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'I took up running after losing a friend'

'I took up running after losing a friend'

The death of a close friend from a heart attack was the life-changing event that led father-of-two Aftab Sarwar to reassess his lifestyle.

Overweight and unfit, the 29-year-old embarked on a structured plan to get fit by going to the gym and watching his calories – losing 20kg (3.1st) in seven months.

Aftab then started the NHS Couch to 5K (C25K) running programme as a way to keep losing weight, and he soon caught the running bug.

He is an active member of his local  Barking parkrun, in east London, where he has clocked over 40 runs and is a regular volunteer.

“C25K got me running, and parkrun keeps me running,” says Aftab, who can always be seen proudly sporting his C25K graduate T-shirt while running.


How did you hear about parkrun?

I found out about parkrun on the HealthUnlocked C25K community while doing C25K, but I didn’t feel confident about running 5km at that stage, so I thought I’d wait until I completed the nine-week programme. I did my first parkrun on June 29 2013, about a month after graduating from C25K. I have a C25K graduate T-shirt, which I always wear on my parkruns.


How often do you do parkrun?

I do parkrun almost every week, and when I can’t – because I’m running in another event the next day, I’m injured or I’m fasting for Ramadan – I volunteer. So far, I have volunteered seven times. My local parkruns are Barking and Valentines; I have run Barking 41 times and Valentines just the once.

"I always hang around after finishing to cheer everyone on as they finish their 5km"


Have your running times improved since starting parkrun?

I ran my first parkrun in 25 minutes and 24 seconds, and that was my fastest 5km at the time. I have steadily improved my time, and my personal best is now 21:45. My aim by the end of 2014 is to improve on that, and maybe even run 5km in less than 21 minutes.


Do you do parkrun alone?

I run alone the majority of the time; however, I have encouraged many people to do C25K, including my dad and a friend at work. They have both graduated, and they join me at parkrun on occasions. When they do, I tend to run with them to set the pace, so they can achieve their target time. I helped my dad set a personal best of 31 minutes a few weeks ago.


Have you made new friends doing parkrun?

Barking parkrun has a great community. The parkrun is organised by members of the Barking Road Runners club, and they are very friendly. I always try to arrive a bit early to catch up with everyone, and hang around after finishing to cheer everyone on as they finish their 5km.

"I began C25K to lose weight and improve my health"


How does parkrun keep you motivated?

I tell everyone that C25K got me running, and parkrun has kept me running! C25K gave me the structure to build up to 5km, while the parkruns give me something to aim for every week. I’m motivated by my desire to improve on my time, achieve 50 parkruns and collect points towards the annual points competition. I was also recently named Barking parkrunner of the month and got a voucher for a free pair of trainers. It was great to get that recognition from the organisers.


What do you like about parkrun?

Where do I start? The community, people giving up their own time to put on an event for others, the advice that more experienced runners give to help me along, running in a group to help me improve my times and seeing others work hard and keep improving their times. A junior parkrun has been set up near me, and I have been taking my four-year-old daughter along  – so parkrun has also allowed me to have some good moments with my daughter.


How active were you before starting C25K?

In October 2012, I weighed 94kg (14.8st) and had been living a sedentary lifestyle for about 10 years. A good friend of mine recently passed away from a heart attack. He was 29. That prompted me to change my lifestyle. I started to calorie-count to lose weight and began going to the gym two to three times a week. Seven months later, I had lost 20kg, and I took up running to keep losing weight.


How has C25K changed you?

I began C25K as a way to continue to lose weight and improve my health. I didn’t expect to particularly enjoy running because I had never run before apart from cross country at school, and I hated that! However, I soon got the running bug and began telling everyone I knew about how great C25K is. By the time I graduated, my weight was down to 69kg, and I have maintained that ever since. I have kept active by running three to four times a week, and running has become a hobby. I have also gone on to do 10km runs and half marathons. I make sure to wear my C25K graduate shirt at each event to remind myself of what got me running and to promote this great programme.

'Running gives me a sense of achievement'

'Running gives me a sense of achievement'

Since completing Couch to 5K, Lorraine Beavis has joined the legions of runners who have signed up to parkrun’s increasingly popular 5km runs.

From being a sporadic exerciser, Lorraine from Leeds says taking up running has helped her lose weight, boosted her confidence and given her a sense of achievement.

A veteran of 52 parkruns and counting, she talks about parkrun’s unique appeal, making new friends and the kick she gets out of striving to improve her personal best.


How did you hear about parkrun and when did you start?

I did my first parkrun in on December 1 2012 after completing the NHS Couch to 5K running plan in October. I became aware of parkrun as I live very close to our local one and friends told me what was going on. I then found out more through the Couch to 5K community on the HealthUnlocked website.


How often do you do parkrun and where?

I do parkrun most weeks, mostly in Woodhouse Moor, Leeds – which is my "local" – but I have also run in Ipswich (my home town), St Albans with my stepson, and Telford, where my stepdaughter lives. I have done a total of 52 parkruns, plus five freedom runs, where you run the route on your own and record your time on the website. I have also volunteered – only on one occasion so far but I want to do more because it was great fun and parkrun is only what it is because of its volunteers.

"The fact that [parkrun] is free [and] anyone can do it – all ages, shapes and sizes, with dogs and pushchairs – makes it so much fun and so unintimidating"


Have your running times improved since starting parkrun?

Yes, definitely. My time for my first parkrun was 37 minutes and 35 seconds. My best time at Leeds, which is slightly hilly, is 33:06 and my best time ever is 30:50. My aim is to run under 30 minutes.


Have you made new friends doing parkrun?

Seeing the same faces each week, you inevitably get chatting, and volunteering is also a great way to make friends. Many of the runners meet up for coffee after their run, although I tend to head home for a bacon butty and the newspapers – all part of the Saturday morning routine now!


How does parkrun keep you motivated?

Running with other people and being timed, you are more likely to push yourself that little bit more than when running alone. Waiting for the text each week that gives your run time is exciting. On the rare Saturdays that I don’t do a parkrun, I feel quite flat. And of course, there is the constant striving for a new personal best. If you don’t make it one week there’s always next week!

"In addition to the parkruns, I’ve run several 10km runs and two half marathons – none of which I would have thought possible before I started NHS Couch to 5K"




What do you like about parkrun?

I think it’s a brilliant concept. The fact that it’s free, that you can do it virtually anywhere in the country as well as abroad now, that anyone can do it – all ages, shapes and sizes, with dogs and pushchairs – makes it so much fun and so unintimidating. I would encourage anyone to do it.


How active were you before you took up running?

I was a sporadic exerciser. It didn’t come naturally to me, but I knew I ought to do something so I would go through phases of doing different things but never kept anything up for more than a few months. Running is the only thing that I’ve stuck to – I’ve been running for nearly two years now and would be devastated if I had to give up for any reason. I just wish I had discovered running sooner.


How has Couch to 5K changed you?

I wasn’t very overweight but have lost nearly a stone and feel so much better – lighter, fitter, definitely more toned – and I feel more confident and proud of what I’ve achieved. In addition to the parkruns, I’ve run several 10km runs and two half marathons – none of which I would have thought possible before I started NHS Couch to 5K.

Common posture mistakes and fixes

Common posture mistakes and fixes

From sticking your bottom out to crossing your legs, find out how everyday standing and sitting habits can cause back pain and other ailments.

Physiotherapist and back pain expert Nick Sinfield describes 10 common posture mistakes and how to correct them with strength and stretching exercises.

“Correcting your posture may feel awkward at first because your body has grown so used to sitting and standing incorrectly," says Nick.

“You need to retrain your body to sit and stand correctly. Initially, this may require a bit of conscious effort and some strengthening and flexibility exercises to correct muscle imbalances.

“But with a bit of practise, good posture will become second nature and protect your back in the long term.”


Sticking your bottom out

sticking out bottom (left) and correct standing posture


If your bottom tends to stick out or you have a pronounced curve in your lower back, you may have ‘hyperlordosis’, which is an exaggerated inward curve in the lower back creating a ‘Donald Duck’ posture. This is often caused by tightness in your lower back and hip flexors and weakness in your core muscles, hamstrings and buttocks.

These muscle imbalances tilt your pelvis forward and can cause lower back stiffness and pain. Wearing high heels, excessive weight around the stomach and pregnancy can all cause this posture.

Core and buttock strengthening exercises and hip flexor and thigh stretches are recommended to help correct a sticking out bottom.

Exercises to correct a ‘Donald Duck’ posture:

Good standing posture:

To help you maintain a correct standing posture, imagine a string attached to the top of your head pulling you upwards. The idea is to keep your body in perfect alignment, maintaining the spine's natural curvature, neck straight and shoulders parallel with the hips.

  • Keep your shoulders back and relaxed
  • Pull in your abdomen
  • Keep your feet about hip distance apart
  • Balance your weight evenly on both feet
  • Try not to tilt your head forward, backward or sideways
  • Keep your legs straight but knees relaxed


Standing with a flat back


A flat back means your pelvis is tucked in and your lower back is straight instead of naturally curved, causing you to stoop forward. People with a flat back often find it difficult standing for long periods and can experience pain in their lower half of their back.

This posture is often caused by muscle imbalances which encourage you to adopt such a position. Spending long periods sitting down can be caused by as well as contribute to a flat back. A flat back may be a sign of tightness in your core and hamstrings, and weakness in your quadriceps, lower back and buttocks. A flat back also tends to make you lean your neck and head forwards, which can cause neck and upper back strain and pain.

Exercises to strengthen your core, buttocks, neck and rear shoulder muscles and back extensions are recommended to help correct a flat back.

Exercises to correct a flat back:


Leaning on one leg


Leaning more on one leg while standing, sometimes referred to as ‘hanging on one hip’, can feel comfortable, especially if you’ve been standing for a while, but it's often the result of weakness in some muscles. Instead of using your buttocks and core muscles to keep you upright, you place excessive pressure on one side of your lower back and hip.

Over time, you may develop muscle imbalances around the pelvis area which can cause muscular strain and pain in the low back and buttocks. Other causes of uneven hips include carrying heavy backpacks on one shoulder and mums carrying toddlers on one hip.

To improve this posture, try to get into the habit of standing with your weight evenly distributed on both legs. Exercises to strengthen your buttocks and core muscles will help correct uneven hips.

Exercises to correct uneven hips:


Hunched back and ‘text neck’

Text neck (left) and hunched back


If you spend several hours a day working on a computer, you may unconsciously find yourself adopting poor postural habits such as hunching over your keyboard. This position is usually a sign that you have a tight chest and a weak upper back. Over time, this type of posture can contribute to you developing a rounded upper back, a condition called kyphosis, which can cause shoulder and upper back stiffness and pain.

When hunching over a computer, your head may tend to lean forward, which can cause stiffness and pain in the neck. Mobile device usage can also encourage you to hang your head and can cause similar problems dubbed ‘text neck’.

Upper back, neck and rear shoulder strengthening exercises, chest stretches and neck posture drills are recommended to help correct a hunched back.
Exercises to correct a hunched back:

  • Gently lengthen your neck upwards as you tuck in your chin
  • Seated rows
  • Chest stretches


Poking your chin


Many people poke their chin forward to look up at a computer screen or TV when sitting without realising it. The poking chin posture is often caused by sitting too low, a screen set too high, a hunched back or combinations of all three. An unsupported lower back or a hunched upper back both encourage the neck to lean and tip the head downward. To compensate for this downward pressure, we lift the chin to look forward without straightening the back.

A poking chin posture can lead to muscle weakness around the neck, compressing the neck joints, which over time can lead to stiffness and pain in the neck, shoulders and upper back and cause headaches.

Correcting a poking chin involves improving your sitting habits and exercises to correct your posture.

How to correct a poking chin:

  • Gently lengthen your neck upwards as you tuck in your chin
  • Bring your shoulder blades back towards your spine
  • Pull in your lower tummy muscles to maintain a natural curve in your lower back
  • Adjust your seating


Rounded shoulders


One way to tell if you’ve got rounded shoulders is to stand in front of a mirror and let your arms hang naturally by your sides. If your knuckles face forward, it may indicate that you have a tight chest and a weak upper back, giving the appearance of rounded shoulders, also called ‘upper cross syndrome’.

Rounded shoulders are typically caused by poor posture habits, muscle imbalances and an uneven exercise regimen, such as too much focus on chest strength and neglecting the upper back. Over time, these muscle imbalances will result in poor positioning of your shoulders, which can lead to shoulder and neck stiffness and pain.

Exercises to strengthen your core, upper back and chest muscles will help correct rounded shoulders.

Exercises to correct rounded shoulders:

  • Plank
  • Bridging
  • Seated rows in a gym (or pull-ups)
  • Chest stretches


Sitting cross legged



It’s instinctive and feels natural but sitting with your legs crossed puts pressure on your lower back. In this position, your hip tucks in, making it difficult to sit up straight, causing you to slouch. Over time you may develop muscle imbalances in your hips which can cause stiffness and pain in the hips and low back. Habits of a lifetime are hard to shake but for your back’s sake, uncross those legs and sit up straight! It might feel awkward at first but over time it will become second nature and your back will thank you for it.

How to sit correctly:

  • Gently lengthen your neck upwards as you tuck in your chin
  • Pull in your lower tummy muscles to maintain a natural curve in your lower back
  • Bring your shoulder blades back towards your spine
  • Adjust your seating


Cradling your phone


Holding your phone handset between your ear and shoulder places undue stress on the muscles of the neck, upper back and shoulder. If you always cradle the phone on the same side, it may shorten, compress and weaken the neck muscles on one side while stretching the muscles on the opposite side.

The neck and shoulders are not designed to hold this position for any length of time. This posture places strain on the muscles and other soft tissues leading to muscle imbalances between the left and right side of your neck, which can cause  headaches and stiffness and pain in the neck, shoulders and arms. Try to get into the habit of holding the phone with your hand or use a hands free device.

Exercises for neck stiffness and pain:

  • Chest stretches
  • Neck stretches: gently lower your left ear towards your left shoulder. Hold for 10 to 15 deep breaths. Repeat on opposite side.
  • Neck rotations: slowly turn your chin towards one shoulder. Hold for 10 to 15 deep breaths. Repeat on opposite side.


Slouching in a chair

Sitting slumped without any lower back support, may feel more comfortable than sitting upright because it requires less effort from our muscles but it places a lot of pressure on your lower back. The reason you may slouch in the first place could be because you already have weak core muscles.

In this posture, your pelvis is tucked in, instead of being level, leaving your lower back to support the weight of your upper body. The muscles that should be propping you up are dormant, putting strain on your ligaments, joints and other soft tissue structures of the lower back. In this position, your upper back will also have a tendency to hunch, creating its own problems (described in the hunched back section above).

Get into the habit of sitting correctly. It may not feel comfortable initially because your muscles have not been conditioned to support you in the correct position. Exercises to strengthen your core and buttock muscles and back extensions will help correct a slouching posture.

Exercises to correct a slumping posture:


‘Poshitis’ or heavy bag syndrome


‘Poshitis’ is the term coined for pain caused by the trend of carrying heavy handbags on a bent forearm as seen on fashionistas such as Victoria Beckham. Whether it’s handbags, backpacks, school bags or shopping bags, the way you carry your bag can wreak havoc on your posture and cause injury. Try this test: look in front of a mirror: are your shoulders level or tilting? If they tilt to one side, could this be due to always carrying a heavy load on the same shoulder? 

The best bags are empty ones. Carrying heavy bags improperly can stretch supporting muscles and ligaments, which can affect the back and shoulder alignment which in turn can cause posture-related stiffness and pain. Children are especially vulnerable to injury from carrying heavy bags, such as school bags, as their spines are still developing.

How to carry bags correctly:

  • Use two straps to distribute the weight around your back evenly
  • If using one strap, try periodically swapping sides
  • Place heavier objects on the bottom of the bag 
  • Avoid overloading schoolbags

Donate and help save lives

Donate and help save lives

Did you know that only one in 25 of us regularly gives blood? Or that less than a third of us have joined the NHS Organ Donor Register?

It only takes a few minutes to join the NHS Organ Donor Register, and it doesn't take long to give blood. Both are simple, convenient ways to make a real difference to other people's lives.

Why give blood?

"Thanks to wonderful people who give blood I lead a full and active life and am looking forward to getting married next year."
Nisa Karia

Donated blood is a lifeline, not just in emergencies, but for people who have long-term conditions, too.

But making sure there is enough blood for everyone who needs it is hard work. Each year, the NHS needs 200,000 new people to start donating blood regularly. They are particularly keen for people aged 17-24 years old to sign up.

Find out why the NHS also needs more  people from ethnic minorities to sign up.

Read more about who can donate

To find your nearest blood donation session, just type your city, town or postcode into the box below.

Why be an organ donor?

"In my family we alI carry donor cards and I would encourage all Sikhs to do so." Dr Indarjit Singh OBE

By donating your organs after you die, you can help save and transform the lives of desperately ill people.

Fewer than 5,000 people each year in the UK die in circumstances where they can become a donor, so each donor is precious.

Read how Barbara, Mark and Bakhshish have benefited from organ donation.

If you would like to help save lives after your death, just fill in your details below.

The Ridge Health Champions Walking Group

Walking Group launch on Thursday the 3rd July.

World Cup Health Check

The links below go to the NHS Choices website.

Health Check
Moderate Yor Tipple
Give Cigarettes The Red Card
Get Match Fit
Sick As A Parrot

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