Walk somewhere everyday. Physical activities such as walking, doing housework or even fidgeting use energy and this is called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (N.E.A.T). N.E.A.T includes any energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports related exercise. Increasing your N.E.A.T is a great way to add physical activity to your day without having to put aside a full hour to go to the gym plus for extra brownie points you can combine it with ticking things off your to do list or socialising with friends!
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fitness Coach Amy Elisabeth.
Amy has had a lifelong interest in health and fitness. She started working as a gymnastics coach when she was 13 years old and over the years has become a qualified coach in gymnastics, trampolining and fitness. In 2017, she quit her job, embarked on a year-long road trip to South Africa and since returning she has launched her own fitness and wellbeing business. At the forefront of this is her bespoke Plan of Action programme, an online personalised programme that works with busy people to improve both their physical and mental wellbeing to make them happier and healthier!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
Ofcourse! So I first got into fitness and wellness through gymnastics. I started doing gymnastics when I was 7 years old and then started coaching and my passion and experience just grew from there!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I think it would have to be when I ran the North Pole Marathon in 2016. I’ve always wanted to run a marathon and have always wanted to go to the North Pole so when I saw the North Pole Marathon, I knew I had to do it! I knew it would be cool (literally and figuratively!) but what I hadn’t anticipated was how inspirational the people taking part would be, it just made me realise how amazing the human body and mind is. I was running with a group of seemingly ‘ordinary people’ except that among them there were people that had completed 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents, run a marathon in every state of America, and there was a guy who was running the North Pole Marathon aged 78! Even the guys that set up the camp were amazing, they skydived onto the ice with a tractor and a tent and made a runway for the plane to land on so the camp could be built. The year I did it the ice kept cracking so they were working around the clock making new runways. One night I got up to go to the toilet at 4.30am and the guys, having only just finished their shift, invited me to join them for pancakes and cognac and we sat talking for hours — it was a bizarre but truly memorable experience!
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I have had foot problems all my life but I try not to let it stop me from doing things — including running marathons. I had always wanted to do the London Marathon and after years of rejection I was finally accepted but I was already booked in for a bunion operation. After a lot of persuasion, my doctor agreed to let me do the marathon on the condition that I didn’t put any weight on my left foot. And so, five weeks after the operation, armed with only my crutches, some energy gels and sheer determination, I attempted to crutch the London Marathon! Standing at the start line I was petrified and had no idea whether I could actually finish it. I had only managed to train a distance of 16 miles with crutches before the op, which is quite a way off the normal longest run distance of 20–22 miles. The crowd were amazing and I met someone who was running his first marathon, I can honestly say I don’t think I would have finished it without him! I crossed the line in just over 6 and a half hours and I had the worst blisters in the world on the balls of my feet, I had never seen anything like it, I couldn’t move for days! The lessons I learnt were 1) being stubborn hurts! And 2) where there is a will, there is a way.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
I have been actively involved in the world of health and fitness since the age of 13. Since then I have worked with people from all walks of life, helping them to enjoy being active and to feel better in themselves. I think people resonate with me because I am normal, relatable and I don’t pretend to be perfect. Some people love going to the gym but for those who don’t, I think it’s crazy that they feel like they should. I designed the Plan of Action while travelling down through Africa when I didn’t have access to a gym. On my return I realised that it was not only ideal for people who are travelling but also for people who have a busy life and don’t want to spend their evenings in the gym. As well as this, I have a lot of experience to offer in the field of nutrition, particularly with vegan and vegetarian diets. I turned vegan 12 years ago, and found it really hard to find PTs that could provide practical, accessible advice on eating a balanced and nutritious vegan diet that would support my fitness and wellness goals. A huge amount of advice out there seems to be really complicated, requiring expensive, obscure ingredients and outrageously long recipes when really, the best thing is to keep it simple. Now, as a qualified nutritional therapist, I am able to support clients who are vegan, vegetarian or simply looking to cut back on meat without just increasing their pasta consumption and address their nutritional imbalances. Just like my approach to fitness in the Plan of Action, I believe that eating well should be something that is accessible, flexible and doesn’t cost the earth!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are a few people that spring to mind but someone who has been hugely influential in my life and fitness career is Shirley Callaghan, the head coach at my old gymnastics club. She showed me the importance of a strong work ethic, set a good example of how to earn respect, she constantly pushed me out of my comfort zone and will bend over backwards to help out where she can. I don’t think I would be who I am today if it wasn’t for her!
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
Self-discipline and organisation. I think this is the main blockage by far, how many of us are guilty of watching an extra episode of something on Netflix then claiming we don’t have time to go to the gym? The fantastic thing is that self-discipline is a learned behaviour, and planning in advance makes it that much easier. As a starting point, I always suggest making small changes rather than trying to overhaul your habits in one day. For example, if you are in the habit of eating sweets when you go to the cinema, plan ahead and consider taking a healthier snack with you so that you are less tempted to buy sweets just for the sake of it. .
Motivation. When it comes to health and fitness, I think some people concentrate too much on short term or aesthetic goals (striving for the image of health ie. being toned) and don’t think about the consequences of their diet and lifestyle on their long term health (true inner health that lengthens your life). Spending time thinking about the bigger picture, and your real reasons for pursuing a healthier lifestyle, can really improve motivation and improve your consistency over time. For example, why do you want to lose weight? It probably isn’t just the physical act of being a stone lighter, but perhaps how it will make you feel in yourself or that it will lower your risk of diabetes and cancer.
Priorities. It’s easy to allow our own physical and mental wellbeing to take a backseat when life becomes hectic. But it’s so important to create time to look after ourselves, whether it’s a mile run in the park twice a week, or some time every Sunday to plan your lunches for the week — you should view it as you would any other important appointment in your diary.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
- Drink more water– water is vital for the body to function properly. Dehydration can affect brain function, cause premature wrinkling and lead to digestive problems. There is controversy when it comes to exactly how much we should be drinking each day, of course everybody is different and the amount needed varies on what we are doing in a day, but we should be aiming for somewhere between 2 and 4 litres a day. To experience all the positives of being hydrated such as feeling full after meals and clearer skin, have a (reusable) bottle of water with your at all times and think little and often. At the point where you feel thirsty, you will already be experiencing negative effects of dehydration.
- Improve your posture– good posture keeps bones and joints in the correct alignment which decreases wearing of the joint, prevents muscular pain and contributes to a good appearance. To improve your posture you need to have good flexibility, a strong core and an awareness of your own posture. To improve your flexibility you should aim to stretch everyday, I like to do it while I am brushing my teeth. A strong core can be achieved by doing 15 minutes of bodyweight exercises such as these at home or in the park, 5 times a week. Awareness of your own posture comes with practice, but to begin with it can be achieved by asking a friend or colleague to remind you when your posture isn’t good or setting reminders on your phone throughout the day to think about your posture.
- Spend more time outside– when we are outside we are often doing fun things (eg. cycling, walking, sunbathing or sightseeing) and have a chance to connect to nature, both of which are good for our mental health. Spending time outside also helps our physical health, it increases our vitamin D levels and balances our melatonin levels. Vitamin D helps regulate calcium and phosphate in our bodies and melatonin regulates our sleep cycle, so both are very important when it comes to the feeling of wellbeing. Better still is doing exercise or being active outside — the endorphins released whilst exercising are known to boost your mood and encourage better mental clarity.
- Think positively– some people think it’s silly but there is definitely something to be said for positive thinking. Positive thinking doesn’t mean that you are happy all the time but it does mean that you try and focus on the positives rather than the negatives. There are a couple of things you can do to improve your positive thinking. Firstly, each day, try giving yourself a moment to focus on what you are grateful for. You could write this down in a diary or just make a mental note when you first wake up or while you are walking to the station. It makes you realise that even when it feels like things aren’t going your way there is always something to be grateful for. The second tip is to smile even when you don’t feel especially happy. If I am walking down the street I will catch someone’s eye and smile at them. Most of the time they will then smile back at you, which in turn will make you feel happier! Even if you are on your own, the simple action of smiling will make you feel happier. Simply put, the world is a better place when you smile.
- Eat more whole foods– when we talk about whole foods we are talking about vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains that have undergone minimal processing. Not all processed foods are unhealthy (think frozen vegetables) but lots of processed foods contain high levels of salt, sugar and fat. The benefits of a diet high in whole foods include feeling fuller for longer, less chance of overeating and lower levels of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes 2. You don’t have to cut out all processed foods on day one, introduce one food swap every couple of days and as you see the benefits of eating whole foods, you will want to add more. Here are a few food swaps that you can start off with-
- Swap breakfast cereal for oats and fruit.
- Swap a packet of crisps or salted nuts for unsalted nuts.
- Prepare your favourite meal/dip from scratch eg. lasagne or houmous.
- Swap a fruit juice for the whole piece of fruit.
- Swap oven chips for a baked potato.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
Of course, interesting question, we all talk about doing more exercise or moving more but we rarely talk about why.
Firstly, it improves our physical health- which gives us more energy in the short term and lowers the risks of heart disease, diabetes and many forms of cancer in the longer term.
Secondly, it improves our mental wellbeing- it causes chemical changes (by releasing dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) in our brain which can boost our mood and our overall sense of wellbeing.
Thirdly, it can improve our sleep quality- the energy depletion that occurs while we exercise stimulates recuperative processes while sleep so we sleep more deeply and for longer.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
- Walk somewhere everyday. Physical activities such as walking, doing housework or even fidgeting use energy and this is called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (N.E.A.T). N.E.A.T includes any energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports related exercise. Increasing your N.E.A.T is a great way to add physical activity to your day without having to put aside a full hour to go to the gym plus for extra brownie points you can combine it with ticking things off your to do list or socialising with friends!
- Bodyweight exercises. I recommend these because they are accessible to everyone and can be made as easy or difficult as required.
- Anything you think is fun- so it could be roller-blading, trampolining, pole fitness, rock climbing, circus skills, dancing, the possibilities are endless.
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
Recovery and injury prevention are key. I recommend the following:
- Warm up and cool down properly.
- Have a bath with epsom salts (I buy them in 5kg bags!)
- The hard core option- have an ice bath. I did this after the San Francisco Marathon and didn’t get achy at all.
- Listen to your body. Having an exercise plan is great but if a muscle is niggling you, skip the workout for the day and reschedule for a few days later and treat yourself to a gentle stretching session, a massage or a bath.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
I have chosen to follow a vegan diet for the last 12 years and for me, it is the right choice. I do not recommend any particular diet to my clients and nor do I do prescribed diet plans because I think the majority of us already have the quick fix diet mentality which we need to get away from. I talk to my clients and come up with a way of eating that suits their body and lifestyle and I focus on adding things to their diet rather than taking things away. I like to take the concept of eating your 5 a day a step further and encourage people to ‘eat the rainbow’ so have 7 portions of fruit or vegetables that are different colours. Another concept that works well with some people is intermittent fasting, but then with other people, they cannot function without a healthy breakfast. A lot of people eat mindlessly, whether that is eating crisps because they are in front of you or having lunch because it’s ‘lunch time even if they are not hungry’, I think the key is to really listen to your body and take it from there.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I think it would have the be Becoming a Supple Leopard, it completely changed the way I saw our bodies and the way we move.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The latest Health Survey in England showed that 64% of adults are overweight or obese which is shockingly high in such a well educated and fortunate society like ours. I would spread the word about the benefits of making small lifestyle changes such as being more active day to day and eating a balanced diet that isn’t exclusively judged based on calories.
These changes would include:
- How we socialise. When most people meet up with friends it is to go for a meal or go for drinks and it is all about consumption. Wouldn’t it be nice for it to be normal to meet up with friends and go for a walk after work or for a swim or yoga session?
- How we exercise. Focusing on people who don’t like going to the gym, I would show them that there are other ways to be active that they can enjoy and won’t only do them because they ‘should’, the number of people who tell me ‘I haven’t been going to the gym because of x but I am going to start again because I should’.
- How we eat. Batch cooking doesn’t take much time and can mean you have quick, cheap and nutritious meals available whenever you need them so you don’t need to rely on easy, processed options that we pick up on our way home after a long day.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I like the saying ‘everything happens for a reason’. When everything is going well you don’t need it but it gives you confidence that something good will come of a bad situation.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I think it would have to be Tim Ferris. I read the 4 hour work week again last year and then my husband and I listened to his podcasts religiously while driving from London to Cape Town. I love improving my productivity, I just get such a buzz and I think it would be fascinating to have lunch with him so if he is ever in London….
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find me on my website amyelisabeth.co.uk or my instagram _amy_elisabeth.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!