Nine in 10 toddlers aren’t active enough

New figures have revealed more than nine out of 10 toddlers are not doing enough exercise to stay healthy.

Just nine per cent of children aged between two and four are getting the advisable three hours of physical activity per day. The benefits of being active include improving bone health and supporting brain development, while also helping social and mental skills to develop.

Now experts are asking the Government to come up with new ways of supporting more exercise for children.

The British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health (BHFNC), based at Loughborough University, are asking politicians to include stipulations for more exercise in policies – encouraging young children at nursery and in their communities to be given more opportunities to stay active.

“This manifesto outlines how we can create an environment for our children that encourages them and stimulates them to be active,” Elaine McNish, director of the BHFNC, said. “This manifesto is a call to policy makers to ensure that early years settings are supported to create active environments.

“We know that active children are more likely to become active adults so it’s vitally important to get it right at the beginning to give children opportunities to play from a young age and develop a lifelong love of being active.”

With obesity proving an increasingly difficult problem to solve among adults, it is believed that encouraging activity from a very young age may help prevent weight problems as the children get older.

“We know that physical activity is an important component of a healthy lifestyle for everyone and the under-fives are no different,” Lisa Young, project manager for prevention and behaviour change at the British Heart Foundation, added.

“Developing a love of being active from a young age is important as we know active children become active adults, and active adults are healthier adults.”

Want a toned tummy? Laugh more!

It’s long been suggested that laughter is the best medicine, and now it seems the old adage is actually true. According to scientists, a good fit of the giggles burns as many calories as a brisk walk – that’s up to 120 per hour. Don’t feel you have to walk around laughing like a loon though, as even just some low-key chuckling can burn around 20 calories an hour.

If that’s not enough to encourage you to get your jolly on how about this – laughing also works out the internal obliques, the group of stomach muscles which are essential for the much-coveted six pack. In fact, a good giggle has been found to activate them even more than a set of stomach crunches.

If you want to get the most out of your mirth, you need to find something really funny. Only an intense form of uncontrollable laughter will burn 120 calories an hour, dubbed the sort which makes you roll on the floor unable to breathe. Hearty laughs can cut around 100 calories an hour – which is nothing to be sniffed at.

On top of all this, giggling improves blood flow in the body which means it’s a bit like having a cardiovascular workout.

The findings come courtesy of comedian Dr Helen Pilcher, who has a phD in biology. She was enlisted to complete a survey by comedy TV channel Dave, and she’s suggested that watching funny programs of an evening could improve your overall health.

“This report raises the joyous possibility that watching comedy shows can help you to shape your six pack by targeting internal oblique muscles more effectively than sit-ups,” she explained.

“I definitely felt more toned after watching hours of TV comedies.”

Helen was quick to add that it’s important to be careful about your other habits too – so you’ll only see the benefits of laughing “provided you don’t eat any pies while you watch” the hilarious shows.

More siblings = behavioural problems?

Growing up with siblings can teach you many lessons about sharing, looking after others and making sure you get to the biscuit tin first. But while there might be plenty of benefits to having brothers and sisters, new research now suggests people who come from a large family face problems at school.

According to a study from the University of Houston, children from big families are more likely to suffer behavioural issues and fall behind in class.

“Families face a substantial quantity-quality trade-off: increases in family size decrease parental investment, decrease childhood performance on cognitive tests and measures of social behaviour,” the research claims.

“Importantly, we find that these negative effects are not merely temporary disruptions following a birth but in fact persist throughout childhood.” The worrying thing is that the scientists think the issues could persist into early adulthood. If this is true, these early experiences could shape people for the rest of their lives.

“A lot of what happens in early childhood has lasting impacts,” co-author Dr Chinhui Juhn said.

“In many respects, this matters more than a lot of things that happen later in (a child’s) life.”

To draw their conclusions, experts looked at data from older children, investigating the time before and after their younger siblings were born.

The more children, the less ‘parental investment’, which is the time spent with individual children, the environment and the resources available, including money and books.

The study also scored mothers on the Armed Force Qualification Test, which reveals information about socioeconomic factors. Mothers with a low score are more likely to be in financial difficulty. The findings were not straightforward, as those with a mother with a median score were less affected by siblings. The study also neglected to investigate fathers.

In conclusion, it seemed that children from large families with financial difficulties suffered the most.

“If you are in a well-resourced family, some of these things don’t apply,” Dr Juhn summarized.

“When the second child comes along, there is less time and attention. But in an environment with more resources, it’s not as binding.”

Feel-good foods for winter

Getting up during the week to dark, frosty mornings isn’t the best way to ease yourself into the day. If your mood still doesn’t pick up as it gets lighter and the hours pass, you may want to incorporate these foods into your diet.

We begin with humble oatmeal, which is guaranteed to lift your spirits with its warm and creamy texture. Carbohydrates are known to boost the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain, but you need to do it the right way, so choose porridge over a pastry or toast first thing. It will boost your energy levels too and if you fancy jazzing it up a bit add banana for potassium which helps control your blood pressure, or maple syrup which has previously linked to cleansing the body – only in small doses though!

Or, why not push the boat out and add a sprinkling of dark chocolate. This may sound too naughty for an average Tuesday morning, but chocolate really does make you feel better thanks to, again, boosting serotonin levels. A previous study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that people who drank a chocolate drink once a day, equalling 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate, were calmer than those who didn’t. Calm = relaxed, which hopefully leads to happiness!

And what better to go with chocolate than nuts – Brazil nuts in particular in this case. They’re packed full of selenium, a mineral that can lead to depression, anxiety and irritability if the body lacks it. Snack on them throughout the day, or add them to your porridge, salad or yogurt – they’re so diverse there’s no excuse to avoid them (unless you’re allergenic of course).

If the last case applies to you, try out chickpeas. You can get them dried, have them in a curry or scoop up some hummus – any of these choices will see you reap the benefits of its vitamin B and magnesium content. These two components keep the nervous system at bay and ward off stress, leaving you feeling easy and breezy even during hectic times.

Why coconut oil is your skin’s best friend

Over the past few years, coconut oil has become popular in both the food and beauty worlds. While it’s a great cooking and baking ingredient, this oil is also perfect for your beauty routine, since it’s a natural product without any chemicals or additives. In tropical parts of the world, where coconuts are more common, using coconut oil on your body is an ancient practice, but for those of us who don’t live in those areas, we’re just getting the hang of this helpful oil now.

So why is it so beneficial for your beauty routine? Coconut oil contains good fats that provide us with energy and Vitamin E, which is essential to maintaining healthy and smooth skin. It also has the ability to penetrate your skin more than off-the-counter products because of the way it bonds with proteins in your body. Plus, there’s the added bonus of it being much more cost effective than handfuls of items you’d get from the beauty store.

Coconut oil is a perfect product for all your facial needs, starting as a moisturizer. Regular products contain a high amount of water, which initially makes you feel like your skin is moisturized, however when the water dries up, you’re left feeling tight and flaky again. Coconut oil, since it does contain plenty of saturated fats, provides deep moisture and helps strengthen tissue and remove dead cells on the skin’s surface. All you need to do is rub a small amount between your fingers and pat on to freshly washed skin, just as you would your normal moisturizer.

Coconut oil can also be used as a make-up remover, especially if you have a difficult time getting off waterproof mascara and eyeliner. Just dab a small amount on a cotton ball or cotton pad, and gently sweep off the make-up from your eyes, then rinse with warm water. The oil breaks down waxy make-up and gives you the added bonus of leaving your skin hydrated.

Speaking of taking off make-up, you can use coconut oil as a face wash and cleanser. Other products have a tendency to strip your skin of its natural oils, which in turn results in an overproduction of oil that can lead to acne and clogged pores. To make a cleanser, take a small amount of coconut oil and emulsify it between your fingers. Gently massage it into your skin in circular motions, until the impurities on your face are washed away, then pat your skin dry.

The list goes on for coconut oil uses, including lip balm, night cream, sunburn relief, and even a cheekbone highlighter to make a tired face look brighter. Just remember; a little goes a long way with coconut oil, so don’t go overboard with your new favourite product.

Sweet skincare: Beauty treats without the calories

Topping the list of most people’s New Year’s resolutions is to ditch the sugary snacks and swap them for healthy fruit and veg. But even if you’ve bid adieu to sweet treats in 2016, we have good news: you can use them in your skincare without putting on a single pound! Here we round up some of beauty’s most delicious ingredients that won’t affect your diet.

Chocolate

Why it’s good for you:

Dark chocolate is packed full of antioxidants, which fight free radicals. This even means it’s OK to eat it every now and again, but for those of you wanting to stay completely off the sweet stuff (we salute you!) it makes a great ingredient in beauty products.

How to use it:

You can make an at-home toning facemask by warming 50g of good-quality dark chocolate (at least 70 per cent cocoa) and adding to a blended mixture of banana and strawberries. Apply to your face and neck and relax for 20 minutes before washing off. We won’t judge you if you try and lick your face…

There are also tonnes of chocolate-scented products for beauty queens with a sweet tooth. We particularly love Christopher Courtney London’s rich Anti-Oxidant Chocolate Face Cream.

Honey

Why it’s good for you:

“For centuries honey has been one of nature’s best-kept beauty secrets,” CEW Award winning company Bee Good’s beekeeper, Simon Cavill, revealed to Cover Media. “Honey has so many benefits for the skin – in its purest form it’s suitable for all skin types and assists with perfecting, cleansing, and protecting the skin.”

How to use it:

Thanks to its antibacterial properties, honey can be applied to skin issues like acne in its purest form as a natural spot fighter. You can also mix it with coconut oil to make a gentle cleanser – simply rub in, avoiding the eyes, and wash off.

If you’re after honey-based products, look out for healing creams. For example, Calendulis Plus Cream uses Manuka honey to moisturize and help fight eczema and psoriasis.

Sugar

Why it’s good for you:

Sugar is a great base for homemade scrubs as it’s far gentler on skin than ready-made versions with abrasive beads. It’s also a natural humectant, which means it draws moisture into the skin, leaving it hydrated. It also contains glycolic acid, which promotes cell turnover, leaving you radiant.

How to use it:

As mentioned above, you can make your very own scrubs with sugar. Simply mix sugar and coconut oil in equal parts and apply to any rough areas, including the lips. Gently rub and wash off to reveal smoother skin.

Fizzy drink consumption = Organs wrapped in fat

We all know that snacking on bags of crisps and bars of chocolate washed down with a litre of something fizzy is no good for our waistline or insides. In fact, very few people need another study to tell them the dangers of a diet high in sugar and fat, but unfortunately it’s an area of growing concern as obesity continues to soar across the world.

This time, latest research highlights the damage fizzy drinks cause to our insides, with those consuming the sugary beverages daily finding their organs wrapped in fat.

Scientists at the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Massachusetts followed 1,000 middle-aged participants for six years to conclude their results. Everyone in the study was asked how often they drank fizzy drinks and underwent X-rays to determine how much visceral fat they had.

Visceral fat is harmful fat stored within the abdominal cavity, which means it lingers around a number of important internal organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines. As well as making people pile on the pounds, visceral fat plays an important part in diabetes, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

The results have been published in medical journal Circulation, with the team finding those who drank sugary or fizzy drinks every day put on nearly a litre in extra visceral fat over the six years. That’s 30 per cent more than those who never consumed the beverage.

Diet drinks didn’t yield the same results, which suggests it’s sugar that causes the problem. The team suggests that insulin resistance triggered by added sugar could be to blame for fat increase.

“There is evidence linking sugar-sweetened beverages with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” Dr Caroline Fox, who led the new study, explained.

“Our message to consumers is to follow the current dietary guidelines and to be mindful of how much sugar-sweetened beverages they drink. To policy makers, this study adds another piece of evidence to the growing body of research suggesting sugar-sweetened beverages may be harmful to our health.”

Talk of a sugar tax is ongoing in Britain, with the latest study poised to add even more weight to the argument to make sugary treats more expensive.

5 warning signs you’ve picked the wrong diet

When it comes to dieting, the choices appear to be endless; from Atkins to 5:2, paleo to Weight Watchers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of picking one at random.

But selecting any old meal plan could prove disastrous, setting off strange reactions in your body and making it more tempting than ever to quit and reach for that bar of chocolate.

Shaun T, host of American ABC show, ‘My Diet Is Better Than Yours’, has summed up the top five warning signs your diet isn’t right for you on Shape.com.

  1. You’re not enjoying it

Eating is supposed to be fun, and while eating kale might not be as exciting as crisps, you shouldn’t be dreading mealtimes. It’s important to find a diet that is sustainable in the long term, which means including at least some foods you look forward to eating.

  1. You’re bloated

This is a sure-fire sign the food your eating doesn’t agree with you. If you’re experiencing gut-related issues like pain and bloating, start cutting out certain foods to help eliminate the ones that set you off. If the symptoms don’t subside, see a doctor.

  1. You’re tired

Food is fuel! It should keep you energised and help you get through the day, including regular exercise. It’s normal to experience some tiredness after cutting our sugar and/or caffeine, but if the sluggishness persists, you haven’t found the right diet.

  1. You’re moody/hangry

If you’re constantly hungry and/or experiencing mood swings, it could be that the food or portions aren’t quite right for you. Diets should positively impact your life, not mean you snap at everyone around you!

  1. You aren’t losing weight

If you’ve stuck to the diet properly and been working out regularly for 10 days, you should start to see results. If you haven’t lost any weight in this timeframe, you need to reassess.

The most important thing is not to feel rushed when picking a diet. You might feel the pressure is on, but it’s much more effective to find a meal plan you can stick to long term than a crash diet that will end in failure. If you need help, seek the advice of a nutritionist.

Daydreaming = obesity, according to new research

If you find yourself easily distracted you need be careful – scientists have found that daydreaming could increase a person’s risk of obesity.

Apparently, those who get lost in their thoughts fail to recognize how much they’ve eaten, potentially resulting in them tucking into more food than they should.

Data on 38 children aged eight to 13, collected by the ‘Enhanced Nathan Kline Institute – Rockland Sample’, was analysed, with five of the children obese and six overweight. They were weighed and information about their eating habits was gathered, as well as brain scans being performed.

Three areas of the brain were identified, associated to eating habits and weight. The inferior parietal lobe is linked to inhibition and is capable of overriding an automatic response, like eating. The frontal pole is linked to impulsive behaviour, while the nucleus accumbens is focuses on the reward.

Looking at children who ate the most, the experiment found that the part of the brain which is linked to being impulsive was more important than the sector associated with inhibition. In contrast, kids who behaved in a way that kept them from food saw their area of the brain associated with inhibition play a stronger role than the impulsive side.

Researchers think the way to tackle this is to encourage children to practice mindfulness from a young age, with study co-author Dr Ronald Cowan, of Vanderbilt University, adding: “We think mindfulness could recalibrate the imbalance in the brain connections associated with childhood obesity.”

Study co-author, Dr Dr Kevin Niswender, added: “Adults, and especially children, are primed towards eating more. This is great from an evolutionary perspective – they need food to grow and survive.

“But in today’s world, full of readily available, highly advertised, energy dense foods, it is putting children at risk of obesity.”

The study was published in the journal Heliyon.

Breakthrough for back pain sufferers

Whether it’s just a twinge or so severe you can’t move, back pain is one of the biggest health issues going. Most of us have suffered with it at one point in our lives and it’s a big cause of sick leave, which is why a new study is being hailed as one of the most important in years.

It’s been found that regular exercise is the best way to help with back pain, whether that’s stretching, working on stamina or completing easy exercises to strength the muscles. In fact, people who followed an exercise regime were 35 per cent less likely to complain of the pain when tested over a year.

When people were also taught how to do things like lift heavy objects safely, the number rose to 45 per cent. That result is so staggering that experts have suggested if there was a drug which produced the same outcome, it would be pushed around the world.

Lower back pain effects four out of five people at some point, with most cases caused by wrenching the area while lifting something without bending the knees properly. Although the discomfort usually clears within a matter of weeks, some find it returns within a year.

A team at the University of Sydney investigated by checking out the findings of 23 surveys involving over 30,000 people. It was discovered that people who’d exercised managed to cut the likelihood of the pain hitting again within 12 months.

“The current evidence suggests that exercise alone or in combination with education is effective for preventing low back pain,” the authors of the study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, stated.

“Other interventions, including education alone, back belts, and shoe insoles, do not appear to prevent low back pain.”

It was found that maintaining a level of exercise was also important, so you can’t just do some stretches when you feel a twinge and leave it at that. A concerted effort to exercise the back is needed – if you’re in doubt about what you should be doing, consult an expert at your gym.