Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Jelly, jelly frightening!

Freaky flavours

Halloween is a lot of fun sure, but rarely is it very healthy - especially for your kids as they trick or treat their way round the neighbourhood. So when Hartley's asked me to try out its 'monster' jelly range I wanted to throw a curveball into the equation - and at least try to sneak some nutrition in along the way.

If you wanted to go super healthy of course, you can make your own jelly using fruit juice and gelatine. But if you don't have the time or the inclination head to your local supermarket (Tesco, Asda, Waitrose, Morrison's or Ocado) and pick up these limited edition jelly packs, sachets or pots for as little as 45p.

Eyeballs for tea?

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

'We' time beats 'me' time (and wins stacks of prizes too!)

Ah, there's nothing quite like strapping an electrode to your head is there? Especially if while you're doing it you get a quick shoulder massage, a chance to catch up with Facebook and a squiz at a trashy magazine - all while someone else minds your kids for you. Or is there?

 Recently, my girls and I were part of an experiment organised by beloved British brand Pears Soap that identified a 'Golden Moments' scale. Along with some friendly boffins, Pears Soap, which is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year, set out to find out a quick-fix formula to help mums over  'Blue Mum-Day' - which statisticians have identified as the most stressful day of the year for mums when shorter days, half-term childcare issues and ongoing payment of the debts racked up in the summer holidays really hit home. You may know it as today!

Watch the video - and see if you can spot me in my fetching 'electrode headband'!

By wiring us guinea mums up to technology that could measure brain activity and physiological responses, the fist-of-its-kind experiment actually proved that 'we time' - activities undertaken with and alongside your offspring - was far more emotionally rewarding than 'me time'. In fact while a hug from their child tops the Golden Moments scale, checking social media scored the lowest and along with online shopping, actually left mums feeling drained rather than relaxed. Other moments with the feel-good factor included giving a child a small gift, decorating a fairy cake together and reading a story. Even everyday tasks such as helping a youngster wash their hands failed to score negatively. Put simply, 'me time' can't make a mum happy in the way 'we time' with her kiddies can. Those electrodes don't lie!

And the happiness doesn't stop there! Pears Soap is now running a Facebook competition with prizes including holidays and days out on offer. Readers of also have a chance of winning Pears goodies and a £50 John Lewis voucher too. All you need to do is submit a favourite mum moment (everyday moments that make you feel good) in the comment box below - and you'll be automatically entered for both competitions. The closing date is November 26th. 

Add your comment below - you could win weekly prizes from Pears Soap, a holiday or a John Lewis Voucher and a hamper. 
Competition open to UK residents only. Pears hamper and £50 voucher will be sent direct to winner by Pears Soap.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Event review: Run or Dye Oxfordshire

When I was a tad younger, standing in a field among thousands of other hyper individuals as a DJ dropped some tunes was not associated with the healthiest of activities. But times have changed - and novelty fun runs have hit the UK big time this year. Combine this with the mild Autumn and the rather lovely country pile that is home to Lord and Lady Rotherwick - and you've got the ingredients for a great Saturday morning.

Arriving at Cornbury Park in a convoy we'd become part of as we'd left the main roads, I realised this event was no small thing. The Run or Dye phenomenon was big news - even away from the bright lights of London (where most new run events pitch up, assuming us suburbanites can hop on a train). In fact my other half and I were among about two and a half thousand runners ready and willing to become 'part of the rainbow' - aka doused in plant-based powdered dye as we ran a 5k course. 

A fun-filled goodie bag

After a quick check-in (er, there were no queues, what's that about?) we slipped off to the portaloos to change into the t-shirt provided in the pre-race goodie bad - and proceeded to apply the tattoo to our faces. We'd also been given a packet of dye - and so got our kids to start the dousing. We were in good company as run revellers were already covering each other with the complimentary colour packs - and rushing off to buy extras well before the klaxon sounded.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Get your kit off - and keep it clean!

What else is growing in there?
Image courtesy of anankkml at
So, I received a press release, which mentioned Netmums research that showed the majority of people only wash their sports kit after every third gym session. That pretty much made me want to throw up as it wouldn't occur to me not to chuck my clothes straight into the laundry post workout. But it did make me reconsider how clean my washing actually is - particularly as my kit sits in the washing basket alongside my husbands' cast offs, waiting for a 'full load' to mount up.

Dirtier than you think

For a start, lab-coated experts have recently discovered that bacteria grow faster on high-tech polyester sports gear than on regular cotton clothing. It is also likely that close-contact sports encourage bacteria including the cold and flu virus (and even MRSA) to transfer across the team players. Add to that the chance that dirty gym equipment (from the guy who doesn't wipe down the spin bike after he's finished for example) can transfer yet more germs onto your clothes - and you're looking at more than just a nasty pong on your capri pants.

How should I be washing my family's workout wardrobe?

Monday, 13 October 2014

Event review: Dinton Duathlon

Recently I wrote about how lucky I am to have loads of well-organised fitness events close by. And last weekend I took part in one such race, held at a local country park. This was the third Dinton Duathlon and combined a 5k run around the park, a marshalled 20k road cycle and then a second lap of the 5k run route. I entered as part of a team, taking on both the runs, while a friend covered the bike section. The majority of entrants were completing the whole duathlon themselves, although there is a good mix of abilities, age groups and gender. While some participants are really VERY good, at no point did I feel out of place as a newbie.

Lining up at the start

Location, location, location

Dinton Pastures is also a great location for the event - there is plenty of parking, decent trails for the run and a well-stocked cafe for before and after (and all those last-minute panic trips to the loo!). Between my two runs I was able to get changed into fresh kit too. The park doesn't close to the public, but there's plenty of space for the race to go on alongside the families and dog walkers typically there early on a Sunday morning. There were also plenty of high-vis-wearing marshals and signposts (so sadly no way I could 'accidentally' go off route and take a short cut...).

Smiles after the miles
The Barnes Fitness event is well-run and isn't huge, the pre-race briefing told us all we needed to know but didn't go on so long we all got frostbite/bored/confused! The transition area was clear and easy to manoeuvre. The friendly nature on the day also means it is a great way to build up some confidence for competitive events, particularly if you have your eyes on a triathlon in the future. The race was also time-chipped - and results were immediately available on a large TV screen - so I could see if I had beaten my target of getting at least one of my 5k runs in under 30 minutes (I did - hurrah!!). 

First time Triathlon? Talk to Jenny!

According to governing body British Triathlon, triathlon is a fast-growing multi-sport, consisting of swimming, cycling and running with no break between the three disciplines. It’s also a great way to set yourself a challenging goal that will encourage you to train regularly.

Jenny gets ready to rack her bike in the transition area
This was one of the reasons first-timer Jenny Thorpe signed up for the recent tri at Hever Castle, officially the UK’s third biggest such event. Having watched many a friend undertake a personal challenge such as a marathon or cycle ride for charity, the 26-year-old digital marketing agency Account Manager was also reassured by the prospect of training alongside her cousin, who already had one tri under her belt. It ‘helped make the whole thing less intimidating’ she explained, although in retrospect, Jenny adds she needn’t have worried about company on the big day, as she ‘loved every minute if it’.

How much training will you need?

Part of the Castle Series, the Hever tri runs across two days in September, with a variety of races for adults and children, that accommodate the novice to the elite. Jenny signed herself up for the super sprint, a 400m swim, a 20km cycle and a 4k run – and was in an all-female wave. Jenny only started specifically training for the event about two months beforehand, since she was already a regular gym goer. She ramped up her swimming first, as she felt that was her weakest discipline, and then added two spin classes a week to her schedule and gym cycles to get used to the saddle. Each week she also got a few 3 to 6k runs in – and took part in an organized 5k for race practice.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Health for hire

For many, combining a healthy lifestyle with parenting can be a real struggle. Not only do you need to find the physical and mental energy to set and reach health and fitness goals, you must also contend with a whole host of practical problems that stand between you and a workout.

If your children aren’t already at school or a nursery, can you afford to pay for someone to look after your child while you go to the gym – and do you even want to? If you are paying for your child to be looked after while you are at work – can you justify spending longer away from them while you exercise? If you’re just getting back into shape after having a baby are you intimidated by the thought of lycra-clad lovelies at the gym? How will you find the time to travel to and from your workout – and how does this fit around your kids and time spent with your partner, and your other responsibilities?

Work out at home when it suits
Unfortunately, logistics such as these prevent many a mummy from making it to a gym or fitness class. So what’s the solution?

Make exercise fit your lifestyle

One way to fit regular workouts into your schedule is to bring the gym to your home – by hiring fitness equipment such as a treadmill, a rowing machine, an exercise bike or an elliptical cross trainer. This will save you investing in a permanent piece of kit that just ends up as an expensive coat rail and allows you (and your partner or even a friend!) to hop onto your chosen machine whenever you have the time – when baby is napping, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and in fact any time when you can’t leave the house but want to workout. You can even fit in three lots of ten-minute sessions if half an hour is looking difficult, which is a great way to get back into shape if you’ve been inactive for longer than you’d like.

Hire Fitness is a national company that delivers quality fitness equipment for both short- and long-term hire (in fact you can start off by hiring an item for just four weeks). And an extensive franchise network means that the company can deliver and install the equipment all across the UK and most areas of the republic of Ireland. You can even have a free 20-minute in-home demo to decide which piece of equipment would suit you best (maybe you fancy a vibration plate?) – and swap machines around during the rental period to help you maintain your motivation (for a small delivery charge). There’s also the option to hire weights and a bench for strength work and accessories such as gym balls. If you wanted to assemble a home gym combining cardio and strength work, it’s worth noting that if you rent three pieces of equipment, the cheapest piece is free!

Vary your equipment to prevent boredom

Get 20% off 

And if this still hasn’t convinced you that hiring is good for your health, how about an exclusive discount code? For a discount of 20% off any hire of eight weeks or more, mention the code 'ahappyhealthymum' when calling to book or enter it online at the checkout stage. This code will apply to readers in the UK or in Ireland.

So, no more excuses - just plenty of results!

Ways to work out for George Clooney

I can see him!
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at
Right ladies, it's no secret that George Clooney has reportedly bought a house a stone's throw away from mine (if you're good at throwing stones that is...). So naturally we all want to look good for when we 'accidentally' bump into him (some might call it stalking). You might be rowing along past his riverside mansion (backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards), you might be casually perusing the aisles of Twyford's Waitrose - or you might just be enjoying a drink at The Bull in Sonning (every. single. night. if. it. kills. you). Either way there's no time for slacking 'cos Clooney's packing for Royal Berks.

Watch and learn

A quick trawl of the Internet has revealed this footage of the  man himself getting into shape for the 2010 movie The American. Time to drop to the floor for some push ups girls - and install a chin up bar like this one in your kitchen. In the past, George has been spotted working lycra on a bike in Italy and enjoying a spot of basketball too, and apparently he is a devotee of Bikram yoga as well. All great ways to work up a sweat in readiness for your personal curtain call. More recent news reports have suggested that just before his wedding Mr C was shedding using home exercise equipment however (which is no fun if he stays indoors - boo). And if it's in The Daily Mail, you know it's gotta be true!

If you want my advice you'll stick with rowing though. Any Hollywood celeb round this way is bound to want to enjoy the thoroughly British business of mucking about on the River. Henley Regatta will be a must for George and his-soon-to-be-ex-wife-if-us-locals-get-our-way Amal Alamuddin. The stretch of water outside the French Horn is going to become increasingly busy mark my words! And then there's running, because you know, you look really innocent just jogging along around fields and private roads, past security men and right up to people's windows.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The wonder of wild swimming

As I write this, my running gear is drying on the bannisters and my trainers are in a muddy heap by the door. I actually enjoy running in the rain - perhaps more than doing so in the sunshine - and it's been such a slow start to Autumn I'd begun to forget what it's like to embrace the elements. Something about being outside when you work out is exhilarating and challenging in a way that a gym fix can never be.

And this is much the same feeling that Andrew Fusek Peters describes so well in his lyrical memoir 'Dip', which records a year of  extraordinary wild swimming experiences. As I sat aboard the Hibernia last week at the Henley Literary Festival, listening to Peters read from his book, I was enthralled by his enthusiasm for the outdoors - and bravery for taking the plunge (literally!) - where others would hesitate, or simply pass by unawares of the beauty and potential these places offer for both the body and soul.

In the pages of his book, Peters leads us to rivers, lakes, waterfalls and hidden pools, and explores how immersion in these wild waters inspires and heals him. The narrative charts his swims in the borderlands of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Wales across all four seasons, and the nature he encounters, melding these experiences with his personal journey back from depression. 

Whether it's a soak at sunset, a dive into icy depths or an extreme subterranean swim in mysterious mines, each recorded experience proves that you will never get out of the water in a worse mood than when you got in. 


Do you like wild swimming? Have you ever passed by a lake or natural pool and felt the urge to take a dip? Do you have other ways to enjoy the outdoors? Let me know in the comment box below.