Park life

During the last year, many of us have found that what we miss the most are the small things that we took for granted. Going for a walk in or sitting in our local or city park, is something we didn’t give much thought to. But when we were no longer able to do this as our parks were closed, you realized how important these are to our health and wellbeing.  This year’s theme for Mental Awareness Week was Nature, which encouraged going outside, walking in parks, the countryside and forests and been more aware of the beauty of the nature that is all around. Direct exposure to nature has its own benefits on mental health, reducing stress and increasing happiness. And these effects take place almost immediately. A study by Finnish researchers found that ten minutes in a park or green area could tangibly reduce stress.

 Some of my fondest childhood events, were going to the park, with my parents, grandparents or my sister. In fact, many of our childhood memories often happened in parks, as they have a significant impact on the development of children. By providing a free, safe place for families to connect with nature outdoors. Children who spend a significant amount of time in nature also experience better emotional stability and improved mental health. Where, I knew up, I was fortunate to have a small park within walking distance from by home and also some much larger parks, complete with cafes and play areas and sports areas etc in my home city. But many children have no access to a green space.

When I lived in London, sitting in a local park, large or small, and reading a book, or just watching the world around me was my preferred way to spent my days off.  These were often, peaceful, contemplative moments, the sun shone, the sky was blue and I was surrounded by plants, flowers and trees. A perfect antidote to the stress of working in London, the hours spend commuting on dirty tubes and life in general. I lived near Hampstead Heath, which although not a park as such, is a safe, green space to walk, sit or swim. I didn’t have my own garden at the time, so It was one of the few ways I get outside and exercise, as I couldn’t afford to go to a gym. Our open spaces are a powerful weapon in the fight against obesity and ill-health, encouraging us to walk more and to play sports, for free or with a low cost. A sedentary lifestyle can cause a number of health problems.

Access to good-quality, well-maintained public spaces is vital to everyone, as more and more parks close, fewer people have gardens. Where I live, any new building projects are mostly apartment buildings which are packed in closely with no green spaces. Has nothing been learnt about housing requirements? Parks and green areas are crucial to the healthy development in our cities and towns, also making a neighbourhood more enjoyable to walk through and should be a major part of any city planning moving forward. Parks and green spaces benefit everyone in the community. As a place where people are able to make connections and meet new friends. As cities grow, more and more animals find themselves without homes. Parks provide habitat for wildlife. Most importantly, they help to improve the quality of the air we breathe. Even a small increase in the number of parks can make a big difference to air pollution.  Air pollution is an important health concern that can lead to unpleasant symptoms and long-term health issues. This affects all of us and anything that can be done to repair the damage should be done. So, let’s hope that green spaces like parks, are the future and not the past.

To simply enjoy a green and natural environment, what could be better than a park, these are one of my pleasures, I hope they become yours too.  

Tulips for Mental Health Awareness

Paul Cummins is on a campaign to spring us all into creative action. Paul is an internationally renowned British artist and ceramicist, best-known for his floral ceramic creations and large-scale landscape installations, most notably 2014’s Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ installation at the Tower of London, which was made up of 888,246 handmade red ceramic poppies, one for each life lost on the frontline in the First World War.

Paul has donated a unique illustration of a tulip to Mental Health UK. During this week, you can download it or draw your own tulip, colour it in blue and stick it in your window as a symbol of mental health awareness.

Why the simple tulip? The tulip has a colourful past. Having withstood a virus, it flourished brightly against all odds and flowers each spring. Quite simply, the tulip is a timely emblem of hope and rebirth through adversity.

The link is below. I have added some Tulip images to inspire you!

https://mentalhealth-uk.org/blog/plant-a-tulip-and-seed-a-conversation-during-mental-health-awareness-week/

Nature and Your Mental Heath

During the pandemic, millions of us have experienced a mental health problem, or seen a loved one struggle. If ever, there was a time that your mental health was essential it’s now. The upheaval of the last year, the uncertainty, stress, loneliness and in many cases financial hardship as been difficult for everyone. Depression and Anxiety has been on the increase, quite understandably. While the support networks have disappeared and the support needed just was not out there.

In a recent tweet from the Samaritans, they say: We all have mental health, and it’s just as important to look after as our physical health

In a recent survey of over 500 people severely affected by mental illness, an overwhelming majority of 88% said that discrimination towards people severely affected by mental illness is widespread in England. This is been talked about more but there is still a long way to go. In a way, mental health problems are often invisible in a way that physical health problems are visible. You would openly be asked if your cold was better or had a back injury improved but rarely would a mental health problem be discussed in the same way.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2021(is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation) and takes place from the 10th May to the 16th of May. This year’s theme is nature. They are inviting us to immerse yourselves in the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, while reconnecting with nature across the week. During Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mind community is been asked to speak out and share why fighting for mental health is important to them.

After a year, where we’ve seen more of the four walls in our homes than the great outdoors. It seems the perfect theme as well as a much-needed opportunity to reconnect with nature and the environment. As the nation eases out of lockdown and spring time is starting to bloom, this is a perfect time to reflect on the positive, the beauty and power of nature. To savour the moment, by sitting in your garden, a park or taking a walk. Having a greater awareness of the world around us helps us see the unusual and notice simple pleasures like the changing seasons. To been present to our feelings. It’s time to re-balance our relationship with nature, from forests, to parks and gardens, to window boxes or even house plants. Interacting with nature can enjoyable and beneficial to our mental health and wellbeing.

The benefits of connecting to the environment around us can stimulate our senses, help us to gain a sense of peace which helps our minds rest, whilst improving concentration. New and exciting research is happening all the time that adds to our understanding of how our natural environment affects the health of our bodies and minds. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you. To thrive and for nature to thrive around you.

Many people find nature inspires them to create, be it through painting, drawing, photography or writing. Many famous artists and writers attribute their masterpieces to nature.

There is good evidence to, that people who spend time gardening experience a wide range of positive results. An important link has been found between spending time outdoors and how physically active you are.

The world of nature is truly incredible; inspiring, soothing and enchanting. Connecting us to something far bigger.  A true medicine for mental health and a balm for our souls.

Visit the link https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/thriving-with-nature/guide

Disposable Glove’s Good or Bad?

I talked in my last blog about the damage that frequent, but essential washing can do to your hands. Is a simpler solution to wear disposable gloves, which are often made of latex? I have seen many people at work and in Supermarket’s wearing these one-use gloves. But is this as safe as frequent hand- washing, it could be that wearing gloves can give you a false sense of security. A virus like Covid can adhere well to latex and other types of gloves. Similarly, if someone has touched a contaminated surface with a gloved hand, they are just as likely to transmit contamination as someone who hasn’t worn gloves. Failing to change gloves when needed is no different from failing to wash your hands. If you handle something contaminated with coronavirus and then touch your face, the gloves won’t stop you from getting infected. Wearing gloves is a convenient way to minimise contamination and keep our hands clean, but they are only really useful when hand-washing is either not possible or insufficient to prevent chemical or biological contamination. And if they are worn, will need to be changed as often as hands need to be washed.

Most gloves that come in large packs are not sterile. When you see someone wearing gloves in a food preparation or retail environment, they may have had them on for hours and might have also handled contaminated material with them. Not taking off gloves correctly can contaminate your hands. You need to reach inside your right glove and peel it inside out without touching the outside. Watch a few episodes of Gray’s Anatomy or ER to see how It’s done!

Some people develop an allergy to gloves made of natural rubber latex. Choose non-latex gloves unless there are no alternatives that give the required protection.  Alternatives such as soft nitrile, vinyl or plastic gloves may provide better chemical resistance or durability. If you must use latex, choose low-protein, powder-free gloves. Gloves should always fit the wearer. Tight gloves can make hands feel tired and lose their grip. Gloves that are too large, can create folds, these can impair work and be uncomfortable. Our hands have a natural reaction to a tight, hot environment, which leads to sweating. This can make wearing gloves uncomfortable and even lead to skin problems that make the issue worse. When skin is exposed to sweat for a prolonged time, it weakens and becomes more vulnerable. Also, a moist environment is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. So, although gloves are a necessary precaution without taking steps to reduce sweat build-up, they can become a health issue.

Standard single-use gloves provide a non-permeable barrier that safely protects the hands in light duty work environments. But a lack of airflow inhibits proper regulation of the skin environment and glove friction from repeatedly rubbing against the skin harms the upper skin layers. Over time, the health risks for workers from uncomfortable single-use gloves can greatly decrease productivity as well increase the risk of significant medical issues. By limiting hand functionality, perspiration may hinder someone’s ability to perform certain job functions. Repeatedly alternating from a wet to dry environment, like putting on and removing several pairs of gloves a day, exacerbates irritation to the skin. (Just ask nurses what they think about this!) It doesn’t get any better when gloves are removed as the compromised skin is then exposed to a fluctuaton in temperature. Skin irritations such as dryness, chapping and cracking, can lead to more serious conditions.

Chronic contact dermatitis, is one of the most commonly reported occupational diseases. Dermatitis can be caused by direct contact with the natural latex rubber in latex gloves. Powdered latex gloves can also cause asthma. The proteins in the latex glove leach into the powder which becomes airborne when they are removed. Inhaling the powder may lead to sensitisation.

This all sounds a little alarming but if you have to or want to wear gloves, there are some moisture management techniques that can help. Using an emollient or hand creams that adds an additional layer of protection between glove moisture and the skin and frequently changing your gloves so as to limit exposure to prolonged moisture. Newer technologies within a glove are making the wearing experience more comfortable. One such technology incorporates an absorbent liner that wicks moisture from the skin. Additionally, therapeutic properties and protective ingredients are being manufactured into a glove, which can limit the potential for skin irritation and provide a healthier environment for the hand.

Been aware of taking care of your hands safely and keeping them clean, dry and well-moisturised will make a big difference. And not just sticking on a pair of gloves and forgetting about them. Many one-use gloves are now fully recyclable and opt for these if you can.

Look after your hands they work hand on your behalf and deserve to be treatedwith love and care.

Water is for Life

We all know we need to drink water to remain at our optimum health and fitness. But what actually happens to the human body if you don’t drink water? The answer is that every human body is comprised of about 60% water, which is needed for a number of human bodily processes including blood circulation, regulation of body temperature, waste removal and detoxification. During everyday functioning, water is lost by the body, and this needs to be replaced. We notice that we lose water through activities such as sweating and urination, but water is lost even when breathing. It is essential to maintain a balanced water level, by drinking enough throughout the day. How much water you need to drink a day, depends on factors such as your age, body fat and gender and where you live. Men roughly need between 2-3 litres of water a day, while women need a bit less around 2 to 2.5 litres. If you don’t drink enough water, the outcome is usually very bad.

When you stop drinking water, you experience the signs of dehydration: feelings of thirst, hunger and irritability. As you continue to not drink, you stop urinating, have trouble swallowing, suffer from muscle spasms and experience nausea. Your blood stops flowing to the skin and your core body temperature increases. The lack of blood flow in your skin may cause you to turn a greyish- blue colour. After three to five days of not drinking water, your organs begin to shut down, especially the brain, which could have lethal consequences including fainting, strokes and in extreme cases, even death.

Scary stuff indeed, and this really does stress the sheer importance of the simple act of drinking water. Something which many off us struggle to do. According to the NHS website, drinking water, whether from the tap or a bottle, is the best source of fluid for the body. Fluid can be gained from other beverages and obtained through foods with a high- water content, such as soups, tomatoes and oranges but water is the best choice as it’s calorie-free. So much is talked about water and there are so many contractionary facts and very little science behind many of the specific rules. So just where do we start?

Universally agreed, on is that to function properly, all the cells and organs of the body need water, it lubricates the joints, it delivers oxygen throughout the body and forms saliva and mucus. (Helping us to digest our food and keeps the mouth, nose, and eyes moist) Water is needed in the processes of sweating and removal of urine and faeces. it makes minerals and nutrients accessible, as these dissolve in water, which makes it possible for them to reach different parts of the body.  It boosts skin health and beauty, with dehydration, the skin can become more vulnerable to skin disorders and premature wrinkling. Some evidence also suggests that increasing water intake can promote weight loss by slightly increasing your metabolism, which can increase the number of calories you burn on a daily basis.

Staying hydrated is vital. Studies show that even mild dehydration, such as the loss of 2% of body weight, can impair many aspects of brain function. Drinking a glass of water when you feel tired will help to power up your brain.  Since your brain consists of 75% water, drinking a glass or two when you’re feeling sleepy will help to replenish your brain’s fluid levels, and increase cognitive functioning.  If you don’t your physical performance can also suffer particularly during intense exercise or high heat. it isn’t uncommon for athletes to lose as much as 10% of their water weight via sweat. This can lead to altered body temperature control, reduced motivation, and increased fatigue. It can also make exercise feel much more difficult, both physically and mentally.

In a study, researchers found that fluid loss of 1.4% after exercise impaired both mood and concentration and increased the frequency of headaches. A headache is one of the most common symptoms of dehydration. Some studies have shown too that drinking water can help relieve headaches in those who experience frequent headaches.

Asthma and allergies are worse, when dehydrated, as airways are restricted by the body in an effort to minimize water loss. So, drinking water can help alleviate symptoms.

The science claims that drinking water at the correct times of day can help to prevent common problems such as stomach pain, IBS, bloating, fatigue, overeating, high blood pressure, constipation, and even heart attacks and strokes. But when are the correct times?

Ayurveda suggests that is a healthy habit to drink water first thing in the morning, which is known as Ushapan. It helps get rid of many diseases in the body. Drinking water in the morning helps in flushing all the toxins in the body and cleanses your intestines. A glass or two first thing, can also help to jumpstart your brain and body out of sleep mode.

The correct way to drink water is to sit down with a glass of water and sip slowly and steadily. Unnecessary gulping of huge amounts of water may lead to lack of oxygen in the wind and food pipe, which could potentially give rise to heart problems. Drinking room temperature water is preferred over very cold water. By drinking one glass of water 30 minutes before and after a meal it aids digestion and allows the body to absorb the nutrients. Not only does the water prepare your intestines, it also prevents you from over-eating, since the water lines your stomach and makes you feel fuller faster. If you’re hungry between meals, pour yourself a glass of water to see if you’re actually dehydrated. Sometimes people think they’re hungry when they’re really just thirsty. Remember not to drink too soon after a meal as the water can dilute the digestive juices and we absorb water best when our stomachs are not full of food. Also drinking too much water during a heavy meal can lead to discomfort and feeling even more bloated. Drinking water before taking a bath can help lower blood pressure. An hour before bedtime drinking one glass of water replenishes any fluid loss that can occur during the night.

Avoid drinking water while standing as it can have an adverse effect on your kidneys, and can even lead to arthritis. Sitting while drinking allows your body to better filter the nutrients and direct the water to specific areas that need nourishing.

When drinking Alcohol (which is a diuretic, so it makes you lose more water than you take in can leading to dehydration) increasing water intake is often recommended. Drink a glass of water between drinks and have at least one glass of water before going to bed can prevent unpleasant symptoms experienced after drinking alcohol like hangovers.

Keep yourself hydrated while exercising is important, but avoid drinking too much. it’s incredibly rare, but it’s possible to drink so much water you put your health at risk. Excess water consumption during your workout will dilute your body’s natural balance of salt and you can become too low in sodium, a condition known as hyponatremia which leads to cell swelling that can cause nausea, vomiting, seizures and death.

Many people struggle to know which type of water is the best for them, because the market is so full, each brand claiming to have additional health benefits. Concerns about tap water and uncertainty about the health benefits to water filters just add to the confusion. It’s too vast a subject to talk about in a few lines, so I will post an additional blog post.

However, I would say that the health specialists, I have listened to, generally felt that for most people in developed countries tap water is just fine. If you prefer bottled spring water for its crisper flavour, that’s perfectly acceptable. Flavoured shop- bought waters can contain additives, so are best avoided. It may turn out that a lot comes down to personal preference.

Sleep- A Super Power

Why is sleep important? A good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health. In fact, it’s just as important as eating healthy and exercising. Along with nutrition and exercise, good sleep is one of the pillars of great health. You simply cannot achieve optimal health without the super power of sleeping well. And like nutrition and exercise, there is no one-size-fits-all number for the hours of sleep each of us needs. The ideal number varies according to age, gender and lifestyle. But we do all feel so much better after a good night’s sleep. After nine hours of sleeping like a log, you can wake up feeling bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to take on anything the day might throw at you. Unfortunately, there’s a lot that can interfere with natural sleep patterns. As busy as we are, it isn’t a surprise that sleep is usually the first pillar of the health foundation to be overlooked.

Sleep is important for various aspects of our health. In fact, sleep quality and duration can have a major effect on many health risks factors; brain function, mental health issues, immune system, the appearance of your skin, protecting against heart disease, your ability to interact socially, a loss of sleep can even increase one’s risk for obesity and weight gain.

How to sleep better is obviously upper most in our minds, with 76% of us feeling we don’t get enough sleep. People with medical conditions are more likely to suffer from poor sleep, according to The Sleep Council’s Great British Bedtime Report. It’s been estimated that 90% of people with depression complain about sleep quality. Getting a good night’s sleep can help to keep your immune system fighting fit and keep germs at bay. Sleep gives your body the time it needs to rest and repair, which is one of the reasons you feel tired and want to sleep more when you’re unwell. Sleep supports the proteins and cells of your immune system to detect and destroy any foreign invaders your body might come into contact with, like the common cold. it’s essential to allow yourself time to rest and recover when you’re not feeling well. Even a small loss of sleep has been shown to impair immune function.

A consistent loss of sleep can increase one’s risk for obesity and weight gain. That’s because lack of sleep influences the body’s hormonal responses, some of which are decreased insulin sensitivity. Good sleepers tend to eat fewer calories. So poor sleeping can affect your weight. So bad news for dieters.

What are the benefits to your brain, learning and creative power? And so what happens when you sleep?  Well, sleep gives your brain a chance to sort things out. Scientists aren’t exactly sure what kinds of organizing your brain does while you sleep, but they think that this might be the time when the brain sorts and stores information and solves problems. Creativity can also be boosted overnight. How often do great ideas come to mind on waking up!

A study in the journal Clinical and Experimental Dermatology found that people who slept seven to nine hours a night had skin that was more moisturized and that could protect and heal itself better compared to those who slept five hours or less. Your body boosts blood flow to the skin while you snooze, which means you wake to a healthy glow.  When you skimp on your sleep your complexion can look drab, ashen and lifeless. So, you not only feel better after a good night’s sleep but look better too.

What else can impact sleep? Eating heavy meals late at night, alcohol and caffeine drinks like coffee can cause problems sleeping, so are best avoided, herbal teas can be help and most supermarkets and health stores carry a large selection of teas and natural remedies. Technology can affect sleep, like using phones and computers at night, so for an hour or so before bedtime, turn these off and never use these in bed.

Stress often causes poor sleep patterns. If you’ve got a lot on your mind and are struggling with your emotions, going over things in your head can often keep you awake at night. If you are up at night worrying, you might begin to see a change in your mood and a lack of sleep can leave you feeling low. This could then cause you to feel anxious and create more negative thoughts about not sleeping. This might keep you awake even longer and can turn into a vicious cycle of worry and poor sleep. Its hard to stop this happening so try talking about worries before bedtime or even get professional help.

Try to keep a consistent bedtime and wake up time as our body clocks thrive on routine. Having a set wake up time seven days a week is important, particularly when we are having problems sleeping.

We need bedtime to be positive and relaxing, so a warm bath, hot drink or reading a book is a simple and effective wind-down after a busy day. The website https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/ offers detailed advice for all sleep-related issues.

Remember sleep is a super power we all need to survive and strive and its free.

Coronavirus and Sleep Patterns

Are you feeling sleep-deprived this winter? Yes, then you have joined over half of the population, who are reporting getting as little as just four hours sleep a night on average. Which is totally shocking and falling very short of the recommended six to eight hours sleep every night. The state of the nation’s sleep has come under scrutiny as more people admit they are unhappy with the quality of their sleep and the effect it is having on their ability to function daily.

According to a major survey commissioned by three of the leading bodies championing sleep, Sleep Station, The Sleep Council and The Sleep Charity. More than 2,700 people took part in the National Sleep Survey to provide an overview of the nation’s sleep during the Covid-19 global pandemic, the biggest UK survey of its kind to date on this subject. And it found that the coronavirus was affecting all aspects of sleep. Nearly four in 10 people (39%) are now going to bed later but also believe that the amount of sleep they get is shorter than normal. Nearly a third (30%) are also waking earlier. Significantly, women find it harder to fall asleep (46%) with men more likely to report no change or slightly longer sleep duration. Nearly three in every 10 people (26%) said waking too early was worse now than before. More than a third (33%) are experiencing more vivid dreams.

Sleeping well is crucial to our physical and mental health and wellbeing. With people experiencing signs of depression and reporting that lack of sleep is impacting on their mood, concentration and how tired they feel in the day, we have been exposed to lots of government advice around diet, exercise and how to look after our mental health during these challenging times. However, we’ve not heard anything concrete around sleep and it has never been more important. Lisa Artis, head of The Sleep Council

Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert who works with The Sleep Council added that millions of Britain’s have been impacted by the coronavirus in some way. The survey findings come amid rising concern that these unprecedented times are causing a surge in sleep issues. A lack of support, or lack of awareness of the help available for those issues, could have a lasting impact on the people of Britain.

The first Lockdown hit us all hard and now we are all back for a re-run. It’s much harder to stick to the routines we have in our usual life’s. No one knows what day it is; bedtimes have become much later and it’s harder to get up in the morning, plus we’re all feeling a little more anxious than normal. We know we should be getting exercise but its not as easy in winter than in summer-time. I have a treadmill at home but it’s still difficult to make myself use this everyday in lieu of walking to work daily. And it’s not just adults, this is also impacting on children. In these extraordinary times, it is fully understandable that sleep patterns may have changed for the worst. Too many of us check emails, social media or browse the internet before bedtime, some of us even use our phones and computers in bed. Over-use of computers and mobile phones is most likely adding to the problems of us not sleeping well.

The Sleep Council have offered the following advice:

  1. Keep regular hours. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time, all the time, will programme your body to sleep better. Choose a time when you are most likely to feel sleepy.
  2. Your bedroom should be kept for rest and sleep and it should be neither too hot, nor too cold; and as quiet and dark as possible.
  3. Regular, moderate exercise such as walking can help relieve the day’s stresses and strains. But not too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake!
  4. Caffeine is a stimulant and its effect on sleep is well known – it interferes with falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Try and avoid it 4-5 hours before bedtime; have a hot milky drink or an herbal tea instead
  5. While alcohol initially relaxes you and helps you to nod off, it decreases the amount of time you spend in REM sleep (deep, restorative sleep). Plus, you will find you wake in the night dehydrated and needing the loo
  6. Have a warm bath, listen to some quiet music, do some yoga – all help to relax both the mind and body. Your doctor may be able to recommend a helpful relaxation tape, too.
  7. Blue light inhibits the night-time secretion of melatonin and impacts on sleep latency so avoid screen time at least an hour before bed.

The website https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/ offers a range of helpful advice on improving sleep patterns. Self-care is so important right now, and a good night’s sleep can help so much with the upheavals we are all going through. Reading a book or listening to some relaxing music is going to be more helpful to sleeping that watching the latest news updates. Worrying about the future is natural but we can handle stressful times much better when we are getting enough sleep.

I have replaced my old bedding with a lovely new throw, which is cosy and attractive and this also stops me from siting on my bed to work, which I usually do. If you keep your bedroom for relaxing only particularly as so many people are working from home, this may improve your sleep.

 Look after yourself and Sleep well!

Brain Power As You Age

I love the idea of living a long life, but it has to be with a good degree of health and fitness and an active brain. Now, unless I have a fairy godmother, that I know nothing about the only way this is going to happen is with a fair amount of effort on my part. I have been amazed at all the incredible folk in their eighties, nineties and even over a hundred like the inspirational Sir Tom, who have appearing recently up on various TV programmes. These are the generations that have survived war-time, recessions, national strikes and quite a few ups and downs, but their strength, resilience and good humour still shows through.

Now we know that our brain’s volume gradually shrinks as you get older. When this occurs, some of the nerve cells in your brain can shrink or lose connections with other nerve cells. Blood flow within your brain also slows as you age. These age-related changes are thought to be behind the differences in cognitive function many people notice as they age. However, myths about ageing can contribute to a failing memory. Middle-aged and older learners do worse on memory tasks when they’re exposed to negative stereotypes about an ageing memory and better when given positive messages about memory preservation into old age. Therefore, if you believe you can improve your brainpower and put this into practice, you have a much better chance of keeping your mind sharp. My seventy-six-year-old mother has just starting learning Spanish on Duolingo and after 3 days was at the top of the leader board, so age is no obstacle to learning a new skill.

A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Experts think that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being and staying mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Work can keep us mentally active and when you retire pursuing a hobby or learning a new skill can help maintain brain power. The belief that exercising our brains through mentally stimulating activities like puzzles, makes a lot of sense, if we want our brain to stay in peak condition, we should always use it. Other activities like; reading, playing chess or bridge, writing, learning a language, art and music not only stimulate the brain but keep life interesting and worthwhile. My neighbour who is in her late nineties plays bridge daily and is as bright and alert as she was decades ago.

My family throughout the lock-down has had a weekly quiz night on Zoom which we all love and hopefully will continue. Jigsaws and board games have been taken out of the loft and families across the country have been playing these together. If we all kept doing this and not spending hours on social media and mindless gaming, we would notice the difference.

Studies of cognitive ageing often ask people in older age to complete tests of their thinking skills and provide details about activities they do. Almost all of those studies find that the people who carry out much more stimulating mental activities have better thinking skills in older age.

There has been a growing market for so-called brain- training products. These are often computer-based games or tasks specifically designed to be mentally stimulating. These products are popular but there is controversy over whether brain- training really does protect thinking skills in later life. A group of leading research experts has argued that evidence that brain training can help combat cognitive decline as we grow older is limited. Their view was that people who play these games get better at them but might not see improvements in their thinking skills more broadly. One of the biggest companies selling these products was fined in 2016, by the US government Federal Trade Commission for making claims that weren’t supported by evidence and that in the Commission’s words;

Preyed on consumers fears about age-related cognitive decline.

Personality I think that although the evidence on the benefits is still incomplete, there are many great reasons for taking up new activities in later life. Doing hobbies and activities that we enjoy are important to maintaining a good quality of life and well-being in older age. I would mention that you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money, the internet provides free quizzes etc and you may be able to join classes at a reduced rate or even for free. Mixing with a younger age group is important and staying engaged and interested in the world around you can help to keep your minds sharp. I have been learning three languages online. It’s challenging at times but also rewarding, great fun and free.

There is promising research that indicates that taking the following steps may help preserve your memory and thinking skills as you age: controlling cholesterol and blood pressure, not smoking or drinking excessively, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, getting a good education, stimulating your brain, socializing and staying active in old age.

A new study suggests that in fact, older people who were physically active kept their minds sharper as well as having better health. I thing all these steps are achievable for us all. Now I am middle-aged, I realise just how important it is to be healthy both physically and mentally. No amount of success or wealth matters if we are not in good health and cannot still do tasks or have the ability to think.

So just by making some simple changes now can affect the quality of life in your later years….

Epsom Salts- A Grandma’s Cure

Epsom Salts also known as Magnesium sulfate, are gaining a new generation of fans looking for a safe, inexpensive alternative to high- priced over-the-counter remedies. For hundreds of years, this salt has been used to treat ailments such as: constipation, healing wounds, insomnia and fibromyalgia. Although its effects on these conditions are not well researched or proven scientifically, many people swear by this folk remedy. Its potential uses are numerous as a natural remedy with plenty of health benefits, for beauty purposes to improve the quality of hair and skin, for household related uses and as a garden fertilizer.

Becoming a sought-after cure for constipation, for hundreds of years, following a happenstance discovery. During a drought in 1618, a local cow herder called Henry Wicker bent down to drink from a pool of water on Epsom Common. He found the water tasted acidic and bitter. As the water evaporated, Wicker noticed white residue left behind and realized after drinking the water that it had a laxative effect. The term Epsom salt and its medicinal properties were established by a chemist Nehemiah Grew in 1695. He called the mineral found in the spring water after the nearest town, Epsom. Nehemiah acquired a royal patent for the exclusive manufacturing of Epsom salt, which soon became cheaply available over the counter. He called it Bitter Purging Salts and this was the first recorded laxative.

Until early 17th century, Epsom was only a small rural community. After the discovery of the springs rich in Magnesium sulfate, it expanded and developed into a spa town, one of the earliest in Britain. The water was said to have purgative powers and was drunk on empty stomach from stoneware mugs. People came from all around Europe to drink the healing waters. Though originally known as a spa town, little remains today apart from a water pump. Epsom was unable to compete with other developing Spa towns like, Bath and Harrogate, because of the low supply of spring water.

 In 1755, a British chemist and physicist named Joseph Black conducted experiments on the chemical properties of Magnesium sulfate. He proposed that Magnesium be classified as an element.

Due to the specific composition, the benefits and actions of Epsom salt are different from those of sea salt or common bath salts. While bath salts usually contain various ingredients as part of their proprietary blend, Epsom salt is a pure mineral compound of Magnesium and sulfate. There are major differences in how Epsom salt and sea salt are obtained. While Epsom salt is usually refined in a chemical process or boiled down, sea salt is obtained by evaporating sea water. Sea salt is edible and widely used in cooking. Where as Epsom salt can be unpalatable because of the bitterness it is edible in very small amounts. It’s often referred to as bitter salt.

Magnesium is essential in the human body for muscle and nerve function and maintaining a healthy immune system. It’s also needed to maintain a regular heartbeat, sufficient blood glucose and strong bones. Most of the reported benefits of Epsom salts are attributed to its Magnesium content, a mineral that most people lack. When Epsom salt is dissolved in water it releases Magnesium and sulfate ions. It is involved in more than 325 biochemical reactions that benefit your heart and nervous system.

As a medication administered intravenously, it can stave off premature birth and alleviate seizures caused by several conditions, including magnesium deficiency, pre-eclampsia, and eclampsia.

The benefits of a soak in a warm bath with Epsom salts are many; easing of muscle soreness and stress, relieving cramps, skin irritation and inflammation, soothing sunburn and treating sprains. When used as a footbath it soothes sore feet. (Apply a paste from 1 teaspoon of Epsom salt mixed with water) To take an Epsom salt bath; add 2 cups of Epsom salt to the water and soak your body for at least 15 minutes. While Magnesium sulfate can be taken as a supplement it is claimed that Magnesium may be better absorbed via an Epsom salt bath than when taken orally.

NB. It should not be added to a bath for anyone with an open wound, severe burns, severe skin inflammation or a skin infection.

Integrative medical specialists (a healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person including lifestyle) often recommend Epsom salts for both physical and mental health benefits. Adequate magnesium levels are essential for sleep and stress management. Magnesium may also help your body produce melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.

It serves important bodily functions too, taken by mouth as a laxative as Magnesium is often used to treat constipation. It appears to be helpful because it draws water into your colon, which promotes bowel movements. If you use it as a laxative, make sure to drink plenty of water.

I do hope I have shown you some of the benefits of adding this affordable product to your life, I’ve used this myself for many years. I would advise that you only buy the salt from a reputable source such as a leading health store or chemist and make sure to buy 100% Epsom Salts (Magnesium sulfate) and not a blended version as this does not contain the same health benefits.

Japanese Bathing Rituals

It would be difficult to research and write about bathing rituals without looking at Japanese bathing, this is a phenomenon remarkably different from most traditions in the modern Western world. I’ve not been fortunate to visit Japan yet, I would really love to visit such a diverse and fascinating country. I have been reading about at the customs of Sento, Furo and Onsen and the significance of the bathing culture to Japan. This is not just about washing the body but ritual purifications embedded in the Japanese culture for centuries. There is no better example of literally immersing yourself in another culture than the bathing rituals that have endured for many lifetimes.

Sento

Is an age-old Japanese practice of public baths, to cleanse both the mind and body. Sento Bathing became popular amongst common people who relished baths at Buddhist temples. Empress Kōmyō began the practice of charity baths, where she would wash beggars at temple baths. Charity baths eventually became an act of reverence for ancestors and practitioners who would offer baths to any person, regardless of age, sex or social status. The evolution of temple bathing to include charity baths and public bathhouses demonstrates the connection between religion and bathing in Japan. The popularity of public baths continued to increase, particularly during the Edo period from 1603 to 1868. The first public bathhouse in Tokyo was founded in 1591. By the late Edo period, there were over 500 Sento in Tokyo. Both gender-divided and mixed baths were popular during this period, despite the Shogun’s concerns about the potential for immoral behaviour in mixed baths. The prudishness of 19th century Westerners led the government to ban mixed bathing to make Japan seem more civilized. In the early 17th century, amusement and recreation was frequently combined with bathing. Men could often have their backs washed by women called Yuna or bath prostitutes. (Until the government outlawed these). Large groups of people that would travel to their local Sento to eat, drink and sing. It introduced the concept of social mixing which not only aided in slowly deconstructing the existing social hierarchy but created a new cultural flow between the elite and commoners, this had a lasting effect on Japanese social status- quo.

Even after WWII, it was still relatively common for people to not have baths, due to the post-war construction boom in residential housing without bathing facilities or running water. So, the only way to bathe was to attend a Sento at the end of their day.  They continued to be built well into the mid-20th century, with the number of bathhouses reaching their national peak in 1968 at 18,325. Today, the number has dwindled to around 4,000.  Japanese people are now able to afford baths or showers in their own homes. For a class-conscious society, the Sento has become an embarrassing reminder of an impoverished past, and as the ranks of Japan’s nouveau riche have continued to swell, a stigma has fallen upon those who patronize the humble Sento. However, it remains a veritable oasis in many communities, especially in the suffocating hot summers and cold winters.

The two main kinds of traditional Sento are Furoya , steam baths, and Yuya a central large communal bath. Ancient cultures believed in the healing effect of water and today the Japanese believe the adoption of hot baths and its related procedures are the cure for many ailments such as: obesity, kidney disease, rheumatism and neurological disorders. The Sento is roughly divided into two sections: where you wash and where you relax. It is vital to wash thoroughly before entering the relaxation baths. Most baths are classed by temperature: tei-on (tepid) to chu-on (warm) which is bearable for 10 minutes or so. The waters of Sento differ from those of Onsen in that they are not naturally heated.

Some Sento have evolved into Super-Sento, which charges a higher price than the public sento and offers an all-day luxurious bathing experience more like an Onsen. It caters to the Japanese post-modern love of all things comfortable and affordable, usually boasting between fifteen to twenty different types of baths, ranging from jacuzzi tubs, whirlpool baths, steam baths, open-air baths to dry saunas. The Ja-Kuu-Ji, Japanese for jacuzzi bath, is popular, and many are spiked with scented bath oils to sooth and restore vitality. The Uutase Buro massages the head, shoulder, spine and back with a high-pressure stream of hot water pummelling down from a meter or so above. Some Sentos have tapped spring water, which enables them to recreate the Rotemburo: an outdoor hot spring that is a cheap alternative to the more expensive Onsen. The Denki Buro (Electric Bath) is a small bath equipped with steel plates that discharge pulsing currents of electricity into the submerged bather to relax the muscles.

While the future of the traditional Sento is bleak the Super-Sento is poised to solidify its position as a staple of Japanese culture. No longer mystical or godly, the modern-day Sento has reinvented itself as an affordable, chill-out, entertainment, yet still elevated beyond a mere bath. So, for total relaxation and the bliss of total cleanliness, the cultural experience of a Sento is a real must!

Furo– Home bathing version of Sento

Bathing in your own home in Japan is called Furo or the more common form of Ofuro. As part of the Japanese ritual of bathing, these are not meant for washing but rather for relaxing and warming oneself. To achieve cleanliness, the bather washes before entering the bath. Furos are seen as a total renewal on many levels including spiritually. In a Japanese-style bath the water is heated to 110° F or even hotter. In private Japanese homes the bathing facilities are always constructed separately from the washing and toilet facilities. The Furo started the popularity of hot-water soaking in other countries, especially the hot tub craze. Today several firms specialize in the construction of wooden Japanese-style bathtubs. The home version of the Ofuro includes a wooden box or a small pool of water with a couple of benches inside. These large baths were traditionally made of Hinoki, Japanese cypress, which is considered sacred. The modern Japanese bath is a high-tech affair that can automatically refill the bath or reheat the water. Within a home’s private ofuro, family members bathe together and discuss their day in a relaxing environment. These larger baths are fairly new, before that, the family used the bath in order of importance, with guests going first, men before women and the eldest family member before the youngest. The Shimai-Buro, the house wife, went last so she cleaned up after everyone else.

Onsen- Japanese hot springs

The Japanese archipelago is highly volcanic with over 100 active volcanoes and rich hot springs which have become recognised landmarks. Over 25,500 hot springs bubble in Japan year-round and are distributed according to the numerous volcanic chains running through the archipelago. The wealth of hot springs led to the development of Onsen. Which is an excellent way to enjoy Japan’s natural beauty, particularly during cold winters.

 The Japanese have been bathing in the natural hot springs for well over a thousand years, and there are many historical accounts of feudal lords having their own favourite Onsen spots, kakushiyu, where they may have let their samurai bathe after battle. Claims regarding the curative properties precede Buddhism’s introduction to Japan. The Onsen’s healing waters were frequently believed to be gifts from animals, gods or Buddhist deities. The Japanese longevity and long-standing dedication to Onsen are a testament to the positive effects of natural springs on health and well-being. The healing benefits of each Onsen depends on the minerals in its water; hydrogen carbon-rich springs smooth the skin, sulphurous springs help manage blood pressure and keep arteries supple, and iron-heavy springs soothe achy joints and muscles even easing arthritis. Taking to the waters of Onsen has historically carried spiritual and religious meanings in addition to their cleansing and healing properties. Devotional bathing and charity baths show how Buddhism and bathing are intertwined in Japanese history and culture.

Generations of Japanese women and men have practiced the ritual of bathing in mineral-rich Onsens for beautification and health. Despite the technological advances in skin care coming from Asia, Japanese women still consider Onsens a fundamental part of their beauty regimen. Dermatologists have long known that sulphur nourishes the skin, is anti-inflammatory, heals acne and relieves various skin conditions. But beyond the science lays a few centuries of nourishing the soul and a mythical history.

Within the Onsen, there may be one large bath or several big pools, these can be indoors or outdoors. The Rotenburo is an outdoor bath, allowing you to experience nature while enjoying the shelter of a roof of some sort and the heat of the bath. After showering, they slowly lower themselves into the water in the pools, exhaling a long, protracted achii, meaning hot, and then relax and practice mindfulness.

Many newer versions of onsens have been adapted to appeal to the changing needs and interests of Japanese consumers and tourists. The modern Onsen resort experience includes up-scale hotels and spas to replace Ryokans (inns)

Where to try Onsen Bathing in Japan:

Noboribetsuo: On the northern island of Hokkaido, a volcanic area known as Hell Valley supports the town’s thermal pools.

Takaragawa: Tokyoites flock to this Onsen for a dose of nature with their skin-reviving soak. The large outdoor baths are mixed-gender.

Naoshima: The public bathhouse here doubles as an art installation commissioned as one of many contemporary artworks and museums on this remote fishing island in the Seto Inland Sea.

Kinosaki: This old-fashioned village north of Kyoto, has bathing options which range from historic bathhouses to private tubs in ryokans.

it is certain that bathing culture in Japan is vibrant and still flourishing indicating a long-term economic stability and prosperity. By continuously reinventing themselves to remain entertaining and engaging, Onsen and Sento continue to about much more than a simple bath.