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Tips & tricks

Stretching or yoga exercises?

Doing some good stretching or yoga exercises once a week improves your balance and your mobility. It also makes you stronger and more flexible. Power stretching three times per week is enough – and you don’t even need to join a yoga class to do it.

How do you properly stretch?

If you run or train with weights, your muscles become stronger – but also shorter. This has a negative effect on your flexibility. That is why stretching is recommended: it stretches your muscles lengthwise. A good stretching session ensures you are more flexible, stronger and more mobile.

You can stretch dynamically or statically. Dynamic stretching is done while you are moving: when running, for example, do some heel-to-butt stretches or a sideways lunge. That works best before exercising.

After your exercise, or as a stand-alone exercise, static stretching is best: stand still and stretch, keeping one muscle stretched for a longish period – minimum 30 seconds. This not only trains that muscle, but also helps to bring your heart rate down and to relax your whole body.

Two man stretching before taking a run

Or is yoga the way to go?

The growing popularity of yoga might make you think that doing yoga exercises is the best option. But that is a personal choice: American scientists compared people who practiced hatha yoga, the best-known variant, three times per week, with people who did regular stretching exercises of the same intensity. They saw no significant difference between the two groups. The positive effects on their health were just as good in both groups of participants.

Blond woman doing yoga and stretching exercises

This is how you create a positive mindset

Woman expressing happiness and gratitude

Simple, but extremely effective. The way to create a positive mindset is to write down your personal highlights each day. Make this part of your evening routine – preferably writing on paper, for example a Gratitude Journal, and not a phone screen – or do it early in the morning, so you start the day on a positive note.

If you pause to think about positive things, you become calmer, happier and more sociable. In addition, people who write regularly in a gratitude journal have a stronger immune system, less high blood pressure, and fewer health issues. In itself, something to be grateful for.

This is how you create a positive mindset

Write down three things that you see as the highlights of your day. Be as detailed as possible, so don’t say: ”I had a good training session”, but instead: ”I was proud of the fact that I ran ten kilometers in an hour for the first time”. Robert Emmons, professor at the University of California, offers the following tips. Focus on people you are grateful for, not things. Research by his colleague Sonja Lyobomirsky has shown that gratitude for (acquiring) things does not really increase a positive mindset. Try to do a bit more, and spend a moment on what it would have meant to you if you had not experienced these highlights. And: focus on the surprising highlights. They stay with you for longer.

Woman sitting in bed writing in a gratitude journal to work on a positive mindset

Focus on positivity

If you train yourself to do this, you will benefit at many levels. You learn to focus on the positive aspects of your life, which makes us, says Emmons, more present in it. Negative emotions are neutralized. And there’s more: expressing gratitude helps to counter feelings of depression, British research has shown. The University of Manchester established that gratitude is an important predictor of general well-being. Grateful people have more self-confidence, and can handle stress better. Emmons did his research on over a thousand people who kept a gratitude journal, and found that they had fewer health issues, less high blood pressure and took better care of themselves. They exercised more frequently and slept better. How exactly you write down your gratitude does not make much difference. You can opt for a diary, a digital journal – Day One is nice and user friendly – or a special Gratitude Book, like the one from Ernst-Jan Pfauth 34 , a ”journal for a satisfied life”.

Woman expressing happiness and gratitude

Take a focus hour – the pomodoro method

Focus

For this challenge (the pomodoro method) you just need two things: a kitchen timer and an hour of your time. Set your timer and work for one hour without a break at the most important thing that you have to do that day.

Don’t let yourself be distracted: switch off your notifications – if they were not already off – pause your email and set your phone to Do not Disturb. You will find that you achieve more in this hour than in the whole of the rest of the day.

The pomodoro method

An important thinker behind this method of focusing is the Italian Francesco Cirillo. He is the man behind the Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro means tomato in Italian, but this technique has nothing to do with eating – the kitchen timer which he was using when he made this discovery just happened to be shaped like a tomato.

Lots of tomatoes

He discovered that the ideal time to focus for was 25 minutes, and decided to split up everything he needed to do into tomatoes: uninterrupted periods of 30 minutes. 25 minutes working on a single task, five minutes pause.

During the five minutes don’t do anything complicated, but give your brain the time to process everything you just did in the last 25 minutes.

Don’t give in to a stimulus

The approach in a nutshell: first write down on a piece of paper the things you want to do today, and sort them by priority. Divide the tasks up into tomatoes, units of half an hour in length. If you think you need three hours to prepare a presentation, then write down ”six tomatoes”. Set your timer and get started.

Alarmclock on a table outside

An important rule is: a tomato is indivisible. Make sure that you are not distracted: switch off notifications, set your phone to do not disturb, suspend the Inbox for your email (if you have Gmail, you can do that, for example using Boomerang). You will notice that there will still be interruptions. These may come from you (if you need to go to the toilet, or get thirsty) or may be external: someone standing by your desk, someone who gets through on the phone or a real emergency.

For internal interruptions Cirillo says: mark an apostrophe on your time sheet and try to focus even better until the end of the 25 minutes (because a pomodoro is indivisible). So you do not ignore the stimulus, but you do not give in to it. Did you just think of something that needs to be done urgently? Note it under the heading ”unplanned and urgent”.

For external interruptions you tell the caller that you will call back within half an hour (so after the end of your pomodoro!), make a mark on your time sheet, and note it again under ”unplanned and urgent”, with the new deadline behind it. Email can always wait for half an hour, and genuine emergencies tend, it appears, to only arise very rarely.

Once you have completed your half hour, put a tick behind that task. If it is complete, then look at how many pomodoros your work took, how many interruptions you had, and what has been added to your to-do list. You will learn a lot.

Make a list of priorities

focus

If you really want something to happen, you need to make it important to yourself. Writing it down works. Write down in the evening before you go to sleep what you think are the most important points – actions, but also good intentions or values – for the next day. Or make writing a list of priorities part of your morning routine.

What is most important to you?

Ideally, you write down in the evening what are the most important points for you the next day. These might be practical actions – reply to an important email, read something – but also may be more value-driven intentions.

List in front of a computer

If you do it in the evening, you clear out your head, which means you can sleep more peacefully. If you are too tired to do it, then do it first thing in the morning, as part of your morning routine. That sets the tone for the day.

Please note: it is not about making a to-do list, but a priority list. What you think it is important to do. Canadian research has shown that people who stop and think about their own personal values every day are happier than people who spend most of their time on whatever life brings their way from day to day.

Don’t make your list of priorities too long, look at it every morning, and stick to it. If you deal with the things you think are most important, every extra action then is a pure bonus.

The ”positive no”

Keep the list short. Only include in it the things that you feel make a difference. It is good to be aware that for everything that you put on your priority list there are a thousand things that are not on there.

Consciously or unconsciously you say no to things that you do not take any further or invest any energy in, which creates space for those things that are important to you. This concept has become known as the ”positive no”. This video explains it further.

Saying no is not negative, it creates space for the things that matter. Or as businessman Warren Buffett said: ”I have only said yes five times in my life, and now I’m a billionaire.”

The benefits of exercising

Fitness Chick

Nothing beats the benefits of exercising. Running, walking, cycling, even gardening – it’s good for your body, your heart and your head. Exercise helps protect you against cardiovascular diseases, and can generate a huge feeling of happiness. The runner’s high is not a fairy tale.

Less stress and a better memory

When you exercise, endorphins are released, the neurotransmitters whose first job is to protect you against pain, but which can also give you a feeling of euphoria.

Woman feeling energised and happy

Exercising reduces stress and improves your memory, although the effects are temporary: research on the long-term effects of exercise on your brain showed that the most positive effects were seen in people who had exercised the day of the test, and not just some time in the previous four weeks.

And also: losing weight!

American research involving more than 2,000 men aged between 22 and 55 demonstrated the link between exercise and weight loss. The results only supported one logical interpretation: the men who exercised a lot, lost weight, the men who only exercised a little, gained weight.

Black and white measuring tape

Good advice, based on this research: middle-aged men need to be actively exercising for forty-five minutes to one hour per day in order to lose weight.

Other American research also took a look at women. In this case, men and women aged between 18 and 30 were tracked, and checked again after 2, 5, 7, 10 and 15 years. Here again, the result was clear, that half an hour’s walking each day had a positive effect on your weight. The researchers also noted something else: the heaviest participants in the research benefited more from the walking than the lighter ones.

Many participants gained weight over the course of the fifteen years, but those who continued actively to walk gained less then the less active people.

Cardiovascular diseases

It has been proven many times that exercise is good for your heart.

An important American research study involving 12,516 male alumni of Harvard University 9 shows that if you burn roughly an extra 1,000 calories per week doing exercise this demonstrably reduces your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Anyone who burns off 2,000 calories a week in training, also reduces their risk of high blood pressure and a heart attack.

Ensure you get a good night’s rest

Sleep

Two things are necessary for a good night’s rest: switch off all screens in good time beforehand – at a minimum your phone and your computer – and make sure you allow yourself eight hours’ sleep. Adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep.

For a long time, people believed that it was the blue light of screen exposure that disrupted production of the melatonin sleep hormone. Things actually appear to be more complicated than that: it depends on what are you doing on-screen. Stimulation from your email, apps and social media can keep you awake, while a relaxing TV program can send you right to sleep.

Person using the remote control to turn on the tv

Good night’s rest is vital

Research involving nearly 400,000 people in the UK, found at the end of 2019 24 that people who sleep well have a lower body mass index (BMI), smoke less and exercise more. Sleeping well keeps you fit.

The Trimbos-institute prescribes seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Less is not good, but neither is more: sleeping too much or too little is related to obesity, diabetes, cancer, strokes and depression. According to Trimbos it is mainly women, young people, people with an immigrant background and the elderly who sleep poorly. For older people there is a proven cause: as you get older, your biological clock works less efficiently which means among other things, you sleep less well.

Is blue light the bad guy?

Blue light was also regarded for a long time as an important cause of sleep problems. The glow from mobile phones and tablets was said to disrupt the production of melatonin, the hormone that takes care of your sleep-wake cycle. Anyone who sits looking at their phone until late at night can expect to fall asleep less quickly.

However, closer research by the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has shown that the finger was pointed too quickly at blue light as the bad guy. Sleep problems are generally not caused by the blue light – which normally is not bright enough to wreak havoc on hormone management – but rather by the information that is relayed on the screens which the RIVM refers to as ”cognitive load”.

Young man sitting in bed at night looking at his laptop

Your brain just needs a little time to relax after all the stimulation that you receive if you are sitting interacting with your phone.

Another reason that the use of phones can lead to a lack of sleep is ”time displacement”: the screens are so addictive that you blindly spend longer sitting staring at your phone than you really meant to, which means you go to sleep later.

For TV viewers, the researchers found that the opposite was true: anyone watching TV just before going to bed actually seemed to get a better night’s sleep. Watching TV, they suspect, is just much more relaxing than apps – but don’t go and binge watch a cliffhanger series.

The benefits of drinking water

Woman drinking a glass of water to hydrate

The benefits of drinking water are endless. But very often we drink too little or too late – by the time you are thirsty you should already have picked up the glass. You need water to transport nutrients and to expel waste matter from your body. Drinking water also helps to avoid gaining weight and headaches.

Coffee, as long as you drink less than five cups per day, will not hurt you. Coffee can however become addictive, and can keep you awake longer at night. So every now and then, try to drink no coffee at all.

What are the benefits of drinking water?

Our bodies are more than half water, our brains are as much as seventy percent. Your management of fluids is therefore extremely important.

Not only is water necessary to keep your systems and organs functioning, but drinking a lot of water also works if you want to lose weight. You feel less hungry, and drink less sugary drinks.

In addition, drinking water stimulates your metabolism. Water is also vital for your brain: if you don’t drink enough you will function worse, and you can get horrific headaches. Your brain consumes a lot more water than you think! Scientists in Maastricht researched whether drinking water helped for migraines, and it did. Patients suffered from migraines for a shorter duration, and the pain itself was less bad.

Water glass with ice

And how about coffee?

In the Netherlands most people drink a huge amount of coffee. We drink on average four cups per day, men slightly more than women, and we tend to drink a bit more as we get older. In itself that is not a problem: up to five cups of coffee per day will not harm you.

Coffee can be addictive: coffee increases your level of dopamine – just like chocolate does – making you feel good.

In addition, caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors, an important substance that makes us feel sleepy and calms us. As the day advances, the effect of adenosine increases, making you feel more tired.

If you then drink a cup of coffee, you become alert again. That can be very effective, but if you do this too late in the day, you will disturb your natural night’s sleep. You do not start to feel tired naturally for no reason: if you suppress these feelings you are not giving your body the chance to rest. This principle also becomes addictive: you constantly need more coffee in order to achieve the same level of alertness.

If you cut coffee altogether, you will notice some withdrawal symptoms: headaches, lower energy or bad temper. But these symptoms are temporary. After two to nine days your body starts to work properly again – this time running on its own power.

Empty cup of coffee on a table outside