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Josh at Locomotion

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Earlier this month, we wrote about the importance of core strength for everyday life and the small steps we can all take to help improve our core. And so, to further this discussion, we caught up with Josh at Locomotion. Josh has a wealth of experience in sport and exercise science and is truly passionate about how we can make big changes and differences to our health with even just a small effort…

Josh, can you tell me about your background and what you do at Locomotion?

I studied sport and exercise science at Loughborough University. During my time at Loughborough, I was fortunate enough to secure a placement year role at Tottenham Hotspur FC as a strength & conditioning coach. After graduating, I was offered a place on the MSc Physiotherapy course at MMU but chose to defer my entry in order to take a year out to travel around Australia. I landed a visa sponsored position at a prestigious boxing gym in Melbourne but was forced to step down when the pandemic hit. I fell into a depression for the ~3 months until I had a eureka moment. That eureka moment was Locomotion. I realised that postural pain and discomfort affected almost every person I knew, so I created Locomotion to address the issue. 

I now direct Locomotion’s operations in Australia and the UK and hope to expand our operations to Europe and America within the next 3 years.

Let’s take it back to basics. What is the ‘core’ and what does it do for our bodies?

People often mistakenly think the core refers only to the abdominal muscles. While the abdominals are included, many other muscles contribute to form the core. The core refers to the superficial and deep muscles around the mid-section of the body that connect the pelvis, ribs and spine to one another. So not just the abdominal muscles but also muscles in the lower back region, around the rib cage, and deep pelvic muscles.

What function does the ‘core’ perform?

The underlying function of the core is to maintain the structural integrity of the spine. In a simple day-to-day sense, this translates into keeping our spine upright while we walk, sit, run etc. Without the core muscles, we would simply flop over under the force of gravity.

Why do you feel it’s so important to focus on core strength?

The core connects the upper and lower body and as such, it is implicated in practically every movement we make. A stronger core connects and aligns the upper and lower body, whereas a weak core does not. Imagine a rod divided into three sections, with the top and bottom sections made of iron and the middle section made of rubber. Despite the strength of the top and bottom sections, the pliable centre compromises the integrity of the entire structure. 

This example is analogous for having a strong upper and lower body but a weak core. If the core is weak, the integrity of the entire body is compromised. Conversely, if the core is strong, the body is supported and able to produce or resist movements at its discretion.

Those with a weak core are more likely to suffer from back pain or hip pain, as their core muscles are unable to maintain healthy alignment between the spine and hips.

How would I know if I have a strong or weak core?

Pain – Those with a weak core will likely suffer from constant dull aches and pains in their back, whereas those with a stronger core will have less severe and less frequent symptoms, as the stronger core can maintain better spinal alignment. If you notice that your lower back gets tight very easily, that’s a strong indicator that your core is weak, as the lower back muscles are doing the lion’s share of the work.

Posture – Those with a weak core are far more likely to present with poor posture (lordosis or kyphosis), whereas a stronger core preserves healthy posture. As well as the obvious cosmetic effects, poor posture can lead to severe and debilitating diseases further down the line. Those with a weak core will also be more prone to falling off balance and lack athleticism, as the core is the stabiliser for our movements.

What are the dangers or risks to our physical health if we don’t have a strong core?

Remembering that the core serves to maintain the structural integrity of the spine helps us understand the implications of a weak core. 

In the very short-term, postural issues, such as neck or lower back pain, may be negligible and something a person can persevere through. Pain or discomfort may be dull and persistent, but bearable to begin with.

Yet, over time these postural pains can transform into severe postural dysfunctions, as the spine adapts to the weak core not keeping it properly aligned.

Most severely, a weak core and consequential poor posture can lead to degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis. Both of which are severe and debilitating conditions.

Can you give us some ideas and tips on ways we can strengthen our core (in depth exercises and easy ideas to do at a desk or at home)?

A comprehensive core workout should expose the spine to the full spectrum of unstable motions: extension, rotation and lateral flexion

This can be simply achieved through plank variations!

Traditional Plank (anti-extension)

Traditional Plank

The plank is perhaps the simplest and most effective core exercises there is. 

When in a plank position, gravity is acting to pull our spine down to the ground, e.g. pull our spine into extension. The core musculature must therefore contract in order to stop the spine from extending and remain stable. 

Shoulder Taps (anti-rotation)

Shoulder Taps

In a high plank position, we have 4 points of contact with the ground (2 hands, 2 feet). This rectangular base is a stable position, much like how a 4-legged chair finds stability.

Yet, if you swung a hammer and broke off one of the chair’s legs, it would become unbalanced and topple over, as one of its corners of support has gone. 

This same imbalance occurs in the shoulder tap exercise. We remove one corner of support from the ground (our hand) and become unbalanced. However, unlike the chair, we have core muscles that contract to resist this unbalancing rotational force and keep our body straight.

Side Plank (anti-lateral flexion)

Side Plank

Planking on our side causes the force of gravity to travel from side to side through our body. 

Rather than our gravity pulling our spine down, from back to front, as in a traditional plank, it now pulls our spine to one side – lateral flexion.

In this scenario, the core muscles contract to resist this force and keep the spine straight.

Are there things we can do every day to enhance our core strength and postural health?

First and foremost, being aware of our posture and actively trying to sit/stand correctly can have a huge impact on our postural health and symptoms. 

Actively trying to sit upright, with our chin down, shoulders back and core muscles lightly engaged will keep the spine properly aligned and work the core muscles.

Sitting with this perfect posture isn’t realistic for an entire day. However, accumulating lots of 5-10 minute periods of perfect posture throughout the day will have a cumulative effect and strengthen the core muscles overtime.

 Pursuing a more active lifestyle through simple measures, like a morning walk or jog, can also have a profound impact on our postural health.

Any exercise engages the core muscles, so daily exercise will, over time, make the core muscles stronger more robust, meaning healthier posture will become a more natural occurrence.

Bird Dog
Dead Bug

So there you have it! We really shouldn’t underestimate the importance of core health and appreciate how easy it is to improve it simply over time. If you want to learn more, have further questions for Josh, or have feedback after trying some of the ideas above, get in touch! We’d love to hear how you get on.

Core Strength

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Well, Spring is finally here! We are definitely ready to welcome in the lighter nights and warmer temperatures. There’s something rather motivating about the first signs of Spring isn’t there? And with that, we are all getting more motivated for work and play, setting plans for the summer and staying positive for the months ahead.

One area that we all see a big difference in as we say goodbye to winter is our energy to move more. Whether that’s starting a new sport as a hobby, having an evening stroll or just getting that big Spring clean done around the house, moving more has so any benefits and really does make us feel good. However, have you ever really focused in on a particular area of your body to work out what you can do to improve the strength and flexibility there? Whole body movement and workouts are great, but if you take the time to focus on one area of the body, you’ll be amazed how quickly you see improvements, and it can have a profound affect on the body and mind with lasting results.

So, with that in mind, we are focusing on core strength this month… Whenever we say ‘core strength’ so many of us immediately think of sit ups and it puts us straight off! But core strength focus doesn’t have to just be aimed at getting rock hard abs and an insta-worthy six pack. It’s about appreciating what strong core muscles can do for the whole of your body and making small changes in the every day moments of life to improve that strength.

Posture: This is a big one for us, particularly when we work with clients that spend a lot of time hunched over a desk! We like to put a great focus on posture as it has such a big impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. However, if you improve your core strength, you are more likely to have improved posture and reduce the risks of issues like neck and back pain, digestion problems and rounded shoulders. Once you have bad posture and weak core muscles, a vicious cycle can be begin where injury can occur very easily and all the muscles at the front AND back can become less efficient and prone to problems.

Back Pain and Injury: Many of us suffer with back pain at some point in our lives. When our core muscles are weak, the muscles in our back have to work harder on even the simplest tasks, causing them to get overworked, sore and prone to injury. Let’s say you needed to help move some boxes or transport good at work… without realising you could do serious damage to your back because your core muscles are unable to support you.

So, what can you do to improve your core strength and feel the benefits right away? After all, this is all about FEELING the benefits, not necessarily seeing those abs bursting through!

First of all, make it fun! Exercise can sometimes feel like such a chore and it’s easy to back out in favour of more enjoyable tasks. So, by making it fun, you can ensure you actually look forward to doing it and have a bit of a laugh along the way. So, how about a cheeky little challenge in the workplace? Planking is easy to do in a small space and is very low impact so most of the team should be able to join in! Simply go down onto your hands and knees, then extend your legs so they are straight and your toes are on the ground. You should now be straight, so either keep your arms straight and hands on the ground or bring your elbows down to a forearm plank. The trick here is to be as straight as possible, so don’t let your bottom drop low to the ground or push up too high. You’ll instantly see how difficult it is to stay straight for a long time. Once you’re in position, start a timer and see how long you can plank for! This may only be a few seconds, but the stronger your core and the more often you do it, the longer this will become. So, challenge your work friends, see who can be the plank King or Queen and work together to see improvements. 

Or, you can even do some core strength exercises without even leaving your chair! Firstly, if you are on a wheeled seat, be sure to lock it in place, or sit on a normal chair or stool… Now, sit on the front of your chair with your legs together, knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet flat on the ground, arms up and bent at the elbows with fingers interlaced behind your head. Engage your core and lean back until your back grazes your chair back. Keep your back straight and your abs engaged. In one fluid motion, sit back up while lowering your right elbow to the left knee, lifting your left leg so the knee meets the elbow, keeping your abs engaged and fingers interlaced behind your head the entire time. Return to your starting position and repeat, this time lowering the left elbow to the right knee before returning to your starting position again. That’s one full repetition. Repeat each repetition 20 times.

However, if you don’t quite feel confident to show your skills in front of your colleagues just yet, you can do simple exercises at home, with no equipment and just a few minutes to spare. Check out these 5 exercises from Runners Worlds which take just 15 minutes to do!

We will certainly be trying some of these out this month, and look forward to reporting back our findings on what we found useful and successful. Don’t forget to get in touch on our socials too to let us know how you get on!

Yes, Spring is here, so keep that body and mind feeling fresh and ready for better and brighter days ahead. You’ve got this! And don’t forget to check back with us later this month when we will be speaking with Josh Adams of Locomotion Australia to dive deeper into the key elements of improving core strength.

Food for Thought

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How is it February already? Well, at least it means we are starting our new 2021 journey through the body and mind to help both our staff and yours to boost their wellbeing for their work and personal lives! We can’t wait to get stuck in (Check out last month’s post to learn all about our mission for this year). For February, we are focusing on health and digestion…

Now, the whole digestion topic is everywhere at the start of every year. It seems every company out there wants you to make a new YOU for the new year. And whilst positive changes to our diet and lifestyle are always good, we feel this direct and intense focus on it for such a short period of time can actually have a negative impact in the long run. At Acorn, we don’t believe in fad diets and quick fixes. We believe in long term solutions, positive lifestyle changes and an overall shift in attitudes to change our way of thinking when it comes to our digestion and diet for the long haul. 

We all know that eating healthy foods is good for us. Drinking more water, boosting our fruit and vegetable intake and creating a varied and balanced diet are all things we know we should be doing, but how do we really go about it? And are we really doing it? Right now, it can be easy to fall back on those comfort foods and calorific treats to make us feel better in the moment. But those quick and short-lived treats may feel good at consumption, but they can actually have a negative impact on our energy and wellbeing over a long period. 

So, this month, we want to make actionable choices and trackable changes to our daily habits to take stock of how healthy we really are being, and what we can do to improve it.

Count those calories: Of course, to maintain a healthy weight, we need to ensure we don’t exceed our recommended calorie intake (2000 for women, 2500 for men). But do you know how many calories are in your dinner, snacks and drinks? It really can be quite surprising! One way to track your calories is by downloading an app onto your smartphone like MyFitnessPal. This allows you to track your calories with everything you eat or drink throughout the day. It’s easy to search for the foods you’re eating, or even scan the barcode to find the specific brand or product you have in your hand! You can then add it to your intake. It will also show you how much protein, sugar, fat and more you’ve taken in during the day so you can see areas which you are falling short, and areas which you may need to cut back on. This is a great way to take stock of where you are at right now, before deciding what changes to make for the better.

Quick Acorn Tip – If you love a quick snack to see you through the afternoon, check out these surprising and delicious snacks, all less than 100 calories! https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/surprising-100-calorie-snacks/

Foodie Focus: Now you know your current situation and where you’re at right now with the kinds of foods you love, it’s time to get focused! Firstly, take a look at your mental and physical health. Do you struggle with low energy? Do you regularly get sugar cravings? Are you feeling low and down? It may sound strange, but there are certain foods that can really help with whatever you’re feeling right now. For example, if you’re slightly overweight, it’s all about making simple switches in your diet so you don’t have to feel like you’re losing out. Choose sugar-free drinks, fat-free yoghurt, lean meats, explore new fruits and vegetables and drink plenty of water. There are so many options out there that mean you don’t have to compromise on taste, texture or quality and you can still enjoy the foods you love. If you find yourself in a slump at your desk, with no energy to see you through the day, make sure to pack a banana in your bag! They are one of the best foods for energy, alongside foods like eggs, fatty fish, sweet potatoes, apples and brown rice. Craving sugar? Then switch out that chocolate indulgence for berries, chia seeds, yoghurts, or even dark chocolate which is a better option than the standard milk chocolate we often reach for. And, if you’re feeling low, try mood-boosting foods like bananas, oats, berries, fatty fish, fermented foods and dark chocolate. 

With a little bit of research, you’ll be surprised how different foods can help you feel so much better about life, thus making you happier and more productive for work and play!

Action for Employers: Broaching the subject of food can feel like a strange one for employers, as you don’t want to feel like you are dictating something which is so personal to each individual. However, there has never been a better time to offer support, guidance and information to employees to help them make positive and proactive changes to their lifestyle. A better diet means better physical health, better immune systems, better productivity, better mental health… the list goes on and these positive results are great for you and for them. How about setting up a cookery club? Give employees a space where they can share recipes they love for everyone to try. This will help promote the conversation around healthy eating, make staff feel like they are part of something even when they are working remotely and create the discussion around the foods we eat and love.

Quick Acorn Tip: How about creating a team-building evening on video chat where everyone cooks and devours a delicious healthy meal with a prize for the most successful plate of food created!  Ready, steady, cook!

Right now, a huge focus is being put on our mental health, and quite rightly so. So many of us are feeling isolated and struggling to find our way through this pandemic and keeping our mental health in tip top shape is really important. However, one way to really help our mental health is by boosting our physical health too. They work in harmony. And by taking stock of what we are putting into our bodies can really help us to enable positive change and boost both the physical AND mental areas of our health for the better.

Now, we’re off to make a healthy low calorie snack, what about you?

Don’t forget to check back nest month when we will be focusing on core-strength. No, you don’t need abs of steel! We will take a look at the importance of core strength and how improvements can really help all areas of your physical health and simple ways to do so.

Our 2021 journey with you

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Welcome to a brand-new year with Acorn Occupational Health! Whilst this year has certainly started in an unusual and difficult way for many of us, we are spending this month focusing on the future and what we can do to make positive change.

It can be very easy (and totally understandable) to feel overwhelmed by everything going on in the world right now. Scrolling through our news feed, watching the TV, chatting to loved ones over video call, it’s hard to avoid the nerve-wracking reports, gossip and opinions. However, the more we can disconnect from the details and focus on the future ahead of us, the more we can improve our positive energy and change our daily habits to feel happier about what lies ahead.

And with that, we are turning our attention to the months ahead, and the brilliant, bright and bold changes we can make, both big and small to our daily lives that really can make a big difference to how we feel in our personal and professional lives. We want to help everyone to get focused on particular areas of your life, body and mind to improve habits and feelings towards them. Sound good? Then let’s go for it!

Over the coming months, we are going to help you, as employers to take stock of your employees and how they are coping, dealing with and working through whatever the world is bringing to them right now, and how, as their employer you can help and encourage them to make positive changes. To do this, we will be focusing on particular parts of the body or specific areas of mental health. Each month, we will offer a specific focus, and provide guidance and information on this area concerned and how it’s affected in your day-to-day life. We’ll then dig deeper into how employers can make it fun, engaging and informative for employees to manage it, work on it and track their progress. This isn’t about adding to their workload or their efforts at work, it’s about educating and informing them about areas they may not have even thought of or realised may affect their work and personal life.

So, as we go through the year, we will move through the body and mind, offering information and ideas to help boost health and promote positive attitudes to that specific area, and by the end of the year we will all have adopted great ideas and changes into our life to help all areas of our physical and mental health.  And we really mean that. We aren’t just going to be offering this information and providing goals, tasks and fun ideas for you to be adopting in your own business, we are going to be taking part too! Over the months, you’ll hear from our own staff on how they are working on that specific area that month, providing feedback and helping all of us to feel part of something bigger. After all, many of us may be working from home and feel like we are fighting this fight alone, but we really aren’t. Acorn are here to work WITH you, bring the whole team together and make 2021 a positive year for physical and mental health at work.

We can’t wait to start sharing our ideas with you and look forward to joining you on this journey! First up in February, we are going to be looking at health and digestion! Let’s go!

Alcohol Awareness

Alcohol Awareness Week – Change your Mindset

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This week is Alcohol Awareness Week, and it provides us all a chance to stop, reflect and make changes with our understanding and consciousness of our drinking habits.

Now more than ever, we may be taking to enjoying a glass of wine, or more at home. With the closure of pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants yet again upon us in another national lockdown, sales of alcohol are set to spike once again. AlcoholChange.Org conducted a short survey during the first lockdown which had some incredibly interesting results:

  • 28% of people had drunk more alcohol during lockdown, with those that are working more likely to drink than those that are not. 
  • Perhaps more concerning, heavier drinkers were found to also be drinking more too.
  • One in five of the people surveyed have drunk alcohol as a way to handle stress and anxiety, with parents more likely doing so than non-parents.
  • One in five expected to head straight to the pub within 2 weeks of lockdown easing

For the full report and information on the findings, click here

The theme for this year’s Alcohol Awareness Week is “Alcohol and Mental Health”. With a focus on the link between alcohol and mental health, it’s a time to look after ourselves, and those around us during a year of great change and uncertainty. And, with one in four people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem each year, and drinking too much or too often increasing our risk, there’s never been a better time to apply this focus.

So many of us are applying a flexible working pattern these days with the encouragement from the government to work from home. Being at home more, the lines between professional and personal time can become blurred, which makes it tricky to focus and the temptation to grab a glass of wine here and there so much easier. But, how and when do you know if your alcohol consumption is cause for concern or action?

You are safest not to drink more than 14 units per week, spreading those units over the week, not binging and having ‘alcohol free’ days too. If you don’t stick to this as a maximum, and find yourself drinking so much more, it can have a huge affect on your personal and professional life. It increases the possibility of injuries and accidents at work plus a reduction in concentration and coordination in performance. Your productivity will also be reduced meaning goals and objectives fail to be met which can lead to great issues and concern for an employer. But, surprisingly, many issues within the workplace are not caused by heavy drinkers, but more moderate drinkers. 

Lost productivity due to alcohol consumption costs the UK economy more than £7 billion annually with 40% of employers seeing alcohol consumption as a significant cause of low productivity. But, not only that, workplaces can not only feel the effects of alcohol, but they can exacerbate them with 27% of people saying that workplace stress makes them drink more. Those that do shift work, have poor working conditions, have a lack of control, or a drinking culture being seen as normal at work all further these risks.

So, let’s talk about action! What can YOU do to take control and make positive steps this Alcohol Awareness Week?

For You:

  • Drink no more than 14 units a week, spread over a few days with a few ‘alcohol free’ days
  • Consider going ‘dry’ for a number of weeks or months and begin to see instant improvements in your alertness, finances, energy and wellbeing
  • Avoid drinking at all, or drinking too many units the night before work to help reduce the risk of low-productivity and energy during your working day

For your Employees:

You may notice in your employees a few signs that they’re struggling with a large alcohol consumption as their productivity and attention to detail will reduce. Maybe they’ll have bloodshot eyes or be on the edge of falling asleep at work. They may forget or miss meetings and deadlines, and they may become irritable towards other members of staff. What can you do to help them and those around them?

  • Introduce an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to ensure your staff can access support
  • Create awareness raising activities to promote a healthier relationship with alcohol and support a healthy team goal. 
  • Reduce social events that are entirely geared around alcohol. Less trips to the pub after work!
  • Offer your staff regular health checks. Alcohol consumption has a massive effect on a range of health conditions, so with regular management and check-ups you can ensure you’re looking out for their overall health and wellbeing.
  • Be patient. If you feel you need to take further action and discuss the level of drinking with your employee, be sure to avoid accusatory language, know your employee’s rights and create a concrete action you can both take to improve the situation.

So, this alcohol Awareness Week, it’s time to reflect and react. Particularly this year with so many of us experiencing tough changes in the workplace, we can use this time to take a look at our own relationship with alcohol and be considerate towards others and how they may be dealing with everything this pandemic has thrown their way. Alcohol doesn’t just affect the person who’s drinking it. It can affect their loved ones, family, friends, workplace and wider community. And so, the steps we can take, big or small can have a brilliant, positive impact on everyone, for the long term.