Body clocks, sleep and exercise

I have unfortunately been experiencing a painful back spasm this week which means I have been out of action (no walking) since I returned from the UK on Sunday. This has not been helped by teaching dance on Monday for several hours, but other than that I have had a sedentary few days teaching Psychology and Sociology, talking to online students and writing essays. One student was preparing some research on the topic of body clocks and exercise and there was a BBC program on this theme this evening, so it is very much in my mind.

Since I have been monitoring my fitness daily since May and done what I consider to be a ridiculous amount of fitness activity and intensity minutes, averaging about 5-7 miles of walking every single day and in addition averaging 210 i.m. per week as well as doing other fitness classes, I am aware of significant changes in my body clock, my mental health and in the way I sleep. Most of the time I feel great, I have finally started to lose a little weight though sadly very little ๐Ÿ˜ฆ , I eat less and I have a lot of energy.

I should say I am not an early bird, but then neither am I a night owl, but there has been a shift. First of all, I wake up now at dawn and feel relatively ready for the day – not necessarily for a jog, but I am awake and alert. I could easily do some mental work and often do. My body doesn’t seem to wake up fully and I can be quite sluggish if I have to have physical exercise until about 11am (as I found out in Mallorca) and then I can keep going all day, uphill, down dale, wherever or however long my walk or exercise takes me. I am usually out for a maximum of 4 hours, mostly over lunchtime. It is as if a switch goes on, the effect is so dramatic sometimes, especially if it is accompanied by a little food or drink. However, I think it is no coincidence that I am out in the fresh air when the amount and intensity of light at its greatest, especially during the summer and this is having a long-term effect on my circadian rhythms, so I am more active in the day and sleep better at night.

I have never liked exercising in the evening, say after 6.30pm, but I do find tea-time is a great time for muscular strength and flexibility work such as Pilates or Yoga. The body is warmed up through general movement during the day and hormones such as cortisol (stress hormone) are at their lowest so this is a good time to stretch out your body.ย  As darkness ensues the hormone melatonin increases to encourage you to sleep, which all sounds very sensible. When I had my dance school, I taught ballroom dancing most nights finishing about 10pm, so I didn’t experience the onset of darkness or relaxation until very late so my hormones didn’t kick in at the usual time. Not only was I very active all evening but the lights in the hall were bright, especially in winter; I had to eat at strange times and I found it impossible to sleep before midnight when I got home. I didn’t get up at dawn when I had that life. I used to complain to my doctor at Blisworth that I was always tired, but he dismissed me out of hand, as I always looked so well, and of course in every other way, I was very well and extremely fit, just very tired!!

I have also found that I have started going to bed earlier, about 9.30pm when I can. This means I actually get more sleep cycles, even if I lie awake for some time in the early hours. I think few people have problems with restorative sleep as that occurs predominantly in the first sleep cycles, but I am certain that in the past I have not had enough REM sleep, and when I have been zonked out from a lack of sleep I do notice that I dream more and for longer, and I always feel better for catching up this type of sleep. The length of dreaming sleep takes up a much larger proportion of a sleep cycle as the night goes on, and it is thought that this allows consolidation of memories, which may account for why I have such as lousy memory ๐Ÿ˜‰

This week I have barely been out of the house and I do feel that my new healthy pattern is being disrupted. I have been surrounded by grey light all day as the days are getting shorter and there has been no sun, and the lack of physical activity is making me feel groggy and it is affecting my sleep. As you can see I am awake now at midnight, when I would normally be asleep.

This makes me think of those people with chronic fatigue and other disabling illnesses which prevent them from being active or getting outside. I wonder what happens to their various body clocks when are unable to get out and about. I suffered from a long term illness for 5 years; I learnt to live with morning tiredness but I would make sure I went out for an hour or two each day, no matter how painful or difficult it was. Maybe I did myself a favour that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. My concern was about losing muscle strength but maybe it also improved my sleep.

So for me, increasing my exercise and exercising late morning to early afternoon has had a significant impact on my sleep / wake cycle. This of course, is my story, and I am no expert in this field. Other people will have different but similar stories of how exercise at different times of day affects their sleep and body clocks. I would be interested to know how tennis players and formula 1 drivers cope will the rapid changes of time zones and sleep patterns and still manage to maintain their peak performances. For those with more usual occupations like you and me, some will find it hard to change their work patterns however much they would like to – nurses on shift work with a young family is an example that springs to mind, but it’s good to be aware of how your own body clock works and how to optimise it for good health and wellbeing. If you haven’t seen it, the programme below is well worth watching:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bn5ys4/horizon-2018-9-body-clock-what-makes-us-tick

Hopefully I shall be back walking again next week, maybe Tuesday – and normal service will be resumed.

Exploring the ancient sites – end of Sept 2018

What is the point of being a semi-retired OAP if you can’t take advantage of wonderful sunny autumn days? That is what I told myself on Friday. My four day visitor had arrived yesterday and we had already visited Cregneash and other local tourist spots. I had warned him about our winds, which persisted unabated for the full time of his trip over. Today, he was recapturing elements of his youth by hopping on the steam train, electric train and tram to experience Snaefell without fog, mist, rain and just a little wind to see the seven kingdoms in sunshine. I was gardening and working, when I could bear it no more. I got into the car (a rare event in itself) and hotfooted it to South Barrule, which was looking so enticing from the kitchen window.

I ventured up and over South Barrule intending to find the path beside the quarry on the other side and contour round back to the car, but there was no clear path after a while so I had a change of plan and returned via the same route towards the car, before continuing and chasing paths through the Cringle Plantation. There was a wonderful dappled light coming through the trees and the paths are easy to follow and well made. I followed the blue track for a couple of miles. Indeed, the footpath was so good and I was enjoying myself so much, I decided to jog all the way, which was fine up (down?) to Cringle Reservoir, but then there is nasty final few hundred feet slog uphill back to where I started. I felt as if I had achieved something that day, and I was back home in no time, back marking my Psychology papers and back planning dance classes. My friend also arrived back in the nick of time to have tea and then we went to listen to the Regal Singers at Ballafesson, which made for a very jolly evening.

IMG_0235Photo: The sunset over Ireland as we drove to Ballafesson

Saturday we spent on a tour of historical or religious places on the Isle of Man. My erudite friend has a keen interest in history, religion and archaeology and had discovered Jurby church had an exhibition of the Saints of the Isle of Man, so having packed our sandwiches we headed off there. On the way, we called in to view evidence of the collison of the North American and European tectonic plates at Niarbyl, which was largely covered in seaweed but still visible, and we visited Peel where my friend searched in vain for a comprehensive book on the mines but where I found a nice second hand book of Isle of Man poems. The parishioners of Jurby had done a fantastic job providing information and displays on the all the churches’ Saints on the island, in immense detail. My friend was in heaven as he spent a good amount of time reading every one or them. I bought aย  woolly hat for ยฃ2, and a jar of marmalade while I waited! We then looked in the churchyard and examined the ancient mounds therein.

Later that day we made our way to Maughold. A.S. had bought a very detailed book giving information about the many many keills around the island and other interesting features, of which he made plenty of use as we toured the churchyard looking at the ancient inscriptions and burial places. I learnt a great deal that day. We then climbed the little hill fort on the coast which gives a broad outline of the expanse of hills to the west. There was just time at the end of the day to visit the Quaker graveyard, which was so different from anything else, being unassuming and surrounded by trees. The owner of the land has very kindly opened up areas either side of the bridleway for people to sit and meditate in this peaceful countryside, even positioning ravens to guard the site.

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The Quaker Graveyard and resting place and ravens

On Sunday, we had a walk around Scarlett with its varied geological formations – though we didn’t manage to find the pillow lava we had hoped to find – , then visited Balladoole which greatly interested my friend as he had not seen such a ship burial before. We spent the afternoon at Peel Cathedral for Evensong, which was sung quite beautifully by our local group “Voces Insulae”.

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So, here we are on Monday; there was just time this morning to potter around the cliff to the Milner Tower at Port Erin before he returned to England, enraptured by the wonderful landscapes and history of the Isle of Man. Another convert, I suspect ๐Ÿ™‚

Port Erin to Sound, Cregneash circular – 25th September 2018, 7 miles

It wasย  a cool morning, necessitating the wearing of leg warmers underneath my lightweight walking trousers. After several hours of psychology calls and a few more hours of psychology planned for the evening, I had an interlude over lunchtime, meaning I could escape the drudgery of work for a couple of hours.

I usually do this walk the other way round, but I fancied a change. I walked from home, down the short but very pretty Athol Glen, over the top and down to the Bay Hotel, joining the coast path at the old marine building. The coast path starts with a most unprepossessing view, as the signpost points behind a generator that you have to scramble behind to get to the path. But this disappointment is short lived as you are soon up on the cliff path with stunning views both out to sea and back towards Port Erin Bay.

Photo: the lovely Athol Glen. Compare with the start of the coast path below, but it doesnโ€™t last and soon you are away from it all!

It is a bit of a pull up this hill initially, and my goodness, the wind was howling around the corner and it was a job to stand upright. Good job I had taken my trusty stick and the wind was blowing off the sea rather than out to sea! On I went, with the wind blowing in my face the full three miles to the Sound. There are fantastic views in all directions, though it was hard to take any photos without significant camera-shake.

 

Photo: The wind has given me a very neat hairstyle, showing off all my grey ๐Ÿ™‚

My favourite part of this walk is our very own ‘Valley of the Rocks”, and walking from this direction I noticed a large sculptured rock looking to me just like a thigh bone. The path goes immediately below this, then there is a very slight scrambly section before reaching the soft grasses of the hills immediately beside the Sound cafe. The waters were fast and furious today, with the currents ripping through between the mainland and Kitterland like I have never seen before.ย  One or two seals were curiously eyeing me as they accomplished their synchronised swimming, just keeping their heads above water, flippers madly flapping below the water.

A stop for lunch. No other mad fools sitting eating their sandwiches here in the wind ๐Ÿ™‚ Though many were safely tucked up inside the cafe eating their Manx Broth and cakes. On I pressed, wondering how easy it might be in these winds to get up the steep stepped hill on to Spanish Head. I was pushed about it quite a bit, but I got there and on to Black Head, the Chasms and Cregneash. I had thought of stopping at the tearooms here but decided to carry on over Mull Hill back to Port Erin over the moors.

What a treat was in store for me. Having been blown and buffeted by the hefty winds all the way around the south and west of the headland, as I dropped onto the moors I was cosseted by a warm and welcoming soft wind, and a wonderful light that bares no description. The colours of the heather and gorse were magnificent. Our Manx gorse is low and sparsely yellow, but beyond and intermingled with it was a chocolate coloured mass of heather. No photo would do that justice, but it is a memory that will linger long.

And so, I pottered downhill along the grassy tracks for a final mile to my start and resting point. I was only out a few hours but felt alive and ready to tackle the rest of the day and my demanding students!

Total distance 7.14 miles; Elevation Gain: 1377 ft; Elevation Loss: 1371 ft

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Douglas and Laxey Sat 22/9/18 – The Tourist Route

Autumn has definitely arrived, and I for one am grateful to be away from the blistering heat of the Mediterranean. This week’s windy and wet weather certainly is more typical of the Isle of Man than the sweltering two months we were treated to in June and July. Port Erin beach has a new shape to it, as the gale-force winds have created mini dune-like effects and swept the sand over the stones at the far end of the beach. Today, as I wandered around the bay, the same beach had changed again and the far end looked like the pebbly remains of a torrent of water that had gushed from a hillside dispelling its contents – not true of course, but it emphasises the power of the natural elements.

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On Thursday 20th September I played table tennis at the NSC (National Sports Centre for the uninitiated) in Douglas, and walked the short distance from there to M&S, following the river and walking alongside the Marina, about a mile and a half altogether. This is one of those walks that only odd people like me or locals will do as it does’t take you far and it is much easier to get a bus! I stand corrected – in fact, if you did the walk the other way round you could continue on a pretty track all the way to Port Soderick. I did think you might be interested in one small aspect of my town ‘walk’. It starts by Pulrose Power station with its ugly steel buildings, car parks and railings, but as soon as you turn a corner you are in a different world, one of trees and green and mystery. What struck me this day was the sweet smell coming from the trees and nuts only on the green side. Two contrasting worlds separated by a fence! The views below are literally fractions apart.

One one side of the hedge, grey steel and angular shapes; on the other side, soft green trees, leaves and nuts strewn across the footpath.

On Saturday, I went back in time. When I first visited the island in 1998, I didn’t have any transport of my own so used public transport for all my walks, no matter where they were on the island. This can make for long – but very enjoyable, days.

I got the 10am steam train at Port Erin, which left 15 minutes late as it had to wait for the incoming train before we could leave. No matter, I had plenty of time as I wasn’t due to be at Laxey for a Friends of Manx National Heritage event until 2pm. Arriving at the Douglas railway station I walked along the Marina up to the ferry port so that I could get a photo to show you to full extent of Douglas’s wonderful promenade, with its wide walkway and horse drawn tram (the longest running horse drawn tram in the world I believe). I was a bit ahead of time so popped into the shopping centre for a coffee, then walked up to the far end of the prom to catch the electric tram to Laxey. The prom was full of people, a chap on his bike, a lady and gent taking a stroll, another person doing their fitness routine and a lady with her children and pushchairs, and me walking very briskly as I had completely forgotten just how long the prom actually is – 2 miles end to end!! I needn’t have worried as the tram was late too. I thoroughly enjoyed this second journey by public transport, more so than the steam train. It goes along the coast to Ramsey and the views are tremendous. The further you go around the bay, the more it seems like a seaside resort and you can smell the air and see the views.ย  I could see Black Combe across the water in the Lake District and the many wind farms of Morecambe Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo above: Spot the join; the two photos should overlap slightly.

I got to Laxey expecting to visit the Glen, but sadly the walk took us in the other direction down the old road to the Woollen Mills, through the beautiful old village to the beach. Our guide told us about the history of all the different mills, flax, paper, flour, and the pipe factory, although the only one of these historical buildings currently in use is the very large flour mill where we started at Laxey Glen. She also showed us secret waterfalls, leats and ponds (dips in the ground that you would walk past in an instant usually) that had been used in the processing of the various materials and an old delapidated brewery tucked away in a hidden spot. It was a very interesting tour. At the end I had to go in the opposite direction and explore the Laxey Glen itself. This is beautiful – one I had never visited – and a complete contrast to the main river valley leading down from Snaefell, with the famous Lady Isabella Laxey Wheel and the Washing Floors. Despite being heralded for its fame, I learnt that mining came late to Laxey but it was a thriving town long before that, mainly due to its plentiful mills. However, the number of lovely houses is thanks to the miners, not for their achievements in Laxey necessarily, but our guide told us that many people were sent to seek their fortunes in South Africa and they sent money back home that allowed them to extend their properties.

This is the only photo I managed to take of Laxey and is of the washing floors. Worth a visit in their own right. Laxey is a fascinating village with a lot of history. If you have never been here, it is well worth making a special visit and there are walks in all directions, which you can reach by the electric train , tram, bus, or walk. I am thinking of Dhoon Glen and Snaefell in particular.

Laxey Glen can be found to the west of the main road and is enclosed and very green with large trees. There is parking immediately on the bend by the mill. The river running through the glen is beautiful, with banks and groves on either side. As you climb higher into the plantation it becomes quite steep and muddy and as it was getting late and I didn’t know where it would come out or whether I would be able to find a new return route, I cut my losses first of all finding myself a sturdy stick to help me negotiate the steep downhill parts and I returned back by the route I had come. I hoped to reach the visitor centre to see if they had a map of the Glen but when I got there it was closed (4.45pm)

I had completely forgotten to charge my phone this time, so I will post photos of this area another time.

The walk around Laxey was a total of about 4.5 miles, and 2 miles altogether from one end of the prom to the other, although I managed 10 miles overall for the day one way of another. I shall revisit Laxey Glen as there look to be some interesting paths through and around it up to the mountain, some without the need to go to the very top and I should like to investigate.

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Another blowy walk – Port Erin 19/9/18 – 4 miles

If I thought yesterday was blustery, it was not a patch on today. I wanted to kick start my Garmin watch into registering my intensity minutes as it had gone on a go-slow, so decided to take the long route to the dentist this morning. And what an exhilarating walk it was. It might all have been on roads until the final 2 miles, but I was getting pushed and pulled by the wind, almost lifted off my feet at times, so it had some exciting moments.

I was walking at a cracking pace anyway, but I was definitely wind-assisted. It was such fun :-). I walked from home to Ballafesson and up the top road to East Bradda, where the wind tried to push me back down the hill! Then down to Bradda Glen and along the cliff path towards the Milner Tower. As I went through the glades, the wind howled through and jostled them about. It was quite deafening. There was one tree looking distinctly dodgy so I made a snappy move to get past that. I didn’t fancy a tree bonking me on the head. And then I had a jog along the cliff path, quite why I don’t know, but I was enjoying myself.

Having gathered speed there was no stopping me and I made short shrift of the cliff path back to Port Erin and the beach. I got sand blasted as gusts of winds tore up the beach. I did over 4 miles in 1hr 5 minutes, good going by anyone’s standards, especially given there was 670ft of ascent and 760ft of descent altogether. And yes, it did register my intensity minutes.

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Look at the map. Even that has entered into the spirit of the day and looks like a windswept head ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

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A blustery day in the South – Port St Mary & Port Erin 5.4 miles

I haven’t had much chance to get out since I returned home, but I have managed my 10,000 steps each day to keep my serial record alive. I am now at 69 consecutive days of 5 miles or more per day.

Today, I had to force myself out. It was a dull, cool day and I could quite easily have had a pyjama day, given that Tuesdays are my day off. It is something of a change from the hot and humid weather of Mallorca. Having caught up with all my marking in the morning, I went over to Tynwald Mills to check out waterproofs, and again bought nothing, but this was enough to convince myself I needed some fresh air.

I walked from home over to Port St Mary. On the home side of the hill, it was quite calm but when I hit the south coast the winds blew and my hair blew all over the place. The seas were in full motion, doing what they do best, whipping up the waves and splashing against the rocks. They were fun to watch, and still there was 90 mins to go to high tide.

As soon as I turned the corner the winds abated and normality resumed. It is hard to believe that the picture taken below is only about 200 metres from the ones taken above.

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I walked around this bay to the other side, up to Carrikey Bay and Gansey, where some kayakers were riding the waves.

From here, it was all road-walking home, more than planned as I had to do a detour into the village to post a letter, only to discover that we now have only one postal collection per day anywhere in the south. I could have posted my letter anywhere. We used to have an early morning collection but apart from Mondays, that has now ceased and we only have one collection late afternoon!

This is an easy walk on good roads and paths. The 5.4 miles took me 1hr 34 mins walking at a brisk pace. If you were starting in the heart of Port Erin, parking by the railway station, follow Drogadfayle Road to the footpath linking this to St Mary’s Road. There are alternative ways back, but it is still a good walk however you do it.

And breathe…

Sunday 16th September: I knew it the moment I set foot on terra firma. I could feel the sea breeze brushing over the tarmac and I could sense the salt in the air. I looked around from the steps of the plane and wondered at the mass expanse of sky and wide vistas. I was home.

I was right in my perception of feeling hemmed in by the Mallorcan mountains. The Isle of Man may not have the biggest mountains or the most rugged scenery, or many trees, but it has one great asset – it allows you to breathe and be refreshed on a daily basis. Its seas and cliffs, hills and valleys tease you into venturing out and exploring and although you may be alone you will never feel alone in this countryside. It is warm and welcoming and once you get to know it, it becomes an indispensable friend and one you long for when parted. One whose changes you notice when others don’t.

So, having lugged my suitcase up the hill to my house, I hurried back to enjoy the last moments of the day while the sun still shone. I went to my favourite spot on the beach which a couple kindly vacated for me without my asking and I listened to the tide rushing in and out and banging against the rocks.

The photo above shows the white house on the cliff which is now the set of apartments I lived in when I first moved over here in December 2013. You can imagine its sea views and the sunsets I witnessed. I had planned to have a cup of tea at the Cosy Nook at the foot of the bay but this had already closed its shutters for the day, so instead I walked around the bay and watched the changing weather approaching from the west.

My holiday in Mallorca was wonderful, spent with engaging and interesting people, taking me to heights I would never reach on my own. It was a thoroughly enjoyable week.

My life on the Isle of Man is even better!

This was a short circular walk from home, just over 2.5 miles. What more can I ask for?