Friday 28 June 2019

7 Ways To Monitor Your Health

   It's remarkable, really, that it's only in today's age that people are really starting to pay attention to their health. I don't just mean eating right and exercising (nor am I talking about herbal remedies, spiritual cleansing or other unproven and baseless 'cures'). I mean prevention and awareness, in ourselves and others.
   Those of you who have been here for a while know that my mother suffers from secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. It's true that there are diseases out there that no amount of preventative measures can ward off, it's the way of the world and we just have to try to get by. But there are a great many things that can be staved off simply by taking care of yourself. There's a lot of hype at the moment about 'self-care', but a shocking number of people use 'self-care' as an excuse to binge-eat, get lazy and generally do themselves more damage. For a fit and healthy individual, starting the day with a doughnut and milkshake just once a week isn't going to do anything terrible for you. That's what self-care is about. But for people who are already lazy, sedentary, and have a poor diet, that's just piling it on. In their case, 'self-care' would be better equated to a walk outside on a lovely day (or perhaps in the rain - don't knock it until you've tried it. As Billy Connolly said: there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes).
   But we're not talking about that kind of self-care when it comes to physical health, longevity and quality of life. We're talking about keeping an eye on the things that matter. "They seem like such a faff" - if you shrug them off with an excuse like that, your health can't be very important to you. Once it becomes standard practice, a regular part of your weekly or daily routine, you won't even notice the few minutes it takes to get it done.

    When it comes to health, prevention and early detection now enjoy almost the same prominence as actual cures. This, of course, makes sense - if you can stop a condition or illness from developing, or identify it early enough to intervene before it becomes severe, quality of life can be preserved and outcomes are improved. While seeking cures for conditions will always be important, prevention and early detection are now considered to be of paramount importance.
   For most people, achieving the goal of “prevention” is rather straightforward. Most of us know the basics of maintaining good health: eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, managing weight, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and ensuring we are mentally active. However, early detection is a little more difficult - especially as many health conditions can remain asymptomatic for years or even decades.
   Thankfully, modern medical knowledge has provided an answer in the form of comprehensive health monitoring options. While these monitoring options should never be a replacement from seeking advice or treatment from your doctor, they can provide a helpful insight that allows you to keep tabs on your health and identify any possible issues as soon as possible. Below, we have detailed seven different ways that you can monitor various aspects of your health that you may want to try, starting with…

Heart Rate Recovery After Exercise

   Your “heart rate recovery” (HRR) is a measurement that reflects how quickly your heart rate returns to normal following exercise - ideally, your heart rate should increase when you are working out, and then begin to decrease as soon as you are at rest. Studies have shown that a poor HRR can actually be an indicator of heart attack risk, so if you exercise regularly, checking your HRR is always worth doing. Here’s what you need to do:
  • When you have finished exercising, you’ll need to check your heart rate. You can do this with heart rate monitoring devices, by consulting a fitness tracker if you use one, or just by counting each beat for one minute (or for 30 seconds and then multiplying the number by two).
  •  Note down your first reading, and then wait for two minutes before taking your heart for a second time.
  • To establish your HRR, you need to subtract the second number from the first. For example, if the reading that you took immediately after finishing exercise was 130, and your second reading two minutes later was 65, then your HRR would be 65 (130 - 65 = 65).
  • If your HRR is below 55, then discuss this with your doctor.

“Finger Prick” Blood Screening

   “Finger prick” blood screenings are exactly what you would expect: blood screenings that can be conducted using a very small amount of blood. This means that there is no need to visit a medical professional for a blood draw; the tests can be purchased online and then completed at home, with samples then returned by post and results following a few days later.
   However, it is important to note that finger prick blood screenings should only be used for monitoring purposes - to keep an eye on health indicators such as cholesterol or to check vitamin absorption, for example. If you feel unwell or suspect you may be experiencing a health condition, then always discuss this with your doctor; and if you do opt to undergo a blood screening, always discuss the results with your GP.

Sexual Health Check-Ups

   When it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, it’s always helpful to ensure you and your partner are aware of the potential signs of infection, especially as the symptoms for men and women tend to differ - and some people experience no symptoms at all.
   How often you should undergo an STI depends on your circumstances. If you are not sure how often you need to be tested, your doctor will be able to provide a recommendation for frequency that is suitable for you.

Blood Pressure Monitoring

   As a condition, hypertension (or “high blood pressure” as it is better known) is, for most people, relatively straightforward to manage. However, hypertension significantly increases the risk of other, more concerning health issues, including a higher risk of blood clots and heart disease. Symptoms of hypertension include headaches, fatigue, a fast heart rate, chest pain, or a “pounding” feeling in the chest neck or ears - but for many people, the condition is entirely asymptomatic, so much so that hypertension is often referred to as a “silent killer”.
   As hypertension can be so difficult to identify, regularly monitoring your blood pressure can be very helpful. There are two different ways to do this, the first of which is to buy an at-home monitor. If you do choose this option, always look for a monitor that is approved by the British and Irish Hypertension Society to ensure accurate readings. However, if you’d prefer not to buy your own monitor, then check local chemists, gyms, or even your GP surgery to see if they provide access to a monitoring machine without an appointment.

Smear Tests

   Smear tests are designed to help prevent cancer from developing in the future by monitoring for changes in the cervix. Women in the UK are advised to attend regular smear tests every three years (or every five years if between the ages of 59 and 64); however, research has indicated that one in four women do not attend.
   If you want to monitor your health as well as possible, then attending a smear test when recommended will always be the right choice. If you have any concerns about the test, then speak to your doctor for reassurance, or browse through the #SmearForSmear hashtag on various social media platforms to read smear test stories that can help ease your mind. It is not as awful an experience as popular media would have you believe.

Self Examination

   Sometimes, the best thing that you can do to monitor your health is simply to conduct regular checks on certain areas of your body and to look out for any potential changes. For women, monthly breast checks are very beneficial and can help to identify early signs of breast cancer; for men, regular testicle checks for any signs of lumps is important when seeking to identify testicular cancer.
   In addition to the above, regularly checking your skin - and, in particular, checking any moles have not changed - is recommended. You can also check your fingernails for any dark spots, particularly if the spot appears to originate at the cuticle.
   If, when checking any of the above, you notice any changes or symptoms that are a cause for concern, then speak to your doctor as soon as possible. There can be benign reasons that are responsible for most changes, but it is nevertheless important to seek your doctor’s assistance.

Eye Tests

   As one would expect, eye tests are incredibly useful for checking the health of your eyes and your vision - and should always be attended for these reasons alone. However, a visit to an optician is actually an opportunity to check far more than just your eyes. For example, opticians can identify signs of a range of health conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, and even arthritis; so an eye exam should be considered health-beneficial on multiple levels. For most people, eye tests are recommended every two years, though you can arrange an appointment if you feel that your vision has changed in the intervening period.

Monday 24 June 2019

The Zi'veyn For Free (and book two imcoming!)

   YES, The Zi'veyn is available for free download across all Kindle stores once again, readable on all Kindle devices, or on the free Kindle Reading app on all tablets, smart phones, laptops, PCs and Macs! And this is a big one, because the first few chapters have been revised based on feedback, and the maps have also been improved drastically! And, in five and a half weeks, the second book of the trilogy, The Sah'niir, will be released!

   I've prepped the files for The Sah'niir, everything has been proofed, edited and prepared, and I finished work on the book cover. It went much smoother this time around. I've just ordered proof copies of the cover itself, and then I'll put together a proof copy of the book. Assuming all goes well, it will be fit for release on August 1st, one year after the release of The Zi'veyn.
   To download your copy of The Zi'veyn, either visit your regional amazon or Kindle store and search 'The Zi'veyn', or click one of the links below for the most often visited stores:

UK   •   The Netherlands   •   US   •   Canada   •   Australia

   And, if you're not sure, you can read the improved first five chapters for free right here! These chapters will always be available for preview on your device, or can be downloaded as a free Kindle sample to your ereader or app for easy reading on the go. As for the free book, The Zi'veyn will be free on Kindle from Monday 24th to Friday 28th of June.

Friday 21 June 2019

The Value of Telling Your Story

   Why do I write? There are so, so many reasons. Aside from the simple fact that I fell in love with it after first seeing The Fellowship of the Ring at 12 and then promptly reading all the books before the second film came out, I've come to love it only more as I've grown older. It might sound pretentious, or overly spiritual, but it has helped me to 'know' myself. I can recognise, through everything I've written - recurring themes, character traits, values, etc - what it is that is truly important to me, what disgusts me, what I won't stand for, and the ideals I want to share with the world. And in putting it out there, giving each of them names and faces, I'm better able to face up to the things I don't like about myself, and perhaps come to love them. Failing that, I know at least how to handle them. Case in point: "I'm 'Salus'ing again."
   But it also helps others. For many, it's just entertainment, but every now and then I'll write a character and a friend will just say "I can't count how many times I've felt like this, but have never been able to put it into words." Aside from 'Yay I'm doing something right!', I also begin to think that there's a lot more power in words than you would think. And it isn't limited to books, either, but to blogs, forums and community.
   'The pen is mightier than the sword,' and all that. As this guest post from a friend of mine outlines:

   There is a well-known quote attributed to Cormac McCarthy: 'each man is the bard of his own existence.'
    Throughout the course of our lives, all of us accumulate a wide variety of stories of all different types. Some of those stories are of a tragic nature, while others are uplifting. Some are funny, and others contain practical wisdom. Life is, to a large extent, about the stories we write (figuratively as well as literally), the stories we accumulate, and the stories we share with others.
   And yet, many people choose to hold their own stories back and hide them away, instead of sharing and telling them. Here are a few reasons why it’s important to share and tell your own stories, instead, be it in the art of prose, or the freedom of blogging.

They May Help Someone Who Needs It
   Life can be pretty tough, and all of us are bound to face more than our fair share of hardship, frustration, irritation, and confusion, along the way. Part of what that means is that we are all looking for answers to a wide array of questions, and solutions to a wide array of problems, as we go about our daily business.
   If you had a particular experience in life that was difficult for you and that you dealt with well, or moved beyond, sharing your story surrounding that particular event or issue might make all the difference in the life of someone out there who really needs help at this exact moment. Some communities exist specifically in order for people to share such stories, and so to help and support each other. Shift MS, for example, serves this role for people with Multiple Sclerosis, and those who care for them.
   Whatever your specific experiences and challenges of life, never assume that they are irrelevant or worthless. They might contain vital answers for someone else.

Storytelling Allows You To Reach A Deeper Level
   It's a truly wonderful and quite unconscious way of really getting in touch with yourself on a deeper level. Few of us really know ourselves - not just how we would react in certain situations, but how we each work in general. This is, in large part, due to the hectic lifestyles we now lead and the workaholism of us millennials. Not giving ourselves a chance to stop, breathe and think - even face our worries rather than distract ourselves from them - leads to all kinds of issues like depression and anxiety, all because we don't take time to know ourselves.
   We are all mysterious, even to ourselves, on a variety of different levels. Our emotions, dreams, impulses, and thoughts, largely seem to well up out of the unconscious without much input from our waking minds. One of the great journeys that we are all on in life, as a rule, is the journey of self-discovery and enhanced self understanding. The attempts to fulfil the charge of the Oracle of Delphi out to 'know thyself'.
   Storytelling allows you to really get in touch with yourself on a deeper level, and to unravel your own inner mysteries. This is especially true when you sit down to write your own stories, and particularly when you write fiction. This includes fantasy. There’s something about letting your ideas and inner worlds flow onto the page without censorship, that can bring a lot to the surface, as well as making worlds and characters more relatable and dimensional. 'Writing what you know' is an important part of story-telling. How can you tell a compelling story that readers will invest their heart in if it's entirely made up?

Connect And Spread Enjoyment
   Good stories make life a good deal more interesting and fun. It's a general truth - that’s why the film, TV, and fiction book industries are so massive and there is always new talent striving to get noticed (speaking of which: keep an eye on my author website for news on the second instalment of The Devoted trilogy - it's out on August 1st!)
   When you make a special effort to record, create, and share your own stories, you make life more interesting in general for yourself and potentially for all those you interact with. More than this, though, is that when you share your stories you also connect with others on a deeper level. They get to know a bit more about you, you get to know a bit more about them, and you share in meaningful experiences together. And that’s a valuable thing.

Wednesday 5 June 2019

A Brief Guide To Getting 'Fit' - And What That Actually Means

   There is so much varied information around the topic of getting fit that you can be forgiven for not quite knowing where you stand, let alone where to begin. The truth is that, in order to get in shape, you need to first have a clear idea of what that actually means - and even that is something which a lot of people struggle with. We’ll look into that shortly, but for now it’s also worth noting that if you want to get fit you are going to need to keep to the basics, focus on what really works, and adopt a keen sense of patience. If you can do that, and follow some of the guidance in this article, you should find that you are able to get much fitter in no time at all

What is 'fit'?

   'Getting fit' is a phrase which, in itself, might not mean much to you at all. Or, at any rate, it is something which you will find varies a lot, and you need to be able to get a clear idea on what it is that you mean by it if you are to know what to do. If nothing else, this gives you a specific goal to work towards, which in turn will absolutely make it much more likely that you can succeed with whatever you try to do. So what is it that you might mean when you say that you want to get fit?
   For some, 'fit' means getting into shape - or, in other words, looking good naked and clothed. If this is the kind of goal you are aiming for, you will focus on a mixture of muscle training to sculpt, and cardio & HIIT to blast fat - the combination of which is the most effective. Diet and adequate macro levels (appropriate amounts of protein, fats and carbs) are also crucial here - it's all too easy to eat too little and significantly hamper your results.
   Alternatively, for some, 'fit' means simply being healthier within their body, in which cast cardio may become more prominent, though lifting weights is still proven to be key to a longer, healthier life with its links to bone health.
   And, for others, it just means feeling that their body is working more efficiently and pushing it to see what it can do. In which case, HIIT and cross training might be for you.
As you can see, what you want will affect what you need to do, so it’s a good idea to be clear on this as soon as you can, so you know what direction you need to move in.

Finding A Plan

   First of all, it is also important to note that if you are usually sedentary, any exercise will yield results to begin with. Naturally going from not moving to moving will burn more calories and challenge both your body and co-ordination. Therefore, you don't need to start with anything too crazy. However, over time, the results will slow and your body will adjust, meaning that you will need to start branching out and looking for the things that work for you. But also remember that part of what makes something work for you is enjoyment. If you hate a workout, effective or not, you're going to struggle to stick to it or give it the level of power it needs (a consistent jog compared to scuffing your feet as you go), and you'll struggle to get the results. This is where changing your workout every 1-2 months is a good idea. Through this process, I tried a lot of different things and discovered a love for kickboxing and weight lifting, having tried dance, Pilates, barre, kettlebells, rebounding and so on.
   Knowing what to look for is important here, so try to find plans which have a decent increase rate - that require more effort every week or so - but not so much that you struggle with it too much. Also be on the lookout for plans which are specifically designed to work for the goal you have in mind. If you can do that, you should be able to find a plan in no time, and it’s something to think about as early on as you can. Having a good plan is essential to getting fit in good time and without causing yourself too much strain.

Hiring A Personal Trainer

   If you have never had a personal trainer, it can be hard to appreciate just how valuable they can be. The truth is that a personal trainer is often the key to ensuring that you keep at it, that you are doing all the right things to get where you need to go, and that you're doing them correctly. They will know the exercises you need to do, how long you need to do them for, and be able to advise on what to supplement your workout with, how to eat and everything in between. This is all the kind of information you need if you are to succeed because they can defend you against the usual pitfalls - over-training, under-eating, or even the opposite: working out at a lower rate than you think you are and eating more than you think. If you are thinking of trying to find a personal trainer who can help you, check out OriGym - for more information. You should find that there are some things there which are hugely important to consider, wherever you seek one.


   News flash: this doesn't mean cutting carbs, fats, jumping onto fads or celebrating when you feel hungry for a straight 2 hours+
   'Diet' actually just means 'general eating habits' - and it's most important to note that 1: you can't out-exercise a bad diet, and 2: food is fuel.
   As long as you are not eating properly, it doesn’t altogether matter what exercise you are doing or how much of it you are doing. You need to therefore make sure that you are aware of what a good diet entails, and this is a tricky area for many people to look into. Nutrition varies massively from individual to individual, so it is hard to find globally universal facts which you can take on board. Take a look at BBC Good Food for their guidelines on balanced diets for men and women for some ideas which might help.
   In general, however, you should aim to eat plenty of whole foods, with 35-40% of your diet coming from complex carbs. If you can do that, you will be doing what you need to keep healthy. Bear in mind that if you want to build muscle, you might want to increase your protein a little, but you don’t even need to do that much to see results. All myths aside, the optimum amount of protein to consume while trying to build muscle is about 0.75g per 1lb body weight (1.5g per 1kg). Any more than that has proven redundant. As long as you get your diet right, you will find that you get fit much sooner - whatever that means to you.