What a morning! What a walk!

A perfect late September morning in England is a thing of absolute beauty, and that’s what we had today in Clevedon. I went for a walk before breakfast, and went further than I expected to, as it was too difficult to stop!

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First photo shows the view across the little park in Jesmond Road… Most views of the coast show the headlands further down the North Somerset coast, and you can often see the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm, as well as the distant North Devon coast. And of course Wales across the Bristol channel. The view is the reward for a fairly steep climb up the hill!

Then I carried on to Hill Road, and walked up the Zig-Zag to see the various views accessible from there. You get Zig-Zag paths in many hilly towns, but ours in Clevedon is quite well hidden, as the entries from Hill Road aren’t sign-posted. So here are the views:

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Looking down the coast…

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… and looking across the town towards the distant hills. At least some of the hills shown are the Mendips.

Then I walked down Kings Road and Cambridge Road, past The Avenue….

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… onto Wellington Terrace back towards…

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… the sea front and …

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… The Pier.

I was planning to walk home from the sea front, but the day was so pretty I finished off by walking around Poet’s Walk. No ravens or peregrine falcons today, but plenty of other birds, including a heron looking hopefully at the puddles in the Marine Lake.

Here’s the view as you reach the brow of the hill…

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Gorgeous!

I’ve tried to work out the distance and I think it’s about 3.5 miles. The route includes some fairly steep hills, so it was quite good exercise. But more importantly it was a total pleasure – just as good exercise should be!

[Have you read my book yet? A beginners guide to walking for pleasure, available on Kindle!]

Burning fat – What’s it all about?

Is anyone else in the UK enjoying the BBC series looking at food and health? “The truth about…”

I like to think I know quite a lot about healthy eating, having a degree in Biology and several years of reading and listening to advice about foods and trying to put into practice the things that make sense to me.  Although a lot of the information in the series has just confirmed what I already knew or intuitively believed (don’t follow fads, don’t give up particular types of food, don’t eat too much of anything, eat lots of veg, keep active) there has still been plenty of interest.

I  really believe in and enjoy the benefits of walking, as anyone who has read my Kindle book will know and the programme “The Truth about Calories” gave evidence that the best way to burn calories is to keep up a good level of gentle activity, rather than exhausting yourself with a too-vigorous work out. Walking fits nicely into that regime! Good news!

However, although I am healthy, exercise frequently and am careful with what I eat, I also really enjoy food, so like many people I carry a little more fat than I would like, and maybe a lot more than is currently recommended for good health. I also have a family wedding coming up in July, so I am trying to shift an extra few pounds of fat in the next three months. The most recent programme, “The truth about fat” has inspired me to try the latest scientific idea for burning fat. It sounded so interesting that I got my aerobic step out today and made a start. And I thought I’d share with you the beginning of the experiment and give you a progress report as I go along the way.

So, here’s the plan. It’s like High Intensity Interval training – short bursts of testing exercise with rest breaks in between. The programme recommended 2 minutes of exercise followed by 1 minute of rest repeated 7 times. This pattern of activity and rest switches your metabolism so you burn fat for a much longer period of time after the exercise has ended. I can’t remember the figures, but it was definitely significant!

I chose stepping, as I know it’s aerobic, but achieveable for me. You have yo chose something that will challenge you, but won’t hurt you. I have stairs in my house, but the step is handy as I can have it near a clock. On Day 1, the level of activity was right I think (hope!). I kept to a good , fast pace and appreciated the minute rest. My heart and breathing rate went up, I felt hot and could feel the work in my muscles and I definitely needed water afterwards.

The total of just over 20 minutes was easy to fit into my day, and I’ll be repeating the activity every day for at least a week (and maybe longer) to see if there are results. I aim to post a short comment each day, so scroll down to see if I’m sticking to the plan!

For the record, and so I can actually tell if there is an impact on fat, I’ll share some stats. My starting waist measurement is just less than 34.5 inches and my weight is 171.25 pounds: it’s just beginning to come down anyway after the excesses of Christmas. For comparison, in July last year I was cruising at around 165 pounds, and wanting to lose a little more fat, so although losing fat isn’t all about weight*, I’ll be pleased to get back to those sorts of levels. Even better will be a reduction in my waist measurement! [*It isn’t all about weight as increased muscle and increased bone density through exercise also increase your weight. A better measure might be accurate body dimensions, but measuring size accurately enough is quite difficult, so weight is a handy indication]

I won’t be changing the amount I eat, or my other normal daily exercises, so I’ll let you know how I get on and whether this makes a difference to me!

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A foot – essential equipment for step exercises, and for walking!

Day 2: Hard to make a start today… But that’s my own fault. We had dinner with friends ast night, and I had a glass of wine too many… No wine for me today!

Day 3: Easy to be good on the wine front today: just water and tea in liquid yesterday, and again today I think. A little Easter fare – hot cross buns and some choclate: and home made pizza for tea, so I haven’t been trying to reduce the calories through food intake. We have done a little gardening, and then I did my 20 minutes for the fat burning regime. I’l be interested to weigh myself in a couple of days and see if there has been any effect. Not that I’m expecting anything much so soon…

Day 4: Such a nice day! I just want to be lazy!! But I have done my repititions, so am entitled to feel virtuous. Two days until my weekly weigh-in. I wonder if this will show results? I feel lighter…

Day 5: The novelty is wearing off, but once you start it’s no so bad. And I was feeling chlly after sitting and typing, but i’m nice and warm again. We have our Wednesday weigh in tomorrow, and maybe I’ll see a difference. You’ll be the first to know!

Day 6: The weigh in. Well, there has been a loss – about 0.25 pound. Not much, but then we did have a very nice meal out with friends, including wine, and some hot cross buns for Easter treats. Alec put on a pound in the same period of time… I am thinking that my stepping needs a little more resistance to it, so I have got my wrist weights ready to use today.

You don’t need daily updates, do you?  I’ll be back with news next Wednesday!

Day 7 – maybe just one interim update! I did the 20 minutes with wrist weights today and found I had to push myself much harder towards the end. I think just step wasn’t quite enough for me…

Day 13 – Weigh in day! First of all – how has the week gone? Well, not too bad. I have done my 20 mintes of stepping – with wrist weights – on 5 of the intervening days. I missed out 2 days when I had my normal exercise classes and was busy with work. The wrist weights definitely make the sessions tougher, and I am very glad to finish, but the advice was that you need to make the exercise tough for it to be effective. So the weigh in.  A loss this week too:1.25 pounds this time.  I feel lighter, so I believe I have lost some internal fat, which is good for health such as reducing diabetes risks.

There may be an additional factor in the weight loss, which is that when you are putting effort into losing weight, it makes it easier to resist snacks and treats. Certainly I have been ‘good’ dietetically this week. We shall see what next week brings – watch this space!

Day 20 – It’s a disaster darling!  No weight loss this week (I’m blaming 0.25 pound increase on the fact that I weighed myself wearing heavier clothes than the gym clothes I normally wear). I’ve had a busy working week too, so missed a couple of fat burning sessions. I enjoyed a glass of wine – and a pint of beer now I come to think about it – over the weekend too. Whoops! Back on the step for me!

Day 27 – And we’re back on track! I’ve lost 2.5 lbs this week, That’s 3.75 pounds lost since I started the regime a month ago.  It’s been a stressful week – I’ve had a computer meltdown and IT related issues. I haven’t done the fat burning 20 minutes every day, but I have done it a couple of times as well as a few early morning walks and my usual exercise classes. Half a bottle of wine, some chocolate and crisps at the weekend, so I haven’t been super good on the calorie front.

I was reflecting today that the pilates class I do on a Wednesady is quite close to the regime: quite aerobic sessions followed by a short rest. The sequence with 3 pressups, a 20 second plank and then rising up onto the balls of your feet, squatting and reapeating 3 times is certianly stenuous, for example. So maybe the step is another weapon to have have in my armoury for the days I can’t get out for other exercise….

We shall see.

Giving advice – how hard can it be?

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Well, the answer is – very hard indeed! And the other question is – how good are we all at taking advice?

I heard on the radio this week criticism of guidance given on the amount of exercise we should be taking on the basis that it would be unrealistic for many people to achieve that level, and so they would be de-motivated to try to exercise more. I only fleetingly heard this, so I can’t give details, but I believe the advice was that we should be taking 2.5 hours of moderate exercise every week.

Similar problems arise with recommendations about the amount of  fruit and vegetables we shoudl be eating every day. Most, if not all, nations are pointing out to their citizens that the more fruit and veg they eat, the healthier they will be, but the quantities recommended vary greatly. In the UK it’s now 7 a day, I believe, up from the 5 a day we have become used to. But in Japan they recommend 17 different fruit and veg every day. The difference is largely down to the fact that most people in the UK struggle to get to anything like 7 portions a day. However, I have heard some commentators say that it is discouraging to mention 7 so we shoud recommend fewer portions.

The problem is that if we are simply advised to “eat more fruit and veg” or “exercise more”, many people wll have no idea of what they should be moving towards, or how close they are already to the ideal. Someone who only ever eats meat and potoatoes may think they are doing marvellously by having an apple every week or so, or some fruit juice with breakfast. Someone who always drives may think they are exercising well if they walk to post a letter. How will they know otherwise unless someone tells them?

I know that when I was teaching, I had a series of conversations with a parent whose child was doing very badly at school, and had little or no ability to take part in their lessons. Eventually I asked the right question (“Is it just that he’s tired?”) It turned out that he was watching videos every night until his parents turned off the television at midnight. No one had ever told them how much sleep a child needs.

Part of me is continually surprised that we need this kind of advice. But another part of me realises that many intelligent and well meaning people just don’t have the informaton they need to make good choices.

So maybe we all need to toughen up a bit, and learn to take advice the right way. We might not be able to exercise for 2.5 hours a week, but we should know that if we are doing less, we would be wise to make an effort to do more. We shouldn’t give up just because it is hard and we have a long way to go, but use the guidance as a measure of how well we are progessing.

(In case you are wondering why I chose the photograph above, it’s about perspective and point of view.)

From Clevedon to Cheddar (and beyond) by bike

As a Clevedon resident and fan of green transport, keeping fit and healthy and of Somerset as a whole, I was excited and sorry in equal measure by a short piece in the North Somerset Times this week on problems facing the Strawberry Line Association in their efforts to extend the cycle way so that we could get on to it in Clevedon.

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Excited, because I hadn’t heard that there were serious plans to extend the path, and this would be a marvellous facility for those living in and between Clevedon and Yatton. Sorry, because apparently they can’t confirm funding without plannig permission, and they can’t get planning permission without confirmed funding. Not a unique story!

The Strawberry Line already runs along a disused railway line from Yatton to Cheddar, across countryside visible in my photo above, taken from the top of the Mendips. This provides a safe and pleasant cycle path, keeping cyclists ut of danger from traffic, and preventing drivers being frustrated by needing to share roads with cyclists. Individuals and familes can get out into the fresh air, enjoying the environment, getting fitter and not spending too much money in the process.

There is potential to extend the network so that more able cyclists can travel widely across North Somerset, from Wells to the coast. What a boon to local tourism that would be! Loads more people visiting pubs, cafes, shops and bed and breakfasts across the region, taking advantage of the beautiful scenery and enjoying local produce.

I would want to see the path stretch to Clevedon even if I wasn’t an Airbnb host. Honestly, is there one disadvantage to the scheme? If there isn’t, I can’t see it. So I sincerely hope that the authorities help to smotth out the problems that seem to be slowing the scheme down. Hopefully I’l be on my bike very soon!

And incidentally – how have I only just heard of this? Note to self – check local news and events much more regularly!

Gorge-ous walks and photo opportunities

Always nice to get out and about and see something new. Although we have lived in North Somerset for two years now, there are many places that many people will know very well that we are just discovering.

This weekend we went with our lovely family visitors up the Mendips, to Burrington Combe, where we enjoyed a short walk beside the gorge. Much less famous than the nearby Cheddar Gorge, there is a pub and a cycling centre at the bottom of the combe, but then just nature and local people living their normal lives. We parked in a small layby with several others cars and then headed off up the hill.

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Before we knew it we were beside the edge of the gorge with the rocky ribs showing through the thin vegetation clinging to the steep sides. We’d seen the small herds of goats from the car, but didn’t manage to spot any here: they are too canny and too agile to be approached too closely.

I photographed a carline thistle, which looked spikilly regal against the turf. Not a plant I have ever really noticed before, but one that I am glad to have seen.

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Fantastic views of further afield from the hill top, too. I can almost claim that I can see my house from here, as the view extends to Wales in the far distance, with the Bristol Channel and Clevedon and then the flat country which spreads out in front of the Mendips.

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We went on the the lakes at Chew Stoke for a completely different sort of walk – water birds, reeds and trees – before heading back to Clevedon.

The evening was so beautiful that we went off for our third walk of the day, round by the marine lakes and then up the hill. Here’s the view of the Mendips from Clevedon …

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and here’s the last shot I took of the setting sun with some fishermen and walkers obligingly silhouetted against the sky. Love the way the sun looks!

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Some of the featured photographs are available to buy at my RedBubble shop – MagsArt. You can buy them as framed or unframed prints, cards, prints to metal, cushion covers, tote bags … the possibilites are endless!

It’s so easy to walk and maintain fitness levels if you are enjoying what you are doing, and although we must have walked well over 6 miles in total, several of which were up and down hills, we hardly noticed the distance. For ideas on how to start walking your way to health, and have fun while you are doing it, see my Kindle book A beginner’s guide to walking for pleasure. It’s ASIN number is B00L3D7ENY, and it’s available to borrow free if you are a member of Amazon Prime.

I’ve published my first book

And I’m very excited.

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For years (and years!) I have written well, but I have written information for the public where my aim has been to be clear and concise. I have several very good ideas for novels and short stories, but the style I need to develop is very different from my professional style. So I have been loosening up my writing muscles, starting with blogging and moving into books.

I’m also interested in the world of self-publishing, so I have decided to publish exclusively via Kindle and Amazon to find out how that works. It took a fair amount of time to get the book published – you have to fill in forms for US tax purposes, and it took me some trial and error to work out why my photographs were not appearing properly. I couldn’t find an FAQ that helped, so I had to tweak my original document and upload it about six times before I got a format that viewed well. Basically a couple of sessions of about three hours each. Their cover design widget works well though …

I had a side-track while I looked at the purchase of ISBN numbers, which is not something I had thought about. Ideally I would have purchased an ISBN, but you have to buy 10 at the cost of about £130 and that seemed a bit much when I only have the one title at present that I am trying out.  Good learning, though, that will stand me in good stead when I have my next book ready to go.

So, it’s been a nervous wait to see if everything had been done correctly but – da – dah! here it is.

Oh – what’s the book about, I hear you cry?  It’s non-fiction and it’s called The beginner’s guide to walking for pleasure, and it has grown from ideas that i first explored in this blog, but expanded and developed into a complete book. People are being told (by their doctors, the government and the media) to exercise more and lose weight to reduce the risk of nasty long term illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, as well as some cancers. There are lots of guides being published on the physical side of things – how to walk yourself fit, basically. My point is that unless people find the exercise fun they won’t stick to it, and all the preaching just adds stress to their list of ailments. However, find the pleasure in walking, and it will be something you do willingly and happily for years to come. So that’s what it’s about – how to make walking fun, and what benefits you get if you make walking part of your daily life. Plus some little anecdotes and such like.

Please check it out, and if you like it, let me know. And buy it too, of course!

Keep young and beautiful, by all means. But please – keep strong!

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Some of you will recognise these fine strong legs!

And that’s what keeping fit and watching your weight is all about.  Strong legs.

When I practised tai chi, my instructor said that it was impossible to do on “chicken’s legs”: you need sturdy legs to work on.  He also repeated the old (Chinese, I expect) saying that you are as old as your legs, and this is really worth thinking about.  Even standing and walking rather than sitting helps to build up bone density and keep those legs strong and mobile. The weaker your legs are, the older you become before your time.  You begin to settle into a comfortable chair and leave the running around to younger, fitter folk.

Keeping fit is not really about having a six pack, or dropping two dress-sizes, although many people do look better when they are fitter. It is all about being able to pursue your interests and getting out and about to make the most of the word.

The more you are on your feet and moving about, the better.  And of course while you are busy, you are less likely to be eating things you don’t need!  All right – I know it’s not always that easy, and those with knee, hip, back and other health issues can’t always exercise as much as they would like to.  But if you don’t have any excses and the new year’s resolutions are becoming a thing of the past, just remember that sticking to a ‘keeping fitter’ regime is in your best interests.  Whether it’s cycling to work, competitive sports, swimming, the gym, pilates, yoga, tai chi … , find something you like doing and do it!