Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 6 - Diet tips to help boost your health

The Mardyke Arena UCC have teamed up with The Echo for our new campaign ‘Keeping Cork Healthy’ series to give the Cork community weekly tips on how they can stay fit and healthy during this lock down period.

In this edition,nutrition advice, an invitation to start Pilates, and sports challenges for the young.

HOW can you best support your immune system in these pandemic times?

Nutritional Consultant Mary Carmody gives her top tips:

  • Eat whole foods, have a nutrient-rich diet. Our immune system needs this to function well.
  • Cut out sugar and refined starches. Studies have shown refined sugars can suppress your immune system for hours after ingesting.
  • Ensure adequate protein intake. I am getting lots of calls and messages about children feeling hungry even though they are eating “loads”.
  • Ensure you are eating adequate amounts of protein at each meal and snack. Sometimes the elderly and vegans are not getting enough protein, which is critical for immune function.
  • Protein malnutrition is a big risk factor for death from Covid-19. The guidelines are to eat about 1 gram/kg or about half your body weight in grams of good quality clean protein daily.
  • Plant-based proteins (legumes, nuts/seeds) are adequate if consumed in enough quantity and animal protein is fine too.
  • Add lots of herbs and spices to your diet for medicinal reasons and to add flavour. Garlic, onions, and ginger are great, and include lots of spices (oregano, turmeric, rosemary) to meals, these will improve your digestion and mood too!
  • Herbs and spices can be added to soups, hummus, smoothies, vegetable dishes, etc. Garlic and onions offer antimicrobial properties.
  • Eat multiple servings of colourful fruits and vegetables high in vitamins C and A, and phytonutrients that support the immune system.
  • Choose more leafy greens (soups and stews), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower), peppers, sweet potatoes (make sweet potato chips), and squashes.
  • Aim for two servings of fruits and eight or more servings of vegetables! A serving is half a cup so 4 cups of vegetables daily. Tip: include some fruit or vegetables at every meal and snack and have a smoothie/soup every day.
    Eat some fermented foods to support your microbiome and immunity. Eat sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, miso, tempeh, unsweetened yogurt, and kefir. They also keep well.
  • Alkalize your body. Sugar and processed foods tend to make your body slightly more acidic and more receptive to the Covid-19 virus.
  • Eating whole plant foods, and lots of them, 5-8 cups a day, is a good way to alkalinize your body. Try making big vegetable soup, which can help improve your pH, and making immune boosting smoothies where you add cucumber and spinach.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially warmer ones. This supports all your bodies’ functions including the immune system.
  • Again, soups or homemade broths would be lovely here. Drink herbal teas such as ginger, turmeric, etc. I love the range of PUKKA teas with their many varietie, ‘Relax’, ‘Turmeric’, ‘Elderberry & Echinacea’, ‘Lemon and Ginger’, etc. Try and always have a bottle of filtered water at hand and avoid any of the high sugar juices available on the market.
  • Exercise and immunity. Mild to moderate exercise (for about 30-45 minutes) helps boost the immune system, but avoid overdoing it, as that can run down your immune system.
  • There are so many different types of exercise available online (e.g. The Body Coach and my favourite, ‘Yoga with Adrienne’ on YouTube, which is just so easy to do for 15-20 minutes at any time of the day that suits you.
  • Sleep is so important to heal our body! Aim to go to bed earlier, get 7-8 hours, and stay off devices at least an hour beforehand. Maybe have some magnesium or a nice Epsom salts bath.
  • Try meditation. Increased levels of stress can increase susceptibility to viral infections. I do a lovely heart coherence 15-minute meditation each morning with Moira Geary — — it’s fab.
  • Gardening and spending time in nature could be a new hobby? Start a few container pots — parsley, rosemary, thyme — or if you have space, start to grow your own food.


Pilates… What did you say? Pie & Latte?!

Although only done within the radius of my living room, Pilates is a true breath of fresh air, writes Agata Helka, Chartered Physiotherapist at the arena clinic in the Mardyke Arena UCC.

We all treasure our own and our families’ mental and physical wellbeing and recently it has become more challenging.

I discovered Pilates 15 years ago, when my younger sister learned about it on YouTube and claimed the kitchen floor of my family house in Poland as her personal studio.

Dating back to 1923 and developed by Joseph Pilates, it was designed to promote body and mind balance. It has come a long way since, and is now a way of life and a benefit to many who crave that balance.

A well-structured Pilates exercise program enhances movement control and coordination, improves core strength and overall body strength, improves balance, and teaches us to align our breathing with movement.

In a session, the exercises require control of simultaneously moving, engaging core muscles, and breathing, while your mind travels to a place where it is lost in the complete awareness of the motion of your own body. That is why I love to think of Pilates as “mindfulness in motion”.

In the past 20 years, Pilates also became a big part of physiotherapy practice. It is used to treat a variety of injuries and as a part of post-surgical exercise programs, as well as becoming the foundation for endurance sports such as running, cycling, swimming, and rowing. It is a lifesaver for busy parents and also appreciated in pre and postnatal exercise programs.

If you are… recovering from an injury or surgery, spending long hours working at home in static positions, gardening regularly and want to maintain or improve your strength, expecting a baby and want to maintain your strength through pregnancy and recover well after, running, cycling, swimming, or doing any other endurance sport and you want to enhance your performance, Pilates is for you!

Motivation is a push. Inspiration is a pull. Let yourself be taken on a journey of discovering balance in your life, in the comfort of your own home. Let yourself take that step and we will come out of our houses stronger than we have ever been. Let yourself take this moment and find an escape, that will be just as great and delightful as that piece of pie.

See the Mardyke Arena UCC Facebook Page on Wednesdays at 6pm for free Pilates Classes.


Phil Healy of Ireland after winning the final of the Hodson Bay Hotel Women’s 200m event, in an Irish national indoor record time of 23.10, during the AIT International Grand Prix 2020. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Inside the mind of our Cork sports stars — how are they adapting to lockdown?

Irish athletics star Phil Healy says: “It’s very important to adapt to our new normal. For me, all our competitions have been cancelled, with the Olympics the main one, although it was the best decision for the safety and welfare of all.

“However, for all athletes, it’s no time to get complacent. It’s extremely important to use this time wisely. Individually, it’s your time to invest in you, to get better, stronger or fitter and start the next season in an improved position.

“I am continuing to train the best way I can with the gym equipment I have sourced, along with running on the roads or grass. Recovery, nutrition and the mental aspect are as important during this time as ever.

”I’m just training in a different location and using this time as a window of opportunity to work on so many new areas I wouldn’t have had the time to do previously, due to the intense schedule and races in the way.”


Sports Skills and Challenges for Children and Youths

AS part of their ‘Keep Cork Active’ online campaign, Cork Sports Partnership have compiled a whole host of Sports Skills and Challenges for people of all ages to participate in at home.

Cork Sports Partnership’s (CSP’s) dynamic and continuous relationship with more than 25 national governing bodies has proved very effective in such testing times.

Despite challenging circumstances, the planning and sharing of ideas, drills and skills has been constant between CSP staff and development officers across the country.

Two examples of the home skills challenges can be seen through CSP’s own Craig Harrington (Athletics Ireland) and Ciaran O Sullivan (Basketball Ireland).

Athletics Ireland have launched a series of circuits and activities that are easy to arrange at home. The Long Jump Challenge has been the highlight of the athletics home exercise series. Two metres is measured and marked out in a safe outdoor space. Participants are asked to clear the two metres (or as much as they can) off a standstill jump. A running start is also optional to assist children in jumping further.

Participants have been recording and sharing their long jump results online using the hashtags #ActiveAAI and #KeepYourDistance.

Basketball Ireland have launched a similar campaign based around skills and challenges that can be performed at home. Ball handling, dribbling and shooting workouts have been posted on a weekly basis for the community to improve their skills during the lockdown.

Videos and PDF’s of each skill are broken down in an easy to follow format.

The active working relationship between CSP and a number of bodies has resulted in the availability of a wide variety of activities across several sports. Essentially, each individual sporting body has offered a unique selection of activities for everybody in the household. The net has been cast out to include colouring books, quizzes and puzzles. Coaches have also been catered for through manuals, podcasts and webinars. Every individual in the family has resources available to them to suit their needs and interests.

Check out for more.


Recipe of the Week: Fork Biscuits

By Rory O’Connell, Irish Chef

Ingredients (makes 45-50 biscuits approx)

8 ozs (225g/2 sticks) soft butter

4 ozs (110g/generous 1/2 cup) castor sugar

10 ozs (275g/2 1/2 cups) self-raising flour Grated rind of one lemon or orange


  1. Cream the butter, add in the castor sugar, sifted flour and grated lemon or orange rind and mix just until it all comes together. Alternatively, place all four ingredients in the bowl of a food mixer and mix slowly until all the ingredients come together. At this stage the dough can either be used right away or put in the deep freeze or kept in the fridge for up to a week.
  2. When required, bring up to room temperature and form into small balls the size of a walnut. Flatten them out onto a baking sheet using the back of a fork dipped in cold water. Allow plenty of room for expansion.
  3. Bake in a preheated oven, 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4-10 minutes approx. Sprinkle with vanilla sugar. When cold, store in air tight containers.


Variations: Freshly ground cinnamon, ginger or chocolate chips can be a delicious addition to these biscuits.


Don’t miss out on our online fitness classes

The Mardyke Arena UCC are running live Fitness Classes via the Mardyke Arena UCC Facebook page (Monday – Friday), check it out.


Next week:

Nutrition — the practice of mindful eating / managing mental health / plus another great recipe.


Catch Up:

Click link to all our home work-out videos.

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 1 – Keep fit, in your home

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 2 – Strong body & mind

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 3 – Minding your mental health

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 4 – How to stay injury-free while working out at home

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 5 – Beware of common injuries


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