How to Stay Healthy Working From Home

The advantages of working from home seem obvious. With broadband internet, laptops, cloud based computing, and video conferencing, there is little you can do in the office that you can’t do at home. Being at home avoids time wasted on commuting, meetings and gossip. But home has numerous distractions that aren’t available in the office, and time you freed up by not going into work suddenly just got eaten up with Netflix and chores.

With some planning of your day and workspace, you can overcome the obstacles and use home working to live healthier.

1.     Create a workspace.  Our brains like patterns and routines. Our minds learn to associate places with certain attitudes and activities. If the sofa is where you usually unwind and play X Box,  your brain will find it difficult to suddenly switch into work mode when you sit down with your laptop. Similarly, if your bed is for sleeping, you will suddenly start to feel tired if you sit there and try to work on a presentation.

Try to create separate spaces for work and relaxation. Ideally have a separate room in your home for working. As soon as you walk into your work space, it signals your brain to switch to work mode.

Another downside of not having a dedicated workspace is the impact on posture. Slouching on the couch over a laptop leads to rounding of the back and shoulders. Apart from looking terrible, this posture leads to long term neck and upper back aches and pains.

Set up a good desk space to protect your posture and cognitive attention

Set up a good desk space to protect your posture and cognitive attention

2.     Turn the saved commute time into healthy time. If you gained time from skipping the work commute, use it for some healthy activity. Try to avoid the extra time just getting eaten by additional work or house chores. Try and do something that stimulates either body or mind – some morning exercise or meditation. Alternatively start work earlier but make sure you finish earlier too.

3.     Prepare your food environment. When you get bored or hungry, you will reach for whatever is available. If you house is full of unhealthy food, that’s what you’re going to eat. Prepare your environment by stocking the kitchen with healthy sources of protein, carbohydrates and fruit and vegetables. If you usually have a mid-morning or afternoon snack at work, make sure you have some healthy snacks available.

4.     Make use of the flexibility. If you are no longer tied to the office work timetable, use the new found flexibility to break up your working day. Adding in some variation is more likely to keep you motivated. No one is watching you, so there is no excuse not to get up and move around every 60 minutes to keep yourself active. You can use your lunch time to exercise or squeeze in a run in the morning or afternoon.

5.     Avoid multitasking use a Pomodoro. Sitting at home surrounded by home chores, it can be tempting to try and multitask DIY, cleaning, laundry or cooking in between emails and work reports. ‘Multitasking is a myth, our brains are only designed to focus on one activity at a time’ says Vala Medical Director, Dr Niall Aye Maung. When we think we are multi-tasking we are actually rapidly switching brain attention backwards and forwards from one task to another. Our brains work best when concentrating on one activity for a continuous period of time. Continuously changing task drains the brain’s energy supply and creates mental fatigue. Dr Aye Maung recommends the Pomodoro technique for time management, ‘It’s a great method for reducing interruptions and improving focus’

Designed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. He used a timer to break down work into 25 minutes intervals. When he started, he used a tomato shaped kitchen timer, hence the name Pomodoro.

Designed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. He used a timer to break down work into 25 minutes intervals. When he started, he used a tomato shaped kitchen timer, hence the name Pomodoro.

Plan in Small Steps to Achieve Big Things: A new way to approach weight loss

Eat less. Exercise more. Use willpower.

This is the usual advice handed out for weight loss. This simple advice may be true, but it doesn’t seem to work. 50-80% of dieters put the weight back on and of people resolving to lose weight on 1st January, only 8% make it to February.

So what gives? If the advice is true, why doesn’t it work? Why can’t people lose weight? Is it a lack of willpwer?

‘No. It’s a lack of planning tackling a big task’ says Dr Niall Aye Maung, Medical Director at Vala. ‘Even if you know everything you should be doing for a big goal like weight loss, trying to implement everything at once is just too overwhelming. People lose momentum and give up.’

To try and help maintain momentum for change Dr Aye Maung recommends an incremental approach. ‘I prefer patients to make continual small changes, and try to really to get comfortable with each change so they become a routine part of their life.’ Small changes are easier to put into practice and create less resistance. The more resistance, the more likely a patient will have to rely on willpower. Relying on willpower alone hasn't proven to be an effective technique.   

It all starts with goal setting and a baseline analysis. ‘It’s important for patients to understand where they are starting from and use it to identify the steps they will need to implement to reach their goal’. Effective planning in small steps reduces the time and effort, making it easier for patients to overcome big hurdles ‘David Katz MD talks about “Skillpower over Willpower”; effective planning means patients don’t have to rely on willpower alone’ explains Dr Aye Maung.

The 6-step framework is that method that Vala uses to structure a plan for weight loss. It takes techniques from behavioural psychology and fuses them with military planning.

Over the next few weeks the blog will go through each step and outline the methods and explain each stage in more detail. We’ll provide downloadable infographics that you can use to plan your strategy.

Start planning small to achieve big things.

Overhead Squats - exercises that you should be doing

An awesome exercise that tones the whole body. It requires a mix of strength, balance and flexibility. Unfortunately, you don't see many gym goers trying this exercise. It's a firm favourite of olympic weightlifters and the Crossfit fraternity.

Until you have the technique and flexibility, you might find the barbell too heavy. Try using a wooden or plastic broom stick to help build technique before progressing to something heavier.

Alternatively, if you are really struggling with flexibility, try overhead dumbbell or kettlebell squats.  (See Below).

Have fun!

  • Type: Olympic Weightlifting
  • Main Muscle Worked: Quadriceps
  • Other Muscles: Abdominals, Calves, Glutes, Hamstrings, Lower Back, Shoulders, Triceps
  • Equipment: Barbell - If the barbell is too heavy to start with, try a lightweight plastic or wooden pole.
  • Mechanics Type: Compound

Instructions

  1. Set the pins of a squat rack at shoulder height. Place your barbell on those pins and load up with the required weight. Now take a wider than shoulder width grip and lift the bar off the rack keeping it close to your body. Next, press the bar above your head and fully extend your arms. Lock out your elbows and take a small step backwards. Adopt a shoulders width stance with your toes slightly pointing outward. Maintain a straight back throughout this movement. This will be your starting position.
  2. Inhale and begin to descend by bending at your knees and hips. Your weight should be put predominantly through your heels as you sit back into the movement until your thighs are either parallel or just past to the floor.
  3. After a brief pause, exhale and return the bar to the starting position along the same path, push through your heels with the force being driven through your quads and glutes to do so. Stand to attention with your legs fully extended, back straight and arms perpendicular to the ground..
  4. This is a hard strength exercise - keep the repetitions down to around 5.

Finding the barbell overhead squat too difficult? Try these variations with dumbbells or kettlebells.

Physics, Twinkies and Why You Can't Ignore Calories

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed from one form to another.
— First Law of Thermodynamics

Weight loss isn't rocket science - it's actually thermodynamics. 

Applying the first law of thermodynamics to weight loss:

Change in energy stores = Energy intake - Energy expenditure

If your energy intake is greater than your energy expenditure, you have a calorie surplus and the body stores it as fat. If your energy intake is less than your energy expenditure, your body loses energy stores i.e. it has to burn fat or muscle to generate energy.

This principle has governed weight loss advice from medical professionals for decades. It is the theory that underpins the practice of recommending a 500 calorie deficit each day to lead to a 0.5kg weekly weight loss. It has led to glib phrases such as "A Calorie is a Calorie". 

Some people have tried to argue that numbers of calories was less important than source of calories when eating for weight loss. Some people have become convinced that low carbohydrate, high protein and ketogenic diets allow you to eat as much as you want - just as long as you don't eat carbohydrates or significantly reduced your carbohydrate intake.

The concept of unlimited eating still leading to weight loss is massively appealing, but the reality is slightly different. All these diets actually work by creating a calorie deficit. They've achieved it surreptitiously by removing or restricting certain food groups, but it's still a calorie deficit.

 

The Twinkie Diet of Professor Mark Haubs shows that calories really can't be ignored - you can lose weight eating only sugary cake if you just reduce your calorie intake. 

But the human body isn't simply an oven that burns food and creates energy. The human body is a fuelled by a complex set of metabolic pathways and controlled by complex hormone pathways. It doesn't process all food types through the same metabolic pathways or with the same degree of efficiency. 

What does this mean? It means that you could increase your chances of success by eating quality food with the right macronutrient ratios. A lot of people give up diets because they go into starvation mode and get uncontrollably hungry. The Twinkie Diet would certainly not have been a filling diet.

So what's the conclusion? You can't eat unlimited amounts of "the right" type of food and expect to lose weight. You just can't ignore calories and there has to be a calorie deficit. But the source and quality of your calories is really important if you want to succeed over the long term. 

Over the coming weeks we'll look in more detail at macronutrient ratios and how to optimise your chances of success.

Get Up, Get Active

Adults should aim to be active daily. Over a week, activity should add up to at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) of moderate intensity activity...[and]...muscle strength [training] on at least two days a week.
— Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults

This is what we should all adults in UK should be doing, but what does it actually mean? What's the difference between moderate and intense physical activity?

According to the  2017 British Heart Foundation report on Physical Inactivity the average UK man spends the equivalent of 78 days a year sitting. The average woman is marginally better at 74 days. The majority of us stop doing any organised exercise once we leave school

One of the most frequent reasons for not exercising is not knowing where to start. Fear not! Our infographic is a simple guide to achieving your weekly physical activity. 

'If I could, I would prescribe exercise to everyone', says Vala Medical Director, Niall Aye Maung. If you need further help with exercise or want to find simple ideas for fitting exercise into your healthy lifestyle, Vala personal trainers can provide you with bespoke plans.

Get active - live healthy.

Could your smart phone tell you whether you have cancer?

Photo by ChesiireCat/iStock / Getty Images

Skin cancer is the most common kind of tumour in people, with 100,000 new cases a year in the UK . Patients usually notice a strange looking mole, or mark on their skin, which is then examined by a doctor. If the doctor agrees that the mark looks suspicious, they may chose to look more closely using a dermoscope, and biopsies may then be taken to be examined in the lab. This process can take some time, and patients may not go to their doctor straight away when they notice something isn't quite right on their skin. Melanoma is by far the most dangerous skin cancer. Although they only make up for around 5% of skin cancers, they are responsible for around 75% of all of the skin cancer related deaths. If melanoma is treated in its earliest stages the 5 year survival rate is extremely good, around 99%. If it is left, and picked up in the late stages of disease this falls to just 14%.

A team of engineers and doctors from Stanford university have developed an innovative solution to the problem of early detection using the power of artificial intelligence. Researchers have trained machines capable of forming artificial neural networks to recognise skin cancers based on just a photograph. The AI was repurposed from software developed by Google, which was developed as part of an experiment to determine whether a machine could distinguish between cats and dogs.

The machine was shown 129,450 images of different skin lesions, and was told exactly what type of skin condition it was looking at in each one. It was then shown pictures of other potential cancers, and the diagnosis it gave was compared with the diagnosis from a panel of 21 expert dermatologists. Dr Andre Esteva told the BBC: "We find, in general, that we are on par with board-certified dermatologists." The system now needs to be tested in the clinic, alongside traditional methods. 

Smart phones and other mobile devices have the capacity to run the same programs developed by the team from Stamford. This may allow people to proactively monitor any skin marks they are concerned about, and seek help from professionals if any marks are flagged up. With 6.3bn smart phone subscriptions projected by the year 2021, it is hoped that this technology may provide low-cost, universal access to vital diagnostic care. This could improve the early detection rate for skin cancers across the world, and save hundreds of thousands of lives annually. 

Dr Esteva went on to say "The application of AI to healthcare is, we believe, an incredibly exciting area of research that can be leveraged to achieve a great deal of societal good."