinner, leaner or healthier.  It needs a plan. 

In terms of eating a good balanced diet, in practice vegans know they can't just get by through chance.   The "shovel it all in and hope for the best" approach just isn't going to work and the thing about deficiencies in diets is that you might not realise there's a problem for quite some time.  Like most vegans, they take an interest in what they eat.  Steve explained how he had to point this out to a colleague who was a bit sceptical of him being a vegan.  He shared a list of the meals they eat, over a two week period and it's then you can see the variety, the wide range of foods and each with their purpose.  Steve's colleague was impressed, thoroughly out-witted and duly put in his place.  When you stop to think of all the fruits we can buy (and grow!), the vegetables, the nuts, the spices, the grains.... the list goes on and it really is an incredible range - surely you'll know it is far from a bland diet!

Steve and Rachel are in pretty good shape.  Even at 62 Steve talks about briskly shooting up several flights of stairs at work, taking it in his stride and yet others who are 20+ years younger huff and puff their way up.  Even body-building gym goers need to take note!  Rachel has practised yoga since her childhood and taught yoga for many years (click here for her website) and I'm now learning is more than being a fitness regime on it's own.  It's something I know little or nothing about beyond being supple and stretchy (hey - isn't that what good runners need to be?) and it is said to integrate mind, body and spirit.  

Are vegans modern-day hippies, tree huggers who always make you feel guilty?

Well, are they?  In a word - no.  But they could be.  So could you, me....

There is no doubt, there was a natural link between being vegan and the question of animal welfare, the environment, trading practices and a whole load of other issues.  Have you ever wondered why we have hungry people in the world? Have you ever wondered why we have such modern farming methods with very "efficient" milk and meet production and yet we have such poor economic use of the land?  If you imagine the amount of land you need to raise one cow which might be enough to provide food for one person, that same amount of land would be enough to feed 30 people from other vegetarian produce.  If this kind of issue was considered more seriously at government level across the world, the food shortages and the mistakes made in food distribution, could be corrected almost overnight.  

As the conversation went along with Steve and Rachel, I knew that I was going to be stereotyping vegans, sooner or later.  I asked if it was such a thing as an average of vegan.  Together we smiled at each other, I just knew I was getting onto tricky ground.  Rachel went on to explain that it's possible there are some gender differences between vegans.  It's possible that more women are vegans compared with men.  Some men might feel more threatened by vegans, perhaps. Some men might not feel as if they're being "real men" if they don't eat meat, or they might feel they are being less masculine.  Together we wondered whether men would be more wary of vegetarianism or being vegan.   Do women have more empathy for this kind of issue?  An interesting question.

Raising vegan kids is child abuse?

This issue might be a thorny hand grenade lobbed at vegan parents from time to time.  Steve dealt with this succinctly with "making your kids eat a MacDonalds meal is more abusive than being vegan could ever be".

Asking Annabelle why she thought being vegan was important to her, she explains how cruel it is to eat animals and adds "if it has a face I couldn't eat it".  Annabelle echoes her parent's views with the ethical and environmental aspects and doesn't grumble about the vegan diet at all.  In fact I asked if she misses ice cream and chocolate but I'm easily put in my place as there are vegan alternatives!  Most of the people she interacts with know she's vegan and bear that in mind, but just occasionally she might feel slightly left out but finds most people remember and will cater for her and usually bring something for her, so not too much of a problem really.

How do people react to you being vegans?

"Oh, it's easy for some people to bash vegans" Rachel explained.  For myself, yes, I can imagine that happening, sadly.  

"Other people", Rachel explained "will react differently.  It's true some people may sometimes be hostile, some even think we're mad but moreover many people are curious and interested, just like you Doug".  

We got onto talking further about people's reactions and perceptions.  Just as I have found, through being a vegetarian, restaurant menus can sometimes be a little limited it can be more of a challenge for vegans.  In fact, Steve and Rachel will sometimes call a cafe or a restaurant that they might be thinking of using, just to check vegans are catered for.  The reactions seem quite amazing, right through from the "yes, don't worry, we'll get something organised" and the restaurant goes the extra mile to ensure there's a good vegan meal waiting to be served.  The opposite extreme goes along the lines of "yes we do cater for vegans, we have some lovely Sea Bass on the menu"

"Well what about pasta?  Do you do any vegan based pasta meals?"

"Yes Sir, we do.  We have meat balls with pasta"

Sounds incredible, doesn't it?  Yes it does, but somehow I'm not too surprised and I am saddened by that reality.  Although we might laugh and joke about this lack of understanding, it does point to a level of misunderstandings throughout society and how being vegan is very much of a minority choice these days.  Through the conversation Steve picks up on this "just because [meat eaters] are the majority, it doesn't make it right.  Our morals, our integrity, our ethics all point to why we're vegans."

I feel challenged

Yes I feel challenged but Steve and Rachel were understanding about this.  There's a general feeling of us all being on a journey together, a journey through life.  Sometimes we can make profound decisions in life and will always know the exact date a decision was made.  Some of my Christian friends will point to an exact date when they made that commitment, for myself it was a more gradual commitment through gradually working it out in my own time.  Other times change can be even more gradual for different people and we can drift through changes - this can be right for some people, for others being more decisive is right for them.

I can recognise more easily the wide variety of reasons why people become vegetarian, vegan, tee total, drug free or whatever the choice is.  For each of us our values will be a little different: that's fine, we're all different and I'm thankful for that.  Sometimes we can be shocked into making those choices, like Steve and Rachel becoming aware of how badly animals were treated all those years ago.  Other times it is a gradual shift in our outlook taking place which in turn leads onto more gradual changes.

There's no doubt in my mind that being a vegetarian has been a positive step in my life.  I feel healthy, I feel as fit as I've ever been and I'm confident I've got a pretty good diet.  Now my own challenge is about reconciling all those strong arguments that point towards being a vegan.

Are you a vegan, perhaps a vegetarian?  Why?  Why not?

Please leave a comment below, I'd love to hear some views on this, doesn't matter what country you're from, whether you're a runner or not.  I'd just like to hear your views...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Key questions about being a Vegan

Combination of tomatoes and avocados is very healthy

What are vegans?

Vegans are people who only eat plant based food.  That means no meat (animal or fish), no eggs, dairy products, no honey.  

Do vegans wear woolly jumpers?

No, they don't wear wool.  Vegans also avoid other animal based products such as leather, silk etc.

How many vegans are there?

It's hard to know for sure and it varies from country to country.  It has been estimated as being 3 - 5% of the world's population, so not very many.

Are vegan diets healthy or unhealthy?

A balanced vegan diet can be extremely healthy with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, strokes and some cancers than compared to many Western meat based diets.  It takes a little planning to ensure the correct range of nutrients are consumed.

Is a vegan diet suitable for all age groups?

Yes, but particular care is needed with young babies, children and women who are pregnant or breast feeding.

Do vegans need health supplements?

Yes, vegans need to take care and ensure they consume enough Vitamin B12 (fortified yeast, fortified soya milk, cereals, spreads such as dairy-free Pure).  Vegans also need a source of Vitamin D which comes through exactly the same as Vitamin B12 but also through our skin being exposed to sunlight.

Other benefits of being a vegan?

Yes, there are quite a few.  These include correcting the 'production line' characteristics of modern farming methods, increased animal welfare, more environmentally friendly with fewer green house gases, less water needed for food production and more land can be used to grow food for humans across the world.

Anything else?

Yes, I have a blog post in the pipeline where I talk to some vegan friends, so I learn more about being a vegan in the UK in 2013. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

My Apple computer isn't very Vegan!

This morning I have been working on an article about some friends who are vegans.  I have also been trying out the dictation feature on my new sooper dooper Apple MacBook.  I think it is fantastic but it's not quite perfect.

While it is learning to understand my accent and it is becoming more accurate, it just can't get it's processor of a brain around the word "vegan".  So far, the words it has typed instead of "vegan" are:

  • deacon
  • beacon
  • vigo
  • feagans
  • biegen

Onwards and upwards....

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Withdrawal symptoms - poor me!

Here in the UK we've had quite a lot of snow and sub zero conditions over the last 10 days.  Firstly I think "this is lovely" and there have been some fantastic frosts where everything looks so stunningly beautiful followed by the snowy countryside looking like an enchanting Christmas card scene.

Try running on it.  Even worse, try running on the compacted snow and sheet ice.  Man I'm lucky not to have a few broken bones.

Even even even worse are the feelings of withdrawal symptoms that I'm feeling.  This is bad and it is having an effect on me:

  • Rising stress levels.  Nothing I can't handle but a good run certainly helps me think through some of those work related issues.  Lots going on and as I now work in an open plan office I have less space to think and even more so now as there are generally more people around these days.  They're great colleagues but we all in close proximity to each other
  • My sleeping pattern has been thrown out.  I'm tending to fall asleep as normal i.e. within 30 seconds of going to bed and then I wake up at 3 or 4am - wide awake, things buzzing through my mind.  Running makes me more tired physically so I ordinarily sleep very well.  
  • Weight.  I haven't weighed myself but I'm sure I must have gained a couple of pounds.  No problem shaking that off when I get going again
  • A little less supple, perhaps.  Being a runner I notice those subtle changes in my body more easily, a little like the above item of probably gaining a little weight - subtle changes you notice
  • I know how running helps keep my digestion running smoothly and.... well.... I'll spare you the details.
I am simply missing that Runner's High.  Simple as that.

But now I see the weather forecast is for a bit of a thaw over the next few days, heading towards the weekend.  I don't think I have ever looked forward as much to those grey, dull, miserable days as much as I am now!

Just as well really, apart from the effect that not running is having on me, it also means I'm losing out on my training schedule for the MK Marathon. Did I tell you a friend of mine is also going to enter the MK marathon?  I'm really pleased about that and I was delighted and surprised when he told me. Actually I'm really delighted. I think we might manage different times and just so good to have a friend there who is also doing it.

So, roll on the weekend!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

UK public health - a troubling trend

Following on from my correspondence with Dr Phillip Lee MP and the previous blog post Doughnuts for Breakfast, his Senior Parliamentary Researcher has kindly sent some further information, as follows:

Alcohol misuse
Percentage of adult population affected
Impact on health and wellbeing**
Increased risk of chronic disease. Reduces life expectancy by up to 10 years
Causes% burden of many chronic diseases and 17% of all cause mortality
Increased risk of chronic diseases. Reduces life expectancy on average by 10 years.
Increased risk of  medical conditions and significant social impact
Estimated cost to the English economy per year*
£15.8 billion
£8.3 billion
£5.2 billion
£20 billion
Estimated cost to the NHS per year*
£4.2 billion
£1-1.8 billion
£2.7 billion
£2.7 billion

 * Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Annual Report 2009;
** Estimates by The King’s Fund based on Department of Health, Chief Medical Officer Annual Report 2009

Just take a moment to digest the figures in the table.  Aside from the actual cost to the NHS of billions being spent on treating "lifestyle" health conditions, just consider of the impact such conditions have on the people concerned.  Those lives that have been shortened unnecessarily through diseases that may often be avoided, it's actually quite shocking.

Consider also, the social impact of alcohol misuse, just for a moment.  Apart from the health risks associated with alcohol misuse, alcohol misuse is a major factor in crime.  Like most professions, in the criminal justice system has its own language which inclues "criminogenic needs" and these are the difficulties people have in their lives that directly lead to offending behaviour.  So just think of all of the fights and anti social behaviour taking place in our town / city centres.  The "night time economy" often features punch-ups where people get seriously hurt and there is often a fine line between Common Assault, ABH, GBH, Manslaughter and Murder.  Think of the alcohol fuelled violence that largely takes place in private, in family homes. You can never quantify the human cost of such misery, fright, abuse in terms of a monetary value.  I have met many offenders who have committed dreadful offences and yet, many are themselves victims in one way or another.  This is a poignant thought.

As I climb down from my soap box, let me make a few points:

Personal responsibility?

While it is easy to see the influences that lead people into various lifestyles that may cause health problems, for each of us we have constant opportunities to make decisions for ourselves.  Each time someone buys a packet of cigarettes, that is a decision.  Sure, giving up is not easy but making the decision to quit should be easy.  Knowing support is there, particularly in those early days, is helpful for many.

I question whether it can be right to knowingly lead a lifestyle which is undeniably wrong and then simply drift into the Doctor's surgery and expect it to be treated, as if our body's are like cars needing a 12,000 mile service at the local garage.  However, life is more complex than simply keeping a car on the road.  Situations such as addiction, poverty, family attitudes, parental examples, dysfunctional thinking and many others are all factors which but we (as a nation) need help in a) knowing what we need to do and b) help in following it through.

Does the Government have a role?

Yes, of course it does.  Surely it is the Government which provides the NHS for us to remain healthy and be treated wherever necessary.  It is the NHS itself with it's army of agencies and departments which deliver the various services.  The whole Public Health agenda is, in my view, very important and yet no election will ever be won or lost on the issue of Public Health.  Why?  Preventative services aren't very tangible, people may not feel as if they have personally benefited by seeing an anti-smoking campaign and yet surely these things must be seen as being for the "greater good" and worth investing in?  Knowing why life expectancy is higher or lower in this or that post code area is one thing, but following it through is another.

Does any of this make sense?

The horrendous spectre of UK obesity
Why I'm tee total
How to give up smoking in one easy step

Running in the snow

There was something special about this afternoon's run.  Right now we have snow.  It seems really cold with daytime temperatures only reaching -2C degrees, nothing compared to some I know.

On one level you could talk about the deep bleak mid winter, looking very lifeless, drab and dull.  You could reflect on the short hours of daylight, the post-Christmas blues and the credit card bills.

On the other hand we could talk about the wonders of running during the winter time, here in the home counties.  We can appreciate the beauty in the different seasons and God's many blessings.  We can marvel at creation around us in all its forms.  I digress.  Today was the day for a good run.  Through the busyness of the working week, this was the first opportunity I'd had to have a run all week and wow, I did need this run.  On Tuesday evening I was in London, later into the evening at the Academy for Justice Commissioning and had one thought on the matter in hand and the other was yearning for my running shoes and a few miles running.   Even Rachel at home had observed that I was a bit twitchy and commented " need a run, don't you?".  Yes, she was right, I was a bit restless and just needed to go.

Like so many good runs, it starts with some hesitation: it's too cold / hot / wet / dry / windy / still / light / dark or any other excuses.  But as soon as I get going it seems to fall into place and today was no exception.

Just as a brief aside, if ever I go more than a few days without running I get this irrational fear that all of my fitness and stamina will have wasted away.  Naturally this doesn't happen but there is an inevitability that I won't be quite at my peak.

Once I'd got out into the countryside the atmosphere changed and I became more aware of my surroundings.  The air was incredibly clean and fresh to breath in; sounds seem to carry themselves further through the air and I could hear my feet crunching their way over the snow.  A nice experience altogether and because there was a certain novelty value to it, I didn't find myself deep in thought like I often do while running.  Instead I was enjoying my surroundings but not the bits where I could feel myself sliding around.

Sliding around was the only negative aspect of the run; I didn't mind the cold or the lack of speed.  The problem was not in running straight up or down a hill but instead running along the edge of a slope.  That was hard in trying to keep balanced and the result was my muscles pulling themselves together, giving me a tense feeling all over my body.  Not good.  Relax, loosen up a little.  That's better.

A good run, just what the Doctor ordered.  Running in the snow is as different or as regular as you choose to make it.  Apart from wrapping up a little more if the weather is seriously cold, it is little different to normal running.

Now, the technical stuff

Aside from all my lofty comments about the wonders of a snowy landscape and clear air, the reality is any runner is far more likely to slip, fall, tumble, come a cropper and so on.  Normal running shoes just aren't designed for running over snow or ice.

If you Google something like "shoes for running in the snow" there's not much there.  Clip-on snow chains have their uses, like Yaktrax, but I spotted these ICESPIKES on Amazon which look pretty good and worth a try.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Apple for breakfast?

Yep we all know an "apple a day keeps the Doctor away" but this is a case of a new Apple MacBook Air being good for my patience, not to mention my blogs.  Blogging just before breakfast is my favourite time of getting together with the internet.

The Rambling family has gradually seen a bit of an Apple invasion.  It started a few years ago with me having a birthday present of a very innocent iPod Shuffle (one of those very basic clip-type MP3 players and fantastic for the gym and running the streets).  Next Rachel treated herself to an iPad, followed by an iPhone, not to mention the two Kindles.

Our old Dell laptop is nearing the end of its life, afterall we got it second hand 6 years ago and has been showing its age in a number of ways.  So it was time to buy something new.  Special thanks to those friends and colleagues who allowed me to pick their brains and it seems everyone who has any kind of Apple computer absolutely loves them for their smooth operation and reliability.

Now I'm having to learn how to use it!  First impressions are an amazing new world waiting to be explored which should hopefully make life easier as I learn my way around.  The actual MacBook Air is incredibly slim, capable and very elegant.  We got ours from Apple and their refurbished stock  saving 15% but it is absolutely perfect.

In the context of blogging the intention is to nurture this blog and get to grips with  I have plenty of articles in the pipeline including a feature on being vegan and I have been commissioned to review some sports protein supplements.

Feeling evangelical about a number of things (Christian faith being number one) I am planning to publish an ebook about an easy way giving up smoking, possibly one or two others to follow.

So there we are.  An Apple for breakfast, opening up a whole new world of being able to use the internet without the constant crashing, freezing and endless egg timers.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

When is the best time to run?

Knowing when the best time of day to run is an interesting question.  Like many simple questions the answer is sometimes a little more complex.  Here goes....

Many people who run are fortunate in having a choice and frequently people stick to what they know works best for them, perhaps without always knowing why it works.  For others it can be a case of grabbing a run whenever the opportunity comes along.

The big attraction of running in the morning is that it's a brilliant way of starting the day.  Somehow having a good run before the day actually gets going is forming a good foundation, getting the day off to a good start.  No matter what happens during the day, you've had your run and, in my view, are more likely to be able the stresses and whatever the day throws at me.  Myself, I think it can go further than just that.  I have "waxed lyrical" many times about the privilege of being the first to run through some cobwebs, or being out in the quiet of the day, before anyone else.  That can be a very special thing but not everyone will identify with that.

Running before breakfast is also a comfortable thing to do as I hate running with any kind of food in my stomach.  Last weekend I ran up to my Mother-in-Law's house which is just under 7 miles away.  With my Sunday lunch inside me it felt as if I was pregnant; twins at least!  That was seriously uncomfortable!  Going out before breakfast means you can have a "recovery" breakfast when you get back.  Fruit, fruit smoothies are ideal as these are full of antioxidants and these have a role to play in repairing the damage caused through training, as well as mopping up any free radicals.

It has been said that people who run in the mornings are more likely to form a long term habit of running.  Also, as there is likely to be less carbohydrates stored, you could be burning more fat than compared to other times during the day: for some, this could be a real attraction.

Another advantage is that you are more likely to sleep better the following night (I can vouch for this).

Chances are it will be the coolest time in the day too.

Lunch time (12.00 onwards)
Probably the warmest, brightest and busiest part of the day which on the face of it may not be too attractive.  However, you've probably been active during the morning and your muscles will be a little warmer and this could reduce the risk of some injuries.  Also you are more likely to be well hydrated, which, depending on how far you are likely to run, will be helpful in keeping you energised.

For some it could be a chance to escape the office for half an hour; that running space could be a life-saver in stressful, difficult positions.  It might open up possibilities of interacting with work colleagues in a different manner - relationships, status, power, hierarchies could all change.

Although I haven't been off running at lunch time when I'm at work, I sometimes go for a walk and I find I concentrate better in the afternoon.  Following that through, I wonder if running would have an even better effect on my at-work performance.

Possibly a good time of day for unwinding, as a way of dealing with the stresses and strains of the day. Chances are your body will be working at it's peak and therefore performance could be at it's best.  Your aerobic capacity could be at its best and you'll be well nourished with plenty of glycogen based energy ready to fuel your run.

Evenings also tend to be popular times for other runners to be out and about, so it could be a more sociable time of day, especially if you like running with other people.  If you're in a running club the chances are you'll be having training runs in the evenings.

Whichever you choose
The important point is to get out there and run and I think it's worth experimenting with to find something that suits you, although much does depend on the routine of other family members as well.

For myself, it has to be the morning!  How about you?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Running in the winter

Depending on whether you're a "half empty" or a "half full" person, running in the English winter might fill you with dread or seem a pleasant experience.  As it's January, there's little escaping the cold temperatures and short daylight, so here's a few thoughts:

It can be a beautiful time of year

Now I'm the first to admit this could be a matter of taste but in my mind the English countryside has a real beauty to it in the winter.  Often everything is quiet and still.  You glide extra quietly so as not to disturb nature as it rests over the winter months.  

We sometimes get mellow mists, crisp sharp frosts, dull grey or wild weather.  Each has something going for it.

I sometimes have the privilege of running so early in the morning I know I'm the first person to go a long a path or a trail.  There are cobwebs, woven by spiders overnight, frosts with no other footprints but mine - I love it!

Wearing the right clothes

This can be a difficult choice.  Sometimes I have got up in the morning, looked out of the window and decided what to wear.  I often get this wrong and the weather turns out to be colder, warmer, more windy than I expected (the joys of English weather).

If the temperature is 3 degrees or so, generally a long sleeve base layer (made with a synthetic material) and a light running jacket is enough.  Running wearing shorts is okay at this temperature.

If the temperature is around freezing or down to minus 5, I will wear a pair of Tracksters, a woolly hat and gloves.  Even so there might be a wide variation in how you feel on a run in these conditions.  Plodding up a hill produces plenty of heat and perspiration which can then make you feel chilled once you're at the top of the hill in more windy, exposed conditions.  Sometimes there's not much you can do about this apart from taking a different route or putting up with it.  Either way I think gloves and a hat are very important.

Taking care

I blogged recently about taking a mobile phone just in case you suffer an injury and need some assistant.  Worth bearing in mind iPhones can have a useful app called "Find iPhone" so you can locate someone with another iPhone or iPad, using the GPS ability.  Pretty cool, eh?

Goes without saying the ground can be slippery under foot and if snowy, why not think about some of those clip-on grip gadgets (click here).

Remember your muscles will take longer to warm up and therefore you will probably feel stiffer for longer.  Some people get round this by stretching before a cold weather run.  I don't like pre-run stretching myself, perhaps a personal thing.  Instead I start off gently and slowly to avoid muscle or ligament damage and so far this has been working.

This photo (not very good, I know) was taken after a period of heavy rain.  The rain has washed away so much soil and leaf mould giving a totally different surface to run on.  Whilst not a problem here, more extreme conditions do exist and can be very hazardous - landslides, bogs, soft mud etc.

Wrapping up

Winter can be a fantastic time to be a runner but do take a few precuations to avoid some problems.

Above all, don't let the cold, wet, gloomy conditions spoil your fitness.  It took me quite a time to go from zero to marathon distance and it's important to keep a certain level of base fitness.  Besides, it is easy for any of us to feel a bit glum in the winter - running gets you out into the (limited) daylight and lifts your mood through all those endorphins.

Other relevant posts:

Saturday, 12 January 2013

2013 aspirations

I don't "do" New Year's resolutions but it doesn't stop me having a few things to aim for.  Here's a few thoughts for the year ahead.....


I'm booked into do the MK Marathon 2013 on 6th May.  I am hoping for a faster time this year, would be nice to come in under 4 hours.  Really looking forward to it and also the training being better than 2012 (which was a bit erratic!).  Fair weather would help.

That's the only race I have in my diary for this year.  Wouldn't mind a half marathon before.  Longer term?  Well, I want to keep running and continue enjoying the immense benefits.  For others, I have some colleagues who are getting themselves some running shoes.  Some others are leading healthier lives, all good stuff.


I reckon my diet is pretty good but there is room for improvement but my digestion can be sluggish at times.  I am almost tempted to see a nutritionist as I feel I could benefit from some expert guidance.  I would like to try some healthier vegetarian or vegan foods and publish more reviews, right here on my blog.   Maybe some recipes as well.

I am also concerned about the long term impact of GM food, public health, over processing of foods.  I could go on and on about these things!


You'll need to read my other blog for much on this subject.  Once again I do find myself thinking "long distance, endurance stuff".


Keeping this blog going is not my real day time job.  That job is being a middle manager in the public sector - criminal justice system.  I'm unsure of how the latest round of cuts and announcements will affect me but I can't allow those stressful situations affect my health any more.  So many of my colleagues have either failed to reach retirement or those that have may not have enjoyed it for long.  Given the choice, I'd much rather live modestly and have a long life.

Friday, 11 January 2013

New year update

Quite a lot going on in the Rambling House, so apologies for not blogging much lately.  Here's a round up of what's been going on....

Cycling, punctures and cross-dressing

Last weekend we went over to our friends Dave and Ruth.  The plan was for Dave and I to sneak out for a bike ride while all the girls did girly things.  I took my bike on the back of  our car and while we were driving I realised I had left my helmet, my gloves, my cycling shoes at home.  "No problem" says Ruth, borrow mine.  So there I am, adjusting Ruth's helmet and I'm handed a pair of lady's gloves. "Don't worry, they're my running gloves, you'll be alright".  At least they're not pink I thought and actually they were ideal.  So two out of three things was pretty good but I was wearing ordinary shoes and have you ever tried to ride for an hour with SPD pedals with ordinary shoes?  Not easy, especially when your feet expect to be locked onto the pedals, so instead they kept falling off.  Grrrrrr. Grrrreat ride though, thanks Dave.

Punctures - oh yes, I have been having my fair share lately.  Thankfully it was the following day, at home, when I spotted a flat tyre. Dealt with easily enough.  Phew.

Running, yes running

On Wednesday I had a brilliant run with my colleague Chris, after work.  We did about 5 miles and it went by so fast.  We were both in fairly good shape.  We did the same route I did on my own, just before Christmas.  Then, it was dark, with cold rain making it hard and yet so compelling.  Does that make sense?  When it's hard going it just becomes more of a challenge to overcome.

I decided to repeat the run on my own the following day (yesterday) but little to say other than it seemed to take longer on my own - perhaps we go faster when we run together?  A bit like a race?  Maybe.  Rest today, hopefully a long run tomorrow morning, first thing before breakfast.

Blog, blog, blogging

Have a few things in mind for some posts soon, pretty excited about.    Also I have been neglecting the cycle hub which I'm not happy about.  We're poised to buy a new computer (Apple this time) and then I'm planning to write an ebook!

Finally, happy new year, greetings to all my readers.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Review - Healthspan Super 20 Probiotics

Would you believe me if I said this ordinary sized capsule contains 20 million bacteria? When I say 20 million, give or take a few, it sounds an incredible number and yet it is tiny when compared to the seven trillion bacteria  in our digestive tract.  Our bodies as a whole will typically have even more bacteria.

It is all too easy to think of bacteria in a negative way.  We are conditioned to think of being ultra hygienic and good homes are clean sterile environments.  However (and here is another fascinating fact) we need bacteria in order for our digestion, immune system and other processes in our bodies to work properly and this is where we're talking about good, friendly bacteria.

There are a number of issues which can crop up in life which might affect the balance of the bacteria in our digestive tract.  When the natural balance of bacteria is thrown out, unsettled or wiped out completely, it takes time for the original balance to be restored.  It is fairly common knowledge that if we take antibiotics for some kind of infection, this treatment may wipe out much of the bacteria in our gut as well as the actual infection that's being treated.  Our system can also be undermined by processed food and there is also the suggestion that certain foods (i.e. dairy or poultry products) may have the residue of antibiotics in them which we are then consuming ourselves, albeit in tiny quantities.  These factors combined with our general pace of life and eating on-the-go can all place a strain on our system.

What bacteria did you say was in that capsule?

Good question.  The answer is a balance of:

Probiotic Organism - 20 billion CFU providing:
Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM - 25%
Bifidobacterium lactis BI-07 - 25%
Lactobacillus paracasei LPC-37 - 25%
Bifidobacterium lactis BI-04 - 22.5%
Bifidobacterium bifidum BB-02 - 2.5%

You're pleased you asked, aren't you!  These have been selected by Healthspan to support the natural array of bacteria that should be within our guts.

Supplementing the natural positive bacteria found in our digestive systems is becoming increasingly popular.  These probiotics contain a number of strains of these ‘friendly’ bacteria , similar to those naturally present in the gut.    Also it's worth remembering that prebiotics are non-digestible nutrients that stimulate the activity or growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.

Who can benefit from these?

Well, I wish I had had some back in the autumn myself.  Very unusually men and for me the first time ever, I had a bladder infection which was incredibly painful leading me to make an appointment at my Doctor's surgery.  I was prescribed some antibiotics which cleared the infection in three days, just as the Doctor had said and I dutifully continued a couple more days to complete the course.  Afterwards I made sure I was drinking plenty of water (more than usual) to keep things "flushed out" and then I bought some of those live probiotic yoghurt drinks and just about squeezed them into our fridge (which I can tell you is often a real challenge!).  Now whether I needed to do that or not I will never know but I was concerned about the impact of the antibiotics on my digestive tract.

On reading through the feedback that has already been given on the Healthspan website, there are clearly a good number of probiotic fans out there who have really benefitted from the Super 20 Probiotics.   People seem to like this for IBS and generally as an aid to good digestion taking place.

Professor Denise Kelly endorses probiotics and highlights the links which have been made between probiotics and viral infections, stress, anxiety as well as generally supporting the immune system.  Likewise Lindsey McManus from Allergy UK suggests probiotics might be useful for some people with food intolerances.

My own view

There are probably times for many of us when our system needs a little extra support in making sure the balance is right.  This is especially relevant if we are caught up in our high speed treadmill busy lives in working and taking care of our families as we try to stay fit and train for races.  These capsules could be useful and worth a try for some and I'm pleased to be taking some right now in order to maintain a healthy intestine.  The Healthspan Super 20 probiotics can simply be kept in a kitchen or dining room cupboard, without the need for keeping them refrigerated. In our house, that's a real boon!

For the Healthspan website click here

NB a fee has been received for this review

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Why you should take a mobile phone when running

Good easy run first thing this morning, once again at day break.  More-or-less a familiar route of 7.5 miles including the hills that I love, so some interval training once again.

Just as I was about half way round, I spotted a whole load of cyclists coming towards me.  To be honest I thought they looked a bit sinister with big heavy looking helmets, ultra bright lights (and I mean BRIGHT) which meant some were silhouetted and anonymous bikes - until I realised I would probably look nearly the same on a bike.  Then they seemed a friendly bunch with most of them giving me a smile or a "hi-ya".

Then I turned into a narrow single track country lane where I came across an abandoned car.  Now that really did look sinister, especially as the driver's door was wide open.  I couldn't see if anyone was in the car as the dew was all over the glass and so I took a look from the passenger side.  No sign of anyone and so I felt the bonnet - it was cold.  Perhaps a stolen car which had run out of petrol?  I thought I'd call the Police and then had to try and remember the number - clearly not a 999 call but was it 112 or 101?  The number 112 sounded a bit like another emergency number so 101 it was - and thankfully I was right.  Gave the details (what, where etc) and carried on.

This is the first time I have used my mobile phone while I was out running, though it's nice to know I've got it, just in case I have a mishap.  Afterall, I have been known to trip and fall over a few times in the past.  So taking a phone seems a useful thing in rural areas and coming across an abandoned car adds to the list of reasons.

The run itself - physically great.  Fair pace, not too difficult having had a few days rest after my continuous 12 days of consecutive running over Christmas.

Mentally - not good.  Normally I can think through a problem or issue quite well during an hour's run but not today; I kept darting from one thing to another and that was without the distraction of abandoned cars.  Still, it all adds to the rich variety of runs, with no two runs being exactly the same.

Training - need to find a training programme to follow as the MK Marathon is exactly 4 months and 13 hours away!  Really looking forward to it!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Top tips for new gym / fitness club members

Here in the UK at this time of year, many people are looking at joining fitness clubs or gyms.  Often this is a part of a new year's resolution to do something positive.  Could be to lose some weight, get into better shape for your summer holiday, annual work medical or simply because you know it's the right thing to do.  My blog stats have shown in recent weeks that hundreds and hundreds of people have read my review of DW Sports in 2011.

Although I quit my gym membership last year, I have some advice for noobies:

  1. Shop around.  Don't go to the first fitness club you find.  Let them know you are shopping around and ask if the price is negotiable.  After I had been a member of DW Sports for some time (and paying the full price) I discovered they do a public service discount (10% I think).  All I had to do was ask and show them my ID card.  The cheapest might be cheap for a reason and it could be too cheap. Is it in a convenient place with the right opening times?  Could any of your friends, family or colleagues recommend a gym?
  2. Don't waste your money on sports drinks at £1 a go in the changing room.  They are over-priced and mostly unnecessary.  The only time I would take a drink is during a 10 mile treadmill run lasting up to 90 minutes.  Even then it would be tap water in a cycle water bottle. 
  3. Be wary flirty people, especially if you're a woman.  From my own observations, lots of men hang around posing and their eyes pop out on stalks when they see an attractive woman arrive in the gym.  My advice is just ignore them, be flattered they have noticed you but just get on with burning those calories.  Also fitness club staff are often badly paid and some (with good physiques) also earn money from the sex industry - escorts, porn models etc
  4. Ask if a personal trainer can set you a training programme to help you achieve your goals.  If you can get this as part of the deal, this is valuable.  Some personal trainers are real experts and know the answer to any query or question, plus they can help keep you motivated.  They can also show you how to use the various machines and suggest what would be the right speeds, weights, repetitions etc for you.
  5. When you start, make a note of your measurements and weight, so you can see how you improve over time!
  6. Make a commitment to yourself about how often you will go and then stick to it.  How often depends on your circumstances but I'd suggest 3 work outs a week is a good start.  They key is to stick with it.  Afterall, diets only work if people have the discipline to stick with them!  Be realistic as well: going to the gym for 3 hours a weeks may not make a huge difference on it's own.  Try to make other changes in your life that will bring some fitness benefits (walk, cycle more, take the stairs instead of the office lift, consider what you're eating).
  7. Always "warm up" when you arrive at the gym.  A cross trainer is ideal for this and give yourself 5 minutes on it.  This gets the blood pumping around your body and warms your muscles.  I think it's important to do this for a number of reasons.  One of the most vital reasons is a way of preventing injuries to your muscles during your work-out - cold muscles, tendons or ligaments being stretched or strained can become torn and set you back for a while.  Likewise, if you have had a strenuous work-out where you have been sweating and pushing yourself hard - finish with another 5 minutes on the cross trainer to gently ease back down.  This is called "cool down" and your heart will benefit and also your muscles as you move that lactic acid on - it is not about burning more calories.
  8. Does it hurt? Some people say "no pain, no gain" or some tee shirts say "pain is your weakness coming out".  Don't be fooled.  If you're doing something which hurts you, especially if it is a sharp sudden pain, back off because you're probably going to cause yourself an injury.  Chest pains might be something more serious!
  9. Talking to your Doctor might be a good idea, especially if you have any medical issues.  Chances are your Doctor will be supportive of you taking more exercise but s/he might have some specific advice for you.  Please note I'm not a Doctor myself, you need to make that decision for yourself.
  10. Clothing. Although a personal choice, I think many people get it wrong.  Don't worry about the latest fashion as this could be unnecessarily expensive and useless.  Synthetic, moisture wicking materials are best and they work well if they are in contact with your skin.  Cotton tee shirts or cotton track suit bottoms simply absorb sweat, smell and appear unsightly; plus you are more likely to over-heat if you're working hard.  It's up to you whether you wear shorts or full length pants, long or short sleeves.  Women might find a sports bra is helpful but that's not something I have any experience of!
  11. Be mindful of hygiene and don't be afraid to point out short comings to the staff.  Remember that as other people might drip their sweat and splutter all over the equipment, you will be doing the same also.  So, take a small towel with you so you can wipe things over ready for the next person.
  12. Don't use your mobile phone anywhere in the gym.   You might get people worried you're filming them - once I got a bit concerned while I was stark naked getting dressed in the changing room and I realised someone was pointing a phone at me.  I reported it and you should do the same.  
  13. Enjoy the gym as it could be one of the best things you can do in life.  Remember you don't always need a gym or a fitness club to get yourself into shape but it can really help.
I hope this is helpful, please feel welcome to leave a comment or suggestions that might be helpful to other readers.


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Review - Healthspan Cod Liver Oil

photo credit - Telegraph
Mention "cod liver oil" to some of my friends and they will remember spoonfuls being given by the school nurse.  Alternatively do you remember those awful bottles of malt and cod liver oil dispensed by your Mother?  Do you remember that taste?  Can you remember the smell?  Those experiences are almost enough to put most of us off for life but I am now thinking we could be missing a trick here.  We could be missing out on an inexpensive supplement which could, over time, make significant improvements to our health and provide protection against a number of conditions.

Why I'm interested in this

You know I'm a 50-something runner, cyclist and vegetarian.  I like to stay in good shape - both physically and mentally - I need to do this for my own sake and, most importantly, for my family.  A few years ago I pulled myself back from the edge just in time, and I can tell you it's been incredibly rewarding.  

Although I take care of myself and like to think I'm eating the right things, perhaps it is a little bit of a gamble.  You see, while I make sure I eat a wide variety of food from vegetarian sources, I even eat some fish but to be honest, I don't enjoy it or probably have enough.  Also I know that I put my body under some pressure, especially with running and I'm running Milton Keynes Marathon once again so it's important I have the right foods to allow my body to repair itself and maintain my good health: taking these supplements now could be good timing for me.

Why Cod Liver Oil?

Different sources of Cod Liver Oil might provide slightly different ingredients, so for the benefit of this post I am concentrating on Healthspan.  Traditionally many people use it to maintain healthy joints; Cod Liver Oil provides high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids as well as being a rich source of Vitamins A and D.  Having done a little research into this, this is a particularly useful supplement as it contains:

  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docasanexaenoic acid) which are both forms of Omega 3 fatty acids.  More on this below.
  • Vitamin D - required for teeth, bones and a protective effect.  Potentially we can be deficient through a lack of sunlight on our skin
  • Vitamin A - often known for helping our eyes work well in the dark but this essential vitamin has a wide range of other functions.  Unlike vitamin D, it's important to remember we cannot produce Vitamin A and we rely on what we consume to provide sufficient quantities.
  • Vitamin E - useful for protecting your arteries and helping on-going tissue repair
It could be argued the main benefits are derived from the Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are for my cardiovascular health, or at least that's the main attraction for me.  Studies and various articles have shown fatty acids can reduce the risk of heart attacks.  This is particularly important as I'm uncertain if I consume sufficient amounts to give me the confidence I'm having enough.  I do have some in the form of ground flaxseed as part of my breakfast but this is a relatively low concentration.

There are articles around to suggest fatty acids reduce the risk of asthma, some brain functions (memory and depression) and possible protection against some cancers but these are not the drivers for me.  As a runner I know my knees and ankles take a pounding - a few days ago when I ran for a little over 10 miles non-stop, that is over 15,000 steps of my full body weight landing on one foot at a time, so I am wanting to help protect myself with these vulnerable areas.  Omega 3, some say, help the health of our joints and some sufferers who have rheumatoid arthritis might benefit too.  Although my legs were a little achy after that run, they were fine for the next day's run so I must be doing something right!

Taking supplements

In my view, it is important to remember these are supplements.  That is supplements to our normal healthy diets and are helpful in filling gaps.  Even with the utmost care with our diets, Vitamin D can be hard to come by especially in the winter months away from sunshine.  Even with Healthspan's 1000mg dose (which is a very sensible daily dose) the Cod Liver Oil is contributing to the Recommended Daily Allowance of the Vitamins - it is not a substitute for good healthy food or topping up our Vitamin D from natural daylight.  

The NHS has published a useful document on supplements (click here) which helpfully keeps things in perspective.  While it is a complex area, in an ideal world we should be able to derive all we need from our daily food.

I think of it as being like an insurance policy - a way of managing some of those risks which are almost certainly there in the background to some degree.  How do I know if my fatty acid intake is enough?  Shall I wait until I get a heart attack to find out?  Obviously the answer is NO.  

Another important consideration is recognising how medications can inhibit the absorption of certain nutrients.  Sounds crazy doesn't it?  It's true, you take a tablet for one thing and then it can cause another problem somewhere else.  I recently needed a course of antibiotics but that's the first time for several years I have ever needed a prescription at all.  So if you take medication for depression, statins for cholesterol, diabetes, pain relief, laxatives or tranquillizers ask your Pharmacist about them inhibiting you getting all the goodness from the foods you eat.

Dose.  It is natural to think you can gobble up the things that are good for you.  Don't do that with any supplements.  Period.  Our bodies need a gentle supply of nutrients, not blasting them with huge concentrated quantities - exceeding the dose might do you more harm than good.   Always it is sensible for individuals to talk to their Doctors regarding supplements and whether they should take them; in this case it is especially relevant for women who are pregnant.

A word about Healthspan

I'm quite impressed by the Healthspan website in general and the range of supplements they offer, with a good range of information there.   

Sometimes in our family we think twice about mail order owing to the hassle of going to the Post Office to collect packages that won't fit through our letter box.  Healthspan have been very thoughtful in the design of their packaging.  As you can see it is letter-box friendly and arrived quickly. 

Letter box friendly shape
The packaging itself is cheery (I like that!) and well presented.  I like the "open book" design and the slim design, so it doesn't take up much room in a kitchen cupboard.  

There has been some general criticism of Cod Liver Oil supplements around for a while, suggesting that they are not very pure, or they contain levels of pollutants.  It is therefore reassuring to read that they are sourced from the clear, clean waters around Iceland and the Government's tests have shown Healthspan's Cod Liver Oil to be the purest available in the UK.

Sometimes people will quibble about the price.  WAKE UP!  If you buy 240 of these, they work out at just £0.04 each.  What else can you buy for 4p that will be as healthy?

Wrapping up

As much as I might deny I am middle aged, I do need to take good care of myself.  I place real demands on my body through cycling and running but these are GOOD demands.  Each time I run for an hour or so, I break down the bones and joints a little - as I sleep my body repairs itself incredibly well and possibly even stronger - isn't that amazing?  Because of all this, it means getting the right nutrients is vital.

I think that because of the modern food production, we might not always get the benefit we expect from our foods.  That's one of the reasons why we take the trouble to eat as much good quality, organic wholesome fresh food as we can.  No matter how keen we are to do this, our hectic pressured lives mean we sometimes have to make compromises.

I sometimes think of myself in the future as being old, way into the future.  I imagine myself sitting in my rocking chair wearing my carpet slippers and cardigan - I am fearful of having regrets where I could have done something positive about.  This includes taking on a few challenges while I can - like Marathon running.  I know, plenty of 50 - 60 year-olds do this faster than me.  Little things like spending 4p a day on Cod Liver Oil could play a part in making these things more possible and preventing illnesses and diseases. 

NB: a fee has been received for this blog post.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Christmas holiday run # 12

Today I have been truly blessed with the best possible run in starting off the New Year!

These were the ingredients:  cool, crisp sunny weather; seeing the dawn from the top of a nearby hill followed by some beautifully soft sunshine; running up a temporary stream caused by the recent heavy rainfall; hardly anyone else around and the feeling of wanting to on and on.

The run itself was at least 8.5 miles, not especially fast.

It gave me an opportunity to think ahead rather than reflect on what's gone.  Might like to do a half marathon later in January or February.  Might like to have a run in some more rugged surroundings (twenty years ago I lived within an hour's drive of the Black Mountains which were so beautiful).

For me it's back to work tomorrow.  I have thoroughly enjoyed by daily runs, both short and long runs.  Each one has been important to me for different reasons and overall I have gained.  Although I could run well tomorrow, I probably need to give my legs a rest so I can have a decent run at the weekend.  Time also to download the training programme for the Milton Keynes 2013 Marathon.