Welsh National Opera has announced today that its Long COVID program Wellness with WNO is expanding across Wales.

Six health boards in Wales will be able to offer the rehabilitation service to patients, through direct referral to NHS Long COVID Services. The program shares techniques and strategies used by professional opera singers to support breath control, lung function, circulation, and posture.

Sessions will be delivered via Zoom to enable those living with fatigue to have access to the program without any barriers due to geographical location or ability to attend in-person sessions.

In a statement, about the Wellness with WNO, participant Gabby Curly said “Physically, the Wellness with WNO program gave me practical breathing exercises to relieve muscle tension around my ribs and help me to relax with my breathing. Emotionally, the support I received made me realize that I wasn’t alone. In the sessions, all my worries went out of my head and I found a real joy in taking part in singing. And you don’t have to be a good singer at all! I now have the confidence to sing out loud and not be conscious of whether I’m singing in tune, simply because I know how much it can help.”

Meanwhile, Health Minister Eluned Morgan said, “We are continuing to learn more about the long-term effects of COVID and we believe our approach of treating, supporting and managing people through our unique service model is the most efficient and effective way of achieving the best outcomes for people experiencing Long-COVID. It has been heartening to see the success of the Wellness with WNO project and the significant benefits it has provided for people’s health and wellbeing. I am glad this program will be expanded so even more people can take up the project to support their recovery and rehabilitation.”

This special program has been supported by the Arts Council of Wales: Arts, Health, and Wellbeing Lottery Fund, to specifically benefit the people of Wales both physically and mentally and is being delivered in partnership with Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, Cardiff & Vale University Health Board, Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, Hywel Dda University Health Board, and Swansea Bay University Health Board.

 

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Sesame workshop rolls out self-care content for military families







Sesame Workshop image
A video still shows the Muppet Elmo and his father.

Like many Americans, emotional well-being is something that many military families have said they’re struggling with since the pandemic started, according to Sesame Workshop, which works with the Defense Department to bring information to military families through its websites and free apps.

In response to that, Sesame Workshop has launched new digital resources for military parents and children that offer simple strategies for mental health and self-care. The resources include videos [sesamestreetincommunities.org/topics/veterans-and-changes/ ] demonstrating the importance of finding the little wins, being flexible with routines, meal planning and even learning how to be still and quiet.

“I know it’s not always easy, and self-care doesn’t always feel attainable,” explained Sesame Workshop’s Tara Wright, who’s a mother of three and a military spouse. “But these resources can be a nice little reminder that taking care of yourself really does help your family, and it can also be done with your family. It doesn’t have to be apart.”

Sesame Workshop image
Elmo holds a cardboard guitar while talking with his mother.

For instance, in one of the videos, Elmo’s mom, Mae, is frustrated when she’s trying to make dinner. Elmo’s dad is away with the National Guard, and Elmo really wants his mother to play with him. In that moment, Mae decides she’s going to keep things simple and order a pizza, instead.

“She makes the choice right there: ‘I don’t I don’t have to do it all,'” Wright said. “We know that every night can’t be pizza night, but, in that particular moment, her act of self-care was setting aside a routine that was causing her a lot of stress and instead focusing on spending time with Elmo.”

Wright, who’s raising three boys under age 5 while her Marine Corps husband is on temporary duty, said she definitely finds the videos relatable. After all, while children will enjoy the videos for the Sesame Street connection, the underlying messages are really for the parents.

Sesame Workshop image
Elmos and his dad.

“These are definitely giving some modeling and encouragement to parents that it’s okay to not be at our best all the time and that there are manageable, approachable things that we can do to feel a little bit better,” Wright said. “My kids don’t always understand why I feel frustrated …  but they do understand that I’m making the choice to connect with them. I think that’s what the kids will see in these videos and, especially, what parents will see.”

Sesame Workshop has several other military-related resources, including those that can support families dealing with deployments, long-term caregiving, transition to civilian life, grief and more.  A military spouse and mother of three named Alexis told Sesame Workshop that when her husband was away on temporary duty, it was hard for her to explain to her 3-year-old why he couldn’t see his dad. The Sesame Workshop resources that focus on temporary duty really helped, Alexis said.

“It’s almost like watching the stages of grief take place — they get angry, they get sad, they’re trying to work through big feelings that they don’t understand,” Alexis said. “Having someone like Elmo who’s going through this, too … They can relate to how he’s having a hard time and look up to how he’s dealing with it. Just knowing that you’re not alone in this from someone as relatable as Elmo — it’s so comforting to have that.”

For a lot of the families, it’s the examples of everyday situations that have resonated with them.

“I think military families—everybody thanks us for our service, but, so often, the day-to-day challenges are not really well understood,” Wright said. “It’s really those day-to-day things that we’ve heard from families who say they’re just really appreciative that they’re being represented, and they feel seen.”

The Sesame Workshop resources are free to families and providers and are available in English and Spanish at the Sesame Street for Military Families website [sesamestreetformilitaryfamilies.org/ ] and at sesamestreetincommunities.org.



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Looking to improve your sleep, relationships and mental and physical health? You’re in luck: thanks to a booming self-help industry, there are tens of thousands of books that claim they can transform your life in less than 500 pages.

But here’s the thing: so many self-help books simply aren’t worth your time. While some merely repeat the ideas of others, many contain claims that are at best questionable – and at worst downright pseudoscience that can actively harm you.

That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best, science-based self-help books that can help improve your life.

Best self-help books to read in 2023

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? cover

Dr Julie Smith

While best known for her sub-minute TikToks, Dr Julie Smith has dedicated decades to the study of psychology, running a clinical practice as a member of the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy. And she's drawn from this experience to deliver Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?, an easy-to-understand therapy toolkit designed to help readers traverse an assortment of mental health challenges, from anxiety, depression and low mood and motivation.

The book’s greatest strength: it's brilliantly practical. While other mental health guides can get bogged down in lengthy anecdotes, Smith’s handbook offers short chapters filled with clear, actionable and achievable advice anyone can use.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Cover of Deep Work

Prof Cal Newport

How do you organise your day? Do you attempt to tick off a comprehensive and ambitious to-do list, only to waste your hours in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media? As Georgetown University’s Prof Cal Newport explains, the to-do list is bound to lead to such frustration – but there is a much better way to organise your time.

In this book of practical advice, he outlines his time-blocking management system that carefully considers both how long each task takes and how much time you have available. Then comes the important bit. Newport outlines how readers should and can dedicate more time to deep work – that’s work without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. With the help of compelling scientific studies, Newport argues why organising your day around chunks of deep work will improve your focus, productivity and creativity.

Importantly, Deep Work is not a manifesto for working harder and longer. It’s the opposite. Yes, Newport’s time management advice is geared towards greater productivity, but also a better work-life balance free from crippling time famine.

A Path through the Jungle: Psychological Health and Wellbeing Programme to Develop Robustness and Resilience

Cover of A Path Through the Jungle

Prof Steve Peters

When it was first released, Prof Steve Peters’s The Chimp Paradox was applauded for its straightforward explanation of how the human brain processes emotion, and how to better manage those emotions. It became a best-seller and was praised by the likes of former footballer Steven Gerrard and Olympic champion Victoria Pendleton.

However, the book had a problem. For some, The Chimp Paradox was too simplistic, with much of the neuroscience underpinning the book’s mind management programme left unexplained. A Path Through the Jungle is the remedy to this. While the language is still simple, Peters gives a fuller picture of the complex neural networks behind your emotions and stress responses. And it’s from this deeper explanation of the brain’s systems, the reader can better learn to manage their inner emotion machine (what Peters calls ‘The Chimp’).

An extremely comprehensive guide to improving your mental health in a plethora of areas.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

Cover of Breath

James Nestor

Ever feel like the whole self-improvement game is just learning you have a list of never-ending insufficiencies? If so, you may meet this claim from journalist James Nestor with some resistance: you’re breathing wrong. Specifically, you’re probably breathing through your mouth a lot of the time.

Why does that matter? Well, as Nestor’s engaging, surprising and thorough book explains, it could have major implications for your health. With the help of leading researchers – and an impressively large reference section – Breath unpacks how simply breathing better can radically transform our physical and mental health.

The Sleep Fix: Practical, Proven, and Surprising Solutions for Insomnia, Snoring, Shift Work, and More

Cover of The Sleep Fix

Diane Macedo

Many of the best sleep books, such as Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep?, have highlighted the importance of getting enough slumber. But when it comes to practical advice, much in these guides isn't compatible with everyday life. For instance, it's common sleep advice to wake up and fall asleep at the same time every day. But what about shift workers?

That’s where The Sleep Fix comes in. Penned by US news anchor Diane Macedo, this book contains realistic and flexible sleep remedies, using advice from the world’s leading sleep experts. Drawing from scientific literature and her own experience as an overnight worker, Macedo explains in simple terms how to overcome snoring, insomnia, shift work, sleep apnea, anxiety, restless sleep syndrome and much much more.

Packed with unexpected but worthwhile advice, this book is worthwhile for those who feel they’ve tried everything else.

Four Thousand Weeks

Cover of Four Thousand Weeks

Oliver Burkeman

How long is the average human life? The answer, as you may guess from this book title, is a mere 4000 weeks. It may seem like a worryingly small number, but as journalist and productivity geek Oliver Burkeman points out, accepting our ridiculously short time on Earth could be the key to living a more fulfilled life.

More like this

Drawing from scientists and history’s great philosophers, Burkeman makes the case that our obsession with overfilling inboxes, ceaselessly growing to-do lists and never-ending searches for self-improvement will never truly leave us satisfied. Our limitations, he argues, are better embraced than denied.

Overall, this is a part self-help, part anti-self-help book, that seeks to realign your relationship with time – and work out how to best spend your 4,000 weeks.

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Is sweating good for you? Sweat is often seen as a negative bodily function, causing discomfort and embarrassment in many people. However, sweat is actually good for you in many ways and has several surprising benefits that you may not have known about. In this article, we will explore the different benefits of sweat and why it is essential for our overall health and well-being.


Is Sweating Good For You? Benefits Of Sweating You Didn't Know About

1) Regulates body temperature

First, sweat is great for you and an excellent way to regulate body temperature. When we exercise, our body temperature rises, and sweating helps to cool us down. This process allows our body to maintain a consistent internal temperature, which is crucial for many of our physiological processes to function correctly. For example, if our body temperature becomes too high, it can affect our heart rate, breathing, and muscle function, which can lead to serious health problems. By sweating, we are able to prevent these issues and keep our bodies functioning optimally.

Sweat is actually great for your body and helps regulate body temperature. (Image via pexels/Ketut Subiyanto)
Sweat is actually great for your body and helps regulate body temperature. (Image via pexels/Ketut Subiyanto)

2) Removes toxins

Another surprising benefit of sweat is that it helps to remove toxins from the body. Our sweat contains small amounts of waste products, such as urea, uric acid, and creatinine, which are eliminated from our bodies when we sweat. This is an essential process as these toxins can build up in our bodies over time and cause health problems. Sweat is a natural way to detoxify our bodies, helping to keep us healthy and functioning at our best.

3) Good for your skin

Sweat is also beneficial for our skin. When we sweat, our pores open up, allowing dirt, oil, and other impurities to be removed from our skin. This can help to prevent breakouts and promote a clearer complexion. Additionally, sweat contains antimicrobial peptides that can help to protect our skin from harmful bacteria, which is especially important for those with sensitive skin. Furthermore, sweat can help to increase blood flow to the skin, providing it with essential nutrients and oxygen to keep it healthy and glowing.

Sweating helps your skin look healthier and cleaner! (Image via pexels/Andres Ayrton)
Sweating helps your skin look healthier and cleaner! (Image via pexels/Andres Ayrton)

4) Boosts mood

Another benefit of sweat is that it can boost our mood and reduce stress. When we sweat, our body releases endorphins, which are natural mood-enhancing chemicals. These endorphins can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, leaving us feeling happier and more relaxed. Additionally, sweat also contains cortisol, a hormone that helps to regulate stress levels. By sweat, we are able to naturally regulate our stress levels and improve our overall mood and well-being.

5) Can help weight control

Sweat is also excellent when you exercise. While sweat isn't necessarily an indicator of weight loss or a good workout, if you do happen to be perspiring during your gym session, you're on the right track. Sweat can also help maintain a healthy weight. Additionally, sweat can also help to strengthen our immune system, as it contains cytokines, which are proteins that help to fight off infections and illnesses. Furthermore, sweating can also help to improve cardiovascular health by increasing blood flow and reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Trying sweat-inducing workouts is a great way to get started in the gym!

Sweating may help with weight loss, but not in the way you think. (Image via pexels/Andrea Piacquadio)
Sweating may help with weight loss, but not in the way you think. (Image via pexels/Andrea Piacquadio)

6) Helps your hydration levels

Finally, sweat is essential for our overall hydration levels. When we sweat, we lose water, which can dehydrate our bodies if we do not replace it. However, by drinking water, we are able to replace this lost fluid, keeping our bodies hydrated and functioning optimally. Additionally, hydration is crucial for many of our physiological processes, such as digestion, circulation, and temperature regulation, making it essential to maintain proper hydration levels through sweating and fluid intake.


In conclusion, perspiring is a natural and essential bodily function that provides many surprising benefits for our health and well-being. Whether it is regulating body temperature, removing toxins, improving skin health, boosting our mood, providing exercise, or maintaining hydration levels, sweating is an important process that should not be overlooked. So, next time you sweat, remember that it is good for you and embrace it as a vital part of your overall health and well-being.

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Since its launch in November 2021, the programme has helped patients cope with the symptoms of Long Covid and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression

Welsh National Opera (WNO) has today announced the expansion of its Long Covid rehabilitation programme. Wellness with WNO will now be available to patients through six health boards across Wales.

Created in consultation with English National Opera based on its original ENO Breathe project. The programme shares techniques used by professional opera singers to support breath control, lung function, circulation and posture. To remove barriers to those living with fatigue as a symptom of Long Covid, sessions are delivered via Zoom.

WNO producer April Heade said: ‘We know that the arts make a particularly powerful contribution to our health and wellbeing, and we have seen firsthand the enormously positive impact these sessions have had on participants who have attended so far.’

The programme was also devised with NHS medical professionals and works to support patients’ emotional wellbeing through singing sessions and through building a community of participants. Since it was launched in November 2021, participants have reported improvements in mental health, and reduced feelings of anxiety and depression.

Gabby Curly, who took part in Wellness with WNO, said: ‘Physically, the Wellness with WNO programme gave me practical breathing exercises to relieve muscle tension around my ribs and help me to relax with my breathing. Emotionally, the support I received made me realise that I wasn’t alone. In the sessions, all my worries went out of my head and I found a real joy in taking part in singing’

WNO has worked with communities across England and Wales since the 1970s. In 2022, WNO worked with 158,000 participants across 74 projects both digital and in person.

Welsh health minister Eluned Morgan supports the Wellness programme. She said: ‘We are continuing to learn more about the long-term effects of Covid and we believe our approach of treating, supporting and managing people through our unique service model is the most efficient and effective way of achieving the best outcomes for people experiencing Long Covid.’

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What is pulmonary rehabilitation?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a medically-supervised exercise and education program designed to help with difficulty breathing or if you are increasingly limited in your everyday activities due to COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other lung diseases.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is offered at the following locations:

MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center

MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center

MercyOne Elkader Medical Center

MercyOne Waterloo Medical Center

MercyOne Oelwein Medical Center

MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center

Our pulmonary rehabilitation experts understand the life-changing difficulties breathing problems can cause for you. We will help you improve your quality of life through emotional support, exercise and education.

How does pulmonary rehabilitation work?

Pulmonary rehabilitation incorporates physical reconditioning, self-care education, breathing exercises and techniques to improve your ability to carry out your daily activities. The program will also help you reduce the risks and complications of lung irritation and/or infection and promote social interaction and emotional well-being.

By attending classes, you will learn many things about your lungs. The exercise classes will help you be more active with less shortness of breath. Usually, you will be exercising both your arms and legs. The exercise classes will help you feel better and become stronger by helping you get into better shape.

Pulmonary rehabilitation will help you:

  • Alleviate shortness of breath with activity
  • Cope with feelings of fear or apprehension
  • Improve your quality of life
  • Increase exercise tolerance and strengthen breathing muscles
  • Increase your ability to function independently
  • Learn more about your disease, treatment options, coping strategies and breathing techniques
  • Maintain health behaviors
  • Recognize, treat and resist respiratory infection and flare-ups
  • Reduce and control breathing difficulties
  • Reduce exacerbations and hospitalizations

Who could benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation?

You can benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation if you have had:

  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
    • emphysema
    • chronic bronchitis
  • cystic fibrosis (CF)
  • interstitial lung disease
    • sarcoidosis
    • pulmonary fibrosis
  • lung surgery
  • muscular dystrophy
  • and other lung diseases

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Black people are facing the consequences of delayed action against soot pollution — including premature death and serious health problems.
(Credit: Pixabay / Pexels)

by Harry Johnson ll

Visually breathtaking moments are a joy, from Simone Biles doing her signature double-flip with a half-twist to Steph Curry nailing one of his lethal 3-point shots. They don’t happen as often as we would like.

But most people experience breathtaking moments from inhaling soot-filled polluted air. Such moments bring no joy — just pain — from seeing a relative having a heart attack to being a child, like I was, suffering from asthma, or hearing others living with asthma yelling, “I can’t breathe.” We need cleaner air to breathe, to live and to thrive. We can get it by reducing pollution. One solution is strong standards on soot pollution. 

As young voices in the environmental justice and climate movement, NextGen America is urging the Biden administration to use all their authority to reduce the dangers of air pollution that diminishes the opportunities my generation might have to build health and wealth. An immediate effort to rectify the risks starts with more substantial soot pollution standards to protect the breath and health of our present and future generations. 

Earlier this month, the EPA took steps to tighten soot standards. Unfortunately, they were not enough. We need much stronger standards to protect our health, prevent premature deaths and advance environmental justice. Every day the administration delays taking strong actions only means more air and climate pollution in our communities and our lungs. 

On average, healthy adults breathe 12 to 20 breaths per minute or over 20,000 breaths daily. Soot is a danger to breathing. It’s a pollutant that can be inhaled, flowing from your lungs directly to your bloodstream, and poses heightened risks for children, seniors, and people with chronic illnesses.

Soot pollution can come from power plant smokestacks, exhaust fumes from cars, buses and trucks, and industrial sources that burn fossil fuels. Therefore, exposure to soot is linked to many health risks and chronic conditions, including asthma, heart disease, COPD, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, low birth weight, greater risk of pre-term birth, and higher infant mortality rates. 

If you live and work in areas where the air is clean and pristine, the chances of polluted air exposure from soot may be minimal. But if you are a Black or Hispanic person, if you live in a low-wealth community or other communities traditionally overburdened by pollution, every breath you take probably has an impact on your health and well-being due to soot particles.

Communities of color, especially Black communities, are disproportionately exposed to soot, an unfortunate consequence of decades of racially biased policy-making that continues unabated in many communities today. As a result, Blacks are overrepresented among those who either die prematurely or suffer health problems due to soot pollution. 

The lag in creating much stronger soot standards prolongs pollution’s risky health impact on our country and communities. The Biden administration can save nearly 20,000 lives each year with stronger limits on soot pollution. By tightening soot protections, other dangerous pollution from these sources will also be reduced. For Black communities, which are often overburdened with exposure to toxic pollutants, stronger soot standards would also help narrow racial disparities in health outcomes. 

Few people may be capable of taking our breath away like Simone Biles or Steph Curry can. But the Biden administration has both an opportunity and a responsibility to deliver a breathtaking policy moment by making stronger soot standards a reality. 

Every delay in setting better standards for providing cleaner air, protecting our health, and advancing environmental justice is a deadly blow to our generation’s health. It leaves young people in America facing the deadly consequences for generations. We don’t want the climate and pollution crisis robbing our generation or the next of health and wealth opportunities. 

We have the power of our voices to remind the President and EPA to make it a top priority to set federal pollution protections with the urgency science demands and our health and well-being commands to thrive into the future. We also have the power to continue electing climate and environmental justice champions. Our health and our climate can’t wait. We need action now.

Harry Johnson ll is vice president of strategic partnerships at NextGen America, a national public and political affairs executive, serial entrepreneur, fundraiser, and community builder. A North Carolina native, Johnson formerly held a number of senior political roles with multiple gubernatorial campaigns and campaigns for U.S. Congress and U.S. Senate. He also led federal government affairs for Dream Corps, Green For All.

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The Benefits of Breathing through the Nose

Breathing through the nose is often considered the better option as compared to breathing through the mouth. The following are some of the reasons why nose breathing is better for our health:

1. Filters the air we breathe

The nose is equipped with tiny hairs and mucus membranes that help filter out harmful particles from the air we breathe. This helps prevent unwanted particles from entering our lungs and causing damage.

2. Increases oxygen levels

The nose is designed to warm and humidify the air we breathe, which helps increase the amount of oxygen that enters our bloodstream. This leads to improved oxygen levels, which can enhance our physical and mental performance.

3. Regulates breathing patterns

Breathing through the nose helps regulate our breathing patterns, which can help calm our bodies and reduce stress levels. This is particularly important during physical activity, where mouth breathing can cause rapid, shallow breaths that can lead to hyperventilation and increased anxiety.

4. Supports the immune system

The filtering and humidifying properties of the nose also support our immune system by reducing the risk of airborne infections and illness. This is because the nose helps trap harmful bacteria and viruses before they can reach our lungs and cause damage.

Conclusion

In conclusion, breathing through the nose is a simple yet effective way to improve our health and wellbeing. From filtering the air we breathe to increasing oxygen levels, regulating breathing patterns and supporting the immune system, nose breathing has numerous benefits that can enhance our daily lives.

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We’ve long known that meditation benefits both our mental and physical wellbeing. Mindful meditation has been shown to reduce stress levels, improve focus and boost self-awareness, and it’s a practice beloved by celebrities from Beyoncé to Oprah Winfrey.

And with new research showing that long-term, deep meditation is associated with an enriched gut microbiome, the benefits just keep growing. From enhanced immune function to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, is it time we all adopted a more Zen-like state? 

The gut-brain axis is key

“The gut plays a pivotal part in our mental health,” explains coach and therapist Marilyn Devonish. “The large and small intestine are directly linked to the vagus nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body and is one of the main regulators of the parasympathetic nervous system, helping to control heartbeat, respiration and digestion, among other things.”

“Within the field of mental health and psychological wellbeing, the gut-brain connection is an incredible development in recent years,” agrees chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey

“We now know that there is a two-way connection between the brain and the gut where the gut can be the cause or the product of mental health difficulties such as anxiety, stress or depression. For example, IBS and anxiety are known to trigger one another. Therefore, your gut plays a crucial role in your general wellbeing.”

In this case, the researchers aimed to explore whether the gut-brain axis can be influenced by the quality and range of gut bacteria. 

What do monks have to do with it?

Researchers from the Shanghai Mental Health Centre at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University school of medicine looked at stool samples from a small group of Tibetan Buddhist monks from three different temples, alongside samples from their neighbours outside the monastery, to determine whether deep meditation can alter the composition of the gut microbiome.

The monks studied traditional Tibetan Buddhist meditation, originating in the ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda. They focused on Samatha, the practice of calm abiding, which steadies and concentrates the mind by resting the individual’s attention on a single object or mantra, and Vipassana, which, according to the researchers “is an insightful meditation practice that enables one to enquire into the true nature of all phenomena”.

Monks have enriched microbiota

The results, published by the British Medical Journal, were fascinating.

“We confirmed that the gut microbiota composition differed between the monks and control subjects,” the researchers said. “The microbiota enriched in monks was associated with a reduced risk of anxiety, depression and cardiovascular disease and could enhance immune function. Overall, these results suggest that meditation plays a positive role in psychosomatic conditions and wellbeing.”

Buddhist monks walking towards Ankor Wat
Can meditation really benefit our gut microbiome?

So how does meditation help?

“Meditation has a beneficial effect on the body as whole and this certainly includes the gut,” advises meditation teacher and slow living advocate Chloë Webster. “The gastrointestinal tract is very sensitive to changes in emotion caused by the brain – stress, anger, frustration and overwhelm can all trigger symptoms in the gut.

“Meditation helps guts stay healthy by regulating the stress response,” Webster continues. “By bringing your awareness to your breathing, you kickstart your parasympathetic system more commonly known as ‘rest and digest’. This lessens chronic inflammation to help maintain a healthy gut.”

“When there are good bacteria in the gut, the by-product can affect mood, behaviour, concentration and cognition,” agrees Devonish. “Just imagine trying to sit an exam, chair a meeting or deliver a keynote presentation with an upset stomach, and this gives an idea of how crucial the gut-brain connection can be.”

Good bacteria can equal less anxiety

“What the study suggests is that long-term deep meditation is associated with better gut health and, of particular interest, that several of the bacteria that were enriched in the deep meditators are associated with a reduced risk of anxiety and depression,” explains Hallissey.

“This suggests that meditation influenced the bacteria associated with mental health, and while the study was based on a small sample size, the results are promising. Further investigation to determine the potential of deep meditation to help regulate the gut microbiome and promote psychological wellbeing would be valuable.”

Got a spare couple of hours for the next 30 years?

However, even for those of us who prioritise self-care and downtime, achieving the amount of deep, long-term meditation suggested by the study is optimistic, to say the least.

“Deep meditation is unlikely to be easy to fit into most people’s busy schedules,” agrees Hallissey.

Given that the monks in the study had practised meditating for at least two hours a day for between three and 30 years, further research would be needed to establish a link between smaller daily periods of meditation – but that’s not to say that there aren’t benefits to building some meditation practices into your day. 

It doesn’t have to be lengthy and complicated

“Start with something as simple as the breath,” recommends Devonish. “Breathe in and out more slowly, deeply and consciously. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.

“Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, has a number of benefits, including lowering blood pressure and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the body’s natural relaxation response. When you relax and breathe through meditation, it can have a calming effect on the gut, and a transformational impact on the mind.”

If it’s good enough for Beyoncé, it’s worth a try, right? 

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In today’s lifestyle we have lost the understanding of the pivotal role breathing has on our body. Breathing provides oxygen to produce energy and maintain normal metabolism.

Exhaling carbon dioxide helps in maintaining pH levels in the blood. Deep breathing activates the relaxation response and reduces blood pressure and heart beat. This helps in reduction of stress. Proper breathing has shown to boost the immune system by increasing oxygenation, and improving mental health.

Our body controls breathing through a complex interplay between the respiratory centre in the brain and the muscles. The respiratory centre is located in the medulla oblongata and pons regions of the brainstem. It receives input from sensory receptors in the body and regulates the rate and depth of breathing. The respiratory centre receives signals from chemoreceptors in the blood and the brain, which monitor the levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and pH in the body. If the levels of these substances change, the respiratory centre adjusts the rate of breathing accordingly. The respiratory centre sends signals to the motor neurons that control the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, which regulate the volume of air in the lungs and the rate of breathing. The process of breathing is regulated by a feedback loop, where the rate and depth of breathing are adjusted based on the body’s need for oxygen and the levels of carbon dioxide and pH in the body.

There are various breathing patterns, each with a unique impact on the body. Some of the most common types include: Diaphragmatic breathing which involves breathing deeply into the diaphragm, expanding the abdomen, and filling the lungs with air. Another is controlled breathing which refers to techniques used to regulate the rate and depth of breathing, such as slow, deep breathing or breath-holding. Whereas mouth breathing refers to breathing through the mouth rather than the nose, and can impact the body’s ability to filter and humidify inhaled air. Shallow breathing involves taking shallow breaths that do not fully expand the lungs, and can be a sign of stress or anxiety. Rapid breathing is when the rate of breathing increases, can be a symptom of a variety of medical conditions, including panic attacks, asthma, and heart problems. It’s interesting to know Clavicular breathing is a type of shallow breathing that involves only the upper chest, and can occur as a result of stress or tension. The most famous Yogic breathing is type of breathing which involves various techniques used in yoga and meditation, including pranayama, which involves controlled breathing to promote physical and mental well-being.

Different activities and situations may require different breathing patterns. Diaphragmatic breathing involves using the diaphragm, a muscle at the bottom of the ribcage, to control the flow of air into the lungs. To practice diaphragmatic breathing, lie down on your back, place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, and breathe deeply, focusing on moving your belly up and down as you inhale and exhale. Whereas slowing down the rate of breathing and taking deep breaths can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. To practice slow and deep breathing, inhale slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth, focusing on the sensation of your breath. On the other hand, breathing through the nose can help filter, warm, and moisten the air before it enters the lungs, which can improve lung function and reduce the risk of respiratory infections. Pursed-lip breathing involves exhaling through pursed lips, like you’re blowing out a candle. It can help improve lung function and reduce shortness of breath in individuals with lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In general, the correct way to breathe is the one in which you feel comfortable and allows you to take deep breaths without strain. If you have a medical condition that affects your breathing, it is important to consult a doctor for specific guidance.

Advantages of proper breathing are many like Improved oxygenation, reduced stress and anxiety, increased energy levels, better posture, improved focus and concentration, reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders, improved digestion, enhanced athletic performance, better sleep quality, boosted immune system, etc.

As we all know, yoga and deep breathing helps calm the nervous system. The breath aspect of yoga is called ‘pranayama’. Pranayama is a Sanskrit word which means "regulation of breath." It is a type of yogic breathing that involves controlled breathing exercises to promote physical and mental well-being.

In pranayama, the focus is on controlling the breath through specific techniques, such as slow and deep breathing, breath-holding, and alternate nostril breathing. These techniques are believed to help regulate the flow of prana, or life force energy, in the body, promoting physical, mental, and emotional balance.

Pranayama is often used in conjunction with yoga postures (asanas) and meditation, as a means of calming the mind and reducing stress. It is believed to have several benefits, including improved respiratory function, increased oxygenation of the body, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved overall well-being. Pranayama should only be practiced under the guidance of a trained instructor, as improper technique can lead to health issues.

We can also improve our breathing patterns by regularly exercising, maintaining moderate weight, avoiding cigarettes and tobacco consumption, avoiding eating large meals, staying hydrated, etc.



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When it comes to doing Pilates during pregnancy, many people ask me if it’s safe. Yes, with your healthcare provider’s permission, it is safe to do Pilates while pregnant. Pilates can support every stage of pregnancy through birth and the postpartum period.3

Like prenatal yoga, prenatal Pilates can be safe and beneficial for many women because it is a low-impact, whole-body exercise that places an emphasis on breathing, strength, mobility, and flexibility. However, it’s essential to find an instructor specializing in prenatal and postnatal Pilates since no two pregnancies are the same, and everybody is different. Pilates commonly focuses on posture, joint movement and flexibility, stress relief, and improving balance and strength during the prenatal period.3,4

Strength Training for Flexibility and Balance

It is essential not to overstretch the body when pregnant. Pilates is a form of training that increases strength and improves flexibility and balance. In Mat Pilates, we use body weight and small props to create resistance. On the other Pilates apparatus (Reformer, Cadillac, and Chair), the main form of resistance is the springs, which train clients to stabilize and help them improve balance and control.

According to Joseph Pilates, “I invented all these machines . . . it resists your movements in just the right way, so those inner muscles really have to work against it. That way, you can concentrate on movement. You must always do it slowly and smoothly. Then your whole body is in it.”1

Many people say Pilates strengthens from the inside out. This is because we focus on those inner muscles, initiate every exercise with core engagement, and engage the deep abdominal muscles with each exhale. The idea behind this way of working out is that every movement comes from the core (or “the powerhouse”), which allows for more efficient movement patterns throughout the body.

Pilates During Pregnancy Helps Stabilize Your Body

Pilates also focuses on strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints and stabilizing one body part as another moves. The movements are less integrated than in yoga, but those integrated yoga flows will still be there after the baby is born. As with all physical activity during pregnancy, it is essential to listen to your body. Although Pilates is safe, the intensity must be lighter to avoid increasing the body temperature and heart rate when pregnant since pregnancy can naturally increase these already.4,5

Pilates can help manage or eliminate the typical aches and pains associated with pregnancy. It also helps improve posture, which is very important because as the baby grows, it can disrupt a woman’s normal posture, which can cause pain in the lower back, shoulders, and hips.2

In Pilates, we work to strengthen the middle back and all the muscles surrounding the shoulder blades. This focus—in conjunction with breathing, which engages the deep stabilizing muscles of the trunk—significantly improves posture.

Pilates Exercises to Do During Pregnancy

All Fours Hip Extension

1. Start on all fours, shoulders stacked over wrists, hips stacked over knees. Begin with one leg straight behind you, toes touching the mat.

2. Inhale: Prepare

3. Exhale: Lift the leg only as high as the back remains flat like a table (don’t allow the spine to arch)

4. Inhale: Lower the leg

5. Repeat 10x-20x on each side.

Note: You can perform this exercise with the knee bent if it is too intense with a straight leg. For more glute and hamstring work, add a band around the knees.

All Fours Triceps Kickback

1. Start on all fours, shoulders stacked over wrists, hips stacked over knees. Place a weight in one hand and start with that arm bent (elbow by your waist with the palm facing in or down).

2. Inhale: Prepare

3. Exhale: Extend the arm straight back toward the hip

4. Inhale: Return to the start position

5. Repeat 10-20x on each side. Take a Child’s Pose stretch in between sides.

Side Lying “Hydrants”

1. Lay on your side with shoulders and hips stacked, knees and hips bent at a 90-degree angle. For an added challenge, place a band around your knees.

2. Inhale: Prepare

3. Exhale: Lift the top leg as high as possible with hips remaining stacked and the pelvis stable.

4. Inhale: Lower to start position

5. Do 20 reps, then perform 10 leg circles in each direction.

Side Bend with Side Leg Lift

1. Start by lying on one side, your head propped on your bottom elbow, and your top hand in front of the torso for balance. Legs straight and together with body in one long line. To increase the challenge, add a ball between the ankles.

2. Inhale: Prepare

3. Exhale: Squeeze the inner thighs, and lift both legs off the mat

4. Inhale: Maintain legs together and resist the legs back down to the floor

5. Repeat 10-20x on each side.

Squats & Sumo Squats

1. Start by standing with legs about hip distance apart and parallel (or shoulder distance apart with legs externally rotated).

2. Inhale: Prepare

3. Exhale: Squat, hinging at the hips to send your weight back toward your heels and keeping your spine straight

4. Repeat 10-20 reps of each type. For more of a challenge, add a band around the knees or incorporate arm work by adding free weights.

Things to Remember When Doing Pilates During Pregnancy

  • Avoid exercises that create compression or stress in the abdominal area, like crunches or twisting. Although flexion and rotation are contraindicated, side bending is excellent for gently strengthening and stretching the obliques.3
  • Avoid bridging, as it can put too much pressure on the vena cava vein.3
  • Lie on your back for no longer than 10 minutes at a time, and change body positions frequently if discomfort occurs.6

In all Pilates classes, but specifically for our prenatal clients, we focus on strengthening the extremities. Strong legs and glutes help during delivery, and strong shoulders and arms help after the baby is born. The mental component of Pilates is also a considerable benefit for pregnant women. The mind-body connection fostered by Pilates has many benefits, including stress relief, enhanced concentration, boosting immunity, and generally promoting well-being.7 The moms-to-be in our studio love the mental aspect and breath work in Pilates, especially if they have a toddler at home!

Resources
1. www.pilatesfoundation.com/
2. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34215198/
3. www.healthline.com/health/fitness/
4. www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/what-to-know
5. www.healthline.com/health/hot#heating-pads
6. www.acog.org/health/faqs/exercise
7. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3445206/



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Breathwork is a holistic practice that involves using specific breathing techniques to improve physical, emotional, and mental well-being. The practice has been around for centuries, but it has only recently begun to gain recognition in the scientific community. In this article, we will explore the science behind breathwork training and the various benefits that it can provide.

Stress and Anxiety

One of the key benefits of breathwork is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that a single session of breathwork was able to significantly reduce cortisol levels, the hormone that is associated with stress. Additionally, the study found that participants experienced a decrease in anxiety and an improvement in mood.

Chronic Pain

Another area where breathwork has been found to be effective is in the management of chronic pain. A study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies found that participants who practiced breathwork for eight weeks experienced a significant reduction in chronic pain, as well as an improvement in quality of life.

Respiratory Conditions

Breathwork has also been found to be beneficial for individuals who suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A study published in the Journal of Asthma found that a 12-week breathwork program was able to improve lung function, reduce symptoms, and increase exercise tolerance in patients with asthma. A similar study published in the European Respiratory Journal found that COPD patients who practiced breathwork experienced an improvement in lung function, as well as a reduction in dyspnoea (shortness of breath).

Mental Health

Additionally, Breathwork has been found to be beneficial for mental health conditions such as depression and PTSD. A study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that a single session of breathwork was able to reduce symptoms of PTSD. Another study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that a 12-week breathwork program was able to reduce symptoms of depression.

General Well-Being

Breathwork has also been found to be beneficial for overall well-being. A study published in the International Journal of Behavioural Medicine found that breathwork was associated with an increase in self-compassion, mindfulness, and a decrease in negative affect.

In conclusion, breathwork is a holistic practice that has been found to be beneficial for a wide range of physical and mental health conditions. The practice has been found to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety, managing chronic pain, improving respiratory function, and improving overall well-being.

References:

  1. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, “A randomized controlled trial of the effects of a single session of yogic breathing in patients with asthma”
  2. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, “The effectiveness of breath work in the management of chronic pain: A systematic review”
  3. Journal of Asthma, “The effects of pranayamic type of yoga breathing on airway reactivity in asthma: a randomized controlled trial”
  4. European Respiratory Journal, “Pranayamic breathing in the management of moderate to severe COPD: a pilot study”
  5. Journal of Traumatic Stress, “Preliminary report: single session of slow breathing in the treatment of PTSD symptoms”
  6. Journal of Affective Disorders, “The effects of a 12-week breath work intervention on depression, anxiety, and well-being”
  7. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, “The effects of a brief breath-based meditation on self-compassion and affect in a non-clinical sample”



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Earlier this month, we held the first inaugural Strong Women Wellbeing Summit in partnership with Fitbit. The theme? How to thrive in an uncertain world. ‘Oh, how pertinent,’ I hear you thinking. Well, we might not be able to control the rate of inflation, the goings on in Westminster or the war-hungry antics of certain world leaders, but better wellbeing is something we can work towards.

Wellbeing, at its very core, is about feeling good. It means having the energy to go about our day-to-day lives with reserves for the odd stressful event or speedy 10k. It’s having the mental bandwidth to concentrate and a positive mood that sees us able to socialise, work and relax without feeling pranged out.  

Who wouldn’t want to feel more well, especially now, when we’re constantly fighting off bad news, time suckers and screens? Read on for five simple tips that our brilliant Summit experts offered for living a happier, stronger, more focused life in 2023.  

Get up at the same time every day for more energy

Ahead of the Summit, we asked three Stylist staffers to track their sleep on a Fitbit. The idea was to find out their sleeping patterns and then have an expert look over the data to see what could be improved. Interestingly the one thing each of our panellists seemed to struggle with was waking up in the morning – for different reasons. Fliss, for example, is a new-ish mum who’s kept awake by her daughter crawling into bed with her. Ellen’s still recovering from years of eye-watering shift patterns and Zoe commutes between London and Aberdeen. Enough said. 

Three of our most tired staffers shared their sleeping habits with a sleep therapist.
Three of our most tired staffers shared their sleeping habits with a sleep therapist.

While they each received a bunch of personalised insights based on their Fitbit data, sleep therapist Natalie Pennicotte-Collier suggested that the single best thing everyone could do was to wake up at the same time every day (or six mornings a week) and actually get out of bed when your alarm goes off. Why? Because snoozing can lead to ‘junk sleep’ – the kind of restless, rubbish sleep that leaves you feeling drowsy throughout the day. 

You’re better off, Pennicotte-Collier told us, getting up when you intend to and getting into some sunlight. You can always go back to bed for a nap later on. 

Raised push-ups are better for you than the knees-down variation

Hands up if you always do push-ups on your knees. It’s an option PTs always offer during class workouts but you may have found it really hard to progress from knees to a full push-up. That’s because, Gauri Chopra explained: “When we’re doing a push-up, we want to think about a rod going from the base of the head, through the back to the sacrum,” she explained. The problem with doing the move on your knees, Chopra says, is that “it takes out the lever to help push you up and train you how to do a full push-up. Instead, try to do push-ups against a wall or raised surface.”

In other words, if your knees are on the floor, you’re cutting the journey between the top of the position to the floor in half – and that makes it really difficult to progress.

How to do a chair/box push-up:

  1. Place your hands on the chair or box, hands besides your chest (slightly wider)
  2. Step back so you’re in a plank, with hands under shoulders
  3. Keep pushing up through the hands to engage the core and retract the shoulders
  4. Slowly bend your elbows to bring your chest towards the box/chair
  5. Push back up

It doesn’t matter if your chest doesn’t meet the chair or box – the idea of this move is to work up to increasing depth. 

Five minutes of breathwork can significantly calm you down

It’s fair to say that before the Summit started, several members of the Strong Women team were feeling on edge. You just never know when it comes to live events – anything can happen. 

Fortunately, the first speaker to come onto the stage was breathwork facilitator Rebecca Moore. She got us all to close our eyes, sit with our feet grounded on the floor and then try the following simple breathing exercises:

Exercise one

  1. Place your hands over your belly
  2. Allow your belly to soften, as if it’s dropping into your hands
  3. Breathe slowly into the palms of your hands
  4. Release naturally
  5. Repeat twice

Exercise two

  1. Put your left hand on your chest, keeping the right hand on the belly
  2. Inhale, sending the breath into your right hand
  3. Take another inhalation to bring that breath into your chest 
  4. Steadily release the breath
  5. Repeat twice

Exercise three

  1. Inhale for four seconds
  2. Pause at the top for four
  3. Exhale for four seconds
  4. Repeat three times

Exercise four

  1. Lastly, inhale for four seconds
  2. Exhale for four seconds
  3. Pause at the bottom for four seconds
  4. Repeat three times

Need a little more guidance? The Fitbit Sense 2 smartwatch tracks stress and offers guided breathing techniques for calming down in next to no time.

Add beans to your rice to up your plant protein and fibre intake

We’re constantly being told to eat more fruit and veg, with Dr Tim Spector leading the charge to encourage people to eat 30 different plants a week. But plants go way beyond broccoli and apples. Seeds, nuts, legumes, pulses – they’re all brimming with fibre and they all count.

And one very simple way to increase your plant intake is to simply mix beans with your rice.

Registered dietitian and lecturer Tai Ibitoye told us that while we’re advised to eat 30g of fibre a day, most Brits are only getting around 18g. That can have dire consequences for gut health as a whopping 95% of our serotonin is made in the gut and 80% of the immune system is located there too.

Fibre has a number of benefits, including:

  • Increasing short-chain fatty acid production
  • Improving our mood and cognitive processes
  • Increased feelings of fullness and satiety 
bowl of rice and beans
Mixing beans into your rice is a simple way of upping your plant protein intake.

Ibitoye explained that upping your fibre intake even slightly can help to support blood sugar levels: “Soluble fibre forms a gel with water, which helps to slow down the entry of glucose to the bloodstream.”

And the soluble fibre superstars? Beans. One cup of black beans has 4.8g of soluble fibre. Add them to your regular rice and not only do you end up with a cheap, filling side dish that contains a minimum of 9g of fibre, but also plenty of protein. 

We all know that animal-based foods such as eggs, fish, poultry, red meat and dairy are ‘complete’ sources of protein. That means they contain all nine essential amino acids that we need to get from food in adequate quantities.

But it’s also more than possible to get complete vegan protein sources by combining various plants, such as beans and rice. They each contain the amino acids the other food is missing.  

Focus on feeling grateful for yourself, rather than always looking externally

Neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart specialises in neuroplasticity, the nervous system’s ability to change its activity in response to stress. “The way to get cortisol out of your body is by sweating it out physically, getting the negative emotions out by journaling or speaking to someone,” she told our audience.

While that might not come as a surprise to come, more interesting was her tip for getting the most out of journaling.

“What has built up my resilience more than anything is switching my focus from gratitude for external things (such as friends, family, career opportunities and travel) to internal factors (such as my creativity, vulnerability and ability to adapt),” she continued.  

“So now, when something stressful happens, through journaling I’m much more aware of what tools I have to help me to deal with the situation.”

If you tend to think about what you feel grateful for before bed, try to redirect the focus to your own attributes. Perhaps you handled a tricky situation at work and are thankful for your resilience. Maybe you’re thankful for prioritising rest over a brutal gym session. Or maybe you’re just grateful for the culinary skills that helped you put together a plate of beans on toast. Either way, doing that might well lead to feeling happier, calmer and more at peace. 

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With holiday travels during the Lunar New Year celebration in China having reached 90 percent of their pre-pandemic levels and tourist locations packed with vacationing revelers, the corporate press is claiming that COVID is finally over.

Such distortions only promote a completely anti-public-health sentiment that places supposed personal liberties above the well-being of community, threatening the physical survival of those now “free” to move about and mix socially. This will have significant repercussions for populations of every country and entrench the oft-stated policy that the “cure can’t be worse than the disease.” The international default policy openly values the economy, i.e. profits, over the lives of people, in this and any future pandemic.

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has reported there have been more than 300 million trips thus far during the holidays. The chief China economist at Nomura Holdings inc., Ting Lu, told Bloomberg News“Pent-up demand is being released as many people rush to scenic spots, watch firework shows and crowd into restaurants and hotels. He added that government-released data “suggest the ‘exit wave’ is quickly coming to an end.”

Patients receive intravenous drips in an emergency ward in Beijing, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. China on Thursday accused "some Western media" of bias, smears and political manipulation in their coverage of China's abrupt ending of its strict "zero-COVID" policy, as it issued a vigorous defense of actions taken to prepare for the change of strategy. [AP Photo/Andy Wong]

The former editor-in-chief of the Global Times, Hu Xijin, wrote on social media, “The epidemic seemed to disappear from the vast majority of people suddenly. The Chinese Lunar New Year is very lively. The consumption has resumed rapidly.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) official figures for the week ending December 19, 2022, the world saw a single-week pandemic high of 45 million COVID cases, nearly twice that of the BA.1 Omicron wave that ran roughshod across the globe a year ago. This is the result of the demise of the Zero-COVID policy that had kept deaths to an enviably low figure in China of just over 5,000 in a country of 1.4 billion people. 

Since the surge in December throughout China, global COVID deaths jumped fourfold to over 40,000 for the week ending January 2, 2023, with “more than half of them from China,” as noted by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Official figures from Chinese health authorities have reported the following numbers of COVID-related deaths: 

·       December 8 to January 12:  59,938 deaths

·       January 13 to January 19: 12,658 deaths

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The importance of regulating your stress levels cannot be understated. Not only can stress take its toll on your mental health, but it can also impact you physically, with symptoms ranging from headaches and bloating to irregular periods. And if those high stress levels persist over an extended period of time, you’ll be at risk of developing burnout.

All of that’s to say that dealing with your stress on a daily, weekly and monthly basis is key if you want to look after your wellbeing. There are, of course, plenty of ways to do this. Exercise, spending time with family and friends and getting outside will all help. 

But if you’re short on time, then doing some controlled breathwork – specifically an exhalation-focused practise like ‘cyclic sighing’ – could be the key to feeling more relaxed and in control.  

The relationship between controlled breathwork and stress reduction

A woman practising breathwork at home lying down on a yoga mat
Cyclic sighing involves breathing in a 1:2 ratio, with an inhale which takes half as long as the exhale.

Recent research has confirmed what experts in the field have known for years – that the long exhalations associated with these kinds of techniques calm the autonomic nervous system, reduce physiological arousal, lower stress and reduce feelings of anxiety.

The study, carried out by a team at Stanford University, saw participants take part in one of four different practices – three different controlled breathwork techniques and mindfulness meditation – to see which was most effective at boosting mood and reducing stress.

The breathwork techniques in question were exhale-focused cyclic sighing (made up of a 1:2 ratio in which the exhalation is twice as long as the inhalation), box breathing (made up of an inhalation, retention and exhalation pattern of equal lengths) and cyclic hyperventilation (a sequence of ‘robust’ inhalation followed by a short retention and rapid exhalation).  

The group of 108 participants were split into four groups and each assigned one of the three breathwork techniques or mindfulness meditation, and were asked to practise their technique for five minutes per day over 28 days. Those in the mindfulness meditation group were the only ones not instructed to regulate their breathing – instead, they were asked to focus their mental attention on the “forehead region” between their eyes.

After the 28 days, the study’s authors found that, while all four groups experienced “reductions in state anxiety and negative effect” and “increases in positive effect”, it was the group who practised exhale-focused cyclic sighing who experienced the biggest reduction in physiological arousal and most significant boost to their mood.

Indeed, as the study’s authors write: “We found that the cyclic sighing group had a significantly higher increase in positive affect than those in the mindfulness meditation group. The other two breathwork groups were also higher than mindfulness meditation; however, this difference was not significant.

“Cyclic sighing also had a significant interaction with cumulative days on protocol compared with mindfulness meditation, suggesting that subjects benefited more from the exercise the more days they did it, an effect not observed in the other groups.” 

Why is ‘cyclic sighing’ such an effective way to reduce stress?

A woman sitting on the floor lying back against her sofa with her eyes closed practising controlled breathwork
There are a number of reasons why the study's authors believe cyclic sighing was the most effective technique at reducing stress.

It’s clear that breathwork – specifically exhalation-focused cyclic sighing – is an effective way to reduce stress and boost mood. But why is this?

The study’s authors put forward two main theories – vagus nerve stimulation, and enhancement of ‘interoceptive processes’.

The former is something you might have heard about before. The longest nerve in the human body, the vagus nerve is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system – the side of our nervous system responsible for the ‘rest and digest’ state as opposed to the ‘fight or flight’ state triggered by the opposing sympathetic nervous system.

It’s long been known that specific breathing techniques can help to module vagal function (often observed through a change in heart rate variability, or HRV), specifically those which involve extended exhalations like exhalation-focused cyclic sighing, so it makes sense that the participants who tried breathing techniques saw a reduction in their stress levels. 

The enhancement of ‘interoceptive processes’, however, is more about the way that breathing techniques can help us to focus on what’s going on in our bodies. By promoting interoceptive awareness, controlled breathwork can make us more aware of when we’re feeling stressed, giving us more time to act on those signs before things get out of hand.

The impact which controlled breathing can have on the regulation of emotion and mood and the sense of control it provides the person practising it were also put forward as theories.

While the study’s authors say they need to do more research to properly understand why exhalation-focused breathwork is so effective in reducing stress and boosting mood, it’s certainly worth giving it a go if you’re finding it hard to relax and switch off at the end of the day.

By taking control of your breathing, you’ll not only be giving your vagus nerve a workout, but you’ll also be taking time to pay attention to your body and get to know it better so you can read your stress signals more easily in the future. 

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Image Source : FREEPIK Tips to boost the mental and physical health of your family

A healthy mind is vital for general well-being and life satisfaction. Changing to a healthy way of living is the key to making significant improvements in our life. The positive impacts on mental health will persist even after our physical health has improved. Eat healthily, sleep well, breathe deeply, move harmoniously. Nutrition, sleep, regular exercise, and meditation is four pillars of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Keeping them balanced helps us achieve good health & well-being.

There are several lifestyle changes that can help to keep our minds healthy.

 

1. Exercise

Exercise is not just good for our physical health, it also reduces anxiety and stress. Plus, physical activity is a tool to fight depression, along with various other common health problems. Exercising boosts our “feel-good hormones” and endorphins. At the same time, it reduces stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Try and go for at least a half-hour walk every day.

2. Sleep well

Getting a good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health. It is just as important as eating a balanced, nutritious diet and exercising. Healthy sleep is important for cognitive functioning, maintaining physical strength, and good mental health. It is advisable to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health.

3. Manage stress 

Chronic stress can take a toll on mental health. Practice stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or mindfulness.

4. Eat healthy

Healthy eating is important for many reasons, including fueling your body, acquiring necessary nutrients, lowering the risk of diseases, increasing your longevity, and promoting optimal mental and physical well-being. Healthy eating does not have to be complicated. It is only meant to nourish your body while also tickling your taste buds.

5. Try meditation

Think about this for a second. Think about your breathing as it comes in and as it leaves your body. When your thoughts wander, remind yourself to come back to the present moment by focusing on your breathing again. Relax and inhale deeply. For the next five seconds, don’t let your breath out. You have just completed a mindful meditation practice.

(Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice. Please consult a doctor before starting any fitness regime or medical advice.)

 

Also Read: Disturbed sleep during teens may increase the risk of multiple sclerosis

Also Read: Deaths from heart diseases went up during COVID pandemic, says a study

Latest Health News



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The breath is the first act we perform when we are born and the last when we leave. To live to be 80 is to perform over half a billion breaths considering that we make about 20 thousand a day. Breathing is such a simple and automatic behavior that one takes it for granted. Yet most of us breathe badly, uses less than 50% of breathing capacity — he points out Mike Maricspecialist in orthodontics and professor at the University of Pavia, author of the book The anti-stress power of the breath (Vallardi), freediving world champion, today coach, Coni level 4 European coach —. If we were able to use even just 10% more of our lung capacity we could gain in terms of well-being. By learning to breathe effectively you can improve blood pressure, heart rate and affect the activity of large areas of the brain and, consequently, on cognition, emotions, mood, stress and memory, according to Annual Review of Neuroscience.

How to learn diaphragmatic breathing: READ



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A community group in north Norfolk is helping people to improve their health, not through the usual routine of push-ups, pull-ups or crunches - but through singing.

The Singing for Breathing group meets on Monday afternoons at St Joseph's Church Hall on Cromer Road in Sheringham.

It is run by an organisation called Playing for Cake, which was set up by Sheringham woman Tina Blaber.

North Norfolk News: People doing breathing exercises at a Singing for Lung Health group in Sheringham.People doing breathing exercises at a Singing for Lung Health group in Sheringham. (Image: Sonya Duncan)

Ms Blaber, 56, said: "We meet and have coffee and tea, then we have an hour of singing.

"They are all breathing exercises, all based around good breathing, from the belly, the diaphragm, exercising the support muscles.

"We get people working their abs," she added.

Ms Blaber worked with the pulmonary rehabilitation team at Kelling Hospital to develop the course.

This was in line with work going on within the local Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System (ICS) to help join NHS and community-based services, so people can help themselves stay well and relieve pressures on the NHS.

North Norfolk News: Tina Blaber leading a Singing for Breathing group in Sheringham.Tina Blaber leading a Singing for Breathing group in Sheringham. (Image: Sonya Duncan)

Ms Blaber became a musician after a career in local government, community development and research into environmental sciences at the UEA.

Her own music career began during time off work in 2007.

"I started playing music, self-taught, when she was off work for six months. I dusted down an old guitar in the loft and started teaching myself again."

She initially formed Playing for Cake as a band  - the name inspired by their reward for performing in cafes and teahouses - but when her bandmate was diagnosed with early onset dementia, and had to go to a care home, she set up the community group and gave it the same name.

In 2017, she trained with the British Lung Health Foundation, where she learned about singing for health.

"It has taken over my life really. It's been so rewarding. I meet the most amazing people at the Singing for Health group," she said. 

"We have a wonderful team of volunteers who help so much. We couldn't do it all without them."

North Norfolk News: People doing breathing exercises at a Singing for Lung Health group in Sheringham.People doing breathing exercises at a Singing for Lung Health group in Sheringham. (Image: Sonya Duncan)

As well as the Monday group, there are also community sessions, called Singing for Health, Wellbeing and Fun, which take place on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at Sacred Heart Hall in North Walsham and every Wednesday at Sheringham Community Centre.

More information about the sessions can be found at playingforcake.uk.

North Norfolk News: People at a Singing for Breathing group, run by Playing for Cake, in Sheringham.People at a Singing for Breathing group, run by Playing for Cake, in Sheringham. (Image: Sonya Duncan)

Singing for Breathing

Ms Blaber works with the Pulmonary Rehabilitation (PR) Team at Kelling Hospital, Active Norfolk and Asthma and Lung UK to bring Singing for Lung Health (SFLH) services to north Norfolk. 

The current Singing for Breathing course, which lasts 10 weeks, is full, but to register interest for the next course you can email Ms Blaber at [email protected]

In the Singing for Breathing group, the songs used are specifically tailored around breathing exercises using established Singing for Lung Health techniques.  

Some gentle movement is also encouraged as part of warm-ups and throughout the session to help increase general health benefits and physical activity. 

Although sessions are designed for participants with lung conditions and breathing difficulties, the course is also ideal for people with anxiety, stress or depression. 

Kelling Hospital also run the North Norfolk Breathe Easy Support Group which meets at Sheringham Community Centre monthly.

North Norfolk News:

This story is part of the North Norfolk News' 'Help at Hand' campaign, which shines a light on people and groups in our community that help others in some way.

If you have an idea for a story in this series, email the NNN's community editor Stuart Anderson at [email protected] or call him on 07584311481. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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Awe is critical to our well-being — just like joy, contentment, and love. One definition of awe is the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world, like looking up at millions of stars in the night sky or marveling at the birth of a child. When people feel awe, they may use other words to describe the experience, such as wonder, amazement, surprise, or transcendence. Some experts feel that awe is critical to our health and well-being.

According to The New York Times, Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkely, says awe does not have to be a momentous occasion and it is simpler to experience than we think.

“Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world,” he says. Keltner is the author of Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How it Can Transform Your Life.”  He says that awe has tremendous health benefits that include calming down the nervous system and triggering the release of oxytocin, the “love” hormone that promotes trust and bonding.

Keltner says that new research shows that awe activates the vagal nerves ─ clusters of neurons in the spinal cord that regulate various bodily functions ─ and slows our heart rate, relieves digestion, and deepens breathing. Awe also has psychological benefits, says the Times, by silencing the negative self-talk in our heads. It appears to deactivate the default mode network, the part of the cortex involved in how we perceive ourselves. This is especially important in this age of social media.

“We are at this cultural moment of narcissism and self-shame and criticism and entitlement; awe gets us out of that,” Keltner explains, adding that it gets us out of our own heads and places us into the larger context of community.

Here’s how to experience more awe in your life:

Pay attention. When Keltner visited San Quentin State Prison in California in 2016 he heard inmates declare they saw awe in “the air, light, the imagined sound of a child, reading and spiritual practice.” Simple things, that reminded him that awe is all around us and doesn’t require privilege or wealth to experience. You can find awe in nature, in the budding of a flower or dazzling sunset.

Focus on the goodness of others. Watching someone walking an older person across the street or a similar act of spontaneous kindness is one of the most reliable ways to feel awe, says Keltner. Pay attention to those around you, like the grocery clerk or neighborhood bus driver who serve us daily. Even watching videos of people like Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi can inspire awe. “Remind yourself of what they’ve written,” says Keltner. “Have quotes of them, have photos of them. Make them a part of your life.”

Practice mindfulness. Distraction is the enemy of awe, says Keltner, according to the Times. “We cultivate awe through interest and curiosity,” he says. “And if we’re distracted too much, we’re not really paying attention.” Working on mindfulness will help you experience more “awesome” moments.

Choose the unfamiliar path. When we get out of our comfort zone and learn new things or travel to new places, we increase our chances of experiencing awe. Some people do this more than others, a personality trait that experts have called an “openness to experience,” Keltner says. Choose a restaurant you normally don’t visit or take another route to work. People who find awe all around them “are more open to new ideas. To what is unknown. To what language can’t describe.”


© 2023 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.

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Thursday saw more than 4,200 physiotherapists and support staff take 24-hour strike action across England. This is a first for members of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) who have not taken strike action since the organisation was founded in 1894.

On the picket lines many held hand-made placards—as have striking nurses—to emphasise the fight for a pay rise requires a broader struggle against crippling cuts to the National Health Service (NHS) budget, intolerable working conditions with patient care placed at risk.

Physiotherapists striking at Imperial hospital in London [Photo: @physiorow/Twitter]

These read: “Underpaid, Understaffed, Overstretched”, “Patient safety must come first”, “Broken and Broke”, “Striking because we care”, “While the Tories were drinking we were sinking”—a reference to the Whitehall parties held during lockdown by senior Conservatives including current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

These sentiments found no expression in the CSP official placards which simply read “Value NHS Physio Staff#CSP4FairPay”.

During the industrial action physiotherapists continued to provide emergency cover including intensive care and respiratory on call services.

On the picket line outside Royal Derby Hospital, Roz, who works as a hand specialist and has been with the NHS six years told Derbyshire Live she was “scared that if one of my family members were to need the NHS, it would not give the care that I would like them to receive. That’s not because of a lack of will or a lack of skilled staff, there’s just not enough staff, time, beds or resources.”

“It’s now acceptable to discharge someone home while they’re doubly incontinent and need care four times a day. That’s a line I wouldn’t have crossed six years ago when I started working” she said.

Her colleague Emily added, “We’re asked to work overtime and not always paid for it, and we’re asked to do extra shifts which affect our well-being.”

Hayley Kidger, a senior oncology physio at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, highlighted the impact low pay was having on NHS staff. “NHS trusts should not have to have foodbanks, it’s ridiculous, they shouldn’t have to support their staff that way,” she told the Press Association. “Why would you come here, and put your heart and soul on the line to save someone’s life and hold their hand when they’re dying, when you can get paid more to run a Tesco?”

On the picket lines physiotherapists emphasised the issues of patient safety, stress and burnout, which have been highly exacerbated by staff shortages among physiotherapists. In one week, nine of her 18-strong team had cried at work due to stress, Hayley said.

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