Category Archives: health

Start Small, Start Now

I’m doing some business training at the moment and its all about five year plans and dreaming big…. I’ve been finding it very difficult as my business has really grown organically and I’ve never really had a big plan in mind.

Sarah Parker Fitness has just turned twelve and when I started out 12 years ago I certainly didn’t envisage where I am now. Especially as I only became a fitness instructor to supplement my acting “career”! But I’d left teaching classes at various gyms to have my first child and hadn’t really started back again when I was approached to set up some community classes. So I started my two classes and it was really just to keep my hand in before I got back to the gyms. Who knew that it would grow to 18 sessions a week (those two classes still going strong!), expand to specialise in pre and post natal, become my sole income and that I would never return to work in the gyms!

I think if you’d told me that then I wouldn’t have thought it was possible!

But it’s been gradual changes. I’ve learnt things and implemented them. I’ve changed things that didn’t work. And I’ve responded to what people want.

A Tim Minchin graduation speech came up on my Facebook feed recently and it really helped me with my planning. He’s not a fan of big dreams – “I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short term goals. Be micro ambitious. Work with pride on whatever is in front of you – you never know where you might end up.”

So I’m approaching my future business plans in the same way. Small steps, done to the best of my ability, seeing where it leads me.

And I’ve been thinking about this health wise too. It’s coming up to that time where people let their health take a back seat to the big Christmas to do list they have. Then when New Year comes round it will be all about massive changes that are almost unattainable.

But why wait? Start small but start now. Don’t make big plans that are hard to accomplish and frustrate or disappoint you. Start with a small goal, celebrate your small wins, and keep going. Add some protein to your breakfast. Cut out one caffeinated drink a day. Walk a bit more. Go to bed a bit earlier. Choose something that is a stretch for you but only just. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

This time last year I put on some special relaxation based Pilates classes. Someone came along for a trial session and then signed up for a month. This led her to attending weekly for the year. Which inspired her to make small changes to her food habits. Which has led to her losing a significant amount of weight. All from one small step.

Start small, start now, see where it takes you!

Dealing with DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

I was at Blush dance studios on Friday for a taster session of aerial hoops and pole dancing. It was great fun, I was pleased with all that I could do (may not have been effortless but at least I could do it!!) and I loved trying something completely new.

I really expected to be covered in bruises the next day as I could feel them forming but what I didn’t expect was just how much I would ache!

This is the known as DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – and is usually experienced when:

  • trying out a new activity
  • upping the intensity in your normal routine – heavier weights, longer runs
  • getting back into exercise after a long break

What causes DOMS?

When I first trained as a fitness instructor I was taught that DOMS was caused by a build up of lactic acid in the muscles but now that’s not thought to be the case.  Instead causes are:

  • Tiny tears in the muscle fibres
  • Changes in the balance of enzymes in the muscle

It’s worth keeping in mind what activities you will have to do afterwards – soreness is usually worse the 24-72 hours after the exercise. I had a weekend to recover but driving was painful as my biceps hurt so much it was hard to pull the handbrake on!!

So if you’re looking after a baby for example, you don’t want to push it too far your first time back and find you can’t cope with lifting a car seat, bending to change nappies or getting up off the floor! And it doesn’t mean you haven’t worked hard enough if you don’t feel it – DOMS is an extreme response and can be avoided by building up slowly.

If you do feel sore, best ways to deal with it:

  1. hydration – drink plenty of water
  2. warm bath/shower
  3. massage – by hand, massage stick or foam roller
  4. sauna (yes please!)
  5. magnesium – can use a spray direct onto area, Epsom salts in the bath (see number 2) or take orally
  6. low intensity exercise – for example gentle walking or swimming

Stretching has not been shown to be effective for DOMS. It is fine to exercise the next day though – it can temporarily alleviate the soreness and won’t make things worse.

The good news is that one bout of DOMS is supposed to protect you for the future. So next time won’t be as bad – so don’t let DOMS put you off!!

A pill to replace exercise

So we’re a step closer to a pill that can replace exercise.

I know that there is an obesity crisis and things need to be done but this makes me sad, as if exercise is a thing to be avoided.

This news came out the same day as my car broke down.  I had to cancel a class and then arrange a lift to my evening classes – I was particularly stressed by the time I got to the church ready to teach!!   But a healthy dose of exercise later I felt much better.

Benefits of exercise

From those three classes I:

  • reduced stress,
  • got stronger,
  • worked my cardiovascular system,
  • burned calories,
  • increased my metabolic rate,
  • downtrained my sympathetic nervous system,
  • connected with other women,
  • felt happy,
  • mobilised my joints,
  • kept my bones healthy and
  • stimulated my brain.

Amongst other things. Will a pill do all that?

JERF, CRAP and Clean Eating!

I had a request from one of my email subscribers to write about clean eating. Now those of you who know me will know that I’m not averse to eating cake or having a drink. To my mind, it’s just food – there is no point in labelling things good or bad.


But I do try to eat as healthily as possible – following the JERF principle of Just Eat Real Food.  I cook from scratch every day and avoid ready-meals – anything with a huge ingredient list is out!  I also try to avoid artificial sugars and manufactured sugars such as high fructose corn syrup. This often means that my best choice if I want something sweet is to make it myself!

The balance of food is worth looking at too – breakfast traditionally is very sugar and refined carbohydrate heavy. I never liked cereal but did love toast. Now I have egg most days and never get hungry mid-morning.
My evening meal also has a different balance – probably half the plate is vegetables and the rest is protein. It may not be necessary  to cut out carbohydrates but the portion size is important and also not relying on refined carbs such as pasta and white rice.
The other key element is drinking plenty of water – I have water on the go throughout the day and will get through a litre when I’m exercising.  When you think you want food it’s worth having a drink first as you may just be thirsty. And keeping a water diary can help if you’re not sure how much water you have – the advice is 6-8 glasses a day, just over a litre. Bear in mind if you’re breastfeeding or exercising you will need more.
If you want to go further with clean eating though an easy way to remember it is to cut the CRAP

  • Caffeine
  • Refined sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Processed food

The other things to bear in mind when it comes to health and fat loss though are all the non-food things that also have an affect. So instead of just focusing on food also bear in mind your stress levels and your sleep patterns.  I think if changing your food habits too much stresses you out not only will it be unsustainable but it may make you feel worse. Be kind to yourselves.


Further reading

Heal your diastasis with food!

Nutrition for the postnatal period

How you can help your pelvic floor

I was asked by someone this week about rehabbing the pelvic floor post birth, in preparation for getting back to running.  I was so pleased that she was aware of the importance of taking her time – things keep popping up in my timeline about postnatal classes where people are running with buggies, skipping and even doing jumping jacks! All of this can have a deleterious effect on the pelvic floor and continuing to overstress a weakened pelvic floor can lead to prolapse.

However taking your time, making a few lifestyle changes and building up core strength can mean that even if you’re currently experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction (any leaking, back pain, heaviness in the pelvis) you may be able to get back to your previous exercise routine.

I prolapsed after my first child and was given very little advice about it other than being told I would probably need a hysterectomy when I go through menopause.  Because of this experience I have spent my time learning more and applying it to my own life as well as in my work with others.

First thing I implemented was no impact.

As someone who wasn’t a runner, this wasn’t a big change.  But I did have to stop jumping around in my aerobics classes and also give my trampette a wide berth…!  I can now run for the bus without worrying and I played rounders in the summer where I was sprinting for quite a while with no effect.  So I could probably run now if I wanted to but I’m still choosing to stay low impact most of the time.

Second thing was no crunches

The downward pressure created by crunches/sit-ups will push on the pelvic floor.  Full planks and press-ups and exercises with both legs lifted also creates a lot of pressure and so I avoided them.  However there are alternatives – for example in press-ups performing them on an incline, plus incorporating crunchless core exercises – so there is no reason to stop exercising, just make a few changes.  Bear in mind that sitting straight up in bed is also a crunch (and how many times do you do that a night?) – I roll over to get out of bed instead.

It’s not all about what you shouldn’t do though. There are things that I needed to start doing:

  • alignment/posture

particularly the with respect to the pelvis.  Try tucking your tailbone under and bringing your hips towards your ribs.  Lift the pelvic floor now.  Then take your hips away from your ribs, allowing your lower back to arch more, then lift the pelvic floor.  Then bring yourself to a neutral pelvis where your level through the front and the back of the pelvis (think of it like a bowl) – the pelvic floor lift should feel easier in this position.  Pelvic floor works best when we are in alignment, with the head, shoulders, rib cage, pelvis and heels all stacked up in line

  • breathing

both looking at how you breathe during exercise and from day to day.  During exercises you need to breathe out on the effort and lift pelvic floor at the same time.  This also applies when you are lifting a weight – baby, shopping etc. – and also when you go from seated to standing (The knack – as you go from sit to stand but vice versa too).  The other aspect of breathing is to stop breath holding and sucking your stomach in.  When you breathe in your stomach should actually swell not suck in.  I see so many people who’s stomachs stay still when breathing and instead their shoulders lift.  Try lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.  Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.  As you breathe in you should feel your chest move first then your stomach.  Your stomach lowers as you breathe out and then your chest.

All these changes I’ve made have meant that my prolapse has improved and I’m hoping to avoid that hysterectomy!  I know that there’s still work to do and I’m currently learning more about another part of the puzzle:

  • relaxation

stress can affect the pelvic floor, there’s also some evidence that lower limb injuries and back injuries will impact the pelvic floor too, even years after healing or the pain has stopped. There may also be scar tissue from episiotomies or tears.  I’ve just learnt some trigger point release for that – sitting on one of the spiky balls!  It’s uncomfortable but definitely has an effect – I will let you know how that goes!  And it’s also helped to introduce deep breathing, mindfulness and relaxation practices into my daily life.


So when looking at rehabbing the pelvic floor, it’s not just about a list of exercises to do – we need to think of the body as a whole and the pelvis at the centre of that, and looking at improving in all these areas

Happy New Year/You?!

I’m not really into New Years resolutions. And I’m definitely not into the the new year new you thing – there’s nothing wrong with the ‘old’ you!

But I am into goal setting.

I’ve just bought myself a shiny new business planner and right at the front is a blank page to fill in hopes and dreams for 2017. Most of mine are tied up with family life as I feel that’s the area that needs the most work done right now!

But there’s also some goals for me and my work too…

Now from the business coaching I’ve done the advice when goal setting is to make a plan and then break it into small manageable chunks. This way you’re less likely to get overwhelmed and more likely to see a result – this in turn will motivate you and keep you going on the next step.

Resolutions tend to be all or nothing.

And from the fitness world, we were taught to make sure we made SMART goals:

  • Specific – so not just “I’ll get healthy” but how? Doing what? Break it down
  • Measurable – can you track how you’re doing? Put numbers to your goals
  • Achievable – is the goal feasible
  • Relevant – important to you, not because everyone else is doing the same. The reason you make the goal may be the only motivating factor to keep going when things get hard
  • Time based – when will you do it by? Too far away and you’ll not work towards it, too soon and you’ll not get the chance to get it done.

So here’s my 5 top tips if you have made exercise part of your new year resolutions/goals:

  1. Add new things one at a time – don’t try to change everything at once. Go for somethings easy to start with that will encourage you to continue – eg drink more water, stand up every 20min, walk at lunchtime
  2. Put your exercise into your daily diary – block it out as your time so that it doesn’t always get left down to whether you have time left or not
  3. Combine exercise with something else – meet up with friends, walk to shops/school run
  4. Don’t feel you have to start on a Monday/ January 1st. Start as soon as you can

And don’t worry if things don’t go to plan. You haven’t failed. It’s just another day You’re not having to start from scratch.
Have a great start to 2017! And let me know if there’s any ways I can help you hit your goals

Heal your diastasis with food!

I really enjoyed listening to a webinar from Jessica Drummond of the Integrative Women’s Health Institute last week.

One of the sections that I was particularly interested in was on postnatal soft tissue and wound recovery – applicable particularly for those with diastasis or a c-section and perineum wound.

My advice nutritionally has always been to use bone broth either in soups or gravies but her information will give you a few more tools to use!

Eating foods that are high in collagen can help to repair and build damaged tissues – this includes wounded and strained core and pelvic floor muscles.

Good sources of lysine and proline, the amino acids that build collagen, are meat, chicken, fish and egg whites. For vegetarians – peanuts and wheat germ.

But there are other nutrients necessary. Vitamin C is destroyed when collagen is made so your intake of citrus fruits, strawberries and dark leafy greens, for example, will need to increase.

Hyaluronic acid is needed to create bundles using collagen. It can be found in sweet potatoes, avocado, mango and bone soup – using bone broth or whole fish.

The final nutrient she mentioned is zinc. This can be found in sesame seeds, cashews, dates, linseed, cocoa, beef, blue cheese and eggs. The healthy treats we have after postnatal Pilates should take care of that!

Looking at the list, an all-encompassing recipe would be a Chinese style soup of bone broth, chicken pieces, kale or pak choy, sprinkled with sesame seeds or cashew nuts.

Perfect for the summer we’re having!!

5 tips for preventing back pain when caring for children

As I was walking home from class yesterday a father and his toddler walked past me.  The dad was taking tiny baby steps in time with his son, was crouching in a squat position to be at his son’s level and was leaning over to one side in order to hold his hand.  This reminded me of how Becky used to love to hold my finger as she walked – up until her hand was big enough to hold mine.  And how it hurt my back let alone nearly dislocated my finger!!!

The trouble with having bad posture when you’re caring for children is that you’re going to repeat that same position over and over again each day and this will take it’s toll on your body.  And because of the interconnectedness of our body parts, that pain could show up anywhere, with the back often being the prime suspect.

Here’s my 5 top positions to be aware of your posture:

  1. Bending over to change nappies and other jobs at waist height – stay in close, hinge from the hips and keep the upper back in alignment. You’re trying not to just round your shoulders and hang from your ribs.  If the task is lower down, bend at the knees into a squat or lunge
  2. Getting out of bed – roll over onto your side and push yourself up. Try not to just sit straight up – this causes pressure through your stomach and could prevent diastasis from improving as well affecting your pelvic floor and back.  I demonstrate this on video here
  3. Pushing the pushchair/shopping trolley – stand upright, not too far away, with your arms slightly bent and think of powering through your legs, it’s a great bum work out!  Don’t rest your weight on the pushchair and don’t think of it as pushing with your arms – your whole body is doing the job.  Applies even more so when going uphill!!
  4. Picking baby up from the floor – bend at the knees into a squat or lunge keeping your back in alignment, pull baby in close, exhale as stand up (using the knack).   The same with car seats – and it’s better if you can carry them close with both hands when baby is small.  Picking up from the cot you need to stay in close and again bend at the knees and hips
  5. Carrying baby – try not to lean back to rest baby on your chest.  Drop your ribs down and keep them in alignment with your hips – you will feel your core tire quicker but that will just remind you to change positions.  Try and keep baby high and in the centre.  If you carry to one side keep them high and let their head rest on your shoulder – try not to push your hip out and try to vary sides rather than always favouring one

Bear in mind that any continuing pregnancy conditions need to be assessed – pelvic girdle pain, piriformis/sciatica, diastasis, pelvic floor dysfunction.  These can all contribute to back pain as well.


Walk this way!

I’m a bit obsessed with walking…  There are so many health benefits to it and it’s so easy to fit into your day and yet I read a report that said that 45% of people would rather take public transport than a short stroll.  And 1 in 20 would use public transport rather than walk for 5 minutes!  And yet walking is the easiest way to fit in the suggested amount of exercise we should be doing plus is like medicine for all the health benefits it has!

For those of you, like me, with older kids who really aren’t excited about the prospect of going for a walk (to say the least) I highly recommend Geocaching!!  Unlike golf – “a good walk spoiled” (Mark Twain) – geocaching is a good walk made better – by a treasure hunt!  Becky even did a talk about it in school this week so must enjoy it more than I thought.  You can find out more here

And remember Mums, Tums & Buggies has plenty of walking in it if you fancy joining us!

Walk this way

When I was a kid I walked with very turned in feet.  My family did what lots of families do – mocked me for it!  So having not seen any kind of specialist I forced myself to walk with straight feet – I now have a twisted shin for my trouble!  So it’s always worth working on any of these postural changes incrementally – just play around with how it feels and notice your gait rather than aiming for some big change.  And there are plenty of specialists who can help if you need it.

Here are some steps you can start with

  • feet should be facing forwards – not turning in or out
  • feet bony hip width apart – in standing and when moving.  Feet should stay in parallel and your weight shifts slightly from side to side, rather than crossing into centre like you’re walking a tight rope or waddling!
  • land mid foot and roll through – your toes should hinge and be the last part to leave the floor
  • push backwards with foot – instead of falling forwards you should be using your leg like an oar.  So the leg spends most of the time behind the body and swings forward from the hip.  Knees shouldn’t be bending that much

Posture is important – the way we walk can have an affect on our pelvis and back health too.  For those of you with buggies, try to walk as you would if you weren’t pushing – the number of people I see leaning forward at a 45 angle…  Not great for the back and a missed opportunity to work your bum muscles! Your arms should be relaxed and think of the legs driving the movement – so you’re not really pushing at all.  Another tip I saw is to use just one arm, and stand off to the side slightly.

The other thing that is worth noting is that the way you walk also depends on the reason for the walk.  If like me you’re always rushing on the school run it’s harder to focus on your form.  In Germany they’ve actually had to put lights in the pavement so people on their mobile phones know when to stop!  Obviously you can’t keep good posture if your chin is dropping onto your chest as you check social media… But also one of the benefits of walking is the chance to think, to look and to be in the moment for once.

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” – Friedrich Nietzsche

advice from other mums to you

Words of advice for new mums

And your first piece of advice is – feel free to ignore this advice.  As a new mum you are likely to get a lot of advice in the next few weeks, most of it unasked for and much of it unwanted.  The biggest thing you can do is take courage, forge your own path and not worry what anyone else thinks.  If there was only one way of doing things then there would be only one parenting book…

The right way to parent

Having said that, here’s some things that helped my mums – many of the same things came up with everyone so hopefully it will be of some use to you as well:

  1.  Breastfeeding – oh this may well be a blog post in itself…  It is not necessarily easy and doesn’t always come naturally and it’s not always for everyone.  Like learning to dance, both partners need to know what they’re doing and sometimes baby just doesn’t get it!  Seek help early on – don’t wait until you’re struggling.  There is a telephone service at Stepping Hill, clinics at local children’s centres, national breastfeeding helpline, local breastfeeding groups.   I had an amazing midwife who helped me postnatally – I think without her I would have given up and that would’ve sent me over the edge. We tried loads of different positions – for me lying down helped the most until we got it.  But I also felt the difference between my two babies – they fed so differently at first, so it’s definitely a two-way thing!  Just know that it does stop hurting and becomes a lovely experience.  And in the meantime, there is always Lanisoh cream!
  2. Let go of the guilt!  There are many ways to raise a happy baby so be confident in your choices, do what works for you and don’t compare yourself to others.  Things often don’t go the way you plan, from your birth experience, through to your feeding and sleeping choices.  It’s all ok – whatever gets you through.
  3. It’s hard! I spent a lot of the early days in tears – lack of sleep, pain, struggling to feed, not knowing what I was doing, hormones, railing against the change in myself.  It wasn’t all loveliness by any means and that’s fine – no-one enjoys the feeling that they have no idea what they are doing.  It’s a new job and you wouldn’t expect to know everything on your first day.   I eventually accepted my new role, worked on the feeding and began to gain confidence.  I would say though I probably should have talked to someone – if you feel sad more often than you feel happy then it would be worth mentioning this to your doctor/midwife.
  4. Sleep deprivation is torture.  Do everything you can to sleep when you can.
  5. You have no life in the early days – you’re just a feeding machine. My baby didn’t feed well and seemed to stay latched on for an hour but also wanted to feed every hour. So I was rooted to the spot. Make sure you have plenty to amuse you and plenty of food/drink – use the time to relax and recover rather than feeling like its stopping you from doing what you want/need to.  Ask for help when needed – all those visitors need to earn their cuddles.  Farm out the washing, cooking and shopping to others.
  6. Everything changes! It’s such a steep learning curve in the early days and just when you think you’ve got it cracked along comes some new event in your babies life. But for every new challenge there is also new joy in your baby.  It’s hard being a mummy and knowing you’re responsible for how your kid turns out.  But I can honestly say it’s still the best thing you’ll do – so stay strong and trust yourself.  This too will pass.  So many difficult stages feel like they’ve lasted forever when it’s only been a few days and will last only a few more
  7. Get out of the house every day – it will make you feel better and it’s good for the baby.  Start with short walks and simple tasks – get milk, a treat etc. (chocolate was mentioned…)
  8. Always fill the change bag as soon as you get home, so it’s one less thing to worry about or delay you when you are trying to leave the house
  9. Don’t feel you need to entertain your baby all the time – sometimes they just need to sleep
  10. Try batch cooking so there are meals to hand when you have no energy.  I wish I had done this – we ate a lot of sandwiches in the early days…  Even better – get someone else to batch cook for you!

And my final bit of advice came from Lucy…

“After your 6 week check, get out to Mums, Tums & Buggies/Pilates with Sarah ;)”

I’ll see you then!