Week 4 of C2-5K

This week got off to a good start. Decided to look back over the weight data in the health app, and noticed the graph/chart was going in the right direction, even if only modestly, but it was enough to give my motivation a little booster. However, my blood pressure readings are still about the same place as they were before C2-5K. I am not sure how quickly most people start to see a difference when it comes to blood pressure changes, when they make lifestyle changes. I hope to see some improvement soon. The other thing that has been a little inconsistent, has been my sleep data. My heart rate dip has been pretty good, but I am tending to wake up quite early which I am surprised at.

Day 1 of Week 4

The first day of Week 4 was a bit of a gruelling run. The weather was humid, I was a bit tired even before getting out. And compared to the end of week 3, the running sections felt much longer. I even got to the point where I was arguing with the app voice coach!! Beyond that, there wasn’t much else to write about. Having seen others write about their experiences of C2-5K, I knew everyone is seems, will have at least one bad day during the programme, and today it was my turn.

Day 2 of Week 4

Today, was such a vastly different day from my last run. Today was the awesomest of the lot. All down to shiny new running shoes. It’s been over a decade since I last bought some trainers, and the technology, design, materials have all come on leaps and bounds. I can’t believe how light as a feather they are, and how they fit, and how cushioned they are! And I was like Speedy Gonzales. The only downside to today’s run, is that I forget to take my bottle of water (I had filled it up, but then just left it on the kitched table). My mouth was so dry by the time I got home. I will try not to make that mistake again!

Day 3 Week 4

Whoop! Whoop! Halfway through the programme. And to mark the occasion, I decided to go for a completely different route. Instead of running little laps around the cemetery, I decided to go around my local park a few times. Williamson’s Park is a beautiful Victorian town park with landscaped gardens, woodland, tearoom, follies etc. It’s very, very popular with runners. It wasn’t my fastest of days, but that is due to the hills. The cemetery that I normally run in, is very flat. I hadn’t realised how hard it is to run up (and down) hills. However, today was glorious weather too, so that helped lots. 4 more weeks to go, and then the big 5K with no walks, just running!! Top tip, there are loads of different armbands to carry a phone or mp3 player. I have had a couple in the past, but I am so glad that I have the Quadlock one. I have used Quadlock mounts for my bike, so it seemed natural to go for the armband too. Easy to use, and less hassle that a traditional pocket style phone carrier strapped to the arm!

Week 3 of C2-5K

Whoop! Whoop! Another week under the belt. I am not going to lie, it was a challenge all this the week. I have had this on and off little twinge on my right knee. Initially I thought it was just a general ache and pain, as my “muscles” got used to the idea of running again. Now I am beginning to think it is more than that. However, I will keep a close eye on it.

The other thing that I have started to do, is also use MyFitnessPal a lot more to help with monitoring my nutrition a little bit, but also for the fitness plans. I started at the end of last week to do then “Toned Upper Body” plan. Running is clearly great for leg muscles, but isn’t going to clear my one pack! The Toned Upper Body plan, uses some very basic home gym equipment, namely a set of dumbells and a set of resistance bands. I had some 5kg dumbells that had been used as dust collectors for years, and I got some cheap resistance bands off the internet via Amazon. It’s 30 minutes of work, every other day, so I do the plan on the days I am not running.

I am loving this new found enthusiasm for exercise, and I am kind of kicking myself that I didn’t start this running malarky before now! But better late than never I guess.

Day 1 Week 3

This is really going to start getting confusing, technically, I am supposed to do the final part of the Couch 2 5K on August 22nd, but because I am running every other day, I will be finishing much sooner than that, if all goes to plan. This morning, slightly frustratingly, I woke up an hour before my alarm was due to go off. But decided that instead of going for an evening run like I had planned, I would make use of this extra hour awake. I had my bowl of porridge (I can’t get enough of the stuff at the moment, so freaking healthy too), black coffee, and a glass of apple juice, and away I went.

This is the breakfast that fuels my running

My blister from the other day was healed already which was a relief, but as mentioned my knee was giving me a bit of grief, so I had decided to take it easy. The other thing I found myself doing today, which I haven’t really done before now, is worrying about which cycle I was on e.g. “was I on the second run or the third run?”, “how many more walking stages until the end of Day 1 of Week 3?”. I then refocussed, and decided to “live in the moment”. It is the one of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing that I often neglect, the whole Take Notice bit. I decided not to count the number of walks and the number of runs, but just to focus on the ground a few feet ahead, and listen to the instructions from the app. Almost instantly, my mind was back where it should be, and not worrying about how much more I had to do!

Day 2 Week 3

Not much to report on Day 2 of Week 3. It was a good run, my knee still hurts a little, but not as bad as the past few days.

Day 3 Week 3

This was my first evening run, up until now most of my C25K runs have been in the morning. However, when I got up this morning, the weather was shocking, full on rain! Plus my knee was still bothering. I knew I had an extended working day as I had a transatlantic meeting via Zoom, and I wasn’t due to finish until after 6:30pm, then dinner, then time to digest dinner. I kind of hoped that would give enough time for my knee to finally stop aching.

Sure enough my leg seemed okay as I started my warm up, but almost instantaneously when I started running, my knee hurt. So I jogged, more than ran this evening. Part of me thinks that running in trail shoes might not be helping the situation. May be I should invest in some road running shoes.

I also said in a previous post that I would think about some SMART goals that I want to reach as part of the C25K programme.

  • Reach 75kg
  • Reduce my BMI
  • Reduce my waist size
  • Reduce my blood pressure
  • Achieve a 5K run (obviously)

Now the above aren’t SMART enough, I’ll hone those in the coming days, watch this space.

Week 2 of C2-5K completed

The start of week 2 got me thinking about setting some SMART goals. I’ve been reading that here in the UK the number of times the C25K apps have been downloaded during COVID-19 has gone through the roof. And because the media attention, there has been additional focussed on those who have completed the programme, including this article about hints and tips. Which made me thinking about goals, but also about rewarding myself in some way. I think one thing I will do, it treat myself to some better technical running gear when I get my first 5K under my belt.

Day 1 Week 2

Once again, the weather forecast was a bit pants. But one thing I am starting to realise is that rain isn’t my enemy, blistering sunshine is! Admittedly, I run a little slower in the rain, as I am convcious that the ground is a bit slippery, but I like that cooling effect.

Rubbish weather again, but exhilarating

As I set off to do the 5 minute brisk walk for a warm up, I panicked as I thought I’d set off with the wrong day of the programme. I was too hasty getting out of the door, but the worry was unfounded, as I doublechecked and realised, I was on the right day of the programme. One thing I am learning the hard way, is to take my time in being prepared. Here is a brief list of things I am learning from my mistakes:

  • Double knot shoelaces – a couple of times, I have had to stop to re-tie shoelaces
  • Make sure I take a bottle of water – forgot a couple of times, and it is thirsty work
  • Check outside temperature and make sure wearing suitable clothing
  • If using Strava, make sure you use it alongside the 5K app (they don’t “speak to other” automatically)
  • Make sure you have the right playlist set up and running
Another one completed

One thing I do also need to sort out, is having the earbud covers sorted. I have a new set of wireless earphones, and the little rubber caps are the wrong size for my ears, and I had to keep poking them back in.

Need to sort out the earbuds

Day 2 Week 2

With my top tips from yesterday’s run in the forefront of my mind, I got myself prepared for an early morning run (thanks to my dog waking up an hour earlier than normal – cheers)! The only tip I am not getting the hang of, is what to wear! It was forecast blustery winds, and mainly cloudy with the occasional sunshine, with top temperatures of 14°C for the morning. I’d read on other runners blogs that shorts for anything over 10°C, and running tights for anything cooler than 10°. However, because I am still at the stage where I run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit, and so forth, plus it is windy, I thought it best to wear my old track training tights and a long sleeve compression top (it’s the only sporty type top I have – I think I need to find a proper running long sleeve ready for winter). However, it turns out that the top is far too warm, and I should have worn a short sleeve. I think the walk sections in the C25K are so short, that your body doesn’t cool down enough, and therefore short sleeve is the way to go. Also, my new running socks arrived late yesterday evening, so I thought I would give them ago. I had some cheap as chips generic sports socks that weren’t cushioned like they should be, plus they made my feet very sweaty! These new ones were perfect blance of cushioning and venting!

Today’s run was the normal affair. And I have started to realise that the route I am taking is not optimal for me. I’ve been using the same route for this and the last 4 runs. The same brisk walk up the hill to the local cemetery and then running around the same 4 paths that make up a rectangle shape. However, the rectangle paths are very narrow and I would guess the whole perimeter is less that 300. Thus, I am braking lots as I hit each corner, and I am finding that I am wanting to improve speed each time. May be I am jumping the gun a little? Who knows? I am sure I will find my own groove. However, I think my final run this week will consist of a new route. I will take the dog for a walk later and see if I can find scout something new.

Day 3 Week 2

Today I intentionally got up a bit earlier than normal. I had seen the weather forecast and it was not good for later in the day, but early morning was going to be fine. Due to the better weather, I was also ready to try out my new running kit that came earlier in the week, it just consisted of 5″ running shorts, and a running t-shirt, but having ran the last few runs in various different casual and slightly sporty clothes, I was hoping the gear would help.

After a bowl of porridge and a glass of apple juice, I was ready and raring to go. My 5 minute warm went well, I did my usual brisk walk up the hill to the cemetery. And I had a rough idea of my new route that I was going to take. However, the second I started running, I had a slight twinge in my left knee. Not too painful, but it was there, a nagging at me a little bit. I decided to play it safe and run slower (or so I thought). What I didn’t feel, was that I had a blister on middle toe, that had got so bad on this run, that it bled. It was only when I got home to change, that I realised!

I don’t know if my plan for a new route, which was to find something with less sharp corners had anything to do with my speed and times, or new running shorts and t-shirt, but even though I thought I was running slower, I actually achieved a few personal records. Fastest 2 mile, fastest 1/2 mile and fastest 400m. I am obviously not going to read too much into those, as I have only logged around 6 runs in total on Strava, but it still gave me a good vibe, and a good sense of achievement. It’s these little gains, that spur me on. Can’t wait for week 3!!!

Over the next day or so, I am going to give the whole SMART Goals thing, more consideration, and I will blog what those are once I have come up with them!

Week 1 of C2-5K completed

It’s official. Already on my second attempt of doing the whole Couch 2 5K run, I have beaten my previous attempt at completing the programme! I do feel more determined this time though, and I am much more prepared.

I have to admit that the second day of week one, was a bit of a psychological challenge. I did what I was supposed to do after the first run, which was to have a rest day. The thing that took me by surprise was that after my first run, I didn’t feel any aches. I felt I had run, and walked, etc. but I didn’t ache like I expected. That didn’t last, the following day I ached in places I didn’t remember ever aching. But I thought that the aches would completely go, ready for the day two run. However, when I woke up, the aches were still there. I googled (not normally a good idea, but actually, I found some really good advice on several websites, and they were all consistent in that advice). The advice being, try doing day two still, but take it slowly, and if the aches and pains are too much, stop the workout and try again another day. Don’t see it as failure. With that in mind, I gave the day two run a go. Besides, I had created a new playlist, and I wanted to test it out (which is the weirdest motivation I think I have ever had).

Day 2 Week 1

So, with my running gear on (which was my old New Balance trainers, a pair of old Altura track pants/tights, and a long sleeve sports top, with my Quadlock arm band) I set off. It was a horrible day, with a severe weather warning for strong winds and rain, but I seemed to dodge the most of the showers.

Not the most encouraging weather forecast!

I remembered to start Strava off at the same time as the C25K app, and I started off at a brisk pace for the 5 minute warm up. Then the call to start the run came through, and away I went. I remember thinking it was strange, the aches just seemed to pretty much vanish. The rain came from time to time, and was welcome, as it was a humid day. The Day 2 session seemed to fly by, and came to an end, just as there was a massive downpour. I was really excited, proud even, that I had equalled my previous, and only “attempt” at C25K.

Day 3 Week 1

This morning I woke up raring to go. It was overcast, but forecast to get warmer and sunnier later, before turning to rain again. With the weather forecast being the way that it was, I decided not to run straightaway and get out in the garden. The lawn needed mowing (the weather had been too wet for over a week, and it was growing at a rate of knots, so I took advantage of this window of dry weather). Lawn looking (sort of ) okay, I went and changed into running gear. I had in the earlier part of the week ordered some specific running shorts. The shorts I used on Day 1 were okay, but they were some leisure beach shorts, and didn’t wick very well. I had also found my old running t-shirt from donkeys years ago, and whilst it was, erm, a little small, it was a much better technical shirt to run in.

Everything was ready, the apps, the music, me. Off I set, doing the 5 minute walk again. The sun had come out, and it was beating down, and I was glad I had a runners water bottle with me (so I thought). Off I set, doing the different repetitions of walking and running. I felt a lot slower today, partly due to the heat, and partly just from the accumulative effect of the week of running. It turned out the water bottle was pretty useless, it was supposed to be one that you squeezed, but it came out as a dribble! I was initially not enjoying this session, but I was determined to complete, which is what I did. And I got a little boost, I looked at the Strava data, and compared it do day 2. Already, I was seeing gains in speed! Fantastic. I can’t wait to start Week 2. Just trying to decide when that should be. Technically, 3 days from now, but I could just do the two days rest as normal. Decisions, decisions! I also need to consider what to do on my rest days. Got to rest the legs, but if you have any tips or advice, let me know.

My cool down track! Pure Trance!

Another attempt at Couch 2 5K

I gave the Couch to 5K a try a year or so back. I say “try” but it wasn’t much of an attempt. I was ill prepared and gave up all too easily. But during COVID19 lockdown, I have been thinking a lot about my cycling which whilst I am enjoying, I am just not riding regularly enough to get some significant health improvements, and there are various reasons for that, which I won’t go into in this post. One of the main points, if not the main point of this blog was to help encourage myself, and potentially others to take up some exercise. So I have been reflecting a lot recently, and thinking about how to go about revamping my mindset.

As part of this thinking, I have decided to give the Couch to 5K another try. I have also decided to practice what I preach; that is, to be more considered when it comes to the various theories of change, I have decided to be better prepared this time around. Behaviour change, is usually a slow process, and there can often be lapses or relapses (and I am living proof of that). What I am hoping this time, is to be physically more prepared, and psychologically more prepared to get off the couch, and achieve that goal of a 5K run.

In terms of being more physically prepared, I am a little fitter this time around, whilst I haven’t been cycling as regularly as I had hoped I would, I do feel that I have got a bit better with stamina. I have dusted of my old running gear (I did used to run decades ago, and bizarrely, my running shoes that I purchased in before 2008 still look new). I’ve rummaged around and found some running socks, shorts and top. They aren’t amazingly high quality, but they will do for now. I have got an Apple Watch, and I have downloaded the 5K Runner app and hooked them up. I have been a paid member of Strava for a while, but only really ever used it for cycling, and monitoring my dog walking activities. So, whilst not fit yet (clearly, otherwise I wouldn’t be needing the 5K app), I feel I have the physical equipment to get me started.

I purchased these New Balance trainers in 2007 or 2008. Still look almost new! Clear a sign of not being used much!

Psychologically I am feeling more prepared, thinking about the transtheoretical model of change that I have discussed elsewhere on this blog, I am feeling more ready for Action than I ever have done when it comes to running. This is in part due to noticing that my health data isn’t moving in the direction I want it to. My blood pressure readings are still high, and my weight seems to be stuck! I like to think that part of the weight remaining fairly static is linked to increased muscle density through cycling, as my waistline has shrunk slightly, but I think I might be kidding myself.

So today was the day. The weather forecast was a bit bleak (there are severe weather warnings of thunderstorms today), but when I set off, I managed to get a bit of sunshine and cloud. It was very humid though, but certainly cooler than the last couple of days. I downloaded a paid version of the Couch 2 5K (there are several apps with similar names, last time I used the free app that the NHS supports, but I found the audio not that great). With my running gear on, I started my warm up by walking briskly for 5 minutes up the hill to the local cemetery where I planned to do my workouts until I reach the 5K mark.

Ready, steady, go

I really like this app, good audio commentary, and you can play music from your iTunes/Apple Music (or whatever music app you use). This was something I didn’t realise, is that the app automatically starts playing randomly chosen music from your collection. I had some random ballad that I didn’t even know I had, which isn’t the most inspiring music. So I managed to find a Moby playlist which was perfect, just the right tempo to get me going.

“Power Is Taken” isn’t a track I knew by Moby, but it is a perfect running track

So, Day 1 of Week 1, 25 minutes. 5 minute warm up (I just did a brisk walk to the cemetery, which is all uphill). This is then followed by 1 minutes of running, 1.5 minutes of walking, repeated 6 times, followed by a cool down phase (walking normal pace back down the hill). I was genuinely pleased with myself, I did the whole routine (although I did accidentally pause the cool down bit, so that ended up lasting a few extra minutes, and it was only after a while I had realised that I had paused that section). However, I completed all the different bits of the workout. Last time I tried Couch 2 5K, I didn’t even do all of the repeated running sections the first time around.

Day 1, of Week 1 completed. Looking forward to the next run in a couple of days. I just need to remember that this app doesn’t integrate with Strava which I am gutted about. I was intending to log the whole training programme through Strava, but at least I can make sure future runs are logged in Strava, by opening Strava when I use the C2-5K app. I also need to remember to take a bottle of water with me, as was thirsty, even doing this short run/walk today.

If anyone who is a runner has any tips for an absolute beginner like me, please let me know.

Strava, Garmin, Wahoo, Apple! Where am I going wrong?

Garmin Edge 830 & Wahoo Tickr

As part of my 5 Ways to Wellbeing, I am now finding myself using more and more technology to track my performance and fitness levels. However, I am still very much an amateur when it comes to using the technology.

Having had suggestions from readers of my blog, I decided to get a Garmin Edge 830 cycle computer, as using an iPhone apparently isn’t the done thing! That said, I have really liked using my iPhone and Apple Watch along with apps Komoot, Strava, and Cyclemeter, and with the technology of my cadence sensor and my Wahoo Tickr. When I use this combination, I get really good data when I view results on Strava.

However, when I use my Garmin Edge with Strava and Wahoo Tickr, I never appear to get my HRM stats!

Above is a screenshot taken from my Strava app showing a ride I did yesterday, where I used my iPhone to track my ride. The one of the right is from a ride a few days ago, where I used my Garmin Edge. I have a paid Strava account, so I am not sure where I am going wrong!

Anyone got any suggestions where I might be going wrong? Please post suggestions in the comments box.

Rack mount for Garmin Varia RTL510, why haven’t Garmin made one available yet?

I purchased a Garmin Varia RTL510 a while back during a winter sale, having been introduced to it by a cycling buddy last summer. For those of you unfamiliar with this Garmin product, it a very bright rear light, with added radar. The radar is a cool little safety feature that connects to a Garmin computer, and lets you know when traffic is coming up behind you. It’s so clever, that it will tell you how many cars are coming up behind you, and how far behind they are. I find this really useful, as more and more cars are electric or electric hybrids that are harder to hear. Whilst I consider myself a considerate cyclist, I will move close to the edge of the road when I know there is something wanting to pass, but when it is quieter, I tend to ride a little further away from the edge so as to avoid drain grids, potholes etc.

Garmin claim the light can be seen as far as a mile away even in daylight, and I suspect that claim is fairly accurate (in the right conditions, etc.). It also has a wide angle field, with Garmin calming it to be around 220 degrees. I have been impressed with the battery life. I tend to charge all my rechargeable units (e.g. front light, bike computer, etc.) after each ride; the longest ride I’ve been on with it to date has only been a couple of hours, but no issues with it running out. I think Garmin make claims that battery will last 15 hours on flash mode, and around 5 hours on constant.

The light comes with a micro USB charging lead, and a seat post Garmin vertical mount, which is attached by strong rubber band. Installs in seconds. I have 3 bikes, the first two have no racks on (one is a hardtail MTB, and the other is an endurance road bike) and therefore the standard mount is perfect for when I am out on those. However, I have an adventure bike, that I keep the pannier racks on all year round, as I use the bike not just for adventures, but to go to the supermarket on, and for commuting. I pretty much always have panniers on my bike, therefore the seat post mount is useless, as luggage blocks both the light and the radar.

A couple of months ago, I decided to purchase a rack mount for the RLT510. Or more accurately, I tried to purchase a rack mount. My first port of call was the Garmin website, but low and behold, they don’t make a mount. I then tried Wiggle, and all the other leading online cycle shops, thinking that surely one will stock a non-Garmin Garmin mount. But that also drew a blank. I then resorted to Google, which led me to many forums with other cyclists eager to get their hands on a suitable rack mount for the RLT510. The best option was so small company in the USA, that had created something using a 3D printer, but the price for a tiny bit of plastic, and the postage to the UK was way over the top.

I then resorted to eBay. Where I spotted this:

A saddle mount

It was cheap as chips at just £5.99 + £2.50 postage and packaging. Admittedly, it was slow postage (being shipped from China). I purchased with the initial idea of just using it on the bottom of my saddle, as at least that should be higher than my top luggage. However, when it arrived, I decided to see if it would fit the pannier predefined holes for a normal rear mounted pannier light.

Although not completely central, (the width of the light mount, and the holes on the rack were not completely compatible), it doesn’t look too bad. It is very secure, it hasn’t damaged my rack, and it works perfectly for my needs. I am sure if and when Garmin do design a rack mount for the RLT510, it won’t be cheap as chips, but I won’t need to buy one now, as this cheap little Chinese import works just fine.

5 Ways to wellbeing during the age of Covid-19

It’s been a while since I have blogged, and given the unprecedented times that we live in, I thought I would blog to give some useful hints and tips on maintaining good mental health for those who are having to self-isolate during the COVID-19 aka Corona Virus pandemic.

Obviously, my first point that I want to make is that wherever you are in the world, avoid misinformation about the virus, and listen to advice from official health organisations in your country, or from organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO). Assuming you have read up on COVID-19, and you are required to self-isolate, here are my suggestions for what to do at home over the coming weeks.

  1. Connect with people

Connecting with people when self-isolating might sound like an oxymoron, but it isn’t! Use social media, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp or whatever non-face-to-face format you need to speak to friends and family, or work colleagues. Make time to have some daily contact with the ones you love and care about. Sometimes it might be worth planning ahead, and setting a specific time of day to connect each day to those that are closest to you. Also think about the people that are most vulnerable, such as those that you know that are older, or have long-term health conditions, or have other vulnerabilities.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Also keep connected with the outside world, by keeping up to date with the news. Use respectable and trusted news outlets, either on-line or on the television. Remember that most supermarkets can do home deliveries if you need shopping, be it groceries, medications, or things to keep you entertained and to prevent bordom!

If you are self-isolating with others (e.g. family, or flatmates) and it is safe to do so, keep connected by switching off the television and enjoy games with each others.

2. Be physically active

Being physically active can be a challenge when stuck at home for several days at a time, but simple stretching exercises are one effective way to achieve this. Doing a minimum of 20 minutes per day would be advisable, but if you can do more, then go for it. Simple yoga could be a start, and if you are unsure how to go about this, there are a number of apps available or use Youtube. Depending on your fitness levels, there are other gentle exercises you might be able to do in the comfort of your own home, such as sit-ups, press-ups, etc. Other options could be to try the 30 day plank challenge (look on your usual App Store for details). If you can, give others who are self-isolating words of encouragement to keep active; it can be challenging to keep motivated when you are on your own, but giving each other encouragement, can help massively. Another option to keep active is to Spring Clean the house, now could be a good time to clean the nooks and crannies within your house that may get neglected normally. Choose one room each day to have a full clean, and bag up items that you no longer need or use ready to take to the recycling centres when the self-isolation period comes to an end. If you have a garden, can you mow the lawn, or weed a bed?

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

3. Learn new skills

This could be the perfect time to learn something new, or to further your knowledge on an existing topic. An obvious start if you are stuck at home, is to try a new recipe. This could be a particularly good activity if you have children in the house, as it can be a good time for everyone to learn, and to socialise together. It is also a good opportunity to use food items at the back of the food cupboard that seldom get a look in. If you are stuck what to cook, the BBC have a good selection of recipes to try, and you can search by ingredient, meal type, cusine type etc.

You could try some new activity such as yoga (see above), or a new hobby such as learning to play an instrument, or some type of art such as drawing or painting (and if you don’t have a flute, guitar, paints or pencils to hand, don’t forget that you order on-line for home delivery). There are plenty of free or cheap online websites that can teach you new hobbies, just use the internet search engines, or go to you App Store. If you have access to LinkedIn Learning, there are multiple online courses that you can try on there including guitar lessons!

Photo by Malidate Van on Pexels.com

4. Give to others

With your new hobby or extra skill, now is the chance to give to others. Could you write a poem for a loved one, make a cake for your housemates?

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

If you are not someone who is self-isolating, but know people that are, can you volunteer to get them some groceries, or take their dog for a walk? Can you volunteer at the local food back?

5. Pay attention

Mindfulness could be very helpful for you right now. Paying attention to how you are feeling, and learning to relax will be very helpful as we go through self-isolation. There are a multitude of mindfulness apps available, Headspace is probably the most well known, but there are others. The NHS has some useful information on mindfulness that can be found here.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Final thoughts

Remember, that this is a pandemic, but it will come to an end, and life will eventually get back to normal. Keep following the updates on nationally television to see if expert advice changes (and it may change as new information about the virus comes to light). Stay safe, stay well. Remember to keep a look out for vulnerable people in your neighbourhood and your community.

Blue Monday it’s a great 12″ house track, but the other “Blue Monday” is pseudoscience

The best sort of Blue Monday

It’s that time of year where once more the tabloid press, bloggers, online media etc. will be telling us all that next Monday (20th January 2020) is Blue Monday; the most depressing day of the year.

The concept of the 3rd Monday of the year, being the most depressing day, stems from an article for Sky Travel magazine (hint: it’s not a peer-reviewed academic publication) in 2005 by Cliff Arnall who at the time of the publication going to print was a tutor of psychology at Cardiff University. The original publication went viral, and before long companies (including Specsavers, Northern Rail, Edinburgh Camber of Commerce, etc.) produced products and advertising campaigns to jump on the Blue Monday bandwagon. Even some mental health charities continue to keep the hashtag trending !

Interestingly enough, Cliff Arnall now has a campaign called #StopBlueMonday to try and turn the tide of literature against the misunderstanding of Blue Monday formula that he created. However, it is a bit of a Pandora’s box, as there are already social media hashtags trending for #BlueMonday one week ahead of the 3rd Monday of January 2020.

You could argue that it is “just a bit of fun” or that it “raises serious issues“. Yes to both, but there are better ways to highlight mental health and wellbeing, that are based on good quality science. It will eventually be good and robust science, that will help with improving people’s poor mental health and wellbeing, or prevent poor mental health from taking over people’s lives in the first place. Liking and sharing articles about Blue Monday on Facebook, or retweeting the hashtag on Twitter, or buying the Daily Mail to read up on it, helps to spread misinformation. Misinformation erodes our quest for knowledge as we develop cognitive biases, such as confirmation and selection bias, which can lead the masses seeing academics as part of the social elite, which can lead to all kinds of societal problems (you only need to look at the damage the “anti-vaxxer” movement or “pro-plaguers” have created in recent years).

Real depression isn’t simple. You can’t come up with a simple equation like the one used for Blue Monday (and that equation isn’t even mathematically correct according to Dr Ben Goldacre in his Bad Science column for the Guardian newspaper). Depression is an over used word “I’m so depressed” meaning, I am a little bit down; or “That’s so depressing” referring to my liking of a 1983 house classic by my teenage son. True clinical depression is disabling, it is a chronic condition that impacts on your relationships, your work, your daily functioning. It is a horrible condition that according to the World Health Organization effects around 264,000,000 people world wide. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and has a significant stigma attached to it. By trivializing depression through Blue Monday, we are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who are genuinely struggling, as well as for those who aren’t struggling with their mood.

If you want to know what depression is like, watch this short animated clip below from Matthew Johnstone who is an illustrator, author and public speaker.

What depression is really like

If you want to help someone with depression, don’t promote Blue Monday, but instead promote everyday as a day to improve your mental wellbeing. Talk to your friends and family, read up on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing and take action.

If you are struggling with your mental health, you can find out where to get support here.

“But there’s no sense in telling me.

The wisdom of the fool won’t set you free

But that’s the way it goes

And it’s what nobody knows

Well ever day my confusion grows”

New Order (thanks to @peteqconsult )

Keep Learning: 5 Ways to Wellbeing

I’ve not blogged for a while, and I thought today would be a good day to talk about the Keep Learning element of 5 Ways to Wellbeing. One of the things I have wanted to know more about in my adult life, is evolution. It was the 160th anniversary of the publication of, On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin earlier this week. I purchased a copy of the book a few years ago, but never got round to reading it. I have decided to start reading it this week, as part of my Keep Learning. I would then like to read other books on more advanced studies of evolution, but without the need for a PhD in biology to understand them!

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the first seed of interest on the topic of evolution started when I was a boy. I had a school friend who had a houseplant terrarium. Within the terrarium was a Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula). This is probably the one carnivorous plant that most people will recognise, with its distinctive shaped leaves and trapping mechanism. It utterly fascinated me. We did what you’re not supposed to do, and set off the trap by touching the trigger hairs with a stick or something (I can’t quite remember now). I was desperate to have one of my own, but back then they were quite expensive.

Dionea muscipula

But evolution, and plants, never cross my mind. As a child, I was indoctrinated into the High Church arm of Anglican Christianity (it’s like Catholicism, but without the smells of incense wafting around). The church I attended saw the book of Genesis as literal truth. Therefore, I was brought up believing that Yahweh/God did his magic in 6 days, and then needed a rest. All life was created within an instant, and then most of it was wiped out in the great flood. As I only ever socialised with people from the church, or in my school which was next door to my church, I never questions the authority of the vicar or my family. My primary school didn’t really teach science at all, so it wasn’t until I was around 11, that my eyes slowly but surely opened when I went to high school. Therefore, up to this point, my only explanation was that “God created the Venus flytrap”, and I had never given too much thought to the plant for a good few years. I certainly didn’t make any connection with evolution, as my teeny tiny knowledge of the subject at that point was how “man came from monkeys“, which had been ridiculed by my church and family. However, for lots of different reasons and over a period of several years, I stopped believing in Christianity, and then all religions. Once I had left school, I had also started to train in horticulture, and I soon became interested in the breeding of of different plants. Where I worked, the head gardener was always trying to create new varieties of various plants (and so I was introduced to artificial selection or selective breeding).

It was around this time, that I got my first carnivorous plant. I was given a Venus Flytrap, and, before long, I had purchased several other carnivorous plants. Eventually, I bought a book, Carnivorous Plants by Adrian Slack. Although the book has over 200 pages, it only has a couple of pages on the evolution of carnivorous plants. It was these two pages that started me to consider more widely about the topic of evolutionary biology. No more “man came from monkeys” for me! I still grow a handful of carnivorous plants to this day. I particularly like the Nepenthes genius of plants, commonly known as tropical pitcher or monkey pitcher plants.

The two pages in Slack’s book was enough to whet my appetite to learn more, but over the years, I have kept finding other things to do and read. However, I have now made the conscious decision, and have started to read Darwin’s book, along with other sources of information on evolution. It feels good to be learning for pleasure!

One great educational resource has been OneZoom which is an interactive map of the evolutionary relationship of over 2,000,000 species of life on our planet.It’s a non-profit charity based in London. You can even sponsor a leaf on the tree, which I have done.I have opted for the “leaf” containing one of the endangered carnivorous plants that I now learning about, Nepenthes rajah.

It’s never too late to learn something new, or update your knowledge on something you think you know.

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