A recent health study has found…

English: Keeping your family active is the bes...

English: Keeping your family active is the best way to avoid obesity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Am I the only one who is not only bamboozled by but utterly sick of the plethora of medical/health-related news headlines with which we are bombarded on a daily basis. I decided to look back over the last 2 weeks and see exactly what I am supposed to be doing or not supposed to be doing if I were to follow the advice and findings of various reports and it is quite astounding how much tripe there is out there.

Firstly, let’s take the word of the moment: obesity.  This is undoubtedly an increasingly large (no pun intended) problem for this and future generations but it is this very subject which gives rise to some of the most ridiculous studies and conclusions. My favourite groundbreaking study, the results of which have been recently released, is that which comes to the startling conclusion that those living or working near to ‘clusters’ of takeaway outlets are more likely to eat unhealthy food and become obese.  No s*** Sherlock. How much time and money has been wasted in carrying out such an extraordinarily informative study? Another equally useful study of recent weeks concludes that the activity levels of a mother and her child are directly linked – i.e. the more physically active a mother is, the more active her child will be….wow, that is quite astounding.  Surely there can’t be a link between a mother who sits on her sofa watching daytime TV all day, only moving to switch channels and her equally lazy offspring whose ambitions extend to appearing on Jeremy Kyle.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news to those conducting this study but it does seem blindingly obvious to me that this would be the case. Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs springs to mind.

Apparently according to another study, childhood obesity is partly caused by strict parenting.  How convenient, yet another reason for us to pander to our children and to feel guilty for setting any boundaries.  So as not to appear strict, saying “Yes, darling, of course you can have another 6 packets of crisps and 2 cans of coke,” is clearly going to help prevent the obesity epidemic.

According to the newspapers this week, our 5 a day of fruit and vegetables is not enough and we should be aiming for 10 a day.  I can’t work out if that is one of those reverse psychology tricks that the nanny state is playing on us (after all it was April Fools Day this week) or whether this is a genuine piece of advice.  Perhaps by overstating the amount we should eat it will push us into increasing our intake and therefore move us towards actually achieving our 5 a day ( a bit like when I tell my husband that a party starts at 8pm when actually it starts at 9pm but as he is always late, we have got some chance of being on time if he believes me).  However, if the advice is genuine, I am already hyperventilating at the prospect of providing 50 portions of fruit and vegetables daily to my family of 5.

Other than obesity, the most oft reported ‘breakthrough’ studies seem to refer to exercise. Now I realise that doing exercise is a given (or at least in my case wearing sports clothing to mimic taking exercise) but no-one is able to agree on how much, what type and with what intensity.  Take two health headlines in the last week or so: aerobic exercise in your 20s may protect the brain in middle age and jogging can be harmful if done for more than 2-3 hours a week.  As you can imagine, I have paid scant attention to the first as sadly I am so way past my 20s that protecting my brain is really not an option. Although what I am not sure is whether the study means that aerobic exercise is pointless in your 40s – I suspect not, but I can live in hope.  The second headline is music to my ears.  Not only is running, to my mind, the most boring exercise known to man (I realise that I have now alienated scores of you who are running-obsessed) but I have to admit to a feeling of smugness that all those people who have run religiously for hours every week and made me feel unfit and lazy could in fact being doing more harm than good. Exercise in moderation – always been my motto – although I don’t think my definition of moderation and some others would be commensurate .

These are only a small proportion of the findings reported in the press in the last few weeks. Clearly, many studies are extremely important and represent true medical and health progress.  However it seems to me that far too many are plainly ridiculous, with patently obvious conclusions that only serve to contribute to an already overwhelming degree of health anxiety amongst this generation.  In fact, for me, all this conflicting advice leaves me with no option but to ignore it all.  It is not really feasible for me to eat 10 portions of fruit whilst jogging (not too much) but not outside due to pollution from a Saharan dust storm and certainly not in the vicinity of a ‘cluster’ of takeaway outlets and be nice to my children (not strict in the least) all at the same time.

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How to spot a man over forty – the definitive guide

Porsche Boxster, a rear mid-engine, rear-wheel...

Porsche Boxster, a rear mid-engine, rear-wheel (RMR) drive sports car (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little while ago I wrote a blog post about how to tell whether a woman is over 40.  But how do you tell if a man is over 40?  Easy, you say, he manifests all the signs of a mid-life crisis – he buys some ridiculous, utterly impractical 2-seater sports car, or worse a motor bike; he starts wearing a dodgy leather jacket and too-tight jeans; he flirts outrageously with girls half his age in the delusional belief that they find him attractive when in truth they find him pitiably sad.

These things may all be true or they may just be a cliché. It got me thinking however whether in fact there are some more subtle signs which herald the onset of the 40s in a man and I believe there are.  After much observation, here is my list of the signs of an impending mid-life crisis:

– Firstly, in one of Mother Nature’s more cruel jokes, men appear to lose the hair on their head and grow it elsewhere on the body. For some reason Mother Nature seems to think that men no longer need hair on their heads but instead need more hair on their backs and in their ears and noses.  I fail to see what biological reason this body hirsuteness has – perhaps it is just a sort of rough (bristly?) justice to compensate women for the decades of plucking, waxing and depilation that we have to endure. Note – the borrowing of a woman’s tweezers by a man or a sudden interest in waxing are common initial manifestations of the onset of increased body/nasal hair.

– Secondly, the onset of male hypochondria and the diminishment of the male immortality belief. In my experience this male hypochondria often stems from the over 40 health MOTs which many men undergo.  I wholeheartedly endorse such health checks but I strongly believe men should not be given access to any of the results unless absolutely necessary.  Why?  Because men who have never ever shown the remotest interest in health (believing in their immortality), the same men who dismiss all female health problems as either “something down there” or related to the “her time of the month”, suddenly become minutely interested in the details of their own health.  They pick through the smallest print of every blood test – “My phosphate level is slightly high – do you think this is serious, am I going to die?”.  In my opinion, men are best left blissfully unaware of such things, obviously with the exception of any serious illness, and only given information about their health on a need-to-know basis.

– Questioning immortality and insecurity about future health is what drives another sign of a man moving towards middle age – exercise.  I know that I am not one to speak as I frequently wear exercise kit as a way of vicariously exercising and making others believe I have exercised when I have not, but it seems men of a certain age have all the gear and absolutely no idea. They have lycra, expensive trainers and hi-vis clothing coming out of their (hairy?) ears but how often do they actually go out and exercise? Infrequent at most would be my guess.  Although, do note, there is a sizeable subset of men who after the age of 40 take exercise to extreme levels and start competing in iron man competitions and the like (you can spot these men by their eagerness to post race times etc on social networking sites).

– Another sign – falling asleep on the sofa almost every evening at a time that could not reasonably be called bedtime.   This falling asleep can happen almost immediately upon sitting down and is usually accompanied by noisy exhalations.  These narcoleptic tendencies often go hand in hand with the automatic denial the morning after that he fell asleep on the sofa the night before. Sometimes it only becomes undeniable when a man sits down to watch an episode of a programme (having slept through the previous episode) and asks “can you remember what happened in the last episode?” to which a woman replies “Yes thanks and so would you if you had been awake”.

– Watch an over 40s man’s face the next time he is told that a social engagement has been cancelled.  He will almost certainly say things like “What a shame – I was so looking forward to a huge night out” but look carefully at his face because the relief will be almost tangible, his words are just bravado.  The truth of it is that even the most hardened of male party animals secretly enjoys his nights in with a takeaway, a beer and the TV to watch (or sleep in front of…).  In fact, given the choice most over 40s men would rarely go out except for the odd night out with a few mates – the proverbial old man in the pub evening.

So there you have it – he may not buy some wildly inappropriate car or think he is impressing girls half his age but the signs will be there if you look.  The sad truth for men over 40 is that they have now entered the realm of dad-dancing-at-a-wedding and we should probably cut them a bit of slack as they come to terms with all that represents.  It cannot be easy for the male ego to admit that he is not the man he was at 21 and actually pottering around the garden centre of an afternoon is not all that bad…

My phantom pregnancy…

A pregnant woman

A pregnant woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am back in the “office” and rather gratifyingly my clients seemed to have missed me.  The week started well largely because Monday signalled the end of half term and a return to sanity.  I muddled through the week until Thursday when my sense of humour was tested to its full.

Let me explain.  Thursday started innocuously enough.  I did some exercise – yes, I know what you’re thinking…that doesn’t sound that innocuous considering that I am the girl who dresses for exercise when I have absolutely no intention of exercising in order to appear as though I have been exercising.  Confused?  So am I a lot of the time.  Anyway, that morning I had actually been exercising and in order to maximise my post-exercise smugness, I wore my exercise kit for the rest of the day.

That afternoon I went to a meeting with a friend as part of my class rep duties.  At the start of this meeting, I was introduced to someone who is helping us with a class party.  I was still attired in my exercise clothes (arguably not that suited to a meeting).  The man to whom I was introduced seemed rather fascinated with my stomach – or at least that was where his eyes were focused (makes a change, I guess, from another part of one’s anatomy!) and he said hello and then said something on the lines of “Who’s been eating lots of chocolate then?” – yes, I kid you not, this was his opener.  Those who know me well will attest to the fact that I am very rarely lost for words…on this occasion I was literally struck dumb.

First reaction:  what the…? Second reaction:  I must be wrong, he must mean something completely different. Third reaction: surely not…he can’t mean that…perhaps he does mean that.  No worries, he soon clarified what he actually meant by digging himself into the most extraordinarily large hole with the immortal words “Oh sorry, I thought you were pregnant!”. Yes, you read that right, he did say that and not for the first time in that few minutes, I was once more left entirely speechless.

Let’s face it, you wouldn’t really take the pregnancy option with a complete stranger unless you were fairly confident that they were well into the gestation period, would you? It’s not the kind of thing you want to get wrong, is it?  By my reckoning, that would make me at least 5-6 months pregnant…I don’t know who was more mortified  – me or him when the error of his judgement was pointed out to him.

Suffice to say, the best thing to do in such circumstances is laugh and hold your stomach in ad infinitum – both of which I have been doing since Thursday last week.  It must be said that this little  incident could not have had worse timing as Friday signalled the start of a weekend in France for me, my husband and some friends and that weekend clearly meant swimwear horror.  I didn’t let it put me off and in fact I just milked it all weekend…”eating for two”, “need to put my feet up in my condition” etc.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and mine came on Friday evening at 3.30am outside a french nightclub.  As I sat outside the club waiting for our taxi,  I was approached by a man (in front of husband) –  a good-looking man in his mid-twenties I should add.  He asked me if I was tired as I was sitting down and I replied that at my age, 40, (and in my condition!), tiredness was an occupational hazard if you dared to go anywhere after midnight.  He looked genuinely surprised and said he couldn’t believe I was 40 and had thought I was 29 tops. OMG, distended “pregnant” stomach immediately forgotten as I basked in the ultimate (although clearly ludicrous) compliment.

I of course related this to my friends in the taxi with great glee – divine retribution, I thought, for the earlier horror visited upon me on Thursday. My husband and my friends were less convinced.  They pointed out the obvious (which I was trying to ignore) that it was 3.30 am, dark outside and the man in question was almost certainly wearing a very strong pair of “beer goggles”  Thanks guys!

Pull a sickie – no chance…

Duvet Dog

Duvet Dog (Photo credit: mrwalker)

Apparently yesterday – Monday 4th February – was the most likely day in the year for Brits to pull a sickie.  I do love these completely meaningless stats that some poor person has to dream up in order to pad out the morning news bulletins. It’s not exactly earth-shattering that Monday 4th February is fairly unpopular with the working population and not one on which we leap out of bed full of the joys – after all it is a Monday in the most god-awful month of the year in the UK.

There is very little to recommend February in the UK.  I know that in January I wrote a defence of January and I stand by that.  However, I’m afraid I find it less easy to defend February.  It’s cold, it’s dark, there’s no bank holidays for ages. In fact, the only positive thing about February is that it is the shortest month.

Unfortunately for those in my line of work, pulling a sickie is not an option. As much as I might like to pull my duvet over my head, hide and only emerge to shout profanities at anyone who dares to approach me, I can’t.  There’s no sick pay in my job.  Actually when I think about it, there is no holiday entitlement, no overtime, no time off in lieu and no bonus either.  Funny really when what I do is one of the most relentless, time-consuming, all-encompassing, unappreciated occupations. When my daughter shouted at me the other day that she wanted a new mummy, I almost felt sorry for her.  She can’t fire me, she can’t even make me redundant.  She’s stuck with me – my contract is for life!  Apart from the obvious joys that parenting brings, there are upsides to this job – no power-crazy boss to report to (if you exclude my children); no office politics; no commute. On balance, I am a fairly satisfied employee of “Motherhood”. Anyway, even if I wasn’t, I couldn’t really go on strike – who would cook dinner?  Who would drive the taxi? Who would do the laundry?

So yesterday, even though I knew that joining the masses in a duvet day was not an option for me, I can’t really say that I leapt out of bed, champing at the bit to get cracking on another fun-filled Monday in February. In fact, yesterday, was one of those days that just passed without any real input from me.  I must have looked fairly shambolic as at least three people on the school run asked if I was feeling OK. One person passed off my neglected appearance by reasoning that since I was wearing tracksuit trousers, I was going to do some exercise.  Obviously this was not the case, I just couldn’t be a**** to get dressed properly – in fact, if my pyjamas hadn’t been pink stripey brushed-cotton obviously pyjamas, I’d have kept them on all day.  Not, of course, that I told her that – I just nodded – just a little head movement that wasn’t a lie as such, more of an acknowledgement.  As I have said before in my blog, I often dress as if I am doing exercise in order for people to think that is what I have done (it’s almost as good as doing the exercise itself, go on try it!) and I am absolutely convinced I am not alone in this little sartorial trick.

So today, well now it’s Tuesday and after “no effort at all” Monday, I decided this morning that I would make some effort with my appearance.  I not only brushed my hair but I also put on make-up.  This is not the normal state of affairs for the school run and it would appear to have unsettled the children somewhat.  My elder son wanted to know where I was going – he was not convinced by my “nowhere special” response.  My younger son was more to the point.  He said “are you feeling ok, mummy, it’s just that your face looks sweaty”. The sweaty look that he was referring to was my very expensive Laura Mercier illuminating tinted moisturiser.  It would appear that its slightly too good at its job – giving more of a perspiration look than a ladylike “glow”.  My daughter was much more interested in the lipstick I was wearing – she looked at it intently before asking me if she could wear lipstick when she’s 4 – I looked at her benignly – I can always rely on my daughter to appreciate how I look.  This solidarity was quickly swept away however when she said that when she wore lipstick (when she’s 4 apparently), she wouldn’t wear a colour anything like the one I had on. Excellent, so before I’ve even got out of the front door, my effort to make an effort has been totally obliterated by my delightful children.

So tomorrow if you see a woman on the school run wearing tracksuit trousers with unbrushed hair and no make-up – it’s me and before you ask, no, I’m not going to do any exercise and yes, I’m feeling fine, thanks.  That is not to say that I wouldn’t rather be hiding under my duvet, emerging only to shout profanities at anyone brave (or stupid) enough to approach me.