Four health hacks that will change your life

Dr Rangan Chatterjee is a physician, author, television presenter and podcaster. He is probably best known for his TV show Doctor in the House and for being the resident doctor on BBC One’s Breakfast Show. Here I am sharing his article that was recently featured on BBC Radio 5 Live where he shares his philosophy about the ‘four pillars of health’: food, movement, sleep and relaxation.

Every part our body affects pretty much every other part. By making small, achievable changes in the four key areas of your life, you can create and maintain good health – and avoid illness. What matters most is balance across all the things you do.

The twelve hour eating window

If changing your diet and cutting foods out seems intimidating, Dr Rangan suggests an easier option: eat all your food within a 12 hour window. “Can you get more benefits if you go stricter? Yes some people might be able to! But I say if you can do 12 hours a day, tick it off, and move on to another recommendation. Try and get that balance.”

He says, “It’s a very simple change that I’ve seen be transformative for people.”

Five minute strength training

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In our busy lives, it’s often hard to motivate ourselves to find time to go to the gym or go for a run, but Dr Rangan says that just five minutes of strength training twice a week can be really valuable.

“Strength training is very much undervalued in society. We talk about moving more and cardio but we neglect that our muscle mass is one of the strongest predictors of how we’re going to be when we age. Lean muscle mass is so important. Yet when we hit 30, we can lose three to five per cent of our muscle mass every ten years and that rate accelerates after the age of 50.”

Spend time in natural daylight

Good sleep is something we often overlook in our lives, but making sure we have enough high quality sleep can make our lives and health so much better. Dr Rangan has a lot of tips for getting better sleep, but one that you might not have considered is whether you’re getting enough light in the day.

Our bodies need to see different light at day and night to keep our internal clocks working. He says people should be especially aware of this in the winter months. “Many people are leaving the house in the dark, getting to work in the dark, being inside all day, and then going home in the dark.”

He suggests taking twenty minutes in your day to spend some time in natural daylight, and you may find that you wake up the next morning more refreshed.

Make time for some ‘me time’

Stress is often a part of our daily lives, and unfortunately, our technology can be partially to blame for this.

Dr Rangan says, “You get up in bed, the alarm is blaring. So you’ve gone from this nice, peaceful, restful slumber, suddenly there’s a blaring alarm clock. You’re looking at your phone, and there’s a whole ton of blue light, and alarm notifications going on…

For many of us, that continues all day and often that’s still going on just before we’re in bed at night; we’re still looking. And so we’ve just got no down time any more.”

His solution is to have at least 15 minutes a day of ‘me-time’. This should be something you do for yourself, that you don’t feel guilty about doing and that doesn’t involve your smartphone. Doing this can lower your stress levels and let you decompress without worrying about your phone.

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Can Tai Chi offer the same benefits as aerobic exercise?

You may initially think how can Tai Chi even begin to compare to aerobic exercise? Slow, gentle, fluid movements, versus a heart pumping energising workout? A recent study looked at this and came up with some surprising results.

It’s no secret that I love my high intensity workouts, but I also love my yoga too. As a Reiki practitioner I can really feel and appreciate the benefits in these more “gentle” forms of exercising, and I’m a great believer in combining them both. In my line of work I often come across people who have had injuries or conditions that don’t allow them to partake in vigorous exercise, but quite often workouts such as yoga, pilates or Tai Chi can be the ideal solution. A good friend of mine teaches Tai Chi here in York, and so I was particularly interested in this recent study.

Tai Chi (full name Tai Chi Chuan) combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow, flowing movements. Originally developed as a martial art in 13th-century China,  the slow and graceful movements of Tai Chi are reported to be good for both body and mind. But could doing something so gentle really be as effective as a bout of more vigorous exercise? Dr Sarah Aldred, Dr Jet Veldhuijzen van Zanten and Nor Fadila Kasim from the University of Birmingham teamed up with the BBC programme “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” to find out.

The Experiment:

  • They took a group of volunteers aged between 65 and 75, none of whom did regular exercise. Half of them were enrolled in a Zumba class for 12 weeks, while the other half did Tai Chi for 12 weeks.
  • At the beginning, middle and end of the 12 weeks, Jet, Sarah and Nor recorded the volunteers’ blood pressure and measured the flexibility of their blood vessels using ultrasound. The more flexible your blood vessels, the healthier they are.
  • They also measured the levels of antioxidants and other chemical markers of stress and inflammation in the volunteers’ blood. Although stress and inflammation may sound bad, they’re actually a healthy response to exercise and lie behind many of its benefits.

The results:

  • As might be expected, the Zumba group were all fitter after 12 weeks. Their blood vessels were more elastic and their blood pressure had dropped. Their blood results improved in line with people undertaking an exercise regime.
  • More surprisingly however, the results from the Tai Chi group also showed similar benefits to the more rigorous Zumba group, with improvements in blood biomarkers, blood pressure and vessel flexibility.
  • The answer as to why Tai Chi might have similar benefits may rest in the fact that Tai Chi might not be as gentle as it seems. Previous studies undertaken by Sarah and Jet show that people who practise Tai Chi have a similar rise in heart rate to those doing moderate intensity exercise.
Studies have shown that Tai Chi can help older people to reduce stress, improve posture, balance and general mobility, and increase muscle strength in the legs. It's also good for people suffering with fibromyalgia and Parkinson's.

Thanks to the BBC programme “Trust Me I’m a Doctor”. You can find out more here.

The impact of sleep deprivation on your body

A growing body of research suggests that there’s a link between how much people sleep and how much they weigh. If you’re not sleeping enough, the effects could be more significant than just dark circles under your eyes. Here we look at the surprising fact of how your size and your sleep are closely linked.

The rise of obesity over the last few decades is paralleled by significant reductions in the length of time we spend asleep.

At the same time, a large number of studies have reported associations between impaired sleep and the likelihood of developing obesity or diseases such as type 2 diabetes. (Note: the act of sleeping less does not in itself make you fat – after a few disturbed nights your body won’t automatically have created fat!).

We’re not talking about a cause/effect link here. We’re talking correlation. As the number of people getting less sleep has risen, so the number of people at risk of life-threatening metabolic and cardiovascular diseases has risen too. The reason for this correlation may lie in the effects that poor or less sleep may have on your behaviour and physiology. It’s these effects that can contribute to weight gain.

Inactivity – if you’re feeling lethargic and tired, you’re less likely to exercise and more likely to take shortcuts like using the lift rather than the stairs. This decreases the amount of calories you’re burning, which has a direct effect on your weight.

Mood fluctuations sleep is vital to regulating your mood. Less sleep could see you happy one moment and feeling low the next. Low mood can trigger emotional or ‘comfort’ eating, when our bodies crave high fat, high sugar foods. When eaten, these foods trigger the pleasure response in your brain, and we’re hardwired to crave them in times of distress.

Reduced leptin levels – less of the hormone that tells you you’re full could see you overeating without realising it.

Increased grehlin levels – more of the hormone that tells you you’re hungry will have you seeking out more food and snacks, even if you’ve consumed the right amount of food for you that day.

Recent analysis conducted by King’s College London reviewed dozens of small studies involving sleep and appetite. It showed that, although not everyone is affected in the same way, on average getting less than seven hours of sleep a night led to people eating significantly more overall.

A bad night’s sleep disrupts the two key hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin and this combination leaves us feeling physically hungrier, causing us to eat more. Studies also suggest that when we’re exposed to food while sleep deprived, there is increased activation in areas of the brain associated with reward. This can lead to us choosing foods that are higher in sugar and fat, rather than selecting healthy options.

All of this can help to explain why, in the long term, there’s a strong connection between poor sleep, weight gain and health problems like type 2 diabetes. The simple solution is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. For adults, 7-8 hours of sleep per night is associated with the lowest risk of incidence of cardiovascular diseases.

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Reiki: my own experience.

Is it for me?

Should I or shouldn’t I? I fancy trying it, but not sure I want to spend money on it, supposing it doesn’t work? What actually does it do? It’s all a load of pseudoscience, waving your hands around – any effects are simply placebo! These are just some of the many comments I have heard about Reiki, so in a bid to debunk the myth and shed some light onto the “mystery” of what Reiki is and how it can help, here’s an interview conducted with my former patient David after he’d completed his first course of sessions with me.

If you want to know anything at all about this treatment, how it works and how it could help you, please do get in touch, I would be more than happy to answer any of your questions.

 

I felt like I had the best nights’ sleep ever! I woke up the next morning feeling so refreshed – I can’t remember the last time I felt like that – and totally changed my mind about the whole experience…

Q. What did you know about Reiki before your session?
Very little and I was very sceptical of it as I could not understand how it could work.

Q. What prompted you to try a Reiki treatment then?
I was very stressed at work and was not sleeping well. This was having a general “knock-on” effect with my everyday wellbeing and performance at work. I was recommended the treatment to help me relax, and I was told that this would help me. My first treatment was a taster session, so I thought “why not?”. I had nothing to lose by trying it, although I was very unsure about it. I’ve never been into any of this “holistic healing” sort of stuff before.

Q. How did your initial taster session go? And what were your feelings about the treatment afterwards?
OK, Renata was very welcoming to me and did her best to calm me and make me feel at ease. In addition to feeling a little uneasy, I had a pounding headache and tired eyes, so probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind! However the treatment room was very nice and relaxing, and Renata explained what was about to happen and how she would proceed with the treatment.

I lay back on the couch, closed my eyes and tried to relax, not really sure what to expect. I was surprised that I could feel a definite warmth radiating from Renata’s hands over my head and eyes. Other than feeling more relaxed, I was also pleasantly pleased that my headache seemed to have lifted and my eyes didn’t feel so tired. But I didn’t really feel anything else during the session and I did wonder to myself whether it was worthwhile pursuing any more treatments.

At the end of the session, Renata offered me a drink and biscuit, we chatted a little while before I left for home. Overall at this point I would say I was still feeling somewhat sceptical about the whole process and thinking I would probably not go back for further treatments.

Q. So what changed your mind and made you decide to try further Reiki sessions?
That night having gone to bed pretty soon after returning from the first Reiki session, I felt like I had the best nights’ sleep ever! I woke up the next morning feeling so refreshed – I can’t remember the last time I felt like that – and totally changed my mind about the whole experience! I felt that it had completely relaxed and de-stressed me for the moment. I had a much clearer head and felt a lot calmer about things in general. I confess I was really surprised to feel this way too, I hadn’t expected to have a complete change of mind like this!

So I had a change of heart and decided to start to seeing Renata on a regular basis for a course of treatments. It was interesting because with each session the reaction seemed to be stronger, more pronounced – I felt Renata’s energy more and more around my whole body as time went on. My stress levels dropped considerably and I was sleeping so much better, in turn this had a direct effect on my overall wellbeing and an improved sense of positivity.

Today, even though I still can’t understand how it could possibly work. I just know that it does for me, and I would highly recommend her treatments.

My thanks to David for sharing his experience. I would love to help you discover how Reiki can change your life too.

Reiki – an ancient technique for modern life

I’ve been a Reiki practitioner for the past few years now, and I’m often asked how this holistic process works and what it actually is. Understandably, sometimes people can be a little apprehensive about embarking on a Reiki treatment and wonder what they are getting themselves into! Well, here I’m happy to put your mind at rest! It’s very straightforward and simple and is usually a very relaxing and calming process – no special equipment, oils or physical manipulation is required, and it’s completely non-invasive. So just relax and enjoy …

Firstly, what is it?

Reiki is a deep relaxation technique that reduces stress and promotes healing. It re-activates the body’s natural energy system, bringing you back into balance on every level – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually – putting your body in the best position to help heal itself.

Reiki is the healing energy, with the capacity to change lives in the most positive way. It is a gentle and effective system of healing which activates the body’s own natural ability to heal itself. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to become ill, experience stress or anxiety – if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.

Reiki is a simple, natural and safe method of holistic healing and self-improvement that everyone can use. It is effective in helping many conditions, and always creates a beneficial effect. It can also work in conjunction with all other medical or therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and help promote recovery.

The work Reiki is from the Japanese – combining rei “soul, spirit” and ki “vital energy”. 

Reiki involves the “laying on” or hovering of hands on or above the body in a non-invasive manner.

So how does it work?

The ability to use Reiki is not taught in the usual sense, but is transferred to the student by the Reiki Master during an “attunement”. This transferal of the energy then allows the student to tap into an unlimited supply of “life force energy” to improve one’s health and enhance the quality of life. Once attuned, students are aligned to the Reiki energy and can begin to channel it through their hands.

As students progress through different levels of learning, they will receive several additional attunements from their Reiki Master. Each student will have a different experience when receiving an attunement, usually a positive feeling of total peace and calm.

Here I am treating David, hovering my hands over his crown chakra.

The treatment itself is quite straightforward. You lie on the treatment bed, fully clothed. I will ask you to remove your footwear, but that is all. You can cover yourself with the blanket if you prefer. Now close your eyes and try to relax. I will begin the treatment by laying my hands on you in a non-invasive manner, usually beginning at the head, then working down to the shoulders, hands, legs, ankles and feet.

What will it feel like and how do I know it’s working?

You may feel warmth, or heat, or tingling from my hands. Sometimes a buzzing sensation. Other sensations may include seeing coloured lights or feeling as if you are floating. Sometimes people have an “emotional release” for a little while during the treatment. I have also had clients drop off during a treatment too – it’s so relaxing! Even my most sceptical clients have experienced warmth and heat and other sensations from my hands. After the session you will usually feel very relaxed and calm. People often say they sleep better that night too. It all depends on the person really.

The Reiki tradition was founded by Mikao Usui in the early 20th century and evolved as a result of his research, experience and dedication.

  • Experience peace of mind and inner calm
  • Help to relieve and cope with stress and anxiety
  • Bring a sense of balance, clarity and focus
  • Increase your energy levels
  • Enhance other treatments and medications
  • Develop confidence
  • Quicken the healing process
  • Let go of emotional baggage

A Reiki treatment is a process that anyone can enjoy in the normal course of their life and it can be used alongside other conventional or complementary treatments. The effects of the treatment tend to build up and gain momentum over time, usually around 4 to 6 weekly interval sessions are enough to produce a change, with an additional maintenance top-up every 4 weeks if you would like a long-term effect.

Reiki can help us cope with life by encouraging relaxation and bringing balance to both mind and emotions.

If you’d like to find out more, or discuss the Reiki process with me in more detail, please do get in touch, I’d love to help if I can!