Health

How fitness trackers can help you EARN

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Health insurance is a major Australian industry, and when you can get cheaper car insurance for driving safely, it only makes sense that Australians could earn or save thousands a year just by walking—and your fitness trackers can help you do it.

Many insurers already offer members benefits for walking a certain amount of steps per day. AIA offers $5 weekly vouchers for iTunes, Hoyts, Woolworths and Boost Juice for completing 12,500 steps per day, while others offer discounted premiums for staying active.

Medibank’s partnership with Coles offers 10 Fly buys points for every day customers reach 10,000 steps on their fitness trackers, which equates to about five cents. Similarly, Qantas gives frequent flyers the ability to earn points by cycling through the Qantas Assure Wellness Rewards program—although to earn 100 points, participants would need to ride 100km a week.

One US health insurer even will deposit actual cash into an account for members who complete a certain amount of steps a day.

Amy McDonough, senior vice president of strategy and operations for Fitbit Health Solutions, said the scheme can have a big impact on adding value for life—and these types of schemes are resonating with people.

“It’s heading in the right direction, and we’re really excited about that.”

Guide on cruelty-free transitioning

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So maybe you don’t want animals to die. Maybe you feel bad about the suffering some of them go through. Maybe you really wish you could live a life that’s as sustainable and caring as possible. But how? How can you even think about limiting or discontinuing your consumption of animal products? It’s such an ingrained part of society. It’s everywhere. We’re taught that it’s natural, that it’s normal, that we as human beings have superiority over non-human animals. That it’s our right to consume them. But is it our right to allow them to suffer? To be the cause of their suffering? No.

Do you think as I do? Does it sadden you when you see those horrific videos of pigs in cages too small to move? Where farmed animals may never see the sun or fell the grass under their feet, where their lives are taken advantage of purely for our purposes of consumption? If the answer is yes, you may want to consider at least limiting your impact—and here’s my little handy guide of how.

Milk:

This is probably one of the easiest things to change, because of the variety you have in what you choose to drink. There’s so many choices! You’ve got multiple types of soy milks, each creamier than the next, or almond milk, sweet rice milk, coconut milk, macadamia milk and hazelnut milk. Whether its cooking or coffee, these things work just as well. Personally, I think the cheap soy milk is great—and bonus, it contains lots of protein and nutrients to fill you up.

Cheese:

This is often the most difficult thing I hear people say. In fact, I used to be one of those people. Having been vegetarian for 7 years before becoming vegan about 10 months ago, I would always respond with yes, I’m vegetarian! But I could never go vegan. I love cheese. Dairy is my favourite food group. And it really was. But after researching what a lot of dairy cows go through—that they’re (often) artificially inseminated and kept pregnant their entire lives to produce dairy, with their babies taken away to become veal or future dairy cows—I decided no food could ever be worth their cries.

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Image via Just The Food.

Even so, replacing cheese was really difficult for me. Some vegans avoid substitutes all together, by using other ingredients—like avocado or tomato paste—for that “melty” effect. However, as a former dairy lover, I do enjoy cheese—but fear not! There is plenty of choice for cruelty-free dairy! Biocheese happens to be a favourite of mine, and for around $7-9, it’s certainly worth it. The texture is a little different to your usual cheese, but it’s super creamy and to die for when melted—even better than actual cheese, I’d argue. There’s also Tofutti cream cheese and sour cream, both of which are super creamy, tasty and useful in cooking. Any health food store will sell plenty of these kinds of things—and even Coles and Woolworths. Furthermore, I’ve recently discovered you can make your own cheese, using things like cashews, and nutritional yeast flakes, which have together create a creamy, cheesy flavour. Google is your best friend—explore, experiment and have some fun eating some tasty creations.

Meat:

Meat is probably the easiest thing to replace, give up or reduce. We really do not need it to survive—you can get all your nutrients and more from plants. But if you do long for meat, there are vegan alternatives. Firstly, you have things like grilled mushrooms, or other veggies—using the right flavouring, they can be quite similar. Tofu is also a great substitute when cooked well. A personal favourite of mine is to thinly slice tofu and coat with paprika, salt, pepper and garlic, before searing it and making a delicious dipping sauce to go with it—healthy and super easy for lazy people like me. There’s also plenty of fake meats. The frozen section of supermarkets normally have a great choice of burgers, sausages, pies, schnitzels, and so on. Textured soy protein is a new personal favourite of mine—it’s super cheap at around $3 for a big bag; just add water and heat. It can be used for the same kind of thing mince is used for.

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Image via Pura Botanica.

There’s also plenty of online shops where you can find all sorts of goodies! Lam Yong has a physical and online store, and they sell everything. I am crazy excited to try vegan prawns, soy duck and vegan drumsticks.

There’s really plenty of options. I’m not here to force you—I’m just expressing my experiences in attaining a healthy cruelty-free lifestyle. Going vegan has been the best thing I’ve ever done, and my life, as well as the lives of the animals who are slowly being saved by this movement, is better for it.

6 tips to inspire yourself to hit the gym

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Going to the gym is hard.

I find I often start off with the best of intentions, only to find myself falling into a pile of procrastination and excuses. If it’s in the morning, I groan as I put my alarm clock to snooze for the seventh time (I am not kidding, I need this to even consider waking up in the morning). Then I think to myself, I work hard at uni. I have such long days. I deserve a sleep in, yay me. Night time is quite similar—I think, well, it will probably be crowded now it’s after 5pm. Honestly, I just want to go home and make some kind of delicious elaborate food. Maybe I’ll study. Maybe I’ll even have a bubble bath. Do I do any of these things? Absolutely not. My routine normally consists of lazy (yet still somewhat healthy) vegan meals and a lot of time procrastinating either gaming, watching movies, or binge-watching TV shows and anime.

So, how do you make yourself change? I asked personal trainer Melanie Hawksley for her best tips—along with some probably embarrassing anecdotes on my part.

  • Find your motivation

What do you want out of exercise and healthy eating? Is it for the right reasons? As women, we’re so often bombarded with a relentless stream of people telling us how we should and shouldn’t look. Maybe, sometimes we just want to feel sexy and confident. I’ll admit, I often feel the need to work out because I am unhappy with my body. However, this can become a bit obsessive. Instead, I like to repeat Jennifer Lawerence’s ideas of body image.  When training for her role as Katniss in the Hunger Games, she famously argued:

“I’m never going to starve myself for a part . . . I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner . . . I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong, not thin and underfed.”

Instead of thinking of working out as a way to get sexy, think of it as a way to nourish and strengthen your body. After all, it will carry you for life.

  • Find like-minded people

Specifically, people who will keep you motivated. People who have similar goals.

“You need to find someone (or a group of people) who will push you to the gym, and you to them, even when you may not feel interested,” Melanie Hawksley said.

This is difficult for me. I’ve recently moved to a new area, so I know pretty much no one. I briefly considered posting in random Facebook pages (but they could possibly turn out to be total psycopaths). My solution: I started a Facebook chat group with my friends who have similar goals. We motivate each other (mostly) and try to keep ourselves accountable. We even have friendly competitions to spur each other on—like who can run the most in 20 minutes, or improve the most in a week. Any and all achievements are celebrated.

  • Set specific goals

“If your goals are not important enough, then it is likely you won’t follow them through.”

Are you training for a certain marathon? Is there an occasion you’re working towards? A holiday where you want to feel confident and sexy in formalwear and swimwear?

For me, I want to be happy with my body. I want it to be strong. After all, it will support me in all of life’s ups and downs. And honestly, I really like eating food.

“So many people do [it] just to look better but it is often not a powerful enough reason to keep you going back month after month. There needs to be a very powerful driver to keep up the motivation as you go,” Mel added.

This is why a more wholesome approach to health is far better—if your goals are to be healthy and nourish your body, you’re more likely to stick to it than if it was just to look like a Victoria’s Secret model.

  • Keep a diary

I don’t mean some kind of obsessive calorie-counting record. Buy a cute diary, fill it with motivational quotes and pictures (Jennifer Lawerence for me), as well as your goals and progress. I also wrote a note to myself: never give up.  Any time I felt like giving up, I’d read this and usually get a sense of motivation enough for me to change into gym clothes.

  • Find a form of fitness you love

Try joining a local sporting team, take a yoga class, go for a walk on the beach, try pole dancing, or even random every day exercises at the home or gym. Find something you genuinely enjoy, and it won’t feel like a burden to you.

Personally, I’d love to either learn pole dancing or self-defence. But then I remember I’m poor, and stick to my cheap gym membership.

  • Don’t feel like you have to conform to societal standards of beauty

All my life, I have struggled intensively with my own body image. I remember sitting in Kindergarten, and having a fellow classmate whisper to me: “you know you’re fat, right?” to which my five-year-old self nodded. Since then, I’ve struggled with eating disorders and fad diets. Honestly? They’re not worth it. Seriously. Don’t waste your money on Isagenix or any other tea tox. Yeah, you might lose weight, but that is because you are not eating. It’s not healthy, and it’s not sustainable. But time and time again, I try these things because I felt I needed to be skinny to feel happy. Wrong.

My dear reader, if you ever feel like this, I encourage you to metaphorically (or literally) yell: “fuck that!”. Because you are beautiful. Because you are powerful. Because you are strong. Because you’ve overcome every single challenge you’ve come across. Because you know true beauty is in the person you are, and how you treat those around you. Make a change for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.

And most importantly?

Love yourself. Know that what you look like does not decide your worth as a human being. Screw society’s beauty standards.

Let’s Talk About Vaginas

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No, but seriously; let’s. We really don’t talk about them enough—especially in a non-sexual context. The word feels strange to write, and even stranger to say out loud. Even my phone corrects “vagina” to “cagina”, as if an inanimate object could also feel awkward. Well, that taboo ends here! This is an important issue that could save your life—and a lot of young women really don’t have a clue about it. Now that is awkward.

Okay, brace yourselves, ladies (and any men who were unknowingly lured into reading this through the word “vagina”) here it comes: pap smears. What a terrible name. Smear. Smear. They really don’t make it sound appealing, do they? But in all honesty, It’s not that bad. The procedure takes probably less than thirty seconds in all, and it doesn’t hurt even slightly.

You can get a pap smear by booking in an appointment with your doctor, or at a women’s health clinic. Basically, they take you into a private room, just like any other doctor’s visit, and ask you to remove your underwear and lie on an examination bed. This bit is rather awkward, but remember: they are trained professionals and have probably seen thousands of vaginas in their time. They use a hard plastic tool called a speculum (not to be confused with a spatula) in order for them to see your cervix. From there, they take a quick sample of the cells and send them away for testing. And then you’re done!

Now, I would definitely recommend seeing a female doctor—at least for your first time. It’s much less awkward. My usual doctor is male, and I’m also friends with his daughter. The vagina jokes he made certainly didn’t make me feel more comfortable. The female doctor I sought out, however, was kind and made general conversation and even gave me some information for this article.

So, what the Pap smear actually does is test for any abnormalities in the cells around your cervix which can eventually lead to cervical cancer, as well as testing for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is present in 99.7% of cervical cancer cases. HPV, which is an infection of the skin around think, moist linings of the body (like the nose, mouth, throat and genital) results from close skin contact, isn’t something to be overly concerned about: 4 out of 5 people will have it in their lives, mostly with no symptoms. Your body will usually clear it naturally in 1-2 years, but in some cases, it can stay longer and lead to cervical cancer.

According to the Cancer Council, about 1 in 10 Pap smears reveal abnormalities, though less than 1% of these abnormalities lead to cervical cancer. Even so, all women, regardless of age, sexual orientation or number of partners, should be tested every two years from the ages of 18-70 (or younger,  depending on what age she became sexually active).

In 2017, based on recommendations from the Medical Services Advisory Committee, the Australian Government will make some changes to the Pap test. Women aged between 25 and 74 will undertake a HPV test every five years, which may also include various other tests. These changes are estimated to reduce the number of cancer cases by a further 15%. Hooray!

However, until then, Pap tests are absolutely necessary. Soldier through that awkwardness, and it could potentially save your life! Eighty per cent of women who develop cervical cancer had not had regular check-ups. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers with a simple test—these tests have halved the mortality rate. Can you really ignore that?

Listen to your vagina, and don’t be afraid to talk about any problems you may have, no matter how seemingly miniscule. Don’t become another statistic because you were too embarrassed to ask. After all, happy vagina, happy life. Preach it, ladies!