Want to know five ways to boost your immune system? Step forward wellbeing expert Kate Pigeon-Owen, who has made a concerted effort this year to practice what she preaches
Kate Pigeon-Owen hasn’t lost two stone over the past year to simply look good. As a wellbeing expert, she knows that losing weight is the healthy thing to be doing right now.
‘My goodness there’s never been such an important time for all of us,’ says the director of Wellbeing International, a team of consultants who work both in the UK and worldwide. Their collective vision is to reduce stress in the workplace, which this year could well be in the home.
Understanding the science of stress…
‘Lower stress levels is a really key aspect,’ says Kate, ‘and if you make little changes it has really big outcomes. Cortisol gets a really bad press but cortisol the hormone is actually what we need to get up in the morning.
‘My favourite hormone in the world is oxytocin. Massage and reflexology are two easy ways to increase oxytocin and decrease cortisol levels. Oxytocin is produced when we smoke cigarettes and have that first drink of alcohol.’ Although don’t get too carried away with that idea. ‘We are not anti-alcohol, but it’s the first unit that produces oxytocin, not the second or third,’ says Kate. ‘Let’s start owning our cortisol and oxytocin production.’
‘Being overweight decreases your immune system. According to World Bank research, if you have a BMI of 30 or above you have a much higher risk of Covid-19 complications.
‘I think it’s very easy to notch up the pounds a few each year and, by 50, think ‘how did that happen? We’ve got so many reasons to look after ourselves now,’ says the 55-year-old.
She admits: ‘I’m a bit sulky if you take away all my treats.’ But now she is on a ketogenic eating plan, she notes, ‘I’m never ever hungry.
‘In March, when lockdown happened, Wellbeing International had 27 contracts that we were about to deliver – all of those were put on hold.’ For the team, it was a case of ‘what can we do and how can we make a difference?’ So instead they launched a pilot for Boost You! an optimum health and weight loss course.
There was a keen demand for it. ‘We sold out in three days.’ The benefit of launching Boost You! was that it brought together a group of women from all over the UK, from Northern Ireland to Norwich. ‘These women would never have met and supported each other if it had been face to face,’ says Kate. ‘Everyone who did that training are all still in contact.
‘One of the things I noticed was that all the women looked radiant. It’s boosting on every level – not just your immune system but your wellbeing.’ And she adds: ‘I like showing people you can do things naturally.’
Borrowing energy – in a good way…
‘You and I need to borrow energy,’ says Kate. Particularly at certain points in the day, such as during that post-lunch slump. But it’s about doing it in the right way. As she says: ‘We use a chocolate bar to keep us going, but what we should be doing is taking it easy and having a glass of water. When I worked in London I needed a chocolate bar at three in the afternoon.’
She adds: ‘Refined sugar is added to almost anything and has no function whatsoever. Think about how you are borrowing energy in your life.’
Exercise, three ways…
Human beings need to do three types of exercise. Walking is one of them. In lockdown, Kate notes, we got used to the idea of going out for an evening going out for a walk with the kids, for example.
Nowadays, the French-Canadian and British woman lives in rural bliss on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. She says: ‘I’m really happy to be living in Norfolk. I escaped from London 10 years ago and never looked back.’ The mother of two children, both now in higher education, explains one of the reasons for the move: ‘When I had my first child the confines of not having a garden suddenly felt really significant.’
Living in such a rural area has been a bonus during lockdown. ‘I could for a walk every day and not bump into anyone,’ recalls Kate.
She is a big fan of forest bathing, a Japanese practice which is a process of relaxation. ‘When we walk in nature we increase our oxytocin and decrease our cortisol.’
If you own a dog, then you’re almost laughing. ‘No matter the weather you are going out!’ says Kate. ‘All of us need to walk, preferably daily.’
Then there’s your core exercise – your yoga and Pilates. Kate has a particular favourite: ‘A great love of my life is Qi Gong. I get up naturally at six, have a little bit of water and do Qi Gong and I’m ready for the day. For me this is brilliant.’
The third needs to be cardio-vascular exercise. ‘Cycling is my thing,’ says Kate. ‘I love cycling and it gets me out of the house.’ She poses the question: ‘Have you got that balance? Most people talk about one type of exercise – we need all three.’
‘In order to survive these difficult times you and I need to be creative. Learning how to sleep is one of the most important things we need to do,’ says Kate.
Understanding about cortisol levels (‘cortisol around three o’clock in the morning will start to wake you up) as well as melatonin levels in the body is a good start.
That and the part technology can play in affecting sleep. Kate warns: ‘There’s a direct relationship between you and I looking at screens in the last hour before sleep and the quality of our immune system. I would ban screen time in the last hour before bed time.’ She adds: ‘Get an old fashioned alarm clock – what a brilliant Christmas present that would be?
‘And having a cool, dark room is really important for a good night’s sleep. I’m going to suggest that all of you think about a one hour ritual before sleep. For some of you it may be a bath, for some of you it may be thinking about the next day or mindfulness.’ And she makes a valid point: ‘For children and babies that hour is really important.’ So why not for adults as well?
‘If you start changing your habits there’s no reason why you can’t wake up refreshed. I wake up naturally at six o’clock every day.’
So back to the weight loss. How much does Kate still want to lose? ‘I’ve got another stone to go by Christmas and I will do it.’
The next online, six-week course of Boost You! starts on October 17.