Exercising Your Brain

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Going back to my childhood, I was pretty academic in school. I was an avid reader, had a keen interest in music and dreamt of becoming a doctor. Then like many other teenagers, when puberty struck and I began high school, I became unmotivated with my studies. I lost interest in school work and preferred to hang out with my friends instead. I found the content of my lessons uninspiring and despite their best efforts, very few teachers could actually encourage me to produce the work I was capable of. Despite having an IQ of 150, I never reached my full potential in school. My formal education ended with the completion of my GCSE’s. I did fairly well in the exams but my grades suffered as a result of much of my coursework being missing or incomplete. Perhaps I would have fared better under the old ‘O Level’ system which relied on exam results only. I have met a number of successful people who performed badly in their GCSE’s so perhaps it is wise to remember that they are a reflection of the work ethic of a sixteen year old child, not the skills, knowledge, business acumen and capacity for learning of an adult.

It has been several years now since leaving school and ironically, I have more of a thirst for learning now than what I ever did as a child. I once heard a quote which has always stayed with me, ‘formal education isn’t what makes you smart, if you’re smart you educate yourself’. And I guess that is what I have been trying to do for the past few years, not for the sake of making up for the shortcomings in my formal education, but learning just for the pleasure of learning something new or mastering a new skill. Your brain is an organ that needs to be exercised. Do so by reading, writing, completing puzzles, learning new skills… Anything that engages your brain and requires you to think. Many people now realise the benefits of regularly doing activities which stimulate and challenge your brain. In recent years, brain training games have become popular and scientists believe that staying mentally active could maybe help prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

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I am keeping my brain active at the moment by studying astronomy. It is a complex but fascinating subject which is certainly making me think! I have met some that think it is only worth learning things that will make you money. But there is nothing wrong with learning for the sake of learning. In my opinion, it is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Here are some ideas for getting your brain working – 

Online educational resources – The internet has a vast amount of websites and resources for learning. A lot of universities have free courses on their websites including top universities such as Harvard, Yale and Berkeley. Wikiversity is a Wikimedia project which contains lots of learning resources at all levels of education. There are some superb videos for learning on YouTube, check out #education. The BBC website also has an excellent education section (we have to make use of our licence fee somehow). There are so many other great websites – this link will take you to an article written by Marc Chernoff where he has listed some of the best!

Libraries – Visit your local library and borrow books on subjects that interest you or perhaps subjects which you have no prior knowledge of. Libraries contain books on every subject from architecture to zoology.

Hobbies – Take up a new hobby or perhaps take up one that you dropped years ago. Learn to draw or paint, cook or bake, learn a craft such as knitting or even learn to fly… Anything that sparks your interest and creativity.

Art galleries – I always find that visiting an art gallery provides a lot of intellectual stimulation, even if it is just because you find yourself staring at a piece of art and thinking, ‘how on earth did that get to be exhibited?!’

Museums – Visit local museums or travel further afield to places such as London which has some world class museums including the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and Royal Observatory Greenwich.

Start your own business – This will provide you with lots to think about and to do!

Learn a strategy game – My husband recently taught me to play chess, an excellent way to get you thinking and an enjoyable way to pass the time rather than spending an evening just watching TV.

Write – Poetry, a short story, that novel you have been meaning to write for years or like me, that blog you have always been meaning to start.

Get outdoors – Whether it’s a walk in the local or park or a cross country hike, gentle exercise and getting closer to nature always leaves you feeling good and mentally stimulated. 

Current affairs – Keep up to date with what is happening in the world, read newspapers, watch the news, maintain an interest in politics and debate with those around you.

Learn a musical instrument – Musical instruments are more affordable than ever and with a whole host of free teaching resources available online, it has never been easier to learn an instrument. I play double bass and if you happen to also play it, check out Jeff’s excellent videos at discoverdoublebass.com

Watch a play or film – When well written, these can provide plenty of mental stimulation. The same goes for listening to music.

Make something – Whether it’s a beautiful cake, a scale model or a patchwork quilt, your brain will be kept busy as well as your hands. 

Learn a new language – As with many other subjects, there are so many free resources on the web for learning a language now, whether you want to master the basics or become a fluent speaker. French, German, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Latin… The choice is endless.

Read – As much as you can. Fiction, non-fiction, classic works of literature… Books make the world a much better place.

Personal development – Some people dismiss self help and personal development as mumbo jumbo but I disagree. Learning to increase your confidence, overcome depression about your past and anxiety about your future are crucial skills to learn. Never underestimate the importance of being able to master your emotional state, mindfulness, positive self talk and learning to see and think ‘differently’. 

Observe the world around you – It’s very easy to go through life on autopilot. Many of us have the same daily routine and switch off to what is actually going on around us. The next time you are on your daily commute or taking a walk around your home town, really look at what is around you. You will be surprised at what you may find that you have never noticed before. Historic architecture, interesting plants, places of natural beauty… Even just going outside on a clear, dark night and observing the night sky offers a feast for the senses. 

Puzzles – Crosswords, Sudoku, brain training games – these all provide great exercise for your brain. Try learning to complete a Rubik’s cube, it is immensely satisfying once you learn and a great party trick!

Mental arithmetic – Next time you reach for your calculator – don’t. Use your brain instead. The confusion on the face of shop assistants when you ask them ‘do you want the 10?’ shows that we have become incredibly reliant on technology to do our maths for us. Whether it’s basic mental arithmetic when out shopping or tackling your own accounts, practice maths at every opportunity to keep your brain sharp. 

Take a class – Flower arranging, art, cooking, pottery… There are an abundance of inexpensive (sometimes free) classes out there to take. Check out your local classifieds to find out what’s on near you. 

Join a club – From amateur dramatics, to gardening, to the WI, again there are lots of choices in your local area if you choose to look. 

Travel – New sights, new smells, different languages, new cultures… They all provide a feast for the senses and for your brain. Travel offers are wealth of opportunity to learn, perhaps more so than any other pastime in my opinion. 

Yoga – I have included yoga as it is an activity that is about the mind as well as the body. A wonderfully relaxing form of exercise, as well as increasing your flexibility and suppleness, yoga will also leave your mind feeling clear and refreshed. If you prefer more rigorous exercise, remember that all forms of physical activity help your body to release endorphins leaving you feeling good and mentally alert. 

Until next time, keep working that grey matter x 

All About Aromatherapy

To me, there are few things as relaxing as enjoying a hot bath scented with beautiful smelling oils. Lots of bathing and shower products contain essential oils which are extracted from natural sources such as flowers, fruits, leaves, bark and other plant parts. It is widely acknowledged that essential oils can benefit your mind as well as your body.

Here’s a quick rundown of some common essential oils and their benefits. Try adding these oils to your bathwater or if you can’t find the proper aromatherapy oils, look out for one of the many products that contain these ingredients. As well as in bath and body products, you can also enjoy the aroma of these oils in other products such as scented bags, candles and diffusers.

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Essential oils are available from retailers such as Neal’s Yard

Please note that some essential oils are not suitable for pregnant women and there is a lot of debate (and confusion) as to which ones are suitable and which ones aren’t. However, if you’re not pregnant, go ahead and enjoy…

Eucalyptus – Great for when you’re feeling ill. It helps to relieve joint pain and will help you to breathe easier.

Frankincense – A relaxing oil that’s good for the skin.

Lavender – A calming oil to relax the mind, soothe tired muscles and promote sleep.

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Lavender is one of the most well known oils

Lemon – Lemon can help to lift your mood and ease a sore throat.

Lemongrass – Can help to relax muscles and ease digestive discomfort.

Mandarin – A citrus oil that can help to relax and de-stress.

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Mandarin oil has a lovely, citrus scent

Neroli – A floral oil that can benefit your skin and uplift your mood.

Orange – A sweet, citrus oil that can help you breathe easier and promote a feeling of calmness.

Patchouli – A soothing oil that can help to look after your skin.

Peppermint – A cooling oil that can help with digestive discomfort and help you breathe easier when you have a cold or flu.

Pine – A fresh scented oil that can help to relax aching muscles.

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Pine oil has a lovely fresh scent and can help to relax tired, aching muscles

Rose – A sweet smelling, floral oil that benefits the skin.

Sage – A cooling oil that can help to ease joint and muscle pain.

Sandalwood – A woody, masculine oil that can help to promote relaxation.

Tea Tree – A cleansing oil that can act as a natural antiseptic.

Ylang Ylang – A calming oil that can benefit your hair.

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Ylang Ylang, a sweet smelling, exotic flower found in many bath products

These are some of the most commonly found but there are also many other oils available. Beauty is all about the mind as well as the body and it’s so beneficial to take some time out from your day to relax and unwind. I’m pretty keen on keeping fit and after a hard workout, taking a hot bath with oils such as eucalyptus and pine feels so good! Hopefully this post has taught you a little bit about the different oils so you can choose the products that will benefit you the most.

Until next time, stay beautiful x

Beautiful Skin At Any Age

I am fast approaching thirty. That isn’t old by anyone’s standards but I am still aware of the gradual changes to my skin that are taking place. Coco Chanel was once quoted as saying ‘Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve’. I think she got it spot on. No matter how young you are, it is never too early to make changes to your lifestyle which will set up a good foundation for the ageing process. Your older self will thank you for it.

Stay hydrated – Water is quite literally the elixir of life. Your body is approximately sixty percent water and it plays an essential role in many of the processes that happen within your body. It will also help to keep your skin clear and assist your body with flushing out toxins. With that in mind, you need to stay properly hydrated in order to look and feel your best. Official guidelines state that you should be drinking six to eight glasses of water per day for optimum health but don’t forget many foods such as fresh fruit also contain water. Many people drink hot water with a slice of lemon but bear in mind that this is a very acidic drink and will erode your teeth when drunk on a regular basis. Alcohol and caffeine are dehydrating so it is a good idea to drink some plain water each time you consume a drink that contains either substance.

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Aim to drink at least six glasses of water each day

Eat well – Genetics and heritage determine how your skin looks, behaves and ages but you can do much to assist the process by improving your lifestyle. As well as staying well hydrated, another way to do this is by eating a good, well balanced diet to give your body the nutrition it needs. The most beneficial vitamins for your skin are A, C and E. These are found in abundance in fruits and vegetables so try to include at least five portions each day. Fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and proteins (enzymes) that can help prevent and repair damage to your skin. They work by preventing or slowing down free radicals. Free radicals are good cells gone bad. When an apple turns brown – that’s free radicals doing their thing. They are caused by pollution, sun damage, smoking, a poor diet and can even be caused by the makeup and skincare you use. Other beneficial foods for your body include beans, dairy, eggs, fish, nuts and whole grains. Remember that the nutritional benefits of eating the right foods will always be better for your body than consuming them in pill form. 

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Aim to eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables each day

Sleep well – Sleeping is the time your skin repairs itself and helps to maintain the elasticity and thickness of your skin. It also helps to sleep on your back. Over time, sleeping on your side can leave wrinkles on your face.   

Protect yourself from the sun – Never underestimate the damaging effects of the sun on your skin. A golden tan may look attractive in your twenties but when you are in your fifties and have wrinkled, sagging skin peppered with moles, it will not look quite so appealing. And of course, too much sun exposure can cause skin cancer. Sunscreen helps prevent those pesky free radicals and many skincare and makeup products contain a sun protection factor (SPF) so keep a look out for these when you are shopping for supplies. Also use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 and avoid midday sun when UV levels are at their strongest. Don’t forget to wear a hat and sunglasses – constant squinting in the sun will help to give you the dreaded ‘crow’s feet’ wrinkles around your eyes. There’s no better reason to buy those designer sunglasses you’ve been eyeing up! 

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Always protect your eyes from the sun

Exercise – Most of us are aware of the health benefits of exercise but of course it can benefit the way we look too. As well as helping to build a slim, toned physique, all of the sweat you produce when you exercise will help to bring impurities out of your skin helping to keep it clear and fresh. As you get older, as well as keeping your body healthy, exercise will also help to manage your weight. As you age, your metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns calories) decreases leading to an increased likelihood of weight gain.

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Yoga is a great way to help you to stay in shape

Get into a good beauty routine – As well as the lifestyle factors that will play a part in maintaining the beauty of your skin, getting into a good routine with skincare will also help. Look after your skin by moisturising daily, exfoliating weekly and use face masks depending on your skin type. Normal moisturiser formulas are often too rich and heavy for the delicate skin around the eyes and can cause puffiness. Make you use a specially formulated cream for eyes. As we age, our skin produces less collagen and so skin loses it’s elasticity and becomes less firm. If you have mature skin, look out for products containing peptides and retinoids which will help your skin to build collagen and appear firmer. Also try to avoid foundation formulas that are too dry as they will settle into wrinkles. Keep your skin well moisturised and use a moisture rich foundation formula.

Stop smoking – Smoking is one of the primary causes of skin ageing. I used to have a twenty (sometimes thirty) a day habit so I know how hard it is to stop. But with self belief and sheer willpower, you can stop. You will look and feel so much better for it believe me.

Remember, it’s never too early to begin thinking about preserving your skin for the future.

Until next time, stay beautiful x

Keeping Fit At Home

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Gym balls are an affordable piece of equipment you can use at home

Many of us are guilty of having a spare room in our home which is quite frankly, used for junk. Boxes full of books that will never be read again, paperwork which should have been burnt years ago, towering piles of unwanted Christmas presents…is this a good use of space? No. My husband and I have two spare rooms, neither of which is used as a bedroom. One of the rooms is, I must confess, still a junk room (although the ‘junk’ I refer to I would rather call ‘stock’ as it is awaiting a forthcoming car boot sale). However, we are in the process of turning the other room into a gym.

Gym memberships are the norm for a lot of people nowadays. Having other people around you when you work out can serve as a motivation and many people enjoy the social interaction of meeting others at the gym. I however, prefer to work out alone. Despite the fact we are all there for the same reason, I cannot help but feel a little bit self conscious and inhibited when I enter a gym. And I know I am not alone in feeling this way. Hence the beauty of having a work out area in your home. Our home gym was originally conceived as a small double bedroom. In it, we currently have an exercise bike, stepping machine, cross trainer, twist board and weight rack. Despite the room’s small proportions, all of the equipment fits comfortably and in the future we aim to add more to it.

Compact, inexpensive fitness equipment is easily available so having a gym in your own home needn’t be the preserve of the wealthy or those with a large home. Even if you prefer a public gym, the benefits of having a gym or fitness area in your home are certainly worth considering. Sometimes we just don’t have the time or inclination to visit the gym but if you have the equipment you need at home, there is no excuse to skip your workout.

Now, where are my weights…