A Swede with Finnish heritage living in the UK.
I love words. And learning and writing about health, nutrition and fitness.
With this blog I get to do both.
I don't claim to be an expert; each time I research for my next blog post, I learn as much as I hope any reader will do.
The more I learn, the more I realise the importance of looking after my mind, body and soul with nutritious food and exercise.
It's a work in progress -- some days I fail epically. But, the way I see it, you always get to press 'reset' and try again.
“It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man.”
Henry David Thoreau
Every so often, a so-called superfood gets its fifteen minutes of fame. Blog posts extol the virtues of the latest Instagram-worthy plant or seed that happens to be in fashion that week: acai, chia, bee pollen.
So I thought I’d pick something a bit less exotic, like apples, a commonly eaten fruit, and sing their praises a bit. A life-long apple-lover myself, I never realised how great they really are until now.
Originally from Kazakhstan, they have been a staple of the human diet over many millennia. The original, the Eve of all apples, still lives on there, in the wild, and has given rise to the varieties we buy in the supermarkets: Fiji, Granny Smith, Jazz, etc. 1
So what’s so great about apples?
Well, they are inexpensive (yes, there are expensive ones, too, but a five-pack for £1.60 is pretty good, I reckon.)
With hundreds of different kinds there’s something for everyone, from sweet to tart or something in-between.
They contain fibre1. Its job as bulker-upper may not be glam but very important. Bulkier stools are easier to pass and pass through quicker.
And, let’s not forget, fibre encourages the growth of friendly gut bacteria which help you stay healthy by keeping the bad guys in check3.
They are chockful of vitamins A, C, E, and B9 (folate) as well as potassium, an important electrolyte1.
They contain flavonoids, plant chemicals that have antioxidant- and other health-promoting properties3.
They contain loads of good bacteria, especially the core (which most people throw away). Some evidence suggests organic apples have a greater diversity of health-promoting bacteria than conventional ones4 .
A bit more about flavonoids
Like our immune system, the function of flavonoids is to protect against disease-causing organisms, like bacteria and fungus. They also protect against damaging UV-light. And like antioxidants, flavonoids are able to neutralise free radicals2, those pesky unpaired electrons I wrote about in Eat This To Slow Down The Rusting.
Most flavonoids are concentrated in the skin, which is usually discarded by peeling. Some are found in the seeds2. Studies show that the peel contains at least twice the amount of flavonoids compared to the flesh, even up to six times more7, depending on variety.
Can flavonoids help prevent disease?
Since the first discovery of flavonoids in the 1930s2, thousands have been identified; many have not7. And as more research is done, it seems these plant chemicals may be playing a key role in disease prevention7, alongside their more well-known colleagues: the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
But back to apples. Evidence suggests that the flavonoid-rich apple peel can contribute to better heart health. Eat an apple, unpeeled, and hey presto, within hours artery function is improved3. Better functioning arteries means lower blood pressure and better blood flow around the body and to the brain. What’s not to like?
Another study using dried apple peel ground into a powder improved arthritic joint pain in the subjects8. Maybe just eating the apple would have the same effect?
Of course, no food is ever a cast-iron guarantee you’ll never get ill; but decades of studies have shown that those who eat lots of fruit and veggies have a lower risk of disease than those that don’t. Fact.
So next time you’re reaching for an apple, leave the peeler in the drawer.
“The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings. Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”
I thought it’d be fitting to write a post about advanced glycation end products, aka AGEs. Known as ‘aging’ toxins, they speed up the aging process. They are present in some foods (mentioned below); cooking method also affects the amount of AGEs — dry or wet heat. And they are also a natural by-product of metabolism.
A Bit About AGEs
AGEs cause trouble in our bodies by cross linking protein to excess sugar molecules. Some types of cross linking are normal but not the kind I’m talking about here.
Effects of cross linking are stiffness and inflammation in body tissues. Many common diseases begin with inflammation.
Our bodies are pretty good at cleaning up the damage caused by AGEs produced by metabolism, a natural process. It’s when more is thrown in in the form of junk food that an excess is created and the body finds it more difficult to cope.
So health problems come knocking. Think less energy and joint and muscle stiffness as you age — that’s cross linking in action. Hello, rigid arteries, wrinkles and tissue damage (and much more).
Three Sources of AGEs
The first you have zero control over as they are by-products of metabolism — the energy-extracting processes that convert food into more user-friendly forms for your body. They also accumulate during the normal aging process.
The second you can control: what you eat and the way you cook.
And the third source of AGEs? Cigarette smoke. Apart from the damage caused by free radicals released when smoking, AGEs are just another reason why smoking ages the skin.
Some of the Havoc Caused by AGEs
Foods with Lots of AGEs
Roast BBQ chicken
Pan-fried turkey burger
How to Minimise AGEs
Note that it is in dry heat that AGEs are most abundant, so cut back on roasting, frying and grilling; steam or boil instead. Or use a slow cooker.
OK, so maybe a boiled Big Mac doesn’t sound as tasty but, hey, think of the upside. Even better, have a steamed veggie burger. Now, we’re talking!
That’s not to say that having just plant foods on your plate means no AGEs at all. But, compared to animal protein, plant foods contain fewer AGEs; even when cooking over dry heat. Check the difference: McDonalds burger — 4.876 units of AGEs; veggie burger 20 units — both fried the same way.
“At age 43, when I decided to run again, I realized that the images used to describe runners didn’t fit me. I wasn’t a rabbit. I wasn’t a gazelle or a cheetah or any of the other animals that run fast and free. But I wasn’t a turtle or a snail either. I wasn’t content anymore to move slowly through my life and hide in my shell when I was scared…”
― John Bingham, The Courage To Start: A Guide To Running for Your Life
Could slow be the new fast? Could an easy-does-it approach be as useful to overall health as an all-out, no-pain no-gain way to get fit and healthy? Is the tortoise finally getting his comeuppance?
Surely long and intense workouts are the way to health and fitness? And if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right. Right?
Well, Professor Tanaka thinks slow is better. And he should know. He’s the author of Slow Jogging, an avid slow jogger and marathon runner. And as director of the Institute for Physical Activity at Fukuoka University, Japan, he knows a thing or two about exercise and health.
He believes humans were built for slow, long-distance running. For early hunter-gatherers, survival depended on being able to chase down that bison; an amble walk just wasn’t going to cut it. Likewise, an all-out sprint would have been impossible to keep up for long.
Anatomical features such as elongated Achilles tendons — barely used when walking — act like springs when your feet go off the ground and help cushion the impact of landing. And our ability to sweat helps prevent overheating.
So, how do you slow jog? Easily. Think of it as a step up from walking. Think trot. The wise professor suggests newbies switch between 15 seconds of walking and 30 seconds of slow jogging. That way, your body gets used to the new intensity over time.
Good posture is vital: keep your chin up, look straight ahead; imagine a thread running from the top of your head to the sky above. And keep your shoulders and arms relaxed; swinging your arms forward, not sideways.
And don’t forget the footwork. Landing on your heel is more likely to cause injuries than if you land on the centre-to-front part of your foot. Injuries caused by poor form are one of the major reasons newbies give up. (I know, I used to be one of them.)
So what’s the ideal speed? In Japanese, the ideal slow jogging pace is known as niko niko — or, in English, if you’re able to smile, chat or sing, you’re good. Beginners should aim for walking speed.
How effective is it? Because more energy is used to switch from walking to slow jogging, more calories are used; in fact, up to twice the calories, but without leaving you feeling like a quivering heap of jelly, unable to take another step.
And what about health benefits? Well, a Danish study in 2015 found lower rates of death among the slow joggers than those jogging more intensely (think running). And an article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that as little as five minutes — five minutes! — of running at slow speed (lower than 6 miles per hour) lowered the risk of death from heart disease by up to 45 percent.
And the beauty of slow jogging is that anyone can do it. It’s a safe form of exercise, even for someone with underlying health conditions. As long as you stick to niko niko pace, that is.
Until next time,
PS. Sadly, Professor Tanaka died in 2018, but his legacy lives on as more people discover this fun, gentle and safe way to get fitter and healthier. I know I’m glad I did.
“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”
John F. Kennedy
Having commuted to work on bike for the past year and a half has led to not only better fitness and emotional wellbeing but also a realisation about myself; I’m becoming the kind of person I want to be.
I’m now acting like someone who gets on their bike and cycles for an hour to get to work. I’m now behaving like someone who cycles through wind and rain and afterwards laughs about having made a new definition of the word ‘wet’.
When I started cycling, I expected things like improved sleep, and less crankiness — what a bonus; what I didn’t expect was how my sense of self would change. I’ve realised that, yes, I can be determined when I want to; I can persevere. In a nutshell, and as corny as it sounds: I’m seeing myself in a new light.
A recent story in the Guardian talked about beginner cyclists reporting an improved sense of wellbeing; amen to that. And eighteen months on, those good feelings keep coming every time I get on my bike.
I’ve just read a book called Atomic Habits. As self-help books go, it’s definitely up there, in my opinion. Every time you do something that’s good for you, your health, your career, etc., you’re casting a vote for the type of person you want to be.
I started cycling about a year and a half ago. Mostly as a means of getting about. I was beginning to feel like I was being held hostage by bus and train companies whose services are sometimes late or, on a few occasions, don’t arrive at all.
Then, once I’d started cycling, I realised how much I was enjoying it. And I found myself pedalling along with a new sense of freedom and accomplishment, and a grin (out of joy, not pain) on my face.
I began arriving at work, red-faced and sweaty, yes (what do you expect after an hour’s ride?) but feeling good. Buzzing. That expression ‘water off a duck’s back’ suddenly made sense. That’s how I felt. As if nothing was worth getting uptight about.
I felt like I could take on whatever the day had to offer, without self-doubt getting in the way. Just a Zen-like expression of contentment on my face. Or so I like to imagine.
Truth is, looking serene with a face the colour of beetroot (and don’t forget ‘helmet head’) is highly unlikely; but hey, it’s a small price to pay in view of the benefits. (And my face colour does return to normal, eventually.)
To prevent funny looks from my colleagues, I keep deodorant and a packet of baby wipes (who knew they were so good at getting rid of sweat odour?) in my locker, and I have a change of clean clothes in my rucksack.
Once I’ve wiped myself down and changed clothes, I’m as good as new, and still buzzing. Which makes sense because exercise makes the body release endorphins, so called feel-good hormones; plus, levels of the stress hormone cortisol are reduced.
Pre-bike days, I don’tever recall getting to work feeling that good. In contrast, I’d often arrive bad-tempered about something. I think I was walking around in a semi-permanent state of irritation. The weather (it’s the UK, after all), late buses/trains, noisy neighbours, take your pick.
Now, a year and a half later, although I’m in no way immune to being stressed out on occasion, I feel that little bit more balanced, positive and a tad stronger, mentally. And physically, I feel fitter than I ever did in my 20s or 30s.
“Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body.” Arnold Schwarzenegger
We live longer than ever before. Gone are the days when people in their fifties or sixties were considered old. Mind you, to anyone below twenty, forty-odd probably seems ancient.
You’d think living longer is good news. And I think it is. But not if those extra years are spent living with poor health, whether mental or physical. Granted, some things, like your genetic makeup, you don’t have much say over. Although there is some science turning that on its head, too.
But some things you can control: the food you eat, whether you exercise or not, getting enough sleep, and learning to take a more balanced view on life. Yes, I know: not always easy. And none of these are guarantees for long, disease-free lives.
But they can help to increase your chances of living a healthier and more stress-free life as you get older. And if illness and disability does strike, with a healthier and more nourished body and mind, you are more likely to be able to deal with whatever challenge comes your way.
Take exercise. It doesn’t have to mean joining a gym, if that’s not your thing. There’s shedloads of evidence that walking, for example, is hugely beneficial, not just for physical health but for mental wellbeing, too. In fact, regular walking can even enhance your cognitive skills. What’s not to like?
A year ago I bought myself a road bike. Mainly because I was getting peeved with public transport (I don’t drive.). Over the years, I must have spent many hours at stations and bus stops waiting for delayed buses/trains, whilst paying for the privilege. No more.
In the last twelve months, I’ve cycled to work on average two to three times a week (about 8 miles or 12 kilometres each way). And it makes me feel good whilst doing me good. And the sense of freedom I get is priceless.
And when everyone else is stuck in traffic (which happens a lot in these parts), there I am, whizzing past in my Hi-Viz gear with a slightly smug grin on my face.
The point is, I’ve found something that works for me. And you have to do the same. If you don’t enjoy it, chances are you won’t stick with it for long. So find something that makes you look forward to doing it. Whatever it is. I know I look forward to getting on my bike tomorrow.
Use your own home as your private gym. You don’t need special equipment. Or fancy clothing. Tins of tomatoes can double up as dumbbells. Use the edge of a chair to do tricep dips. Or spend a few minutes marching on the spot, just long enough to get your heart rate up.
I brush my teeth standing one-legged, just to practice my balance. Sometimes I’ll do squats. No doubt a funny sight but, hey, it works for me.
I brush my teeth standing one-legged, just to practice my balance. Sometimes I’ll do squats. No doubt a funny sight but, hey, it works for me.
My point is, exercise doesn’t have to be a big deal. It doesn’t need to cost a bean. It doesn’t need to be done in a special place, or with specific equipment. Or done for hours on end. All it needs is YOU.
And if you’re stuck for ideas, check out YouTube — there’s lots of exercises. Pick out what works for you and make it your own.
Try and see yourself ten, twenty, or whatever, years from now, feeling as fit and healthy as possible and enjoying your life the best you can. Because I believe we all owe ourselves that much. And you get to set a great example to those around you.
Remember: we weren’t built to sit still. We’re designed to move.