A trip to Fes – Riad Fes & Hotel Sahrai

Recently I was lucky enough to be taken on a press trip to Fes, Morocco’s second largest city, to review two sister hotels in the area. Having been to Marrakech twice, I was excited to visit somewhere new in Morocco and with its rich and interesting history, Fes seemed like the perfect choice!

Some background: Fes was founded in the 8th Century and for a while was one of the largest cities in the world. Now, with a population of 1.2 million, Fes is known for its medina, probably the largest pedestrianised site in the world, and its university, the University of Al Quaraouiyine which was founded in 859 and the oldest continuously functioning university in the world.

This trip was gifted but as always all views are my own! We flew directly from Gatwick with Air Arabia. All images by the incredibly talented Tamsin Hurrell. Follow her on Instagram!

 

 

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Riad Fes

We arrived late in the evening to Fes airport, and after a short drive arrived at our first hotel, Riad Fes. Despite being late, after a short walk down a dark alleyway, we found ourselves in the most spectacular courtyard. We later discovered that the Riad had previously been someone’s home, and the original architecture had been painstakingly removed, cleaned and replaced, each tile by hand!

Our room was beautiful and overlooked the pool (a rare feature for hotels within or surrounding the medina). When the hotel had been bought, the surrounding houses were purchased too, making the hotel significantly larger (and maze-like!) than a traditional riad. If you ever visit Riad Fes you will be blown away by the architecture – I know I was!

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Breakfast buffet

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty buffet breakfast, we headed into the medina for a 3h tour of the sights. The first thing I noticed was the number of chickens for sale on every corner – meat eating in Morocco is very much a matter of pointing at the one you want to eat and then taking it home with you. Being vegan this was quite tough to watch, but I also noted that the chickens all seemed in much better shape than any commercially raised chicken I’ve seen in the UK. The reality of eating meat may be tough to witness for some, but the same thing happens here in the UK, only under much more intensive (and often cruel) production methods, out of sight.

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Walking round the medina was incredible – having visited Marrakech’s medina multiple times, I was blown away by the size of Fes. One of our first rules was ‘if you get lost, stay where you are. If you move, you will only get more lost’. Needless to say, I stuck to the group closely! Within the medina are thousands of stalls, run by locals selling all sorts of products, much the same as Marrakech. However, each city has its speciality – a key product to trade between cities (and now around the world). In Fes, it is the tanneries, producing leather that is now exported across the world.

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The tanneries operate in much the same way as they did when they were first built in the early centuries. Stone wells contain liquids designed to strip hides of fur and flesh, before being softened in ammonia (which I am told is bird poo!) and dyed. They’re visually appealing for sure, although perhaps not for everyone.

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You are offered mint to smell as you head up to the tanneries

Hotel Sahrai

Following our tour of the medina, including the oldest continually running university in the world, we headed back to the Riad to be transported to our second hotel, Hotel Sahrai. Both hotels are owned by the same group, but they couldn’t have been more different! Where Riad Fes is traditional and cosy, Hotel Sahrai is expansive and modern. Situated on a hillside outside the medina, the views are also amazing, looking out onto the huge city of Fes.

 

 

We were lucky enough to be able to try their Namaste yoga package, providing yoga sessions morning and evening for hotel guests – the best way to wake up and warm up into the day! I’m not an avid yoga fan but when it’s on the roof terrace of a gorgeous hotel in the early Moroccan sun I can make exceptions!

Here are some pics from around the gorgeous hotel – you can see why I loved it so much 🙂

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The pool overlooks the medina

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Enjoying the second, smaller pool with Tamsin

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Have you ever visited Fes? Comment below or head over to my Instagram!

Train like an athlete

Health and fitness is everywhere – from your food being marketed as ‘high protein’ or a ‘post workout bar’ to your favourite influencer dancing around in an Ivy Park tracksuit. It’s inescapable, and as someone who used to be teased for eating healthily and enjoying the school PE classes, it’s exciting.

However, I find myself questioning more and more how much these people and brands are actually focussed on fitness and health. I 100% believe that brands focussing more on health is generally a good thing, even if that’s just jumping on the bandwagon in an effort to look ‘cool’ or sell more products, but I worry about the amount of people buying into things that will make them LOOK more #fitness without actually providing them the actual fitness to back that up.

I am probably biased – I have been doing ‘fitness’ since I was about 15, always in the form of functional training, whether training for the national schools squash championships, BUCS cross country or my latest boxing match. But seeing people take part in a 12 week plan to ‘grow their booty’ (without any focus on actual fitness/strength) and then give up is frustrating for me. The amount of emphasis placed on looks (often at the expense of performance) leads me to worry about the longevity of the West’s ‘passion’ for fitness. It reminds me of when I was growing up and the Kate Moss ‘heroine chic’ look was in – you didn’t have to take heroine, as long as you looked like you hadn’t eaten in 3 weeks (thinking about it, this was probably for the best, but since fitness is actually very good for you, it would be nice if people were as dedicated to BEING fit as they are to LOOKING fit). 

It’s easy to imagine my view comes from a place of ‘I was here first, everyone else is just pretending’ but that’s genuinely not it. There are a number of reasons for my concern, and all (I believe) are legitimate. 

  1. When you train for aesthetics, the emphasis gets placed on your looks and how much working out can make you look a certain way. For every person who sticks to fitness after discovering the other benefits, there is someone else who quits after they become disillusioned about the lack of a six pack they were promised after 90 days. Fitness isn’t looking a certain way, it’s about a bunch of internal factors that we can’t even see. 
  2. There are a lot of actual, real life athletes on Instagram, whether they’re competing for the country or working overtime to allow them to self-fund their training and competition fees. However, brands are often choosing to work with people who ‘look’ a certain way over those who actually DO a sport. As someone who works in the fitness modelling world, I see this all too often. Of course, aesthetics are important, but I’ve been told I’m ‘too muscly’ for a job that literally requires lifting weights. Who could look more like a person who lifts weights than someone who got the body they have by literally doing just that. It would be nice to see a little more championing of people who actually DO a sport. 
  3. I like to think that we’ve moved past the point of extremes, because health is sort of by definition ‘balanced’. However a number of fitness guides and classes encourage plenty of extreme behaviour to look a certain way. Sure, they work, but are they ‘healthy’? Training like an athlete (i.e. functional training) focusses on performance and all-round fitness. Runners lift weights, rugby players practise sprints and everyone works on mobility and balance. Training purely for aesthetics can lead to serious physical problems further down the line, especially from poor form and over training certain areas. This is something I’m still working on too – it’s the only way to make training sustainable.

Thankfully training purely for aesthetics often becomes the gateway drug for all the other benefits of exercise, and those who start working out to lose weight can discover a plethora of other benefits. Other factors become the driving force behind working out, and at this point a person’s fitness becomes way more balanced (I’m sure a number of you can relate)!

It’s not entirely necessary to want to run a marathon or to achieve a triathlon PB, but training like an athlete can leave you feeling mentally healthier, accomplished and physically sound well into your older age. Rest and recovery is a key part of an athlete’s training plan, and whilst reducing workout intensity might not give you THAT body in 90 days, it sure as hell will keep you motivated enough to continue working out long, long past then. 

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Alcohol and fitness

Alcohol and fitness. How do these words fit together in your mind? Are they compatible? Or does one exclude the other? It’s interesting how often people ask me if I drink – I would have thought that the amount I talk about gin would have answered that question years ago. 😉 I thought I’d make a post about it, since a huge number of my followers are of university/early work age but also interested in health and fitness. Since health can be a total minefield I thought I’d clear a few things up.

Alcohol has calories

Because alcohol is essentially a carbohydrate, it can contain a lot of calories – plenty more than you might expect for a drink. It also interrupts how our bodies deal with other foods, slowing down the absorption of nutrients and reducing the amount of fat our bodies burn for energy. A pint of beer contains around 200 calories, while a glass of wine (175ml) contains around 125 calories. However, if you take these into account when thinking about your daily diet, it is very possible to work around this fact! I enjoy drinking a couple of times a week and do not find that it affects my weight whether I have them or not. I just factor in the calories of alcohol (very roughly) and have fewer snacks that week. Simple!

Alcohol can lead to bad decision making

Drinking can lead to cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. Most of us have felt that post-night-out craving for chips/burger/kebab, and this can have serious consequences on our healthy intentions. When I was at university I used to keep a bowl of porridge or sweet potato fries at home to eat after a big night out. After drinking and dancing for a long period of time, your body craves nutrition, so it is best to feed it something with a little more nutritional value than Bobby’s kebab shop can offer. Pre-plan before a night out to make sure you’re prepared. Another favourite late night snack is toast with olive oil or a large bowl of granola. Find what works for you and stick to it – your body and bank will thank you!

The aftermath

Obviously excessive alcohol can leave us a little worse for wear the morning (and let’s be honest, the entire day/2 days) afterwards. When we are hungover, it is mainly because our bodies are severely dehydrated which actually makes your brain shrink, pulling away from the sides of your brain case. This is because alcohol is a diuretic, making you wee more than you would usually in order to flush out more toxins from your body (yes, alcohol is a poison). Pretty much anyone who drinks has had a hangover, but there are ways to reduce your likelihood of getting one!

  1. Drink a glass of water for every glass of alcohol you consume.
  2. Opt for lighter alcohols – the darker the alcohol (red wine, rum, bourbon), the more congeners they have, exacerbating headaches the next day.
  3. Take electrolyte salts and/or an aspirin (with lots of water) before you sleep. I drink minimum 500ml right before bed if I’ve been drinking.
  4. Avoid caffeine on your night our and in the morning. You may feel like you need it but your body won’t thank you. Caffeine is also a diuretic and will make you even more dehydrated! Just give yourself water and time to recover.
  5. Take ibuprofen and eat anti-inflammatory foods in the morning. Alcohol triggers inflammation in the body which can make hangovers feel worst, so getting swelling down is key.

When hungover we can be tempted to eat alllll the foods in my opinion it’s OK to have that greasy fry up you are craving if you’re hungover, especially if you’ve factored it in to your weekly diet. However, after a night out our bodies are craving health, so opting for something more nutritious might actually make you feel better (and has less of an impact on your fitness goals).

My favourite drinks:

I am a sucker for a gin and tonic! Slimline or full fat, depending on how many I’m having. Gin will always be my go to spirit, but some people cannot handle it at all. Find what works for you and don’t overindulge (or it might not work so well next time).

For a dinner party I like white wine. Red wine is said to have some health benefits but the sulphites don’t agree with me hugely, so it’s not my go to. However a glass here and here is absolutely fine for me. Of course I also love a good champagne, but the sugar and bubbles make me hyperactive and drunker faster, and also leave me with a worse hangover if I have to many.

If I’m planning on having more than a few drinks, I might opt for something fairly plain, like a vodka lime soda. Tastes delicious and fresh without having the added sugar and impurities of other drinks.

On special occasions (picnics in the park) I’ll drink Crabbies, an alcoholic ginger beer. It’s spectacularly bad for you but to be honest, life is for enjoying, and Crabbies makes me happy because it reminds me of summer.

Summary

I think it’s important to know how alcohol affects your body and your mind – both biologically and for you, personally. Everyone reacts differently, and some people decide that drinking is incompatible with their fitness goals. In my opinion, as with pretty much everything for me, I think it’s all about moderation. Live life, enjoy yourself and know your limits.

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Eight tips to supercharge your workout

It can sometimes be easy to fall into a routine of heading to the gym a few times a week and pottering around, without really getting much out of it. Implementing a few of these simple steps can really help increase the amount you get out of your workout, helping you to start seeing progress and enjoy your workouts again!

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Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

  1. Get a good playlist

Music has been shown both to improve performance and enjoyment during sport, both of which are important if you’re looking for consistency in progress! You’ll be surprised what you can achieve when you stick on a good playlist – anecdotally I have achieved many of my best runs when listening to a playlist where the music matches the cadence of my stride. Spotify has a cool smart playlist that allows you to put in your tempo (of cycyling or running) and plays you music that matches that beat. If you’re looking for an extra boost, this could be worth a shot!

 

2. Sleep properly

We all know deep down how important sleep is for pretty much everything in everyday life, and yet it’s often the first thing to go when we are busy or stressed. Being well rested improves reaction times, reduces injury rates and fatigue, increases power and reduces mental errors – vital especially if you play a sport. Getting a good night’s rest can also increase your motivation to workout, which is something we all struggle with from time to time!

 

3. Mix up your sessions

Boredom can totally annihilate even the best intentions. If the gym (or wherever you workout) doesn’t inspire you, then why would you put yourself through it? I try to mix up my workouts daily, so I never get bored, and also work different parts of the body. I do cardio and HIIT for my heart, weights for strength and bone density and everything else just for fun. Mix it up!

 

4. Eat 2h before

You don’t want to head to the gym on a full stomach. When your body is still digesting food, it uses blood that could otherwise be used to carry oxygen to your muscles. Equally though, if you don’t eat and start a workout hungry this can leave you feeling lethargic and weaker than usual. Whilst this can be used as a training technique, it’s not recommended if you’re looking to get the most out of your workout! Check out what to eat pre and post workout.

 

5. Warm up properly

This one is SO easy to overlook. When we’re a little short on time, the warm-up can seem like an unnecessary waste. However, if you’re looking to get personal bests (whether that’s in cardio or weights) and hoping to not get injured, then warming up is essential. It prepares the muscles and joints for work, meaning that whatever you’re workout, you’re likely to do it better. Try warming up with dynamic movements and cooling down with static stretches, rather than the other way around.

 

6. Have a plan

There’s nothing worse than going into the gym and having no idea what to do, whether that’s because you’re new to it or because you haven’t organised your workout days. I have fallen into the trap of telling myself that I’m just going to ‘workout’ but not saying how, and then half-heartedly doing a million things until the 45 minute workout is over. Now I try to write down what I’m going to do in the gym, or set up a circuit so I don’t have to think about what I’m doing next. This also makes your workouts much more efficient, meaning you can go in, smash a workout and get out in record time!

 

7. Hydrate

“Water regulates your body temperature and lubricates your joints. It helps transport nutrients to give you energy and keep you healthy. If you’re not hydrated, your body can’t perform at its highest level. You may feel tired, have muscle cramps, dizziness, or other serious symptoms.” – from Family Doctor. Water is needed for your body to produce energy, and if you’re dehydrated it literally can’t produce as much. To keep hydrated try to always have a reusable water bottle on you, and take sips throughout the day. When you exercise you lose water in the form of sweat and simply through breathing, so make sure to continually sip on water during and after your sessions. If you feel tired, you may just be dehydrated!

 

8. Dress appropriately

Have you ever seen someone attempting a run in totally inappropriate footwear or an un-supportive bra and think to yourself ‘WHY’. Turning up to the gym wearing non sports clothing is shooting yourself in the foot if you’re looking for progress. Girls, please invest in a well-fitted sports bra. Once the ligaments keeping your boobs perky are damaged (your Cooper’s ligaments), they’re damaged for life, and you’ll have saggy boobs by the time you’re 30. This is important even for small breasted women, so don’t think you’re exempt! Also if you’ve ever tried running properly without a good bra, you’ll know how uncomfortable this is – just spend the money on a good bra and be done with it. Having leggings/trackies that don’t fall down is also important, and a pet peeve of mine is having men unable to complete a set without having to pull up their trousers. The idea is to not be distracted from your workout at the gym, and having decent clothes is step one in achieving this.

For more tips head to my instagram and twitter!

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Setting up a good playlist can do wonders for your workout

How to avoid a plateau

Are you going to the gym a lot, eating a healthy diet and still find yourself unable to tone up? Maybe you made a bunch of progress early on, but now it’s just not happening. This is called plateauing, when you’re putting in the same amount of effort before but just not making the progress. It can be caused by a number of factors, individually or combined, and is often the cause of people losing motivation in the gym.

Here are a few of the ways you can avoid for plateauing, or kick-start progress again. Of course, everyone is different, so it’s worth taking a long, hard look at your training plan to see why your progress isn’t what you hoped.

 

Progressive overload

Progressive overload is the technique of making your workouts harder each session. If you’re lifting weights this means instead of doing 12 reps of 50kg squats every week, you increase the weight you’re squatting by a small amount every session. Obviously this can’t continue forever, but it ensures your body doesn’t get used to the same session without growth. Workouts have to be challenging to encourage growth, and once your body adapts, they are no longer encouraging the progress you’re looking for. If you’re a runner doing intervals (just as another example), reduce rest time between intervals, or increase the speed at which you aim to do each interval. The best way to ensure constant overload is to track your workouts closely – if you’re serious about progress, record your lifts/time each session and aim to improve on this. The number of girls with notepads in the gym recording their sessions now a) makes me very happy and b) shows me that they are taking their fitness and progress very seriously.

 

Variety

For similar reasons as above, if you’re doing the same workouts day in day out, your body is going to get used to it and stop developing. After a while doing the same thing will do nothing to change your physique, and can cause burnout. Why not try cross training – incorporating other workouts into your routine – to kick-start progress again? If you’re into lifting weights, try some form of cardio (trust me, you just need to find the right one!), or join classes at your gym for new exercises. If you lift light, lift heavy (with fewer reps). If you lift heavy, try lifting lighter but more reps. Hell, try reformer pilates – if you’re used to being strong, this will definitely give you something to work on! The idea is just to mix it up. It’ll likely restart progress, stop you getting bored and reduce the chance of injury too! It’s a win win (win). Read why cross training is so important here.

 

Rest

Have you been steadily increasing the number of hours you exercise for per week in an attempt to continue your progress? When progress slows it can be tempting to eat into your rest days, chasing progress. However, this can actually harm your progress. Not giving your body enough time to rest can prevent muscle fibres from rebuilding after sessions, and cuase the sort of fatigue that’ll mean you can’t workout as hard as you could before. So instead of working out 4h a week really hard, you end up doing 7h of half-arsed work, exhausting yourself in the process. In this way, rest can improve your progress if you’re trying to kill it in the gym day in day out. In addition, the stress of working out everyday when you’re not ready for it can increase levels of the hormone cortisol (the stress hormone), causing water retention, cravings and a widening waistline. The number of rest days you should take totally depends on your body, your training style, your goals and other factors in your life (sleep/work!), but take a read of my post on rest days to try to figure it out.

 

Fuel

If you’re trying to make quick changes to your body it can be really (really) tempting to reduce your calories as low as possible. However, the lower your calories, the lower your calorie burn. This is not to say that we should all be stuffing our faces, but for some reason people often equate health to eating as few calories a day as possible, and really that can be very counterproductive. I started my fitness journey on a very unhealthy diet of between 800 and 1200 calories a day, thinking that everything I ate had to be burned off. Sure, I was fit, but my body wasn’t nearly as toned or strong as it is now. The lack of food also caused me to crash half way through workouts, meaning that I was working far less than I could have been, and burning fewer calories in the mean time. My fitness and physique didn’t progress until I doubled my calories – I now eat between 2200 and 3000 calories a day, approximately, which fuels even the heaviest of my sessions, and provides my muscles with plenty of building blocks for growth after I workout. If you’re into calorie counting, that’s fine, but if you can eat intuitively to give your body everything it needs, even better. If you listen to your body you’ll be able to tell if you’re eating enough. The chances are, a lot of you probably aren’t!

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One thing to make sure is that your goals are realistic – when you first get into exercise you tend to make much more progress than later on, especially if you were overweight or unfit to begin with. This progress can’t continue forever, and sometimes plateauing is a sign of your body getting to its ‘happy place’ in regards to muscle mass and fitness levels. Don’t be disheartened when your progress slows. If you’ve followed all the steps above, there’s a chance your body is content with where it is, and there’s not much you can do to change that (healthily). Have you experienced plateaus in training? How did you resolve it? Comment on my Instagram and have a look round here for more health and fitness tips.

This post was originally written for Xen-do martial arts

My year in review – 2017

I like to take time around Christmas to think of the things in the past year that I’m proud of. Reflection on your achievements can help you appreciate even the smallest of things: contentment at work, good times with family, new skills learned – the list goes on. With that in mind I thought I’d do a little summary of the things I’ve achieved this year. Whether you write yours down or just think of them in your head, it’s something I’d really recommend doing!

 

Social media
This is the year I grew from 10,000 followers (25 December, 2016) to my current 57,000. Whilst follower number isn’t everything, I think this year’s growth has been a true reflection of the pride, time and effort I’ve put into my content. Creating weekly blog posts, including recipes, thoughts and advice is tiring but something I’ve learned to balance in my life – it helps that I love doing it! My aim of creating weekly content has been upheld (most of the time!) and it’s so worth it when I’m able to help people in more than the length of an instagram captions or twitter’s 280 characters (another new thing this year!).

In January I signed to W model management, an agency that I had applied to (twice) and been rejected from (twice). For them to approach me and ask me to be on their books as a ‘fitfluencer’ and model was literally a dream come true. The extra help allowed me to focus on my finals and dissertation at university and build excellent relationships with brands that probably would never have noticed me on my own. It’s been a strong learning curve for me – from having to reshoot campaigns 5 times to learning when to say no to collaborations, this year has taught me a lot about working with people. Most of all, it’s shown me that the best people to work with are those who are really, really passionate about sharing what they do, and that’s something I’ll be aiming to do more of next year.

My Twitter has grown from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand followers, but in reality I’m still just a little confused about twitter. My favourite thing is that whilst instagram is all ‘highlight reel’ and sometimes makes you super depressed, twitter is where people seem to head when they want to complain about life, which is strangely refreshing. I like twitter, but I still don’t really get it.

This year has been a whirlwind year in regards to social media. It been amazing to have the opportunity to share my voice and (hopefully) help others along the way. I’m so excited to see what 2018 will bring for the brand ‘food fitness flora’, and I hope all of you will still be here to share it with me!

See my most popular recipe and blog post of this year.

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Personal life
This year was a great year for family and friends. Without going into depth, it’s been so interesting to realise that some people are always there for you no matter what, and others are along for the highlights and mysteriously disappear when things get tough. It’s also been so lovely to meet a bunch of new people, through countless events and various things in common. I am forever grateful for social media – who could have known that instagram would lead to some of my closest friendships (Maiken I’m looking at you, even though I know you never read this).

I moved back to London after my degree, and have been living at home while I’m getting on my feet. It’s been so nice after 10 years of boarding school and three years of university to finally be able to spend some time with family – there really is nothing that can replace it! Shout out to my sisters for still being as crazy this year as last. You are all wonderful and the variety of things you all do and succeed in (and the ones you don’t) never ceases to amaze me.

I can’t write about my personal life without mentioning my wonderful boyfriend, Fiann. Fiann and I have been together for over 2.5 years now, and without wanting to sound soppy, I am forever grateful for everything he does. For anyone who loves a nerd and pretty rocks as much as I do, check out his instagram (and look out on BBC One at 8pm on the 7th Jan for a great surprise!).

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He’s not bad really

 

Education
This year I graduated from Bristol University, where I was doing a bachelors in Biology. It was really tough (as anyone who has done/is doing a degree will know!), but something I’m so proud of. I loved the subject throughout the three years, which I’m learning isn’t all that common, and when I left with a strong 2:1, I was happy. My academic performance wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be, but I also learned that at university, grades really aren’t everything. The experiences I had at uni are worth more to me than any grade I could have got, and I hope that anyone else struggling to achieve what they were aiming for will still make the most of the experience. For me, university was about learning to balance 7 million different things – friends, work, sports, music, social life, family life etc – whilst finding who you are as a person. It wasn’t easy, but boy was it worth it.

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Graduation

Work
In my last year of university I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do (work with scientists and journalists turning science into terms everyone could understand), but didn’t know if that was even a job. After finding out that science media and communications was definitely a thing (and a very important thing at that), I set out to find myself some work experience. After leaving uni in June, I got an unpaid internship at the Society for Endocrinology in Bristol over the month of August. I loved the work but struggled staying in Bristol when all things blogging were based in London. Half way through my internship I got called in for an interview at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, for a job as ‘media and PR officer’. Upon arrival at the college I was filled with amazement at how beautiful the building was, followed shortly by terror, because I felt massively under-qualified for a real job in the real world. After a very fun interview I was convinced that they were looking for someone more professional (and probably older) than I was, which is why I was unbelievably surprised when the very next day I got a call back offering me the job. I’m now working at the RCOG, working with scientists and journalists debunking pseudoscience, making sure everyone is in the know about women’s health and keeping engaged with the public via social media. The blogger work/work work balance is a hard one to get right (this last week has been 15h day after 15h day), but it’s made so much easier when you love everything you’re doing. People ask me why I don’t work full time as a blogger, but helping women throughout their life through education and information is literally a dream come true for me, and that is exactly what I’m doing.

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Work Christmas party (you can see why I fit right in)

This post is as much for me as anyone else – the last year has been a total whirlwind of change for me, from leaving uni to starting a new job, all whilst focusing on my social media accounts too. Always make time to celebrate your successes, no matter how big or small, and learn from your mistakes so you can succeed next time. Merry Christmas everyone, enjoy this time to reconnect with family and spend some time away from social media.

 

“Celebrate your success and find humour in your failures. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Loosen up and everyone around you will loosen up. Have fun and always show enthusiasm. When all else fails, put on a silly costume and sing a silly song” – Words to live by from Sam Walton.

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That’s me over and out for the year – have an amazing christmas everyone! 

10 reasons to lift weights

When I first started playing sports, the idea of a girl lifting weights was laughable. The only girls who did were the rowers and field athletes– everyone else thought it was manly, and my secondary school weights room was literally only for boys. The main gym was mostly cardio equipment, and without a doubt cardio was what was expected of the girls, if they went to the gym at all. Seven years on and the attitudes towards women being fit and healthy rather than skinny have changed so much. The rise of social media stars who incorporate weights into their routines has undoubtedly helped. But what are the benefits of lifting weights, and why do people swear by them for getting in shape?

Nb/ As a disclaimer I’d like to say that I also condemn those who shame anyone who does cardio – there are health benefits to all exercises, and I for one love a good sweat session. However, this post will be focussing on the health benefits of lifting weights. If you’d like to read more about cardio, please check out my post on how to get better at running.

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I got into weights late in the game because I was afraid it’d make me ‘bulky’ – it didn’t and won’t for you either!

  1. It’ll strengthen your bones

Most of us don’t think of our bones as living things, but they are. They respond to how we live, especially when we are young. As we get older, our bones lose density, becoming more brittle and prone to osteoporosis (this is why older people are more likely to break and fracture bones). If you lift weights, your bone density increases, meaning you’re in a better position to protect yourself from these issues later in life.

 

  1. It’ll make you happier

Whilst all physical activity is great for mental health, strength training has been linked to lower levels of anxiety and depression, as well as fatigue. In addition to the benefits of just getting moving, watching yourself progress with strength training can help you focus in other areas of life and give you a sense of achievement.

 

  1. It’ll give you a higher BMR

Your BMR is your basal metabolic rate. It’s the rate at which you burn calories when you’re doing absolutely nothing. So not only will lifting weights burn calories when you’re doing it, lifting also increases your muscle to fat ratio, meaning that you’ll burn more calories just lying there. And guess what that means… More food!

 

  1. It helps other sports

If you’re not lifting weights because you’re focusing on other sports, you could be harming your progress rather than helping it. Lifting weights strengthens both supporting muscles and the muscles you may use for your sport, meaning that whatever you do, lifting weights can help you do it harder, faster and better. It’s one form of cross training you don’t want to miss out on.

 

  1. It doesn’t take a long time

If you’re short on time, having a 30 minute workout is perfectly fine when lifting weights. My glutes sessions are around 40 minutes long, but when time-restricted 30 minutes works absolutely fine. Lifting can work around your schedule in a way that running a 5k can’t.

 

  1. Muscle is denser than fat

But what does this actually mean? It means that if you do lots of strength training and gain some muscle, it’ll take up less space than fat does. This is what allows people to get leaner leaner when they weightlift. You may not weigh less, but you’ll definitely look like you do! This is also why lifting weights as a girl certainly won’t make you look bulky. Whilst you probably shouldn’t be doing something purely because of aesthetics, there’s nothing wrong with wanting some toned curves!

 

  1. It’s good for your heart

Cardiovascular exercise is undoubtedly excellent for your heart health, but lifting weights has similar benefits. It can lower blood pressure as effectively as cardio and can mean you’re at lower risk of heart disease, stroke and heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends at least 2 strength training sessions a week.

 

  1. It doesn’t require much space

Whilst getting to the gym is useful if you want to lift heavy, if you’re short on time and space, you can do bodyweight resistance training at home. Also when your gym is super busy, getting on all the machines can be a nightmare, but grabbing some dumbells and a small space for a mat is sometimes all you need. Lack of time/space isn’t an excuse here!

 

  1. It’ll help you sleep

All exercise can help with sleep – those who exercise frequently report the best sleep, both in terms of length and quality. In addition, getting good sleep helps with muscle growth, so the two work together perfectly. Do more of one and you’ll get more of the other. It’s a win-win!

 

  1. You’ll live longer (and heathier)

All of the factors above lead to a reduced risk of disease, meaning you’ll live longer, healthier and happier. What’s not to love?!

 

I hope you find this post helpful! To see more of what I do why not check out what I’m up to on Instagram or TwitterLIFESTYLE_1384.

Shoot with David Wren

Here are some photos from my recent shoot with the amazing David Wren, one of my favourite to date!

I look forward to sharing the rest of these on my instagram too 🙂 Hope you like them as much as I do!

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For shoot enquiries please email meldunbar@wmodel.co.uk or beatrice@wmodel.co.uk

How to get better at running

Running is something that people usually either love or hate… But hate it or love it, there is something to be said for getting out of the house and feeling the wind on your face (not to mention the many health benefits and that runners high!). I’ve gone from HATING running to actually enjoying it almost every time, and I put that partly down to getting a lot better at it. It’s taken me about 5 years of running to actually look forward to my runs. Here are some bits of advice to help you improve too!

 

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The excitement is real

  • Ease yourself in to a new routine

Routine is very important when it comes to improving at anything and whilst in a moment of energised madness it could seem like a good idea to attempt a 10 mile run out of the blue, most of us would be put off by any programme that suggested that was a good idea. It is important to ease yourself into any new routine, and running is no different. Using different muscles can leave you with severe DOMS, and a new programme should allow for some recovery without leaving too long between runs. If you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to start a programme such as a ‘couch to 5k’ or join your local running group for some motivation. Not every run you complete needs to be as fast and far as you can – leave room for enjoyment too, as 2 weeks of an intense plan before giving up is nowhere near as good as months of a slower plan that you actually enjoy.

Whatever plan you do, make sure it’s sustainable and feasible to fit into your everyday life, without allowing you to slack off and take it too easy. It should challenge you without you burning out. The key is to stay consistent week to week and then no matter how slow, improvement is still improvement.

 

  • Track your progress and set goals

As with anything, it is difficult to improve without keeping tabs on your current standard and setting goals within defined timeframes. Keeping track of runs and progress means you’re more likely to stick to your plan and be motivated for future runs, especially when you also measure how the runs made you feel.

 

  • …But don’t record every run

This is important to keep your love of the sport. Whilst it is often fun to have every analytic of your run, becoming obsessed with numbers can lead to disappointment. I used to only head out for runs if I knew I was going to smash it, which ironically led to avoiding running altogether for fear of ‘failure’. A bad run is better than no run, and a ‘bad’ run isn’t really a thing if you’re not tracking it! Enjoyment is as important as anything else when it comes to improvement.

 

  • Run FAST

Speed work is something often ignored by casual runners, because it is short-term painful and nowhere near as relaxing as a potter around the park on a Sunday morning. However, if you want to get faster, speed work is vital. In addition, mixing up your running routine is important to minimise plateaus, as your body has to work harder on every run. Speed work with active recovery also lowers recovery time, meaning that the more you do, the more you can do – it’s a positive cycle of improvement. Look up running intervals sessions and hill sprints. Some are possible to do on the treadmill (perfect for winter when it’s too miserable to go outside but you don’t want to take a day off) and others are better outside. Be strict – the point is that it pushes you as this is when you improve. Classes such as Barry’s or Best’s Bootcamps and 1 Rebel can help improve speed if you’re not sure where to start by yourself.

 

  • Stay consistent

Whilst not everything, a large part of improving your running is getting more time on your feet. After all, it’s hard to improve at something you rarely do! This means training consistently week after week, and doing as many of your planned sessions as possible. Depending on your goals, this can mean going out for a run everyday, or just doing a couple of longer runs a week. Set yourself a goal of running at least X miles/km per week to keep on track. Download Strava to keep track of your runs (and get route inspiration from others in your area). Consistency is key to improvement, and as you get better you can set yourself more and harder targets.

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Cross training is great for improving strength and reducing injury

  • Cross training

As with everything, it is possible to over-train when it comes to running. Everyone’s tolerance is different – I can’t run long distances 2 consecutive days without injuring myself! One of the best ways of improving running without over-training is to cross-train on non running days. Cross training is where you practise another kind of fitness training to complement your running, and is key to any running programme. Examples include cycling, weight-training, swimming etc. The advantages of cross training are many: it adds variety to training, which reduces chances of injury, prevents boredom and utilises muscles that aren’t used when running, building strength and stability.

The goal of cross training is to improve strength, cardiovascular fitness and/or speed up your recovery. The exercises you choose for your cross training should reflect these needs, and can vary over time. Getting the right balance of cross-training and running can be a challenge, and it’s important to remember that if you are training for a specific purpose, your training should be based around the runs, not the cross training. Too much or too little can lead to exhaustion and reduced progress with your running.

In general, you should complete 1-3 cross training sessions a week, including a lower intensity one, such as yoga or pilates if you are doing multiple sessions a week. Aim to strength train (lift weights) once a week to build muscle and strength.

Ultimately figure out what works for you, and don’t underestimate the power of recovery. Ensure your workouts are timed so you are still able to carry out your usual running routine (i.e. don’t do a heavy leg day before a sprint session). And enjoy them! Variety is the spice of life 🙂

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Whatever you do, just get out there and enjoy yourself!

The mental health benefits of sport

Exercise has lots of known benefits – improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, increased bone density etc., but the mental health benefits are, if not ignored, rarely celebrated as much as the physical – there’s no ‘before and after’ transformation photo, little obvious outwardly change… and yet for me, the mental health benefits of exercise are SO much more important than anything else. Better still than simply exercising, SPORTS can have an even larger positive effect. Initiatives such as England Athletics’ #runandtalk and Sport England’s ‘Get Set to Go‘ have started to open up the conversation about mental health, as well as make social sports more accessible to all.

Countless studies have linked physical activity to lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress, even improving conditions such as ADHD and PTSD – and there’s a particular class of exercise that does it better than any other. Sports – the kind of exercise where there’s a particular goal – has helped me and countless others both physically and mentally.

Throughout my life I have gone through various sports, training consistently, motivated by the daily mental improvements it helped me feel. When I was 15 I got into squash in a big way – it was the antidote to all negative emotions I had been feeling for many years. Constantly exhausted, depressed and feeling powerless, with low self-esteem to boot, I disliked school and struggled everyday, sadly assuming that that was just how I was meant to feel. As a teenager at a top school, I felt pressure to perform in academics whilst excelling in my social life, physical health, looks and home life – an impossible task that left me always feeling like I was running in a hamster wheel just to stay in the same place.

Getting up and doing things wasn’t always on the front of my mind during the time I was depressed. Although I was at boarding school and had little choice in the matter, I would sometimes zombie my way through the days, and sports was initially a real struggle – I hated it until I was 15 because I was bad at everything I had tried. However, school did teach me the discipline of getting up and out even when I didn’t want to. Especially when I didn’t want to. Being semi forced to play a sport 3 times a week was so tough at first, but once I paid attention to how it made me feel, I would start to look forward to the times I could leave the classroom and head to the court, ready to set aside the day’s worries and fall into the rhythm of training. For anyone struggling with depression and/or anxiety, one quick piece of advice is to get out into nature. Walking is good, running is better. Just keep moving forwards – it does wonders for your mind.

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Vitamin D deficiency is common in the UK and can worsen depression – get outside!

Through daily squash training I was able to see myself improving, getting stronger, fitter and faster whilst spending time with a community that was entirely focussed on enjoyment and improvement. There’s nothing better for your self-esteem than working hard to reach a goal and your hard work paying off. If it’s possible to get addicted to exercise I did, training up to 7h a week on top of other sports. The intensity at which I worked meant that over the following 2 years I became good enough to compete in the national schools championships as the number 1 player for my school. But it wasn’t the winning I cared about – the best thing about it was the way it made me feel. It was that high that I was chasing. When you feel totally out of control with your life, having that one thing that you can control is a godsend.

I also started horse riding in a serious way at this point. The unique thing with horse riding is that horses are terrifyingly good at mirroring emotions. It is impossible to feel stressed or distracted whilst jumping around a ring if you actually want to get very far. So every time I headed to the stables I learned to leave my fears and worries at the stable door and spend an hour without focussing on anything but me and the 17hh (huge) muscle machine beneath me.

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Nothing beats the feeling of horse riding

After I left school I wasn’t able to play squash or ride so much – frequent travel before heading to university meant that it was impossible to find a routine, but the discipline training taught me translated well into other areas of my life. I still revelled in playing squash when I got the chance and picked it up any time I had the opportunity. Being good isn’t the point – it’s all the other benefits that are there regardless of your standard. My year away from the stresses of education tempered my obsession with exercising, allowing me to enjoy it for what it was every time I played. I learned balance and the importance of working on all aspects of health and happiness, including taking care of my body, resting and fuelling it properly. No more 10h training weeks and hello rest days.

Once I arrived at university I picked up running and whilst I loved it, it didn’t hold the same mind-clearing properties that squash and riding had before. I spent university mixing up weights in the gym and running, but I was missing that little extra something you get when you really ‘click’ with a sport. Leaving university led me to boxing, which I now practise weekly. I’m not the first person to talk about the benefits of boxing for mental health – Prince Harry alerted the nation of the power of boxing for coping with mental stress back in April. Multiple professional boxers have done the same, despite the history of corruption in some areas of the sport. Ellie Goulding, too, voiced almost exactly my sentiments about the sport:

“It wasn’t about any change in my outward appearance; it was about seeing and feeling myself get better and stronger. It carried over into other areas of my life, and now I truly feel that exercise – however you like to work out – is good for the soul,”

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The university athletics club kept me busy and fit

What all of the above sports have in common, I have now realised, is that they don’t allow any space or time for outside emotions and negativity to join. Focussing your attention on your goal – the next shot, the perfect line into a jump, the rhythm of your punches – leads to a sense of power and achievement at the end of a session that isn’t found anywhere else. It’s a kind of enforced mindfulness not found in all forms of exercise, banishing dark thoughts whilst simultaneously releasing endorphins and shifting your focus from the future in the outside world to the now in your personal world.

Above are three sports that have helped me more than I can tell you. The combination of the physical, mental and emotional benefits beat any pill or any diet, and now that I feel I have achieved the perfect balance of exercise, nutrition and rest, I have never been so happy.

Everyone’s go-to sport for relaxation will be different – some will find this with weights, others with running (runners high is a real thing) and still others walking round a park. The trick is to find what does it for you and do that.

I really hope you have found this article useful – I feel so lucky to have been able to find so many sports that I love throughout my life, and now want to spend time spreading the word about the benefits of sport and exercise. You don’t have to be depressed or have a diagnosed conditions to feel the benefits. They’re there for all of us. What does exercise do for you?

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Further reading:

If you struggle with depression this is pretty helpful (it’s the little steps that make all the difference!)

This goes into some depth about benefits for sufferers of OCD

See infographic below for some more benefits for everyone!

“Studies conducted on mice have shown that exercising on a running wheel helps them sprout new connections between neurons in their brains. Exercise may cause the release of “growth factors,” which trigger neurons to make new connections. These new connections may help to reduce symptoms of OCD. Exercise also promotes the release of endorphins, “feel good” neurochemicals, boosting mood and fending off stress.”

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