A New Year’s Resolution isn’t just for Christmas…

On January 8th I blogged about my good intentions to adopt a healthier lifestyle, saying that I had no health problems and just wanted to feel fitter. Then I had a warning about my cholesterol level from my GP, at the top end of the average range it was placing me at over 10% risk of having a heart attack or stroke. I declined to take statins after talking it through with him, basing that decision on my new lifestyle changes. At that stage I was successfully being alcohol free, eating healthily and attending my twice weekly exercise class. I was feeling smug.

Things haven’t quite gone to plan. The twice weekly exercise class remained a challenge, but I kept going and achieved a little more each week. The pain and discomfort after each class however did not improve. Longstanding problems with my joints, and my back in particular, were being aggravated. After another chat with my GP, I took his advice to stop going. The exercises were too high impact, even with my adjustments. It felt like a failure to stop attending because it had been such a big deal for me to do something like that.

During this time I was teaching 1st year occupational therapy students at the University of East Anglia about the connection between well-being and occupation. Their energy and creativity was shared in my last blog. One of the lectures was about how we all need to become more physically active generally in our lives and it doesn’t need an expensive gym membership to get fit. By small changes to every day routines we can get exercise. So I had to apply those principles to my own life. I love to walk and it doesn’t cause me pain, so more walking it had to be. I enjoy my long walks with the dog at the weekend, but this needed to be more regular.

Every day I now park my car a 15 minute walk away from where I work. It avoids a 10 minute queue in traffic so also helps to reduce my carbon emissions. On cold, wet mornings I almost give in to the temptation to drive all the way to the university campus, the car is warm and Kiss on the radio is highly entertaining. Then I remember that I need the exercise; so many people face far greater challenges than me and manage to keep fit. One of my inspirations is Mark Ormrod. He was in the Royal Marines and got blown up in Afghanistan. Three of his limbs were amputated and this does not stop him from working on his fitness every day. He is such a motivator for me when my inclination is to be lazy. I’m also walking a little faster and the last stage of the journey is up a small hill (this is Norfolk we’re talking about) so I try not to slow down to a plod.

I’ve been fighting a sense of disappointment that I couldn’t do everything that I set out to do, but I have to remind myself what I have achieved. The healthy eating is going fairly well, with loads more salad, vegetables and fruit included every day. I take a salad to work instead of a doorstep cheese sandwich. I couldn’t keep off the alcohol completely, I do love a glass of red wine, but I’ve halved how much I drink. The challenge now is to keep going, but really I have no choice. There’s still so much that I want to do with my life; I need to be fit and well, not just for New Year but for always.

To find out more about the health benefits of walking follow Sarah Hanson on Twitter – @walkingresearch. Sarah is a PhD student at Norwich Medical School, UEA, researching walking groups within the natural environment to improve health.

Mark Ormrod’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/markormrodmotivationalspeaker/?fref=ts




Creative occupations and wellbeing

Over the past few weeks I have had the very great pleasure of teaching first year BSc occupational therapy students at the University of East Anglia about the power of occupation for mental health and wellbeing. Occupational therapists can engage people, families and communities in a huge variety of occupations (activities). This participation leads to healthy and fulfilled lives. I made connections with occupational science using some of my favourite concepts; occupational identity and occupational justice. Along with my lectures the students also had the opportunity to plan and run group activities for their fellow students to explore their own creativity and occupational engagement.

I’m sharing a few pictures from one of the groups who quickly ‘got it’. They facilitated their group to enjoy the amazing architectural and natural environment that we work in at UEA. Not only that, the group took photographs and shared them on social media with the hashtag #GetCreative. I’ve selected just a few of the brilliant photographs, with the permission of the students. Their energy and creativity shines through and makes me very proud of this next generation of occupational therapists.


Pain is weakness leaving the body…

I have become expert in making excuses not to exercise; too busy, too tired and I walk the dog anyway. I am also fortunate not to have any health problems and it was easy to become complacent. Then a Christmas spent eating and drinking too much, feeling tired and grotty made me start to question what I was doing. New Year is probably a rubbish time to make resolutions and most are broken by the end of January, but a couple of things happened to motivate me to change.

My good friend, and founder of The Baton charity, Alan Rowe came up with the idea of supporting the Row2Recovery team by rowing one hour a day on a rowing machine. R2R is a team of four men, serving and ex-military, and they are currently half way across the Atlantic rowing in the Talisker Atlantic Challenge in their boat called Legless. An extraordinary feat of bravery and endurance for anyone and these guys are all amputees. They have a Baton with them on the boat and Alan wanted a way to show support, hence the hour’s rowing. We kicked off a social media campaign #Row4Legless and were amazed and humbled by the response.

So, what was I going to do to join in? As these things go, something turned up out of the blue. I was tagged in a tweet about a keep fit class in my village, led by someone who has recently left the Forces and just five minutes’ walk from my house. I didn’t even have the excuse that it was during the day while I was at work. It is held at 19.00 hours twice a week and I ran out of reasons not to go. So I found myself in a chilly village hall on Tuesday this week, in a baggy pink T-shirt resembling Mrs Blobby and looking in panic at the torture chamber. Mats on the floor and weights! Lovely, slim young girls in Lycra! For a person of my size and age getting up from the floor can be a big deal. Before I knew it I was running round, doing sit ups, press ups, sweating and nearly crying.

The next morning, however, I felt great and even parked my car so I got a good walk in my day. I was feeling very smug. Then, as the day wore on, the pain kicked in; thighs and shoulders started to hurt. I even had twinges in abdominal muscles I’d forgotten existed in my body. Thursday was no better and walking up the stairs was slow. There was another class in the evening and I really didn’t know whether I could turn up again to feel old, fat and useless. The news from the Atlantic was sobering though, almost half-way across the ocean, the lads were rowing into a storm with huge seas, but they had heard about #Row4Legless and were grateful for the support. People were tweeting their pictures of rowing and exercising every day. I had to get over myself.

The second Forces Fitness class wasn’t as bad as the first though. I only stopped once to catch my breath, but I had a go at everything and pushed myself past the point of thinking ‘I can’t do this’ for the full hour. Some of the exercises I had to adapt and make easier, but it was still a good workout and gave me a sense of achievement. And yes, it really hurt when I woke up this morning, but I walked the dog and reminded myself that the pain meant that I was moving again and starting to get stronger. Encouraging words from friends and family really help and in comparison with the psychological and physical recovery challenges that so many face as a result of serving their country, my little battle is nothing.

I’m keeping my goals modest; going to the fitness class twice a week and walking more, eating more salad and veg, drinking more water. My strategy is to focus on what I’m adding in, rather than taking away, but drinking less alcohol also has to be a part of the plan. I’m not focusing on losing weight, I love my curves, but I’m setting my sights on feeling fitter and stronger to enjoy life more. People face the challenges brought on by illness and injury with strength and dignity, so I will honour them and respect myself by making these small changes in my life.


http://www.thebaton.co.uk – also on Facebook and Twitter, see #Row4Legless

http://www.row2recovery.com – also on Facebook and Twitter, see also @leglessrowers for tweets from the team


A beautiful morning to be alive and walking the dog:

Blog pic Jan 16



Looking back to 2015 & looking forward

WordPress sent me a summary of my blog and it surprised me; I was thinking that I hadn’t written that much this year and I should have done more. Indeed the latter part of the year has been a bit quiet, but 2015 has been very busy and I didn’t always get time to write about it!

The best bits have been building connections and collaborations across the UK and the world. So many people are committed to making the lives of others better and I’ve been privileged to talk to many of them and work alongside a few, connecting like-minded folk when I can.

I approached the end of the year feeling a little disappointed that my goal of relocating to the South West nearly happened, but didn’t in the end. Looking over this blog however, and thinking back to all the amazing things and people that I’ve been involved with, I’ve realised that I am fortunate to have so many opportunities. I’m grateful for my family, my friends and my health, nothing else really matters.

My resolutions for 2016; I will learn more, connect more, travel more, stress less and continue to be creative and have fun!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 600 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 10 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Not many people know this… why supporting the Armed Forces is so important to me

I was very proud to receive my UEA community engagement award a couple of weeks ago. The pride came not because I wanted recognition for myself, but for the small charities that work tirelessly to support our Armed Forces. Getting the award has prompted colleagues to ask me, ‘Why do you do this?’

‘Why not?’ would be the flippant answer, but of course, there are reasons why I volunteer specifically with military charities. Like most people of my generation our fathers and grandfathers served. My maternal grandfather was an officer in the RAF and my father did his national service after WW2 had finished. This is nothing unusual, however, and I have hesitated to share the deeper reasons why I do this because they are very personal; but maybe my story should be told.

You might be surprised to learn that my commitment to those who have served goes back to the Vietnam War. ‘Surely you’re too young to remember that,’ I hear you cry. Well, not really. At the tender age of 19 I married a Staff Sargent in the United States Air Force and for 10 years I was a military wife. I know what it’s like to be a small cog in a mighty machine. I relocated my career on the basis of where we were posted and lived in a variety of homes (some pretty grim while waiting for a house on the base). I know what it’s like to be separated for long periods, alone to sort everything with the other half away on deployment and to have the anxious times not knowing where they are or what’s going on.

I never met my ex-husband’s oldest brother, he was killed after stepping on a mine in Vietnam. It was right at the end of the war and he was 19. I saw the lasting impact of that loss on his family and it would be fair to say that they never got over it. I became interested in that war and the ongoing struggles for those who fought in it, serving their nation. Public opinion turned against the U.S. involvement and that meant returning veterans were not treated with the care and respect they deserved. This has been echoed in UK conflicts. The poor health experienced by Vietnam veterans is staggering:

“According to a survey by the Veterans Administration, some 500,000 of the 3 million troops who served in Vietnam suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and rates of divorce, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction were markedly higher among veterans.” (http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-history accessed 30.07.15


The Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC; on my bucket list

When I was working as an occupational therapist with NHS mental health teams in Cambridgeshire I was fortunate to be trained by RAF community mental health nurses to recognise and treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’m by no means an expert, but I have witnessed first-hand the devastating impact that this can have on people’s lives. I also know how transformative it can be to find an occupation or activity that is meaningful and engaging. That eventually led me to the voluntary work with charities, helping them and the people they support to reach their goals. So now I am working with veterans recovering from combat-injury involved in motorsport and surfing, bringing this blog right back to what I’m doing today. It is also why I am so passionate about The Baton charity which exists to ensure that we never forget the sacrifices that our Armed Forces make for our freedom. 

Baton blog

Charity links:

The Baton; www.thebaton.co.uk; Team Off-Road-It: www.offroadit.co.uk Surf Action: www.surfaction.co.uk


Community engagement; from motorsport to surfing

It’s been four years, almost to the day, that I offered to help a team of combat-injured guys with their Facebook page ahead of BBC 2 Top Gear featuring a film about them. Tony Harris and Tom Neathway with Andrew Taylor were putting together an off-road team with the ridiculous goal of entering the Dakar Rally in 2013. Richard Hammond thought that there was a real possibility that the guys could make it. Most people thought they were deluded. The rest, as they say, is history.

To read about Race2Recovery and their success in the Dakar Rally 2013 see this blog from Colene Evens-Allen: http://inspirationatspeed.blogspot.ca/p/race2recovery.html

                   MOTORSPORT -  DAKAR 2013 - PART 1MOTORSPORT -  DAKAR 2013 - PART 1

Last night I was proud to receive a UEA Engagement Award for outstanding achievement in public and community engagement. I had no idea in the summer of 2011 that this would be a part of my journey. There have been times when work and family quite rightly demanded my time and I wondered why I was making these commitments, adding extra stress to my life. Then just this week I saw statistics published on the number of ex-military suicides. The harsh realities of life for some people who have served in the Armed Forces keep me going.

UEA Community Engagement Award

I now work as a volunteer with two charities; The Baton and Surf Action. The Baton has the primary mission to raise and maintain awareness within the British public and our Allies about the reality of life for Armed Services personnel and their families. It exists to ensure that they are given the level of support that they are rightfully due.


                                                          BLOG JOSH 1 1407410130241_wps_1_Joshua_Ploetz_a_Marine_wh

Surf Action provide evidence-based ocean therapy or ‘blue gym’ for veterans with PTSD and to promote health and well-being for Armed Forces families.


                             Surf Action 1Surf Action 2                               

I haven’t left the world of off-road rallying completely; I’m supporting two former Race2Recovery team members, Alec Savery and Tom Neathway, who are promoting The Baton with their motorsport. Moving on from ‘recovery’ and ‘disability sport’ they are just two ex-military blokes with the primary aim of having a good time. They are planning on racing in Bulgaria in September and possibly Morocco in March 2016.


                     ALEC TOM BATON NEWBURY IMG_1419Tom Dakar 2013

As my connections grow across the social media virtual world I’m finding more people who are working successfully to support veterans and they are often veterans themselves. The best ones are providing small, active projects to help people in recovery from the trauma of war, physical and psychological. I was pleased recently to facilitate volunteering for occupational therapy and physiotherapy students from the University of East Anglia with the Re-Org Trust and Walking with the Wounded. I was deeply moved by Jonathan Weaver, representing the Re-Org Trust, when he spoke at the student seminar ‘Actively Supporting Veterans’. He bravely shared his story and reminded our healthcare students that they have precious skills, pleading with them not to forget our veterans.

http://thereorgtrust.org http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk

I’ve written before, in my September 26th blog, about the ups and downs of volunteering. It still holds true that the friendships I made along the way are so precious. I also said, but it is worth repeating, that one person can’t change the world, but small acts of kindness can make a difference and even more so if we work together.



Eureka! Another week in The Shed

Week 2 of the FutureLearn Enterprise course has been all about ideas and inspiration. At the beginning of the week I enjoyed a series of TED Talks asking, ‘where do ideas come from?’ For someone who worries about finding that truly original idea it was refreshing to be introduced to the notion that ‘everything is a remix’. Not only that, the best ideas come about through sharing and collaboration. Indeed, as a species humans evolved because we shared i.e. traded, the things we made. Unlike the Neanderthals, who were quite clever, but they didn’t share between tribes and look what happened to them. Unfortunately the tribe mentality can still prevail in the human race and success is used to exploit others in our inequitable and unjust society. If we worked together the world could be a better place. It sounds idealistic but the ‘collective brain’, that vast network of total human knowledge that we have increasing access to via the internet, could hold the key to real progress.

Even important discoveries and inventions did not come about in sudden ‘Eureka’ moments. Even the proverbial light bulb was an idea that evolved over time and from a variety of different sources. Maybe the successful inventor or entrepreneur rides on the crest of a wave of ideas and thinking. They might add a novel twist or find a way of making an idea practical.

I love the idea of the enterprise shed that this course team have developed. It’s good to hear how it came about collectively through group discussions in the team, which we are learning, is how great ideas happen! I just love the whole ‘shed’ movement that has been growing recently. I’ve read about a lovely project for older men to support their health and well-being that exploits the concept of the shed. They gather together to make stuff, have cups of tea and natter. Men’s mental illness is a growing health concern and this is a creative and ‘manly’ solution.

I don’t have an actual shed. I do a lot of my thinking when I walk the dog and I have created a virtual shed. I have an Instagram account and post my photographs there, I write a journal, I started this blog and more recently my kids bought me a beautiful art book for colouring in. It’s awesome! I’m creating psychological space rather than an actual space, but it feels like somewhere ideas can grow. One of those little Shepherd’s Huts in the garden would be rather wonderful too…

I get inspiration from all over the place but I was prompted this week to think about people in particular who have influenced me. I have had the very great privilege throughout my career as an occupational therapist to support people at the most challenging times in their lives. I am constantly amazed at the human spirit to face adversity and overcome challenges. Over the past four years I have been a volunteer with military charities and the courage and sacrifice of people in our Armed Forces really motivates me to play my part in making the world a better place. One of the most inspiring parts of working with military people is their sense of humour and, as entrepreneurs, we must never, ever take ourselves too seriously.

Is inspiration enough for success, or are some people just lucky? In my opinion, anyone can be lucky; luck comes from being open to possibilities and seeing as many connections as possible between people and events. I work really hard all the time and make lots of little discoveries along the way. I constantly borrow and apply ideas from elsewhere especially in my teaching to keep it fresh and inspired. I’ve also learnt a lot about digital media from observing and working alongside others. Inspiration comes from such a multitude of sources; conversations, books, digital media, the news, history and, I mustn’t forget, my students who are endlessly creative.

The week ended with more TED talks and I listened again to Brene Brown on vulnerability. If you haven’t listened to this, you must. My mantra has been for some time; ‘have courage’ and now I will add ‘I am enough’.

TED Talks ‘Where do ideas come from?


TED Talk Brene Brown ‘Vulnerability’


The charity I support as a volunteer:  http://www.thebaton.co.uk/

Follow the course on twitter using #FLentshed and find the course and others at www.futurelearn.com

Some of my pictures from this week:

Easter Blog 2 1 Easter Blog 2 2 Easter Blog 2 3 Easter Blog 2 4