Get Walking!

Perhaps it’s the introspection or angst that comes with the turning of a year, but in the brief period since the holidays for some strange reason I have been asked, on 3 separate occasions now about writers block. Although I am not quite sure how I somehow migrated to the role of one of those newspaper agony Aunts, or rather Uncles, I will do my best to answer. So I will now share some ideas, which don’t need to be restricted to the ‘smoke & mirrors’ world of the writer as they can also help with any creative process and interestingly may even help you live a longer and healthier life.

Photo by Drew Coffman

My own early experiences of the dreaded ‘block’ have pushed me into trying many solutions over the years, although with only limited success. The late Clare Boylan, a prolific writer, critic and I am glad to say friend of mine was one of the most enthusiastic examiners of the writing process I have ever known. Clare once declared that there is no such thing as writers block because it is often at worst just an excuse to allow procrastination to take over so you can be lazy or do nothing, while at best it was simply a temporary problem which could be fixed if only the writer was brave enough to change their routine for a while or find some way of getting their blood flowing faster. Of course we are all very different in our discipline, habits and needs but all I would say is that for me getting my blood flowing faster through daily walking, not only prevents writers block but it also adds greatly to the creative process and my general feeling of wellbeing.

Walking is now such a fundamental part of my own day that I seriously believe I would struggle to write anything significant without doing it. Maybe it’s my own flawed belief system kicking in but I know I would suffer much more writers block if I couldn’t enjoy the mind clearing and aerobic affect of my daily hour or so hiking across the countryside around my house. Of course I count myself lucky that I have empty roads and tracks and an endless supply of clean un-polluted sea air to breathe, but not having these advantages has never stopped me when I have been travelling or when I was living elsewhere. All you need to do is figure out a way of fitting the walk or a similar burst of exercise into your daily routine, no matter where you might find yourself.

Of course it is not just about the creative process because your whole body will eventually enjoy the benefits. You don’t need to take my word for it, this week saw the release of a report which backs this up. The report which monitored the health of more than 300,000 Europeans over 12 years suggested that as little as 20 minutes brisk walking or general exercise a day, could prevent twice as many deaths as would result if we were somehow able to eliminate obesity alone. So if that is not a good enough reason to get off your butts and get moving, I am not sure what is.

There is something about the rhythmic stride that allows your mind to gradually become detached from most daily thoughts as you focus on the initial effort of say climbing a hill or speeding up on some flatter stretches of track. Don’t worry too much about your mind feeling initially dulled as you concentrate on the effort of placing one foot in front of the other or the fact that you often walk the same route. Your body will soon begin releasing exotic wellbeing enhancing chemicals like endorphins and serotonin, which can dramatically improve your mood and receptivity to new ideas. Until gradually the benefits of what seems a quite repetitive or even boring actions (for me it is also Ironing) will help your mind enter an almost meditative state. Suddenly the answer to a problem, or something you have been trying to remember will pop into your head. For a writer this state can sometimes kick start your prose after a temporary block and for me personally, I have discovered some of my most interesting characters and solved some of my works more difficult plot twist and turns, after entering this veritable state of daydreaming as I stomp over the hills

So writers next time you feel blocked don’t just sit there scratching your head, looking at a blank screen or even looking to the heavens for inspiration. Get up, get out and get walking – your best work may be hiding, but it’s seeds could well be waiting for you somewhere out there, just blowing around in the wind.


Anytime Detox

As a writer I sometimes wonder whether things like Twitter or any of the ever growing social media platforms are not just a load of old fluff and nonsense. Simply devices for pre-pubescent Directioneers to declare their undying love to their peers and exchange a thousand pictures of Harry Styles from every conceivable angle, or is it just a convenient contraption for ‘Celebrities’ to compare followers counts as if it was the only currency that really matters in the ever more shallow fame game. So it has come as quite a breath of fresh air to be reminded this week about something I blogged and Tweeted about a year ago.

Last New Year I created a quick and easy detox that I at best expected to be tried out by a few of you but then quickly forgotten, but no. It seems many readers not only tried it out but a few even claim to do my detox on a regular basis, with one young lady (who must remain nameless as she hasn’t responded to my request to say who she is!) declaring that the program has seriously improved her attitude to not only nutrition but life itself! Heady stuff – for me I mean, a man with an ego that, like for most writers can sometimes blow around like a quickly deflating balloon. So as someone who is more than happy to risk repeating himself to please a crowd I am happy to present my Anytime Detox, which can either be used before or after the busy New Year period as a tweek towards improving your general wellbeing.

Photo by amy_buthod

If you have indulged a little too much over the past few days and want to get rid of that mild feeling of malaise that always comes before the guilt of overindulgence, you can begin to claw back your equilibrium with a quick 3 day Detox. My Detox will start to deal with the effects of too many calories (although it shouldn’t be regarded as a weight loss diet) and quite possibly far too many alcohol units. A detox doesn’t need to hurt or be seen as some trial by fasting, laxative teas or intensive exercise sessions. Believe it or not a detox should be quite relaxing and an opportunity to try out new things, your busy lives often don’t allow enough time for. Just pure, natural, delicious food and drinks designed to carry all those toxins away. Follow some of my suggestions and you should soon start to lose that  ‘Can’t get off the couch’ feeling and get your digestion, your blood sugar and blood pressure back on track by the end of day 3.

Chose Antioxidants 
For the next 3 days focus on eating brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Antioxidants activate liver enzymes that “knock out” harmful substances and make them water soluble, so your body can get rid of them more easily. Spinach, cranberry, kale, and beetroot are super-antioxidant-rich. Onions, garlic, and eggs are rich in sulfuric compounds that help your body produce its own antioxidant glutathione, which is especially good at ushering out toxins, including heavy metals such as mercury, aluminium and arsenic.
Try Going Organic 
Not for everything – it can be expensive and not all things labelled organic are truly free of toxins or in some case are not that much better for you than non-organic. However, none organic food often contains varying levels of pesticides, almost always toxins, which can alter your bodies make-up and hormone levels. They can also be carcagenic. However, going completely organic can be expensive, so for the purposes of my 3 day detox, if you can’t afford to go completely organic pick your produce with thick skins that peel off, because they’re less likely to be contaminated.
No Processed foods 
Avoid processed foods (anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce or don’t recognize), fast food, fried food, caffeine, dairy, red meat, sugar, and white flour. You don’t want to eat anything that contains the toxins you’re trying to eliminate.
Avoid Alcohol 
Most people are pretty sick of alcohol by this time of year, but for those of you who aren’t at least try and cut it out for 3 days. You may surprise yourself  and your body  by just how well you feel after just 3 days without.
Up your Liquids 
Drink plenty of water to help flush out toxins and keep your liver, kidneys, colon, and lymphatic system (which filters waste products from your body) running smoothly. You don’t need to drowned yourself with water but aim to drink about two or three litres a day. If you’re reducing toxins and hydrated properly you should be able to pee every few of hours, and your urine should be fairly clear
Cut Down on Calories—But Don’t Crash Diet 
By sticking to 1500-1900 calories a day you may lose a little weight but still have energy. If you consume fewer than about 1250 calories, your body begins burning muscle instead of fat plus you won’t be getting enough essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals.

Photo by Monica and Michael Sweet

Start With a Hearty but Healthy Breakfast 
You hear this all the time, but it is essential. if you don’t skip breakfast you are less likely to binge later in the day when you energy starts to flag. I always eat a bowl of rolled oats sprinkled with a few raisins and unsalted nuts like hazel or almond. Mix it with either yogurt (no need for low or 0% fat as the quantity is so small) or milk. Then I have a couple of slices of wholemeal or multigrain toast topped with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil then perhaps a little jam or marmalade. To give your detox that extra boost in the morning you can also squeeze half a lemon into a cup of warm water and drink it 10 minutes before you eat or drink anything else.
Lighten Up for Lunch and Dinner 
Stick to lean protein if you can – fish, chicken or turkey or perhaps beans and eat with whole grains and plenty of vegetables or a salad either undressed or with a light dressing such as lemon mixed with a couple of drops of olive oil. Avoid potatoes no matter how they are cooked, at least for the 3 days.
Snack Smart 
Between breakfast and lunch have a couple of pieces of fruit or make yourself a healthy and fibre rich smoothie by throwing a few leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, or Kale in with a carrot or two and charge it up a little with a few spices or herbs and maybe a little fresh ginger, parsley, cinnamon or nutmeg, etc. you can also add a little fruit if you need things a little sweeter, then blend it all together with some plain yogurt.
If the late afternoon cravings kick in, go for unsalted nuts, fruit, or a small piece of chocolate if you have a sweet tooth.
Avoid these Foods 
Cut out refined sugars, white flour and rice, high-fat meats, dairy other than plain yogurt and milk and all soft drinks and sodas—both diet and regular.
Start Moving 
You might not feel up to a lot of exercise while you’re cleansing, but low-level exercise or simply just walking a little more every day certainly increases the effects and keeps your blood circulating while you flush out the toxins.
Gluten Actually Helps 
Some of you may lean towards a low gluten in-take, but unless this is because of a medical condition a few days intake shouldn’t be a problem because whole grains certainly do support your detox and also help remove cholesterol build up so go for a couple of small servings a day.

If you try all of these tips or just a few of them, you may be pleasantly surprised by how well you feel in just a few days. Anyway, whatever you do, take care of that body of yours because it is the only one you will ever have.

Happy New Year! – I hope you all get everything you need in 2015