Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Real Health | Hydration - What should we be drinking?

After the positive reception to the introduction of my 'Real Health' series, I'm bringing the first of my posts discussing the health advice, hints and tips going around. As I said in the introduction, we're tending towards overcomplicating our ideas of what it means to be healthy, making it feel like achieving the near-impossible. My aim with this series is to break down the ideas that health is something for everyone, not an extra hobby or activity for when we've got the time...

Glass of water on pile of magazines


So, hands up who's ever resolved to "drink more water"? 

Why was that? Is it because you genuinely find yourself thirsty throughout the day? Or is it that you once (or twice, or many times) read in an article somewhere that you should be drinking two to three litres of water a day?

As I started writing this post, I googled "drinking two litres of water a day". The number one result? A popular women's magazine with an article about the skin changes one woman perceived after drinking three litres of water. Nothing scientific, she just thought the water "had done something." 

There is tonnes of writing out there about why we should be drinking more water - everything from flushing out toxins and aiding weight loss, to improving concentration and brightening skin.

Glass of water on wooden surface

The Official Advice

Now, it's true that Public Health England's Eatwell Guide does suggest drinking 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day. 

And yes, fluids are important for maintaining healthy functioning of the human body. But we're all different. We all have slightly different metabolic rates, we have different levels of activity and we spend our days in a huge variety of environments. Studies have been done to try and come up with an answer to exactly what we need, but there are so many variables it's difficult to come up with a perfect answer. Producing health advice that is both accurate and simple to follow is a further challenge. That's why it's a guide and not steadfast rules. 6 to 8 glasses, are nice round numbers that can more or less be applied to most people but that doesn't mean it's the target for everyone to aim for.

Filling glass of water from tap

So what do we need?

As I said, it's pretty much impossible to come up with the perfect number. What we need on a cold day when we're not doing very much is going to be entirely different to what we need running around on a hot day. 

Even when I'm working in the hospital, I still have to estimate what people need. Generally we work off the idea that the average, healthy person will need 25-30ml/kg/24hr. This is a very rough guide, simply because we need something to work from. And that's for fluid from food and drink! 

If you're feeling thirsty, tired, dizzy or your urine's getting dark these can all be signs that you're not getting enough hydration. But if you're feeling alright, chances are you've got nothing to worry about.

The body can regulate fluids all on it's own!

Our bodies are pretty good at regulating fluids. This isn't a physiology lesson so I'm not going to go into the details of the various hormones, receptors and how the kidneys function - but take my word for it that our bodies are pretty used to coping! It's just balancing what goes in with what comes out. 

Did you count every glass of water you drank each day when you were a child? Our whole life, our bodies have been getting by just fine, doing their own thing. When we need more water, we feel thirsty. It's kind of as easy as that really. So there's no need to suddenly decide one day that we're going to start drinking loads more. Honestly, our brain knows our requirements better than some healthy living article does!

Just to emphasise this point further, one of the routine blood tests we do on pretty much everyone who comes to hospital is one to check levels of electrolytes in the blood. It's a good marker for hydration and whether the kidneys are functioning alright. I almost never see a young person with any evidence of dehydration. And I'm willing to bet that the people who come through the hospital doors are not the people religiously sticking to drinking lots of water every day... Young people's bodies are particularly good at regulating fluids.

If we're drinking more water than we need, our kidneys will just produce more urine to get rid of the excess. You can't try to make your body use more! (And yes, it's rare but it is possible to drink too much. Overdoing it can drop the levels of sodium in your blood which can cause confusion, irritability, seizures and coma). 

As for all the 'beauty benefits' of water - that comes from just getting our hydration right, not from extra fluid! So yes, if you've been a bit dehydrated, increasing your intake will make you feel better but it might not take quite as much as you think.

Where should we get fluid from then?

Earlier on I said that fluid comes from food and drink. So our daily requirements don't have to come entirely from glasses of water! Eating a balanced diet with a selection of fruit and vegetables is a good start to getting our hydration right. And all drinks count; water, fruit juice, fizzy drinks, tea, coffee, milk... 

We don't need to be carrying round two litres of water to try and drink on top of anything else we're already having!

Now increasing water intake by swapping out less healthy choices isn't a bad idea. If you're currently keeping hydrated purely on fizzy drinks for instance, changing some of those for water will have benefits in terms of sugar intake and healthy teeth. Similarly, lots of caffeine can worsen anxiety - so drinking water instead of coffee now and again is good too.

Glass of carrot, apple and ginger juice

Drinks cartons in fridge

So in conclusion...

There's really no need to overthink how much water we're drinking. Calculating exact requirements and trying to keep track of what we take in during the day just isn't necessary.  If you feel thirsty, then you need to drink. So long as you're not constantly ignoring when you physically feel thirsty, you're probably doing alright. Simple, no? 

Just to note...

Everyone is different. I've written this based very generally on average, healthy people. This is intended to be discussion only and should not be taken as official medical advice. If you are concerned about your health, you should seek medical advice from your own doctor, NHS 111 service or attend A&E if it's an emergency. Plenty more information can be found on the NHS website.


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Little Things I've Loved This Week #40

The weeks always go much quicker when I'm not working all seven days. There have been lots of good things about this week so I've been trying to savour these happy moments before they rush by! I'm finally starting to feel that I'm finding my feet again in my new job, plus I've been making the most of the time I'm not at work - all leading to feeling much more content with life :) Here are the little things I've loved this week:

1. A comfy day-off outfit. I'm not one for spending all day in my pyjamas (in fact it's pretty rare that I ever leave my bedroom in PJs!), but a soft grey sweater and a pair of leggings are the perfect things for cosying up on a rainy Monday.

2. Unexpectedly having a three day week. My rota's in a bit of a mess at the moment thanks to transitioning to a new contract, so I hadn't realised that I got both Monday and Friday off this week! I turned up to work on Tuesday and had to check my rota about four times before I genuinely believed I only had to be there until Thursday. 

3. Getting my blogging inspo back. Since writing this post I've gotten back into the swing of just writing and not getting quite so caught up in thinking about how to word my posts. 

4. Poached eggs for breakfast on a work day! I've always gotten up way earlier than strictly necessary in the mornings, yet never think to use that time to do something more than just porridge or cereal for breakfast. It's nice to mix things up now and again :)

5. Audiobooks. I'm not normally swayed by promotional emails and offers, but somehow Audible always get me. I cancelled my subscription a few months ago because I didn't need to be downloading an audiobook every month, but they recently sent an offer to have three months at a great discount. This month I've downloaded the Little Book of Hygge - it's the ideal audiobook for going to sleep to! (Plus it's great as audiobook as I don't have to worry about how on earth any of the words should be pronounced!)

6. Realising that the current Facebook message thread with my best friend has over 25,000 messages in it (some of which are pretty much essays they're so long). And that's not including the first few years where Facebook used to make you start a new message thread once the current one got "too full", or some of the threads we deleted due to the fact they're just too embarrassing to ever look back at. Or the many, many text messages, whatsapps and snapchats we've sent over the years. That's a lot of chatting!

7. Lunch, lattes and four kinds of cake, plus a good catch up with two great friends. We finally found a weekend we were all free, and it was so nice to spend the afternoon together!

What have been the best bits of your week?


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Real Health | Health Isn't A Hobby

Wellbeing is big business.

It's a rapidly growing industry with new products, publications and professionals appearing week on week. 

Health is at the very centre of what I do. As a doctor, my entire working life is based around health - defined as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being" by the World Health Organisation.

The way I see it, health isn't an optional extra, a hobby for those who feel like it. As it becomes an ever more commercialised, rule-driven entity, it starts to alienate people more and more. Health is something we all need to be thinking about, taking responsibility for, and just making it the part of everyday life that it should be.

We've hugely overcomplicated our idea of being healthy. Healthy eating isn't about superfoods and tracking our macros and micronutrients. It's not about picking a diet with a defined list of does and don'ts, can eat, can't eats. It's about just getting a good balance of fresh, nutritious foods. 

Exercise doesn't have to be about slogging it down at the gym or training for a marathon. It's just about finding time in your day to get up and move around. 

And how about mental health? Mindfulness and meditation are all well and good, but where on earth are you supposed to find the 10 minutes for it when you're already meant to be cramming the day with preparing elaborate superfood salads and working up a sweat on the treadmill?!

I'm not saying that wellness and the health and fitness industry are a bad thing. Personally I take a lot of inspiration from these ideas. But we have got to remember that health isn't a hobby just for the keen. Being healthy isn't something to opt into when we've got time. We need to take it back to basics so everyone can get onboard.

This isn't the last you'll be hearing from me on health. Oh no... I'm dedicating a brand new blog series to the topic! Look out for 'Real Health' posts on Ginevrella where I'll get discussing these ideas further and thinking about how we can take a back-to-basics approach to health, treating it as simply the way of life it ought to be.


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Writing, writing, writing

I've deleted the introduction to this post four times already, and I've only been working on it for about sixty seconds.

This is the trouble I'm having with my blog at the moment. 

I love blogging. I love reading blogs, I love putting together my own posts, I love creating something to be proud of. But lately I've been struggling.

It's not that I don't have things to write about. The inspiration is there, it's just that I seem to have a bit of a block when it comes to typing it up. My drafts folder is stuffed with half written posts.

I think I'm overthinking things. Rather than sitting down and just typing, I'm trying too hard. I'll have a great idea for a blog post, but I get stuck putting it into words and sentences and paragraphs. I worry that I'm losing what I wanted to be focusing on. Or as I get typing, the points I want to  make keep expanding and cascading on and on, and suddenly I've got a long post that's almost impossible to follow.

Or sometimes I worry that I've made a point, but don't really have anything to back it up with. Maybe it's all my training in evidence-based practice, all the journal papers I've (kind of) read. Over the past five years, it's been completely drilled into me that everything needs backing up. Sometimes science rather stifles creativity. 

So many of my drafts are opinion style pieces, but then I get concerned with balance. What if people disagree with my opinion?! What if they think I'm being too one-sided? So then I start trying to balance out my opinion and the whole post becomes some pointless, non-committed, sitting-on-the-fence waffle. 

As blogs become brands and businesses, it's easy to get caught up in trying to turn an online diary into something of a one-person magazine, with posts becoming more of a 'feature' than a friendly chat.

When I'm struggling with my blog, I like to look to my favourite bloggers and think about what it is they do that keeps me coming back. Something I admire is the illusion of 'effortless' blog posts. While I'm sure all these bloggers are putting tonnes of effort into what they do, it's their casual style posts that entice me back again and again. They're not heavily researched articles. They're not essays. They're not magazine features. They simply seem to be the work of someone sitting down and just writing

So that's what I'm trying to do. Care less, so that I can care more. Stop giving up on my posts before I even finished them. Accept rough drafts and refine them, rather than aim for perfection from the offset.

Hopefully that's just the boost I need to get back into the swing of things.

What are you top tips for blogger's block?


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Little Things I've Loved This Week #39

Happy New Year, all! I can't believe we're only just over a week into 2017 - I've been back at work since the 2nd and haven't yet stopped (SO ready for a day off tomorrow). Despite spending the week oncall, it's been a positive one. I've stuck to my resolutions about a better work-life balance and I'm definitely feeling the benefits. So keeping things cheery, here are some of the little things I've loved this week...

1. The most peaceful of supermarket shopping trips. 9am on a Tuesday morning. Barely any other shoppers, just an army of grocery-pickers making up online deliveries. No radio blaring. No in-your-face Christmas decorations. No crowds, queues or in-the-way trolleys. Just me, my basket and all the shelves fully stocked.

2. The pharmacist who thanked me many times over for sorting something out for a patient who was unexpectedly being discharged that day. While I don't expect to be thanked for every little task I do, it felt good to have my efforts acknowledged for once!

3. This picture. It was one of the first things I saw while scrolling through Facebook on Thursday morning and for some reason it really tickled me!

4. Dinner with the other FY1 doctors. It's great to get together with the others and just remind myself that I'm not the only person still adjusting to working life as a doctor! We went out for curry as a big group, and yes we did talk medicine most of the night but actually it helps to just let off a bit of steam.

5. Saturday evening gym session, followed by a pizza. Because life's all about balance.

6. Spotify playlists. For when I want something relaxing in the background and the radio is just too chatty. 

7. A relaxed lunch and coffee break, actually at lunchtime on Saturday at work. The other oncall doctor and I made the most of a quiet period to sit, chat and drink coffee with the only interruptions being simple bleeps that could be dealt with over the phone. 

8. Enjoying the daylight on my late mornings. I've been starting work at 11am which means I get to actually see some daylight in the mornings and this always makes the day feel a hundred times better!

What have been the highlights of your first week of 2017?!

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Clichéd and cheesy or not, I rather like the end of the year as a time for reflection and a chance to look back over the past twelve months.

Although on the grander scale, 2016 is being described as something of a disaster year, I've found it wonderfully refreshing to read how it's been a year of personal positivity for many people. And I'm including myself in this. It's only when I take the time to sit back and think that I realise just how much I've accomplished in 2016.

Right at the start of the year, I was still at university - a final year medical student anticipating all the final milestones on my journey to graduation. I found out I'd passed my medical school finals, then a few weeks later was delighted to hear that I'd been confirmed to have a job as a doctor once I'd graduated. Come the summer, in the midst of that heatwave, I donned a black gown and graduated from student to doctor - undoubtedly my biggest achievement of 2016.

It wasn't all about educational achievements though. I also took on a challenge I'd never have dreamed of a few years ago. I can hardly consider the annual PE cross country day and two or three schools' competitions aged about 14 much of a running career, but it was all the experience I had when I signed up for the Bath Half Marathon (under the influence of my equally inexperienced housemate and a good dose of prosecco each). But I religiously completed the three months of training - beautiful sunrise jogs around Clifton and less beautiful, rainy slogs through the backstreets of Yeovil - and actually really enjoyed myself on the streets of Bath!

2016 was also an outstanding year for me in terms of travelling. I was fortunate enough to spend a full two months in Cape Town, South Africa, mixing work and pleasure as I finished off my degree with an elective period in a psychiatric department. Then after a brief unpack/wash/repack of my luggage, I headed off for a a mini-tour of Milan, Budapest and the coast of Croatia.

Holidays over, I moved into a new flat all ready to start my new job as a doctor. I've already completed my first four month rotation, and I'm getting stuck into job number two. 

So with all that behind me, what's to come for 2017?

Well, first and foremost - I'm still planning on keeping this blog going! A hectic last few months has made it tricky, but I do love writing here and keeping up with the blogging world. I'm planning on taking things back to basics, worrying less about numbers/ social media presence/ flashy photography and more on just writing about the ins and outs of day-to-day life.

Secondly, despite the previous point - I do want to work on my photography. Buying my camera this summer has honestly been one of my best investments. I love taking it out and about with me and I've finally plucked up the courage over the past few weeks to learn to use it in manual mode. My job doesn't allow for a lot of creativity, so this has been my outlet and I'm keen to keep learning.

Keep cooking. I'm very good at looking through all the cookbooks, recipe cards and food magazines on my shelf - less good at trying new things very often! I want to try and make an effort to continue experimenting and finding new favourite meals.

Well this one is definitely a cliché and I'm trying not to care too much about that! But, err, I joined the local gym... As someone's who's never set foot in a gym before this is slightly terrifying but I'm hoping it will bring good things. So any bloggers with advice - please share!

Self care. Towards the end of my last job, I was getting into bad habits of finishing work late (due to workload rather than choice), eating rubbish dinners and then pretty much getting straight into bed. Now I'm trying to make more of my evenings and actually enjoying my free time - whether that's going out and seeing people, or simply getting comfy and working through the pile of books on my bedside table...

The year will also bring a further two new jobs, yet another move and hopefully some more travel along the way!

What have been your achievements in 2016 and what are you looking forward to in 2017? Let me know!

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Winter Scenes

Grey swan, cygnet

Without a doubt, my best purchase this year has been my camera. 

Whenever I'm feeling bored and cooped up on a day off, I grab my camera bag and head out to play with it. It's a great excuse to get out, enjoy some fresh air and look at the world in a different way.

It's also meant I've witnessed the changing of the seasons as summer turned to autumn and autumn gave way to winter. 

A grey Monday afternoon in December doesn't necessarily sound like the ideal photo opportunity, but I ventured out nonetheless and snapped a few pictures.

Despite being two in the afternoon, the day had an eery quality to it, with the faintest hint of mist and a empty greyness.

Through the autumn, I enjoyed capturing the colours of the trees - rich reds and oranges as the leaves changed. Now they're bare, I love the way the branches stand out against a cloudy sky - dark lines swirling against the background.

Bare branches of tree in winter

And for the most elegant of photo subjects? Well it has to be the swans, floating serenely up the river and their cygnets maturing from ugly ducklings to fully grown adults.

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