Like a bit of glamour? Clean freak? This is a simple method to make a cover for a 2 cm thick pilates head cushion. The final dimensions are 24x34 cm, so there is a generous seam and hem allowance, but it doesn't need to be precise. I'm a bit gung-ho when it comes to sewing, so I apologise to anyone who sews meticulously! Also, my beloved vintage sewing machine has broken - this is sewn on my young daughter's machine, which handles the light material used surprisingly well!
It would make a nice hand-made gift for the Pilates-lover in your life.
I listened to a programme on Radio 4 today, by the very balanced Jim Al-Khalili. The premise was: how should we cut sugar consumption?
Sugar is in part responsible for the obesity crisis, which is estimated to cost the NHS over £5 million per year. Three alternative methods were put forward for achieving a reduction in sugar consumption: a tax on soft drinks, reduced portion and plate sizes, and a food technology solution. If you want to hear the story for yourself, follow this link (may only be available in the UK). For those of you who are still with me, here's the "too long; didn't listen":
Sugar tax: why put it on sugary drinks, and not sugar in general? Because of predicted behavioural responses. In response to a 20% tax, the predicted behaviour would be for people to reduce their consumption of sugary drinks by 15% . There would be some substitution of drinks - to water, diet drinks, milk and fruit juice. If you taxed sugary foods, the consequences are less predictable, and people might switch from biscuits (say) to crisps, with no net health benefit. It is expected that legislation would be hard to pass due to pressure from parts of the food industry, so would require a concerted effort and public awareness.
Portion size: reducing plate, cup and even cutlery size has been shown to decrease calorie intake by around 16% without people particularly noticing. There is a well-established phenomenon that we eat more when there is more food available (regardless of our hunger levels). This doesn't appear until we reach the age of three, so it is thought to be a learned behaviour - a response to being expected to ignore our fullness cues and finish the food on our dinner plates. Implementation of this one is tricky - people don't want to be told how big a plate they can have, they want to be responsible for their own decisions. This is owing to the delusion that we all suffer from - believing that our choices are our own, whereas in reality many of our decisions are strongly affected by the environment that we are in. The government, of course, couldn't realistically dictate plate sizes, but schools, hospitals and workplace canteens could take the initiative to provide smaller portions and plate sizes, and 'normalise' healthy portions in people's minds.
Technology: I love a bit of tech, so I pricked my ears up at this one. Sugar is the number one, Gold-Standard yummy thing, as far as our taste buds are concerned. Other forms of sweetness taste sweet, but don't hit the reward receptors in quite the same way. But, when we taste sugar, we don't taste all of it - we tend to taste the outside of the granule, then swallow. So what if we reshape the sugar crystals to make them hollow, like Christmas tree baubles? All the taste of real sugar (Bing! Gimme some o' that loverly sugar) but simply less of it. A challenge here is that sugar has other functions - crunchiness, and as a bulking agent, for example - that would need to be replaced. It's also really cheap. This is a technology in its infancy, so you won't see it on the shelves yet. In fact, you may never know when you are eating it, because it would be best implemented covertly - so consumers don't use 'half the sugar' as a licence to eat twice as much!
The programme outlined three possible ways to influence our sugar consumption, as a top-down approach from the Government or industries. But what can we learn from this as individuals? I don't believe that we need to ban all sugar from our diets - but most of us would benefit from significantly reducing it. Firstly, we can quit the sugary drinks - there are plenty of alternatives out there, and pretty much all of them are better than sugary drinks (though the jury's out on diet drinks - so watch out with those). We can become aware of the effect of plate size and cup size on our appetite - and make conscious decisions to eat from 9" plates (which were standard only 20 years ago) rather than 12" plates, or control portion size at the time of cooking. Lastly, although 'hollow sugar' isn't available yet, we can look into whether all of the sweetness in our diets needs to come from sugar, and where to add the sugar - sugar on the outside makes food taste sweeter than if evenly distributed. Also, consider (carefully) whether to use alternatives, such as Stevia or xylitol. I use a small amount of xylitol in my diet - it is a sugar alcohol that naturally occurs in fruits and vegetables, and even in our own bodies (it is also very good for your teeth). It is easy to have self control over xylitol because over-consumption can have laxative effects, so while I might add a spoonful to hot chocolate, I wouldn't bake a cake with only xylitol.
One last thing - if you do eat sugar - enjoy it!
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) combines quick bursts of exercise at maximum effort with short recovery periods. It has taken the fitness world by storm, and for good reason. Research has shown that HIIT produces the same anaerobic and aerobic improvement as cardiovascular traning in less than half the time. It also helps to control blood glucose levels, so is valuable in the prevention and treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. HIIT has been shown to significantly improve VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can use). HIIT gets our bodies as close to VO2 max as possible, which triggers the afterburn effect, meaning the body continues burning extra calories for hours afterwards.
There are various forms of HIIT, which have different lengths of time for both high- and low-intensity training intervals, different ratios of high- to low-intensity levels, and different levels of intensity during lower-intensity intervals. The Tabata Method, for example, includes 8 rounds of 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest; whereas rest-based training allows the exerciser to choose when to stop and how long for, depending on how their body is feeling. Peripheral heart action (PHA) offers similar benefits to HIIT by alternating extreme effort between the upper and lower body. I include a range of HIIT methods and PHA in my Body Blast classes, rather than limiting the effort to the steady state of a traditional aerobics class. Below I give eight reason why I bother with the rest of the hour!
Dr. Michael Moseley has recently been promoting "Fast Exercise" as an alternative to traditional exercise. The basic premise is that instead of long hours of exercise, many of the health benefits can be gained from just 3 minutes of exercise per week. Here is the Doctor himself giving it a try.
But don't be fooled by the headline figure of 3 minutes! Before you swap your existing regime for an exercise bike, consider the other benefits that you will get from a longer sports or exercise session, such as:
1. Endurance. While HIIT can be beneficial for endurance training, it needs to be part of a longer session for endurance benefits.
2. Balance and coordination. The complex movements and direction changes that most sports and exercise involve offer greater improvement to balance than could be achieved on a stationary bike.
3. Muscular strength and bone density. These improve through impact and weight bearing.
4. Flexibility. Generalised exercise programmes will encourage the development of range of movement in joints.
5. Social interaction. Being part of a team or group can help with mental wellbeing.
6. Motivation. If you are motivated to get on your bike and thrash out a sprint at full effort, then good for you. Most of us, however, will work harder and more often with the encouragement of a professional instructor or as part of a team.
7. Variety. The body quickly adapts to the demands placed on it, and begins to plateau. Varying your exercise will help you to continue to improve your fitness level.
8. Enjoyment. HIIT training is gruelling. The feeling after completion can be elating, but exercising at a moderate intensity can allow you to enjoy the activity while you are doing it - so go and run, dance, ski, play football or tennis - whatever it is that makes you happy!
Myth No. 1. Stretching is a good way to warm up
We warm up to prepare the body and mind for the activity ahead by increasing circulation and body temperature. Stretching alone is an ineffective method of warming up - imagine trying to cook a steak by pulling at it!
Taking joints through the full range of motion that they are about to experience is helpful in preparing the coordination needed to perform the activity safely. However, stretching for increased flexibility as part of the warm up can lead to a reduction in performance. Furthermore, a static stretch routine at the end of a warm up can be counterproductive - giving the body time to cool down again!
Myth No. 2. My muscles are tight because of my sport
I hear this all the time, particularly from running enthusiasts. But look at Mo Farah! Those effortless long strides depend on his functional range of movement. If athletes do not stretch out, the muscles become overly rigid and the joints have less range of motion - inhibiting the body from moving freely and reducing performance. Eventually the leg and hip muscles can to start to pull and cause pain, for example in the lower back or knees. For all people, whether athletic or not, without flexibility, the body is vulnerable to acute injuries, or over time, to chronic and intense pain that affects daily life.
Myth No. 3. Stretching prevents muscle soreness
Fitness and Pilates instructor with a passion for science.