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 

Keeping Fit With HIIT

In my last post I talked about my recent experiences with ballet fitness. The exercise which I’ve been doing a lot more of recently though is HIIT – high intensity interval training. HIIT is basically alternating really intense aerobic exercises with less intense recovery periods. It’s a more efficient way of exercising than running on a treadmill for example. One of the other benefits is that you can also burn calories for hours afterwards. 

I’m not overweight by anybody’s standards but I’ve been making an effort to ‘tone up’ and to incease my overall fitness level. At first I found it quite difficult but I quickly began to really enjoy the challenges of trying to attain my fitness goals. As I’ve mentioned before when talking about fitness, I don’t like gyms. They’re expensive and not always convenient to get to and dare I say it – I feel slightly foolish working out in front of other people! I don’t really know why but I just prefer to do it alone. I can’t even work out when my husband is at home and I wait until he has gone out to work! So instead of the gym, I’ve been working out with my trusty fitness app on my smart TV with a wonderful personal trainer called Leigh Linton. Leigh is incredibly fit and has a great personality that really motivates and inspires you to work hard and keep up with her. 

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I will get abs…

So my main goals at the moment are increasing fitness, body toning, a little bit of weight loss and if possible, maybe even get my abs back! A high intensity workout begins with an aerobic warmup with activities such as jogging – this is so important for getting your muscles ready for your forthcoming workout and for increasing your heart rate. Some of the exercises I’ve been doing include bicep and hamstring curls, hamstring bridges, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, press ups and tuck jumps. Variety is key. Exercises that are great for working and toning your abs include bicycle crunches as well as the normal crunches, deadbugs, sit ups and v sits. If you have a flat bum and want to tone that up, good exercises include lunges and jumping lunges, plies and squats. Another thing that many of us hate is the dreaded ‘bingo wings’ – tricep dips are a great exercise for toning them up. 

Burpees are a fantastic exercise for building strength and working loads of different muscle groups (a compound exercise) – they are really hard when you first begin but they do get easier as you increase your strength. You can also incorporate press ups into them. Another exercise that has gained notoriety is the plank which is great for building strength in your back and core. Variations you can do include one arm planks, one legged planks, side planks and ‘travelling’ in plank position.  

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Side planking

As well as warming up, at the end of a HIIT workout it’s important to stretch out your muscles and allow your heart rate to slow down. I’ve been mixing HIIT with slower, gentler exercise such as yoga and I’ve really been reaping the benefits. I sleep a lot better, have a lot more energy both physically and mentally and feel a lot more awake and alert. I use social media a lot and I see so many people that seem sceptical about fitness and working out and I think that’s a real shame. If you stick with it, push yourself and rise to the challenges, not only is it good for you but it is incredibly satisfying. If you’re like me and enjoy fitness, here’s a quote to help motivate you – ‘sweating is just your body crying fat’. I don’t know who originally said it but I think it’s great! 

Until next time, stay beautiful (and fit) 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

Getting To Know Your Skin Type

Skin can be classified into different types depending on it’s behaviour and characteristics. The most common types are normal, dry, oily and combination. Knowing what type of skin you have can be really helpful in helping you to decide which makeup and cosmetic products to use. After talking to family and friends, I discovered a surprising amount of women don’t really know what skin type they have. They just buy whatever products appeal to them and don’t consider how their skin will react with the product. So with this in mind, here is a short guide to help you determine which skin type you have so you can make a more informed decision the next time you go shopping for beauty supplies.

The first step to analysing your skin type is to cleanse it, preferably in the morning so you can look at how your skin changes throughout the course of the day. Pay close attention to how your skin feels after you have cleansed. Normal skin should feel clean but comfortable. If your skin is feeling tight, particularly around your forehead, you may have dry skin.

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I have normal/combination skin. My forehead and cheeks are the areas most prone to shine

Next, leave your skin unmoisturised and take a good look at it in a mirror in natural light. Study the texture of your skin, looking all over the face and look out for pores and shiny areas. Normal skin will have a smooth texture with small pores and possibly some shine visible. As well as a tight feeling after cleansing, dry skin will have a matt texture, may have visible ‘flaky’ patches and small pores. Dry skin often suffers from sensitivity and will show fine lines and wrinkles quicker than other skin types. Oily skin will have a shiny look, particularly in your T zone (your forehead, nose and chin) and often larger, visible pores. Oily skin is also more prone to breaking out in spots. It’s not all bad though, oily skin often ages slower and shows less visible signs of ageing.

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Simple skincare offer a good range of products for sensitive skin. I use these three products on a daily basis – the Kind To Skin Light Moisturiser, Age Resisting Eye Cream and Kind To Skin Cleansing Facial Wipes

Have another look at your skin at midday. If you have oily or combination skin (combination skin will usually be more oily in the T zone than the rest of the face), oil breakthrough will usually be visible by this time. Dry skin will often be showing signs of dryness by this time too, even if you have moisturised in the morning.

Take into consideration other factors which may be affecting the condition of your skin. Stress, medication, the contraceptive pill, pregnancy, your menstrual cycle, how much sun your skin is exposed to, smoking and your diet are among other factors which will influence how your skin looks.

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The contraceptive pill can affect the current condition of your skin

Knowing your correct skin type will help you to make more effective decisions the next time you go shopping for makeup and cosmetic supplies. No matter which skin type you have, skin responds to care and it’s condition can be improved. Many beauty products such as cleansers, moisturisers, face masks and makeup are labelled as to which skin type they are most suited for. Now you know which skin type you have, you can shop with confidence.

Until next time, stay beautiful x