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Fitness: Getting back to basics

In a world of CrossFit, Barry’s Bootcamp and high intensity interval training (HIIT), a culture of ‘go hard or go home’ has prevailed in fitness over the past few years. While the benefits of this kind of training are indisputable (studies repeatedly show how helpful it can be for heart health and weight management, for instance), it’s a regime that can be hard on the body. Orthopaedic expert Gorav Datta made headlines just this summer when he voiced concerns about the fact that he now sees around 200 patients a year under the age of 30 with the types of bone and joint injuries previously seen in those in their 50s and 60s, a quarter of whom require surgery. Three years ago, those patients would have numbered more like 50. High impact exercise, coupled with the fact that people race through these types of workouts and often don’t perform exercises correctly in their zeal to fit fitness into a lunch break, spells trouble for our backs, knees and hips.

The downside to this kind of ‘boom or bust’ attitude is that we fall into the trap of thinking that unless sweat can be wrung from us at the end of every gym session, it’s barely worth getting our trainers on. This is simply not true, as studies on gentler activities, such as walking, have shown. Indeed, walking has been shown to reduce cancer death risk by up to 34 per cent, cut the risk of type 2 diabetes in half and lower the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. The message is clear: any kind of movement is better for our bodies than none at all, and the fitness element of the Wellness programme at Bryn Tanat Hall focuses on getting right back to basics, primarily by teaching the benefits of something called functional fitness. This involves moving our bodies through the range of motion we’d naturally find ourselves working through while we go about our daily activities – engaging our glutes and thigh muscles when we get up from a chair, for example, or bending and reaching as we clean, tidy and put things away, or racing up the stairs for the tenth time that day. Then there’s carrying the shopping, pushing the baby in the buggy, walking the dog…functional fitness helps our bodies achieve optimal (and safe) performance on a daily basis.

What’s more, you can combine functional fitness with the changing seasons to boost your fitness, metabolism and weight-loss capacity. As humans, we are pre-programmed to respond positively to cold temperatures with the activation of ‘good’ fat and burning of extra calories. Indeed, a group of scientists from Harvard Medical School and the University of New South Wales summed it up nicely: ‘Obesity and chronic disease are seen most often in people and animals kept warm and over-nourished.’ The very best fat-burning mechanism is completely natural and doesn’t cost a thing: by simply embracing the winter chill, you can transform your body in super-quick time.

So get out for that walk, but wear fewer layers than you need to feel comfortable – acclimatise over a few days or weeks; you don’t want to be so cold you’re freezing, but ditch the coat and hat for a long-sleeved t-shirt, gloves, earmuffs and leggings. You’ll automatically walk faster in the cold but you don’t need to go flat out all the way – try a 45 minute walk with a 10 minute fast section in the middle, or walk for five minutes at a steady pace, briskly for one minute, steady for two and repeat eight times. You’ll soon find you’re racing through your daily activities at twice the speed and feeling fitter and slimmer for it – all without compromising the health of the body that works so hard for you.