One Thing You Can Do Today

Learn a new craft

During last year’s Tokyo Olympics, UK diver Tom Daley wowed the crowd not only with his incredible diving skills, but also with his knitting talent. The cameras caught him knitting by the pool, in the stands, even on the bus.

Like many people, he turned to learning a craft during the lockdown days of the pandemic. And like knitters before him, he found it incredibly soothing during anxious times.

It doesn’t have to be knitting. Even though much of the scientific study around the benefits of craft has focused on knitting, there are positive links between engaging in any creative occupation and physical and mental wellbeing. Benefits include relaxation, stress relief, a sense of accomplishment, and improved memory and concentration.

Crafts such as woodwork, knitting, crochet, and ceramics focus on repetitive actions and a skill level that can always be improved upon. Doing a craft we enjoy allows us to enter a ‘flow’ state, described as a perfect immersive state of balance between skill and challenge.

Working on your craft can be solitary, but it can also allow you to be social. One survey found knitting in a group improved knitters’ happiness, social contact and communication. Organisations like the Men’s Shed movement offers men the opportunity to do collective woodworking, repair and other productive activities, with participants reporting reduced levels of depression.

Interested in trying a new craft? Upskill by searching for YouTube tutorials, or look for a local craft community on Facebook or at your local community college.

When Water Is Harmful

Can you name the most common skin irritant? Your mind may go to chemicals like solvents, paint thinners and harsh detergents, but the answer, surprisingly, is water.

You would not think something as harmless or necessary as water could cause your skin to become red, dry, itchy and cracked. But that’s exactly what can happen when your work involves frequent hand washing or immersion in water.

If you perform “wet work” you are most at risk of occupational contact dermatitis (OCD). OCD is inflammation of the skin caused by contact with external substances in the workplace. It is one of the most commonly reported and underestimated occupational diseases.

As well as water, other occupational irritants include any strongly acidic or alkaline substances, oils, detergents, shampoos, cleaning agents, dust and fibreglass.


Why is water damaging?

Wetting and drying your hands over and over disrupts the skin’s key protective layer (the stratum corneum). Over time, this leads to dry skin, more disruption of the protective barrier, and inflammation.

Frequent contact with water explains in part why people in the healthcare industry are at greater risk of OCD, as well as hairdressers, hospitality workers, cleaners and mechanics. And with handwashing more frequent during the COVID-19 pandemic, more people may be affected.

Your work is considered “wet work” if your hands are:

  • in water for longer than two hours a shift
  • handling wet things for more than two hours a shift
  • in occlusive (moisture-proof) gloves for longer than two hours a shift, or
  • washed more than 20 times a shift.

How do you prevent occupational dermatitis?

Gloves. Gloves can protect your hands, but it’s important to use the right ones for the job as otherwise they may provide inadequate protection or further irritate your skin.

Moisturising creams. These can help prevent dry skin and dermatitis. Water-based moisturisers may be a better choice, as oil-based ones can affect the protective properties of certain gloves.

Hand sanitiser. Alcohol-based hand rubs prevent hands being continually washed and dried and tend to be gentler on the skin, although they are not suitable if your hands are visibly dirty.

If you have any red, dry and itchy areas on your skin, seek help from your doctor or dermatologist.

Ready for the New You?

Avoid these two common mistakes when trying to change your habits.

Are you ready to break bad habits? Do you have big goals planned for 2022? Do you want to make big changes in your life?

You may think you will succeed in making changes to your habits and then find that you eventually lose interest and go back to your old ways. Why?

According to Dr BJ Fogg, Director of the Behaviour Design Lab at Stanford University and author of Tiny Habits, people make two mistakes when trying to change their habits:

1. They start too big and make it too hard.

When a change is hard, even if you are motivated and even if you can see how it will benefit you, it’s unlikely you will stick to it when things get tough.

Dr Fogg advises us to think big, but start small. Make your new habit so easy you could do it on your hardest day.

“The easier a behaviour is to do, the more likely the behaviour will become a habit. This applies to habits we consider ‘good’ and ‘bad’,” says Dr Fogg.

Make a tiny change that fits with your current life, and celebrate every time you do it.

2. They use punishment instead of celebration to motivate themselves.

“Write this phrase on a small piece of paper: I change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad.”

Ever berated yourself for not sticking with a resolution? Or chastised yourself for not having the will-power to make changes? That’s where you are going wrong, says Dr Fogg.

Dr Fogg points out that people don’t change through shame or manipulation. We are motivated to change when the new change makes us feel good - either inherently because it feels good while we are doing it, or because of an immediate reward.

“In order to design successful habits and change your behaviours, you should do three things. Stop judging yourself. Take your aspirations and break them down into tiny behaviours. Embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward.”

One Thing You Can Do Today

Recycle at Christmas

Good food, friends, family and… waste. Christmas creates tonnes of waste, such as wrapping paper, shiny decorations, plastic cups and cutlery, and flat batteries.

What can and can’t you recycle?


Do recycle:

  • Cardboard and paper wrapping (even if they have sticky tape on them).
  • Disposable aluminium baking trays and foil. Remove food scraps and oil and roll the foil into a ball shape.
  • Plastic cups and glasses. Because these are rigid plastic and 3D (not flat) they can be picked up and sorted into the plastic recycling area.
  • Batteries and fairy lights. These can be recycled as e-waste – most councils have a system for e-waste recycling such as dedicated drop-off days.

Don’t recycle:

  • Broken glassware and crockery. They don’t melt at the same temperature as bottle and jar glass.
  • Christmas decorations. Tinsel is particularly problematic in the recycling stations as it gets wrapped around machinery.
  • Tissue paper and napkins. These may be contaminated with food, but even if not, the fibres are too short to be used again. They can be dropped in a food and garden organics bin.
  • Plastic plates and cutlery. These are the wrong shape to be sorted by the recycling machines.

Be Good to Your Gut So It Is Good to You

Fascination with our gut microbiota – the millions of microbes that live in our intestines – has exploded in the last few years. How can you keep your gut’s residents as healthy and happy as possible?

There are many claims made about gut health. We are told that having the right gut bugs will make us slim, boost our immune system, even cure depression. But for all the health claims you may read, there is still a lot to discover about what gut bugs can and cannot do.


How to care for your gut’s microbes

Even though our internal world is still largely a mystery, we do have a good idea of how to keep the gut microbiome as diverse and healthy as possible. One way is through the foods we eat, and those we avoid.

The most important step is to eat a plant-rich, whole food diet, says nutrition scientist and gut health expert Dr Joanna McMillan. This includes fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and the oils made from them.

At the same time, limit or avoid ultra-processed foods. These are foods made from ingredients that are already heavily processed so that the resulting food product is far removed from the original plant or animal food.


Why the focus on plant foods?

There are two groups of plant compounds that are key for gut health and fuelling your microbiome, says Dr McMillan – fibre and polyphenols.

All the different types of fibre are carbohydrates that our digestive enzymes can’t break down, so they arrive intact to the large intestine (colon). Many of these types of fibre are fermented by the gut microbiome, explains Dr McMillan.

The gut microbiome works hard to support us, too. It produces substances that help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, reduce inflammation in the gut and the rest of the body, provide fuel for the cells lining the gut to keep them healthy, and support the immune system.

The best sources of fibre? All plant foods, but particularly legumes and wholegrains.

Polyphenols are compounds found widely in plant foods, says Dr McMillan, and like fibre, they also promote a healthy, diverse microbiome.

“Your friendly gut bugs convert these polyphenols into more bioactive compounds with diverse health benefits throughout the body,” she explains.

Recent research has shown polyphenols have prebiotic effects, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. They are also anti-inflammatory and prevent the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.

The best sources of polyphenols?

Extra virgin olive oil has more than 30 polyphenols, says Dr McMillan. Other good sources of polyphenols are colourful fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds.


Do you always but the same fruit and vegetable?

Sticking to the same fruit and vegetables every day is likely to decrease the range of your gut microbiota.

“If you want to increase gut microbe diversity, you should try and have 30 different plant-based foods a week,” says dietitian and gut health expert Dr Megan Rossi.

Sounds impossible? Gradually introduce foods you may not normally eat, such as barley, quinoa, chickpeas, eggplant, Brazil nuts, pumpkin and chia seeds, asparagus, and kale. For example, you can base a salad on barley, add some nuts and seeds, three types of vegetables, a little dried fruit, and a dressing based on olive oil. That will give you up to eight different plant foods.

Take a Hike? Why Not Take a Swim?

Some of us head to the pool or ocean all year. Others are fair weather swimmers. Whatever type you are, the water awaits. It’s time to swim!

There’s something deeply re-energising about gliding through the water, whether it’s chlorine or salt water.

You come out feeling relaxed and buzzing. Renewed. But you can’t help wonder… was it a good use of your time? Would you have been better off going for a run or doing an exercise class? And what about that thing your friend says that swimming makes you put on weight?

Don’t worry! Swimming is an amazing form of exercise, and wonderful for your physical and mental health. Here’s why:

1. It strengthens all your muscles

Swimming gives you a full-body workout. It works muscles throughout your entire body, including your legs, glutes, arms, neck, shoulders and core. Remember, water is 800 times denser than air, so it gives you a great resistance workout.

2. It lowers stress and helps with depression

Ever got out of the pool and felt the weight of the world had lifted off your shoulders? You didn’t imagine it. Swimming can induce a relaxation response similar to yoga.

The relaxation response is thought to be due to the constant stretching and releasing of your muscles, combined with deep rhythmic breathing. Plus, the feeling of being away from everything in the water (where your phone can’t beep at you) can help relieve stress.

3. It burns calories

Swimming can burn equal or greater calories than running, although it depends on how hard and fast you go.

Running for 10 minutes burns around about 100 calories (depending on your weight and speed).

With 10 minutes of swimming, you burn 60 calories with breast stroke, 80 calories with backstroke, 100 calories with freestyle, and 150 with butterfly stroke.

4. It regulates blood sugar

A 2016 study found that short bursts of high-intensity swimming three times a week can balance blood glucose. That’s great news for those with diabetes or it you are at risk of diabetes.

5. It helps you live longer

No, really. Researchers at the University of South Carolina looked at 40,547 men, aged 20 to 90, for over 32 years. They found those who swam had a 50 per cent lower death rate than runners, walkers, or men who didn’t exercise.

What about just submerging yourself in water? Is that good too?

Yes. And there’s different benefits for cold vs warm water. Immersing yourself in very cold water, that is around 15 degrees Celsius, can help with pain, muscle recovery and boosts your metabolism. Some studies suggest it can reduce symptoms of depression.

Ice baths take this idea up a notch. The “Wim Hof method” promotes ice baths or very cold showers combined with deep breathing. Wim Hof says it stimulates your vague nerve, which boosts your parasympathetic nervous system and affects conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Lowering yourself into warm water is a gentler way to promote relaxation. Research from Washington State University finds that warm water immersion, like a bath, balances your nervous system and helps lower stress.

“The effects of aquatic immersion are profound, and impact virtually every body system,” says Dr Bruce Becker, director of the National Aquatic & Sports Medicine Institute at Washington State University.

Can You Cure a Hangover?

Parties, barbecues, family dinners. Holiday get-togethers often lead to the dreaded hangover. Is there anything we can do to cure the aftermath of overindulging?

First the bad news. There’s no real cure for a hangover. No food or supplement, powder or pill – least of all the ‘hair of the dog’ (also known as drinking more alcohol).


What’s a hangover?

Your liver can handle moderate amounts of alcohol but if you drink too much you risk a hangover the next day.

Alcohol and its by-product, acetaldehyde, are toxic to your body. Together, they cause the symptoms of a hangover – fatigue, dizziness, headache, dry mouth and nausea. Someone with a hangover can also experience impaired memory, concentration and visual-spatial skills – potentially a safety risk to others in the workplace.


Is there any good news?

By focusing on what you eat and drink before and during your drinking session you can prevent the worst hangover symptoms.

  • Slow down alcohol absorption by ensuring you eat before or while you’re drinking.
  • Help prevent alcohol’s dehydrating effects by alternating alcoholic drinks with water.
  • Avoid darker coloured drinks, such as brandy, whisky, rum and red wine. They have a higher level of compounds called congeners which are believed to make your hangover worse.
  • Have a sports drink before bed as this helps replenish fluid and electrolytes lost through the dehydrating effect of alcohol.

Looking for evidence

Google ‘hangover cure’ and you will come up with everything from bananas, charcoal tablets, and ginseng, to green tea, Bloody Mary and pizza.

The British Medical Journal has even published a systematic review of randomised controlled trials looking at hangover cures and found no compelling evidence for any of them. Their conclusion was to avoid a hangover in the first place with alcohol abstinence or moderation.


What can help

Apart from waiting for your body to get back to normal, there are some things you can do that may help you feel a little better.

  • Rehydrate with water and/or sports drinks.
  • Eat a couple of eggs. Eggs contain an amino acid called cysteine which helps to break down acetaldehyde.
  • Get moving if you can. The endorphin release from exercise will make you feel better.
  • Try aspirin and a strong coffee. They can help clear your head as you wait it out, although they won’t sober you up any quicker.

Risks of DIY teeth straighteners

Tempted by the promise of a straighter smile without a hefty price tag, many people have opted for at-home teeth straightening kits.

But orthodontists are concerned about the potential risks of these, which include damage to the roots of teeth, gum recession, loose teeth and teeth that need to be removed.


Customers are required to take teeth moulds themselves and work progressively through different sets of aligners sent to them in the mail, which move their teeth over time. A remote orthodontist oversees their progress through photos.

A lot of people underestimate how complicated changing teeth is because it ultimately affects your bite, which affects your jaw and your jaw joint and the muscles of your face.

A survey found 35 per cent of orthodontists who responded had treated a patient in the past 12 months following failed use of at home aligners.

5 Food Safety Myths

We are not always up to speed on what causes food poisoning, or how to avoid it. Let’s debunk some common myths you might have heard.


1. Food poisoning is mild and nothing to worry about.

Food poisoning can be relatively mild, or it can be deadly. In some cases, it causes serious long-term problems like kidney or nerve damage, reactive arthritis and hepatitis.

The World Health Organization estimates that 600 million people fall ill from food contamination each year, and 420,000 die from it annually.

2. The last thing I ate must have made me sick.

It is understandable to blame food poisoning on the last meal you ate, and this may be the case. But the food that caused your illness may have been eaten days before your symptoms appeared. Different bugs cause symptoms to start at different times after eating the contaminated food. You should consider all the foods eaten over the three days before symptoms first appeared.


3. Food that’s “off” will smell.

Most food-poisoning bacteria and their toxins don’t obligingly warn you of their presence with a particularly bad smell or taste. The “off” smell of putrefaction is usually due to relatively harmless bacteria, and food which seems normal in appearance, taste and smell can have enough harmful pathogens to make you ill. If in doubt, toss it out.


4. If you are vegan, you are unlikely to get food poisoning.

Even though meats, seafood, poultry, eggs and dairy are the leading causes of food poisoning, vegans are not off the hook.

Plants and plant-based foods can become contaminated as easily as any other food if they come into contact with bacteria found in soil, unclean surfaces or equipment, or food handlers who are sick or have dirty hands.

Contaminated bean sprouts, for instance, have been linked to outbreaks of E. coli infection. Raw rice can contain bacteria called Bacillus cereus that survives cooking. If rice is unrefrigerated for more than two hours after cooking, the bacteria can multiply and make you sick.

5. Refrigeration will kill off bacteria.

Refrigeration is important for slowing down the growth of bacteria, but it doesn’t kill it.

Cool hot food until it has stopped steaming before putting it in the fridge. Don’t leave food to go cold completely as slower cooling allows bacteria to grow. And make sure you eat or freeze leftovers within two to three days of cooking.

Think You Are Good at Multi-tasking? You Are Not.

Technology promised to help us get more done quickly. It persuaded us to try to do multiple things at once. Research shows this is not true.

Multiple studies show it is impossible to multitask. Even when you think you are managing to write an email while watching a webinar while thinking about your shopping list, you are not.

You are actually just switching your attention astonishingly quickly, over and over again. It is not only exhausting, but makes you even less efficient than if you did one thing at a time.

Dr Earl Miller is a neuroscientist and Professor of Neuroscience at MIT in the United States.

“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” says Dr Miller. “The brain is very good at deluding itself.”

Dr Miller says trying to multitask is an extra problem when you’re juggling similar tasks, for example talking on the phone while writing an email. He says it’s impossible to focus on both because they involve the same part of the brain, the part responsible for communication.


Multitasking makes you slower

Researchers have proven that trying to switch between too many things too often actually reduces your productivity.

The only time it is possible to multitask to any extent at all is when one of the tasks in habitual or automatic. Think: cleaning your teeth while mentally compiling your to-do list. But as soon as you need to focus on something new, such as discovering a sore tooth, your brain switches away from your to-do list.

Research Fellow at Deakin University’s School of Psychology, Dr Gillian Clark, says our brain doesn’t have capacity to allocate attention to everything all at once.

“This switching to and from is really inefficient,” Dr Clark says, “It means that we miss things, make mistakes and slow down on all the tasks we’re switching between. Multitasking generally lowers productivity.”

The University of Utah recently ran a comprehensive study to measure how well people think they can multitask, compared to how well they can actually do it. They concluded, “Perceptions of the ability to multitask were found to be badly inflated.”

What’s more, they said, “the persons who chronically try to multitask are not those who are the most capable of multitasking effectively.”


How to actually get more done

So if multitasking doesn’t help you get more done more quickly, then what does?

Doing one thing at a time, according to experts. It’s simple but powerful.

Here are some more tips on how to achieve that:

1. Create a block of time for each task

Most of us have to do multiple tasks within a day, so the trick is to create blocks of time for different tasks, where you can work undistracted by all the other tasks.

You could even set yourself appointments with each task – it seems to increase your commitment to getting it done.

2. Plan your day

Yes, unexpected things will come up, but planning allows you to allocate blocks of time for the tasks you know you have to do, while allowing some wriggle room.

3. When you’re at your desk, only work

If you know you like to procrastinate on news, websites or social media, then train yourself to do that away from your desk. Stand up and use your phone, if you must. That way, you create a habit where being at your desk means focused work.