Category Archives: General

10 Easy Ways To Boost Your Health For Free

 

As you know there is no quick fix to good health. It takes an investment of time and effort over a lifetime. As I like to say we’re all a work in progress. One of the best lessons I’ve had on my journey back to health from lung disease is that many of the resources available to help boost health are in fact free. I believe health starts within and with the right mind set the possibilities are endless. It’s just a matter of searching for answers until you work out what works best for you.

I’m currently on a healing journey with three lung conditions – Bronchiectasis, Cystic Fibrosis (clinical diagnosis), and Asthma and have come up with a list of ten of my favourite health practices that will cost you nothing, except perhaps an investment of time. Keep in mind while I share what works for me I genuinely believe that there is no single recipe for health and would highly recommend you chat to a trusted health professional to work out what health practices and prescription guidelines would work best for you. Also remember that nobody knows your body like you do so trust your instinct in deciding what’s right for you.

Here’s my top 10 all time favorites in no particular order.

  1. Earthing. The theory of earthing is that when your bare feet come into contact the ground, electrons are taken up by the body. These electrons are sometimes referred to as natures most powerful antioxidants that help neutralise toxic free radicals that can negatively impact health.. One of the biggest claims is that earthing can reduce disease causing inflammation, a factor that is often implicated in a lot of lifestyle diseases. Although I’m not consciously aware of any gains I’m making by doing earthing, I find it very relaxing to do and definitely feel better for it. I aim to do this daily for 20 minutes, although I must admit I find I’m not as disciplined in the cooler weather.

2. Sunlight. There’s no question the best source of vitamin D production is via the suns rays. Given that this is quite a contentious issue due to concern about skin cancer risk, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on safe sun exposure and vitamin D supplementation. It’s well known that vitamin D has a crucial role in mood regulation and immune system health. I aim to get 10-20 minutes of sun exposure most days of the week, preferably before 11 am. In winter I roll up my sleeves and pants to allow exposure to a decent surface area of the skin.

3. & 4. Laughter and smiling. It’s no secret that a good dose of laughter makes you feel better instantly due to an injection of feel good chemicals called endorphins into the system. Even fake laughter has the same effect. If you can’t manage a laugh then a smile will do. It’ll lower your heart rate and blood pressure, release endorphins and boost your immune system. How easy is that?

5. Patting an animal. It’s well documented that simply patting an animal can stimulate the release of endorphins, lower blood pressure and stress levels. Lots of benefits for such a simple action. So if you have one go pat your pet!

6. Deep Breathing. It’s easy to slip into bad habits when breathing particularly when feeling stressed. By simply taking deep breaths you can relax, detoxify, strengthen your immune system and it’s even been found to help relieve pain.

7. Forest Bathing. This health practice is particularly popular in Japan and involves heading outside and surrounding yourself by trees. The oils emitted by trees are awesome for helping to boost the immune system when breathed in. A half hour outside first thing in the morning can apparently help balance your body clock and help reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

8. Gratitude. Writing down what you’re thankful for each day helps train the brain to focus more on the positive aspects of life. It may also help you see some of the more negative things in life in a more positive light. It promotes optimism, reduces blood pressure and heart rate and is great for your heart health and overall health.

9. Affirmations. Statements that you say repeatedly to yourself out loud or in your thoughts can positively impact your state of mind. I write them as though I have actually achieved them. e.g. I am healthy, Repetition is the key with affirmations to make them become part of your reality. A daily practice is definitely the way to go. I write mine out and place them in different places around the house e.g. on the fridge, by my bed etc so when I think of it I can read them out loud to myself.

10. Move it. It’s no secret that you aren’t designed to sit for long periods. As you are probably already aware there are so many benefits to movement and exercise. There’s a saying that if you want to gain energy then you have to use it first. So if you’re lacking a bit of energy keep in mind that a simple way to help create energy is to get up and move.

So take your pick of any of the above easy health practices. If you’re prepared to invest some time and effort prepare to be amazed by all the health benefits on offer.

 

 

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If You’re Fit Then You Must Be Healthy?

In light of the recent death of a high profile endurance athlete high intensity exercise has again come into the spotlight. The question on a lot of people’s minds is  How is it possible for a seemingly fit healthy individual with no known risk factors to die suddenly from a heart attack? If I put on my exercise science hat there are a couple of possible explanations. Maybe in some people high intensity exercise triggers an underlying heart issue or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of long term high intensity exercise, that causes structural and functional changes to the heart ultimately resulting in heart defects. Unfortunately, it’s pure speculation but this case definitely highlights the need for further research into this issue. Who knows? It may well be in the future that people planning to take up high intensity activity/sport may be encouraged to undergo a pre-screening exercise stress test to identify possible risks.

For a period of a approximately ten years of  my career I worked as an exercise physiologist, conducting exercise stress tests on people from all walks of life, both athletes and non athletes. I can recall over the years a few instances of people with no known risk factors presenting with abnormal heart rhythms on their exercise tests. In such an event the doctor and I would stop the test immediately and refer the client on for further testing. I particularly remember one case when we were testing a client who was a keen squash player. He was 40 years old and played squash socially twice a week. He had no known history of heart disease and no obvious risk factors. During his stress test his ECG (Electrocardiogram) displayed evidence of abnormal heart rhythms. We immediately stopped the test and recommended he see a cardiologist for further testing. At the time he was annoyed that he couldn’t complete the test and even more annoyed that we recommended he cease all high intensity exercise including squash until if and when he was cleared by the cardiologist. About three months later I received a letter from this client that expressed his apologies for being so annoyed at the time of his consultation and his heart felt thanks for identifying the need for him to undertake further testing. The testing revealed an underlying heart defect, and it was recommended that he no longer engage in high intensity exercise due to an increased risk of heart attack.

So what’s the take home message from all this, given that there isn’t yet sufficient research to support the theories I mentioned above? I definitely see value in people undertaking high intensity exercise sport having a pre-screening exercise stress tests. If nothing else, you can find out how fit you are and even identify what fuel source your body is using for energy at different exercise intensities. If you’ve never exercised I’d highly recommend having a check up with your GP to get the thumbs up to exercise. Also make sure you know your family history so you can be aware of any underlying risk factors and most importantly listen to your body. Don’t dismiss any warning signals your body may be giving you. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right.

Above all, stay well and keep exercising. Your body will love you for it! 

Changing Your Story

It’s eight years in on my journey with lung disease and I’ve finally worked out what the key to health for me finally is. While I still believe there is no single recipe for health, there is one key ingredient that I think is a foundation from which to build. It’s about having the right mind-set. For years I was working hard on my health, following a recipe I’d devised for myself (see pic) and despite ticking all the boxes my health was deteriorating.

I knew I was missing something. About ten months ago my cousin asked me to be a client case study for a therapy she was practising. It’s called Rapid Transformational Therapy which as I understand it combines elements of hypnotherapy and psychotherapy. I was at a point where I was keen to try something new, as I was baffled as to why with all the effort I was putting in my health wasn’t improving. I went into it with an open mind, because as far as I was concerned I had everything to gain and nothing to lose. For those of you who’ve never tried hypnosis before, despite what you may have seen on TV shows you don’t hand over control to the person hypnotising you. You are still in control but simply put into a relaxed suggestible state that can tap into your subconscious mind. I’d have to say it’s the most relaxed I’ve ever felt doing any type of therapy. I’ve done a few sessions over a number of months and I feel like I am gradually peeling away layers of emotional baggage that have no doubt been affecting my health. After the first session my cousin made up some healing audio specifically for my health, that I can listen to on a daily basis to help reprogram my subconscious mind or as I like to say to change the story in my mind about my health. You see I’d been programmed to think that my health is a ticking time bomb and I would have a significantly shortened lifespan. Thankfully now after daily repetition of the healing audio, and some more RTT hypnosis sessions with my cousin I have realised my mind’s story has changed. Although I don’t have anything measurable to prove that my health is improving I can feel the difference. I no longer have the previously held limiting beliefs. The truth is none of us have certainty in life and no one knows my outcome. I choose to focus on the positive, and now don’t just believe better health is possible…..i know it. Despite having little measurable benefits I am excited to report that I am experiencing longer periods of time free of viruses. I haven’t cultured any nasty CF bugs for the past eleven months which is a record for me. I’ve noticed in the past year that when I have caught a virus it hasn’t resulted in a bacterial flare up, as it has in the past and the best news is that I’ve had no hospital admissions this year. By this time last year I’d already had four hospital admissions. This is a major win for me. I also feel like all the other parts of my health plan are having a greater impact. It’s hard to explain but now that I have a good mindset the rest of my plan is benefiting me so much more.

So where to from here. I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of possibilities for my health. I’m planning to continue with daily self-hypnosis sessions, writing daily positive affirmations and continue with the rest of my health routine including exercise, nebulisers, supplements and lots of healthy food!

The take home message is if you don’t like your story then do what you can to change it. You might be surprised like I was about what is possible.

 

 

Lessons on illness from someone who knows!

Everyday I think of how blessed I am to have had such an amazing role model in my life to help me face illness. What an absolute bonus, that I didn’t even have to look outside my immediate world to find that person. It was my Dad, who only recently passed away after a thirty five year journey with four major illnesses. He taught me so many valuable lessons that I have been able to apply to my own journey with lung disease.  These lessons are his legacy to all those who knew him and maybe even some who didn’t.

To set the scene my Dad was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in his early forties, heart disease in his early sixties, followed by a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease and Dimentia in his late sixties. I distinctly remember having a conversation with one of his doctor’s back in his early fifties, when I was told his lifespan would be significantly reduced due to his illness and the negative impact of high levels of medication. As it turns out he ended up defying medical odds and outliving all the predicted life expectancy estimates. Ok… so seventy seven isn’t record breaking in the longevity stakes, but when you consider what he endured, and the prognosis for each of the illnesses it really is quite amazing. To this day I’m convinced it was his attitude to illness, the one key element modern medicine can’t measure that made all the difference.

As I said in my Eulogy at his funeral, he not only embraced illness and accepted it but he rose above it and lived. He would not be defined by it. I am in awe of the fact that over those thirty five years he never once complained about illness…I mean never! I’m only  eight years in on my journey with illness and have already complained……numerous times.

Upon reflection, I can now see that this was one of Dad’s purposes in this world to teach others how to face adversity. I don’t think he realised the impact of his amazing gift, but it’s now my  role to spread his wisdom in the hope that it may give comfort and inspiration to others facing adversity.

So as an onlooker, and as it turns out an apprentice who had to learn the ropes about dealing with illness here’s what I observed.

  1. Don’t fight illness….. embrace it, accept it and rise above it and live.                                         My Dad never fought illness. He didn’t surrender to it, but he went with it accepting there were aspects he couldn’t control. “Why try to control the things you can’t” he would say. This proved a great strategy I think because he could direct his energy and focus to the things he did have control over. I was blown away by his acceptance of his situation. Anyone with experience of mental illness could attest to the fact it is a bugger of an illness. I remember sitting down with him for a cuppa a few short weeks after he had suffered a nervous break down, following blacking out behind the wheel of his car  and being amazed my his resilient and positive attitude. I guess given what he was dealing with, and the hours and hours of tears he shed in the weeks following that I expected him to say things like “why me?… this is too much…or I can’t do this”, but instead when I asked how he was going with coming to terms with it all he looked me in the eye and said “Jane this is just one of my life tests from which I can learn” To say I was flawed would be an understatement. I almost dropped my cup of tea in shock and amazement. What a great attitude to have.

2. Allow yourself to feel emotions…even the tough ones like anger and then get on with it.

A few years after my Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease his physical body started to fail. When he lost control of his bladder, and realised he would have to wear incontinence pads for the rest of life he shed a few tears. I remember him looking me in the eyes and saying “my body is failing me”, to which I responded “well your body may be failing you but it doesn’t change how I or anyone in your life feel about you. You are still you and that’s all that matters. It can’t take your spirit”. He continued to cry for a few minutes and then smiled and said “you;re right and at the end of the day all that matters is I have my loving family around me”. It was in this moment, true to form, he wiped away the tears and asked in his upbeat tone “so how about we go for a cuppa at the cafe” Such a great example of resilience in the face of adversity.

3. Keep a sense of humour.

After walking around a local park with chest pain for several months my Dad decided he should probably tell my Mum about his symptoms. Needless to say, shortly after he headed off to the doctor for tests and found out he needed to have triple bypass surgery for heart disease. Soon after he’d had surgery I thought I had the ideal opportunity to finally convince him to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Now you’d think after a health scare of this magnitude you might be shocked into making some positive lifestyle changes but not my Dad. When I asked him if he intended to eat healthier he laughed and said “well it took me sixty years to fill up my arteries the first time, so judging by my calculations I won’t have to worry as it’ll probably take me the same amount of time to fill them up again. This was not the answer I was expecting. All I could do was laugh with him and give up my mission to turn him into a healthy warrior.

4. Find pleasure in the simple things.

Towards the end of my Dad’s seventy seven year journey through life his physical deterioration meant he was restricted in what he could do. instead of complaining about it he found pleasure in the simple things. He enjoyed the company of family and friends and pursued his hobby tracing the family tree with incredible enthusiasm and vigour. It didn’t take much to keep him happy. Oh and dare I forget to mention it….. his passion for his beloved Tigers in the AFL. He had a habit of topping the leader board in the nursing home competitions and did gain a bit of a reputation as the quiz king. As I said he had good reason to whinge, but he chose to get on with it and make the most of his situation.  He lived with a spirit of gratitude for the things he did have rather than what he lacked.

5. Focus on what matters.

My Dad’s focus was his family. We were his whole world. When I spent time with him I felt like I was the centre of his world, even in those phases where the Bipolar would take over I could still feel it. In his final days when he could no longer speak to me, I could still see and feel love in his eyes and smile. Someone recently said to me if you have given love and received love in this life then you have lived. My Dad ticked this box in a huge way. When you exit this world you don’t take with you all your worldly possessions, but you do take love and move on to where love knows no bounds. I know this because I had the privilege of witnessing his final moments of indescribable peace, love, light and beauty. My late father-in-law who I unfortunately never had the pleasure of getting to meet in this life apparently once said “at the end of your life if you can count on one hand the friends you have then you’ve done well”.

6. Adopt an attitude that works for you

As you can imagine with a diagnosis of four major illnesses the prognosis wasn’t great. We had been informed when Dad was in his fifties that his lifespan would be significantly shortened. Instead of worrying about what was ahead, Dad would live each moment and do what he needed to do to give him the best outcome. I lost count of the number of times his blood tests would come back perfect, and there would be no sign of organ damage despite years of taking hundreds and thousands of tablets. This baffled his doctors in particular, and us, until I realised that it must be his positive attitude that was making the difference. Of course I couldn’t prove it but there seemed to be no other explanation. When I was with him I would ask him how he was feeling, and he would give me an update and then turn his attention to me or my family. Illness was never his focus and consequently it never defined him.

As I reflect back on my Dad’s life I am so proud of who he was and all that he’d become in life. What an incredible example he was of how to approach illness. I remember shortly after my he died, so overcome with grief, wondering how I could celebrate at his funeral service a life that had been filled with so much suffering. It quickly dawned on me that I had so much to celebrate. A man who had worked out what mattered most in life and chose to rise above illness and live. Now that’s something to celebrate!

Need More Sleep?

Well it’s no secret that a good night’s sleep is essential for good health,….but did you know missing just one hour of sleep can have a negative affect on your immune system according to a recent study? I remember back in my years at Uni sleep debt was a given, due to lots of partying and a few hours of study thrown in amongst it. Ahhhh those were the days, when I thought I could get away with it, and probably did for the most part. Now in my forties my body is less forgiving. If I lose any sleep at all I take days to recover.

Research suggests that a loss of sleep, even a small amount can cause cellular damage to the body’s immune fighting cells, reducing the ability to fight infection. Add to that the other downsides of sleep loss, including reduced productivity, increased blood pressure, mood disturbances, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes there is good reason to avoid losing sleep at all costs.

So how much sleep do you really need? It really depends on a number of factors, including your age, lifestyle and health status. However, I did stumble across a reputable website that lists recommendations for the sleep requirements for different age groups. Follow this link to find out. http://www.sleep.org.au/professional-resources/sleep-documents/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need Given that I fall into the 18-64 year age category, I think the recommended 7 to 9 hours is a good match for me. I would say I’m at the upper end of that range, requiring at least 9 hours to feel like I’m functioning at my best. Ultimately it’s trial and error to work out what works best for you. As I often say the body is the most sophisticated biofeedback system. You just need to tune in and listen to what it’s telling you. It knows how much sleep you need to function well.

Over the years I’ve read a lot of research on what it takes to give yourself the best chance of getting a good night sleep. Here’s my top five tips based on what has worked well for me.

  1. Establish a good sleep pattern. The goal is to go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning. I find this works really well. Of course there are times when I can’t stick with it, but I do my best to keep to a plan because I feel so much better when I do.
  2. Turn off all electronics. In fact I try not to have any electronics in my room. Although my husband uses an electronic alarm clock so I don’t quite achieve this. I do this because artificial light from electronic screens can interrupt with sleep patterns and the ability to fall asleep. Electromagnetic radiation is also disruptive to sleep and general health.
  3. Avoid eating within two hours of going to bed, especially anything that is considered a stimulant e.g. caffeine. This is easier said than done as it’s no secret I love chocolate.
  4. Do some kind of relaxation activity as part of your pre-sleep routine. I usually do meditation or listen to an audio relaxation sequence Sometimes I’m so relaxed I fall asleep before I complete these activities.
  5. A cool dark room is best – even in winter. If the body overheats then sleep can be disrupted.

Finding Light in the Darkness

One of the best strategies I’ve learnt for dealing with the uncertainty of illness is to find light in every situation no matter how bad it appears. In my case, my light usually comes in the form of humour. There’s a great quote by a guy named Larry Hargreaves that says “You can’t always change your situation but you can always change your attitude”. Wise words those.

A friend recently asked me “What has been the most challenging situation you have faced since being diagnosed with lung disease?” I didn’t have to think too hard to come up with an answer. It’s something so clear in my mind I could’ve experienced it yesterday. It happened three years ago, and these days I choose to focus on the light moments in the situation rather than the trauma that occurred with it. Living the trauma once was more than enough. I should say I’ve learnt it’s important to acknowledge and deal with the negative emotions associated with a traumatic event so they don’t come back to bite you in the future when you least expect it.

I was in the emergency department of one of Melbournes’ private hospitals. It was becoming a semi regular occurrence because I was having frequent lung bleeds, otherwise known as haemoptysis, an unfortunate complication of Cystic Fibrosis related Bronchiectasis. I recall one of the emergency staff saying “At this rate Jane we’ll have to get a plaque with your name on it put up on the wall in your honour because you have probably funded some of our equipment with your visits here” This made me laugh, not only because of the comment but the realisation that the staff recognised me. I tell you what you realise you’re a frequent flyer patient  when the staff in an emergency department start to recognise you!

On this occasion the emergency ward was full, and due to it being peak winter, the staff wanted to isolate me to reduce the risk of me picking up some nasty bugs. The only room available was the supplies room. So after a little rearranging of equipment I was transferred there. Shortly after, I experienced my biggest episodes of lung bleeding ever.  I managed to ring the portable bell I’d been given, and the next thing I knew I had a nurse handing me a bowl and a doctor observing me. I hit panic mode. Things seemed to be spiralling out of control and I wondered if my life was slipping away. I remember looking up and asking the doctor “Is this it”? He said “If I’m concerned I’ll have you in theatre in minutes”. He then started to reassure me by sharing a story of another patient he had treated with haemoptysis, who’d been fished out of the sea up north, flown all the way to Melbourne, and lived to tell the story despite heavy bleeding. I instantly felt more at ease, and have since shared that story with others,  who have also been comforted by the fact the human body can lose significant volumes of blood before it becomes life threatening.

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Feeling more at ease the doctor and nurse left the room and I thought about what I could do to try and find some light in this dark situation. It was 2am in the morning so I didn’t have any of my family around to comfort me. It was up to me to control the controllables…in this case my mind. I needed to relax and find a distraction. One thing that was apparent to me was that the supplies room was alive with activity. I was receiving a fairly constant stream of visitors i.e. doctors and nurses, many of them trying to locate supplies for their patients. Given that I wasn’t likely to get much sleep, with the light going on and off and my lungs still gurgling from the bleeding, I decided to familiarise myself with the location of the supplies most commonly sought after and try and memorise them. As doctors and nurses came in and turned on my light, at first startled by the presence of a patient, they would apologise and start looking for equipment. I worked out that the most commonly required supplies were syringes and gauze pads so I had their location sorted in my mind quickly. Apparently the supplies room had recently been rearranged so everyone was struggling to find things. There was some serious labelling required for draws and cabinets that’s for sure! As I watched the staff looking for supplies I would ask “What are you looking for I may be able to help you?” After an initial look of confusion, they would tell me and then I would direct them to the relevant drawer. Then there would usually be a collective laugh. I would then say “Clearly I have way too much time on my hands” It became a great distraction for me and an unlikely source of entertainment.

Thankfully in amongst it all I realised my symptoms had eased. I’d managed to turn an otherwise negative situation into something positive and light. I learnt first hand the impact of stress and panic on my condition. My perception and attitude in this situation impacted my health significantly. This experience definitely helped me going forward.

Whenever I now experience haemoptysis, rather than being gripped with fear I just go with it. I cast my mind back to that patient who was fished out of the sea and I tell myself I will be ok. I know everyone’s experience of haemoptysis is different, just as all other symptoms are but I hope these small tips help. It’s hard when you don’t know where you are bleeding from, whether it’s large or small vessels. There’s no question knowledge is power. For the first year of experiencing haemoptysis I had no idea what I was dealing with. I could feel where I was bleeding from, but had no confirmation because none of my scans revealed it. It wasn’t until I had a Bronchial Artery Embolisation, considered a second last resort for treating haemotysis, that I found out I had some abnormal blood vessels in my right middle lobe. The surgery has certainly reduced the scale of my bleeding, but it still remains something I have to deal with usually when there’s an infection brewing in my lungs. I just think back to when I only had to laugh to bleed and realise I’ve made good progress. I can assure you I wasn’t going to  give up laughing to manage it, as it’s my best therapy apart from eating chocolate.

So the take home message is to keep searching for the light in your circumstances. Sometimes you have to look deep, but don’t give up, because there’s sure to be even a glimmer of light to get you back on track and make those dark situations that little bit easier to cope with.

 

 

Cooked or Raw Vegies. What’s the go?

This has been quite a contentious issue for some time, and to be honest after weighing up all the evidence I could find, I’m going to have to sit on the fence and say both raw and cooked vegies should have their place in our diet. However if I had to lean more to one side I’d say it’s best to include more raw vegies than cooked…..Have I totally confused you? I’m just a raw foodie at heart I guess. I love the concept of going back to basics and keeping it simple.

So here’s why a mix of both is the way to go. Some vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms become more nutritious once they’re cooked. Tomatoes for instance have a 25% increase in lycopene, a compound that  reduces the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancers when cooked, while the antioxidant value of a carrot (carotenoids) increases over 30% when they are cooked. On the other hand foods such as peppers and broccoli that are naturally high in vitamin C lose some of this impact once cooked. Foods such as bokchoy and cabbage may have their disease fighting properties and natural enzymes destroyed in the cooking process so are best eaten raw.

It’s no secret that many people are falling short when it comes to daily intake of vegetables. If you can relate there’s a few simple ways to boost your intake of vegetables. Souping is considered the new juicing with the added benefit of not sacrificing fibre. Salads are a great option all year round and you can’t go wrong with a stirfrycarrots-155714__340 For an easy snack grab a dip and eat it with chopped up vegetable sticks and you could always go the vegetable kebab as a great addition to an evening meal.

So the take home message here is to eat more vegetables. Think about your health goals as to what your ratio of raw to cooked vegetables will be and educate yourself on what vegetables are best eaten raw or cooked for the maximum results.