Monday, 17 June 2013

Why regular eye exams are important

Here's a plug for making sure you go to the opticians on a regular basis.  Also that's a picture of the back of my eye from a recent examination (they kindly saved it onto a memory stick for me).  This brings me around to remind myself why it's important to get an eyesight examination.  Why?  I'll tell you....

Do you need glasses?
As much as I might be in denial about middle aged physical decline, I have made a concession with eyesight and begrudgingly wear glasses for reading, sitting in front of my computer etc.  We all know this and gradually have to accept our eyesight does change as we get older.  For most people in their 40s, eyesight becomes gradually more longer-sighted.  Hyperopia is the medical term and it goes along with having problems with reading and other close-up work.  An optician can diagnose this, various eye diseases and other vision related difficulties quite easily.

Other health issues?
An eye exam is like a Doctor taking a look inside your body where quite a long list of things can be diagnosed, or at least to spot some tell-tale symptoms suggesting other tests or investigations are worthwhile.  These can include the early signs of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and so on.  "Don't wait until your toes fall off" before you get treated for diabetes is the kind of message some people need to hear!

And me?
Yes that's a photograph of the back of one of my eyes, taken about a month ago at a new opticians.  They said "ah Doug, it looks like you suffer from.....".  They were quite correct.

Anyone care to take a guess what they spotted?

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Problem solving steps: running

If you are a regular reader you will already know that I am a real advocate of running in terms of the physical and mental health benefits.  It is very understandable for other magazine writers and bloggers to talk about the physical side of running - the weight loss, increased stamina, toned muscles and so on.  Yes, these are all very true and such writers are correct in promoting these benefits.  But you don't see so much about the mental health benefits and how we can end up thinking differently, simply by going for a run.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
I look back on my career which has included taking practitioner training in cognitive behavioural therapy training, CBT for short.  This is helpful in coaching people to work through problems in ways where they are more likely to come up with a good solution.  Briefly, CBT often involves reflecting and defining what the actual problem is, what the options are and the consequences of following those different routes.  A kind of "stepping back" to think things through, rather than knee-jerk reactions which often fail; thoughts, emotions and our reactions.  That's CBT in a very crude nutshell.

Funnily enough I often find myself following many of these steps myself many years later (practicing what I preach, so to speak) but running takes it to another level altogether.  It's amazing!

Running through problems
Often when I go for a run, it will be for a specific reason, apart from needing to stay in good shape and not grind to a halt completely.  I set off with the definite intention of solving a problem during the run.  If my run is for an hour, I always seem to spend the first 20 minutes warming up and reminding myself the run will get easier - and it does.  Those first 20 minutes / 2+ miles is always the hardest - legs alternating between being stiff and then like jelly.  But once I've got into a good rhythm and my muscles are warm, that's when the problem solving starts, plus I'm really enjoying the run.

I tend to go through a few minutes thinking "how is this making me feel" and then I recognise the anxiety it has caused me.  Then comes the resolve to get it sorted, with the determination it's not going to get the better of me and reminding myself I've had these issues many times before.  I often mull over the different ways I could approach it, or more likely to think of the routes which haven't worked so far.

Then BINGO! I hit upon an idea!  This is the beauty of running - it brings out the creative side of my thinking, I often get really good ideas that I know I wouldn't otherwise have.  I can testify many of these more inspired ideas really have worked, almost to the point of surprising myself.

One problem I do find, however, might seem a bit strange.  By the time I get back home, kick my running shoes off and head for the shower, I often have problems remembering exactly what the solution was!  This is very frustrating at times!  However, this more often gets solved by "talking to myself" about the solution while I'm still running, almost like becoming a human Dictaphone.  That often works.

The kind of solutions.....
These can vary enormously.  Sometimes a practical solution but more often it's about how I am going to deal with a work related issue.  How am I going to steer a conversation I need to have with a colleague?  How am I going to convince someone they need to change their mind about something?  Am I over reacting to something?  You get the drift.

Apart from knowing what to do, running also helps me stand back from these problems, a way of keeping these things in perspective so they don't become all-consuming.  A kind of "rising above" things which I find so helpful.

Different types of exercise?
As you know, I cycle as well as run.  For some reason I don't get the same effect from cycling but that doesn't stop me enjoying that but for slightly different reasons.  Cycling leads to other kinds of thinking: reflecting, enjoying the surroundings, "flip this hill is getting steeper" and planning things for the future.

Perhaps with running, it's the sheer simplicity that makes it work so well?  Alternatively perhaps it's the more noticeable rush of endorphins?  Well, whatever it is, it seems to work for me and that's why I'm so keen to spread the word about running being such a great thing to do.  It's not just about losing weight etc. It's about taking steps to maintain good mental health and avoid going into downward spirals which can lead to anxiety, depression etc.  Becoming a runner is one of the best things I've ever done!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Can fitness help with cancer treatment?

Recently I came across an interesting article that caught my eye.  Through a pilot study at Aintree University Hospital, Liverpool, it was found that through helping patients improve their physical fitness, they could manage treatments and recovery much better.

One elderly patient with a serious form of cancer has been inspired by his Doctors to get himself into better shape and he admits he's fitter than every before.  He uses an exercise bike on which you can really work up a good sweat (you see, they do have their uses!).

The patients in this trial are being treated for "stage 3 rectal cancer" which is a severe form of bowel cancer.  The treatment involves chemo and radio therapy before surgery.  Of course this takes quite a toll on physical strength and well being.  The treatment has a real effect on muscles which are inevitably weakened during this time and the exercise seems to be of real benefit.  It's also helpful as there is a gap of several weeks between the chemo and radio therapy which is inevitably a time of anxiety for patients.  Maintaining a good fitness regime will provide some focus during this time and build up a certain amount of resilience for the on-going treatment.

Naturally having a good base level of fitness will be helpful to anyone in this position because you're not starting from stretch and there is an argument to suggest exercise that keeps the body moving may prevent certain cancers in the first place.

This isn't new!

As I read the article I couldn't help but remember a guest blog post click here by David Haas in north America in which he also argues the case for maintaining fitness through treatment periods.

It's important to remember that aside from the physical benefits, there will be mental health benefits as well.  Naturally a period of treatment for cancer is a difficult time for anyone and it is understandable when patients start to suffer from cancer and other serious illnesses.  The natural reaction might be to with draw and be inactive.  After all, people will be very understanding in these circumstances.  Physical exercise, if it can be done, is likely to lift a patients mood.

But talk to your Doctor first

Now then let's get something straight here.  I'm not suggesting anyone is reckless and goes from zero to 'whatever' and it would be better to talk to your Doctor before embarking on any change in lifestyle, even if it's a positive change.  I'm not a Doctor or have any kind of medical expertise here.  So please don't try and sue me for leading you astray!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

"How often should I run?", asks a new runner

In my office there are about 50 people based there and we come in all shapes and sizes.  Some run and make a big deal of it, some are more discreet and some are curiously interested; most are some distance from being runners.  Then there are some who routinely take the lift rather than walking up one or two floors.

So, there I was yesterday discussing a practice issue with a colleague and the conversation got 'round to running.  We were chatting about the number of times we run each week and whether there is an optimum number of running days.

Here's what we decided between us.

1 run per week is better than nothing and okay for simply ticking over.  Don't be too ambitious with speed or distances.

You won't be feeling the immense benefits of being a runner although any running is better than no running.  "Period" as they say Stateside.  However, there are times when this is appropriate; perhaps after an intense season of running, easing back to a single weekly run can be appropriate in allowing a restful healing period - so if that's the case, please don't be too hard on yourself.

2 runs per week mean you could have a longish run over the weekend and a slightly brisk shorter run mid week.  This is the minimum for us!

Even within our busy schedules there are still 168 hours in a week - do we make best use of those hours?  Surely we can accommodate 2 or 3 hours for some exercise?  Even the Namby Pamby NHS guidelines are recommending we spend at least this amount of time raising our heart beat with some form of regular exercise.

3 runs per week is probably ideal.  As the optimum number for us  it means an opportunity for more serious training i.e long run slow on a Saturday morning (at least 8 miles), a 30-40 minute run with intervals on Tuesday evening followed by an hours' run on Thursday evening at a 8 minute/mile pace.

With this pattern of running established, you're going to be gaining so many benefits of running and getting into a really great habit.  Nobody will ever doubt that you are a real runner!

4 or 5 runs per week are okay for many people, especially if you have the time in your work / home routine.  Be careful not to incur any injuries by maintaing sufficient rest and sleep.

I think age is a possible limiting factor in terms of what can be done and what can be recovered from.  Having said that there are numerous runners still running well into their 60s at this kind of level but one has to be sensible, listen to your body and know any warning signals.  For runners fortunate enough to be younger, in their 20s and 30s, it will generally be easier to maintain running most days of the week.

6 or 7 runs per week are okay for short periods, although if you're young and in really good shape you may handle this well but it all depends on what running we're talking about.  Over the Christmas holiday period I ran everyday for about two weeks.  Sometimes it was little more than a 5 minute jog around the local streets.  Other times I ran for up to 90 minutes over the hills.  That was absolutely fine for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it, plus it's a good way of burning off those additional calories which will inevitably be consumed.

Wrapping up here it is worth bearing in mind what you could do as a new runner.  I suggest for many who are new, going for 4 or 5 runs each week is a good start - providing they are very short runs and which are slow, or combine walking.  This is where establishing a habit is important and gradually building up speed and distances.  So even a 20 minute walk / jog really does count and could be done several times each week.

Frequent running increases the risk of injury but it does depend on numerous variables.  Running too little can also cause injury as you're not prepared in handling a more demanding run.  These are all generalisations but I reckon for many people 3 or 4 runs a week are okay providing you don't push yourself too hard.  Apart from muscle, tendon or ligament damage, running too much can lower immunity to infections such as colds or flu.

So, do you have any thoughts on this?  If you run, how many times each week?  How do you find it?  What's it like?  what can you handle?

Monday, 3 June 2013

Running in Penestin, France

We've just been on our family hols to France!  A very pleasant break over half term in a new place for us.  Turned out to be wonderful for some easy runs through being nice and flat (but I did miss running up some hills).  This break has benefitted each one of us in terms of refreshment, the need for a slower pace and more time with each other.

Penestin is a small coastal community on a peninsular in southern Brittany and faces the Atlantic.  We got there by taking the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo and this is helpful in getting a decent night's sleep before a three hour drive the following day. Coming back, we took a day time crossing on a day with lovely weather so all-in-all it was a pleasurable journey.  It is not a place for challenging runs or bike rides at all.  Instead this is about some recovery, restful and recreational runs.

As usual, I enjoy running early in the mornings, before breakfast and this was no different.  We were staying right in the middle of the peninsular, about a mile or so inland and I never actually had a run along the beach after all (must go back another time for this!).  Instead I found lots of woodland tracks, doubling up as cycle tracks with the occasional horse rider too - these are superb for running and this is why....

  • A nice surface for running on; mostly grit or fine gravel
  • Very scenic.  Found myself passing through lots of woodland areas with beautiful meadows and fields on either side.  Plenty of wildlife and a natural eco-system doing well - it did not appear too over-farmed
  • Although sometimes it is necessary to run on a road to get to the start of a track, the roads were wonderfully quiet, what with France being so thinly populated compared to England
  • Lots to explore.... "where does this go?" but you are unlikely to get totally lost!
  • Wide enough for cyclists, horse riders and runners to pass each other
  • They appear to be very well maintained and there are discreet posts to prevent cars

Although I have eased back on running over the last month, having three or four runs in a week is a positive thing to do while on holiday.  These were easy runs lasting no more than an hour.  It is nice to just go for an easy, gentle run for the sheer enjoyment of it and not as part of a training schedule.  The time for that has gone (for now) and it's nice to run for the sheer joy of it in new surroundings.

Having said that, it is unwise to pretend you're not using your body in a way which puts a little strain on it.  I found I had a tight muscle in my groin which was starting to complain so I stopped and had a stretch with a few lunges.  While some people do their stretching before they run, I have always been wary of this and prefer to stretch once my muscles are warmer and more pliable.  I had no worries about being self conscious in doing this - the whole area was totally deserted so early in the morning!

Here's a few other photos from the early morning runs in Penestin: