Should you wear a mask during exercise?

With UK gyms reopening last week, there have been more and more instances of activewear manufacturers creating masks specifically designed for exercise. It is now the law to wear a face covering in shops, on public transport and when visiting other public services (banks, post offices etc), but is it necessary in gyms?

Thanks to the doubling (or even quadrupling!) of breathing rate during exercise, gyms were some of the first places to be closed at the start of the pandemic. Now, in the UK, gyms are exempt from face covering rules, but in the interest of safety as the gyms reopen, some people may decide to wear them. A similar situation arises when considering outdoor exercise, such as running, as the streets get busier. So what are the pros and cons of this?

Masks have been implemented in various locations as a method of ‘source control’, to prevent droplets from the mask wearer from spreading to surfaces or other people. While there has been much discussion around this topic, the evidence suggests that a reduction in transmission coincides with mask wearing in countries where this is observed.

While the exact figures of transmission risk will depend on various factors, this graphic shows how wearing a mask benefits everyone around the wearer.

This article by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) lists some of the considerations that should be taken into account when considering the wearing of a mask during exercise, namely:

  1. Masks that work the best (FFRs, e..g N95) should be reserved for healthcare workers and not lay use.
  2. Masks increase the rate of perceived exertion, creating an effect similar to minor altitude training.
  3. Masks that have increased airflow to reduce discomfort are also less effective at source control, allowing more droplets to spread.
  4. Cloths and masks are likely to become damp during exercise, reducing their breathability and increasing perceived exertion.
  5. Masks may encourage less social distancing behaviour.
Graphic from the BMJ

So, with the above considerations, are they recommended?

It depends. Masks are effective at reducing transmission, so long as compliance is high. However, many people will choose not to wear one during exercise due to the increase in perceived exertion. So long as everyone adheres to social distancing guidelines, increases hand washing and avoids touching their face during exercise, mask wearing in gyms and out running may be unnecessary. However, if you feel safer wearing a mask during exercise, please do so, so long as it is not at the expense of other guidelines designed to reduce transmission. This may be the case if you are exercising in a crowded space and can’t avoid people – although I would argue that in this case, exercising should be postponed to less busy times.

If you choose to exercise using a mask, remember to bring hand sanitiser and use it before and after touching the mask. Reduce the intensity of your workout to compensate for the increased perceived exertion. If you have an extended workout session, consider bringing a spare mask for when the first gets wet, as this could pose extra risks and increase discomfort. If you feel ill, do not go to the gym, and remember, always wash your hands.

I hope this helps! I’d love to know if you’ll be wearing a mask when you go back to the gym, or indeed whether you feel safe to go back to the gym at all? I have not yet, and will not feel safe for a while, unless it is nigh on empty! I don’t think I’ll wear a mask at the gym, but I also won’t go at all if there are lots of people in there. Let me know your thoughts below and feel free to share on Instagram!

If you enjoyed this piece and my other posts, please consider contributing – post suggestions welcome!

How to get back to running after injury

We’ve all been there. With 65% – 80% of runners experiencing an injury each year, the chances are, you’ve spent some time injured in the time that you’ve been running. Getting back to training after time off can be daunting and confusing – what level of pain is acceptable to push through? How far should you run? What cross training should you do, if any?

Disclaimer: before we start I’d like to point out that I’m no expert, I’ve simply experienced my fair share of injuries , physiotherapy treatment and coaching. In 2016 I developed IT band syndrome, a common runner’s injury, which I proceeded to push through, after being told it ‘won’t cause any permanent damage’. Still now I am experiencing the effects of this recurring injury, although I have since developed many techniques to reduce the amount of flare ups I have, and haven’t felt pain since last year!

With so many people taking up running during lockdown, it’s no surprise that injury rates have gone through the roof, and with access to physios and doctors seemingly limited, people are more and more turing to the internet for help and advice. So, here are my top tips for returning to running following an injury. Remember though – if the pain doesn’t go away, or is recurring, please do visit a specialist, as they will be able to help far more than anyone on the internet.

  1. Prevention is better than cure

The best way to recover from an injury is not to get it in the first place. ‘Oh great’ you’re thinking, a bit too late for that. Well, yes and no. If you are injured at the moment, think about why you ended up in this place. Injuries are often a sign that you are trying too much, too soon. Most coaches recommend the ‘10% rule’, increasing weekly mileage by no more than 10% per week. More than this puts your body at greater risk of injury, meaning that you have to take more time off. Consider sticking to this rule to avoid future injuries. Another piece of advice would be to avoid trying too many new things at once. Want to try longer runs? Don’t do extra speedwork that same week. Giving hill sprints a go? Go easy on your longer run. Having a diversity of training is good, but don’t add everything at once. Are you doing strength and conditioning and mobility work? Is your footwear wrong? Working through all the possible causes of injury can reduce your risk of having the same issue in the future. Almost everyone gets injured, it’s just a part of running, but reducing triggers means that you can spend more of your time doing what you love, and less time rehabbing.

2. Slow and steady wins the race

There are many different kinds of injury, but for the most part, rushing recovery won’t help the situation. The temptation once most of the pain has gone, is to jump right back in where you left off, but this is inadvisable. Since most running injuries are caused by doing too much, too soon, the same logic applies for coming back after an injury. It might feel like your first few weeks back are boring, slow and monotonous, but these are your ‘testing’ weeks. You should be keeping in tune with your body, listening out for small niggles and trying to maintain good form throughout. This is hard to do if you’re going for killer miles or sprints, so just take it easy. A slow return to running will likely mean that you remain un-injured for longer, and get help quicker if you do get injured again. Slow and steady wins the race.

3. Don’t run through the pain

Generally, pain is there for a reason. Ignoring it ‘because you know better’ can backfire horribly, and unlike ITBS, many injuries can leave you with permanent damage if ignored. As you progress and become more experienced, it may be possible to tell what pain is OK to run through, and what pain is most definitely not, but for beginners, running through a new pain is ill-advised before getting it checked out. Recovery from common injuries such as shin splints can be further hindered by even walking on them, let alone running. Always ask your physio if you’re not sure what level of pain is acceptable.

4. Physiotherapy and strength & conditioning

The chances are, if you know what injury you have, you’ll have some sort of mobility/S&C/physio plan to strengthen the area and get yourself back on track. As stupid as it sounds, simply thinking about the physio session are not going to lead to the same improvements as actually doing them. Yes, they might be boring, and yes, they’re probably not why you started running, but they’re also the thing that will keep you healthy, balanced and less injury prone long into the future. If you do them. I would also recommend keeping up elements of your physio long past the point that your injury has healed, even incorporating them into your weekly strength sessions. If your injury was due to a weakness or imbalance, this will help rectify that, reducing risk of the injury recurring.

5. Cross train

Cross training (i.e. incorporating training sessions that aren’t running, e.g. weight lifting, cycling, yoga) has a plethora of benefits, from reducing boredom to making you a stronger runner. This is perfect if you’ve taken some time off running, as it will reduce the weekly load on your muscles and joints, while still increasing strength and endurance. Find something you enjoy so you can remain consistent. My cross-training days are at least as important as my run days!

6. Join a running group

Finding motivation and friends to chat to following some time off running, whether due to an injury or simply just taking some time away, can be difficult. Joining a run club means more people to chat to about training, niggles etc etc, and also means you’re likely to have some qualified advice regarding your return to training. Always let them know if you have a history of injuries, or a particular injury you’re coming back from.

7. Invest in the right kit

If you’re injured, there’s a chance it could be because the shoes you wear don’t complement your running style. Most people pronate one way or another (I overpronate, because for some reason I run like I’m on a catwalk – I blame the narrow Dorset trails!). Up to 4 in 5 runners run in shoes that don’t suit their running style, potentially increasing the risk of injury. Having a gait analysis, or investing in some gait analysing insoles, such as NURVV, means you can find the right shoes to correct your gait, and work on improving form to reduce exacerbating existing injuries, and reduce risk of getting more in future.

8. Stay positive!

After injuring yourself, it can be easy to feel let down by your body. After spending months or years looking after it by exercising, eating right, resting etc., it’s easy to feel despondent when you get injured. I got to the point a year after my injury where I felt like I was never going to be able to run more than 2km again, as every time I did, I couldn’t walk for days afterwards. However, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of the time, it won’t always be like this, and you have the rest of your life to hit PBs and get back into running. This year doesn’t have to be the year. Maybe this is the year you learn to love running again, or the year you hit your first 1km without pain, or the year when you find a running community. Your experience of running doesn’t have to be dictated by PBs, races and intense training sessions. Stay positive, focus on your recovery and you’ll be back in no time! After all, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point? Running should be enjoyable, not hell!

I hope these tips help you, whether you’re injured at the moment, or want to take stock for future potential injuries. I would also say that most of these tips are suitable at all times, not just when you’re struggling with an injury. Generally, injury recovery techniques work well as injury prevention techniques and vice versa. Unfortunately, running is a high-risk sport when it comes to injuries, but I think we can all say it’s worth it!

I’d love to hear your tips for getting back to training post-injury. Please comment down below and share on Instagram!

10 things to do when you start running

With today’s announcement of the imminent closure of the UK’s gyms, many people will flock to other forms of exercise, from home workouts to yoga, to running. It might not be for everyone, but with limited alternative options, there’s a strong likelihood more people will be giving it a go.

First off: Do it! In terms of stress-busting ability, a good cardio session is unbeatable. Running is hard, and certainly not always pleasant, but the feeling of achievement afterwards is incredible, and while we’re putting our whole lives on hold, a sense of achievement can be hard to come by. So far, it’s still being allowed (and even recommended) by the government, so long as certain precautions are made.

However, there are some things to think about before getting started, not least because if you injure yourself, seeing a doctor or physio may be harder than usual, and there aren’t many alternative exercises you’ll be able to try instead!

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Running doesn’t have to involve seeing anyone or touching anything, so now is the perfect time to begin (if your government allows!)

  1. Start with a programme

If you’re new to running, don’t jump straight in there. In a moment of extreme motivation (or madness, or stress), it can be tempting to lace up your shoes and try to run 10km. Some people may be able to, but most won’t. Trying a couch to 5k, or if you have some experience already, a 5k to 10k, will ensure you progress at a pace that is less likely to put too much strain on your joints and muscles. It’ll also ensure you get out regularly, which is important for mental health.

2. Wear the right shoes

If you only have metcons because you’re a cross fitter, or converses, please don’t run in these! Your chance of injury will be greatly increased  – Emma Kirk Odunubi has some great information on this, so if you’re not sure, ask her! Usually I would recommend getting a gait analysis to find the right shoes for you, but this is unlikely to be possible right now. Since the postal service is still up and running, buy yourself a pair of running shoes that you think will work (I like Asics, Adidas, Nike and Hoka) and run in those. They might not be perfect, but they’re likely to be better than your lifting shoes!

3. Take rest days

If you’re doing a couch to 5k or similar plan, this will be built into your schedule, but if you’re just taking yourself for runs, make sure to allow yourself time to recover! No matter how fit you are, running places strain on the muscles, ligaments and joints, as well as your body’s energy systems. Allowing at least 2 rest days a week if important for recovery.

4. Don’t always go long

Long distance running is one of the only sports that can temporarily weaken the immune system. While exercise of 30-45 minutes a day is beneficial to your immune system, the energy systems required for long runs, and the amount of cortisol (stress hormone produced) can temporarily reduce your immune defence. Pair this with cold weather and a global pandemic, and long runs might not be in your best interest. Of course, the definition of what a ‘long run’ is varies from person to person, but bear in mind that shorter and faster may be better, at least for now.

5. Intervals

I get asked a lot why, when training for a marathon or half marathon, I include fast paced, short intervals. Intervals may make you a better runner, quicker, but also have the power to make your longer runs feel easier. It’s also just a variant of your normal long runs. Having a varied training schedule means you’re likely to work muscles (and your brain) slightly differently each time, building strength and keeping yourself interested.

6. Cross-train

OK, so the gyms are shut and the average person doesn’t have tonnes of equipment at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fit in other forms of training. More running doesn’t no necessarily make you a better runner, and fitting in cross training twice a week, with 3 runs a week is a great way to build strength and stave off injury. Try bodyweight exercises and physio exercises (prevention is better than cure!). Here are some great people to follow for online workouts. I also did a vlog with my physio where she talks about ways to avoid injury that’s worth a watch!

7. Eat well

This should go without saying, and most people don’t find it too hard once they start running! However, it’s easy to forget that new exercises (even if you exercised before) can be extremely energetically demanding for the body, and you need to eat to replace lost calories. Ensure your plate has plenty of colour (I don’t mean smarties) and dietary fibre, focussing on vegetables and wholegrains, and don’t forget your healthy fats (olive oil is a staple of my diet)! I don’t frequently take protein powder, but if you feel like you’re really struggling to fit in enough calories, this may be good to look into.

8. Sleep

With the start of any new exercise regime, the body can feel tired and sluggish, thanks to  a combination of having to learn a new skill and using up lots of physical energy. Getting adequate rest is vital for performance, but also your long-term health. You may need to sleep more if you are not used to exercising, so try to get to bed earlier and reduce caffeine intake if possible. Not being able to sleep is a symptom of overtraining, so if you’re feeling exhausted but unable to sleep after throwing yourself headfirst into a new running regime, maybe take a step back for a couple of weeks.

9. Keep away from people

It’s within the governmental guidelines (within the UK at least) that running while avoiding people is absolutely fine – recommended even! The benefits are notable, and will be a great thing to keep most people mentally sound. However, as mentioned above, you’re most vulnerable to getting sick for up to 72 hours after a long, hard run due to elevated cortisol levels. Combined with the inevitable bodily fluids from running, especially in the cold (spittle, sweat, snot – you name it, you’ll have it), it’s a really sensible idea to stay away from people as much as possible on your runs, for your own safety and theirs.

10. Enjoy it! 

Running is a love it or hate it sport, but if you’re in the latter camp, it doesn’t have to be that way forever. I used to HATE running, but I forced myself to do it because it was my alone time (and because I wanted to lose weight). Now, however, I am quite obsessed. I’m not even that good, but the sense of achievement and satisfaction I get after each run is unparalleled. I like to share my runs to Strava (a run tracking app) to get a sense of community spirit, even when I’m not running with others. Even in quarantine, we’re in this together!

 

I hope you found these tips useful! If you’d like to share them, please tag my Instagram and encourage everyone you know to take this up! Who knows, we could all come out of this epidemic in far better shape (mentally and physically) than when we went in.  

Keeping happy at home

Everyone is talking about COVID-19 right now, and with the global measures ensuring that people stay at home as much as possible, there’s very little to take our mind off it. Not all the emotions and thoughts we have are helpful though – anxiety above and beyond what we can change (e.g. washing hands, social distancing etc.) is only likely to exacerbate any issues, and cause more harm than good.

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Try not to stay in bed all day, tempting though it may be!

Harvard University has released a document with helpful resources designed to help people struggling with anxiety, especially health-related anxiety. They have some really useful advice on there, so please do share it (or this post) around!

Here are some of my favourite ways to cope with anxiety/stress of any variety:

 

Limit time on media of any form

It can be tempting to spend more time on social media and news sites when you’re stressed. Waiting for validation and dopamine hits through social media, and constantly checking up on evolving situations through news sites won’t help your brain switch off. You are allowed to take time away from the news if it is causing anxiety. I prefer to get my news from friends at times like these, because at least that way we are able to discuss in a productive way, rather than sit and dwell.

Focus on problem solving

With any issue, there will be things you can solve, and things you can’t. The feeling of helplessness is one of the worst feelings, so try to separate out concerns into ‘can fix’ and ‘can’t change’. This way you can work towards fixing what you can (washing hands, staying home, eating healthily, sleeping, social distancing/isolation) and accepting what you can’t (global spread, NHS limitations, general rules of biology).

Keep connected

Mental health struggles love isolation. Concerningly, people struggling from depression and anxiety can often feel like time alone is the only time they feel safe. Maintaining social connections, especially in a time when you can’t meet people face to face, is so important. FaceTime/Skype are great alternatives to face-to-face meeting – why not get in touch with people you haven’t had time to speak to in a while? Try to talk about things other than your concerns if you can.

Form a routine

When I struggled with depression, I found getting out of bed incredibly difficult, but staying in bed would give me a feeling of hopelessness, as if I couldn’t leave bed. Try framing your day around key points. Stick to regular mealtimes, wake at a reasonable hour, and try to fit in some form of movement in your day, whether inside or outside.

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Try to form routine, including meal times!

Gratitude journal

One of the main ways I totally changed my mindset when I was younger from ‘everyone hates me and everything is awful’ to a mindset of positivity was by keeping a gratitude journal. At first I hated it as I could barely find anything good to write in it, but slowly my mind switched from seeing the negatives in everything, to seeing the positives, if just to write it in the journal! At the end of each day, write down 5 things you are grateful for, however small.

Find purpose

At the beginning of the day, write a small list of things you want to achieve, and how you’ll go about achieving them. They don’t have to be complicated, but ticking off things from a to-do list can increase feelings of purpose (thought to be the most important factor in enjoyment of work). These can include doing laundry, loading/unloading the dishwasher, handing/rearranging paintings, watering plants, going for a run, applying for jobs, sending an email etc.

Do something selfless

Helping others is an intrinsically rewarding activity, promoting positive emotions in our own brains. It also can add perspective to problems. Doing good also improves optimism, confidence and gives you a feeling of purpose, without which many people struggle. Consider donating to charity, volunteering or simply helping someone out online.

Move!

Whether you are able to leave the house or not, if you are feeling up to it, get moving! Household chores are often enough to build up a sweat, but if that doesn’t do it for you, check out these Instagram and YouTube accounts that provide awesome home workouts without equipment. Even just 20 minutes a day is enough to get the endorphins going. If you can safely get outside, try going for a brisk walk at least once a day, or head out for a run. Remember, long distance running may suppress your immune system, so try intervals, or short-but-fast sessions instead.

Follow good news sites

If you can’t stop thinking about negatives, try unfollowing people who make you feel worse (this is a good thing to do anyway) and follow accounts that make you feel positive. The Happy Broadcast is posting lots about COVID 19, but they’re positive and proactive news stories. It’s one of my favourite accounts right now. The Daily Kitten and The Dodo are up there too.

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Try heading out for a run if you’re able to!

All images taken by my amazing friend Tamsin Louise.  

If you’re looking for more advice, check out this post on How to survive Blue Monday or How to beat the Winter Blues.

Exhausted – The effect of air pollution on running

It might be just me, but it seems that air pollution has risen on the agenda of Things To Worry About in the last few months. Plastic pollution was one of the key phrases within eco-conscious circles in 2019, with laws coming into place this year in a bid to control the problem. The term pollution, however, refers not only to plastic, but also the introduction of any contaminant into the environment which may cause harm. This can take the form of noise, light, chemicals or even heat – most of which we cannot see.

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Pollution is an issue in cities (and even many rural areas) around the world

Air pollution has a devastating impact on those living in the cities. While the pollution usually cannot be seen, the impacts are felt by all, with it shortening lives and contributing to a number of health problems. In the UK, pollution is a bigger killer than smoking, and costs the UK economy over £20bn per year. The biggest culprits are Nitrogen dioxide, emitted mainly by diesel vehicles, and PM2.5, fine particulate matter linked to adverse health effects. In the EU the toxic air is causing more than 1000 premature deaths each day from PM2.5– a figure which is 10 times higher than the number of deaths from traffic accidents.

Because of this invisible nature, it has been easy for people (and thus governments) to ignore the issue, focussing instead on highly visible, highly publicised issues and ‘buzzwords’, such as banning straws (good, but of limited benefit to the plastic pollution problem). However, in October 2019, it was announced that the UK would introduce an Environment Bill to “help ensure that we maintain and improve our environmental protections as we leave the EU”, including focussing on air quality and PM2.5 in particular.

For runners and cyclists, an immediate concern, however, is how we can actively work to improve our health (and continue doing what we love) without inadvertently harming ourselves.

Unfortunately, running in heavily polluted air has been linked to inflamed lungs, increased risk of asthma (I experienced this firsthand at the age of 18, when I moved to Paris), and instances of heart attack, stroke, cancer and death. Needless to say, these risk factors are enough to put people off, and encourage them to run on a treadmill (boring), or worse still, avoid exercising outdoors entirely. But is this entirely justified?

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Live pollution meter of London (18/02/2020 10am)

Even the scientists admit the problem is complex. Andrew Grieve, Senior Air Quality Analyst at King’s College London, says “when you’re running, you’re breathing a lot more than you are just walking along the street and your inhalation rate is massive so you’re bringing in more pollution.” In fact, someone running a marathon will inhale the same amount of oxygen as a normal person would sitting down over two days. Most people also tend to breathe through their mouths, bypassing the nasal filters, which can work to reduce pollution intake. The carbon monoxide alone can inhibit the body’s ability to transport oxygen around the body, thus making running that little bit harder too.

On the plus side, running is really good for you. Although I couldn’t find any studies looking directly at the effect of running in polluted areas (other than this, for elite athletes over marathon distance), a study on people walking in polluted areas up to 16h a day or cycling up to 3.5h per day suggested that the benefits of activity outweighed any harm from pollution in all but the most extreme of cases.

Conclusions

The benefits from active travel generally outweigh health risks from air pollution and therefore should be further encouraged. When weighing long-term health benefits from PA (physical activity) against possible risks from increased exposure to air pollution, our calculations show that promoting cycling and walking is justified in the vast majority of settings, and only in a small number of cities with the highest PM2.5concentration in the world cycling could lead to increase in risk. (Tainio, Marko, et al. “Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?.” Preventive medicine 87 (2016): 233-236.)

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Photo by James Purvis

However, there are things we could be doing to both decrease our risk of being negatively affected by air pollution, and also improve the air quality where we live.

  1. Choose lesser polluted routes when walking, running or cycling around cities. Choosing to walk or cycle on a quiet road instead of a busy one can sharply reduce the amount of pollution you take in. Even using a parallel road one block over from a traffic-clogged one can reduce your exposure by 50%. If you’re looking to run or cycle around London, consider downloading Clean Air Run Club on your phone to score routes by air quality.
  2. Run in the morning. Pollution increases throughout the day, especially in summer.
  3. Aim to find green spaces, or roads lined with trees – these are havens from pollution, and even a small amount of greenery between you and the traffic can dramatically reduce pollution levels!
  4. Take note of particularly bad air days using a live air quality monitor. These will often be on hot and humid days. If you can, avoid running/cycling outside on these days, perhaps getting in some cross training indoors, or a run on the treadmill.
  5. Take public transport. Although particulate pollution in tube lines is up to 30 times higher than roadside, Prof Frank Kelly, chair of Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), said people should continue to use the tube given the relatively short time spent underground and lack of evidence of harmful effects. Using public transport also reduces fumes expelled by cars, cleaning the air above ground that we breathe for the rest of the day.
  6. Eliminate wood burners and fireplace usage. Wood fires are sold as ‘eco’ or ‘clean’ alternatives to electric heaters or gas fires, but are far from it, and are a big contributor to wintertime pollution across Britain. Reducing wood burning reduces deaths and pollution-related ill-health.
  7. Switch to clean energy sources and aim to conserve energy at home and work. By switching to a renewable energy that is generated by natural sources such as solar, water and wind, you can help to fight harmful levels of air pollution.
  8. Lobby governments. For real change to be seen, governments need to prioritise pollution and other environmental issues (which go hand in hand), and now is the time to pressure them.
  9. Stop driving (especially around urban areas) unless absolutely necessary. Although you may believe driving a car protects you from the worst of the fumes, pollution levels inside cars are usually significantly higher than directly outside the car on the street, due to exhaust fumes being circulated around the enclosed space.

The good news is that we know the impact of pollution and we know what we can do to reduce it. We also know that even small improvements have substantial and immediate benefits for us all. What is needed now is for global governments to step up and reassess funding priorities. Pollution is the biggest environmental health risk in Europe, and it’s time something was done about it.

 

This article was adapted from a piece I wrote for EcoAge. For more of a deep dive into the issue of pollution, head on over. 

Come and find me on YouTube and Instagram for more running content!

Gstaad – active holidays

When I was invited to travel to Gstaad, Switzerland as part of a press trip, I was simultaneously excited and concerned – as someone who is around a month out from a marathon, every training session counts! But buoyed on by the knowledge that the trip would be an active one, I happily packed my bags for my first snow of the year. Please note – this trip was gifted by Gstaad tourism, but as always all views are my own.

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After an early start, we landed in Geneva airport, ready to take two trains to Geneva. After around 2.5h we arrived in our destination. Gstaad is not easy to get to, but the views en route are spectacular, and its exclusivity is what makes it such an enviable destination for tourists and locals alike. It was great to have a tour of the town when we arrived to get our bearings, although unfortunately we weren’t staying in the town itself initially, something I would change if I were to return, as it is stunning!

Our first morning was spent skiing in the most perfect skiing conditions I have ever experienced, with few people on the slopes and fresh snow the whole way down. Lunchtime arrived and we skied to an igloo hotel/restaurant (reminiscent of the ice hotel). Thankfully there were vegan options on the menu, which sadly is a rarity while skiing! The bulk of the group ate cheese fondue while I had mixed anti-pasti, soup and fresh bread, which were all delicious.

That afternoon we travelled to the Ermitage hotel, a beautiful hotel with an even nicer spa. Unfortunately due to the packed schedule (and very snowy conditions) I had been unable to do any running since arriving (although of course skiing is excellent exercise!) and instead of heading straight to the spa, I instead went to the gym to complete 3x 800m sprints as part of my marathon training. My thinking is that giving 80% in your training consistently is far better than giving 100% sporadically when you know you’re at your best (i.e. in London on a track). So I got the workout done and headed to dinner at the hotel after a short (and much needed!) dip in the pool. Dinner at The Ermitage was great and one of the few places that offered full vegan meals (as opposed to salad leaves and copious amounts of bread). Satisfied and full, I opted for an early night.

The next day was significantly snowier than our first day, which was no problem as we were heading out to do a childhood favourite of mind – tobogganing! After a delicious breakfast at Charly’s (one of the best traditional cafes in town), we headed up the new gondola lift to reach the toboggan run. Sledding down the run was a definite throwback to my childhood and we all had so much fun!

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Following tobogganing we moved hotel for the final night, heading to The Park in the town of Gstaad (previously we had been a short drive from the town). I was immediately blown over by the hotel with its mix of décor, from parts that were redone around 2010 (but that have a timeless chic feel), to the central hotel lift, which is from when the building was originally built.  The Park has 84 rooms and 10 suites, as well as 3 restaurants (a local cuisine, sustainable restaurant, an Argentinian restaurant and an Al Fresco pool-side dining area). The three pillars of the hotel are: sustainability, fitness and health, so you can imagine I was very excited to be spending an evening here. Needless to say, the gym was very pleasant, with plenty of equipment and a large studio, where classes take place. The hotel is open 6 months of the year – 3 within ski season, and 3 in the summer, when the hotel attracts half its clientele, and with good reason. The number of activities available to guests in the summer is astounding, and with the hotel being situated in the mountains, it’s the perfect place to set off for whatever adventure you’re looking for. I’m excited to head back in the summer to see more of what’s on offer, from mountain biking to golf club to trail running.

On our final we were set to take part in a glacier walk, on organised tour of the local glacier (which unfortunately is fast retreating). However, due to high winds and unpredictable weather, we were unable to go. Not all as lost though, as it means that I was able to head back up the mountain, skis in hand (and then on feet) for a final morning of skiing! Deterred by the weather warnings, the mountains were almost devoid of people, so it was incredible to ski on the fresh snow and freshly piste-bashed pistes. I have never encountered skiing conditions like those at Gstaad and despite the cost of getting there, would head back in a heartbeat to experience them again. After around 40 minutes of skiing in the snow and wind, the skies cleared to reveal a beautiful sunny day, fresh snow and not a soul on the mountains, which was a spectacular way to remember Gstaad.

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TL;DR

  • Would I recommend going to Gstaad? Yes, absolutely. Summer or winter, you’ll love it.
  • Cons? It’s expensive and, unless you have a helicopter, a little time consuming to get to.
  • Best parts? The skiing and tobogganing! Although I would also happily stay in a suite at The Park hotel for the entire time too.
  • Worst parts? The lack of vegan/healthy food out, although this is to be expected anywhere you go skiing.

Read more about Gstaad

Supplements – what, why and how?

I’ve been asked so many times what I think about X supplement and approached by brands to promote new bizarre sounding pills claiming to solve all your training problems. Whilst some of them may have tentative supporting evidence, a lot don’t. I know the supplements market is a total minefield, so here are some of the most popular supplements out there, and evidence for and against them. Obviously research is always coming out saying X, Y or Z – I’ve included a lot of reviews and meta analyses to try to get a balanced view of the literature but always think critically about what people are trying to sell you. Just remember: there’s no magic pill that’ll suddenly make you fit or give you the perfect abs. Training is hard whatever supplements you take, and quite often it’s worth spending the £50 you spend on supplements on a personal training session or a few books on nutrition. Knowledge is power (literally in this case!).

 

Protein

Our muscles are made up of protein fibres, some of which are broken down and rebuilt each time we exercise. Protein supplements/shakes claim to enhance recovery of muscles and aid growth, thereby improving performance. However, the level of conflicting information (and the price of a lot of the supplements) warrants a closer look at the evidence of their efficacy.

The evidence: Looking at muscle recovery time, muscle soreness and muscle growth, the data are inconclusive. Some meta-analyses state that here’s no evidence to suggest that muscle recovery is faster when someone consumes protein before, after or during a workout. However, a lot of the studies looked at small sample sizes, and measures of ‘muscle soreness’ and recovery are often hard to quantify. There is, however, fairly strong evidence to suggest that people in a calorie deficit may benefit from taking protein supplements, and that protein can reduce muscle catabolism (break down) following a workout. Verdict: if you’re looking to build muscle and/or are in a calorie deficit, protein may help you out. However, if you’re looking to reduce DOMS or decrease recovery time, the jury is out on whether protein can help. Because of the mixed evidence, it may be worth trying it out, especially if you’re vegan or struggling to fit in enough protein in your diet and wanting to train hard. Find what works for you!

 

BCAAs

BCAAs or branched-chain amino acids are amino acids with side chains. There are three types: leucine, isoleucine and valine. The supplements are sold to increase protein synthesis, purportedly increasing muscle mass (even while in a calorie deficit) when paired with the right training. When taken regularly, supplementation may decrease fatigue during exercise by reducing the increase in serotonin during exercise, which contributes to fatigue.

The evidence: BCAAs are one of the most heavily studied supplements on the market. In terms of exercise (there are many other uses of BCAA supplementation), there are two main factors looked at: increased exercise performance and reduced muscle breakdown. The former has much mixed evidence, mostly suggesting that BCAAs are unlikely to significantly improve exercise performance. The latter, however, has much more evidence supporting it. Multiple studies show that supplementation before and after exercise reduce muscle breakdown after strenuous exercise, reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

 

Creatine

Creatine is produced naturally in the body and stored predominantly in skeletal muscle. However, it is also sold as a supplement and marketed as helping to improve energy production for short duration, high intensity exercises. Theoretically, it is used by the body as a substrate to form ATP (the little packets of energy our body uses), and therefore supplementing with it means more ATP (energy) can be produced.

The evidence: Creatine is one of the more sound supplements on the market. According to one review paper, creatine is the most effective supplement to increase high-energy exercise capacity and muscle mass during training. As it turns out, of the 500 peer-reviewed papers looking into the effects of creatine, 70% concluded that it benefitted high intensity performance. However, when looking at more endurance exercises, the evidence is inconclusive, showing that if you want something for long-distance running, you should probably look elsewhere.

Nb/ There have been concerns that creatine supplementation may alter liver and kidney function, so if you have underlying conditions, creatine use should be avoided. In general though, it seems to be relatively safe!

 

Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is used by athletes to improve performance. Purported benefits include improving exercise capacity, building lean muscle mass and improving physical functions in the elderly.

The evidence: This supplement definitely shows some clear evidence that it can improve performance by reducing fatigue, thus making building muscle easier for those who take it. The benefits are seen most clearly in high intensity activities lasting 60s to 300s. However, the side effects are not widely studied but commonly experienced. If you’ve ever taken beta alanine you’ll probably be aware of the tingly feeling you can get, which is unpleasant at best. Few studies if any have looked into the safety of this supplement, and whilst it appears safe at recommended doses, take it at your own risk.

 

Electrolytes

When we exercise we sweat, losing salts as well as water. Salts are important for our muscles to function properly and too few of them cause the body to cramp up. If you’re into endurance exercise or workout in hot places, chances are you’ve considered taking electrolytes. Electrolytes help replenish the salts lost when we sweat, thus keeping our muscles working properly, and are provided in a way that doesn’t give our body too much of any one type of salt (e.g. sodium). Supplementation aims to reduce heat stress, muscle cramps and aid rehydration.

The evidence: electrolyte supplementation has been shown to reduce cramping caused by electrolyte loss (lots of sweating), but cramping can still occur due to other factors. It reduces heat stress, so if you’re working out hard in a hot country (e.g. racing or competing abroad) this may be something to consider. If you’re not working out in extreme heat for extended periods of time, electrolytes are probably not required for your everyday training schedule.

 

I hope this helps clarify some things for you!

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Choosing supplements to aid your workouts can be a minefield

Autumn – shoot with Kudzai

The post these photos were taken for was written for Gymshark and is featured on their blog. Go and take a read for some advice on how to keep active in winter!

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Cold weather shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve got the right clothes

As the days get shorter and weather less and less predictable, keeping active often seems a lot less appealing.

However in the winter, more than ever, it’s important to keep active to maintain a positive mindset and get some fresh air. Something that annoys me is this attitude that spring and summer are the only months when you should take care of your body, and the rest of the year your health just doesn’t matter.

 

To read the rest of this post head to the Gymshark blog. Or, scroll down to see more pictures.

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Rhiannon – Winter wellness

This is a guest blog post by leading Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, taking us through some advice to keep us fit and healthy this winter. Find Rhiannon’s socials at the bottom of the post and enjoy!

 

As we enter these next few cold wintery months, our immune system can often get shot down by illness, whether that is cold and flu, sore throats or generally feeling exhausted. But what can we do to keep our wellness high and working in the winter?

Following a balanced diet full of nutrient dense foods such as complex carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats and of course vegetables and fruit are the key to a successful healthy winter. While there is no, one food that dispels infection, there are plenty of foods that can be introduced to help prevent infection and keep your body fit and healthy.

 

5 KEY STAPLE FOODS FOR IMMUNE SYSTEM:

  1. Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits are full of Vitamin C, which is known globularly for its benefits to the immune system. Vitamin C is highly concentrated in immune cells that help fight infections fast, and since our bodies do not produce or store it, we must source it from the diet! Popular citrus fruits include; oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit. Have a piece of fruit for a snack, or infuse your water intake with lemon and lime!

  1. Spinach

Spinach is also a brilliant source of Vitamin C. But additionally, spinach is full of beta carotene and antioxidants, which increase the ability of your immune system. Spinach is also a darky leafy green, which we hear so much about as they are full of vitamins such as A, K, C, and B and minerals such as magnesium and calcium.  Cook your spinach, or eat it cold, either way claim the benefits of spinach.

  1. Ginger

Spice up your foods. You can even try a whole range of spices such as garlic, chili peppers, and turmeric to boost immunity and enhance circulation. Ginger is great to remedy a sore throat, and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Ginger is great in hot water on a cold winters morning, as well as in autumnal soups.

  1. Yogurt

When buying Yogurt, it is always important to look for one that contains “live and active cultures” as these cultures will stimulate your immune system to fight infection and disease in your body. Yogurt is also a great source of Vitamin D which can often be low during the winter months, but is needed in the diet as it can be beneficial to the immunity. A thing to note, often pre-flavoured yogurt contains high amounts of sugar so try to choose a plain yogurt and top with your own fruit for flavour!

  1. Protein

Everybody in their lifetime has been given chicken soup or broth when they are ill in bed.  Poultry, such as chicken and turkey is high in Vitamin B6. This vitamin plays a vital role in many chemical reactions in the body, such as forming new and healthy red blood cells.  Additionally, when making chicken broth, the use of boiling the bones holds benefits such as gut healing and immunity.

Vegetarian sources of protein, especially pulses, contain tons of fibre and nutrients to keep you fighting fit. Quinoa has a complete amino acid profile, which is excellent for the building blocks of protein (the structure of our body) and add some pulses to your meals. Pulses can also be a great source of iron and B vitamins providing you with energy and ensure your veggie sources are fortified as often as possible to get B12.

In total, we should be focusing on not only macronutrients, but the micronutrients that are often forgotten, such as vitamins A, B and C, and minerals such as Iron and Zinc.

Apart from keeping our diet full of goodness, there are other ways to keep your body both mentally and physically well in the next coming months.

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Follow Rhiannon on her Instagram to see delicious food like this!

EXERCISE

Getting out and about, breathing in fresh air does your health a world of good. But also exercising stimulates the release of endorphins which makes you feel “happy”.

 

CLEANLINESS

Illness can spread fast in a home, especially the common cold. Preventing infection from spreading around the entire family is vital, and cleaning surfaces, door handles and objects that everyone touches; TV remote, toilet handle can minimise contamination from family member to family member.

 

REST

Taking enough time for yourself, to recuperate can be beneficial for your health. Getting enough sleep at night can make a big difference when waking up the next morning. We all know when we don’t get enough sleep we feel grouchy, and this can affect the rest of the day, and even your immune system. So be mindful in the winter months, give yourself rest to maintain your health.

 

There are so many ways to a healthy winter, and most are basic. Eat well, sleep enough, and get out. Most seem like common sense, but making an active effort to follow through can be beneficial in the long run and the key to winter wellness.

 

Don’t forget you can pre-order Rhiannon’s book, Re-Nourish, released on the 28 December 2017!

 

Podcast recommendations

Podcasts became a huge part of my life around 2017, when I started using them to learn more about my chosen final year Biology topics. Since then, they’ve been a constant accompaniment to my everyday life – from sitting in the tube to heading out for some long and otherwise lonely runs. Most recently, I have taken on ‘walk to school month’ as my very own #walktowork month, joined by some others throughout instagram. The health benefits of fresh air and low-intensity exercise cannot be overstated, especially during the darker months, so please join in!

The time spent listening to podcasts is time that not only passes quicker, but is also hugely productive – from keeping up with current events to learning about niche topics, podcasts (in my opinion) make you a more interesting person all round. Let me know of any of your own suggestions and tell me how you get on!

I get my podcasts on Overcast but you can also get them on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher and many other places.

 

In no particular order, here is the list of my favourite podcasts:

The High Low
“A weekly pop-culture / news podcast brought to you by Dolly Alderton & Pandora Sykes – the former co-hosts of The Pandolly Podcast.” Another conversational podcast on all things popular culture, including the #MeToo movement, celebrity news and food snobbery. Very useful if you don’t want to read the news everyday but also want to know what’s going on in the world (and not just the serious stuff).

 

RunPod
Every week Jenni Falconer speaks to a range of people who share her passion for running. From fitness experts to casual runners and everything in between, I love this podcast as it feels like I’m sitting down for a fun little chat with all the guests. “Along the way, you’ll hear top training tips, monumental mistakes and some inspirational stories. So, whether you’re a seasoned marathoner, treadmill trainer, fitness guru or simply putting off that Sunday jog, RunPod is here for you.” Recommend for your long runs.

 

Happy Place
“This is a place where I want to collect all things that make me happy – from joyful food to a clear mind. I hope there’s something here to bring good, simple happiness to your every day” – Fearne Cotton, presenter of Happy Place. I love this podcast because it goes behind the face of many celebrities and talks in a really emotionally intelligent way about mental health, tragedy and day to day life pressures. These are the kinds of conversations I live for, and if I can’t have them myself with these people, this is the next best thing 🙂

 

This American Life
“This American Life is a weekly public radio show, heard by 2.2 million people on more than 500 stations”. It explores themes of contemporary western living and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s one of the hardest podcasts to describe but is well worth a listen! It’s sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted but always draws you in to a story and makes you think!

 

Wardrobe Crisis
If you’re into sustainability and/or fashion, give Wardrobe Crisis a listen. Hosted by VOGUE’s sustainability editor, Clare Press, this interview-style podcast uncovers many hidden truths about the fashion industry. “Join Clare and her guests as they decode the fashion system, and dig deep into its effects on people and the planet. This show unzips the real issues that face the fashion industry today, with a focus on ethics, sustainability, consumerism, activism, identity and creativity”.

 

Freakonomics
“Freakonomics radio is an American public radio program which discusses socioeconomic issues for a general audience”. I have very little interest in economics really, but for someone who likes to understand the world this podcast brings up a whole load of things you’d just never think of. Great for lateral thinking.

 

The Power Hour
My friend and host Adrienne Herbert started the Power Hour as a way to inspire others to get up an hour earlier to achieve more with their days. Now it’s a weekly conversation with inspirational change makers to see what drives them. “Whether you want to build a business, write a book or run a marathon, the Power Hour is going to help you get there faster”!

 

Adulting
Another podcast hosted by a friend of mine, but I’m not just recommending it because of that! Oenone describes this as “the podcast that’s trying to figure out all of the things we never got taught at school”. This pod covers so many topics in deep-dives with interviewees, from diet culture, to white saviourism and money. I always learn something new when listening!

 

Invisibilia
“Invisibilia (Latin for invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behaviour – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions”. I absolutely love this podcast. It’s less fact-based than the others I listen to, but explores things we wouldn’t often think about with anecdotes on a theme. Well worth a listen, but maybe give it a miss if you’re feeling a bit down. It can be quite bleak.

 

The Naked Scientists
“The Naked Scientists flagship science show brings you a lighthearted look at the latest scientific breakthrough, interviews with the world’s top scientists and answers to your science questions”. I know I’m an unashamed nerd, but I have no shame in recommending this to absolutely everyone. It’s done in a way that absolutely everyone can understand, so no need to feel like you’re not into science and therefore can’t listen!

 

Stuff you should know
“How do landfills work? How do mosquitoes work? Join Josh and Chuck as they explore the Stuff You Should Know about everything from genes to the universe”. Enjoying a podcast that explains just about anything you can think of pay put me somewhere on the nerd-autism spectrum, but I absolutely love it, and it gives you a basic knowledge of a bunch of stuff that people might talk about, from maps to nude beaches. Anything you can think of, it’s probably covered.

 

You are not so smart
“You are not so smart is a celebration of self delusion that explores topics related to cognitive biases, heuristics and logical fallacies”. I don’t understand what that means, but still MASSIVELY enjoy this podcast. It’s definitely in my top 3 pods ever, and also wins the ‘coolest intro music’ award.

 

Homo Sapiens
“Will Young and Christopher Sweeny talk to inspirational people over tea and biscuits.”. Basically described as ‘an LGBTQ version of Women’s Hour’, this podcast is like listening in to a conversation between the two hosts that ranges from hilarious to emotional and back in the space of an episode, covering a bunch of important topics. Not just for LGBTQ+ listeners! Have a listen and see what you think.

 

The Life Scientific
“Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their life and work, finding out what inspires and motivates them and asking what their discoveries might do for mankind”. If you’re a fan of amazing stories about people who have done amazing things, listen to this. I love to hear about the science, but even better than that is the often crazy and inspiring lives that the scientists have lived.

 

Nerdette
“Interviews with your favorite authors, artists, astronauts and more. Because everybody is a little nerdy about something.” This is a new one for me, recommended by a fellow woman interested in the world. It looks at popular culture (one of the latest ones was on black panther, another on Chloe Kim in the winter olympics) and hot topics in the news from a ‘woman of the world’ perspective. I love it!

 

The Debrief/ Nobody Panic podcast
“We all know that adulting is hard. As in, there aren’t nearly enough memes in the world to fully explain just how fantastically awkward it is to try and be an actual, legitimate grown up (because what does being a grown up even mean?). Each week The Debrief’s Stevie and Tessa will be on hand (erm, headphones?) to help you get your life together. They’ll be doing all of the hard, boring research for you into the things that you actually need to know to get by in life.” This podcast annoyed me at first, but actually has some reeeally useful tips and brings up some super important topics about being 20-something, especially as a woman. The Debrief website is also incredible, so if you like that, you’ll probably like this too.

 

Science Hour
“Science News and highlights of the week” – this may sound incredibly nerdy and in depth but the whole podcast explains everything in lay terms for everyone to understand. It reports the latest research in all areas of science, from medicine to astrology to palaeontology. I love keeping up with science news but have no knowledge of anything other than the basics in lots of fields, so it’s great to have the research and its relevance explained.

 

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Podcasts whilst walking to work or out on a run can make the time pass quicker!