For many people, Christmas is a time for making merry and enjoying festive meals with friends and family. Over this period, we might eat and drink more than we normally do, so it’s no surprise that many of us experience some form of indigestion as a result. The condition is very common, usually mild, and will go away of its own accord.
What is indigestion?
Indigestion (dyspepsia) is the name given to a range of symptoms that are usually experienced after eating and drinking. There may be pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen, or there could be a painful burning sensation behind your breastbone (heartburn). Your stomach produces acid naturally during the digestion process. Heartburn is caused by this acid passing from your stomach into your gullet (oesophagus) – this is called acid reflux. You could have both dyspepsia and heartburn at the same time, or just one of them. Other associated symptoms include feeling very full or bloated, feeling nauseous, belching or passing wind, or regurgitating bitter-tasting liquids or food into your mouth.
Whether you experienced indigestion last Christmas and want to avoid it again, or you get regular symptoms, there are lots of things you can do to help yourself. Follow our guide to the 10 lifestyle changes that could eliminate your indigestion in the long term, or minimise its impact on your life.
1 Eat mindfully
Modern life is busy and we’re always rushing around to fit everything in, especially at Christmas! But it’s important to slow down and make the time to eat your meals mindfully. This means that you’re fully focused on your food, and that you’re aware of the different flavours and textures – doing this will help you to consciously slow down. Aim for at least 20 minutes if possible. Remember to chew each mouthful of food thoroughly before swallowing for the best chance of good digestion.
2 Have smaller meals
Eating large, heavy meals can easily overload your digestive system. This Christmas, try to reduce your portion sizes, especially for the main festive lunch. This will also help if you need to lose weight and it should be easier to do at more normal times of the year. From Boxing Day onwards, take advange of leftovers to have smaller meals.
3 Get the timing right
If you work long hours and don’t usually eat your main meal until late in the evening, your food won’t be digested by the time you go to bed. Whenever possible, try eating your main meal at lunchtime instead which will give your digestive system a head start. If that’s not feasible, aim to have eaten at least two to three hours before bedtime.
4 Keep a diary
Indigestion affects people in different ways, and the triggers vary as well. It’s a good idea to keep a diary of what you eat and drink, noting down anything that seems to set off your indigestion or makes it worse. You could also record any instances where something has helped to lessen your symptoms, for example, eating earlier in the evening, eating more slowly, or having smaller meals.
5 Cut back on fizzy drinks, coffee and alcohol
Fizzy drinks are a definite no-no if you suffer with indigestion because they instantly make you feel bloated. It’s also known that coffee can make indigestion worse, so try alternating between coffee, herbal tea or plain water. The same is true if you regularly binge-drink alcohol in a single session because it increases the acid in your stomach; try to cut back so that you only drink alcohol moderately.
6 Avoid spicy, rich or fatty foods
Foods that are greasy or high in fat stay around in the digestive system for longer because they are more difficult for the body to digest. For this reason, it’s better to eat lean meat and fish, and to grill rather than fry when cooking at home. Many people who suffer with heartburn find that spicy foods are a trigger, while others can eat them without any problems. That’s why it’s useful to find out what your own triggers are.
The prevalence of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) increases with age (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence)
7 Maintain a healthy weight
Being very overweight or obese can cause havoc with your digestion because the excess fat around your belly area puts pressure on your stomach, which can cause heartburn. This is particularly noticeable after a large meal. Losing weight will improve your overall health, not just your digestion, easing the strain on your joints and improving your circulation.
8 Reduce stress
You may not realise it but your digestive system reacts when you’re experiencing stress or anxiety. That’s why good mental health aids good digestion and why reducing stress as much as possible is key. If you’re struggling, try using an app for meditation and mindfulness, for 10 minutes a day. This can help you manage stress more effectively so that it has less impact on your digestion and your health overall.
9 Avoid anti-inflammatory painkillers
If you have indigestion regularly, it could be caused by taking some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, which can affect your digestion. Ask your pharmacist for advice about alternative painkillers. Remember, never stop taking prescribed medication unless a GP, pharmacist or other qualified healthcare professional advises you to do so.
10 Stop smoking
If you’re a smoker and you regularly suffer with indigestion, particularly acid reflux, it’s highly likely that the two things are connected. Smoking is known to weaken the muscular valve at the end of the oesophagus, letting stomach acid travel the wrong way back up. Ask your pharmacist about the support available to stop smoking and this could solve your indigestion problems for good!
How your pharmacy can help
There’s usually no need to see a GP if you have indigestion, but you can get expert help on dealing with the symptoms by visiting your local pharmacy. The qualified staff there can offer advice and support, including how to incorporate lifestyle changes to achieve long-term relief from indigestion. In addition, they can check whether any medication you’re currently taking could be contributing to the problem.
Pharmacy staff can also advise whether taking over-the-counter medication such as antacids would help you. Antacids are designed to neutralise stomach acid to relieve pain from indigestion and heartburn. Although they will work for a few hours, they will not resolve the cause of your indigestion and should not be taken regularly. If you’re pregnant, indigestion is very common and the pharmacist can suggest the best medication to alleviate these painful symptoms during pregnancy.
You should see your GP if you’re having to rely on antacids for a long period, especially if you keep getting heartburn; this is called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and it’s treated differently to ordinary indigestion.
No matter what age you are, at some stage you’re going to slip or fall. Stumbling in the playground as a child; misjudging the kerb after a few drinks as a twenty something; sliding on an icy patch of pavement as a pensioner – we’re all destined to fall at one time or another. However, the elderly are at particular risk, with around half age 80 and over falling at least once a year. And it’s not just outside hazards to watch out for – your home also poses many problems, with one in four over 65s falling down the stairs, and over 230,000 people being injured in the bathroom annually.
Luckily there are many things you can do to reduce the risk, from eating right and exercising more, to decluttering your home and even checking in with your pharmacy on whether the medication you may be taking could be a contributing factor.
First things first – it’s time to talk feet, being sure to check on their overall condition. From bunions or corns to calluses and complications from diabetes, any foot-related condition can well make it uncomfortable to walk – meaning you won’t be as steady on your feet as you should be. The statistics are there to prove it; with one survey showing that foot pain was associated with a 62% increase of recurrent falls. With this in mind look after your feet, never ignoring ingrown toenails or any other type of foot issue, visiting your podiatrist on a regular basis to make sure they’re in tip-top shape. They’re also on hand to advise on the right type of shoes to fit you; again helping reduce the risk of falling. Speak to them about the shoes you wear both in and outside of the home, asking about shoes with good grip and rubber soles to help keep you steady when out and about.
Help is at hand
Now might also be the time to consider asking for help if it’s needed. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, so if you feel unsteady walking speak to your local pharmacy for advice on walking aids such as sticks or frames. While you’re there, it’s also worth discussing any prescription medication you’re on that may affect your balance; due to you mixing it with other medicines or even alcohol. Now’s also the time to think about getting your eyesight and hearing checked, both of which will also affect your balance and increase your risk of taking a fall.
You know you’ve got to eat well for a healthy heart and to reduce your blood pressure – but did you know what you eat affects your balance and posture, too? Besides the fact you should eat three meals a day to stop you feeling light-headed and tired – contributing to your risk of falling – good nutrition also reduces the risk of muscle loss and fraility. Be sure to eat a healthy diet that looks after your bones, choosing good sources of calcium such as milk, cheese and other dairy foods. Protein such as eggs or lean meat also keeps your bones strong, and add a good balance of carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables and foods containing vitamin D – also key for strong bones. Lamb’s liver, oily fish, and yoghurts and bread with added vitamin D are all great sources to turn to.
Yes, we’re on at you to exercise again, but studies have proven it helps prevent falls by strengthening muscles as well as improving flexibility and balance. Those feet were made for walking, so keep them moving as much as you can, even rotating your ankles when sitting to keep them from stiffening. Other forms of low impact exercise to enjoy that won’t have too much impact on your joints include swimming, stretching or even walking on tip toes, providing you’re somewhere safe and in no danger of falling. You should also make a note to keep an eye on your posture, as this also has an impact on your centre of gravity leading to poor balance. Try your very best to be aware of your posture as much as you can, both when standing and sitting.
Out and about
With winter comes poor weather, and with it rain, wind, fog, ice and snow; all of which can also see you taking a tumble. There are times when it’s much safer to not venture outside, taking advantage of home delivery shopping or reaching out to friends and family for help. However, there are many health benefits to getting out in the open air, so long as you’re careful and think about how you can safely reach your destination. Avoid rushing and allow plenty of time, planning the right route that’s clearly gritted and well-lit. Wear gloves as opposed to putting your hands in your pockets, and don’t carry too much shopping so you’ve a hand free should you start to feel yourself slip. You could even plan ahead a few days and venture out when the weather’s at its mildest, or choose a time of day when the temperature isn’t going to create more ice on the ground. Look out for other hazards too, from discarded litter or fallen leaves to uneven pavements and potholes.
Home sweet home
You may think your home is free from issues when it comes to falling, but unfortunately that’s not the case, with one survey showing that 29% of adults have tripped over in their house or garden. Now’s the time to assess each room and see where those accidents could happen, asking a friend or relative to stop by and help in case they see things you might not have necessarily picked up on otherwise. Make sure all areas of the floor or stairs are clutter-free – and that your banisters are securely fixed in place. Kitchen appliances and pots and pans should be kept within easy reach so no stretching or climbing is needed, and any spills immediately cleared up, no matter how small they may seem. When it comes to your living room make sure rugs aren’t frayed or bundled up and that any leads for your TV are out of harm’s way. Your bedroom floor should be kept free from clothes or other possessions, looking around for trailing items such as loose bedding – and consider low lighting should you need to use the loo during the night. Finally, take a look at your bathroom, investing in bathmats to reduce slipping on the floor, and investing in grab bars or railings so you can get in and out of the bath or shower with ease.
The brain is an incredible, hardworking organ in your body. It’s responsible for unconscious functions such as digestion, breathing and heartbeat; for conscious functions such as movement, balance and speech; and for behaviour, emotions, senses and thinking.
Thinking skills are hugely important to us as human beings. They include memory and learning; reasoning, decision-making and problem-solving; language, vocabulary and understanding speech; planning and organising; and recognising faces, sounds and smells.
Normal cognitive ageing begins very gradually in our twenties and continues through to later life. During this natural process, there is only a small decline in thinking skills. Knowledge and vocabulary is unaffected, but it can take longer to process information, and short-term memory may not be as reliable. Some people experience more than the normal cognitive ageing with more significant changes in thinking skills that can lead to dementia.
But it’s a myth that a decline in how you think is inevitable as you get older. It’s important to realise that you have some control over what happens to your brain over time because 75% of normal cognitive ageing is down to your lifestyle. You can protect your thinking skills by making certain changes in your life and by exercising your brain.
Get plenty of sleep
Having between 7 and 8 hours of uninterrupted quality sleep regularly is vital for your overall health, including your brain. This will help you to maintain cognitive ability in later life. You may not realise how a lack of sleep affects the brain. New mothers and menopausal women, who are both deprived of sleep, often suffer from ‘brain fog’. In the same way, if you are regularly tired, you may find it difficult to focus on tasks, follow instructions or to concentrate generally.
If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, try getting into a regular bedtime routine, perhaps by reading a book, taking a bath or having a hot drink. For optimum sleep, your bedroom should be clutter-free, and not too hot or too cold. The area should be restful so make sure all devices are turned off. Use a blackout blind with thick lined curtains to avoid being woken by early morning light or illumination from the street. If this doesn’t improve your sleep, try taking short naps during the day if it’s practical to do so and you find it helps.
The average adult brain contains around 100 billion brain cells, and each one is connected to around 1,000 others (Age UK)
Being physically active and purposefully moving more will work wonders for your brain health. This is because aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping and your circulation going will ensure an efficient blood flow to the brain with more nutrients and oxygen. Adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week, and be active every day. In addition, on at least two days a week, you should do some resistance-type exercises to keep your muscles, bones and joints strong.
It’s important to find a physical activity that you really enjoy and can build into your daily or weekly routine. From cycling, running, swimming and walking, through to racquet sports, dance, Zumba and jui-jitsu, there’s something to appeal to everyone. If you haven’t exercised for a long time, take it slowly and build up your fitness levels. If you’re obese, check with your GP or local pharmacy before you start exercising.
It’s now known that there’s a definite link between what you eat and your brain processes, including thinking skills. A healthy, balanced diet is key: it should be low in saturated fats and high in fruit and vegetables, including your ‘5 a day’. Some very specific nutrients have been linked with improved cognitive function in later life. These are omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids, vitamins B, D and E, and choline.
You can get these nutrients naturally through your diet, if you add some of these specific foods to your meals: oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel; nuts and seeds, such as flaxseed and walnuts; citrus fruits and berries; eggs, milk and dairy products; oats; mushrooms; leafy green vegetables; and olive oil. You could also start the day with a fortified breakfast cereal.
Research shows that smoking speeds up the ageing of the brain, so if you currently smoke, make it your top priority to quit. If you succeed, over time, there can be a partial reversal of damage to the brain. This means there’s no time like the present! Obviously, quitting will have huge benefits for your whole wellbeing too.
If you’ve decided you want to stop smoking, have a chat to the team at your friendly local pharmacy. They can offer invaluable advice and support, and help you to quit for good through nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). They can also advise which NRT products are best for you as an individual, depending on your overall health. The service is completely free and with the help of the pharmacy team, you’re three times as likely to quit smoking for good.
The changes in our thinking skills as we age are down to our genes (25%) and our lifestyles (75%) (Age UK)
Give your brain a workout
In addition to lifestyle changes, try to keep your brain active and challenged on a daily basis. Exercise your mind in different ways and your memory will improve as a result. However, the evidence for ‘brain training’ activities in improving cognitive function is currently inconclusive. It’s fine to do a daily brain game, especially if you enjoy it, but that shouldn’t be all you do to protect your thinking skills.
The best activities that will challenge your brain involve both physical exercise and mental stimulation. It’s even better if it involves some form of social interaction because that improves your mental wellbeing too.
How about a weekly dance class where you need balance and coordination, and learn specific routines? Or you could join a choir where you have to learn the words to songs or pieces, and sometimes need to read music.
10 ACTIVITIES TO STAY MENTALLY SHARP
1 Use a traditional map instead of GPS when you drive or walk somewhere new.
2 Read more novels, especially long ones, that require you to keep track of the plot and characters.
3 When calculating something, use mental maths or paper and pencil instead of a calculator.
4 Try knitting or crochet, following a pattern to complete a particular item.
5 Learn a new language, preferably in a class where you can meet and converse with other people.
6 Complete a daily crossword, Sudoku or logic puzzle.
7 Play chess regularly or card games such as bridge.
8 Get creative by building a model, learning to paint or trying out new recipes.
9 Try a weekly yoga class to improve your balance, coordination and concentration.
10 Have a go at orienteering, which incorporates physical exercise and map-reading. :
The nights are drawing in and the temperature’s dropping. It can mean only one thing – winter’s on its way. While for some the thought of nights curled up on the couch is all too appealing, for others it causes a host of issues, from the worry over rising energy bills to a lack of social interaction with the outside world leading to loneliness and a decline in mental health. Then there are the physical complications the colder months bring with it. As we age our immune systems become weaker, meaning it’s harder to fight off viruses; not to mention the hazards the outside world poses – think icy conditions leading to slips and falls, and freezing temperatures putting a strain on your lungs and overall health. It’s therefore essential you’re prepared for all situations, to ensure both body and mind aren’t negatively affected by the season. It’s all in the planning…
Energy prices are shocking, but with some alarming statistics showing that back in December 2022 over 1,000 people died due to cold homes, it’s now more important than ever to think of how you can best stay warm this winter. For a start, get your boiler serviced regularly – yes, it may mean you have to fork out a lump sum first off, but in the long run it’ll save you money thanks to it working more efficiently. The same applies to your radiators, bleeding them to make sure no air’s become trapped; thereby maximising their performance. Speaking of radiators, you should also make sure they’re not blocked by any furniture, making your room easy to heat, and remember to keep curtains open by day to let in light (and potential warmth); only closing when the sun sets. Then there are the many other ways you can keep warm during the winter months, from extra layers of clothing to hand warmers, electric blankets and hot water bottles.
You are what you eat
When it’s freezing outside the last thing you want to eat is a salad, but on the other hand you also need to be careful you aren’t filling up with stodgy comfort food that does more harm than good. Reaching for your phone for a takeaway or popping convenience food in the oven may seem like a good idea during winter, however it’s far from beneficial for your health, with one study revealing some takeaway pizzas contain up to three times the recommended daily intake of salt; known to be a major cause of elevated blood pressure. Instead, now’s the time to stockpile your freezer with your own healthy versions of your favourite comfort foods, with Bolognese, chilli con carne and cottage pie all made with five per cent fat beef mince, buying the cheaper frozen variety to make your budget stretch a little further. You can also make some hearty soups and stews created using reduced priced finds from your local supermarket at the end of the day. Because we all love a yellow stickered bargain!
I like to move it
Sure, it’s cold outside, but that doesn’t mean you should reach for the TV remote and a blanket, before seeing out the next few weeks slumped on the sofa. In fact, there are many health benefits for exercising during winter, with it being proven to boost your immunity, elevate your mood, improve your heart’s health and more. Braving the plummeting temperature still putting you off? Exercise inside instead – the last thing anyone wants is to slip or trip outside and cause unnecessary injuries. You only have to turn on the internet and type ‘indoor exercises’ on your search engine for over 62 million results to ping up, from workouts on well-known video sharing websites to stretching, walking from room to room or even sitting down exercises if you can’t stand for too long. Just be sure to speak to your local pharmacy before taking on any new exercise routine – even if it’s indoors – to be sure you’re fit and healthy enough to do so.
Around 34% of adults who cut back on heating their home during winter say it negatively affects their health or well-being (ONS)
Don’t worry, be happy
It’s dark when you wake up, and it’s dark before you’ve even started making dinner; meaning it’s understandable that for many those shorter daylight hours can have an impact on your mood and lethargy. What’s more, a lack of sunlight means you’re most likely not getting the right amount of vitamin D; which can also contribute to a low mood, so it’s important you head down to your local pharmacy for advice on any vitamins or supplements you need to keep your physical and mental health in the best possible state. Your local pharmacist should also be able to advise other ways to elevate your mood during the winter months, from simple solutions such as being as active as possibly during daylight hours, to nutritional advice and more. You should also be sure to have a strong network of friends and family to stay in regular contact with – and, if you don’t, again ask your independent pharmacy for charities or local support groups to prevent you from feeling isolated. Finally, be sure to keep your mind active with a hobby or task you can enjoy at home. Buy the books you’ve been meaning to order; do a jigsaw, knit or take up some crafting – you can even download some free mind game apps for your tablet to keep yourself busy.
Another essential tip for looking after yourself throughout the winter is to stock up on medication, should you get struck down by any of those nasty bugs that rear their ugly heads as the weather takes a turn for the worse. If you’re aged 65 or above – or have a certain long-term health condition – you’re most likely eligible for a free flu jab – and it might also be wise to check whether you need another Covid booster. Now’s the time to visit your local pharmacy for pain relief tablets such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, as well as antihistamines to relieve runny noses and other essentials such as tissues and a thermometer. Your pharmacist is also qualified to offer advice on a range of minor illnesses, such as coughs, colds, sore throats, tummy trouble and aches and pains, so chat to them before automatically calling your GP for an appointment if feeling under the weather. And don’t forget about always checking you have enough of any prescription medication you take on a regular basis.
In modern life, we do a lot of sitting down: at our desks while working on computers, when driving to and from work, and on the sofa watching TV. The human body was not designed to sit for hours on end, so it’s not surprising that this sedentary activity can lead to back pain.
Back pain is very common, especially in the lower back (known as lumbago). Sometimes it’s not clear what has caused the pain, but often it’s a result of a pulled muscle (strain) when moving awkwardly such as overstretching or twisting; it can also happen when lifting something heavy, sitting in the same position for too long, or suddenly doing much more physical activity than you normally do. The pain can be a dull ache, a stabbing sensation, or spasms that come and go in waves.
Around 8 million adults in the UK suffer with chronic pain, including back pain (British Pain Society)
Persistent minor pain or niggles in your back shouldn’t be ignored. They are a sign that something’s not quite right. At the same time, lower back pain is not usually serious and tends to settle down within a few weeks. Self-care in the early stages really helps to aid recovery so follow our tips for looking after your back.
Your spine is strong, supporting your body and allowing you to move about, but is also flexible enough for you to bend. In previous decades, people were told to rest when they had backache. But this is now known to be incorrect; in fact, the spine needs movement to help it to recover from any issues. You should avoid spending long periods of time lying down as this is not likely to make the pain better and could even do the opposite. Instead, stay active and try to continue with your day-to-day routine. In particular, physical activities such as swimming, cycling, walking, Pilates and yoga can help reduce the pain levels.
Improve your posture
Getting your posture right is vital to avoid back pain and to ease it as you recover. Your spine has a natural ‘S’ shape and in this position, your body is balanced with your weight and gravity evenly distributed. When sitting, the aim is to maintain the ‘S’ shape. You can do this by sitting up straight and consciously not slouching. This is particularly important when sitting at a desk. The chair should be adjustable and supportive with a backrest. Make sure you sit back in the chair, not on the edge, and move it closer to the desk to avoid overstretching. If the chair does not have lumbar support, placing a small rolled-up towel at the bottom of your back will have a similar effect.
Strengthen your back
Like any muscle, the ones in your back need to be exercised regularly to strengthen and support them. Start with gentle stretches that target your core muscles. There is an excellent video on the NHS website showing simple stretches for your back that are easy to build into your daily routine (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/back-pain/). There are also plenty of other free videos online. If your back pain gets worse while doing these exercises, you should visit your local pharmacy or see your GP for further advice.
You could also add physical activities to your regular exercise that are particularly good for strengthening your back. These include walking, swimming and cycling. Consider taking classes in yoga and Pilates as they can be very beneficial for your back and will help to improve your balance and posture. Although there are videos online, it’s worth going to a course of classes first to ensure you’re positioning your body correctly.
Maintain a healthy weight
If you’re very overweight or obese, carrying those extra pounds will put a great deal of pressure on your joints and muscles, leading to various aches and pains including backache. In fact, excess fat, especially in the abdominal area, puts your spine out of balance and pulls the curve of the lower back forward.
The solution is to gradually lose weight by eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising more where possible. Not only will your backache be eased, your whole body will thank you for it! Visit the NHS Eat Well website for advice about healthy eating (https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/). If you’re obese, check with your GP or local pharmacy before starting any new physical activities. It’s important to build up your fitness levels slowly – doing too much, too quickly, could cause an injury.
Use pain relief
When you have back pain you don’t have to just grin and bear it. Pharmacological intervention is possible. Speak to your local pharmacist to determine the best ones for you.
Check with your local pharmacy if you’re unsure what kind of over-the-counter medication you should be taking.
You can also get some temporary relief for backache by using a hot water bottle to relieve stiffness and spasms, and a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel to reduce pain and swelling. Heat and ice packs can also be bought from your pharmacy.
Back pain is the largest single cause of disability in the UK (National Low Back Pain and Radicular Pain Pathway)
5 ways to avoid back pain
1 Before lifting anything, keep your back straight and bend your hips and knees; lift the object by straightening your legs.
2 When sitting at a desk, stand up and take regular breaks as often as possible throughout the day and walk about for a minute or two.
3 Try a standing desk, instead of a traditional sitting desk, if you’re struggling with stiffness and pain in your back.
4 Change your mattress or whole bed if it’s more than 8 to 10 years old and it’s no longer comfortable.
5 Reduce any tension in your back by using relaxation techniques such as breathing, meditation and mindfulness.
How your local pharmacy can help
If you have sudden back pain, your first thought may be to visit your GP. But unless the pain is severe and it’s stopping you from sleeping and doing your day-to-day activities, you can get all the help you need from your local pharmacy. As a qualified medical professional, the pharmacist will ask you about your symptoms, how long you’ve had them for, and the level of pain you’re experiencing. They can offer advice about which painkillers are best for you and the kind of exercises and stretches that might help you. They may also suggest some topical pain relief gel that can be rubbed into the affected area of your back.
There are a few more serious conditions that cause back pain, including sciatica (trapped nerve), a slipped disc, and ankylosing spondylitis. The pharmacist can also refer you to your GP if they believe a medical investigation is needed.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few decades you should be well aware of the many health benefits that come with exercising regularly. According to the NHS, it’s medically proven that people who partake in regular physical activity have a lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer, falls, depression, dementia and hip fractures, among others. And, of course, it increases your life expectancy. Win win!
However, that doesn’t mean to say you’ve got to jump off the sofa, don a pair of trainers and sprint out the door for a five mile jog (unless you want to); as for many it’s simply unattainable. Ailments, age and various other factors can all prevent you from taking part in anything too strenuous – but the good news is there are many other lighter forms of exercise you can do that will still see you enjoying those health benefits. Read on for tips and tricks on how you can exercise as part of your daily routine.
Physical inactivity is associated with one in six deaths in the UK and is estimated to cost the UK £7.4 billion annually (Gov.uk)
Walk the Walk
First on our hit list of light exercises is using your legs for some good old fashioned walking. Often overlooked as being too ‘easy’, in fact going for a stroll is a fantastic low impact way to burn calories and make your heart healthier in the process. In fact, a brisk 10-minute daily walk counts towards your 150 minutes of weekly exercise recommended for adults age 19 to 64. What’s more, it also keeps your mind active as well as your body, with statistics showing that yet again that 10 minute walk increases mental alertness, energy and positive mood. You can even think outside the box when it comes to how to incorporate it into your daily routine. Get off of the bus a couple of stops earlier and walk the rest of the way; park your car further away from the shops; or stop and think before automatically getting in your vehicle if your destination’s within walking distance. As a well-known supermarket states when talking about their prices, every little helps.
Three one-minute bursts of intense physical activity every day can lower a person’s risk of a heart attack or stroke ((Nature)
Home & Garden
You should also take into account all the exercise you do around your home and garden without even realising. Sure, housework and gardening can be a pain, but it’s also a great way to keep your heart healthy and reduce those stress levels. In fact, doing household chores can be just as effective as running or working out, with performing 30 minutes of any kind of physical activity five days a week slashing your risk of heart disease by 20 per cent. Dusting, hoovering, mopping, washing the windows or mowing the lawn – all of these contribute to your light exercise regime. Hoovering is said to burn around 193 calories an hour, while washing your car can burn close to 235! Now might also be the time to crack on with all the DIY jobs you’ve been putting off, too, with wallpapering said to burn 133 calories an hour. Again, it all adds up.
Be a good sport
Sport is another area you can get involved with when it comes to light exercise, making sure you’re doing the right type for your health so it doesn’t become too challenging or vigorous. Look at it this way – if you can talk comfortably (or ideally sing) while exercising, this normally counts as light intensity. It’s all about encouraging yourself to move your body more than you usually would. Start by taking the stairs instead of the lift, then gradually build yourself up to picking a particular sport you like the look of, such as a gentle bike ride – choosing a flat and easy route so you don’t become too out of breath. Swimming is also an ideal form of light exercise, choosing breaststroke and moving through the water at a leisurely pace; or you could even join a water aerobics or other aqua-based class, so long as you pick something that’s not too strenuous. Similarly, yoga and Pilates classes have huge benefits when it comes to your health, improving muscle strength, maintaining strong bones and also regulating your blood pressure and sugar levels. And why not consider dancing as a form of light exercise? You could join a local community class in whatever form of dance you prefer – or simply bop around your kitchen with the radio on for a good 15 minutes to reap those benefits!
Just as gardening and housework plays an important role in light intensity workouts, so too can that hobby you enjoy doing. In fact, studies have shown regularly taking the time out for an activity you love not only reduces stress and boosts your mental health, but it also lowers your blood pressure and reduces your BMI (Body Max Index). Need convincing? A round of golf on an average course can see you racking up those steps with you walking on average between five to seven kilometres, while bowling with your friends or family can see you burning anything from 170 to 300 calories per game. Pool, snooker, fishing and even a game of darts all count as light forms of exercise too – put simply, if you’re standing up and taking part in some form of movement it’s most definitely beneficial to your health!
You can even lie down and take part in some light activity, but with this next form of exercise we can’t promise you won’t end up out of breath. That’s right – we’re talking about the benefits that come with getting jiggy in the bedroom! Sex is yet another way to stop you being sedentary and get you moving; and is also seen as yet another form of light to moderate activity (depending on positions and duration). Besides the fact it burns around 101 calories on average for men, and 69 for women, it also lowers blood pressure, increases your heart health, strengthens muscles and reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke and hypertension. What more of an excuse do you need?
Your gut, also known as the gastrointestinal tract or bowel, starts at the mouth. When you eat, food moves down the oesophagus into the stomach. Here, food is mixed with gastric juices, digestive enzymes and acid to help break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins. From there, food passes through the small intestine, where most of the digestion is carried out. Fibrous food that cannot be absorbed goes into the large intestine before being excreted as waste via the rectum and anus.
Believe it or not, your gut contains more than 100 trillion microorganisms, or friendly bacteria – a whole ecosystem called gut flora, or microbiota. Every single person has a gut flora that’s unique to them which is made up of different combinations of bacteria. Although around 1,000 different bacteria can live in the gut, we usually only have between 100 and 150 at any one time.
It takes around 24 hours for food to pass through the stomach, intestines and anus (Guts UK)
The bacteria in your gut flora have several incredibly important functions in your body, not just in your digestive system, and you simply could not live without them. They produce essential vitamins and hormones, help to digest fibre that you can’t digest yourself,
and boost your immune system by eliminating harmful bacteria. There is also a link between good gut health and mental wellbeing.
It’s vital that you look after your gut flora. Think of it as being like a garden. The foods you eat that are rich in fibre feed the bacteria, acting a little like fertiliser to help the gut flora grow and thrive. This is the very definition of a healthy gut.
Add variety to your diet
Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to help your gut work more efficiently. The main thing that has an influence on your gut bacteria is what you eat. Fibre from plant foods in your diet is not digested by your body; instead, some of it feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut. This part of the fibre is called a prebiotic.
Research has shown that it’s the variety of plant foods you eat that counts and makes a difference to improving your gut health. This is because there are thousands of plant phytochemicals and almost 100 types of fibre that are believed to feed the microorganisms in the gut. That’s why it’s generally recommended that you should try eating many different types of plant foods a week.
This could include: all fruit and vegetables; wholegrains, such as wholegrain breakfast cereal, oats, brown pasta, brown rice and wholemeal bread; legumes, including beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas and kidney beans; and nuts and seeds, such as almonds, flax seeds, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds.
Easy ways to add even more to your diet include using mixed berries and vegetables; stirring nuts and seeds into cereal, sauces, stir-fries and rice; and using extra herbs and spices.
43% of the UK population have experienced tummy problems (Guts UK)
You might also want to try fermented (probiotic) foods that feed the gut. These include yoghurt, kefir, miso, kimchi and sauerkraut. There are also probiotic food supplements available that are designed to restore the balance of bacteria in your gut. This is a good idea if you have had to take a course of antibiotics because your gut flora will be disrupted.
Don’t make the mistake of adding lots of extra fibre to your diet all at once. Your body needs to adjust to the change so try adding one new vegetable or fruit once a week, plus a new nut or seed. Remember, some people can’t eat a high-fibre diet because of a digestive disease or problem, so if you’re in doubt check with your GP or pharmacist first.
4 lifestyle changes for gut health
In addition to diet, a range of lifestyle factors can also contribute to poor gut health. If you make the following four changes to your lifestyle, it will have huge benefits for your overall physical and mental wellbeing, not just your gut flora.
1 Quit smoking
Smoking increases the number of harmful microorganisms in the gut, making it harder for the friendly bacteria to do its work. If you’re currently a smoker and you quit smoking for good, your gut flora can start to recover – your heart and lungs will thank you too. Talk to the trained staff at your local pharmacy about the support available to stop smoking through nicotine replacement therapy (NRT); they will also provide invaluable advice and guidance for up to 12 weeks during the programme.
2 Get enough sleep
It’s vital that you get sufficient quality sleep for your gut to function properly. It’s not yet known why, but a lack of sleep has a negative effect on your gut flora, reducing the number of friendly bacteria. Try to get into a routine of going to bed and getting up at the same time, even at the weekend. You should aim for around 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night but build up to this gradually.
On average, the length of the digestive tube from mouth to bottom (anus) is 9 metres (Guts UK)
3 Reduce stress
If you’re experiencing stress or anxiety regularly, this can be harmful to your gut flora. Stress can also worsen the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Take steps to reduce any stress in your life and learn how to manage it better. If you’re struggling, slow down and try mindfulness techniques once a day to live in the moment, and use meditation apps to introduce some calm when everything feels too much.
4 Exercise regularly
If you can add some moderate exercise to your regular routine, you’re likely to have better digestion than people who are more sedentary. Choose aerobic activities such as running, walking and cycling, along with resistance training twice a week. This kind of exercise can potentially increase the variety of bacteria in your gut, and therefore your gut flora overall.
Winter can be a tricky time of year for our NHS with elderly and vulnerable patients needing more care, and GP surgeries becoming busier. But there’s one place you can go for help with seasonal ailments without needing an appointment: your friendly local pharmacy.
Pharmacies are a vital part of the NHS, offering valuable face-to-face advice you can trust. If you have a minor medical issue, remember to go to or call a pharmacy first rather than a GP. In this way, you can do your bit to relieve some of the pressure on the NHS.
In the winter, you may be more at risk of catching a cold or have a sore throat or cough. You might also find an existing skin condition is exacerbated by the weather. And if you’re very unlucky, you could contract influenza (flu). But prevention is better than cure, so it’s worth stocking up on cold remedies and emollients at the pharmacy, and having a flu jab.
Tackle the common cold
Colds are a fact of life, especially in the winter, but their symptoms are no joke. Coughing, sneezing, a blocked nose and a sore throat can all disturb your sleep, and make you feel generally lousy and out of sorts. Most adults and older children can get over a cold within a week, although coughs can last for up to three weeks. Younger children are usually affected for longer and can experience symptoms for 10–14 days. This is because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. If you’re a smoker, the infection could last longer and you may have more severe symptoms, particularly a cough.
✚ It may not feel like it when you have a really bad cold, but it’s actually a mild viral infection. Antibiotics don’t work on these types of infection. Patients may need to visit GP if an infection is present or is progressively getting worse with other conditions – it may exacerbate others.
But help is at hand from your local pharmacy which stocks remedies you need to relieve your symptoms. Similar products can be found at the supermarket, but with so many to choose from, it can be tricky to know which one is right for you. The pharmacy team will ask you about your symptoms and will advise you on the best treatment. If you can’t take capsules or tablets, you’ll be offered alternatives.
It might be suggested that you take an oral analgesic to relieve a sore throat; an expectorant medicine to help treat a stubborn cough; or a decongestant to clear a blocked nose. As an alternative, the pharmacist might advise a combination product, such as a cold remedy in various formulations. These often consist of a decongestant, cough suppressant, analgesic, antihistamines or an expectorant. If you can’t tolerate decongestants, you could try inhalants, vapour rubs or saline products instead.
Get your flu jab
The flu virus starts to circulate in the UK from November and usually continues until March. The symptoms are wide-ranging and can come on very quickly; they can include a very high temperature, a dry cough, headache, an aching body, sore throat, and extreme fatigue. You should recover quickly if you’re otherwise healthy, but it’s best to stay at home for about a week until you’re over the worst symptoms. You should rest, keep warm and stay hydrated. Ibuprofen or paracetamol can help alleviate the fever and aches and pains, or the pharmacy team can offer flu remedies.
If you catch flu and you’re in an at-risk group, you may develop more severe symptoms. You might even suffer complications such as pneumonia, and you may be offered antiviral drugs to treat it. You’re more at risk if you’re over 65; if you’re pregnant; if you’re a child under six months old; or if you have a weakened immune system, or a long-term health condition such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease.
Flu vaccines on the NHS are given to people in at-risk groups at community pharmacies across the UK, so if you’re offered one, it’s vital that you attend for a jab. The groups eligible for free flu jabs vary in each of the four nations, so ask your pharmacist for more details.
Look after your skin
In the winter, the combination of central heating and cold, windy weather can wreak havoc on our skin, quickly drying it out and leaving it itchy or flaky. If you already suffer from skin complaints such as eczema, psoriasis and rosacea, you’re likely to find that winter triggers a flare-up of your condition. But all is not lost!
If you adjust your skincare regime as soon as it gets colder, it’s possible to minimise or even prevent flare ups. This is where advance planning comes in and where you can make the most of the expert advice at your community pharmacy. It stocks a wide range of emollients such as creams, lotions, gels and ointments, and can advise which one is best for your skin type and condition. The team can also offer samples or trial sizes of products for you to try. Given the wide range of products on the market, this is a definite plus. Gentle exfoliation is best for sensitive skin, so ask about products made from natural ingredients; it’s also important to avoid anything that contains irritants such as perfume. Remember to pay special attention to your hands and feet, not just your face.
Benefit from expert advice
Don’t forget that the staff at your community pharmacy have expert knowledge about medicines, so they can tell you whether over-the-counter products can be taken alongside any medication prescribed by your GP. For example, water tablets, which are often used to lower blood pressure, can react with decongestants in cold remedies and might cause issues. The pharmacy team can also explain how to boost your immune system through a nutritious diet, regular exercise and taking nutrients such as vitamins C and D, and zinc.
You may be aware that the formal public inquiry into Covid-19 is now well underway. The inquiry is examining the UK’s response to the pandemic and what lessons can be learned to assist the handling of future pandemics.
Various politicians, NHS officials and representatives of patient groups have already submitted evidence.
The inquiry team recognises that the pandemic affected every single person in the UK and, in many cases, continues to have a lasting impact on lives. They have therefore set up an online portal called Every Story Matters, so that everyone has an opportunity to ‘share the impact’ it [the pandemic] had on you, and your life, with the Inquiry.
The Inquiry team promises that “Every story shared with us will be used to shape the Inquiry’s investigations and help us to learn lessons for the future”. All the stories will be treated as anonymous when it comes to reporting the findings.
For more information on how to share your story, visit the inquiry website at www.covid19.public-inquiry.uk and click on the ‘Every Story Matters’ link.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, community pharmacies demonstrated great resilience under enormous strain. They maintained the core service of supplying medicines and providing expert medicines advice about common illnesses and long-term medical conditions. 98% of community pharmacies also reported increased enquiries about serious health conditions during the pandemic. 89% of adults believed pharmacies played an important role during Covid-19, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by the National Pharmacy Association.
Am I eligible for a COVID vaccine this winter?
The UK COVID-19 vaccination programme is now entering its third autumn season. Vaccination helps to protect against severe illness, hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s updated advice for this autumn is to offer the vaccine to those at high risk of serious disease and who are therefore most likely to benefit from vaccination.
Specifically, JCVI advises the following groups be offered a COVID-19 booster vaccine this autumn:
✚ residents in a care home for older adults
✚ all adults aged 65 years and over
✚ persons aged 6 months to 64 years in a clinical risk group, as laid out in the Immunisation Green Book, COVID-19 chapter (Green Book)
✚ frontline health and social care workers
✚ persons aged 12 to 64 years who are household contacts (as defined in the Green Book) of people with immunosuppression
✚ persons aged 16 to 64 years who are carers (as defined in the Green Book) and staff working in care homes for older adults
Visit www.gov.uk/government/news to read the full advisory and to check if you are among the groups being offered a COVID-19 booster.
NHS Pharmacy First
This replaced the Minor Ailments Service and covers a variety of common ailments where you should visit your local pharmacy first to seek help. A qualified pharmacist or a member of the community pharmacy team will assess you, offer advice and provide treatment if needed. If your condition is more serious or requires further investigation, the pharmacist may refer you to another healthcare professional or NHS service.
A pharmacist can give you advice and treatment for minor illnesses such as the following: Acne, head lice, allergies, haemorrhoids (piles), athlete’s foot, hay fever, backache, impetigo, blocked or runny nose, indigestion, cold sores, mouth ulcers, constipation, pain, cough, period pain, cystitis, sore throat, diarrhoea, threadworms, earache, thrush, eczema, warts, headache, verrucas.
NHS Pharmacy First is available from all pharmacies in Scotland that dispense NHS prescriptions.
You are able to choose which pharmacy to go to and, in most cases, you won’t have to make an appointment.
When you visit the pharmacy, you will be asked for some information including your name, date of birth and postcode. You will also need to provide details about your symptoms. The pharmacy team will then give advice on your condition; provide medication (if needed); and refer you to another healthcare professional if they think it necessary.
A Patient Medication Record will be set up to make a note of any advice and treatment. You can ask to use the pharmacy’s consultation area or room if you want to speak to the pharmacist without anyone else overhearing.
Medicines Care and Review
This replaced the Chronic Medication Service. MCR is a service for people who take medication for long-term conditions and is available at all community pharmacies across Scotland.
All patients registered for MCR are entitled to a medication review. This will help identify any potential care issues but also aid suitability and selection for a serial prescription.
The pharmacist will look at how you take your medicines. You can discuss with them any problems you may have with your medicines and decide if a care plan would help you get the most benefit from them. The pharmacist will complete a review of your medicines at least once a year.
The care plan helps the pharmacist record what needs to happen to help you get the most out of your medicines, especially if you have been having problems. The pharmacist can give you a copy of your care plan and may, if you agree, contact your doctor about it if necessary.
You may be able to get serial prescriptions from your doctor so you can get your medicines on a long-term, repeat prescription without having to place orders regularly.
Discharge medicines service
Hospitals refer recently discharged patients to their community pharmacists. The pharmacist makes sure they understand their new medicines or any changes to their medicine routine. This is an additional layer of safety for patients and ensures that medicine is taken correctly at the right dose and at the right times.
This scheme has been running as a pilot for participating community pharmacies located within the Northern ICP (Derry / Strabane / Limavady) area, for patients being discharged from Altnagelvin Area Hospital, Western Health & Social Care Trust (WHSCT).
Medicines adherence service
This service will help to ensure that people at high risk of harm from poor adherence to their medication will receive tailored support to assist them to take their medicines on time and as prescribed.
Emergency hormonal contraception
The service ensures that women and young people aged 13 years and over have timely access to sexual health advice and free EHC (including the provision of bridging contraception) when clinically indicated.
The aims of the service include:
1 Increasing the knowledge, especially among younger women, of the availability of EHC and bridging hormonal contraception from community pharmacies.
2 Ensuring treatment is in line with best practice.
3 Increasing the knowledge of risks such as Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
Independent prescribing is when a pharmacist can write a prescription for a patient without having to send them to a GP.
From earlier this year, all pharmacies in Wales are now able to provide a new national independent prescribing service where a suitably qualified pharmacist is available.
Independent prescribing is expanding rapidly and, it is hoped that, by the end of 23/24, one in three pharmacies in Wales will be providing the service.
Health Education Improvement Wales are supporting up to 100 pharmacists a year to undertake prescribing training and from 2026 it is expected that all newly qualified pharmacists will be qualified prescribers at the end of their university courses. This will mean that, in time, all pharmacies will be able to offer these services.
Community Pharmacist Consultation Service
The CPCS sees patients referred by their GP or NHS 111 to a same-day appointment with a pharmacist for minor illness or an urgent supply of a regular medicine. CPCS aims to ease pressure on GP appointments and emergency departments, using the skills and medicines knowledge of pharmacists. The pharmacist can arrange if the patient needs to be escalated or referred to an alternative service.
New Medicine Service
Patients who have been prescribed a medicine to treat a long-term condition for the first time may be able to get extra help and advice about their medicine from their local pharmacist through a free scheme called the New Medicine Service.
People often have problems when they start a new medicine. The pharmacist will support patients to use the medicine safely and to best effect. The service is only available to people using certain medicines.
Hypertension case finding
This identifies people over the age of 40 who have previously not been diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure) and refers those with suspected hypertension for appropriate management. Pharmacists promote healthy behaviours to service users and refer people identified as likely to have high blood pressure to general practice for ongoing care. :