Health hacks: the holiday edition

When I’m on holiday there’s no way I’m going to deny myself something I fancy, like a giant pistachio ice cream or a buttery pastry… yum! But equally I don’t want to come back from my break feeling worse than before, so here are my top five tips for staying (moderately) healthy on your hols.

1. Get off to a good start

I know how tricky it is to resist the temptations of a breakfast buffet, but think of it this way – choosing a healthy start to the day will mean one extra treat later on! Admittedly I’ve frequently caved in and gone for a full (veggie) English myself, but I usually end up feeling pretty terrible (as in ill, not guilty) afterwards, and no one needs that with a full day of sightseeing planned! Greek yoghurt and fruit (preferably fresh berries) is a good option.

2. Use your pins

Can’t work out the local transport system? Who cares! Walking is not only the best way to explore somewhere new, it’s also a great way to burn fat – more so than running, in fact. So make sure you pack a comfy pair of shoes and get your hands on a map as soon as you arrive.

3. Don’t forget the H2O

Always carry a bottle of water with you. It’s easy to get dehydrated while you’re on holiday, especially if you’re like me and you decide to just go for a quick wander to get your bearings and don’t come back for five hours… Carrying a bottle with you will mean you won’t have to halt your adventure mid way to hunt for the nearest corner shop or supermarket.

4. Avoid the crowds

A packed gym is never ideal, and it’s particularly hard to avoid on holiday as hotel facilities are often rather ’boutique’ (i.e. tiny). If you can, steer clear of the morning rush and try going at a quieter time of day. Early evening is usually pretty good – when most other guests are having their pre-dinner nap! (Although I do also love a pre-dinner nap.)

5. Travel with Yoogaia 

Pack your tablet and you can take hundreds of different guided yoga classes on holiday with you. Even if you can’t join a live session because of the time zone you’re in, you can choose from the many recordings available on the site. All you need is an internet connection!

Now if all of this has got you in the holiday mood, enter the #travelwithyoogaia competition for the chance to win a weekend break in a Nordic city – just like the one I’m enjoying now*. All you need to do is start your free seven day trial, take a photo of your practice and upload it to Instagram along with the competition hashtag. Good luck!

*This was an all expenses paid trip to Helsinki courtesy of the lovely people at Yoogaia.

Behind the scenes at Yoogaia HQ

I’m writing this post from my hotel in Helsinki. Okay to be more specific I am writing it from the bar in my hotel in Helsinki…! I’ve been invited here by Yoogaia*, to help them let yoga fans around the world know about a really easy way to keep up their practice while they are holidaying or travelling abroad.

The main point of the trip is to use Yoogaia to practice yoga in my hotel room and write about the experience, but as the business’ HQ is in Helsinki I was keen to take a look around while I’m here. I learnt lots whilst chatting to Katja, who is a Yoogaia instructor and manages the Helsinki studio, so I wanted to share some of that with you!

For those of you that don’t know, Yoogaia is an online platform that you can log on to anywhere and at any time to follow a recorded yoga class or join a live one. The unique thing about Yoogaia is that it uses two-way visuals, so as well as being able to watch the yoga instructor live from your own home (or hotel room), you have the option to allow them to view you as you practice – so that they can give advice, correct posture or make recommendations about how best to tailor the session to your individual needs. 

The business launched 18 months ago right here in Helsinki, but has since opened up two new studios in London and Hong Kong. Classes aren’t actually held at the studios, but having more locations where instructors can film from means that Yoogaia can offer classes in more languages and to suit more time zones. Growing at a pretty impressive pace, the business already has its eye on other markets too, keen to capitalise on its USP before the idea catches on and competitors start popping up across the globe – which they inevitably will do with a concept this good.

One of Yoogaia’s other selling points is that the team take their yoga pretty seriously, with scores of different types of session available covering everything from mindful yoga and chakra meditation to, you guessed it, Broga! Katja tells me that yin yoga is the most popular here in Finland. Yin is a slow-paced practice – poses can be held for up to five minutes with the aim of increasing circulation and flexibility. It’s definitely one I’m keen to try and I’ll be checking in for a session this weekend.

In addition, all of the instructors, no matter where they’re based, are carefully recruited and put through their paces before being offered a place on the team. This is really important for maintaining a high quality across the board and ensures that, if you fancy trying something different from your usual practice, you won’t be disappointed by your new instructor.

While I’m here I’m going to be joining as many different classes as I can fit in around being a very excited tourist in a new city. If you want to join me, why not sign up for the one week free trial? If you’re not yet convinced, check out Yoogaia’s stunning Instagram feed which is full of yogis practising against beautiful backdrops of green meadows and peaceful lakes. If that doesn’t get you feeling inspired, I don’t know what will!

*This was an all expenses paid trip courtesy of the lovely people at Yoogaia.

Scoliosis and me

I’ve talked several times on this blog (and on my Instagram and to anyone who will listen to me bang on about it in person…) about the mental health benefits of exercise, but I’ve never really talked in depth about the physical benefits I’ve experienced.

When I was about 14 I was diagnosed with scoliosis – an s-shaped curvature of the spine. A slight scoliosis is pretty common amongst girls and develops during teenage years, coinciding with growth spurts. When it was first noticed by my GP it was only about 12 degrees, so it wasn’t significant enough to cause me any real problems, but by the time I was 18 it had developed to over 30 degrees. My skull, shoulders and hips were all out of alignment and my ribcage had started to twist on one side, meaning the lung on that side had less room to expand. It caused me a lot of pain and, because the weight of my head was unevenly distributed, it looked like the curvature and rotation would continue to get worse. 

I went into hospital the day after my last A Level exam to have the corrective surgery, during which they essentially forced my spine straight with a giant pair of pliers, inserted two metal rods either side and attached the rods to my vertebrae with screws and a bone graft. The length of my spine is now pretty much entirely fused together and I have a 16 inch scar that runs down my back.

After the surgery I spent a week in hospital, almost motionless for the first three days. I can’t even tell you how painful it was. The other patients on the osteo ward, who were all old ladies having hip and knee replacements, told me I cried in my sleep, but I hated being in the hospital so I stopped taking morphine so the nurses could release me.

At home, my bed had been raised so that I could get in and out more easily, but I spent the majority of the next month just lying flat on my back, reading a lot. I was taking eight Cocodamol every day for about eight weeks so developed a dependency. Codeine withdrawal symptoms include feelings of depression, so it felt like a massive setback to have to come off it just as I was getting back to normality.

After that, it got better. I was able to go to university in September as I’d wanted, and just got on with things. The pain never fully went away, though, and I did a couple of courses of physio to try to sort out the cause, which was that the muscles in the middle of my back had been weakened by the whole experience so ached awfully if I had to hold my body in the same position for any length of time. The exercises were boring though(!), so I didn’t keep them up, and in my final year it was so bad that I had to sit my exams in a separate room so that I could lie down for a break whenever I needed.

I’d just accepted that I would have to deal with it for the rest of my life, until my friend got me to go to pole dancing classes for a laugh. We kept going and gradually, as I stuck with it, I got stronger. I ached in the days after a class, but I noticed that it was a different kind of ache. The more progress I made in lessons, the less pain I would be in on an ordinary day, and when I realised the connection it seemed so obvious. My doctors had tried to help by referring me to a physio, but I couldn’t believe no one had suggested I took up a sport or hobby that would strengthen these muscles before. 

I still have weeks when I get pain, and this is usually when I’ve been stressed and tense, spending too many hours hunched at my desk and not enough time moving my body. But I’ve never really looked back. 

I recommend exercise in a lot of situations, but it’s always because I genuinely believe it will help. I thought it was about time that I shared my personal story to explain why.

Butternut squash tagine

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any recipes (I’m finding it true that Londoners don’t cook all that much – there’s no time!), but last week I made a butternut squash tagine that I thought delicious enough to be worthy of sharing. This was first made for me by my lovely friend Charlotte, who I think got it from a Jamie Oliver recipe book. I imagine Jamie’s original is fancier, but the way I like to make it is nice and simple.

1. De-seed a medium sized butternut squash, chop into chunks (I leave the skin on because of all the GOODNESS) and roast in the oven for about 30 mins.

2. While the squash is roasting, dice two onions and soften in some olive oil in a large saucepan over a low heat.

3. Add raisins and cinnamon to the onions. Really helpfully, I don’t measure amounts of either… I just bear in mind that this recipe makes four portions, and I keep tasting as I go along and adding more cinnamon if I think it needs it.

4. Next, add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a tin of chickpeas, including the water. Cover and leave to reduce on a medium/low heat.

5. When your squash is done, chuck that into the pot too, mix well and leave for a little longer so that it soaks up some of the cinnamon flavour.

6. Serve with couscous and a dollop of Greek yoghurt on the top. Delish!

Trespass activewear – review

Me wearing Trespass

Over the years I’ve developed something of a Nike obsession, and these days about 90% of my kit comes from there. One of the things I’ve been slightly concerned about is replacing it when it gets too worn, as unfortunately with the need to both pay rent at London prices and feed myself I seriously doubt I’ll have £80 left over for a pair of fancy running leggings. So when Trespass got in touch asking if I’d like to review their activewear range I was more than keen!

I chose two items, this quick dry t-shirt...

Blue sports t-shirt

…and these running leggings.

Grey and yellow running leggings

As it turns out, the timing was ideal as the lightweight fabric was exactly what I needed in this heat. I don’t like wearing shorts to run in even when it’s boiling outside – not because I want to hide my legs, but for practical reasons. (The way that I’m built means I will never have a thigh gap, so bare legs would mean CHAFING and no one needs that.) These leggings are the perfect solution!

I love the flash of colour on the sides and the crossover detail on the waistband, but my favourite feature is the fit on the calves. There’s no flaring so they do tailor to your leg, but they’re quite loose so you’re not left with big red seam marks on your skin for hours after you’ve taken them off, which I’ve often found with other three quarter length leggings.

The t-shirt did a great job of keeping me as cool as possible in this weather too, as it’s made of an almost mesh-like fabric. It has a cut-out design on the back, which will make you happy if you’re like me and think that a plain t-shirt just isn’t fashionable enough, even for gym clothes!

Being a performance-focused brand, Trespass has thought about more than just the aesthetics, though. The fabric boasts a number of other qualities – it’s antibacterial, high wicking and quick drying. And believe me, I tested these to the extreme in this heat wave…

I have only worn the pieces once but I know I’ll get lots of use out of them in the future, regardless of the weather, because they’re so comfortable. I actually put this outfit on when I got up this morning, as being already dressed for it would mean I had to go for a run later, but I was enjoying wearing it so much that I kept delaying my run – I just wanted to stay in these clothes all day!

(P.S. HOW LUSH is my street? Thanks to my personal photographer, flat mate and running buddy, Jennifer, for the pic!)


Work off your Wimbledon faves

Who doesn’t love watching a bit of tennis with a glass of Pimms and a punnet of strawberries?

With Wimbledon just around the corner, Central London Apartments has put together this fun infographic showing how much of the sport you’d actually need to play to work off the treats traditionally associated with it.

Serious message: the infographic is based on calories and we should all know by now that one calorie is not like another – what’s way more important than the number is where the calories are coming from (i.e. protein, carbs, fats), but regardless this is an entertaining guide for tennis fans visiting the city this June/July.

I’m rather partial to a cream scone myself so the news that I’d need to play for an hour and a half to make up for it is rather alarming, although 15 minutes for a g&t seems reasonable…

What’s your Wimbldon weakness?


International Yoga Day – Broga® with ParkLives

Matt Miller leading a Broga class

On Sunday I went along to an event celebrating the first International Day of Yoga put on by my client Coca-Cola Great Britain as part of its ParkLives programme run in partnership with Newham Council and activeNewham. The event included a free Broga® (yoga for brothers!) class which, not being one to miss out on a new fitness trend, I couldn’t wait to try.

A new form of fitness yoga, Broga® combines a workout with accessible yoga postures to develop strength and increase mobility. It was founded by former American football star and super-heavyweight bodybuilding champion, Matt Miller, with the aim of reducing the possibility of injury. The name appeals to men to encourage them to get involved and experience the benefits of yoga, but classes are open to anyone.

As you’d expect from Matt’s background, the practice is less about the meditative side of yoga and more about its effects on performance, but he uses poses such as runner’s lunge and warrior that will be familiar to anyone who has done a little yoga in the past. From these poses he builds in movements that become steadily more difficult and, even though I think he was going easy on us, we were really pushing ourselves that morning… I had a little giggle with the lady on the mat next to me as we both had a bad case of the shakes trying to hold a side plank.

For this beginners introduction to Broga® Matt chose to focus on the upper body. We spent some time correcting posture, focussing on drawing our shoulders down instead of hunching them up as many of us are prone to do, and I can tell it worked from how heavy my arms felt the following day! I particularly loved the buddy section, where we worked with a partner to stretch ourselves that little bit further.

As an instructor, I thought Matt was great. He struck the perfect balance between really encouraging everyone to work their hardest and often reminding us that we were free to take a breather whenever needed. He also always gave us options so that everyone could participate at a level they felt comfortable with.

Broga® was certainly different to any other form of yoga I’ve tried, but I really enjoyed the challenge – particularly as the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day in Central Park.  And this was just one of a whole range of events taking place across the city to mark the International Day of Yoga – London has so much to offer, even in terms of exercise, that you could probably work out every day for a year and never have to do the same class twice!