Chiang Mai FeMail
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Health and Fitness Part 3

Recent studies show more T’ai Chi benefits

Did we always know this?

Is the menopause really useful?

 

Welcome to this week’s FeMail, where, for some strange reason, we seem to be fixated on matters medical. Plus, of course, the eternal conflict - male v. female, expressed in the well known phrase or saying, “why on earth did he do that?” Perhaps the relevant article might give some answers! I hope a few of you have been trying out the new “Heath and Fitness” series, which is specifically aimed at those of us ladies who could either lose a pound or two, (or three…etc). I’ve been “giving it a go” on my 2 year old unused until last week treadmill, and apart from sore muscles in my legs, I feel a lot better for it already. So, do that BMI, and best of luck!
Songkran is almost upon us at the time of writing, and a very different occasion from last year it would seem to be, if all goes according to plan. It is, after all, a celebration both of the New Year and of respect and thanks to family, as well as a religious tradition, not an excuse for a drunken riot lasting all week. There will be opportunities to experience the traditional side of the festival in a quieter manner - I hope that many of us will use those opportunities as a chance to get to know Thai ways better, even if we’re not confident or brave enough to volunteer to help! Me, I’m going to the drum competition - all day, love that noise! See you next week, have a good one.

Health and Fitness Part 3

John Bailey
In the last line of last week’s article, I mentioned BMI - if you still don’t know what it stands for, here you are: Body Mass Index. This, when calculated, gives the ratio of your weight in kilogrammes to your height in centimetres. Obviously, the higher the resultant number, the bigger the problem. An BMI of 20 to 24.9 is considered desirable and referred to as grade 0; grade 1 is 25 to 29.9, grade 2 represents 30 to 40, and grade 3 is 40 plus. At that point you are running the risk of co-morbidity; of developing one or more debilitating and ultimately life-threatening health problems.
What’s your BMI? Work it out, it’s easy, and you really do need to know, especially if you suspect you are overweight. Calculator at the ready? The formula is as follows: WEIGHT IN KILOS divided by HEIGHT IN C/M’S, SQUARED.
Once you’ve done this, you will know whether you should take action. A word of warning, however - do not become a “numbers freak” by weighing yourself every day and obsessively calculating your BMI. Once a week and once a month, for a fair comparison, is fine, as because of other factors, including water retention and increase in muscle tone, frequent leaps onto the scales can be misleading, depressing and discouraging! Ladies, the “real world” measure is - your dress size!
OK - no more serious stuff; now, let’s look at the fun thing - in the gym. I mentioned last week that regular activity of every kind was enough, but, if you are going to take full advantage of what a gym has to offer, you will now need to apply a more structured, disciplined approach to your regime - one which requires more detailed knowledge. Reason - if you have performed the above calculation correctly you may have realised that your BMI needs that kind of attention! At this point you should regard all types of gym equipment as the tools needed to do the job. The more efficiently you do this, the better the results. No mystique, but a few do’s and don’t’s!
You will need, in the first phase of your weight loss, to use cardiovascular exercise machines; devices that primarily raise your heartbeat and promote blood circulation, which helps your body to expel CO2 gases and absorb oxygen. This will enable more calories to be burned during a given period of time, and also, importantly, cause beneficial chemical changes in your metabolism. The only difference between the various cardiovascular machines is they involve working with different muscle groups.
The easiest one to begin with is the treadmill, but, please, walk, not jog or run at this stage. Go slowly for the first 3-5 minutes or so, then accelerate gently, in order to raise your heart rate gradually without causing a huge leap in your blood pressure.
Hold onto the bar at first if you wish, but try to release and swing your arms if possible. It’s a good idea, before you start, to set the machine to a slight gradient, say, level 2, as this will help your posture. Once you are comfortable with this, you can then increase your speed slightly. Take it easy; enjoy yourself, break your time up by rest periods if you need to, but try to steadily increase the time span itself. Nest week -the rest of the kit!

 

Recent studies show more T’ai Chi benefits

Some of us ladies here may well have found the time to take up the ancient Chinese exercise technique, T’ai Chi. However, we may not have been totally aware of the benefits of its regular practice. New studies in China, Taiwan and Australia indicate that people with obesity or overweight-linked diabetes may be able to control and reduce their own blood sugar levels within a period of 12 weeks just by practicing T’ai Chi. During trials, a significant fall of 8% in the blood sugar levels of a trial group of older people suffering from this form of diabetes was observed. Most importantly, it was also found that regular practice of the exercises boosted the immune system. Whilst this is important for all of us, it is even more significant for diabetes sufferers, as a more efficient immune system will reduce the chronic inflammation of internal organs which is characteristic of the illness. Increased insulin resistance has also been noted. T’ai Chi involves moderate exercise using flowing movements and deep breathing using the diaphragm, and is practiced daily by millions of Chinese as a way to promote continuing health well in to old age.


Did we always know this?

Another one of those “lunchtime conversations” with women friends inspired me to remember an article I’d read several years ago and subsequently forgotten. The group’s focus turned, as it often does when women get together, to men’s behaviour. Taking the subject to extremes, as usual, it developed along the lines of “why wars?”, “why obsessive greed?”, “why a lack of sensitivity to human need?”, “why power over instead of personal power?” until, also as usual, it settled down to “why doesn’t he listen to me/do some housework?” etc, over the dessert course. Chocolate ice cream on a hot day can take one’s mind off anything…
The differing opinions expressed, though, took me back, on the drive home, to that article, handed to me in copy form by a London friend. Its main thrust, and this, it would seem, is proven, is that Nature’s “default setting” is female, in as much as that, for the first 8 weeks of a foetus’s life, its brain is configured along female lines. If, however, it is intended to be male, in the 8th week a huge surge of testosterone will invade its developing brain, killing off a number of brain cells in areas which promote communication, empathy, emotional memory, etc, and encouraging the growth of cells in areas considered to be typically “male”, such as sex and aggression. Which proves that we women, of course, are more empathic, communicative, instinctive, nurturing, sensitive and responsive than your average male! No surprise there, then.
What did surprise me, though, on reading the article, was, not that women are more talkative than men, (we all know that and have a lot more fun as a result), but the degree to which this is so. Women, on average, use 20,000 words each day to men’s 7,000, giving an entirely new meaning to the phrase “the strong, silent type”! Perhaps the original male described by that phrase didn’t have a lot of option…maybe the brain just shut down on word 7,001. Probably in the middle of a sentence…
Joking apart, it was fascinating to read how the differences continued, and how, in our modern and difficult world, attributes which would have been useful thousands of years ago now tend to work against us. The female ability to read even well-hidden emotions through a combination of observation of body language and the use of instinct, for example, results in reality itself being observed. In crisis situations, such knowledge may well be power, but woe betide you if you use it in the workplace! In the communal cave, however, all you had to do was run! Another instance is eye contact. Girl babies use this from a very early age; as a boy child grows up, his automatic physical response to this will be to find it threatening, resulting in connections between himself and others made in this manner becoming unacceptable. Women use eye contact as part of their inborn and innate skill in observation, which motivation in the overtly sexual society of the 21st century, may be easily misunderstood by males!
Testosterone-fuelled male brains give rise in childhood to a compulsion to investigate everything, even against adult advice. This, in adulthood, can lead to such negative actions as the invention of nuclear weapons, but also to the positivity of finding cures for disease, although there doesn’t seem much hope for a solution to global warming…We women, however, being born to nurture and protect, are much more concerned about clearing up the mess men make, even if it’s global, having realised, of course, that we can’t actually stop them as it’s all in the genes. Or, rather, in the “Y” chromosome and the 8 week old foetus’s amazing transformation!


Is the menopause really useful?

“Yes” is the answer from new research emerging from a UK university this week, which describes this often welcome “change of life” as “possibly Nature’s way of defusing tensions between wives and mothers-in-law!”
The argument is simple, and the conclusion, although it may date back thousands of years to our earliest ancestors, is more than relevant in modern times, particularly in third world countries. Basically, the menopause prevents older women from having more children who may compete for a share of the extended family’s possibly limited resources. Also, it frees up mother-in-law to do the chores so that daughter-in-law can concentrate on raising her brood.
A biologist states that when several females breed within the same family group, each mouth to feed represents less for existing children, and less time to look after them. The younger woman, who is only related by marriage to the group, will be concerned and protective towards her own offspring, which may well cause tension between her and her mother-in-law. However, when the older woman is no longer able to breed, she is freed to help rear her grandchildren. The study would seem to explain why rapid ageing of the reproductive system happens when it does, and previous studies have shown that the presence of a grandmother increases a baby’s chance of survival. The grandmother, of course, benefits from this by ensuring the continuation of her genes. Isn’t Nature wonderful!