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!

Royal Lancaster Hotel, London

I’m a massive fan of doing cute things with a partner or friend just because. No need for an anniversary or birthday – flowers/dinner/a cute homemade card can be shared any day. It’s even better when it’s unexpected! When The Royal Lancaster invited me to review their hotel bordering Hyde Park I jumped at the chance – it was the perfect opportunity for a little date night, just because.

The stay was kindly gifted but as usual, all views are my own.

 

Check-in is from 2pm at the hotel, and we arrived at 4pm to have some time to take a look at the facilities before dinner. The hotel is huge and beautifully furnished – minimalist luxury. We were shown up to our room (we were upgraded to the Park Suite) and given a little tour. The first thing that I noticed were the amazing views of Hyde Park – many of the hotel rooms give a breathtaking view of the park, and you can see various London landmarks out of the expansive windows.

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The views are SPECTACULAR

The room was beautifully decorated with minimalist (but cosy) décor – I have taken notes for my future house! Amenities include a bath, walk-in shower, fast WiFi, hairdryer and a TV with extras such as iPlayer and YouTube (through which we played music) etc. The room was perfect and I have no complaints!

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Park-Suite

Tempting to steal decor notes for my future house!

Before dinner we headed to the gym. There is no spa at the hotel, but they do suggest visiting Hyde Park for a dip in the Serpentine, which could be nice at certain times of year. The gym is described as being ‘well equipped’ which I wouldn’t argue, so long as you have only basic equipment needs. Consistently I feedback to hotels with gyms that more and more people require more than solely cardio machines and light weights. I have seen this changing slowly, but there was room for improvement at The Royal Lancaster. The gym was not busy (only one extra person) and is open 24h a day, 7 days a week, which is great. It could have benefitted from some extra weights-setups, e.g. chest press and squat rack (I think of these being basic in a gym). Water and towels are provided.

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Making the most of the hotel gym

We booked dinner at The Island Grill, one of the hotel’s two evening restaurants, for 7:30pm. The hotel is open to non hotel-guests and was pleasingly busy – a sign of a good restaurant! We were told that the chef previously worked at The Shangri-La at The Shard, and this certainly came across in the cooking. Even without knowing much about the restaurant in advance of our dinner, it was immediately obvious that the restaurant places huge emphasis on sustainability by prioritising seasonal and local ingredients, and offering a wide range of vegetarian and vegan options. The restaurant earned 2 AA Rosettes and won the Sustainable Restaurant Award in 2015. Of course, as a vegan I would have loved a couple more vegan options (e.g. a veggie buger and some grilled options), but what we ate (pea soup, wild mushrooms on sourdough, heirloom tomato and mushroom filo) was delicious. We ended the meal with a ginger cake, which was very heavy but still delicious. If you’re a keen wine drinker, the alcohol selection is extemsive but not overwhelming, and labels all the vegan options available, which was great! We had an amazing Rosé from France, which was £32 per bottle and went down very easily.

 

I have not slept as well as I slept in our hotel room is a very long time. The bed is huge and extremely comfortable, and the room has aircon – vital for a good sleep on warmer days. Any noise from the road 16 floors down was blocked out by the thick windows, and I slept like a baby. Would thoroughly recommend for a good night’s sleep.

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The spacious (and air conned) bedroom was very much appreciated!

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the Park Restaurant overlooking Hyde Park. There were options from both a buffet bar and a la carte. After the amazing vegan dinner I was disappointed to only see one vegan option on the menu. I ended up ordering the ‘crushed avocado’ without the poached egg. It could have done with more toast and more avocado (having got rid of the eggs), but it was delicious! The buffet bar was extensive and very pleasing – we ate a lot of really great food. Unlike many buffets where quality is compromised for quantity, everything we ate was great. As with most hotels, the buffet could have benefitted from vegetarian, gluten free and vegan signs on each of the food items for ease of choosing – it was not always obvious.

 

TL;DR

  • The Royal Lancaster Hotel hosted us for an AMAZING night in their Park Suite.
  • The rooms are beautifully decorated and spacious, and the beds are incredibly comfortable.
  • The gym was decent but could have done with much more equipment.
  • I was very impressed by Island Grill, one of the hotel’s restaurants, with a focus on sustainability.
  • I slept incredibly well and we weren’t disturbed by any noise from adjacent rooms or the street throughout our stay
  • The breakfast bar was great, but both the menu and bar could have done with more vegan options.
  • Would thoroughly recommend if you’re looking to stay somewhere very ‘London’ – you will not be disappointed!

 

London’s best lunchtime fitness classes

Waking up super early in the morning or trekking to the gym after a long day at work isn’t for everyone, which is why we’re all about those lunchtime classes. With classes from 30 to 45 minutes and studios dotted around London, ‘I don’t have time’ is no longer a valid excuse to not fit in a workout. And when the classes leave you feeling positive and motivated for the rest of the day, what’s not to love?

Here are some of the top classes for you to check out in London on your lunch break:

1. Barry’s Bootcamp

Best for: Calorie burn

Studios: West (Bayswater), Central (Euston), East (Liverpool Street), Canary Wharf, SW1 (Victoria), however not all of these locations offer reduced-length lunchtime classes.

Cost: £22 per class, with package deals for multiple class purchases.

Global fitness chain Barry’s Bootcamp is based on the science of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to burn as many calories as possible and increase fitness. Attendees alternate between resistance training on the floor to intervals on the treadmill. Normal classes are 60 minutes, but at lunchtime (12pm and 1pm), certain locations shorten classes to 50 minutes (including stretching); to compensate for the reduced class length, free protein shakes are offered after the class. It’s a seriously intense session, but perfect for a mid-day pick-me-up if you’re feeling lethargic!

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Barry’s Bootcamp ‘red room’

2. HIIT – Another Space

Best for: Fat burn

Studios: Bank and Covent Garden

Cost: £22 for a one-off class, or monthly passes available.

HIIT at Another Space combines boxing and MMA moves with floor-based resistance training. This high-intensity class is short (35 minutes at lunchtime) and incorporates a variety of exercises to keep your body working. The studios are also beautiful, so perfect to enjoy a shake and shower in post-class.

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HIIT at Another Space, Bank

3. Hot yoga – Another Space

Best for: Flexibility

Studios: Bank and Covent Garden

Cost: £22 for a one-off class, or monthly passes available.

Held in the same studios as HIIT, hot yoga at Another Space is the perfect option if you’re looking for a less intense workout. Don’t be fooled though – expect to work on both your flexibility and strength in this dynamic, heated yoga class. The heat is held at 32 degrees for 45 minutes to gain maximal muscle benefits without the extreme heat of other hot yoga.

4. F45

Best for: HIIT

Studios: All over London! You’d be hard pressed not to find one near your office.

Cost: Cost depends on your membership, which are available as monthly to biannually. The eight-week challenges are priced separately. Intro offers available at most studios.

A concept born in Australia, F45 provides groups classes of functional high-intensity circuit training. F45 has 27 different ‘genres’ of workout, each focussing on a different aspect of fitness, such as HIIT, cardio or resistance training. At the front of each class, screens display each exercise, while multiple instructors roam the class and are on hand to motivate and correct where needed. Most studios also offer an ‘eight-week F45 challenge’, aimed at reducing body fat over the course of eight weeks. This may be too extreme for many (it encourages the cutting of carbohydrates for quick results), but could be the kick needed to get back into shape after some time off.

5. Signature Express – Barrecore

Best for: Barre

Studios: All around London, including Chelsea, Islington, Kensington, Mayfair, Notting Hill and Moorgate.

Cost: Membership starts at £200/month for 9 credits. Introductory offer available.

Barrecore’s Signature Express class promises to strengthen, lengthen and tone muscles in the space of 45 minutes. This class incorporates barre (ballet-like) moves coupled with resistance training.

6. Define Express – Define London

Best for: Low-impact sculpting

Studios: Great Portland Street, Fitzrovia.

Cost: Single credit £28 (excluding £10 off offer for new clients).

If you’re looking for a quick and dynamic workout, the Define Express classes offer all the toning and strengthening of their longer classes in just 30 minutes. Depending on the day, you can expect barre, floor workouts and strength workouts to target specific muscle groups. Lunchtime classes run from 12:30 – 1pm and 1:05pm – 1:35pm.

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Define London

7. Shake & Ride – Boom Cycle

Best for: Mood boost

Studios: Hammersmith, Holborn, Battersea, Monument.

Cost: One ride is £18 with package deals available. A one-month unlimited pass is £135.

There’s nothing quite like spinning to raise the heart rate and get the blood pumping. Boom Cycle is akin to a party on a bike, with loud music, coloured lights and an instructor who practically dances at the front. If you’re into high intensity cardio, Boom Cycle is for you – expect to leave grinning (and sweating) from ear to ear. Lunchtime classes vary in length – they are either 45 minutes or 30 minutes, and the latter includes a free shake after the class!

8. Quick HIIT – Metabolic London

Best for: All-round everything

Studios: Mornington Crescent.

Cost: Monthly membership is £100/month for unlimited classes. Single class is £20.

If you’re truly strapped for time, this 30-minute class could be exactly what you’re looking for. With a mixture of cardio and strength training, this class will leave you burning fat long after leaving the studio, and the endorphins with power you through your afternoon at work. This isn’t for the faint-hearted, but you get out as much as you put in, and at only 30 minutes long, what is there to lose?

How I keep healthy with a full time job

Although I only started working in ‘the real world’ in August, I have been asked time and time again how I’m keeping healthy. As with so many people I have a desk job, I work in a city and I have an almost unlimited supply of food throughout the day. So how do I stay healthy?

Keeping fit and healthy isn’t something that just ‘happens’ for me – it’s something I have consciously worked hard at for the past 8 years of my life, figuring out what works for me. Although I’m still perfecting it all, I’d love to share with you all what I find works for me, as someone who works 8h a day sitting down at a desk!

 

Edit: I have recently started working 25h a week after 8 months of working full time, which allows me a little more space to focus on my blog, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. I think I probably work more than ever now, but the proportion that is spent sitting at a desk has decreased. However these rules still stand as I go to the office 4 days a week still! 

Walk

People looooove to see X workout or Y workout on Instagram, but I never see people talking about the power of the humble walk. I LOVE to walk. It’s my thing, and I’m getting very good at it (I’m known for being a speedy walker). Sure, walking isn’t as hardcore as a boxing session or as glamorous as a weights session, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work wonders. If you think about it, your workout only makes up around 4% of your day. If the other 96% is spent sitting on your ass then that 4% isn’t really going to matter. My advice: get walking. Walk the journey to work if you can – I walk up to an hour to and from work. I also walk for at least 30 minutes in my lunch break. Maybe you don’t have the time to do that much, but make a conscious effort to head out for a walk when you have a minute. It’ll do wonders for your health (and, surprisingly, your endurance in other sports too!).

Tea breaks!

There is something I call tea/pee (like a tee-pee but not). It involves drinking lots of tea and peeing all the time. Doesn’t sound scientific enough for you? You’d be surprised. Drinking herbal tea has a myriad of health benefits, lots of which are to do with the fact that you’re consuming more liquid, which is easy to forget. During winter it’s incredibly warming and year round flavoured teas can be good to see you between mealtimes or snack breaks. The increased liquid in your system will obviously make you wee more often, and this, combined with filling up your tea all day, means more standing up and walking around, which has a bunch of other benefits (see above). If your colleagues make fun of you for having a weak bladder, laugh at them, because they should be sad they don’t know about tea-pee. Toilet/kitchen right next to your office? Head to one on another floor.

30 minute rule

I try not to sit down for more than 30 minutes continuously. It hurts my back, makes me lethargic and makes my Garmin angry (it continuously buzzes at me to ‘MOVE’). Every 30 minutes (if I haven’t moved since the last 30 minutes), I get up and walk somewhere. It doesn’t matter where, but 2 minutes of activity for every 30 minutes of sitting down should really be your minimum when it comes to your desk job. Tea-pee should help with this. Offer to get other people tea too. Either they’ll join (in which case yay you get company), or they’ll give you their mug, which means more trips to the kitchen (aka more steps).

Lunch

Lunch at my work is both amazing and frustrating. We get lunch supplied, which is incredible, and usually it’s pretty good and healthy – that’s the amazing bit. The frustrating bit is that it’s always between 12pm and 1:30pm, which means that even if I’m not hungry in those hours, I have to eat, lest I starve by the afternoon. For most people this isn’t an issue, as you’ll be bringing in your own lunch. Try not to fall into the trap of eating it by 11am and being sad by 12pm when you’re hungry again. I set myself a specific meal time (12:40pm) and don’t eat in the hour before, because I know I’ll regret it when I’m really full by the time we get to lunch. Eat your lunch slowly and for gods sake, NOT AT YOUR DESK. If you insist on eating at your desk, turn your computer off and enjoy your food without work/internet of any kind. Paying attention to what you are eating will increase enjoyment of it, make you feel more satisfied, and allow your brain to have a break, which it will probably need by lunch time.

Snack-attack

The dreaded snack cupboard/shelf/drawer/kitchen is a health killer. It’s continually restocked by well-meaning people and feeders, who probably want to feel better about their snacking habits. Snack-attack is like an avalanche and once snacking starts, it’s sooooo difficult to stop (experienced first hand). My desk is literally 2ft from the snack shelf, and my convenient wheely chair means I don’t even have to get up to get any. HOWEVER, I am aware of the relentless pull of snackaging, and have set some boundaries in place. I try (emphasis on try) to only snack at set times, twice a day max. Considering the amount I eat throughout the day, I am not in need of extra snacks, and know that when I do snack, it’s out of boredom. Be aware of your snacking habits, find your triggers and figure out what you want to do. For some people this is allowing literally NO SNACKS throughout the day. I don’t want to be sad, so I allow myself snacks, but limit them to certain times and distract myself with tea when I am tempted to get more (see tea-pee). In addition I’ve stocked the snack shelf with ‘healthy’ snacks (graze boxes and nakd bars), in the hope that people will see that it’s full and there is no space for their double chocolate cake and doughnuts. Just remember, snack-attack calories are still recognised as calories by your body, even if you don’t count them yourself.

Find time to workout

Let’s be honest, when you’re working 40h+ a week you’re tired quite a lot of the time. Maybe all the time. So struggling to the gym early in the morning or after a long day might not be top on your list of desires, but if you want to be LESS tired, ironically it should be. Working out improves circulation and alertness, which can help you work better too. It can also give you motivation in other areas of life when you start to see progress in the gym, and once you’re in a routine it becomes MUCH easier. I tend to workout after work, but if I can’t fit that in I’ll go before, at around 7:30am. My advice is to find a gym or class that you like, and do that at least 3 times a week. I train around 5-6h a week even when I don’t reeeeeally want to, and 9 times out of 10, I feel 1000x better after the workout. So try to fit in a workout before or after work, or even just 30 minutes hard during your lunch break. Give it a go, you’ve really got nothing to lose!

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Not what I meant by ‘a desk job’

Best workout classes in London

Since two years ago I’ve been somewhat addicted to travelling around London trying new workout classes. Between that and events hosted by various studios, I’ve tried by fair share of fitness classes in London! People often ask what I would recommend for when they visit London so I’ve decided to do a post about it.

In no particular order, these are my favourite classes in London. Of course, what I like and what you might like might be totally different, but recommendations are always useful to get you started in a new city 🙂

 

Barry’s bootcamp

Say what you like about Barry’s, but it’ll always be a class that I love. Granted, I don’t think I could do it everyday, but the combination of endorphin-raising running and strength-building weights, it’s the perfect workout for me. In short, it alternates between treadmill runs and floor workouts, giving you rest from the treadmills whilst you’re working out on the floor, and rest from the floor when you’re on the treadmills. It was one of the first classes I ever did, and never fails to make me feel accomplished. With studios popping up around London (Shoreditch, Euston, Notting Hill and Victoria), there’ll likely be one that’s easy to get to (the Notting Hill is my favourite!).

Barry’s Bootcamp website. (£20 per class)

 

Power of Boxing

This class is hugely underrated, potentially because it’s not smart and swanky like the other gyms. Don’t expect showers and hairdryers. Instead expect a bloody good workout with unpretentious people who love working out. The structure of the class includes floor circuits, punch-bag work and then pad-work in the boxing ring, which no other class I’ve found successfully does. It’s exhausting – expect to be dripping by the end – but leaves you feeling amazing. Every. Single. Time. PoB also works with a local charity to help reintegrate offenders into the community, which I think is amazing. This class is also super affordable, so if you’re not looking to splash out, this is the one for you 🙂

Power of Boxing Website (£12.50 per class)

 

KXU – The Games

This is a relatively recent addition to my list of favourite classes. Think Crossfit/strongman but in swanky gym. But don’t be fooled by the beauty of KXU – this class will KILL you. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who’s relatively fit/strong already and wants a challenge! Unlike a lot of the classes in London, this one makes no attempts at telling girls to ‘lift light’ – the heavier the better! This studio is almost worth visiting purely for the aesthetics too J Would recommend if you want to lift heavy and then enjoy a (somewhat overpriced) shake in one of the most beautiful locations you’ll find in London.

KXU website (£24 per class)

 

BXR – Strength and Conditioning

Another favourite for different reasons to the others. BXR is a boxing gym endorsed by Anthony Joshua. It’s based near Baker Street, which makes it pretty accessibly from most central locations. I put this in the mix because of both the class and location – it’s really smart inside, and contains the nicest changing rooms of any gym I’ve ever been to. The strength and conditioning class is one that focuses on form and strengthening the body in a way most classes don’t. There’s a lot of foam-rolling and resistance band work, which I feel a lot of classes avoid because they don’t burn as many calories as other classes. However, for longevity and injury prevention, there’s nothing like a good S&C class, so I would definitely recommend this to compliment your other training.

BXR website (from £30 for 3 introductory sessions).

 

I hope this helps you try some new workouts and find what works for you! We’re all different and what is amazing for someone often doesn’t work for the next person. Give these a go (there are often introductory deals) and let me know what you think! 🙂

Top vegan cafes in London

I decided to write this post after thinking back to when I first moved back to London after school. 5 years ago vegan options were thought of as hippy, weird and definitely only for vegans. With more choice than ever now, it’s more a decision of where to go, rather than questioning if there’s anything around! I also have to admit that despite taking over a month to write, the research for this post has been most enjoyable. Enjoy!

 

Yorica
I’m a huge fan of dessert, so when I heard about this delicious sounding specifically vegan ice cream shop, I got super excited. Situated on Wardour Street near Oxford Circus, it’s perfect for a quick (or slow) snack. I got the soft serve and Fiann got the ice cream and we were both super happy. Their matcha soft serve is like Mr Whippy, only much healthier and obviously matcha flavoured. You get your choice of toppings too (gluten free), which makes this far superior to most other ice cream places I’ve been to! The staff are also really friendly, which is a bonus. I would definitely recommend popping in if you’re in the area!

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Yorica is must for anyone hanging out near Oxford Circus needing refreshment!

Lu-ma
Visiting this restaurant was well worth the journey to Wimbledon. Having recently won the title of the ‘Best Restaurant in Merton’, I was expecting great things from the food, but what stood out even more was the friendly and passionate atmosphere. I had the privilege of talking to the owner, Maria, over lunch. Lu-ma is a wholefood/vegan/vegetarian café and whilst not purely vegan, it is quite clear that sustainability is at the heart of the business (for example all the takeaway containers/cutlery are vegware, so compostable). This café also caters to other dietary requirements, such as coeliac, but thankfully doesn’t have the snobby, exclusive vibe that a lot of these places have. 10/10 would recommend.

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I’ve not been into such a friendly cafe as Lu-ma in a long time!

Tibits
Tibits is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant serving healthy meals (both eat in and takeaway). You pay by weight so portion sizes can be changed to suit you. The ingredients are locally sourced (where possible) making it pretty ethical. They also do fully vegan Tuesdays too, which I think is a great follow-on from meat free Monday. Come here for a sit down meal or takeaway – it’s all good!

Deliciously Ella
My boyfriend and I visited deliciously Ella for a weekend brunch after a long walk in the park (it’s conveniently situated next to Hyde Park, right next to Marble Arch. We arrived in time for the breakfast menu (they change at midday for lunch) but naturally tried all the snacks as brunch dessert (is this a thing?). My first impression was that everyone in there is French, so obviously the food has to be good! Whilst the range of breakfast options were not vast, from what I tried, EVERYTHING is good. If you’re a fan of healthy vegan (and gluten and refined sugar free) foods, this is the place for you. Whilst not exactly cheap, it’s also not crazily expensive for the quality of ingredients being used. I also 100% recommend it for the variety of the drinks – their homemade cashewnut chocolate milk is a dream.

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Deliciously Ella’s dishes make you realise why she’s so globally successful

EZ & Moss
Ez and Moss, a vegetarian and vegan cafe on Holloway Road, caters for meat lovers and vegans alike, with a regularly changing menu and excellent coffee. Expect vegan burgers and instagrammable brunch items. It’s won a few awards too, making it all the more appealing to those who may be a little apprehensive of having a meal without a centrepiece of meat.

Buhler & Co
Buhler & Co isn’t 100% vegan, but everything is vegetarian with a lot of options for vegans (most of the veggie food can also be made vegan). Ingredients are locally sourced too, which is great for environmentally-focused individuals. Other intolerances are well served here too, with gluten free options available.

Mooshies
The mooshie website says it aims to create ‘healthy fast food’, using real, vegan ingredients to create food that tastes great, but is also a little healthier for both you and the environment. The cafe is in just the location you’d expect to find a vegan burger cafe – Brick Lane of course! I would thoroughly recommend this restaurant if you enjoy unhealthy tasting food that is also environmentally sound. Love love loved it and will 100% be returning to try the other burgers!

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What the Pitta
You know that delicious tasting hangover food? Now imagine it’s good for you. This is sort of along the lines of what the pitta food, serving huge (HUGE) wraps and vegan kebabs. I’ve heard that even advocates of the classic very meaty kebab give this one 5*, so it’s definitely worth a shot. Staff are friendly too – the whole vibe is great.

The Vurger
I went to the Vurger’s popup in Spitalfields market on a cold winter’s day, and helped myself to two of their burgers (I couldn’t decide which I wanted) and some sweet potato fries. This burger tastes healthier than lots of vegan burgers I’ve had before, using the sort of ingredients I would use if I was to make one at home. If you’re a fan of great tasting plant-based food that isn’t actually unhealthy, then this is the one for you. 

Ethos
Situated pretty centrally near Oxford Circus, Ethos is a restaurant that got me interested in vegan food really early. Everything in the restaurant is vegetarian, and most things vegan too. You pay by weight, which can get expensive (a huge plate worth could cost £15 or so, but that’s usually too much for lunch). However, it’s well worth it for the food, with dishes from lots of different cuisines known for having good veggie food. The sit-down part (you can get takeaway) is also supremely instagrammable, so if you’re into that, this one is for you.

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Ethos’ very instagrammable interior ft salad bowls and marble tables

Moorish cafe deli
Tucked away near King’s Cross, Moreish cafe deli is fairly unassuming from the outside, but once you try their food you’ll be converted. It’s not all vegan, but I had to include it because of the homemade vegan ice cream. It tastes just like ‘real’ ice cream, but is made using homemade ingredients without preservatives etc. The enthusiasm of the shop owner (and ice cream maker) for good, healthy, affordable food is so great that you’ll want to keep coming back here when you’re nearby!

 

I hope this helps all of you on Veganuary and especially those of you looking to make this a longer term arrangement. I would love to hear about your favourite vegan and vegetarian restaurants and cafes too! Let me know on my instagram or in the comments below.

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel spa

I first went to the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel when I was 18 – I was actually singing at a Christmas luncheon for charity! It was so nice, then, to be able to head back for the first time since then last week. After a very long week of work and events, it was much needed! I went with my boyfriend, of course, and am excited to share the experience with you.

There’s no doubt that as soon as you walk up to the renaissance hotel, you’ll be awestruck by its beauty and scale. The spa is on a lower level as soon as you walk in, but you still get to experience the beauty of the inside of the hotel. Upon arrival we had a very short wait while we filled in some health questionnaires, and were then shown around the spa. It’s all situated along a corridor (a pretty one at that), with the spa at one end and relaxation room at the other.

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We started our afternoon with a 30 minute Moroccan massage, which is an oily back massage. Having been climbing the day before, my back was stiff enough to be extremely sensitive! I feel like the massage might have been better suited to someone who hadn’t worked out the day before – for me it was not so much relaxing as painful, which when coupled to the (otherwise wonderfully) heated bed, made the massage probably a little less relaxing than it should have been. However, the products used smelled amazing, and  the experience probably would be perfect for other people.

The pool was gorgeous – dark, lovely decor with chairs around the outside for relaxing on. It was the perfect temperature with plenty of bubbles for the full experience. However, I think when I went it had been over-treated, so was a little stingy on the eyes, sadly.

All in all, there’s no doubting that the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is somewhere you should visit, if only for the decor! The spa is very relaxing, but there were some small improvements to be made. It wasn’t as good as some day spas I’ve been to, but for a hotel spa, it is really lovely and does just the job of relaxing you before your next engagement.

Verdict: if you’re staying at the hotel, the spa and gym are definitely worth a visit. Book a treatment and enjoy! I wouldn’t put it on the top of my list of day spas, but then again, that’s not its job. Let me know what you think when you visit!

Click here to read more about the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and its spa.

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The decor of the hotel is all part of the experience!

Cowshed spa, Primrose Hill

As you may know, I am a huge fan of spa breaks – scheduled time to relax, rest and recuperate before heading back into the real world. However, sadly it’s not always possible to take off so much time for some R&R. We all need something that will do the trick and fit into your life. This is where day spas and treatment rooms come in. They’re aid out for maximum relaxation, but without demanding a full day to experience everything – and without the price tag of a full weekend away, too.

I headed to the Cowshed spa on a Thursday evening after work, excited by the prospect of a relaxing evening of ‘me time’. Cowshed has spas in Soho, Shoreditch and Primrose Hill, meaning that for Londoners, there’s always something nearby. I would recommend their Primrose Hill branch though, as it’s reported to be the most aesthetic (I can confirm that it was super cosy and pretty this Christmas time!). Upstairs in the spa is a café, and next door was the manicure and pedicure room – although I didn’t use them I imagine they’re perfect for spending time with friends or mother-daughter time over a mani/pedi.

I headed downstairs to the treatment rooms after filling in a short form about my health, and waited a short while on the downstairs sofas. My treatment started a little late, but wasn’t cut short, so I didn’t mind too much. The treatment started by telling the therapist what I wanted from the session – for me, my body was really sore from some heavy training, so I asked for a massage to relax my muscles. I chose my favourite scent from a selection (all of them were nice, but it’s nice to be able to choose your preferred one!).

I’ve had a lot of massages from lots of different places and the massage I got wouldn’t go at the top of my list, although it was still a very relaxing 45 minutes. However, the therapist did something I’ve never had before – she went through some of my pressure points and pushed on them. It wasn’t pleasant, but MY GOD the next day my DOMS had all gone. This has never happened to me before, even with a massage, so whilst this massage wasn’t top of my relaxing list, it was absolutely top of my effectiveness list. It was so good! I also bet that if I had asked for a soft, relaxing massage, the massage would have been much more relaxing than it was.

I would recommend Cowshed as a cute afternoon/evening activity for a catch up with a friend over a mani/pedi, or for some ‘me time’ after a hard week of working/training. You can’t deny the effectiveness of a massage for relaxation, and this one did just the trick 🙂

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Their upstairs cafe is my ideal kind of place for writing blog posts!

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The upstairs manicure and pedicure area – prefect for catching up with friends!

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The treatment room where I had my massage

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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How to beat the winter blues

It’s inevitable that as the winter draws in and days get darker (thanks clock change) that lots of us will start to feel a little down and start to get the ‘winter blues’. A lot of people in the UK suffer from S.A.D, also known as seasonal affective disorder, a mood disorder that causes otherwise positive people to have symptoms of depression ranging from mild to severe in the winter. Symptoms include excessive sleep, tiredness, lack of motivation, hopelessness and low moods, although the severity can range widely between people and from day to day. Whilst the exact cause isn’t known, it’s though to be to do with low light levels reducing serotonin (the happy hormone) or increasing melatonin (the hormone that allows us to sleep at night). Whatever the cause, it’s an annoying fact of winter for a lot of people, but thankfully it can be managed and reduced. Even for those without SAD, doing some of these management techniques can help with general low mood found around winter.

In my past I suffered from depression, starting in my pre-teens and drawing out for almost 10 years. Over time it diminished, thanks to the support and help of family, friends and professionals. During my late teens and early twenties it manifested as SAD – thankfully sparing me summer months but returning as the weather got colder and days darker. My experience coping with it has allowed me to spend the last two winters in relative peace from the low moods associated with SAD. So here are some of my top tips to keep happy this winter! I hope you find them as useful as I have 🙂

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Autumn is a beautiful time of year – but for many it just means darker days and feeling blue

Get enough sleep – but don’t overdo it!

In winter all I want to do is sleep sleep sleep – biologically scientists think that’s because there used to be less food around in winter and sleeping more would mean using less energy so you didn’t have to eat as much. But nowadays with tesco just down the road and deliveroo at the other end of a phone, we don’t exactly have any food shortages to worry about! Having a good sleep schedule is important at any time of year, but especially when there is no natural light to wake you up. Set yourself a strict bedtime and wake time and try not to deviate from this. That way you’ll be getting enough sleep without getting too much and feeling lethargic from it. I aim to be in bed by 10pm, asleep by 10:15pm and up by 6:45am everyday. Sleeping more than 9h a night can leave you feeling more tired, and restricting sleep to 8-9h means that when you sleep, you sleep deeper – something we all want and need!

 

Exercise

I cannot stress enough that exercise – although it often feels like the last thing you want to do when you’re down – is some sort of miracle drug when it comes to SAD. Of course, as with everything, this is a balance of getting enough workouts without exhausting yourself. My gage is how much I can manage – I tend to do a similar amount, allowing for 2 rest days a week. I try to workout when it’s dark outside – the pumping music and energetic atmosphere allow me to forget how dark it is and get lost in the endorphins of the workout.

 

Fresh air and LIGHT

With a lack of natural light being one cause of SAD and low moods, it’s not surprising that getting natural light is on my list of ways to improve symptoms. If you work full time you’ll be familiar with the sad reality of arriving at work in the dark and leaving in the dark, leaving you no time for some sunshine or even any light! Artificial light doesn’t have the right wavelengths to suppress melatonin enough so broad spectrum lights and natural light are the only two that will help with moods. I would 100% recommend getting outside for at least 20 minutes at lunchtime to make the most of the natural light and get some fresh air to keep you awake. I also have a sun lamp – a broad spectrum light that helps me to wake up and produce vitamin D in the winter – I turn it on as soon as I wake up and eat breakfast with it shining on me. I swear by it to help keep my body-clock in check when it always seems dark outside. If you really struggle with SAD I would recommend getting one of these and using it for 30 minutes every morning.

 

Food

Whilst the winter can leave you reaching for the quickest pick-me-up, it’s important to remember that relying on unhealthy foods for energy can leave you feeling even more down after you eat them, often caused by a sugar crash. High carb meals, whilst delicious, should be saved for days of heavy exercise, as they cause the release of melatonin, which is often what makes you feel sleepy after a big meal. Avoid carb-heavy meals at your desk to avoid this, and try not to increase refined sugar intake, as the crash after your blood-sugar spikes can also cause low moods, not helping the situation. I try to avoid coffee in the winter because I know that if I start I will end up relying on it to feel normal, but on tired days I have some just after lunch to get through the afternoon. Research has shown that if you’re not a morning person, having coffee in the morning can mess up your body clock, making you feel weird and anxious, rather than alert.

 

Talk!

If you’re struggling don’t be afraid to talk to family and friends – the chances are that they’ve probably felt the same way too. Research suggests that up to 40% of depression is genetic and that SAD affects 1 in 15 of the UK population. Talking through how you’re feeling (or even just talking about anything) can help alleviate symptoms. Having supportive friends and family around can make the difference between letting SAD ruin your whole winter and managing your low moods and coming out the other side with an even stronger support system. Make the most of them – they’re there because they love you and want to support you. Use that!

 

Self-care

Make time for yourself and don’t ignore your feelings. Run a nice hot bath, light some candles and just sit, enjoying your ‘me’ time. I’m definitely guilty of pretending that I don’t need time alone, and will sometimes go for a week without spending an evening by myself. For many people, all they want is to be alone when down, but for others it’s only too easy to ignore thoughts by keeping too busy. There’s a fine line between keeping busy and ignoring your personal needs. Set aside at least one day/evening a week to pamper yourself to show your body (and mind) some love. Do a little yoga, mediation or just read a good book – it’ll do wonders for your inner energy.

 

I really hope these tips help you manage any winter blues you may be feeling – they’re common, everyone has their days but there are lots of things you can do to help minimise the bad days. For me, rather than being 3 months of feeling horrible, winter now comes with only a few bad days here and there, meaning I am left to enjoy the festive season with family and friends as it is meant to be enjoyed.

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Make sure to eat well and get enough vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy in winter