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How running can help improve mental health- the 4 key benefits

An analysis of Google trends data shows that searches for “what are the symptoms of depression” are up by 350%, and “how to deal with depression” up by 70% over the past 30 days, suggesting that many are starting off 2023 suffering from low mood and depression. A huge contributing factor to this will be seasonal affective disorder, which is a depression experience by many during the darker winter months.


To help, the experts at New Balance share four key ways in which exercise, and running in particular, can help improve your mental health.

  1. Release of happy hormones
    Research by Mayo Clinic which found that exercising for about 30 minutes three to five times a week can help relieve depression symptoms. Exercise in general also helps release the feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins, which can negate the symptoms of depression and low mood.
    New Balance marathon runner Jonny Mellor explains: “You always feel good after a run. There’s never a feeling of, ‘I shouldn’t have done that’. Getting out of the door is the hardest step. Then once you’re out, you’re set up to be in a better mood. After running, or any other exercise, endorphins are released in the body, and you feel much better.”
  2. Increases oxygen and Vitamin D exposure
    During the cold and dark winter days it can be difficult to find the motivation to get outside, but in fact running, as a form of exercise, is actual extra beneficial during winter months. Opting for a run outside during the day instead of in the gym exposes you to fresh air, which increases the amount of oxygen in your body, helping white blood cells to function more efficiently and keep the winter bugs at bay. Not only this, but it also increases exposure to sunlight during a time of the year where vitamin D levels are typically not high enough. In fact, studies have shown that we get 90% of our vitamin D from the sun, if not taking any additional supplements, which means we should make a conscious effort to expose ourselves to the sun during the winter months.
    Although there is limited evidence that a Vitamin D deficiency directly contributes to depression, the symptoms of a deficiency are aching bones, sore muscles and joints as well as constipation, all of which can affect a person’s quality of life and therefore mood.
  3. Aids better sleep
    It is typical of those that have depression to be experiencing poor sleep, in fact, studies have shown that insomnia occurs in about 75% of adult patients with depression but according to the Sleep Foundation, depression and sleep have a bidirectional relationship, meaning it is difficult to prove whether it is depression causing poor sleep or poor sleep contributing to depression. Either way, improving the amount and quality of sleep will improve mood and overall health- and one way to do this is to increase exercise levels.
    Moderate exercise, such as running, has been proven to aid a restful night’s sleep by reducing the time it takes for sleep onset, which is the time it takes to fall asleep, this decreases the amount of time people lie awake in bed during the night. There is also the benefit that you are using more energy in the day to exercise, meaning there is less pent-up energy in the evening, essentially you wear yourself out.

Also, if you exercise outside it can help regulate your circadian rhythm. Exposure to sunlight lets our body know when it should be awake, meaning that when the sun sets, our bodies then produce melatonin to induce sleepiness and promote sleep. Increasing the time spent outside is a simple and effective way to trigger the natural chemicals in our brain that promote high-quality sleep.

It is, however, important to bear in mind that the timing of your run will impact the effect it has on sleep. Exercising too close to bedtime can have the opposite desired effect, as exercise releases endorphins, adrenaline and raises body temperature it can make sleeping more difficult. Avoid exercise at least 2 hours before bedtime.

  1. Improved self-esteem
    There are many physical health benefits of running such as improved cardiovascular fitness, decreased blood pressure, and, of course the more obvious one, weight management. Whether your goal is to feel healthier and fitter or your goals is to lose weight, taking up running can help improve how you feel about yourself- your self-esteem, and you don’t need to be running marathons to feel the benefit.
    The NHS physical activity guidelines state that to help reduce the risk of heart disease or a stroke: “Adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.” Running is classed as a vigorous activity by the NHS, meaning that just 15-minute run 5 days a week will see adults achieving their recommended activity goals and therefore positively affect other goals which helps boost self-esteem.

https://www.newbalance.co.uk/running/

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Lifestyle

Ushering in a more personalised healthcare system

Subhro Malik, Senior Vice President & Head Life Science, Infosys

Millions of users across England are using the NHS App to quickly access various digital services such as scheduling doctor appointments, checking their records, referring to repeat prescriptions etc. The UK government wants to extend the app’s usage with ambitious plans to enrich its features over the next couple of years, and eventually accelerate the digital revolution in healthcare. By March 2024, the government hopes to have at least 75% of the adult population relying on the app for a wide array of healthcare services.

These ambitions clearly indicate the growing acceptance of technology as an enabler of healthcare on a massive scale. In the modern context, public healthcare needs to be patient-centric, holistic, anytime and anywhere, and stakeholders are increasingly depending on technology to deliver at scale. Digital interventions can truly transform the way healthcare services are delivered and bring these in line with end-user expectations.

Technologies such as the Internet of things, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, blockchain, and wearables can enable remote monitoring, exchange, and capture of relevant patient information. Studies show that healthcare providers harnessing such technologies and digital solutions are better placed to improve patient outcomes. The use of data enables more accurate diagnoses, better decision-making, self-management, and personalization of care. Medical device companies are also adding value by embedding digital assistants and apps into their products to enable a more personalised user experience.

For example, patients ailing from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, chronic pain, or spinal disorders are required to strictly following prescribed medication, exercise, and nutrition regimens to manage their condition. It calls for a high degree of health and nutrition literacy and support in tracking and monitoring regimens, while remaining mindful of ambiguities and consequences. Patients already grappling with chronic conditions often feel overwhelmed by the complexities involved. They tend to lean heavily on professional supervision and interventions, expecting support on-demand.

In such situations, digital health platforms can become their lifelines. By seamlessly integrating real-time data from medical devices, wearables, mobile apps as well as other digital devices, these platforms enable clinicians to remotely monitor each patient’s progress. Digital health platforms also aggregate and analyse data to produce insights tailored to help each patient. They focus on enabling self-management of chronic conditions, and forming positive habits, thus helping them work towards a better quality of life.

A host of digital tools such as virtual coaches and digital diaries are available today that make patient-centred care, a reality. Patients with chronic pain can record, monitor, and access their pain data, closely trace patterns. These insights that can inform and push them towards choosing a better diet, exercise routine, and lifestyle.

Patients want more accessibility to their healthcare provider and may require support anytime. However, this support can be hard to come by, especially at odd hours. On the other hand, one of the biggest advantages of virtual tools is that support is available anytime, anywhere. This makes them an ideal solution for patients with chronic pain to avail on-demand support. In the absence of a consistent in-person supervisor, they can use a virtual coach who remotely monitors and guides them through their medication and exercise regimens that are integral to pain management. They are also able to log their pain patterns, moods, sleep data, and activities and understand whether their coping strategies are effective or need improvement.

Undoubtedly, digital platforms are valuable in the management of patient care with their strong alignment to each patient’s expectation and needs of personalised care. They can play a key role in enabling easy access to reliable information, on-demand support, user-friendly navigation etc. There are challenges, however, that could derail the radical changes, which technology can bring to healthcare systems. For instance, research suggests that patients feel a natural reticence in sharing highly personal/confidential health data on an app or online tool. Patient sensitivities over data privacy and security breaches can override the advantages of any feature or functionality these apps promise.

After all, the success of personalised digital health systems depends on the extent to which patients can trust the healthcare provider with regards to: “Is my confidential data in safe hands? And is my care provider using the most relevant insights to deliver the care I need when it matters the most to me? Health care providers and medical device manufacturers investing in digital solutions need to address these concerns and plug systemic vulnerabilities, on priority. Some of the measures that have proved to be effective include implementing physical and digital access controls, electronic audit trails, and risk analyses. Of course, giving the patient the choice to share their personal information voluntarily and the choice to opt out is important too.

Ensuring the data safety and empowering patients with knowledge and choice will be key in shaping the future of digital healthcare.

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Business

Top 5 Retail Trends & Priorities 2024

Building agility and resilience in a recovering market – 2024 is the year to create new opportunities, stronger systems, and the ability to react fast to a market liable to change

Ed Betts, Retail Lead Europe, Retail Express

Recent headlines point to market improvement as the rate of inflation declines, but for most retailers the difficult times are not yet over. In many cases, retailers continue to suffer volume decline, with only discounters seeing any appreciable level of volume growth. The supermarket model is built on volume, so any amount of negative growth means a dip in turnover.

The challenge for 2024, as a sluggish market struggles to regain its footing, is to act to drive growth in volume, increase footfall, and expand market share, all while improving the agility and resilience of one’s business. The past few years have proven beyond doubt that anything can happen, and that retailers must ensure they carry the tools to react quickly when it does.

Top 5 retail trends and priorities for 2024:

1: Focus on automation

Retail margins are traditionally tight, and the pressing issue of recovery means 2023 has seen them getting tighter still. There is little wiggle room left to optimise margins under existing operational structures. It is time for change: streamlining processes through restructuring and automation will be a major shift in 2024, both on the shop floor and within head office.

The shift has already begun, and many more retailers will follow suit. 2024 will see new efficiencies found in the realignment of core functions, and a proliferation of automated systems which can adjust pricing, manage promotions, assist in media management, ensure stock assortment and create brand new innovations to improve efficiency and speed.

2: Exploiting AI opportunities

The rapid advancement of AI offers retailers new opportunities to strengthen, support and enhance inefficient processes – allowing staff the head space and breathing room to focus on driving business forward. While there’s pressure on retailers to simplify, they must be equally cognisant of the critical nature of innovation. Adopting the latest technology is the best way to be ahead of the curve and differentiate one’s offerings in a crowded market.

Used responsibly and transparently in line with the guidelines set out in the 2023 UK AI Summit, AI forms the basis for new ways of retailing. AI driven analytics tools offer the security of planning activity far in advance, the agility to work with suppliers quickly to meet sudden market demand, and the ability to respond confidently to rival activity.

AI’s labour-saving benefits support every core function: it frees buyers’ time to develop key relationships by negotiating automatically with regular suppliers; it can be a vital aid in marketing and merchandising, highlighting products which are eligible or suitable for promotion; its predictive models help on the shelf, pinpointing when a product should be launched or promoted.

3: Increased focus on loyalty schemes

Over the course of 2023 loyalty card promotions have become a crucial and successful driver of customer retention. Those retailers with the most established loyalty schemes have seen their customer base stay relatively steady, even against competition from discounters. A key focus of 2024, therefore, will be to build stronger loyalty schemes and foster a customer base which will not stray.

The powerful value of customer data, coupled with the proven retention benefits of such schemes, will make loyalty programmes a strategic essential in 2024. Driven by AI insights, these will spread their net further – retailers will implement deeper offers, linked cross-promotional sales, and a data-driven expansion of bespoke voucher programs targeted directly to individuals based on their buying habits.

4: Improved data mining

Data is king: it has become the most valuable resource any business has at its disposal. Retailers collect a huge amount of data, but to date this tends to have been improperly and inadequately mined. Less than half[1] of retailers benefit from a complete picture of their data inventory. The battle to gain market share cannot be fought for free. Investing in data, however, pays for itself.

In a changing market, strong data management will become even more essential. Deep data knowledge will reveal new ways for mainstream retailers to differentiate themselves from discounters.

Accessing the insights offered and unifying siloed sources into a single body of data intelligence are therefore a vital part of any 2024 improvement plan. The more data is processed, the more insights are discovered, and the more effective a retailer’s offers can be.

5: Targeted media spend

Retailers are not the only ones rebuilding. Cost pressures are showing signs of easing on suppliers, and they are now eager to boost sales by applying the funding to make it happen. Retailers must ensure that every penny of that potential promotional budget works hard, because an ineffective promotion is a waste.

Exploiting these opportunities in the most efficient and valuable way demands the creative application of data. Greater command of their data will see retailers finding new ways to maximise traditional media spend in 2024, providing brands with the ability to advertise in the moment, reaching customers at the point that they are willing and able to make a purchase.


[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1262066/data-usage-in-consumer-products-and-retail-industry/

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Lifestyle

The 5 Safest Garden and Home Plants for Pets

House and garden plants are a wonderful way to introduce colour and bring natural elements into your space, not to mention their host of health benefits, including improved air quality and stress reduction.

If you’re a pet owner, it’s important to do your research before adding new houseplants to your home décor’s repertoire. Many houseplants contain calcium oxalate crystals, a compound that can cause swelling, vomiting and severe throat pain if ingested by your pet.

Finding appropriate plants that are kind to your pets can be a minefield. Here, the garden experts behind Hayter discusses some great plants that can feel happily at home both in the garden and the house – perfect for temperamental weather conditions and safe for your furry friends.

Moth orchid

The moth orchid (also known as the Phalaenopsis orchid) is currently trending in the houseplant market thanks to its colour variety, hardiness and availability at most flower shops and supermarkets. It’s beginner-friendly for all you plant novices out there, with good survivability in drought and medium-light needs (place it in a bright space that’s indirect to the sun).

Its high survivability mixed with a preference for medium-light, low nutrient levels and warm conditions makes it an ideal houseplant that can be originally grown in the garden. Moth orchids prefer shade and a minimum temperature of 20°C to grow happily.

Tip: Orchids can also be watered using ice cubes, which is handy if you have a habit of over-watering.

Goldtraube

Goldtraube, or Vaccinium corymbosum, is known to most as a blueberry bush. This pretty little shrub loves being in both the garden and on a windowsill in equal measure.

A Goldtraube makes a nice addition to garden shrubbery or a kitchen windowsill for easy access to its fruit. This plant can tolerate shade, but it definitely prefers sunlight and moist soil. Be sure to keep it out of direct winds to preserve its strength.

Blueberries are also pet-safe, so there’s no need to chase your furry friends around the house if they pinch one. Blueberries are a source of healthy minerals and antioxidants for both humans and pets!

Tip: Expect more blueberries if the plant gets more sunlight.

Air plants

Air plants are a fascinating alternative to your more traditional garden or houseplant. The most low-maintenance plant on this list, air plants don’t require soil to grow. They can grow in rooms, on garden furniture, trees and rocks, and in areas with high humidity where other plants may struggle (like the bathroom). Rather than traditional watering, they require misting to keep them healthy.

What makes air plants the ultimate garden and home-friendly houseplant alternative is the ability to present them in many creative ways that keep them out of reach.

A clever way of displaying air plants is using glass terrariums that can be placed in areas away from roaming pets – this is helpful if your four-legged friends have a habit of knocking over your décor. You can keep air plants on areas such as desks and cabinets or use them as decoration for garden furniture.

Tip: Some great air plants for beginners are the Tillandsia caput-medusae and Tillandsia aeranthos.

Kentia palm

An imposing plant that’s best suited to large rooms and garden backlines, the Kentia palm is a tall plant with sweeping foliage and vibrant green colour.

It’s nicknamed the ‘paradise palm plant’ for good reason – it’s reminiscent of tall tropical palm trees and has excellent capability for air purification.

These plants grow quickly and are easy to care for, adapting to a range of soil mixes and requiring weekly watering. While this plant is appropriate for indoor use, we’d recommend placing it in rooms with lots of space due to its large size. The Kentia palm can be left outside in all non-extreme conditions.

Tip: A matching set of Kentia palms beside the front door or garden steps makes for a beautiful entrance to a home or garden.

Zebra cactus

The zebra cactus, also known as the haworthia, deserves a unique spot on this list as it’s one of the few non-toxic succulents that fit well with the indoor aesthetics of most modern homes as well as the garden.

This succulent isn’t a true member of the cactus family. Instead of spikes, it has a striking collection of small aloe plants with white chevroned leaves.

Perfect for potting, this plant is extremely low-maintenance – water when the topsoil is part-dry and allow for partial sunlight and warm temperatures.

Tip: if you find your zebra cactus’ leaves turning yellow, move it to a shadier spot. The zebra cactus must be moved indoors on especially cold nights or non-summer months.

There we have it! Now you and your pets can enjoy your plants both inside the house and in your garden without the need for concern. Play around with your greenery and find a location that best suits your living space, making sure to position your plants where both you and your pet can benefit from some mood-boosting nature.

As always, if you’re unsure as to whether a houseplant is dangerous to pets, be careful to check before purchase.

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