When I talk to people about physical activity – in both work and personal capacities – lots of them tell me they either don’t have time to exercise or can’t afford to. So when I was asked by Decathlon to review some of their sportswear and blog about how to exercise at home, it seemed like a great chance to offer a few tips for busy and/or cash-strapped people who’d like to get a bit fitter.
It may come as a surprise to hear that – wait for it – I have never been to a gym! The main reason is probably that I’m just not organised enough. But I also think it can be quite expensive and time-consuming. There’s the membership fee for a start; and by the time you’ve got in the car, driven there, done a session and driven back that’s probably about two hours of your day taken care of. One of the many reasons I love running is that it’s a very simple sport and you don’t need to go anywhere special to do it – you just get changed and go! So it’s the ideal cardio exercise to do from home. I often run past a gym where I live, and on beautiful, sunny days I see people running indoors on treadmills. I wonder why they pay to do that when they could be outside in the fresh air! Of course if the weather is bad it’s a tempting option, but if you’re properly kitted out with a decent running jacket and hat there isn’t much weather that can stop you. And it’s free!
“Aha!” you may say, “but running isn’t free – you need expensive shoes and clothes”. Not so! Obviously it’s possible to spend a fortune on fancy sports kit, but you certainly don’t have to. I’ve been really surprised at the quality of Decathlon’s Kalenji running range, and the prices represent amazing value. I have a couple of French running friends who’ve been using Decathlon stuff for years and rate it very highly. So don’t feel you have to go top end to buy gear that does the job! The jacket I’m wearing in these pics is really cool; a fab, bright colour, with some great features like a ventilation flap across the top of the back. The tights are a nice snug fit, made of very soft, breathable material with ventilation panels down the side and have a handy key pocket on the leg.
This base layer is super-warm. With its thumb holes and high neck it’s perfect for winter trail running. It would also be great for winter cycling or walking. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of use out of it!
Sometimes I run to work, which is a great way to build exercise into your day if you’re short of time. It’s only a couple of miles, so I often take a longer route home to fit in a few more. I realise I’m very lucky to have showers and a drying room where I work, but it’s also amazing what you can achieve with a few wet wipes, some deodorant and a pony tail! Cycling or walking can be less sweaty options. If your workplace is far away, try taking the bus or train instead of driving, getting off a few stops early and running or walking the rest of the way. Every little helps, and you might save some bus/train fare too. Active commuting does require a bit of organisation – ensuring you’ve got things like work clothes and shoes where you need them – but it’s an easy way to make exercise part of your regular routine. When you exercise early in the morning you can also feel smug for the rest of the day!
But what if you find it hard to leave the house to exercise? For example, if you have young children and no childcare? It can be difficult to get outside if that’s the case. I know a couple of mums who swap childcare sessions so they can go running – one looks after the kids while the other goes out and vice versa. Or you could consider getting a treadmill. Yes, they can be expensive, but there are often second hand bargains available from people who bought them with good intentions but then gave up – that’s how I got mine, although I only use it as a last resort! Or why not go halves with a nearby friend? If that’s not an option, there are lots of fitness sessions available online that you can take part in at home. Just Google ‘exercise at home’ and loads of options pop up! The NHS and BBC Get Inspired websites both have great short workouts that are the perfect introduction to exercising at home, and you don’t need any special equipment to do them; just a bit of space and some comfy clothes. Why not get a couple of friends round, do it together and have a coffee or healthy juice and a chat afterwards? Or you could simply go for a brisk group walk – with babies in pushchairs if needs be! Much cheaper and more sociable than the gym.
I love going to yoga as a complement to running, but if I can’t get to my favourite vinyasa flow class at York Yoga Studio I try to do a training session at home; usually a combination of some yoga, strength work and stretching. I’m not very good at yoga, but I do love it!
Decathlon also sent me some of their Domyos yoga wear to try. It’s really comfortable and colourful – perfect for this kind of activity – and much of the range is made from super-soft organic cotton. I was very impressed by these breathable yoga leggings, which have clearly been well thought through in the design. The material is really soft and doesn’t go see though when you bend over. There’s a nice high waistband (essential for yoga) with a tiny key pocket, plus a seamless crotch. I love the colour too. Best of all, they only cost £19.99! You’d usually pay much more for this level of quality. The vest is really light and airy – great for a dynamic flow practice – and the t-shirt is so soft and stylish I’d happily use it as normal leisure wear.
I’m not saying nobody should ever go to the gym – far from it! I’m sure there are lots of people who attend regularly and get good value from their membership. But for anyone with little time or money, it’s good to know that you can go a long way to keeping yourself fit without leaving home or spending lots of cash.
Do you have any top fitness tips for saving time and money? I’d love to know.
Last weekend I went on a yoga retreat. I’d never done anything like that before and really enjoyed it. This post is a bit longer than usual because I had such a great time and want to describe it in detail for anyone who’s interested in yoga and/or healthy food. Feel free to bail out at any point!
Many years ago, when I worked in marketing in a big office in Leeds, I had a colleague called Jenni. One day Jenni discovered yoga, decided she didn’t to be on the corporate hamster wheel any more and took herself off to India to become a yogi. To be honest, we mostly thought she was a bit mad at the time – giving up a good job and a nice life to leap into the unknown. But it paid off – Jenni became a fantastic yoga teacher and has worked all over the world, mostly recently at Kaliyoga retreats in France and Italy. At the moment she’s back in God’s Own County for a few weeks, so organised a weekend retreat for friends and family in the Dales.
I’ve had an on/off relationship with yoga for a few years. I do love it, and often attend the flow class at York Yoga Studio. I think the dynamic nature of flow yoga is a great complement to running, building core strength and flexibility – also good for those of us who are getting on a bit and want to stay mobile! But what normally happens is that I go for a couple of months, something happens to make me miss a class and then it seems to take me a few weeks to get started again. I really want to do yoga more often, so signed up for Jenni’s retreat because I thought it might kick-start me into doing just that. It also seemed like a great way to relax and recharge at the end my running season.
So, last Friday afternoon twelve of us (all women) arrived at the Healthy Home on Cononley Moor near Skipton. It’s a fairly remote but apparently quite well-known place – an eco home designed by Gina Lazenby that has even had a book written about it! It’s all totally Feng Shui-ed, with Buddhas and angels in every room. I’m not sure I believe in all that sort of thing, but it’s certainly a very spacious and beautiful place – my bedroom was enormous! We were promised a weekend of yoga, hiking and healthy, veggie food, which sounded perfect. We were also encouraged not to use our ‘devices’, but to cut ourselves off from the outside world as much as possible to gain the full benefit of the experience. Personally I was more concerned about going without coffee!
Following an afternoon tea with some delicious raw cake, we had our first yoga session. All the yoga took place in an enormous conservatory, and during daylight hours we had the most amazing views of the surrounding countryside as we practised. To ease us in we started with an hour of ‘restorative’ yoga, which was really relaxing, and a great way of letting go of our outside lives for the weekend. Afterwards we had a light supper of red lentil and coconut soup with buckwheat flour soda bread and a huge side salad featuring sprouted beans. Feeling very chilled out, we mostly retired to our rooms at around 9pm. Sleep was an important part of the break for some, especially those with small children!
I was slightly disturbed that our schedule for Saturday started with two hours of yoga from 8am, with no breakfast until 10am. I do love my brekkie and wasn’t sure I’d manage without food until that time! But Jenni assured me that once we started I wouldn’t think about food, and she was right. This morning session consisted of a guided meditation followed by some dynamic flow yoga, perfect for waking up the body, and slightly challenging in places. The two hours seemed to whizz by in no time. Our breakfast was worth waiting for: fruit salad, chia seed porridge with goji berries and bee pollen, plus two kinds of fresh juice – beetroot, carrot, orange and ginger, and kale, lemon, banana, hemp, chlorella, moringa, almond and coconut water. Both were amazing! I’d never had chia porridge before, but will certainly be having a go at making it myself.
After breakfast some of us went out for a walk. Luckily the heavy overnight rain had stopped, and it felt good both mentally and physically to be out in the fresh air. It was also a great bonding exercise. I really enjoyed chatting to all the amazing women there, including one who had cycled with her husband from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego – a journey that took four years! The only member of the group I knew before the weekend was Jenni herself, and I had been a bit worried that everyone else would be about 25 and super-bendy, but there were plenty of older women of varying abilities and Jenni was able to cater to us all yoga-wise.
A late lunch was our main meal of the day, and on Saturday it was vegan lasagne made with sheets of celeriac instead of pasta. I absolutely love celeriac, but had never thought of using it in this way before. This was accompanied by sweet potato wedges and another massive salad. Then there was pudding – an amazing confection called Caramel Swirl, which tasted just like cheesecake but apparently consisted mostly of cashews and dates. There’s a link to the recipe here and I’m definitely going to make it soon! In the afternoon I just chilled for a couple of hours, reading, looking at the scenery and watching the sun set. I literally can’t remember the last time I did this, so it was lovely. I had brought some running kit with me (in case you were wondering!) and was tempted to go out, but in the end thought I could run any time, so should focus on why I’d come on the retreat.
At 5pm it was time for yoga again – another restorative session with just a bit of flow in it. I think it lasted for about an hour and a half, but in truth I was so blissed out at the end I can hardly remember! Our supper afterwards was another fab soup – butternut squash, with oatcakes and homemade nut butter on the side. After supper a few people went straight off to bed, but a few of us stayed up to have a go with some Angel Cards. I’m a little sceptical about this sort of new age stuff, but the card I pulled out was the Archangel Michael, which is a coincidence as my birthday is 29th September – Michaelmas Day! Apparently he’s always watching over me, which is good news. I lay in bed later thinking how dark and quiet it was – although the moon was huge and bright and I did hear an owl hooting – then slept like a baby.
Sunday obviously began with yoga again! It was a beautiful day and the sun poured into the conservatory, flooding it with light. I realised it was the first time I’d ever done sun salutations actually looking at the sun, which was fantastic. The session lasted for two and a half hours, but never felt too long or boring. It was great to have so much time to dedicate to practice without having to rush or think about real world stuff. Breakfast today was raw buckwheat granola with yoghurt and fruit, plus another amazing drink: banana, almond, cacao, maca, mesquite, flax, chia and coconut milk – like a healthy chocolate milkshake! Later in the morning I had a fantastic Ayurvedic back massage from Jenni’s friend Maria, who had just undergone the training and wanted bodies to practice on – there were plenty of willing volunteers! Another super-relaxing experience. As our breakfast had been quite late we had a little play with inversion postures in the yoga space before our main meal. I even attempted a headstand – not very successfully, but something to work on I guess!
Our final meal together was a black bean stew with lots of lovely veggies in it, served with quinoa and kale. Jenni had also made us all some raw chocolate energy balls for the journey home, which basically tasted like gorgeous luxury truffles! I’m aware I’ve probably used the words ‘amazing’ and ‘fantastic’ far too much with regard to the food, but it really was. It was so tempting to take photos and Instagram everything, but using phones and social media were off the menu. It was all so tasty, and I felt like I was bursting with goodness by Sunday teatime. There was also fruit and a huge range of herbal teas available all the time.
I left feeling looser, calmer and more relaxed than I have done for a long time – if ever – but also strangely energised. I’m totally inspired to do yoga more often and eat far more raw and veggie food. This might not be easy, living with a dedicated carnivore, but I’m determined to try. I might just have to ask Santa for a Nutribullet! The whole weekend was totally worthwhile. Jenni is the most talented and generous teacher as well as a brilliant chef! I would love to ‘retreat’ on a regular basis, but suspect time and resources will mean it’s more like once a year. I really would recommend this type of thing to anyone, especially if you’re feeling stressed or burnt out.
For more information on Jenni and her work you can read her blog here.