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It’s hard to get enough sleep with increasing working hours, pressures to maintain a social life, electronic devices and the anxieties and stresses of the day racing through our heads. The NHS says that one in 3 of us suffers from poor sleep, and the cost of all those sleepless nights is more than just bad moods and a lack of focus as “regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy”.

It’s common knowledge that most of us need around 8 hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly, but what we often don’t take into consideration is that some of us need more and some less, dependent on factors such as age, activity levels and more. There are many benefits to getting a good night sleep, and the NHS explains that it can boost our immunity, our well being, can increase our sex drive and also improve our fertility.

Sleeping well can also help to keep you slim, as studies have shown that “people who sleep less than 7 hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who get 7 hours of slumber. It’s believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone)”.

To be controversial, in an article published in the New Scientist, Jerome Siegel who studies sleep at the University of California, Los Angeles, argued that the 8 hour rule has no basis in our evolutionary past – his study of tribal cultures with no access to electricity found that they get just 6 or 7 hours.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, these are the sleep ranges on average needed at different ages:

• Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range 14-17 hours each day
• Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range 12-15 hours
• Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range 11-14 hours
• Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range 10-13 hours
• School age children (6-13): Sleep range 9-11 hours
• Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range 8-10 hours
• Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range 7-9 hours
• Adults (26-64): Sleep range 7-9 hours
• Older adults (65+): Sleep range 7-8 hours

Though research cannot pinpoint an exact amount of sleep need by people at different ages, it acts as a recommendation. However, the National Sleep Foundation adds that it’s important to pay attention to your own individual needs by assessing how you feel on different amounts of sleep.

Ask yourselves these questions to determine whether you need more or less sleep:

• Are you productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or does it take you nine hours of quality ZZZs to get you into high gear?
• Do you have health issues such as being overweight? Are you at risk for any disease?
• Are you experiencing sleep problems? Such as narcolepsy or insomnia.
• Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
• Do you feel sleepy when driving?

If you are unsure, it’s best to seek medical help, but as a general rule the NHS says that if you don’t get enough sleep, there’s only one way to compensate…by getting more sleep.

They say that “if you’ve had months of restricted sleep, you’ll have built up a significant sleep debt, so expect recovery to take several weeks. Starting on a weekend, try to add on an extra hour or 2 of sleep a night. The way to do this is to go to bed when you’re tired, and allow your body to wake you in the morning (no alarm clocks allowed!).

“Expect to sleep for upwards of 10 hours a night at first. After a while, the amount of time you sleep will gradually decrease to a normal level. Don’t rely on caffeine or energy drinks as a short-term pick-me-up. They may boost your energy and concentration temporarily, but can disrupt your sleep patterns even further in the long term.”

For a good night’s sleep try to stick to sleeping at regular times and make sure you “wind down” by turning off electronics before bed or by having a bath. Lastly, the NHS adds that we should keep the bedroom “just for sleep and sex (or masturbation). Unlike most vigorous physical activity, sex makes us sleepy. This has evolved in humans over thousands of years”.

It’s 2020, which means both a new year and a new decade have arrived. It’s a fresh start and a chance to reinvent yourself if you so wish, finally achieve the goals you have been putting off and become the best version of yourself.

Although some people believe that resolutions are nonsense – and they could have a point considering that a study conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton found that 23% of people quit their resolution after just one week and only 19% of individuals are actually able to stick to their goals long term – there are some who benefit from writing down exactly what they want to achieve and thinking it into reality.

This could sound a bit “The Secret” to sceptics, but an article published by Dr Michael Moore on the Daily Mail says that New Year’s resolutions can be great for our health. He explained: “Researchers in the US recruited 159 people who had made a resolution to lose weight, quit smoking or exercise more, and 123 who had similar goals but hadn’t yet made a firm resolution to change. Six months later they checked up on them. Perhaps surprisingly, almost half of the firm resolvers had been successful in achieving at least part of their goal, compared with just four per cent of the non-resolvers.

“Another myth is that we have to be ‘realistic’, and make small, manageable changes in order to stick to them. Again, the science doesn’t back this up, at least when it comes to losing weight – again the No 1 resolution this year. A few years back, University of Minnesota researchers followed 1,800 men and women on a weight-loss programme. Those with the most ambitious targets were those who achieved the greatest weight loss after two years.”

Whether your goal is to lose weight, run more or just eat in a better way for optimal brain health, it looks like setting ambitious resolutions and giving them a good old go this year could be the key to an improved mind and body.

Here are some healthy resolutions to consider for becoming a better you:

1. Improve your diet

Maybe you’d like to lose weight, or just get more veggies into your diet. Now spells the perfect time to get started, so forget all those diets you have failed (or rather that failed you) in the past decade and finally get to where you want to be.

Start by writing a food diary and checking in with the unhealthy parts of your diet you would like to change. Make gradual changes, like adding in more fruit and veg or cutting out heavily processed food. You’re more likely to stick to it if you change your eating little by little rather than all in one go.

2. Get a sexual health check up

When was the last time you visited your doctor and asked for a sexual health check up? Many of us neglect this aspect as our health as we find it embarrassing or in some way shameful, but you can walk into a gum clinic anywhere and get treatment (or hopefully the all clear) and we should take advantage of this luxury in the UK.

It’s worth doing as chlamydia is the most common STI in the UK and is easily passed on during unprotected sex. It’s also symptomless, so lots of people aren’t aware they can have it. According to The Sun, in 2013 more than 200,000 Brits tested positive for the disease – and nearly 70 per cent of them were under 25.

Chlamydia can affect your fertility, but thankfully is easily treatable.

3. Eat better for your brain

Did you know that blueberries are good for your brain? Or that the way we eat could decrease our risk of getting Alzheimer’s?

Heavily processed oils and other foods can mean that our brains are not able to function properly, which can cause real issues as we grow older. Read Genius Foods by Max Lugavere for more on this.

4. Take up a sport

If you hate the idea of the gym, try out a sport and see if you like it in 2020. If you don’t, try another. You’re more likely to stick to exercising regularly if you actually enjoy it.

5. Floss

No, not the dance.

Flossing your teeth prevents gum disease by getting rid of pieces of food and plaque from between your teeth. Get into the habit of doing this once a day.

6. Wear suncream

Make a habit of wearing suncream everyday. Not only does it keep you looking young, but sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer. You can burn in the UK too, even when it’s cloudy.

After the general election there is a mixture of tensions living in the air within the UK. On December 12th it was announced that the Conservative party had won 364 seats to deliver a huge House of Commons majority, meaning Prime Minister Boris Johnson would return to his position of power in Number 10. Whether you’re happy about the result or not, it does leave a lot of uncertainty around issues such as what will happen with Brexit and arguably most concerning…is the NHS going to stick around?

The Labour Party based a lot of their campaigning around “saving” the NHS from privatisation to ensure that everyone in the UK remains entitled to free or subsidised healthcare; whether that was true or not. With an increasingly ageing population, this uncertainty is concerning for all of us.

The truth is that none of us can really predict what the future will be, but it is probably worth looking into what the options are, whatever outcome should arise. So here we are going to answer the question: Should we be investing in health insurance here in the UK post general election, and if so, how do we do this?

Firstly, what is health insurance? According to the Money Advice Service, although most UK residents are entitled to free healthcare from the NHS (at the moment at least),”health insurance pays all – or some – of your medical bills if you’re treated privately. It gives you a choice in the level of care you get and how and when it is provided.” Like all different types of insurance, the cover you get from your health insurance depends on the policy you buy, so it’s good to do your research if you’re thinking about it. “

Basic private medical insurance usually picks up the costs of most in-patient treatments (tests and surgery) and day-care surgery.” Money Advice Service explains that usually health insurance won’t cover private treatment for organ transplants, pre-existing medical conditions, normal pregnancy and childbirth costs, cosmetic surgery to improve your appearance, injuries relating to dangerous sports or arising from war or war-like hostilities, and chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDs-related illnesses, diabetes, epilepsy, hypertension and related illnesses. “You might be able to choose a policy which covers mental health, depression and sports injuries but these aren’t always covered.”

The main issue with getting health insurance and subbing all your medical expenses yourself without the help of the NHS is obviously the costs. In an article on the The Telegraph, Dan Hutson of comparethemarket.com said: “Typically speaking, health insurance premiums tend to increase by around 3-5% per year, partly because of the increasing cost of treatment, and partly because people are living for longer.” According to the Money Advice Service, “a typical family premium – covering two adults in their 40s and two children under 10 – can vary from £700 to £1,800 per year”.

The cost of private health insurance tends to go up most years, and can go up even further if you make a claim. Even something as simple as moving house can affect the charges. However, going private means that you will have instant access to health care, which is good as relying on the NHS could mean waiting a very long time for treatment, especially in the current climate. You will also have access to a wider range of resources, including private hospitals and ongoing recovery treatments such as physiotherapy.

Aside from insurance, Virgin Money recommend that, if you can, you should “self-insure” by putting cash into a contingency fund for medical use. “The average hip or knee replacement costs £10,000, a cataract operation £2,400 and an MRI body scan £460. If you don’t spend your fund, you haven’t lost it (unlike premiums for a policy you haven’t claimed on). However, your fund needs to be accessible and not invested for growth.” Obviously, if you have the money to do this, this is great, but most of us don’t so would have to rely on the NHS or insurance.

We don’t know what will happen to the NHS. It might continue to go downhill and eventually become fully privatised like the USA, or maybe even just partially privatised. Perhaps it will stay the same for many years. Before making financial decisions or investing in health insurance, it’s always a good idea to do research, or even talk to a financial adviser.

Money Saving Expert suggests firstly beginning with comparison websites to find a good price on health insurance. “The easiest place to find out roughly what you can get, and whether it is affordable, is to use a comparison website. It can be a really quick and easy way to check whether the company you like is too expensive, and what is out there.”

To go even further, they also advice contacting a broker for more options and specialist advice. “If you’re not sure which policy to get, or have conditions making it difficult to find the right one, contact a broker for a more thorough search. It does take a bit longer but they will be able to give you a much more bespoke quotation and clearly explain the exclusions connected to your policy. They also often have connections with various insurers and might be able to offer you a deal.”

Brokers get paid commission by the insurer, so if you are charged a fee (which must be disclosed upfront), weigh up if that is the best or your only option. “You can find a broker via the Association of Medical Insurers and Intermediaries, which is a trade association for independent medical insurance advisers and has a list of members to choose from.”

We Brits love to solve all of life’s woes with a hot cup of something. It’s the first thing we offer when we welcome someone into our home and it’s the lubricant for which awkward conversations are facilitated.

Although we are well-known tea drinkers – drinking approximately 165 million cups of the stuff a day – we love our coffee too. But which is better? Taste is down to preference, but in terms of our health, which should we be drinking more of and which should we be leaving on the shelf?

One of the aspects of drinking tea and coffee that we are constantly told to be cautious of are their caffeine contents. The NHS explains that caffeine is a stimulant. “Drinks containing caffeine can temporarily make us feel more alert or less drowsy. Caffeine affects some people more than others, and the effect can depend on how much caffeine you normally consume.”

For context, a cup of brewed coffee has around 92 milligrams of caffeine, a cup of brewed black tea has 47 milligrams of caffeine and a cup of brewed green tea has 29 milligrams of caffeine.
The NHS advises that pregnant women should limit their intake of caffeinated drinks and that they are also unsuitable for toddlers and young children.

They add: “It’s fine to drink tea and coffee as part of a balanced diet. Bear in mind, though, that caffeinated drinks can make the body produce urine more quickly. Some people are more susceptible to this than others, but it also depends on how much caffeine you have and how often you have it. If you have problems with urinary continence, cutting down on caffeine by changing to low-caffeine tea and coffee, fruit or herbal teas, or other types of drinks can sometimes help.” Going to the toilet more often could make you dehydrated.

Another thing to be cautious of is added sugar when it comes to tea and coffee. They explain: “If you drink tea or coffee with sugar or you have flavoured syrups in your coffee-shop drinks, you could be unwittingly damaging your teeth and adding unhelpful calories to your diet.”

In favour of tea, health.com says that tea is rich antioxidants and helps to fight inflammation. “Tea drinkers have a significantly lower risk of stroke and heart disease, and tea is known to boost brain health. One study, for example, found that compared with older adults who drank less than three cups a week, those who drank more than two cups of green tea a day had a significantly lower risk of age-related declines in memory.” It’s been found that regular tea drinkers also have higher bone density levels and slower rates of bone loss and tea has also been associated with anti-ageing.

However, tea isn’t all great. Unfortunately, it can impact your iron levels due to the tanins in it, which is a type of antioxidant that interferes with the absorption of non-heme, or plant-based iron. In one study from 1982, drinking tea with a meal resulted in a 62% reduction in iron absorption compared to 35% for coffee.

The BBC adds that tea is also staining for your teeth. “Most dentists seem to agree that tea’s natural pigments are more likely to adhere to dental enamel than coffee’s – particularly if you use a mouthwash containing the common antiseptic chlorhexidine, which seems to attract and bind to the microscopic particles.”

So what’s good about coffee? health.com say that “a brand new Harvard study found that those who drink about three to five cups of coffee a day may be less likely to die prematurely from some diseases than those who drink less or no coffee.” Coffee is a rich source of antioxidants and has also been linked to protection against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, and certain cancers.

However, in some cases coffee has been shown to raise cholesterol levels slightly. Also, coffee is more acidic than tea, so if you have stomach or digestive issues, tea might be more soothing for you. health.com adds that “coffee has long had a reputation for bone issues, but it remains unclear how significant the effects are”. One study found that a high intake of coffee reduced bone density by 2-4%.

Another con of drinking coffee is that due to it’s high caffeine content it could leave you feeling overstimulated, jittery and anxious. If you have high blood pressure, you should limit your caffeine intake because it can cause a dramatic spike in blood pressure. The BBC adds that coffee can negatively affect your sleep quality more so than tea. They said that University of Surrey researchers found that coffee drinkers tend to find it harder to drop off to sleep at night because of the higher caffeine content.

The conclusion seems to be that neither coffee or tea are particularly harmful to your health if consumed in small quantities (like everything). It’s more dependent on taste preference and lifestyle choices as to which you’d rather drink more of.

Mobility is the ability to move or be moved freely and easily. It’s common knowledge that as we age we lose mobility – as we lose muscle mass, strength and bone density – but did you consider that sitting at a desk all day could also affect your mobility just as much as ageing does?

You might find that each time you get up from your desk it gets a little more difficult to do so, and this could be a sign that you need to work on your mobility. Losing mobility can negatively affect your balance, can result in chronic pain and risk of falls, alongside a long list of other physical and mental health problems.

What exactly is mobility in relation to our bodies? Shape.com explains that mobility is your ability to move a muscle or muscle group through a range of motion in the joint socket with control, and in order to move a muscle with control, you need strength. Mobility is dependent on our flexibility, strength, coordination and body awareness.

Shape.com adds that “connecting your breath with your movement is also thought to have a huge effect on how efficiently you move”, and a great way to do this is by practising yoga or breathing exercises. In most parts of the UK, you can also find mobility-specific classes, such as those offered through Wickham’s Movement Vault, or you could stream some online.

An important aspect of improving mobility is stretching, and the key to becoming more mobile is to do a little bit of stretching every day. The Healthline explains that static stretching, or holding one position for an extended period, might be one way to improve mobility, but “according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it appears that dynamic stretching, or stretching while moving through a movement, is better than static stretching as part of a warmup.

“Just 10 minutes of dynamic warmup activities prior to a workout is linked to improvements in shuttle run time, medicine ball throw distance, and jump distance”, if those things are important to you.

If you’re new to mobility movements, here are a few simple exercises you could try:

1. Stand on one leg

Wellbeingcoaches.com says that “this is a daily exercise that is easy to do. Stand on one leg at a time for one minute each. Slowly increase the time. Try to balance with your eyes closed or without holding onto anything”. You might need to work yourself up to balancing without holding onto something.

2. Stand on your toes

The website also explains that to do this move: “Stand on your toes for a count of 10, and then, rock back on your heels for a count of 10. This is such a simple exercise, and it works very well to improve your balance. Think about other times and places during the day when you can take 20 seconds to do it.”

3. Move your hips

Wellbeingcoaches.com adds that “this is another exercise that you can do while you’re on the phone or watching television. Stand up and move your hips in a big circle to the left, and then to the right without moving your shoulders or feet. Repeat in both directions five times.”

4. Posterior step with overhead reach

Stand tall with feet hip-width apart. Take a small step back with arms stretched overhead and core braced. Touch the floor with the lunging heel. Push back with the posterior foot and return to start position.

5. Squat to overhead reach with a twist

Squat down and swing the arms down and back. Return to the standing position with arms stretched overhead while rotating the upper body to one side. Repeat on the other side.

6. Lunges

Step forward and bend knees, keep front shin vertical. Do not let knee travel forward of toes. Maintain upright torso and alternate legs rep by rep.

It’s important before attempting any of the exercises suggested above that you consult your doctor. Dynamic stretches may not be appropriate for everyone, especially the elderly, those with previous injuries or joint replacements.

Christmas is around the corner, which means that most of us soon will be indulging on too many mince pies and too many Baileys. While that sounds like most of our ideas of heaven, if drawn out over the whole month of December – or “the Festive” season – our bodies can begin to struggle to cope with the calories and units of alcohol consumed.

Last year, The Drinks Business predicted that in Christmas 2018 the average Briton would consume an average of 26 units per day, with the nation collectively expected to drink almost six billions units of alcohol between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day that year.

They explained that that equated to “an average of 156 units each over the course of six days – nearly 10 times more than the average 16 units consumed on a regular night out.” They said that overall, the great British public were expected to consume as much as 5.7bn units of alcohol over that festive break.

So if that was last year, what’s in store for Christmas 2019? A lot more alcohol…probably.

If we are braced and ready for a lot of binge drinking shortly, what measures can we take to ensure we stay safe and healthy this Christmas, and how much exactly should we be drinking at this time of year?

Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean the risk to the body when consuming alcohol is any different. When drinking alcohol in vast quantities, this can have some devastating effects both in the short and long term.

Appropriately for Christmas time, The NHS explains that “binge drinking usually refers to drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk”. In the UK, the NHS adds that binge drinking is drinking more than 8 units of alcohol in a single session for men and 6 units of alcohol in a single session for women. “Six units is 2 pints of 5% strength beer or 2 large (250ml) glasses of 12% wine, for example. However, this is not an exact definition for binge drinking that applies to everyone, as tolerance to alcohol can vary from person to person.”

The NHS adds that “drinking too much, too quickly on a single occasion can increase your risk of accidents resulting in injury, causing death in some cases, misjudging risky situations and losing self-control, like having unprotected sex”.

Drink Aware says that getting drunk can affect both your physical and mental health. “In extreme cases, you could die. Overdosing on alcohol can stop you breathing or stop your heart, or you could choke on your vomit. Binge drinking can affect your mood and your memory and, in the longer term, can lead to serious mental health problems.” According to NI Direct, if you’re hungover you can feel anxious and low. “Some people may feel down over Christmas and drinking can make this worse.”

The Healthline explains that binge drinking can also negatively affect your heart, kidneys, lungs and pancreas. If you’re only drinking over Christmas, you don’t need to worry about this too much, but it’s worth knowing that the long-term effects of consistent binge drinking are more likely to lead to long-term damage. Their website says that “one recent study by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that 21 binge drinking sessions over seven weeks was enough to cause symptoms of early-stage liver disease in mice.”

The answer to the question “how much should you drink over Christmas” isn’t that straight forward. Sure we can look at the NHS’s recommendations for how many units to consume, but that isn’t realistic. Most of us overindulge over Christmas, and once a year that is fine to do and should be enjoyed.

If you’re concerned about the excess, here are a couple of tips to help make sure this indulgence is as safe and healthy as can be.

In a Q&A with Alcohol Change UK’s Director for Wales, published on their website, they suggest that over Christmas “it may be wise to lay off the booze until later in the day. Think about how you’re feeling and whether you want a pause, and don’t let people top you up just because they’re drinking.

“Taking some time off can also help remind you that you don’t need alcohol to have fun, and give you some practice saying no, which will come in handy when you don’t fancy a drink in future.”

The NHS advise that if you want to reduce your health risks when drinking, drink more slowly, drink with food, alternate with water or non-alcoholic drinks and plan ahead to avoid problems, such as making sure you can get home safely or having people you trust with you.

Drink aware say that if you’re worried about your long-term drinking habits beyond Christmas, contact your GP. They will be able to suggest ways to help you cut down your drinking, and can also refer you for counselling or support services. You can also call Drinkline, the national alcohol helpline, on 0300 123 1110. It’s free and confidential.

Christmas is an incredibly exciting time for most; especially if you have young children (or are one). However, having to spend Christmas alone – whether you’ve been widowed or estranged from your family – can be very difficult.

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, loneliness can even impact your physical health, as it increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%. The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality is comparable to the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity, and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking. Loneliness is also associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke and can increase the risk of high blood pressure.

Loneliness can also affect your mental health, as it puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline. Lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia and are more prone to depression.

In 2016, the mental health charity Mind found that one in 10 people aged between 25 and 34 admitted they didn’t have anyone to spend Christmas with, compared with just one in 20 older people.

Research from Age UK showed that nearly a million (928,000) older people unsurprisingly feel lonelier at Christmas time and almost 1.4 million older people surveyed by Age UK admitted that Christmas isn’t a special day for them and just passes them by.

“The charity estimates that getting on towards a million (873,000) people aged 65 and over don’t see or hear from someone for days on end over the festive period. And at Christmas time, on days when older people do not see or hear from anyone, over half (55%) rely on the TV for companionship.”

If you are concerned about lonely older people during the festive period, there are things you can do to help. The Independent suggests getting in touch with Contact the Elderly, who run monthly tea parties during which groups of people over the age of 75 come together to socialise.

“You can also reach out and befriend older people by working with organisations such as Friends of the Elderly. The website offers a variety of opportunities, including the chance to become a Visiting Friends volunteer.”

Another way to help a lonely older person is with a phone conversation. At Independent Age, volunteers spend around 20 to 30 minutes a week speaking on the phone with older people who may not otherwise have many opportunities to engage in conversation with others. The charity explains that talking with an older person regularly on the phone can “empower them, improve their wellbeing and help build their self-esteem.”

The role involves talking on the phone on a weekly or fortnightly basis, ideally for a minimum period of 12 months.

If you are reading this as the person worried about spending Christmas alone – whatever age you are – here are a few ideas for how you could spend your Christmas Day to stave off feeling low.

1. Very Well Mind suggests hosting an Online Christmas

“Do you have online friends? Do you have long-distance relatives? Host an online Christmas by setting up a Skype chatroom or Facebook group. People can drop in and out as they please, and you don’t have to cook, clean, or even get off the sofa.

“As an added bonus, you’ll have a chance to practice your social skills as you welcome new people to the group and catch up with old friends.”

2. Why not volunteer?

Very Well Mind adds that one way to gain a better appreciation for the good things in your life is to get involved in volunteering. “Volunteering during the holidays is a way to connect with others, boost your self-esteem, and bring joy to people who are less fortunate. Consider offering to help serve dinner at a soup kitchen, bring gifts to a children’s hospital, or visit lonely residents at a nursing home.

“If you feel nervous about doing these social activities, all the better; it’s a chance to test your boundaries and expand your social skills. In fact, research shows that practising kindness may reduce your tendency to avoid social situations.”

3. Take part in a group run

The Guardian suggests taking part in a Christmas Day race as a way to feel connected to others. “Parkruns take place in parks across the UK, with most starting at 9 am. After this, all you’ll need to think about is recovering.”

Alternatively, if running isn’t your thing, you could scope out the local country walks nearby and see who you could bump into on the way. Plus physical activity is great for endorphins and clearing your head.

4. Eat out

The Guardian adds that “Christmas Day is a great time to visit and eat at restaurants in Chinatown, and areas with large Bangladeshi, Indian, Turkish and Vietnamese communities. Rebel against traditional Christmas turkey and eat a Turkish lahmacun.”

Don’t forget to book in advance though!

5. Use this opportunity to do whatever you want

This is potentially the one day a year where you can do whatever you want undisturbed. Treat yourself to whatever you enjoy most, whether that’s listening to music, having a bath or people watching. The world is your oyster!

6. Be brave, tell someone

If you can’t stomach the thought of being alone on Christmas Day, tell someone. Contact a friend and ask if they wouldn’t mind accommodating you for a meal. There is no shame in reaching out for help. Perhaps you could contact someone else who you know might be lonely this time of year too to see if they’d like some company too.

Talk of politics and heated discussions about Brexit have been consuming the lives of everyone living in the UK over the past year (or more), and things appear to be changing from an anxious simmer about the uncertain future of our country to a fiery boil, as we approach a general election on Thursday 12th December. No one seems to know what is going on or what the best for the fate of the UK is, yet thanks to democracy anyone aged 18 or over who is a British, Irish or EU citizen is eligible to vote, but you have to register. This of course includes those living with disabilities.

Sadly people with disabilities are still face problems when it comes to voting, as they aren’t always aware of their voting rights. The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 made it illegal to discriminate in respect to employment, services, education and transport based on someone’s disability. Many do not have the confidence to go and register to vote, while others face issues when they go to a polling stations. Mobility issues can make accessing polling stations in person difficult while learning disabilities can make it all the more difficult to understand the voting process.

Mencap say that “learning disability issues are regularly discussed by members of the main political parties. In the last six years, learning disability has been mentioned in debates or official letters from MPs over 1,200 times. That is over three times a week.” Over 150 MPs supported Mencap’s last campaign to encourage people with a learning disability to vote. In 2010, almost 1 in 3 people with a learning disability voted, which is progress.

The first step for a disabled voter is to register to vote. Enable Magazine explains that you can register to vote online by yourself or with the help of a trusted carer or loved one. You will be asked where you live, when you were born, your name, address and contact information.

On voting day, our government has a responsibility to ensure all polling stations have a polling booth adapted for wheelchair users and that there is large print versions of ballot papers are available in every polling station, along with aids to enable blind voters to mark their ballot papers without help.

According to the Electoral Commission: “Local authorities now have to take proactive steps to ensure that polling stations don’t disadvantage disabled people. All voters have a right to vote independently and in secret. A person who is registered to vote or who has been officially appointed as a proxy voter cannot be refused a ballot paper or the opportunity to vote on the grounds of mental or physical incapacity.

“Polling station staff must ensure that disabled voters are not offered a lower standard of service than other voters and should be able to explain what assistance is available to disabled voters wishing to vote in person at a polling station.”

Disabled voters are also entitled to the right to request assistance to mark the ballot paper., and this can be done through the Presiding Officer. Alternatively, they can bring someone with them to help them vote; providing they themselves are eligible to vote. If an elector is unable to enter the polling station because of physical disability, the Presiding Officer may take the ballot paper to the elector. If you have any problems on election day, you should call your local authority to try to resolve this.

It’s well worth knowing that if you don’t want to go to the polling station to vote – because you find it difficult going out and about or have a disability that makes this impossible – voters with a disability can have a permanent proxy vote. Voting by proxy means choosing someone else to vote for you. All you need to do is fill in a new form to choose who will vote for you. This person can visit a polling station or apply for a postal vote in order to vote on your behalf.

There is also the option for you to vote by post. You will be sent a form similar to the registration form when voting by post and you should fill out the postal vote application and send it to your local electoral services team. Before elections, you will receive a ballot paper in the post. It will tell you where and when to post it.

If you’d like more information about accessibility to voting, you can call the Electoral Commission on 0333 103 1928 or the Welsh language line on 0333 103 1929 for further guidance.

A few years ago you might not have even heard of what a vegan diet was, but nowadays veganism is infiltrating our news, social media feeds and shopping aisles daily. You might’ve even considered a vegan diet yourself for its supposed positive health, ethical and environmental benefits.

Although it is easier than ever to go vegan – with more access to vegan products and an internet full of tips and recipe ideas than ever before – there are some people who might struggle with the transition of going vegan, and these are those with eating disorders, those with autism, the malnourished and older populations; to name a handful.

Older populations sometimes struggle with getting out to the shops to buy ingredients and also with cooking for themselves, which might make it difficult to go vegan for them. There is also the problem of malnutrition within older populations and the risks of osteoporosis, which we know dairy products can help protect against thanks to the calcium in them.

That isn’t to say that all older people cannot attempt to go vegan, however, should they want to. A report commissioned by The Telegraph showed that more over-60s than ever before are ditching meat and dairy to go vegan. In fact, a new documentary on Netflix called The Gamechangers interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger, who at 72 has now adopted a new plant based diet. Previous research from The Vegan Society in 2016 found that close to half of all vegans (42%) were in the 15-34 age category and only 14% were aged 65 and over, but that seems to be shifting slowly.

Older people might consider going vegan to improve their health, as age is well known to make it deteriorate. An article published on Livestrong said that “on average, vegetarians of consume less saturated fat, salt, protein and overall fewer calories than those who eat meat, and according to the American Heart Association, the plant-based diet is generally healthier, regardless of age. Vegetarians not only pile more fibre and fresh vegetables on their plates, but also have a lower incidence of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure—conditions that often plague older people.”

If you are considering going vegan as an older person, the NHS have some healthy eating guidelines which may be helpful.

For a healthy vegan diet, they suggest:

• Eating at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
• Basing meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates (choose wholegrain where possible)
• Having some dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts (choose lower fat and lower sugar options)
• Eating some beans, pulses and other proteins
• Choosing unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat in small amounts
• Drinking plenty of fluids (the government recommends 6 to 8 cups or glasses a day)

If you do not plan your diet properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12.

The NHS goes on to say that good sources of calcium for vegans include:

• green, leafy vegetables – such as broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach
• fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks
• calcium-set tofu
• sesame seeds and tahini
• pulses
• brown and white bread (in the UK, calcium is added to white and brown flour by law)
• dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots

A vegan diet can be high in iron, according to the NHS, although iron from plant-based food is absorbed by the body less well than iron from meat.

Good sources of iron for vegans are:

• pulses
• wholemeal bread and flour
• breakfast cereals fortified with iron
• dark green, leafy vegetables, such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens
• nuts
• dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes and figs

The NHS adds that the body needs vitamin B12 to maintain healthy blood and a healthy nervous system. “It’s only found naturally in foods from animal sources. Sources for vegans are therefore limited and a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.”

Sources of vitamin B12 for vegans include:

• breakfast cereals fortified with B12
• unsweetened soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12
• yeast extract, such as Marmite, which is fortified with vitamin B12

If you are thinking of changing your diet, it’s important to consult a doctor or medical professional first to see if you are suitable for a vegan diet, especially if you are over 60.

We all know what cancer is, and the unfortunate likelihood is that we all probably know someone who has been touched by cancer. But with the enormous amount of different variations of cancer, it can be overwhelming to know how to show your support or even spot the signs of the each individual strain of the disease. The important thing is to start somewhere and with education, and a good place to start could be this November with Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

The month of November is dedicated to pancreatic awareness, having evolved from a Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Week originating in the United States. Now the awareness month spreads worldwide, and brings together different charities and individuals who want to make a difference.

According to pancreatic.org, pancreatic cancer is the “third leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States surpassing breast cancer and it is expected to become the 2nd by 2020, surpassing colon cancer. Every day more than 1,250 people worldwide will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In nearly every country, pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer with a single-digit five-year survival rate of 9%. While death rates decline for other cancers, they are increasing for pancreatic cancer. Survival rates have not improved substantially for the past 40 years.”

So what exactly is pancreatic cancer?

Webmd explains that pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the pancreas. “The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The pancreas produces digestive juices and hormones that regulate blood sugar. Cells called exocrine pancreas cells produce the digestive juices, while cells called endocrine pancreas cells produce the hormones. The majority of pancreatic cancers start in the exocrine cells.”

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include jaundice, pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, fatigue and/or depression. Your risk of developing pancreatic cancer can increase with smoking, chronic pancreatitis, inherited conditions, familial pancreatic cancer syndromes, long-standing diabetes and obesity.

The NHS says that in about 1 in 10 cases, pancreatic cancer is inherited. “Certain genes also increase your chances of getting pancreatitis, which in turn increases your risk of developing cancer of the pancreas. If you have two or more close relatives who have had pancreatic cancer or you have an inherited disease, such as Lynch or Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, your doctor may recommend regular check-ups as you may be at increased risk of pancreatic cancer.”

How can you get a diagnosis for pancreatic cancer?

The NHS further adds that your GP should be your first port of call, so if you are experiencing any symptoms that have you worried, it’s advisable to book an appointment. Your GP will first ask about your general health and carry out a physical examination. They may examine your stomach for lumps and to see whether your liver is enlarged. They’ll also check your skin and eyes for signs of jaundice and may request a sample of your urine and a blood test. If your GP suspects pancreatic cancer, you’ll usually be referred to a specialist at a hospital for further investigation.

How is pancreatic cancer treated?

Sadly this type of cancer is difficult to treat as because it rarely causes symptoms early on, meaning it’s often not detected early enough.

The NHS explains that if you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your treatment will depend on the type and location of your cancer and how far it’s advanced, also known as its stage. The three main treatments for pancreatic cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

How can you show your support during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month?

Pancreatic cancer is daunting, but there are things you can do to show your support and make a difference during the month of November. Your support can help fund vital research, provide specialist support and campaign for change.

Pancreaticcancer.org suggest that you could try doing their ‘Challenge 24’. They explain that in the UK, 24 people die from pancreatic cancer every day. “You can help change this shocking statistic by taking on Challenge 24 this November. Walk, run or ride 24 miles in November for a day, a week or a month.”

Another idea for supporting Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month is to bring your friends and family together for a Bake Off and raise money for a good cause. Actually, you can support Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in any way you can think of. Every penny really does count and your support will make a difference and save lives, so be creative, host a karaoke party or even have a bingo night.

Lastly, during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month you could go to the extreme of shaving, dyeing or waxing your hair or even dressing purple (less extreme) as a way to raise vital awareness of pancreatic cancer. Even the smallest of gestures can go a long way to improving the lives of those with pancreatic cancer.