Stand up for your workplace health

Whose job is it to improve the health credentials of our workplaces? The state, in a bid to ease the strain on our overstretched NHS? Employers, who reap the commercial benefits of healthier, more productive staff? Or we the workers, for reasons of self-interest?

Perhaps because no one can actually decide how to tackle the health time-bomb of sedentary working habits – or has the energy to do so? – we are sleep-sitting our way into a crisis of (literally) crippling proportions.

The extent of the problem was laid bare at this week’s Active Working Summit 2017. Expert speaker after speaker ran through the evidence: nearly a fifth of premature deaths in the UK are due to physical inactivity; more than 50% of staff working for the NHS (the nation’s biggest employer) are overweight; the cost to the UK of poor workplace health is equal to the GDP of Portugal; fewer than half of us are disability-free by age 50; by spending seven hours plus a day seated we are suffering from muscle and joint issues that leave us frail and incapacitated.

The evidential case against workplace sedentary behaviour is clear. What researchers are focusing on too is how reducing those sedentary habits positively improves wellness and productivity. Early signs are good, and enlightened employers (and office design) encourage workers to stand up from their desks and get active around the office.

The way to create active working is move often and carry mobile tech, ergonomics guru Prof Alan Hedge of Cornell University told the Active Working Summit. Younger workers get it, when their workplaces make it possible (take a walk through tech-co intensive Old Street and you’ll see this in action).

As Mayo Clinic Professor James Levine put it: “Active working is the coolest way to work. Barack Obama, the boss of Nike does it, Google, Facebook. These are cool places to work and they don’t want staff to be in their seats in one place all day long.”

So why aren’t corporate health and safety, occupational health departments in the vanguard of the active working movement? Gavin Bradley, the evangelical founding director of Active Working CIC, believes we are being failed by the HSE with its lack of recommendations for the use of adjustable desks. Workplace OH specialists generally only get involved once an employee has complained of a condition such as back or shoulder ache rather than taking the preventative approach.

We’ve got it the wrong way round, agreed Dr Nicola Eccles of Halifax-headquartered CP Active: “We shouldn’t be asking why aren’t you at your desk, but why are you always at your desk?”

So is it time for statutory guidance on active working? In Denmark, employers are legally obliged to provide sit-stand desks. It’s the law. The desks are there. Few workers use them. Gitte Toft, Danish inventor of the Steppie balance board blamed it on the lack of training, explanation and encouragement. Push rather than nudge just doesn’t seem to work.

Public Health England advisor Dame Carol Black agreed that legislation was not the answer, preferring options such as a voluntary register for employers. “Legislative policy follows the population,” she said. “Health and wellbeing at work cannot be an add-on: it needs to be embedded in a company.”

My take on this message – and one that I pass on to staff at companies I work with on healthy workplace practices: you work here, you deserve better, the ball is in your court. If you want a healthier working environment (and who wouldn’t?), you’ve got to demand it. Ask for the sit-stand desk riser, take regular breaks, become your department’s healthy workplace champion, put up posters, challenge your manager, stop eating lunch at your desk.

As Peter Brogan of the BIFM suggested at the Active Working Summit, the question that needs to get answered is: “Does your board even have a workplace strategy?”

Kickstart your healthy workplace campaign by signing up your team/department/company for On Your Feet Britain Day April 28, 2017: thousands are already signed up for a day of activity in the workplace in a bid to encourage the nation to #sitless #movemore, organised by Active Working CIC.

 

Join a running group to boost your training

I love running but when I go out on my own, I’m a plodder, grinding out the miles while listening to podcasts. Good for the mileage but does little to enhance my run performance.

Hill reps, intervals, power moves would all, I know, help build my speed and endurance, but they hurt. So if I’m going to incorporate them effectively into my running regime, I really need to have someone there making me do them – and making me do them properly. No cheating when it gets tough.

The answer? Get a PT (costly solo solution) or join a running group (less expensive, more sociable). I opted for the latter, a new RunTogether group led by Wimbledon’s enthusiastic and inspirational health coach Anna Desogus, who I already know from my work on the @HealthyMerton healthy workplace programme. The group was set up in association with central Wimbledon yoga studio Jiva Health, so keep an eye out, as there may be some useful run + gait therapy + yoga sessions scheduled soon…

Find out more about Healthy Workplace services here

Runners' feet

Raring to RunTogether: high vis recommended on a frosty Wimbledon night

The first session took place last night. Anna kicked our training off with a 7pm safety briefing, then we took a slow jog to a safe cul de sac where we performed a series of power/strength moves: exactly the kind of thing I would never do when running alone. Duly warmed up, we head for a secluded residential area just off Wimbledon Hill for a hill reps session that challenged every one of us.

It was perfect: better runners could aim for more reps, while the less experienced/ambitious among us could go at our own pace, performing fewer circuits yet still pushing ourselves. No one was left behind, and Anna was super-effective in instruction and motivation. An hour later, we were all back in central Wimbledon for a final stretching session then home in time for supper. Brilliant.

Fancy joining Anna’s weekly Monday night RunTogether session? It caters for all levels of running (you must be able to run for at least 10 minutes), with a varied programme incorporating a dynamic workout as well as pure running, making it the perfect complement to your usual run sessions. Thoroughly recommend.

Find out more (and book your place): Anna’s Raramuri running group
Personalised nutrition, health, coaching services: Anna Desogus Health Coaching

Capital award for healthy workplace services

I was delighted to be presented with a special award by the Mayor of London’s office this week for being one of the capital’s most active and effective healthy workplace practitioners.

Nicola wins healthy workplace servcies award

Nicola receives healthy workplace award

In recent months, I have assisted six businesses and organisations in applying for and winning accreditation under the London Healthy Workplace Charter: a 100% success rate, and one which means the service I run is among the best in the city. My work continues, with more applications coming through from companies based in the London Borough of Merton (Wimbledon), where I am largely based, and now also further afield.

I am available to aid businesses across South West London and beyond in their attempts to both increase their healthy workplace credentials and apply for the official Mayor of London award if they wish.

How does it work? An employer wanting to win Charter accreditation needs to put together a folder of evidence documenting its efforts and achievements in encouraging and enabling its staff to follow healthy, sustainable working practices. It also needs to assess its current credentials in the health and wellbeing fields, and identify areas where it can (and will) do better.

It is a process that means a business can genuinely boast of being a healthy workplace employer and enjoy the long term benefits of a more motivated, productive workforce as well as the shorter term (but ongoing) PR and marketing benefits of winning official accreditation under an independent, rigorous, bona fide scheme backed by Public Health England.

My assistance makes the application process simpler, and is a way to introduce fresh ideas and contacts to help a business better support its staff needs and goals. Research shows that healthier employees are also more productive and motivated, work better together as a team and suffer less absenteeism as well as being better advocates for the business where they work.

Sounds interesting? Visit my workplace health page and get in touch to find out more: nicola@feelgoodcontent.co.uk

Business taking steps towards a more active workforce

Staff at the Sit-Stand.com standing desk company are contractually obliged to take a 15-minute walk during office hours every working day.

It costs the company precisely nothing, but it is a healthy workplaces commitment to the principles of a business run by the founder of Active Working: to reduce the amount of time we spend sitting down at work.

And as CEO Gavin Bradley points out, once you’ve started your 15-minute walk-out, it will probably turn into more. Activity logged: job done.

Evidence is constantly growing that staff who spend most of their working day seated are both less productive and more inclined to suffer health problems. Office workers sit on average 10 hours each day, and 70% of this sitting time is at work. The solution is simple: stand up and move around more. It’s not complicated, it’s not expensive, just good business sense.

No surprise, then, that during a 90-minute meeting with Sit-Stand.com‘s director Gavin Bradley, we were on our feet the whole time. A standing meeting with the offer of a freshly-blitzed smoothie: I love a company that practises what it preaches, and this one certainly does.

It’s all part of a growing recognition of the fact that employers who take measures to enhance the health of staff benefit from people who are more motivated and productive, less likely to suffer stress and absenteeism and act as positive advocates for the business.

So why don’t more bosses take simple steps such as encouraging staff to move around more, step away from their work stations at regular intervals and pay more attention to their personal health outcomes?

It’s a business culture issue, but one that is certainly starting to change, as is evidenced by the increasing number of companies I work with who are recognising that supporting their workforce in making healthy choices does not have to be costly or time-consuming.

Workplace health-boosting measures can include steps as simple as moving bins away from desks so that staff are forced to stand and walk a short distance to dispose of rubbish, or encouraging greater use of stairs by posting inspirational Step Jockey style stickers beside the lifts.

Installing adjustable standing desks is becoming popular among employees, and is another relatively low-cost investment, with the entry level Sit-Stand.com Yo-Yo workstation costing well below £200.

In Denmark, 90% of employees have an adjustable standing desk. Health and wellbeing at work evangelist Gavin Bradley would love to see similar in the UK, and with his value range of adjustable sit-stand desks, PLUS his Active Working and Get Britain Standing campaigns, he is taking massive steps in helping move the world’s workforce towards a more active future. I’m in.

Find out more about how I can help YOUR business enhance its healthy workplace credentials

Wash Wizard cleans up on workplace workouts

wash wizard

Magic! Your workplace wash-mate

Workplace health and wellbeing is a big part of business for me at present, and encouraging staff to stay active through the working day is one of the ways in which companies can help build motivation and productivity.

But what if you’re not lucky enough to be in a building that offers showers for a post-workout freshen up? Picture the scene: you cycle to work, grab a lunchtime run or a midday gym session. Mind cleared, but body sweaty. No time or facilities to take a shower.

Options? Wet-wipe-wash or sweaty desk all afternoon. Neither is great for you or your workmates.

Good news! I just road-tested a third option, and it’s quick, discreet and – critically – effective. Wash Wizard is just perfect as a workplace post-workout clean-up. It’s a simple idea: a tightly-rolled sponge impregnated with sweat-busting aloe vera foam that takes up almost zero space in your work bag.

wash wizard

Wash Wizard: discreet and effective

Simply splash with water from your bottle to activate, swipe the bits that need freshening up, and you’re ready for the rest of your day. No need to rinse or towel dry, and it’s fragrance-free so suitable for both sexes.

At £7.99 for a pack of five, Wash Wizard is my latest affordable gymbag essential (brilliant for camping, sailing trips, overnight train journeys and festivals too).

Find out more about how your business can harness the  power of wellbeing at work to benefit both your staff AND your bottom line via our healthy workplaces service.

4 best ways to rock veggie January

a rainbow of vegetables for veggie January

Rainbow vegetables: among the joys of  vegetarian January

Another vegetarian January is over, and this has been the least troublesome one ever. So much so that, come Feb 1, I couldn’t think of a meat-based recipe I actually wanted to cook.

So here is my four-point guide to enjoying a delicious, healthful, inspiring month of veggie cooking.

  1. Yotam Ottolenghi: The year we discovered the joys of this genius chef’s cookbook Plenty was the year our vegetarian January became both seriously enjoyable and sustainable. The way he combines ingredients to create mouthwatering dishes is pure genius. I now own the full set of his books, having received a copy of his new Nopi for Christmas, and am itching to try out some of the meaty recipes now veggie Jan is over.
  2. Raw slaw: Hell, I LOVE raw slaw, so in my household it is certainly not just for vegetarian January. I combine any mixture of shredded uncooked beetroot, red cabbage, green or white cabbage, carrot, radish and celeriac with toasted walnut pieces, dried cranberries or sour cherries, and a shredded apple, then dress it with sesame and olive oil, mirin, pomegranate molasses, vinegar and a sprinkle of rock salt. It keeps well in the fridge, so I always make a huge batch and it tides me over for a few days. Delicious alongside griddled halloumi and roasted aubergine (see Ottolenghi for The Best Ever aubergine recipes).
  3. South East Asia: Thai red chicken curry – without the chicken – is now a Feelgood family favourite. I have a tub of homemade red curry paste in the fridge on a permanent basis, meaning it’s a matter of moments to chop up a load of vegetables for this non-meat version that is in fact as tasty as the carnivorous alternative. Just make sure you throw in the veg in order of how long they each take to cook ie green beans, chopped celeriac first and sliced onion first, followed by diced butternut squash, and courgette last.
  4. The wok. Fuchsia Dunlop is another favourite chef, and she includes some brilliant vegetarian versions of her Szechuan meat-based recipes in her inspiring cookbook Every Grain of Rice. Who knew that Ma Po Dofu could be as good without minced beef as with it? Stir-fried greens with garlic and soy sauce were a staple of my student days, and I still love them as much as ever: near raw and therefore bursting with vitamins, they give my veggie January a real healthy zing.

And that’s the key to a successful meat-free start to the year: rather than seeing it as a time of restricted eating, think of it as a time to extend your cooking repertoire, try out new recipes and cooking styles, and a chance to nourish your digestion with more raw foods, unprocessed foodstuffs and lower fat options. It’s easier – and tastier – than you might think.

Go tandem! The RideLondon 2015 blog post

 

RideLondon-Surrey 2015

We made it! 100 miles by tandem: another RideLondon-Surrey completed

 

With two pairs of legs powering us along the 100-mile course, we should have crossed the finish line at under six hours, but instead the Team Thompson tandem finished in seven and half hours due to unavoidable hold-ups.

Slightly disappointing time-wise due to a crowded, crash-heavy course (not us, thankfully), but with shouts of ‘Go tandem!’ ringing in our ears as we powered our way round the picturesque circuit of central London and the Surrey Hills on a bicycle made for two, this year’s traffic-free RideLondon-Surrey 100 was another splendid day out.

The highlights:

Roadside support – from friends, our chosen charity (Muscular Dystrophy UK: donations still welcome!), RideLondon-Surrey volunteers and the hugely encouraging residents who came out of their homes to cheer us all on. Massive thanks to them all.

The joy of tandem – Everyone loves a tandem, it turns out, and it was heartwarming to put a smile on so many faces as we pedalled by. Solo riders admitted they were a bit jealous of all the attention we attracted!
Having two on a bike leaves one (me, the stoker at the back) free to wave while the other (my husband Piers, the pilot at the front) steers, changes gear and worries about braking. We both pedal like billy-oh, obviously.
Setting off in a tandem-heavy wave – there were at least 15 leaving at the same time as us – gave us a real sense of camaraderie, and what lovely people they all were.

The weather – after the rain-fest that was RideLondon 2014, cycling in warm sunshine with a cool breeze was heavenly.

Being on a bike with my husband for seven hours – might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but sitting astride a tandem means you can have an ongoing conversation without worrying about getting left behind. Also, it meant Piers (whose back wheel I normally stick to like glue on bike rides) didn’t have to keep glancing over his shoulder to check I was still there. And I could easily raid his back pockets (our in-bike tuck shop) for high-energy snacks as necessary. The perfect fit-date!

Riding on traffic-free roads – there is a peculiar thrill to cycling through red lights, the wrong way around roundabouts and on the right-hand side of the road, totally legally.

The final sprint – the RideLondon-Surrey course ends with nine-plus miles of mainly flat and downhill roads including Putney Hill, The Embankment, Whitehall and finally The Mall, lined with enthusiastic cheering crowds. Wow, what a feeling to get your head down and literally sprint the whole way home.
We averaged 22mph over the last nine miles, powering past hundreds of riders (how good did that feel?!) and crossing the finish line at 24mph, lungs gasping and legs utterly spent. Whoosh! Proof that when you really get a tandem going, it goes like a bullet.

The low-lights:

Delays – it could be because we had a late start time (a mightily civilised 08.24) in the tandem wave, but the course seemed a lot more congested than in previous years. Water and hub stops were also having trouble coping – long queues for water refills and loos.
From 16,000 riders in 2013 to 20,000 in 2014 and 26,000 this year, perhaps the RideLondon-Surrey 100 has reached – or even exceeded – peak bike?

Crashes – I feel so sorry for the people we saw being treated by medical teams: there seemed to be a lot more than in previous years. Again, perhaps the sheer number of cyclists contributed to this? Unfortunately, the logistics of getting ambulances to them meant there were numerous times when we had to dismount and either wait or walk as congestion meant cycling was impossible for anyone, let alone a bulky tandem.

 

RideLondon 2015 Leith Hill delay

The mother of all cycle jams: waiting to get onto Leith Hill after a medical emergency forced organisers to close the course for a couple of hours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leith Hill – we found out later that a cyclist had suffered a heart attack and died at the bottom of Leith Hill during Sunday’s ride. Very sad: condolences to his family. The fall-out of the situation was that the road had to be closed, and thousands of cyclists (including us) ended up stationary for more than hour as treatment was administered and ambulances made their way to the scene. Such was the number of bikes that it was impossible to get us all back in the saddle so we all ended up walking almost halfway up Leith Hill before there was enough space to get cycling again.

Aching hands – ouch: after seven and a half hours spent trying to force some traction from our woefully underpowered brakes, Piers’ wrists ended up suffering from temporary ‘handlebar palsy‘, yes it’s a real condition.

Some RideLondon 2015 stats:

Total time on the course: 7.5 hours
Average speed over the first 40 miles: 21mph
Average speed over the final nine miles from Wimbledon Common: 22mph
Speed as we crossed the finish line: 24mph

Snacks consumed per person: one banana, one Bounce energy ball, two energy gels (Gu, salted caramel, espresso love: highly recommend); half a Nakd bar; four bottles of sports drink
Number of times someone yelled ‘Go Tandem!’ at us: too many to count

We won our RideLondon 2015 tandem places in the ballot and paid for them, but chose to cycle in aid of Muscular Dystrophy because it is gradually – but quickly – stealing the mobility of the children of some very dear friends. All donations will help fund ways to tackle this devastating condition. Find out more and donate at our Just Giving page: justgiving.com/ThompsonTandem

The one where it rained. A lot: Read my RideLondon-Surrey 2014 blog
The one where I crashed and Piers was a hero: Read my RideLondon-Surrey 2013 blog

Perfect strawberry jam

homemade strawberry and prosecco jamI love eating homemade jam and marmalade, but I don’t generally enjoy making it. It’s that darned setting point that brings so much stress: when is a wrinkle enough of a wrinkle to count? What is the flake test? And how come you can’t always rely on the temperature (a super-precise 104.5degC) to bring a guaranteed set?

So I am delighted to share a recipe for the queen of summer jams – strawberry and prosecco jam – that actually works, and tastes utterly heavenly. Well, it worked for me today, although that is of course no guarantee it will work next time… Sigh.

Strawberry and prosecco jam

jam makingToday’s homemade jam triumph was largely based on a recipe I found on bakingmad.com with some amends. Here’s my version:

800g hulled strawberries
1kg jam sugar
juice of half a lemon
200ml prosecco
knob of butter

Method: Place strawberries in a preserving pan and roughly crush with a potato masher. Add lemon juice and gently warm through before pouring in sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves without allowing the mixture to boil. Next, add prosecco and butter and increase the heat so the mixture comes to a rolling boil.

Maintain boil until the jam reaches magic setting temperature of 104.5degC. I use a probe thermometer. Check you have a proper set by carrying out the mysterious wrinkle test and hope for the best… before bottling your perfectly set strawberry and prosecco jam in sterilised jars.

 

 

My perfect post-workout recovery

Fitting fitness, nutrition, work and everyday chores into your life can be a challenge, which is why during a month of almost daily 90-minute Bikram yoga sessions I’ve had to be super-organised.

I’m not a huge fan of supplement shakes, mainly because I always favour ‘real’ food over powders, but I know that when I’m pushing myself on the fitness front my body really does benefit from a helping hand in the form of extra protein, healthy fats and the right kind of carbs.

Finding a grab-and-go recovery shake that tastes great and dissolves quickly as well as supporting my fitness is pretty important. And I must say that during my intensive Bikram month, USN whey protein shakes pretty much hit the spot for me when it came to post-practice recovery.

USN protein shake

Protein shake: the perfect recovery drink

I’m not a fan of chocolate so stuck with the strawberry flavour, and livened it up by replacing plain water with coconut water (utterly delicious!) or glugging in a splash of unsweetened almond milk. I’m a massive fan of maxing up those health benefits.

Having a protein shake to hand the minute I walked in the door after a long hot session in the studio was a so-simple, effective way to give myself an energy boost before jumping in the shower. It staved off the hunger pangs and meant I could drive on through to my next project without wasting time. Homemade power balls were my other secret weapon.

A USN shake was the perfect way to start the rehydration process as well as kicking off the repair process for stretched muscle tissue. A month in, and I felt stronger, leaner and revitalized. My running pace was faster and I was sleeping better. I also enjoyed one of my best ever ski trips, with improved endurance, strength and general fitness. Thanks Bikram Wimbledon and USN.

My next fitness project? Now the days are longer and getting warmer, it’s time to get back on my bike and start work on those legs, arms and lungs in preparation for this year’s 100-mile RideLondon-Surrey cycle sportive. We’re talking protein shakes, energy gels, isotonic drinks – and a whole heap of hills. Bring it on!

The benefits of Bikram yoga

I’ve been on a Bikram binge. Now it’s over, what’s my verdict?

A quick backgrounder: I signed up as a yoga novice for a £35/30-day unlimited classes offer at my local Bikram studio bikramyogawimbledon.com in a bid to improve my suppleness, flexibility and joint strength. I run and cycle frequently, so figured that something lower-impact would be a good way to supplement my 2015 fitness regime. And in the depths of winter, a roasting hot yoga studio has a lot more going for it than cold, wet circuits of Richmond Park…

The good: Where do I start? Some people are put off Bikram yoga by the heat – practice takes place in a studio heated to a sultry 40degC. Wonderful in the depths of winter, and I love the heat, so for me this was a massive bonus.

I managed to fit in 3-4 Bikram sessions a week and by the end of my 30-day membership:

  • I had lost half a stone. Whoop whoop!
  • I was able to run further with less effort: my lungs felt stronger and my breathing was more controlled.
  • My average running pace had increased.
  • I was feeling full of energy and motivation (hello, exercise-induced endorphins!).
  • My upper arms were tighter and stronger.

The bad: Each Bikram yoga session lasts 90 minutes, during which you follow a set pattern of moves led by a teacher. For me, trying to find time for this on a regular basis was quite a challenge and there’s no way I could maintain my 3/4 classes a week attendance. There’s also no way you could do without a full-on shower and hairwash after every practice given the amount of sweat that pours off. Nope, this is not an exercise habit that you can squeeze into a lunch hour.

The ugly: Definitely the size of the laundry pile. Hitting the studio on a regular basis means having to deal with a heap more washing than usual. Small price to pay, though, for the physical and mental benefits.

My verdict: Definitely recommend as a cross-training practice to support cardio activities as well as boost strength, suppleness and joint health. I feel in great shape for skiing, re-enthused for running, and am looking forward to seeing how much difference Bikram will make once I get back on my bike in prep for this year’s RideLondon-Surrey 100 miler.