Are Supplements Worth It?

The pandemic has put our health under the microscope like never before, with many of us reaching for dietary supplements in the hope of fending off the COVID-19 virus.

A recent survey in the US found nearly 30 per cent of Americans are now taking more supplements than they were before the pandemic, while in Australia market researchers report sales of vitamins and supplements have soared.

Are supplements perfectly safe or could we be risking our health further every time we pop a pill?

What are dietary supplements?

Natural health products such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and plant extracts all fall under the umbrella term of dietary supplements. They are also known as complementary medicines. Global supplement use is growing at a fast rate and expected to reach a value of almost US$300 billion by 2027.

Many dietary supplements are beneficial if used safely, says Geraldine Moses, Adjunct Associate Professor of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Queensland. Women who are pregnant or planning to be are prescribed folic acid and iodine, and deficiencies in certain minerals, such as iron, are corrected with supplements.

What is the evidence?

Some of us take a multivitamin as a kind of health insurance, in case our diet is lacking. Yet the highest-quality evidence, randomised controlled trials, has found no evidence that multivitamins improve your health.

The trials that have been done of vitamins have not shown benefit in people who are not deficient. We are just seeing it time and time again, Professor Rachel Neale of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

One reason dietary supplements are so popular is the perception that they are harmless, says Professor Moses. But like any other drug, there are potential dangers from taking vitamins and minerals. Unlike other drugs, however, we rarely hear of their potential harms.

How to Choose Ergonomic Aids

Back ache, neck ache and eyestrain are all signs of a poor ergonomic set-up at work. Reduce stress on your body by choosing the right ergonomic accessories.

A good chair and desk can go a long way to ensuring you maintain correct posture when you are working. But to get the optimum set-up you may need a few additional supports. Follow this quick accessory guide from Healthworks’ Your Body At Work to find the best aids for you.

Q. Do you need to raise your monitor to have it at the correct height?

A. A monitor stand can easily fix this. If you use a laptop, a laptop stand can raise the height of the screen and allows you to use an external keyboard and mouse.

Q. Do your feet dangle above the floor, or are you more comfortable with them raised slightly?

A. Forget the awkward crossed legs position, it’s time to invest in a footstool. This will allow your thighs to rest comfortably on the seat of the chair and your knees to be bent between 70 and 110 degrees.

Q. When typing, do you tense your wrist or forearms, or are your forearms unsupported?

A. A wrist support will fix this problem.

Q. Do you need to manoeuvre your chair to access items required for work?

A. A slide mat will ensure your chair moves easily across the floor.

Q. Do you rotate your neck to one side when reading documents, or push your keyboard away to fit documents immediately in front of you?

A. A document holder or reading/writing frame (which sits over your keyboard) will fix this.

Q. Do you use the phone frequently, cradle it in your neck, or hunch your shoulders while holding the phone?

A. A phone headset. Bluetooth headset or speakerphone is essential.

Q. Is your back sore or uncomfortable?

A. Try a back support on your chair. There are a number of types available, depending on your area of discomfort.

Text Neck danger

Bending your neck forward and down for long periods looking at your mobile phone is causing a wave of neck, shoulder and back problems known as Text Neck. Minimise injury by raising the height of your phone or tablet and take a break or change position every 15 minutes.

5 Signs of Anxiety You Might Have Missed

Although it is a mental health issue, anxiety can often have surprising physical symptoms. These symptoms can appear even when you are not feeling overly anxious.

Anxiety changes the way you think, your hormones and your perceptions, says Micah Abraham, editor of Calm Clinic. It changes the neurochemicals in your brain that tell you how to think and act. It can both cause physical sensations and make you hyperaware of them, which can lead to a huge variety of symptoms.

When Calm Clinic asked its Facebook followers if they had any unusual anxiety symptoms, they received hundreds of responses, ranging from “forgetting how to swallow” to a “loud pop, like a firecracker, in their ear.”

“An individual suffering from an anxiety disorder perceives a wide range of feelings and sensations, which are unique, complex, and often difficult to explain,” says Abraham.

In fact, it’s possible to experience anxiety only as physical symptoms – your mind may feel completely relaxed and clear.

Here are five common anxiety symptoms which you might not realise are anxiety:

1. Pain

A sudden pain in your hip. A stomach ache. Chest pain with accompanying sweating so severe you think it must surely be a heart attack. Anxiety can create sensations of pain that have no physical cause.

Chest pain is one of the most common types of pain created by anxiety. Research in 2018 published in BMC Medicine found that Emergency Department providers believe approximately 30 per cent of patients seeking emergency care for chest pain are actually experiencing anxiety.

This kind of chest pain is caused by a stress response. Your heart starts to beat faster to prepare for fight or flight, which causes rapid breathing. This can lead to hypoventilation, which can cause shortness of breath as well as a contraction of blood vessels, which may result in chest pain.

Other times, you might notice random pain anywhere in your body that can stay for weeks, and then disappear. Similarly, you might experience muscle aches, spasms, and twitching.

These pains could be caused by rapid breathing, or by holding your muscles tensely for long period of time, or by hypervigilance.

Abraham explains: “Someone without anxiety may have a knee pain so mild that they don’t even notice it, but a person with anxiety feels that knee pain severely because their mind has been altered, making it hypersensitive to the way the body feels.”

2. Numbness and tingling

You notice pins and needles in your feet or hands. You Google it, and become convinced you have a neurological disease. Or it’s a sign of a heart attack. But could it be… anxiety?

Anxiety Centre says numbness and tingling are common signs of anxiety. It can also feel like part of your skin or body has lost all feeling, or you might even feel a crawly sensation. You might notice it in your arms, hands, fingers, toes, legs, feet, head, face, or it might shift around all over your body.

It can even strike when you are not noticing any other mental anxiety symptoms, for example when you are relaxing watching TV.

The numbness and tingling are caused by your fight or flight response: your body moves blood away from your extremities such as hands, feet and skin, and redirects it to your heart and muscles.

3. Yawning

Frequent and excessive yawning doesn’t necessarily mean you need more sleep. It could mean you are experiencing anxiety.

The need to yawn often – even in important meetings – can sometimes be accompanied by a feeling that you can’t breathe deeply enough, or becoming very aware of your breathing.

It’s caused by shortness of breath, which in turn is caused by a change in heart rate.

4. Digestive issues

Indigestion, the need to burp all the time, or just a plain old stomach-ache are common physical symptoms of anxiety. In fact, around one third of anxious people experience anxiety-related diarrhoea.

It’s caused by the fight or flight response, which changes your hormones and digestive enzymes. It can be exacerbated by lack of sleep – another common anxiety symptom.

Plus, emerging research is revealing the powerful link between the brain and the gut, where gastrointestinal issues are triggered or exacerbated by anxiety and stress, and on the flip side, your gut health can impact your mental health.

5. Hair loss

You brush your hair and a lot comes out. Are you ageing rapidly, or could it be anxiety?

Hair loss is a common symptom of anxiety in both men and women.

You might notice it just in one part of your head, or all over.

Anxiety Centre says its due to a body-wide hormonal response. For example, stress activates neuroendocrine-immune circuits, which pause hair growth.

How to Manage Screen Time When Your Work Is Online

We all know too much screen time is bad for us, but what if your job requires long and intensive screen usage?

It’s difficult, because most of us are aware of the health issues of too much screen time: the impact on our mental health, our physical health and of course our vision. It disrupts our sleep, our ability to concentrate and increases our risk of chronic disease due to lack of physical movement.

Yet often our work is online, our friends are online, and increasingly our leisure time is online. Even exercise is often through an online class.

It is become harder since the pandemic, when so many of us switched to working from home. Even with breaks, it has become easy and normal to be on screens for 12 or more hours a day. Studies show that on average, use of digital devices increased by five hours a day for adults, an increase of 60-80 per cent.

So what can we do about it?

The answer is to develop healthy digital habits, says Doreen Dodgen-Magee, PsyD and author of Deviced!: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.

1. First, measure.

Dodgem-Magee recommends first documenting how you are spending your time. Apps are designed to be addictive, and it can be extremely difficult to pull yourself away from a device and extremely easy to scroll absent-mindedly.

Track every 15 minutes for a few days. Note down what you are doing and what device you are doing it on. It seems like a lot of work, but it will save you hours in the long run.

2. Do what you need to do and get out.

It is tempting to reward yourself for completing a task by allowing yet more screen time. Make sure the breaks you take and rewards you give yourself are off-screen.

3. Take breaks.

A five-minute break every 25 minutes is a good guide, with at least two longer breaks every day. And as above, move away from that screen to take your break. Get up and move your body, even if it is just rolling your shoulders or walking around a bit.

4. Create screen free zones.

When working from home, Dodgen-Magee recommends having zones in your homes where tech is not allowed. This could be the bedroom or the bathroom, for example, or the kitchen. You can then carry this through to after work hours, to give yourself time away from screens in the evening.

The Big Dry

You think your skin would lose less moisture in winter, compared to the heat of summer. But that is not the case. A combination of drier air and indoor heating can lead to skin that feels dry, tight and itchy.

Whether it is summer or winter though, dry skin is caused by a loss of water. For our skin to feel smooth and supple, the top layer needs to be at least 10 per cent water, a level that helps to repair and maintain the barrier function of the skin and keep it healthy.

As well as being uncomfortable and sore, overly dry skin can also be unsightly, developing small splits or cracks and appearing like the scales of a lizard. It can also lead to skin infections if there is a break in your skin from crackling, and make you more vulnerable to dermatitis.

Prevent and treat dry skin with the following tips:

1. Avoid very hot showers.

As tempting as it is to thaw out under hot running water if you are feeling cold. It is recommended to reduce the frequency and length of baths or showers and use lukewarm water. Overly hot water can strip away the protective surface oils that help your skin retain water.

2. Turn down the thermostat – or turn it off.

If you have heating or air conditioning in your home, don’t over-do it. Hot air tends to be drier than cooler air. However, air conditioners, cool or warm will dry the air out so try to limit your exposure.

3. Keep drinking water.

Your body loses water through your skin all year, not just in the hot summer months. Replenish it through the day.

4. Use soap substitutes.

Normal soap can irritate or damage your skin. Ask your pharmacist for advice on soap substitutes.

5. Quit.

If you smoke, consider quitting. Smoking will dry out your skin and vaping is likely to have the same effect.

6. Wear gloves.

Your hands are often the first place you notice dry skin. Put on gloves before you:

·       perform tasks that require you to get your hands wet

·       get chemicals, grease, and other substances on your hands

·       go outside on a cold day.

How to add moisture

Moisturisers work by providing a seal over your skin to keep water from escaping, and applying one regularly is an effective way of tackling dry skin.

Despite the hype around certain brands, you really can’t go very wrong with any moisturiser you choose, so pick one that feels good on your skin. For extremely dry skin you may need a thicker moisturiser – ask your pharmacist for a recommendation.

The best time to apply moisturiser is after showering when your skin is still damp. It is also advisable to apply lip balm multiple times throughout the day. If your hands are particularly dry, always apply hand cream after washing your hands.

1 Thing You Can Do Today

Slow Down

What goes through your mind when you hear that it’s healthy to slow down? Do you think, “that’s fine for others, but I’m barely keeping up as it is”? Or “if I slow down I’ll realise how tired I am and won’t be able to keep going”? Or “slowing down is weak and lazy”?

If you are worried about losing productivity, consider this: slowing down makes you more productive.

“It sounds crazy, but slowing down can be the difference between success or failure, or between thriving and burning out,” writes The Mindful Entrepreneur, Andrew Thomas, in Inc. magazine.

Thomas suggests: “Schedule an hour every week to check in. Reflect on your intentions and observe the challenges or opportunities showing up in front of you.”

Slowing down also helps you make wiser decisions.

“If success requires making good decisions, and slowing down helps you make better decisions, then consider how you can invest more time in slowing down.” Says Thomas.

When you slow down, you free up your brain, listen to your gut and make better decisions.

So next time you find yourself feeling guilty for resting or taking things slowly, remind yourself of the many health benefits of slowing down. It’s good for you!

Managing Stress At Work

Some jobs are more stressful than others. Who hasn’t sympathised with health and care workers during the pandemic? But whatever your job, you can experience work-related stress.

In short bursts, stress can help you stay alert and perform at your best. But once stress becomes ongoing or excessive, your mental health can suffer.

So too, can organisational performance. Workplace stress can lead to reduced productivity and job satisfaction and increased absenteeism, accidents and staff turnover.

You may start to feel excessively stressed if you:

  • work long hours, work through breaks or take work home
  • have low control over how you do your work
  • don’t receive enough support from managers and/or co-workers
  • are poorly managed, subject to bullying or discrimination, or have poor relationships with colleagues or bosses
  • have job insecurity.

Signs of work-related stress

According to Beyond Blue, prolonged or excessive stress contributes to the development of anxiety and depression, or may cause an existing condition to worsen.

Would you know if you were stressed? Look out for the following signs:

  • physical signs such as chest pain, fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches, nausea, muscle pains, appetite changes, sleeping problems, and slow reactions
  • non-physical signs, such as difficulty making decisions, forgetfulness, irritability, excessive worrying, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, defensiveness, anger, mood swings, and social withdrawal.

What you can do

Identifying what is contributing to your stress can help you find the right strategies to manage it.

Talk over your concerns with your employer or human resources manager and think about the changes you need to make. Some you will be able to manage yourself; others will need cooperation from workmates or your boss. Other things that may be helpful:

  • Learn to identify your triggers. Once you know what these are, you can aim to avoid them or calm yourself down beforehand. These might include late nights, deadlines, seeing particular people, or hunger.
  • Establish routines. Predictable rhythms and routines can be calming and reassuring. These can include regular times for exercise and relaxation. Exercise can reduce the level of your stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, as well as stimulate endorphins, which are natural mood elevators.
  • Spend time with friends and family. Don’t take out your stress on loved ones, instead, tell them about your work problems and ask for their support.
  • Seek help from a psychologist or counsellor.

How Healthy is Your Self-Talk?

Our self-talk can often be brutal. The things you say to yourself can keep you feeling small and deflated.

But in the busy-ness of our day, it’s hard to tune in to all the mean things we tell ourselves. Instead, look out for these warning phrases and words, and use them as an alert that your self-talk is taking a dive:

1. “Should”

Whenever you catch yourself saying you should, take note and question it. “Should” usually indicates you are feeling inadequate, or are caught up in or perfectionism or comparing yourself to others.

Common examples include:

- “I should be able to do this quicker.”

- “I should get more exercise.”

- “I should be able to cope better, everyone else can.”

Instead, ask yourself: Is that true? And do I really want to? Try switching to: “I will” or “I can”. Or even, “I choose not to”.


2. “I don’t have time”

We are all busy. In fact, we are all often overwhelmed by the expectations of society. But is it true you don’t have time? Or is it true that you only have time for what really matters to you?

Ask yourself: Do I want to make time for this thing? Or do I choose to invest my time in something that matters more to me?

3. “I’m not good at that”

Have you ever told yourself, I won’t be good at that”? It’s very common.

You say it like it’s a fact, and it gives you a way out.
When you hear yourself saying this phrase, ask yourself:

- Is it true?

- According to whom? Who says? You? Your old teacher? The part of you that’s scared of failure?

- And even if it is true, so what? Do you have to be brilliant at it to do it? What if you practiced? Or, what if you did it just because you want to?

4. “I’m not smart enough/funny enough/good enough.”

Here’s a secret: none of us feel “good enough”. Many people go through their entire lives building evidence for why they are not good enough. Others go through their lives trying to cover it up, hoping no-one will ever find out.

Yet the truth is that being smart/funny/good is purely subjective. Remember that Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

When you hear yourself saying any combination of “I’m not [adjective] enough”, tune in and question it.

5. “If only”

This is usually spoken from a feeling of unfairness or helplessness.

- “If only I was born richer.”

- “If only I was more confident/more good-looking/more [anything].”

- “If only had I saved more money in my 20s.”

You can’t change the past, but you can reframe it.

When you catch yourself saying “If only”, make an effort to look at what you can do, what you have achieved, and what you do have.

Wanna Play?

Why play is essential to our health

What if there was a way to feel happier, more energised, more creative AND be even smarter? And what if that way was actually fun, and pretty much free? Would you do it?

It’s not a new drug or expensive treatment, it’s play.

In essence, play is something you want to do for the sake of it, not for any outcome or result. It is purposeless, all consuming, and fun.

Humans are wired for play. And when we deny ourselves the chance to play, things go, well… haywire.

In fact, there is such thing as “play deprivation”, and it has serious, even fatal, consequences.

Psychologist and researcher Dr Stuart Brown is one of the leading authorities on play.

He began with researching the background and childhoods people convicted of murder, and found many had severe play deprivation.

He subsequently did research on rats. (He says funding for play research on humans is hard to come by; too few Universities will give a grant for “play” over more serious topics.)

He took two groups of juvenile rats. One group was allowed to play, the other was not. The groups were then presented with a collar saturated with cat odour: fear and danger. Both groups ran and hid. But, here’s what happened next:

“The non-players never come out – they die. The players slowly explore the environment, and begin again to test things out. That says to me, at least in rats – and I think they have the same neurotransmitters that we do and a similar cortical architecture – that play may be pretty important for our survival.”

Infuse your life with play

“The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression,” says Dr Brown. “Think about life without play – no humour, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy. The thing that’s so unique about our species is that we’re really designed to play through our whole lifetime.”

At the end of his popular TED Talk, Dr Brown says, “So I would encourage you all to engage not in the work-play differential – where you set aside time to play – but where your life becomes infused minute by minute, hour by hour, with body, object, social, fantasy, transformational kinds of play. And I think you’ll have a better and more empowered life.”


How to play as an adult

As adults, we tend to avoid risk of failure. We don’t want to try something new in case we’re bad at it. Play removes that pressure. It doesn’t matter if you’re not “good at it” – it’s the doing of it that matters.

Here’s how to start”

1. Think back to the play you enjoyed most as a child, and then find similar activities. If you enjoyed climbing trees, you could try rock climbing. If you loved play dough, you could find a pottery class, or, as a cheaper option, start making bread at home.

2. Make time to be spontaneous. You might need to schedule blocks of time where you allow yourself to play. Make an appointment in your calendar to act as a reminder.

3. Don’t post about it. When you share your play on social media, you’re giving it a result. Try doing it just for you.

Does Weight Training Burn Fat?

We used to think that to shrink our fat cells we needed a brisk walk, run or cycle to burn up the excess calories. But the thinking has shifted. Working with weights may be an even better option for getting rid of unwanted fat.

Cardiovascular exercise will always be essential part of getting and staying fit. Amongst other benefits it strengthens your heart and reduces your blood pressure.

Our muscles need attention too. Including two sessions of resistance or strength training per week will increase muscle mass and strength and improve bone density. Evidence indicates that weight training can help us avoid an early death, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, and reduce our risk of cognitive decline and injury. It can also help with weight and fat loss.


What is resistance exercise?

Resistance training is when you make your muscles work against a weight or force. It involves using weight machines, exercise bands, hand-held weights or your own body weight (such as push-ups, sit-ups or planking) to provide your muscles with enough resistance that they can grow and get stronger.

The link between muscles and fat

Resistance training increases the size and tone of your muscles. This doesn’t just look good, it also helps you control your weight in the long term. That’s because muscle size is important in determining your resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is how many calories your body needs to function at rest. Studies show that weight training is more effective than aerobic exercise at increasing RMR.

Other studies have found weight workouts increased energy expenditure and fat burning for at least 24 hours afterwards. Even people who occasionally lift weights are far less likely to become obese that those who don’t.

In a process called mechanical loading, muscles get stressed through lifting, pushing, or pulling. In response to this, cells in the muscles release a substance that sends instructions to fat cells, prompting them to start the fat-burning process, explained study co-author Dr John McCarthy, associate professor of physiology at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

“We think this adds a new dimension to the understanding of how skeletal muscle communicates with other tissues,” said Dr McCarthy. The results remind us, he said, that muscle mass is vitally important for metabolic health.


Resistance training for beginners

  1. Warm up first. Do some light aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or rowing for about five minutes.
  2. Use proper technique to avoid injuries. You can learn this from a registered exercise professional. Many gyms offer experienced personal trainers, or your could see a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.
  3. Start slowly. New to weights? Then you may be able to lift only a few kilograms. As your body gets more used to the exercises you can start to progress. Once you can easily do 12 repetitions with a particular weight, gradually increase the weight.
  4. Use your breath. Breathe out when you are lifting or pushing; breathe in as you slowly release the load or weight. Never hold your breath while straining.
  5. Be sensible. Don’t be so eager to see results that you risk injury by exercising too long or choosing too heavy a weight.
  6. Rest. Rest muscles for at least 48 hours between strength training sessions. If you have been sick, don’t return to training until one or two days after you have recovered.