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Project Allotment

Keeping your children active is sometimes easier said than done. I’ve always found that it helps massively if you do things together as a family. You’re setting a great example to your kids by being active yourself, there’s an opportunity for family bonding and you’re making memories too. It’s important to remember that being active doesn’t just mean doing sport. There’s endless things you can do which all count as activity that don’t involve kicking a ball or chasing after your children. I thought I’d share our latest project designed to help us be active and healthier.

We’ve tried to take as many positives from this period of lockdown as we can and one thing that has sparked our interest is food. Not just baking and trying out new recipes (although we’ve done PLENTY of that) but a desire to look after ourselves better through what we eat. We’ve been using our local butchers for our meat and our milkman has been bringing potatoes, eggs and fruit juice as well as our usual enormous fresh milk order. But, we wanted to go even more local and focus more on plant based recipes. With more time at home and the lovely weather, we’ve been tidying up our small garden. We decided to dig up one of our flower beds and put some vegetables in. With a poor track record when it comes to growing veg I wasn’t hopeful but the seeds we put in there as well as in various pots, all seemed to be growing well and our ambition grew along with them!

We’ve been walking past the village allotments most days on our daily exercise slot and just love the peaceful spot by the river. We decided to go and ask if there was a plot free. When I say ‘we’, I mean myself and my teenage son. He had his GCSEs cancelled and let’s face it, he’s got a bit of time on his hands! He’d been the most enthusiastic about the whole ‘growing our own’ thing and had been working hard in the garden to get us started. There was one small patch at the allotments left, not a plot but a patch about 4m by 3m. We were quite relieved by this really as being complete beginners we didn’t want to overwhelm ourselves. We jumped at the chance and the patch was ours!

We returned the next day to make a start on digging over the soil; the patch hadn’t been used for a couple of years. I could hardly get the spade into the ground so we were incredibly relieved and grateful when one of the other allotment owners offered to run his rotavator over it for us. It took him about half an hour. We would have been there all weekend trying to achieve the same. There are some very helpful and welcoming people on the allotments, all ready to lend a hand and give you advice as well as spare lettuce and fresh eggs! We’ve been honest about our beginner status and they’ve made us feel comfortable to ask even the most silly of questions. I’m so grateful.

Over the following couple of weeks we’ve planted carrots, beetroot, parsnips, kale and pumpkin seeds. We’ve transplanted some courgettes we’d grown in pots and we have some tomato plants promised. My daughter wants to put some peas or beans in and I’m pining for a chive plant. My youngest son spent ages breaking up old roof slates to make a neat border for the plot. Our enthusiasm is there, let’s just hope Mother Nature and the wildlife are kind to us and we see some return on our efforts.

It’s been a great activity for getting us active. Aside from the digging, raking and watering, we’ve have to get to and from the allotment. We’ve walked but we’ve also been cycling there, it’s only a few minutes away but when you forget something and have to go back home for it or you just want to nip for a quick look or watering session, it all adds up. I’ve even bought a bike from a friend as mine was fit for the bin. I’m really impressed with the children’s attitude and enthusiasm, they keep asking if they can go down there, let’s hope it continues.

So, I’m looking forward to not only enjoying time outdoors being active with my family but also having the satisfaction of choosing and growing ingredients for our expanding interest in plant based recipes. Fingers crossed! I’m just hoping our memory won’t be, ‘Mum, do you remember the time we thought we’d get an allotment’ …

All images:

Dancing Through Lockdown

My daughter loves to dance (I too lived to dance when I was her age). Lockdown has been a difficult time for dancers. Long practised-for exams postponed and dance festivals and competitions cancelled. The disappointment is huge when you’re 12 and all you want to do is dance and perform.

In the same way that I’ve had a chance to consider my lockdown running and reflect on what positives I can take from this time as I run towards the future, it’s been a great opportunity to think about what dancing means to you when you can’t join in your usual classes with your dance friends, perform on a stage or compete in any events.

I’ve always known that going to dance lessons is so much more than learning steps and routines. Dance brings so many benefits, particularly for children. I danced throughout my childhood and when I look back I can see how it helped me in so many ways. I know how hard it was for my parents to pay for my dance lessons and I will be eternally grateful that they did.

The biggest thing it gave me was confidence. The ability to control my nerves and to not fall apart when faced with an audience and to actually enjoy it. To be able to lift my head and my eyes, to stand tall and to switch into performance mode. Posture, poise and self-belief. This has been invaluable in the work I now do, presenting at conferences, giving talks and doing online and sometimes TV and radio work.

The other main lesson and this was a hard one to learn, is that you have to work hard to be excellent. Discipline, practice and consistency, nothing replaces them. The upset when things don’t go your way, the fatigue when you have to keep getting up and trying again and the realisation that absolutely nothing replaces hard work, there are no short cuts. This is a lesson that has served me very well in my life and career and developing a sound work ethic.

One benefit that I see in my daughter and particularly during this lockdown period is how amazing dance is at helping look after mental health. Amidst the chaos of school closures, distancing from friends and general life anxiety, dance has been something to cling on to. A lifeline offering respite and consistency in a choppy ocean. Thanks to her amazing dance school Laura Sandham School of Dance, classes have continued online by Zoom. Having the set lesson times has added routine, made each day a little different when it’s easy for all the days to feel the same. It’s been an opportunity to see her dance friends and teachers and know that her ‘dance family’ is still there and supporting her. It’s also a way to get a boost of endorphins to calm nerves and lift mood. When you’re dancing and concentrating there’s no space for anything else and worries are put to one side. We all need something right now to help see us through this tricky time.

As I see my daughter discovering these things. I know that my hard earned money is well spent. She may not have a career in dance, in fact she may not want to dance forever (although that seems unlikely right now!) and that’s fine. I know she will have gained so much from it that will serve her well in the future and I’m so grateful for what it’s giving her right now.

So, to all the dancers out there who have had their dance exams and festivals cancelled; ones that you’ve worked so hard for so many months for. Remember:

Dance isn’t just measured in grades, medals and certificates. It’s measured in the joy in your heart, the singing of your soul and the width of your smile. In the glow of your pride, the twinkle in your eyes and the tingle in your spine. Dance in your bedroom, your kitchen, your garden. Dance in your online class. Dance like no one is watching or dance like the world is watching. Just don’t stop dancing.

Dr Juliet McGrattan

What benefits has dancing brought to you or your children? Do leave me a comment and share the power of dance.

Image: Dancer courtesy of Arusha’s Images Photography and with the dancer’s permission of course. Presentation: Female Athlete Conference, Boston courtesy of 261 Fearless.


Quick Question – Can I exercise with varicose veins?

Varicose veins, a common condition that you might have diagnosed yourself or seen your doctor about. What are varicose veins, why do they happen and how do they link with exercise? Can exercise prevent varicose veins and if you’ve already got them, will exercise make them better or worse? What do you need to be careful of when exercising with varicose veins? I thought I’d pick this for my latest #quickquestion.

What are varicose veins?

If you don’t have them yourself then I’m sure you’ve spotted varicose veins on other people, usually on their legs. They’re essentially swollen blood vessels seen at the surface of the skin. They’re dark blue in colour as they contain blood that has given away its oxygen (deoxygenated blood) and is on its way back to the heart to get some more. They can be small or large, straight or very wiggly. They might not cause any discomfort at all but it’s common for varicose veins to ache, throb, itch and even bleed.

Why do varicose veins happen?

Our blood vessels are a bit like roads. The arteries take blood away from the heart, the aorta, the largest artery in the body, is a motorway, wide and fast flowing. The ‘A’ roads branch off it and then they in turn narrow down to ‘B’ roads. The veins bring blood back to the heart, the quieter and slower flowing roads feeding into the bigger ones until you’re back on the northbound motorway with the heart as the end destination.

We all know what happens when there’s roadworks closing a lane on a motorway or there’s an accident blocking the flow of cars. Yep, a great big traffic jam! You move at snail’s pace and there’s an ever increasing number of vehicles building up behind you. Well, varicose veins are essentially a traffic jam.

There are several reasons why jams might occur in veins:

  • Traffic flow measures aren’t working. Veins have valves in them which ensure that blood only flows in one direction, back to the heart. If the valves stop working properly then some vehicles try to go southbound on the northbound carriage way! The valves can be weakened in people who are overweight or spend a long time on their feet. Female hormones relax the walls of the veins making varicose veins more common in women, particularly during pregnancy and the menopause. Age weakens the valves and there are genetic factors that can make you more likely to get varicose veins too.
  • The traffic’s moving very slowly. The blood in our veins needs a helping hand to push it back up the body, it has to move against gravity and this is partly provided by our lower leg muscles acting as a pump. If the pump isn’t working then the vehicles just don’t have the momentum to keep moving forwards. Spending a prolonged time sitting or even standing still will reduce the venous pump and lead to pooling of blood.
  • There’s a road block. The traffic may come to a standstill or only move very slowly if there’s a blockage in the road as it squeezes into one narrow lane. A good example is a growing baby bump during pregnancy, it puts more pressure on the veins as they enter the pelvis. Rarer causes that can reduce the flow of blood in the veins include tumours in the pelvis and blood clots which block off the veins resulting in blood building up behind them.

Exercise and varicose veins

You can see from the causes that exercise is important to reduce the likelihood of varicose veins occuring. It helps to keep our weight to a healthy level, ensures the venous pump works frequently and generally boosts our circulation. If however you have developed varicose veins, then there are some things to bear in mind when it comes to continuing your exercise:

  • Don’t stop exercising. Regular exercise is an important part of treatment. Sitting or standing still is known to increase the risk of varicose veins.
  • Walking is great. Walking is a perfect, low impact exercise that will get your venous pump working. It’s free, convenient and can be squeezed into five minutes.
  • Don’t ignore symptoms. Pain and swelling suggests you’ve done too much for too long. You’ll discover your limit but you might find that endurance walks or runs are too uncomfortable in terms of aching or throbbing. Off-road walking and running can sometimes feel kinder to varicose veins.
  • Take care with weights. Lifting heavy weights could increase the pressure in veins so get advice on your technique from an expert and check with your doctor if you are unsure whether you should lift.
  • Elevating your legs helps. Your foot needs to be higher than your knee to get gravity to assist the blood flow, so relaxing with your legs up for a short time each day can relieve aches and swelling.
  • Consider compression. Compression stockings aren’t recommended as a long term option for varicose veins unless other treatments aren’t suitable. There’s debate as to their benefits and there’s also little evidence that lower grade compression such as the compressions socks worn by some recreational runners, stop varicose veins getting any worse.
  • Avoid knocks. Any significant knocks to delicate veins can make them bleed. Watch out for bike pedals, shoe studs or spikes. Don’t be alarmed. Elevate your leg and press firmly on the area until it stops; seek medical help if it isn’t easing up.

Featured image by Free Photos from Pixabay

There are more answers to questions like these and lots of health information to help you lead a happy and active life in my book Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health.Published by Bloomsbury and awarded First Place in the Popular Medicine category at the British Medical Association Medical Book Awards 2018.

Disclaimer: I can’t give personal medical advice and as always with health advice, reading something online doesn’t replace seeing your doctor who knows your medical history and can assess you in person.  So, if you are unsure then always seek the opinion of a health care professional. 

Running Towards the Future

‘How are you?’ seems to be the most common way to open a conversation at the moment. For runners this is often followed by, ‘How’s your running?’ Many people have been running more frequently during our time of lockdown, using it to keep their mental health in check and add routine to the days. Others have been running less, either because it feels like one pressure too many or they’re key workers and are just too tired and busy. Whichever it is, lockdown has certainly been a time for us to reflect on our running. Whether it’s how much we love it, why we aren’t enjoying it or how much we miss it. I wrote recently about my lockdown running but this has lead me on to thinking about what I can take forward as a positive to use in my future running. What have I learnt? What have I enjoyed? How is my running going to look in the future?

Here are my own personal running reflections and how I intend to use them going forwards:

  • Running everyday isn’t for me. Despite loving the idea of a running streak, it really doesn’t suit me. It’s too much for my body, things begin to niggle and hurt. It’s too much for my mind, it puts a pressure on me that I don’t need or enjoy. It also means there’s little time for other types of exercise which I know I need. Going forwards I’ll be sticking to three or four runs a week.
  • Strength work really helps. Of course I already knew this but like many runners it’s something I mean to do but don’t do consistently enough for it to make a difference! Clearly my self-motivation hasn’t been good enough. After six weeks of three or four online classes (ballet and 261 Fearless workouts) every week, my core strength has really improved and I’ve noticed the benefit in my running. I feel stronger and faster. In the future I’m determined to stick to this and will use online classes to make sure I have a commitment to fulfil.
  • I’ve not been pushing myself much. I’ve joined my 15 year old son for some of his athletics training sessions. This has involved tough interval workouts. I used to do these but had kind of got lazy, preferring not to make myself feel uncomfortable and just cruising at a chatty pace for all my runs. This has been a reminder that intervals hurt but the gains are great. I’m planning to carry on with one of these a week, trying to be realistic here.
  • I run because I love it. This might sound obvious but this time has been a reminder to me that I am a motivated runner. I don’t need clubs and races to keep me going. I used to think I needed a race target to get me out the door but I’ve realised that’s not true. I want to run because I want the sense of freedom it brings and way it makes me feel. Yes, I miss running with others and I look forward to a race at some point but I don’t need it to keep me running. This has given me confidence in my own motivation going forwards.
  • Strava is actually ok. I’ve had an account for many years but only began uploading runs a couple of weeks into lockdown. I considered it to be only really for competitive people so generally steered clear. However, for whatever reason and I’m still not sure why, I decided to take the plunge. I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie and realised it’s only competitive if you want it to be and it’s actually really nice to give kudos to your friends when they’ve made the effort to get out and see what they’ve been up to, as well as get route ideas! I’ll be carrying on uploading my runs in the future.
  • I’ve not peaked yet! I came to running late so have been able to continue getting PBs but over the last year I haven’t made any significant gains. I guess I thought that perhaps I’d reached my best so stopped trying. This time to refocus and mix things up has really started to pay off and made me realise there is more in me than I thought. It’s given me a renewed desire to work hard at my running. Let’s see where it takes me …

What have you discovered during your lockdown running? Is it that you like to run without your watch? Is it that you can run better in the heat than you thought? Or perhaps it’s that you’ve realised just how much you miss it when you can’t do it so much? I would love you to share your thoughts and reflections in the comments or on social media.


Quick Question – How can I stop coughing?

Last week’s question covered why and how we cough, now let’s consider how to stop coughing. What can you do to ease a cough when your ribs are aching and your sleep is disturbed?

As we discovered, coughing is a reflex designed to protect us and it’s controlled by the coughing centre in the brain which receives messages from receptors in our airways. Because this happens automatically, without conscious thought, it makes it difficult to control.

Find out what’s at the route of your cough?

The key is to work out why you’re coughing. We usually associate coughing with respiratory infections such as colds, bronchitis or pneumonia but there are many other reasons people cough. Working out the cause helps to find the best way to make it stop. Here are some common causes of coughs which aren’t respiratory infections:

Smoking – A major cause of a long term cough.

Acid reflux – Stomach acids sometimes sneak past the sphincter that seals off the stomach. This acid can travel upwards and irritate your throat, this commonly happens when you’re lying down at night.

Asthma – A frequent cause of recurrent cough. There may or may not not be any associated shortness of breath or wheeze but there may well be a trigger such as an allergy or exercise.

Allergy – Rather than infection, a cough may be triggered by a reaction to a trigger such as pollen or dust.

Post-nasal drip – Often the sinuses over produce mucous and it drips down the back of the throat, irritating it and meaning that you need to recurrently clear your throat and cough.

Medications – Coughing can be a side effect of some medications including ace-inhibitors which are used for high blood pressure and heart conditions.

Other medical conditions – Coughing can sometimes be as a result of a heart problem such as heart failure, it might be called a ‘cardiac cough’. Other medical conditions that cause coughing include pulmonary embolism, vocal cord problems and occasionally cancer.

Currently you’ll have to assume that any new cough could be coronavirus, isolate yourself and use the NHS 111 online service. Aside from Covid-19, any cough that goes on for longer than three weeks, is associated with weight loss, night sweats or shortness of breath or brings up blood stained phlegm, needs checking out urgently by a doctor.

How to make the cough stop!

Once you’ve got to the route cause of your cough then treatment for the appropriate condition will help to resolve the hacking. Each of the above conditions is treated differently and your GP will help you find the cause and advise you on next steps.

Let’s focus on the cough from respiratory infections.

Well there’s good news and bad! The bad news is that you can’t simply cure the cough. It will continue whilst you have the infection and may sometimes carry on for a few weeks after it has cleared. It is after all trying to help you clear mucous debris and germs out of your airways. But, the good news is that there are things you can do to ease a cough and make life more pleasant for yourself.

Try these simple things to reduce your cough:

  • Change your posture. Lying down is sure to make things worse so let gravity help you and prop yourself up with pillows at night, sit in a comfy chair during the day and keep pottering about.
  • Sip fluids. Frequently drinking will help to reduce a cough. Hot drinks can be most effective. My favourite is hot honey and lemon; you can inhale the steam, the honey soothes a sore throat and the lemon gives you a dose of Vitamin C.
  • Check your environment. Often changing from a warm indoor room to the chilly outdoors or vice versa can trigger a bout of coughing. Sometimes a humid atmosphere such as inhaling steam can help.
  • Suck a sweet. You can buy cough sweets but any normal hard boiled sweet that takes a while to dissolve will help you create saliva to swallow which moistens your throat in the same way that drinking does.
  • Try a cough medicine. Although there are many on sale, there’s actually little evidence to show that cough syrups and medications do more than simply drinking fluids regularly. Have a chat with your pharmacist to see what might be suitable for you but don’t expect miracles.

There’s a lack of evidence for using herbal remedies and other supplements. If you find one that works for you then that’s great, there’s just not enough high quality medical studies to be able to make definite recommendations.

A recurrent cough can be extremely wearing and tiring, especially if it’s disturbing your sleep. Try and stay positive and know that it will stop eventually.

Featured image: Steffen Frank for Pixabay

There are more answers to questions like these and lots of health information to help you lead a happy and active life in my book Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health.Published by Bloomsbury and awarded First Place in the Popular Medicine category at the British Medical Association Medical Book Awards 2018.

Disclaimer: I can’t give personal medical advice and as always with health advice, reading something online doesn’t replace seeing your doctor who knows your medical history and can assess you in person.  So, if you are unsure then always seek the opinion of a health care professional. 

My Lockdown Running

I’ve never been more grateful to love running than right now. Since I began running 12 years ago, it’s always been there for me, through thick and thin, happy and sad. A lifeline to cling on to, a power source, a release. Running has helped me in so many ways. Now, when our backs are up against the wall with the Covid-19 pandemic, running is still there and thankfully we are still allowed to do it! I’ve been reflecting on if and how my relationship with running has changed during lockdown.

Here’s what I’ve discovered lockdown running to be so far:

A Leveller – The possibility that the government might ban me from going for a run has certainly made me consider how awful it would be to lose this privilege. I’ve always tried to maintain a gratitude for my ability to run but this has really brought it home. It’s made me thankful, made me consider others who can’t run and truly helped me to enjoy every second of every run.

A Reminder – Good health is not a given and lockdown running has been a reminder that I’m lucky to have it. Many I know have health conditions that are preventing them from being able to step outside, let alone run. It’s also a reminder to me of the importance of using running to keep me healthy and not just as an indulgence and hobby.

A Joy – There’s so much negativity around and although I’ve limited myself to two news updates a day, there’s still a continuous feeling that all is not right in the world. It is however ok to have moments where you feel happy. It’s alright to smile and laugh and feel positive. I’ve found this easiest when I’ve been out for a run, looking at the sun shining over a beautiful spring landscape. We need those happy hormones for our mental and physical health. Running has been a joy and a chance to smile at the world.

An Education – Spring running is always my favourite and seeing the seasons change is one of the reasons I love to run. The combination of planting some vegetables with the kids and wanting to soak up every second of my runs has made me tune into nature so much more than I normally would. Aided by my lovely friends Facebook posts where she’s been spotting and identifying all our local hedgerow plants, I’ve gained so much knowledge. I’ve learnt some new footpaths and routes too which have further opened my eyes to the beauty of the area I live in. I’ve also learnt that if you do an entire running-based online exercise session in bare feet, your calves hurt like mad the next day!

An Escape – I love being on my own generally and I work very happily from home anyway but suddenly having everyone home all the time means I’ve lost my solo deep work hours. My kids are old enough to sort themselves out with their home-schooling so there are snatches of time when we’re all occupied but there’s no quick sandwich at my desk, there’s no hours when the only noise is the dog pottering about and there’s no sudden hour of intense work when I realise it’s nearly school run time! Running is giving me solitude which is so important for me. I need the headspace, thinking time and creativity it gives me.

A Connector– A run through the village is giving me a chance to see that the world is still turning. I get to say hello to those I pass and to wave at others through the window. I get to see the Happy Birthday messages for the village children and the rainbows and posters in appreciation of key workers. Lockdown running has also connected me to members of 261 Fearless around the world. In the UK, our clubs have combined together for two virtual meetruns each week and I’ve also joined the global public meetrun on Thursdays. Sharing your lockdown running with women in Mumbai, Albania and Costa Rica has been an amazing experience.

An Opportunity– I’m not wanting to push myself by running for miles and risking a dip in my immunity, so short frequent runs seem to be the routine I’ve fallen in to. Coupled with the online exercise classes, I’m hoping that my neglected core strength will have improved by the end of this. I’m grateful for that change of routine, push to try new things and for the chance to reflect on how important running is to me.

Running is an essential for me. It’s consistent, reliable and a great friend to have. Whilst I miss running club and parkrun and the carefree attitude of running for miles and miles and finishing in a coffee shop, lockdown running is turning out to have lots of positives. I love it more than ever.

What does running mean to you at the moment? Has your relationship with it changed over recent weeks?

Featured Image: Gratisography. Others:

Coughing woman

Quick Question – Why do we cough?

A cough is one of the major symptoms of Covid-19 and a common feature of any respiratory infection but why do we cough and what actually happens in the body during a cough?

Coughs are annoying and irritating, both for the person suffering and for those around them (I seem to be as intolerant of listening to coughing as I am of hearing people chew!) They are however a protective mechanism designed to remove foreign particles from the windpipe and lungs. Larger objects such as food that’s gone down the wrong way and smaller particles such as dust, germs and mucous are all expelled from the body through coughing.

The lining of our airways contains specialised cells called goblet cells which produce mucous to keep our airways moist and to trap dirt and germs. Alongside them are ciliated cells which have hundreds of tiny, microscopic legs at their surface which wave, waft and move the mucous and trapped particles back up the airways. During an infection we may have a dry cough where little or no mucous is produced or a productive cough where the goblet cells work overtime making thick mucous to stop the airways drying out and trap bacteria and viruses.

Coughing is a reflex designed to protect us. There are cough receptors in our airways which are irritated by both chemical and mechanical stimuli. So, for example, the chemical receptors might be irritated if you inhale a strong cleaning fluid or regurgitate stomach acids and the mechanical receptors by breathing in particles of dust. When triggered, the cough receptors send a message to the ‘cough centre’ in the brain which in turn sends a message to all the muscles required to activate a cough.

If you think about how you cough, you’ll realise that the first thing that happens is that you breathe in (try it). This fills your lungs with air. For a cough to be effective the air needs to be expelled at high pressure. You’ll notice what happens next is a closing of your airways. You’ll feel your larynx tighten and at the same time you’ll feel your chest, abdominal muscles and diaphragm tense up. Once the pressure in the lungs has built up enough, then the glottis at the back of the throat opens and as the airways compress, the air is forcefully emitted and can bring trapped mucous and any other foreign bodies with it. That release of high pressure air causes a coughing sound.

In an emergency cough you might not breathe in first, if you’ve inhaled whilst eating then there’s no time for that and the body doesn’t want to take the food or drink further into the lung. In a cough with an infection, there’s time for a deeper breath in to bring up as much mucous as possible.

People who can’t cough effectively, for example the elderly or newborn babies are more at risk of lung infections such as pneumonia. People who have muscle disorders might not be able to generate enough power in the cough for it to be effective. Physiotherapists work closely with patients to help them deep breathe and cough and it’s one of the many reasons that people are encouraged to sit out in a chair in hospital and move around as soon as possible.

As a final thought. Coughing could also be said to be a friend to viruses. Particularly those viruses causing dry coughs, where little mucous is produced and there seems little benefit to coughing. Viruses (including Covid-19) are often transmitted in droplets produced by coughing. Perhaps a significant function of the cough is designed by viruses, to enable their transmission and spread.

Cover your coughs, wash your hands and please follow government advice re isolating yourself.

The next Quick Question will look at how we can stop coughing!

Featured Image: Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

There are more answers to questions like these and lots of health information to help you lead a happy and active life in my book Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health.Published by Bloomsbury and awarded First Place in the Popular Medicine category at the British Medical Association Medical Book Awards 2018.

Disclaimer: I can’t give personal medical advice and as always with health advice, reading something online doesn’t replace seeing your doctor who knows your medical history and can assess you in person.  So, if you are unsure then always seek the opinion of a health care professional. 

Red blood cells

Quick Question – What are oxygen sats?

We seem to have developed a range of new vocabulary since the onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Suddenly words such as self-isolate, health modelling and social distancing have become the norm. Some of the medical terminology that’s now filling our social media feeds can be unknown and confusing. A question I’ve seen a few times is, ‘What are oxygen sats?’ so I thought I’d answer it in my #quickquestion series.

Red blood cells carry oxygen around our body. They pick up oxygen molecules when they travel through the lungs and then transport it around the body attached to haemoglobin, which is a protein in the red cell. Our body’s organs and tissues need a steady supply of oxygen for them to function.

Oxygen sats is the short form of oxygen saturation and is a measure of how close blood is to being completely saturated with oxygen. Sats are measured in per cent and the goal is 100 per cent. You might also see oxygen abbreviated to its chemical symbol O2.

Healthy people will have O2 sats close to or at 100 per cent. Once levels drop below 95 per cent, then it can become significant. A one off reading, like most things in medicine, rarely gives the whole picture. Some older people and those with long term lung diseases will function quite normally with sats of 94 per cent but in these cases it has usually fallen gradually over time. A sudden drop to 94 per cent in a person who is usually at 99 per cent, is more concerning.

Doctors assessing patients with Covid-19 have guidelines for the level of oxygen saturation that determines the severity of illness and whether a patient needs admitting to hospital for oxygen therapy and observation. They will take the whole patient into account, including symptoms and past medical history and not just the sats number in order to make a decision about what the next steps should be.

Oxygen levels can be measured accurately with blood taken from the artery of a patient, usually from the wrist, and quickly analysed by a blood gas machine. However, good estimates of oxygen saturation are obtained using pulse oximeters, small devices which use infrared sensors to detect red cells in capillaries. These can quickly be popped on fingers, toes or earlobes and only take a few painless seconds to give a reading. They are available for the general public to buy although they are now in short supply. There are oxygen sats apps too, but with all these things, accuracy can’t be guaranteed and you should always use a device that has been appropriately validated. Inaccurate readings could potentially be harmful, if not life threatening, if they give false reassurance.

You can use the NHS 111 online coronavirus symptom checker for advice on what you should do if you are unwell.

Featured Image: by Arek Socha from Pixabay

There are more answers to questions like these and lots of health information to help you lead a happy and active life in my book Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health.Published by Bloomsbury and awarded First Place in the Popular Medicine category at the British Medical Association Medical Book Awards 2018.

Disclaimer: I can’t give personal medical advice and as always with health advice, reading something online doesn’t replace seeing your doctor who knows your medical history and can assess you in person.  So, if you are unsure then always seek the opinion of a health care professional.