Clapham Osteopathy and Functional Movement

Doctors Tell Us How Hiking Can Change Our Brains

HikingWe at Backs Etc. love hiking! We find getting out in nature and getting from place to place under our own natural power immensely satisfying and cathartic. And now it seems that more and more doctors are actually writing ‘nature prescriptions’ or recommending ‘ecotherapy’ to reduce anxiety, improve stress levels, and to curb depression. Looks like it’s good for body, mind and soul, so what are you waiting for? Get out there and hit the trails!


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The Whys and Hows of Sleep

Sleeping woman

If you want to enjoy a long, healthy, energetic and productive life, it is pretty much agreed that you need to work on four basic areas: nutrition, exercise, stress and sleep.  In this post, I’m going to focus on sleep as it is something that many people (and I include myself here) struggle with.  

Why is Sleep so Important?

There is a very rare condition called Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) whereby sleep becomes impossible, it leads to panic attacks, hallucinations and eventually death, with no known cure.  Thus this shows that sleep is essential to stay healthy. Recent research has found the existence of the glymphatic system which drains metabolic waste products from the brain via the cerebrospinal fluid (including those pesky amyloid plaques that build up during the progression of dementia).  This system only works when we are in deep sleep, making regular good sleep essential for maintaining brain health, aside from other body maintenance and repair processes that occur mostly whilst we are asleep.  It has also been shown that good sleep is essential for memory formation and that mood and willpower problems are exacerbated by a lack of sleep.

Why do we have so much trouble with sleep?

Until recently, our sleep cycles were driven by circadian rhythms with the rising and setting of the sun driving the release of hormones and brain wave patterns.  Now the abundance of electric lights and digital stimulation after dark, as well as jet lag and shiftwork has disrupted this primal cycle. Most people find that when they go camping, with light being limited to torches and the campfire, they start to sleep much better, especially if they have a comfortable airbed

What can we do about this?

The key is to support your body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone which is triggered by darkness, and is suppressed by light – particularly bright white light at night – including these new energy efficient bright LED street lights that are replacing many of the old yellow ones. So here are a few tips which I try to implement most days to support melatonin production and sleep cycles:

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Your brain has a ‘delete’ button – Here’s how to use it

brainIn this concise article, the author describes the importance of good sleep and mindfulness in ‘cleaning’ your brain to build and strengthen positive neural connections. Your brain gets really good at whatever it does all the time, so you need to devote time to the things you want to be good at, whether that is studying for exams or playing golf.  If you constantly think negative and anxious thoughts your brain will get much ‘better’ at being anxious. Sleep is when the brain embeds the pathways that you are forming during the day, so without good sleep, all the practice and studying will not be fully effective.

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How Slow Breathing Induces Tranquility

slow breathingHere at Backs Etc, we are obsessed with abdominal breathing as it is the basis of core stability. If you cannot build intra-abdominal pressure using diaphragmatic breathing, it will lead to an over-reliance on neck or back muscles that become painful and susceptible to injury. But there are other benefits too. As this article outlines, slow deep breathing is very calming to the nervous system, helping you to relax, something that is very important in today’s fast-paced world.

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Develop core stability with 360° breathing

breathing retraining at Backs EtcProper breathing technique is something we focus on at Backs Etc in both our therapy and training appointments. Without addressing poor breathing mechanics, it can be hard to make lasting changes to a patient’s pain or dysfunction. Often the problem stems from the inability to build intra-abdominal pressure (‘IAP’) using diaphragmatic breathing, and so there is an over-reliance on neck or back muscles that become painful.

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Cold Water Swimming

Jack and Sue McCall cold water swimming at Brockwell Lido

This January, Jack and I started to take a weekly dip at Brockwell Park Lido in water temperatures ranging between 2.4 and 9 degrees C, followed by 20 minutes or so in the cute wood-burning sauna that has been installed poolside. This has become an essential part of our winter survival, with boosts to both physical and mental well-being. The actual swim is tough, the cold triggering a burning pain in the extremities and an intense desire to get out.  However, we are gradually increasing the distance we can swim and time in the pool (about 20 minutes now). The best moment is about 30 seconds after exiting the pool when the endorphins kick in and you feel great – even better on a sunny day!

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If you want to practise mindfulness, the garden is the place to be

mindfullness-gardenMindfulness, meditation or just relaxed breathing is something I often discuss with patients. The ability to disconnect from the constant high gear whirring of our minds is essential to maintain health and often to get enough sleep. Different techniques seem to work better for different people. As this article says some light gardening could be the answer.

For the full story click here.

What Lack of Sleep Does To Your Brain

sleep-deprived A topic I endlessly discuss with patients. Our culture seems to undervalue the benefits of sleep. Plus our addiction to screens that both excite our brains before bedtime and emit blue light that disrupts our circadian rhythm, is the highest form of self sabotage. I myself have a history of poor sleeping but for the past few years have tried to improve it by establishing good sleep hygiene protocols. It works, not immediately and not every night, but overall my sleep is much better now. If you are trying to exercise and eat well for your health, you need to also take sleep seriously. Other than having a quiet dark room the biggest tip is probably to get to bed earlier – seeing as most people don’t have flexibility over the time they need to get up in the morning.

For the full story, click here.