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How do you adapt to working from home, keep fit, maintain a social life – and maybe even cut your hair?

How to keep your hair in check Sali Hughes

Social media is awash with professional colourists pleading with absent clients not to reach for the box dye while theyre closed for business. This is partly because, like every service profession, hairdressing will take a financial beating during this crisis.

But professionals are also genuinely worried about their clients hair, and tell me theyre bracing themselves for a plethora of complex colour correction appointments when they finally reopen. Colour correction can be a long, drawn-out and expensive process, warns Luke Hersheson, my own stylist and creative director of Hershesons in London. Until we know when salons might reopen, its much safer to use a temporary fix, like a root touch-up spray or powder that shampoos out, he says.

He believes many women can buy a few more weeks by just changing where they part their hair. Theres usually more grey at the temples, so a centre parting is a good stopgap.

Top salon colourist Josh Wood isnt against box dyes he even sells them under the Josh Wood Colour brand in Boots. However, the secret to a successful home dye job, he says, is in knowing your limitations. Now is not the time to transform the colour of your hair, or for tricky techniques like balayage, ombre or bleaching, he says.

Try a root disguiser to touch up your hair colour, Sali Hughes suggests. Photograph: Rui Faria/The Guardian

Retouching roots or toning existing colour should be the extent of your ambition as an amateur. Wood suggests applying a moisturising hair mask a couple of days before colouring, and always choosing dye in one shade lighter than you think you need from the picture, as too dark is impossible to correct. Follow the box instructions to the letter, Wood says, starting at the greyest point usually the front and cover roots for twice the length of time as the lengths. He suggests enlisting your spouse or teen to do the back.

In any case, you must always, always do a skin test in advance, according to instructions, to minimise the risk of potentially serious allergic reaction. It can be a lifesaver.

Hersheson (whose team, like Woods, is offering video consultations during the crisis) points out that its worth considering whether social isolation might be a good opportunity to push through the pain barrier of transitioning to grey. Its also a good time to grow out an unwanted fringe you can clip it back and not worry about how that looks, and not have the stress of trimming it yourself, he says.

Hersheson counsels against trimming your fringe, unless youre very adept. But I have trimmed dozens of fringes in extremis, and if you think youre up to the job, heres my own technique:

  • Always start with clean, but dry hair never, ever cut when wet or even damp. Clip back the rest of your hair, leaving the dry fringe isolated and loose.

  • Comb through, and with the comb, gather the entire fringe into a single, flat, one-inch section at the very centre of your forehead.

  • Clamp it between two flat fingers at the bottom of the section, approximately 1cm from the hair tips (use a plastic freezer bag clip instead, if you prefer).

  • Take the sharpest scissors you own and cut up into the one-inch section of tips, naturally stopping at the fingers. Do not cut across, only upwards. When youve snipped the entire inch-wide section, release your fingers and comb through to assess the length, snipping away any single hairs you may have missed.

  • If its still too long (always preferable to too short), repeat the process, nudging fingers up only half a centimetre at a time, before combing through and checking.

How to socialise online Elle Hunt

Not only is it eminently possible to maintain your friendships under lockdown, talking to people other than those you live and work with is highly advisable if you are to emerge with your sanity intact. Our social lives pivot to video just means a bit more planning.

If its a large group you are trying to meet with, you can gauge everyones availability using the easy web scheduling tool Doodle.

The best platform to use is probably the one the majority of people already have an account with. If everyone is using an iPhone or Apple computer, use FaceTime. WhatsApp permits video calls with up to four participants but, without calling on WhatsApp Web, ties you to your phone.

For many, Skype is a tried and trusted classic that supports up to 50 participants though rarely seamlessly. Otherwise, most people have a Google account, making Hangouts a straightforward choice.

The video conferencing platform Zoom, which has seen its shares spike since the coronavirus outbreak, limits free group calls to 40 minutes but you can always call back.

No matter the platform , some lagging audio and frozen faces are inevitable, especially for large groups. Adding some structure such as a book club, quiz or a table-top role-playing game such as Dungeons & Dragons can be helpful in adjusting to an unfamiliar medium and minimising people talking over each other.

The Houseparty app a conversation with eight people. Photograph: houseparty

The Houseparty app might be geared more towards younger groups, having been a fad among kids a few years ago. But now it seems to be a royal platform of choice. Its amazing, I just press a button and all my family pop up, the Duchess of Cornwall reportedly told a friend. The app can alert you when your friends are online, allowing you to effectively drop in on them. It also has in-built games, for up to eight players at a time.

Some people have ramped up, or perhaps rediscovered, their love of gaming as a means of socialising at a distance, with popular games such as Minecraft, Fortnite and Call of Duty all allowing some in-play communication. It is also possible to play board games online, such as at Board Game Arena and for the more hardcore Tabletop Simulator.

For a more relaxed interaction and one that does not demand that you broadcast your face Netflix Party is a Google Chrome extension that permits you to sync your streaming with friends, like a remote movie night.

How to work from home Elle Hunt

Every longtime freelancer knows the secret to effective working from home: put your shoes on. Its really effective in cueing the mindset shift from home is where the couch is to productivity ninja.

The goal is to create a distinction, even one that is mostly symbolic, between work mode and home mode, especially now that you cannot go anywhere else. Setting up a home office, if only a dedicated corner of your kitchen table, that you can arrive at and leave at the days end will help (do make sure you leave).

Your new colleagues may also take some adjusting-to. Novelist Julie Cohen shared on Twitter her top tip for working around family, care of her marriage counsellor: a literal work hat. Train everyone (and yourself) that when youre wearing The Work Hat, they should leave you alone. (And when youre wearing it, you should only work), she tweeted. It will be a talking point on all those video-conferencing calls, too.

Be aware that whatever is visible behind you on your webcam will be under close scrutiny from your colleagues, and inform their judgments of your home, taste and private life. Style accordingly.

Can you recreate the coffee-shop ambience when working at home? The secret may be in the soundtrack. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Those more used to finding their focus in the informal-formality of a cafe or library are now seeking to replicate the effect at home. Gretchen McCulloch, linguist and author of Because The Internet, tweeted that her current strategy was mellow cafe songs playlist With coffee and sitting in a different part of my apartment than usual, recommending an additional background of an eight-hour YouTube stream of Magical Tearoom ASMR Ambience. With the sound of teaspoons tinkling on saucers and hissing espresso machines over gentle indie music, you wont believe its not Starbucks.

You can even fudge together your own overly sweet frappuccino concoction. On the video platform Tik Tok, enterprising teenagers have been filming themselves making dalgona coffee to replicate cafe coffee at home. It is easy to make, if high in caffeine and wasteful of milk: mix equal parts instant coffee, boiling water and sugar about two tbsp per person and whisk. Add more sugar to taste. Once the mixture is stiff and glossy, pour over milk and ice, stir and serve. And whisk it by hand, even if you have an electric maker. It takes ages; the morning will fly by.

How to keep fit in your home Zoe Williams

There is no shortage of material online about how to stay fit at home if anything, the proliferation is the problem. Choice is deadly to motivation, so start by trying to whittle down your options.

What do you want to do each day, and how long do you want to do it for? 15 minutes is reasonable, 30 shows a bit more backbone. Its more habit-forming to do some every day than an hour twice a week.

Joe Wicks, a phenomenally popular YouTube fitness coach, shows you how to keep fit at home. Photograph: The Body Coach via Getty Images

There are whole-week programmes, such as the book Be Para Fit, or Canadian Air Force Exercises, available on YouTube, that build in your rest days. You can also follow a particular person; Joe Wicks is the obvious one, Adrienne for yoga, and theyll do a daily workout which will make your decisions for you.

If youre of a more independent bent, do a timetable more like a classic cardio/resistance workout for two days, yoga on the third day, cardio/resistance the fourth, something fun like a dance routine on the fifth, resistance on its own for the sixth, yoga on the seventh.

If you used to do regular classes, check to see if theyve gone online; a live-streamed pilates class, at a fixed time, is much more conducive to discipline than roaming freely round WikiHow, trying to find some illustrations that look a bit like your instructor. If you already have some equipment in the house resistance bands, a skipping rope, a mat, a multi-function Fitt Cube you can build your own workouts around those. I would really recommend buying a mat, which youll need for all floor work.

Find the online instructor who irritates you least: over time, itll be a love-hate pendulum, but if you find their voice grating at the start, thats never going to work. If youre feeling nostalgic, almost all the classic workouts Cindy Crawford, Mr Motivator, Rosemary Conley are on YouTube.

Derrick Evans, aka Mr Motivator. Photograph: Sam Stephenson/Alamy Stock Photo

If you find all people basically annoying, there are some brilliant illustrated resources like DAREBEE Workouts. If you find it hard to watch and move at the same time, choose one workout and repeat it: after a week, youll be doing it from memory, which is good for morale. Swap it over after a fortnight, though, as theres evidence that you build fitness faster when you do things youre inept at.

Just because theres no professional asking you whether you have any injuries does not mean you can ignore your injuries. Look up first what to avoid with an gammy knee or similar, rather than typing routines for one rubbish knee into Google.

The single most important thing is: dont wait until you feel like it wait long enough, and youll never feel like it. In the words of the prophet Joe Wicks, the bit where you feel good is at the end of the workout, not the beginning.

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George Hood, a former US Marine, broke his own world record this month. Heres how you can improve your technique

This month, George Hood a 62-year-old former US Marine broke the world planking record with a time of 8hr 15min 15sec, adding an extra 14 minutes on to the previous record. Hood had originally claimed the record in 2011 with a paltry 1hr 20min, before losing it in 2016 to Mao Weidong, a police officer from China, who broke the record with a time of 8hr 1min.

Eight hours is a long time spent doing anything, especially with your face hovering 20cm away from the floor of a gym, but the benefits of a good plank go a very long way. The plank is excellent because its all about stability, says Chris Magee, the head of yoga at Psycle London, and a former personal trainer, rugby player and martial artist. Thats key to an active, healthy lifestyle. You want to feel when youre walking around, running around or even sitting down that your spine is strong and protected.

With a good core, youd imagine, comes a cut six-pack; the sort of Brad-Pitt-in-Fight-Club abs weve all dreamed of. But thats just surface level, with the real money coming from working those deeper muscles, the ones you cant see.

To reclaim his world record, Hood spent the last 18 months training seven hours a day. I do 700 pushups a day, 2,000 situps a day in sets of 100 and 500 leg squats a day, he told CNN. For upper body and the arms, I do approximately 300 arm curls a day, adding that he uses loud rock music Rammstein are a favourite to help push through the pain, while the torn skin on his elbows is manageable once the rest of his arm has gone numb.

If youre an experienced planker, its your prerogative if you want to go in quite as hard as Hood, but Magee estimates that even beginners can improve easily if the technique is right.

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There are a dizzying number of apps promising to get you in shape even if you cant get to a gym. But can any of them keep our writers moving?


Price 15.49 a month.
What is it? A full-service experience from the Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth: not just workouts, but a complete meal planner with food for breakfast, lunch and dinner a daily guided meditation and a daily motivational article.
The experience I immediately regret declaring myself intermediate as the app launches into a punishing pilates workout. I am not very flexible at all, and it turns out that my baseline fitness leaves much to be desired in terms of core strength.
More frustrating is the fact that the various workouts are introduced as videos. Clearly, this is supposed to emulate a real pilates class, but when my phone tells me to lie face-down on the floor I can no longer see the screen. It is frustrating to have to repeatedly break out of the pose to check the next movement.
Worth a download? Only if you are single, enjoy cooking and are willing to hand control of your life to an app.


Price $14.99 (11.40) a month or $99.99 a year.
What is it? A cheery selection of audio workouts with curated tunes.
The experience Before I start, the app asks me my fitness level, how many times I work out a week, how many weeks a month, what days I work out on, what machines I have access to, and what equipment I have to hand. None of this stops it from absolutely destroying me with bodyweight exercises but it is the thought that counts.
The instructors are great, with the right level of enthusiasm (read: grating in any other context). I am glad to have clear verbal instructions for how to do the exercises, rather than wishing I could just read a list of workouts from my screen. Video walkthroughs, available before and after the workout, help clear up any lingering concerns about form.
Worth a download? If you want to get fit to the tune of 75 a year, this is the app to spend your money on. AH

Alex gets in the spirit. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian


Price Free; coaching from $1 a day.
What is it? A bizarre mix of a mediocre workout app and personal trainer upselling.
The experience You get what you pay for, and as a result the free version of Fitocracy is odd. The main workout app lets you set a goal, then pick workouts from a list, but the presentation of the workouts is much simpler than its competitors: just a list of exercises and reps, which you check off as you go.
The problem is that much of the app is effectively broken, with visual artefacts graphical glitches all over the place. Digging in, the cause is clear: really, the app is a gateway to a coaching business, where you can spend anything from $1 to $250 a month on a one-on-one consultation with a personal trainer.
Worth a download? If you want free, there is better; if you want a coach, head to your local gym. AH


Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price 17.49 a year.
What is it? A simple and direct approach to strength.
The experience A popular approach to learning to lift free weights, 5×5 involves doing five sets of five reps of heavy weights, with three different exercises, three times a week.
It demands precisely what it does and no more. You need a gym, a squat rack, a barbell and a bench. You dont need to memorise a list of different exercises, nor wonder which equipment you are going to need today, nor, really, think.
StrongLifts is the best introduction to this type of workout there is, providing basic coaching and tracking, as well as just enough motivation to get you to lift the next set. It is my personal favourite: in a year, I have gone from struggling with a 20kg bar to reliably squatting my own weight.
Worth a download? Yes, if you have access to a gym and dont know what to do when you are there. AH

Nike Training Club

Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price Free; 13.49 a month for the premium version.
What is it? Slick branded workouts with a generous free offering.
The experience Nike Training Club, the workout sibling to
the more popular Nike Run Club, feels less human than its competitors. While the personal trainers are front and centre, they mostly exist as silent models demonstrating the best form for each exercise.
That may suit a certain type of self-motivated student. Less helpful, for me, is the approach to equipment. I feel as if Nike expects me to have an incredibly well-stocked home with multiple dumbbells, a skipping rope and a bench or make myself hugely unpopular at the gym by seizing six things at once. That said, most of the app is available for free a price you cant beat.
Worth a download? Yes, if free is the magic number. AH

Sweat: Kayla Itsines Fitness

Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price 14.99 a month or 88 a year.
What is it? The chance to have your workout (for the home and gym) and diet plan organised by not only one Instagram influencer, but five inspired by everything from
powerlifting and muay thai to yoga.
The experienceKayla Itsines was one of the first internet exercise influencers. She rose to fame with the Bikini Body Guides, her series of fitness ebooks (the name hasnt aged well). Itsines still offers the BBG programme, but it now includes variations for different fitness levels. This feels like an app that could stay fresh for well over a year. I like that there are modifications for various exercises, that it is easy to sync to Spotify, and that it put so much emphasis on rest and rehabilitation to enhance healing.
The meal-planning features are disappointing, though. There is no option to swap suggested recipes, but as some of the suggestions are as unimaginative as egg and salad roll, I imagine quite a few people would want to.
Worth a download? Yes for the exercise, at least.


Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price $9.99 a month or $59.99 a year.
What is it? It is all about exercise on Sworkit, and there is a hell of a lot of it. You can choose from a variety of plans or one-off workouts, customisable by time or focused on body parts (Sworkit is quite invested in firming bums).
The experience This has one of the best interfaces for exercising of the apps I tried. It works in landscape, counts you in before the next exercise starts and has a preview window to mentally prepare you for the next move. You can alter music within the exercise window and set how long you want to exercise for, with sessions beginning at five minutes. It also has a great voiceover feature: think of the sort of thing a gym instructor might say, such as keep your toes pointing outward. The app sends out push notifications to encourage you to exercise, but the upkeep of a plan does not depend on exercising every day. So, beginners can set their own pace.
I cant work out if the instructor figures on Sworkit are AI or humans, but either way I liked them. Sworkit has tried to make its instructors diverse there are men and women in a variety of sizes. It is a small thing, but I appreciate not always having to follow someone with the figure of a goddess.
Worth a download? Yes, especially for beginners. None of Sworkits sessions require equipment, so if you ever work out at home or while travelling, it cant be beaten. CK

Fit Body with Anna Victoria

Price $16.99 a month.
What is it? The Instagram influencer Anna Victoria rose to fame with her downloadable workout plans known as the FBGs (or Fit Body Guides) and pictures of smoothie bowls. Here, she brings together her fitness and food advice in one app, offering 12-week exercise and nutrition programmes, including a customisable meal planner.
The experience The app provides a series of 12-week plans to last you 60 weeks (for home or gym, for weight loss or sculpting etc), a forum for users, a journal to log notes and a healthy-meal planner, which aims to spoon-feed the user into eating well (the nutrition section generates your recipes and grocery list for the week as well as reminding you when to drink water).

Coco tries out the apps. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

I couldnt get to grip with all of this, but when I tried it out there were some excellent features a nutrition guide that is not just about calorie-counting (although the variety of the dishes may bore food lovers), plus educational videos (such as breathing dos and donts) to help newcomers to regular exercise. The downsides? The app doesnt work in landscape mode, so checking the demo during workouts is difficult. Also, workouts often require equipment. I am not convinced the app would work for total novices (push-ups in week one for a woman seems ambitious, not to mention the amount of vicious burpees), while scanning future weeks leaves me wondering if it might get boring.
Worth a download? Unless you are a fan of Victoria and her style, I cant see it delivering enough. CK


Price 1.78 a week for training; 2.66 including nutrional information.
What is it? Touted as a digital personal trainer, this app has a cultish fanbase thanks to its detailed personalised fitness plans.
The experience You can join in with the short but intense fitness challenges, or a variety of running, bodyweight or gym workouts. Users can opt for workouts anywhere between 10 and 25 minutes long, and can select sessions based on parts of the body. So far, so normal. But it is the Coach programme that stands out. The personal plans are created by algorithms that pool the data of users with similar stats to chart your journey. Key to this is regular logging; you will record your details when you first start (height, weight, general fitness level) and log after each workout, telling the app how tough you found it.

Freeletics Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Freeletics promises its workouts will be hard, but not so hard that you give up. It is the feedback moments that allow it to alter your plan accordingly, based on the behaviour of other users who had similar experiences. As with a real coach, there are plenty of demo videos and tutorials to guide you through, plus helpful nudges to drink water and sleep well. The Coach can even detect if you are overtraining. Freeletics also has a fairly busy meetup community, providing some of the social elements of exercise that can be lost when training at home. Plus, the exercises dont require any equipment
Worth a download? Absolutely, if you have some experience of exercising it could be a little overwhelming for a total newbie. CK

30 Day Fitness Challenge

Price Free; from 1.99 a week for the premium version.
What is it? A 30-day programme with levels from beginner to pro.
The experience Month-long challenges have become a staple of modern fitness. This app capitalises on the idea that people can do anything if it is in short bursts, hence the idea of daily sessions for 30 days.
Most of the challenges are focused on a specific area there is the flat belly challenge and the slim arms challenge but nearly all involve a full-body workout. The video tutorials are clear and there are 400 workouts in the library if you feel like doing something completely different outside of the challenge. The end result should be that your overall fitness is improved.
Worth a download? Absolutely 30-day challenges may not be for everyone, but, unlike many other apps, there is plenty to do for free. CK

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Sleep better, get fit, be kinder and improve your carbon footprint with these simple fixes


Use your voice
The number one thing that people can do, says Libby Peake, senior policy adviser at the Green Alliance, is to press your representatives to hold politicians to account over their environmental promises. Also, onsider switching your pension and bank accounts to companies that dont invest in fossil fuels. If done on a collective basis, Peake says, this will send a clear message to businesses and governments that this is important to people.

Avoid anything single use
Think beyond plastic, says Peake. In a lot of instances, people are switching from single-use plastic to unnecessary single-use wooden cutlery, paper straws or aluminium cans, she says. But those materials will also have an impact on the environment.

If everybody started doing insect-friendly things, it could have a real impact on insect populations. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Let bugs live
Gardens total
5% of UK land, says Peake, so if everybody started doing insect-friendly things, it could have a real impact on insect populations. Cutting out pesticide use, growing insect-friendly plants and refraining from lawn mowing are encouraged.

Shop vintage more often than not
The clothing industry creates more emissions than aviation and shipping combined, says Peake. If you buy secondhand clothing, or at least invest in better-quality items, you will make a real impact on the climate crisis and pollution. No vintage stores or bountiful charity shops nearby? Shop online from Oxfam, Rokit, Beyond Retro and Brag, among a host of others.

Explore flight-free holiday options
By not flying anywhere, says Peake, you can drastically reduce your CO2 emissions and still have a great time. She points out that the UK has 15 stunning national parks. Research rail travel to European destinations, consider Interrailing and house-swapping schemes at destinations reachable by rail or road.

Fear not the used electric car market
If you need a car, the Green Alliance has gathered reassuring data on the used electric vehicle (EV) market; because of lower running and maintenance costs, used EVs work out cheaper over five years of ownership. If you own a high-emissions car like an SUV, even exchanging it for one with a conventional petrol engine, five rungs down the car-tax brackets, would cut your driving emissions by more than a third, while halving your road tax. But, says Green Alliance policy director Dustin Benton, the smarter thing to do is to buy a second- or thirdhand EV, and lower your carbon footprint by two thirds.

Buy refurbished or remanufactured electronics
A little like refurbishing, remanufacturing is a factory-based process where electronics are returned to as-new quality, and resold with a warranty, Peake says. Look out for remanufactured goods becoming more commonplace over the coming year, and in the meantime, buy more refurbished and reconditioned electronics. Most come with decent warranties; chances are youll get something as good as new, a lot cheaper. Every new electronic item that makes it to market, says Peake, creates vast amounts of waste. Smartphones, for example, contain 100g of minerals, but miners must dig through 30kg of rock to find it, according to a Greenpeace report. And Friends of the Earth, she says, estimates that each smartphone requires 12,760 litres of water (160 baths).

Plan your meals
Minimising food waste is a good way to reduce carbon impacts, says Myles McCarthy, director of implementation at the Carbon Trust. Buy only what you will eat and home compost your food waste. If it ends up in landfill, it can produce the greenhouse gas methane. Meal planning and shopping lists are key, says Peake, and will make your life a lot easier. Look for batch-cooking ideas online to save time and energy.

Make meat a treat
While going vegan is ideal, even reducing your meat and dairy consumption can have a big impact, McCarthy says. Beef and lamb are the biggest offenders, and most dairy products are likely to have substantially higher carbon footprints than vegetables. Analysis from the Green Alliance shows that the UK could get on track for zero carbon from land use if we ate 30% less red meat by 2030, combined with other measures. In his book We Are The Weather, Jonathan Safran Foer suggests cutting out meat and dairy until dinnertime, but any reduction is worthwhile, says Peake. Dont let feeling guilty for not going fully vegan stop you.

Adopt a jumper-first policy
Its an oldie but a goodie, says Peake: Put on a jumper before you reach for the heating thermostat. Households are much warmer now than they were in the 1970s. People used to manage in colder rooms.


Go to bed on time
Respect your circadian rhythm by going to bed and getting up at regular times, says Guy Meadows, managing partner at the Sleep School. By doing this, youre more likely to wake up at the right time in your sleep cycle, which means youre more likely to feel refreshed. Wherever your daily sleep requirements sit in the ideal range of between seven and nine hours for adults, keeping a regular sleep-wake cycle impacts everything from appetite hormones to your heart rate and your blood pressure.

Declutter your bedroom
Your bed is for sleep and sex only, says Renata Riha, consultant in sleep and respiratory medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Its not for watching television, knitting, reading for hours on end, or eating. Your bedroom should be a space that invites sleep. Declutter, she says, step by step, drawer by drawer.

Switch off from work earlier
Disengaging from work, email and your phone for at least an hour prior to bed can be helpful, says Riha, who is also co-director of Sleep Consultancy Ltd. Meanwhile, put some thought into activities that help you wind down. She suggests a hot shower an hour before bed, because when you get out, your body will cool to an optimal sleep temperature. Or, sharing your problems, if you can, with an engaged and sympathetic listener.

Dine a little earlier
Eating acts as another marker that tells your brain its still time to be awake, Meadows says. It helps to leave at least a couple of hours between eating and sleeping. Were designed, he adds, to do our eating within a 12-hour window each day and then fast for the following 12. But most of us actually spread our eating over 15 hours.

Take 10 deep breaths
If youre chronically stressed, you can get into a vicious cycle where stress ruins your sleep, and then tiredness exacerbates the stress. Taking 10 deep breaths can be a simple way to take you out of that fight-or-flight state, Meadows says. Socialising is another powerful way to relieve stress.

Become less dependent on sleep aids
If you ask a normal sleeper what they do to sleep, says Meadows, theyll say, nothing. Whereas if you ask an insomniac, theyll give you a list as long as their arm. He observes that for many, its their extreme efforts to try and control their insomnia that push their sleep further away; sleep aids, from ear plugs or lavender pillows to Night Nurse or diazepam, erode trust in your ability to nod off naturally. Meadows says you should start by identifying these mental crutches. He uses mindfulness to help clients view their fears of sleeping without aids as just noise in their heads.

Give your overactive mind a name
Learn how to lean in to the brain chatter that keeps you awake, Meadows says, by giving your mind a name: It could be the inner critic, head of drama, the Death Star. This, he says, can transform the way you relate to your own mental events.

Dim all lights an hour before bed
Light is one of the most powerful circadian synchronisers, Meadows says. Reduce the brightness on your telly, phone or iPad. Its about proximity as well. One of the problems with devices is that we hold them really close, directed straight into our eyeballs and their light-sensitive cells.

Make midday your caffeine cutoff
For optimum sleep architecture, which means getting the right amounts of light, deep and REM sleep, stopping caffeine at midday is the place to start. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours, and a quarter-life of 12 hours, so even quitting at midday leaves you a quarter caffeinated beyond bedtime (unless you keep unusual hours). Many beverages and foods contain caffeine, so check the label, adds Riha. Usual suspects include chocolate, or chocolate or coffee-flavoured desserts and cereals, that bedtime mug of cocoa and some headache medications.

Take your sleep disorder seriously
If you suspect that you or your bed partner (or any other cohabitee) has a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnoea, snoring, restless legs syndrome or insomnia, make a doctors appointment, says Riha.

Bringing video evidence of a sleep disorder to a health professional is, he says, worth a thousand words and allows them to make the right diagnosis or referral.


When weve known someone for a long time, its easy to make assumptions about what theyre thinking or feeling, or what they mean. Photograph: Getty Images

Check your assumptions
When weve known someone for a long time, its easy to make assumptions about what theyre thinking or feeling, or what they mean.
Relationship coach and author Sam Owen suggests asking more questions instead, especially during arguments.

Be kind
Know what your partner likes and use that information to be kind, says Ammanda Major, head of service quality and clinical practice at Relate. Take time to speak and listen. Being kind can simply mean showing interest, even when youre not that interested in, say, someone elses office politics (you should expect the same in return).

Give someone space
Remember that people do need a little bit of separate space, says Major. No one has a right to expect instant responses. Give people time to reflect and dont demand instant answers.

Write thank you notes
Everyone likes to be appreciated, including work colleagues, says Joel Garfinkle, executive coach and author of Getting Ahead: Three Steps To Take Your Career To The Next Level. Thank people for their work, whether theyre above you, below you, or at peer level, he says. As well as handwritten notes, email or voicemail thank yous will strengthen bonds between you and your colleagues, says Garfinkle.

Root out one-upmanship
Whether you are friends, colleagues or lovers, Major says, its very easy to slip into one-upmanship over who has had the worst day. The reason is usually because we feel unheard: Why do I need to keep telling you Ive had such an awful day? Because I dont think youve responded to me in a way that lets me know you understand.

Use I statements
If you moan to someone about their actions, Major says, youre probably going to create a defensive situation. Whereas if you say, I felt really sad when we had that row and I would really like us to talk more about it, nobody can argue with that: its how you feel and youre appropriately sharing it.

Level with new love interests
Be as clear as you can about what you want from a relationship, Major says. If youve struggled with previous relationships, she suggests, sometimes it can be very helpful to get some counselling, to help you reflect on whats important to you.

Be choosy
Socialising is linked to increases in happiness, and being around the good people in your life is energising, Owen says. But people who knock your self-esteem can have the opposite effect. She recommends pruning these draining relationships. Trust the visceral feelings that you get in your body that tell you if you feel good or bad in someones presence.

Give a little
Giving has been linked to increases in resilience and happiness, even if its costly, says Owen, whose latest book is Happy Relationships: 7 Simple Rules To Create Harmony And Growth. Giving can mean many things, from giving your time to an elderly neighbour, or helping your parents more, or giving something to somebody who is homeless.

Try biting your tongue
This is not to suppress expressing your feelings, but rather, learning to become more reflective than reactive. If something bothers you, Owen says, watch it over time. Do something that regulates your emotions. Go for a walk (which can help problem solve), listen to some music. This gives you time to consider how to frame the issue in more productive language.


Put times in the schedule when you can be active. Photograph: Getty Images

Monitor yourself
Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London, says that being your own scientist and collecting data, through regular weighing or wearing a fitness monitor, is a proven route to success. If you dont collect data about yourself, its unlikely that youre going to notice what works for you.

Use visual prompts
If you want to start a fitness habit, its important to leave visual nudges for yourself. Even something small like putting your running trainers by the door, suggests Emma Norris, research fellow for the Human Behaviour Change Project at University College London.

Make if then plans
If Im going to work, then Ill pack some fruit in my bag. Or, If it rains on a running day, then Ill do a YouTube workout instead. Plans like this, says Norris, reduce the option for you to opt out, by programming yourself to think that this is what you would always do in that situation.

Temper your goals
As tempting as it may be to try to do everything at once, setting attainable goals is key, says Margie Lachman, professor of psychology at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. It is hard to make a big change all at once. Small increments are helpful. If you get a pedometer, for example, Norris recommends upping your existing step count by 10% each week.

Give up less easily
Theres some evidence that the time taken to form a habit ranges from 18 days to 254 days, depending on the person and the behaviour, says Norris. So if it doesnt stick quickly, be persistent and use the strategies listed here to help you.

Reward yourself
When you reach those little milestones, Norris says, think creatively about what a healthy reward would be for you: seeing a friend, reading a book youve been meaning to read, or whatever works for you that isnt the obvious cake.

Try a free workout
The NHS website has a virtual fitness studio, says Norris, with a range of free workouts ranging from 10-45 minutes, across aerobics, strength training, pilates, dance and more. YouTube, she says, is chock-a-block with free programmes and videos: Joe Wickss The Body Coach is my personal go-to for 15-20 high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. She recommends trying a variety.

Sneak activity into everyday life
If you are busy and live by your calendar, Lachman says, put times in the schedule when you can be active. Take extra steps rather than shortcuts; walk the stairs instead of getting the lift, park further away from the destination, take a walk during a one-on-one meeting.

Make exercise social
Accountability helps, Lachman says, so let others know you are trying to be more active. Share your accomplishments on social media. Find an activity partner or walking group.

Stand up every 30 minutes
So many of us are chained to our desks every day, says nutrition and fitness author Louise Parker. If you make getting up every 30 minutes or so a habit, not only will it keep you moving, but it can help give your brain a refresh.


A green smoothie is a great way to top up your intake of fruit and vegetables. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Separate mealtimes from screen time
If youre watching TV, scrolling through Instagram or checking your emails, youre not paying much attention to what youre eating, Parker says. The result: you are more likely to eat more, but will feel less full for it.

Make smoothies
For those who struggle to eat enough vegetables, a green smoothie that has at least two portions of veg and one of fruit is a great way to top up your intake, Parker says.

Plan your work food
Were more likely to choose unhealthy foods outside the home. Look at your schedule at the start of the day, advises Parker, and plan meals and snacks, avoiding long gaps when you might feel excessively hungry.

Eat more protein (if you want to lose weight)
The longer something takes to digest, the farther down the gut it will go and the fuller it will make you feel, says Giles Yeo, principal research associate, MRC metabolic diseases unit, Cambridge University and author of Gene Eating: The Story Of Human Appetite. Any protein whether its from meat, beans or other plant sources
takes longer to digest than fats or carbs, he says. Peanuts, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are good protein sources, along with soya products such as tofu and soy milk.

Stop blindly counting calories
The energy load from ingredients varies wildly according to how theyre prepared, plus we all metabolise foods differently, so counting calories isnt much use. If you eat 100 calories worth of sweetcorn and then you look into the loo the next day, its painfully obvious you have absorbed nowhere close to that, says Yeo. But if you eat tortillas made of dried and ground corn, he says, a far greater percentage of the calories become available. Cooking releases more calories in many foods, too, which is why, says Yeo, people lose weight on raw vegan diets.

Focus less on restrictions
Try and focus on what nutrition you can add to your diet, instead of cutting out or restricting food, says Aisling Pigott, NHS and private dietitian, and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. Add flavours with plenty of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and protein, she says. If your favourite meal is spaghetti bolognese, try switching to a sensible portion of brown pasta, bulking the sauce out with vegetables and mixing in different recipes (such as a lentil bolognese).

Dont skip meals
Regular meals are key to building a healthy relationship with food, says Pigott. Stabilising our eating patterns allows us to make positive food choices, whereas skipping meals, or going long periods without eating can lead to overriding our bodies hunger and fullness cues. The trouble with being so busy that we dont stop, she says, is that it can be difficult to recognise these cues, making us more likely to overeat.

Stop and enjoy every meal
Whether you are eating broccoli or biscuits, Pigott says, taking time to taste and enjoy what you are eating is as nourishing as the food you are putting in your body.

Prioritise herbs and spices over salt
Salt is not the only way to make a meal sing with flavour, and as Pigott points out, many of us are consuming too much of it. Salt intake can increase the risk of raised blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Make cooking from scratch easier
As a protective measure against the added sugars in ready meals, Pigott recommends arming yourself with quick and easy recipes. I love Jack Monroes Tin Can Cook book, which has some wonderful store cupboard staples, she says. Swapping recipe ideas with friends and family, she says, can be really motivating. Anything more than a small glass of juice (150ml) will slosh extra sugar into your diet, but will not provide health benefits, says Pigott.

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At a country house in West Sussex, meditation, yoga and detox come together for a weekend of mindfulness that expands your protective bubble

The taxi driver appraises me with suspicion when I tell him my destination. But youve not got a yoga mat, he says.

Having never been on a meditation retreat before, I was self-conscious of criss-crossing busy train stations with a yoga mat strapped to my back, so Id concealed it inside a Sainsburys bag for life. I point it out now to the driver, and he offers a wry smile as he takes me to the place where, for the next four days, Im to be immersed in an intensive period of me time. Ive never done this before, so have no idea what to expect.

Long-term health conditions can be interesting in all sorts of unexpected ways. You learn about your levels of resilience, and the efforts you are prepared to take to get better. Ive been struggling with low physical energy for almost a decade, my mitochondrial cells malfunctioning after successive flu viruses never quite left my body. Doctors didnt know what to recommend these cells arent easily fixed and so suggested what they suggest to anyone who presents mysteriously: eat better, sleep well. Do yoga, learn to meditate.

Retreat sessions include yoga, nostril breathing and meditation

Ive spent the last five years dipping in and out of meditation apps, YouTube, Ruby Waxs focus on mindfulness through books and interviews but it was vedic meditation (a close cousin of transcendental, which uses a silent mantra or sound repeated over and over) I kept returning to. I liked it but always let it slip. I knew that to establish a habit I would need to immerse myself, under in-person instruction.

And so here I am, near Arundel in West Sussex, at a large, rambling country house with lush gardens, on a weekend vedic retreat run by Beeja. Its strapline suggests: Meditation for Everyone and its founder, Will Williams, has been teaching vedic meditation for more than five years. After a stint in the music business, and falling ill, he recovered through meditation and began to teach what he had learned. He runs introductory courses in London. Will is a convincing communicator: bearded and smiley, dressed not in robes but in jeans, conspicuously one of us.

The Beeja Meditation retreat near Arundel

There are 15 in attendance, eight women, seven men, ranging from 24 to 70. Were a cosmopolitan bunch: theres a Saudi, a Lebanese, one from Guadalupe, another from South Korea. Two from Essex. Some, like me, have medical issues, others are struggling with anxiety, depression and such pronounced social media addiction that handing over phones upon arrival proves problematic. Im to share a dorm for four but mercifully theres just two of us this weekend.

After an introductory dinner of nut loaf, Wills co-instructor, Niamh Keane, reminds us of the house rules: up at 6.45am, in bed by 10.30pm; respect one anothers confidentiality. No sex and no solo sex, as Niamh puts it, just unbroken serenity and purity of mind. Were detoxing, so can have neither caffeine nor alcohol. No breakfast either, a fact that horrifies us all initially but becomes curiously unimportant by day two.

On a meditation retreat I find you meditate, and do precious little else. Beejas version comprises a succession of rounding exercises: 15 minutes of yoga, five minutes of alternate nostril breathing, 20 of meditation, and 10 of the flat-on-your-back yoga pose, shavasana. Were all given an individual secret mantra to repeat silently (though whos to say we dont have the same one?!). For three days.

A Beeja Meditation retreat guest tries alternate nostril breathing

At first, most of us choose to do our exercises communally, in the living room, but increasingly we drift off in pursuit of solitude. I thought Id struggle, because meditating at home is difficult, but here, with no distractions, I slide into it as if it were a hot bath. Hours pass, then hours more.

Respite comes in the evenings, after simple vegetarian food (rice and dhal, Thai soup), when Will sits, Buddha-like, with us at his feet while he shares his vedic-derived wisdom. Hes a practitioner of many years and is so convinced of his disciplines ability to heal the world that he can tend towards the over-prescriptive. He condemns most diets in favour of an ayurvedic-approved one, and proffers opinion on antidepressants, climate change, and Trump voters. He tells us that the introduction of 5G will kill off the insect world, that we should never cross our legs, and how we must avoid eating onions because the skin contains properties that promote selfishness. Much of what he says is fascinating, plenty else sails far above our heads.

Vegetarian food is served during the four-day retreat

He asks how our sessions are going and when I tell him that during one of mine my hands began to levitate and my fingers grew like intertwining tree branches, as if I were morphing into a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, he beams with pleasure and says: Youve shifted some serious energy there, fella.

The more we meditate, the more our protective bubble expands. When we come to leave, Niamh implores we take care upon re-entering the world outside, as we will be newly hypersensitive to light, noise, other people. Be gentle with yourselves, she advises.

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SoulCycle says it does not support fundraiser by Stephen Ross, chair of company that owns Equinox

Customers of the fitness companies Equinox and SoulCycle are calling for a boycott of the trendy brands after news that a high-profile billionaire investor will be hosting a fundraising event for Donald Trump in the Hamptons on Friday.

The real estate mogul and private investor Stephen Ross, who is worth nearly $10bn, is scheduled to host a Trump fundraiser at his mansion in Southampton, the Washington Post reported this week.

Tickets for the event cost $100,000 for lunch and a photo opportunity with the president and $250,000 for a package that includes a roundtable discussion with Trump.

Ross, who is also the owner of the NFL team the Miami Dolphins, is the chairman of Related, the company that owns Equinox Fitness, the upmarket gym chain, and other fitness brands.

Equinox has a 97% stake in SoulCycle, acquired in 2011, the boutique fitness brand that just expanded from the US to the UK and has an A-list following for its pricey classes that combine stationary cycling with motivational pep talks from fashionable instructors in rooms lit only with candles and booming au courant playlists from high-class music equipment.

In response to the social media backlash against the event, SoulCycle released a statement addressed To Our Soul Family from its CEO, Melanie Whelan. Whelan said the cycling company has nothing to do with the event and does not support it.

Were committed to all our riders and the communities we live in. Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of SoulCycle.

SoulCycle (@soulcycle)

A note from our CEO

August 7, 2019

The statement echoed a joint statement released by Equinox and SoulCycle on Wednesday. Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of either business, the statement read.

But Twitter users were quick to assert that Ross was more than a passive investor of the companies, furthering calls to quit SoulCycle and Equinox.

Philippe Reines (@PhilippeReines)

No way to spin this. Boycott @soulcycle & @Equinox.

August 7, 2019

Bill McKibben (@billmckibben)

Apparently, every time you turn the crank on a SoulCycle the world gets one foot further away from dealing with the climate crisis #BoycottEquinox

August 7, 2019

Celebrities joined in on the chorus of boycotters voicing their anger with the news.

billy eichner (@billyeichner)

Just contacted @Equinox to cancel my membership after many years. Money talks, especially with these monsters. If its too inconvenient for u to trade one LUXURY GYM for another, then you should be ashamed. (No disrespect to the many wonderful employees at my local Equinox). Bye!

August 7, 2019

The gym is my personal hell but if youre a member of Equinox perhaps it is time to say peace(out)-inox ayyyyy Im still sick yes but fuck equinox, wrote the model and TV host Chrissy Teigen on Twitter. Oh and fuck soulcycle but I thought that way before this anyhow.

Welp. Buh-bye @soulcycle. Wont miss ya! tweeted the actress Sophia Bush.

SoulCycle has a cult following and is primarily located in the United States largest cities, which vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The company itself has tried to tout its liberal values, hosting LGBTQ Pride-themed rides and playlists during Pride Month this past June. Figures including Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey have said they are fans of the company.

Though Ross didnt explicitly endorse Trump as president during his 2016 campaign the billionaire held a fundraiser for the failed presidential candidate Jeb Bush at his Palm Beach mansion in January that year he seemed to be impressed with the presidents skills as a promoter during the election.

In a Bloomberg interview in February 2016, Ross said of Trump: Hes great. He makes people feel good about themselves. If youre spending time with Donald alone, you can not not like Donald.

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I was struggling with my body image so I decided to explore how other people felt about their bodies through a series of portraits and interviews. I found that each person has had a mental health issue in the past that manifested itself as physical insecurity.

It’s inspiring to see so many people come forward and share their struggles. Some are over their issues and others are somewhere in the middle where they’re not too sure what to do. This is an honest, raw, unfiltered account of each person’s state of mind at the time. The images are not altered in any way in photoshop, and none of these souls is wearing any makeup.

More images and stories are added daily on my website and Instagram!


Yasmin Mebar: “I Have The World Map On My Back”

I think I was around 14 when I started developing a skin condition called Tinea Versicolor. It’s a common fungal infection of the skin which results in discolored patches. I was in a summer camp at the time and we were supposed to go swimming when one of the girls had noticed a big patch on my back and she said in a very disgusted tone, “Oh my gosh, what’s that on your back?!” I was in shock and started to panic thinking that it was an allergic reaction to something. I told my mom about it and she took me to see a dermatologist. He looked at my skin under UV light (or something) and it looked so scary that my mom actually started crying. The doctor then explained that this skin condition isn’t that rare and quite a few people have it. Apparently, this fungus can grow on anybody’s skin, but only certain skin types show it. And he’s like, “you happen to be the lucky one.” He explained that I couldn’t get rid of it and that it’s going to be with me my whole life. It reacts to heat and humidity, which is why it flares up in the summer. At that point, at age 14, I didn’t want anyone to see this on me. Every time people would see it, I would get a very strange reaction like, “Is that like a sunburn or are you peeling?” And I remember as a teenager I would lie and say, “yes, I‘m peeling it’s from a sunburn” and I had never even experienced sunburn at the time! I remember trying everything. There are different ointments, shampoos you can use and even pills. I’ve never tried the tablets though, I probably will at some point. Sometimes it actually completely clears up and my back looks amazing! Then other times it’ll flare up or it might stay that way for the entire year, even when it’s cold. It’s really unpredictable. I think especially as a teenager it affected many things. I would refuse to go to the beach if I noticed it flaring up unless I was going with my closest girlfriends and we were going on a ladies day. I’m not necessarily conservative or anything, I don’t mind going to mixed beaches, but if it was flaring up I just didn’t want the boys to see me. However, it made me closer to my best friend cause I remember she would help me put on my ointments in hard to reach places on my back. It was really nice to have that close bond with her. And on the other hand, there were some friends who would point it out a lot and constantly make comments like, “maybe you should try something else” or “maybe you should go to a different doctor.” Just giving advice where it’s really not asked for. So yeah, it was a little bit hard growing up. Then when I was about 24 I felt like I was fighting against something that’s going to be with me forever and there’s nothing I can do about it. So I thought, “I should start learning to love this, so-called, ugly part of myself.” I’m 28 now and I started really paying attention to my mental health and I felt like this was really connected to it. From a physical standpoint, I don’t like the way it looks, but I also don’t like the way it’s making me feel; allowing it to control me. Now, when I feel like it flares up too much, I won’t cover it completely compared to how I did when I was younger. Maybe I won’t go completely backless, but I would go to the beach. It’s fine with me. And if someone’s going to say anything, I’ll just be like, “Yeah, this is a skin condition.” Then if they’re genuinely interested in understanding what this is, I’ll explain it. So I’m kind of coming to terms with it as much as I can. With relationships, it depends on the maturity of the guy that I’m dating. Usually, when I choose to be in a relationship with someone, that guy would be very understanding about it. But if it was something more casual or someone that I’ve recently started seeing then the reactions are more like, “Is that contagious?” I think I’ve gotten that reaction probably three times so far. And I’m just like, “oh my gosh. If it was, why would I let you touch it or not warn others?” It’s not contagious at all; you either get it genetically (cause my father has it) or it just develops from your environment if you live in a very humid place. I do feel a lot more free from the burden of constantly trying to hide something. I feel like most of the time we play it up a lot in our heads, especially our own insecurities. Sometimes there might be insecurity that people won’t even notice, or they’ll see it, but it’s just not that big of a deal to them. I need to stop seeking validation from other people telling me that it’s fine and that it looks okay. Like physically it actually doesn’t bother me that much, it’s not like it itches or anything. There was this one amazing reaction that I heard from a kid once who had seen my back. She shouted “Mommy, mommy, look, she has a world map on her back!” I actually started crying tears of joy just because this child is so innocent and the way she looked at it wasn’t in terms of beautiful or ugly; just that she sees a picture there. And I love traveling and I love connecting with people in the world so I was like, “Oh my gosh. I’ve got the world map on my back! Hell yeah!” So yeah, that was awesome.



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Karina Sandhu: “Men Want To Marry Thin Girls”

I moved to India when I was about ten years old. I always had some extra weight on me so the bullying affected my self-esteem while I went to school there. I felt my relationship with food grew into comfort I’d turn to. As long as I could remember everyone had an opinion about my body. I’ve heard a mix between she’s fine she doesn’t need to lose more or if she would just cut out rice she’d lose weight faster. Regardless, everyone had their own five cents on the subject. I once filled my plate up with food, I remember someone looked at me in disgust and followed with a comment. I felt so ashamed, I excused myself and found a washroom to throw up. I didn’t like the feeling, mostly I didn’t like what I was doing to myself. I couldn’t imagine putting my body through that ever again. I learned that compliments and critiques about your body from every person could be a general observation and preference, self-projection or inspiration. It’s not worth taking personal at all. Your own opinion about your body is what holds more importance over anyone else’s. My last two years of high school had a significant effect on me. I was overweight, I had braces in addition to that my eczema was flaring up. My eleventh grade prom I remember finding myself comparing to the other girls. I felt so disappointed and unhappy with my reflection, I wasn’t who I wanted to be. I admired the way they looked and carried themselves, it inspired me to be the best version of myself. The next morning and that entire summer, I worked out and ate healthily. The gym and dancing made me fall in love with my body, I would look at myself and think “I feel beautiful”. I developed a healthy relationship with my body. Through this process, my confidence grew as a result of acceptance. I accept that my body will fluctuate in weight throughout my life. Every day I make a choice to accept myself in every phase my body goes through. Growing up as an Indian woman, I had felt this pressure of upholding an image of a female that was culturally expected. Since I was a kid, I would be guided to cover that body part up, men want to marry thin girls, you look pretty fair-skinned stay out of the sun“. It was my normal. I am more than fortunate that my parents supported my education and encouraged me to study in the field of my choice. So when I recently started modeling, they weren’t the most thrilled. Especially since they expected my career to be solely dedicated to along the lines of my fashion design degree. After all, they did move their lives to Dubai for me to do so. Which is why I understand their disappointment when I started working as a full-time model. The life and opportunities that I now have presented to me are because of my family’s sacrifices, hard work, and investment in my education. I wouldn’t be able to take on anything that I am pursuing without their support. Although it’s not a career they expected from me, I wish they eventually come to be proud and understand it’s something that I enjoy doing. Over the years I also started to realize that people are going to talk regardless of what you do. This especially is true in the Indian society I grew up consciously pleasing. How you look, what you do for a living, how you choose to live your life etc. So ultimately, it’s not worth dwelling over. I can’t stress enough about the fact that life is incredibly short, it isn’t owed to anyone. So why waste your precious time worrying about things that won’t matter in a few years. Instead, we could be focusing our energy on what makes us happy.



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Maha Aj: “If You Get A Nose Job, You Would Look Much Better”

I get bullied about my nose a lot, I keep getting comments saying “If you get a nose job, you would look much better.”. I used to be insecure about my nose when I was younger until I watched an episode of the Tyra Banks Show back in grade 7. It literally changed my life and the way I look at myself and people. The title of the episode was “Rock your Ugly” which means that specific thing that you’re insecure about, is the one thing that makes you unique, celebrate it, rock it and be proud of it, because every single one of us has an insecurity, if we keep trying to change and hide it, we will all end up looking the same.




Lotus Habbab: “When I Was 11 Months Old I Fell Off The Bed And My Arm Was Resting In Between The Spaces Of The Winter Heater”

Well, I can’t hate anything I have, because it is a part of me, but what I do is I try to play around with what I wear to serve that certain area. Sometimes it’s more than one thing, but I can’t actually pick one because they’re all kind of equal. First, it would be my chest area. I know it would be silly for me to obsess over something like that as it’s just a body image, which with time I learned. But when I didn’t know better, it used to bother me a lot, and I come from a family where the women have a generous bust. That’s 9 women including my sisters and cousins, but I felt like they were too small. And when I used to be shy and shrug my shoulders it would be more noticeable and it made me feel more like a boy because I didn’t have that feminine part of me that says “hey I’m here”. It felt more like there was nothing there, which also affected my relationship being closer to boys than girls. I would say boys viewed me as a boy, but I believe it’s because I viewed myself this way, they felt it. One thing that bothered me as I was growing up, was my arm as well. When I was 11 months old I was sleeping near my older sister, about 7 years older than me, my brother had a fever, so my mom was with him all night. I fell off the bed and it was wintertime, and my arm was resting in between the spaces of the winter heater. It took time for mom to wake up and come to me and that’s why my arm was burnt. I remember wearing long sleeves, and half sleeves in the summer to hide it, and I would worry about the perception people would have when they see my arm because I’ve had kids get freaked out when they see it. But I also remember the last time that it actually bothered me. It was also the experience that led me to get over it. I was about 12 and was wearing a jeans jacket in the middle of the summer like I always did, but my sister told me that if I wanted to join her and her friends, I have to leave the jacket at home. I felt pressured at that moment but knew that having my sister beside made me feel safe. I then started building the confidence and accepted that it was fine, even my family would remind me that if I ever want to remove the burn marks, I can go for the surgery. Funny thing is that everyone who meets me finds it hard to asks me about my arm, but the reality is that it’s actually the last thing that bothers me now, and it probably masks the fact that I have other insecurities about my body. To be honest, nothing bothers as the fear of gaining back the weight I’ve lost, and it’s part of my motivation to stay active and watch my food. To some people I wasn’t fat, to others “I gained weight” and was “losing my figure”, but it’s what people say that sometimes get to you. But that was a tough journey for me because, besides what I was hearing from the people around me and my family, and sometimes jokes go a little too far, I figured out that I wasn’t gaining weight because I was just eating, especially since I had stopped junk food for 6 months before I’ve reached that stage. I realized that I was gaining it because of complications in my stomach, and once I had understood that I started losing weight because I was helping my body by stopping the food that wasn’t properly digesting in my stomach. But now I’m just left with some loose wiggly thighs and other parts of my body. My sister actually played a big part in me becoming comfortable with my body. I used to wear shorts to all-girls pool parties to hide, and she was always pushing me to lose the shorts, and eventually, that time came, as I grew older and started accepting that part of me. It just shows you that being in a different environment and around people that love you really changes your perspective on life.



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Joelle Van Schaik: “I Got My First Open-Heart Surgery When I Was Just Under A Year Old”

So I have this scar on my body, which is about I think 20 centimeters. I have a congenital heart defect, which means I had it the moment I was born. I got my first open-heart surgery when I was just under a year old, then a second one when I was nine years old. I have like five or six different defects which no one in the world has in this combination. The second surgery replaced a valve for an artificial one, so you can actually hear my heart ticking like a clock. As a girl getting older, you generally start getting insecure about your body. I started comparing myself to other girls and then got insecure because they don’t have this ugly scar. Well, I thought it was ugly at that time but I think as I got older I learned to live with it more and better. Physically I can only do 70% of other people’s 100%. I get tired quickly and need more time to recover. If I’m working 3 or 4 very long days I might need 2 days to recover where other people may only need one. It doesn’t make me feel great because I’m super motivated and feel responsible. I want to do more but physically I can’t sometimes. I’ve learned to know my boundaries and listen to my body. I’ll take a break when I need to but sometimes the people around me also need to remind me to take it easy. Bottom line is my scar is still there, I can’t do anything about it and all my friends are like, “it’s just a part of you.” But when I meet new people, it’s this little insecurity; always there, always with you, always thinking “would they see it? Are they going to ask about it?”. Still, at this point in my life, I believe that everything happens for a reason, even though you are forced to make hard choices or get rejected. Because of my condition, I had to stop dancing at the dance academy back in the Netherlands, which was my passion and biggest dream but then I think, if no one told me to stop right there, I would never be where I am right now. And that is enjoying Dubai, experiencing wonderful things, meeting great new people, and living (as much as possible) a healthy life.




Huda Shahin: “My Face Started To Grow Towards One Side And My Chin Started To Go Off-Center”

When I was a child, I fell off the top bunk of my bed and broke my chin. I didn’t have the ability to communicate how much pain I was into my parents at the time, so it took them a while to actually take me to a hospital. I come from a small town in Egypt where the medical facilities aren’t that great, so the doctor just patched me up and sent me home without any regard for long term consequences. As I grew older, my face started to grow towards one side and my chin started to go off-center. And it’s not a slight deviation, it was clearly visible, like, you can’t miss it. It was frustrating growing up, not only because my face started to get deformed but also because all my family had really beautiful sharp jawlines. This deformation in my face started to really impact my confidence. Till now I choose which side to take photos from and if I really like a person I’ll sit on my prettier side while we’re having a conversation. I’ve actually never spoken about this to anyone who isn’t super close to me, so I’m hoping that by putting this story out there it’ll bring me to get over it. Because I really do want to get over it. In the past whenever I would tell anyone about it, I would feel really uncomfortable around that person and kind of distance myself from them because now “they know”. These days it’s actually not that obvious anymore, because I had fillers done a few years ago. You really have to concentrate to see it and if I don’t tell you about it then you probably would never notice. The fillers are just a quick fix and not a permanent solution. There’s a surgery that I could do but it’s quite major, expensive, and would cause a lot of bruising. The recovery time is really long and I’m just not in a point in my life where I’m ready to do that. You know when I talk about my chin, I think about people who are dying and starving in the world and it makes me feel so silly. But then I get even more insecure about it because I can’t talk about it in fear of people judging me for this little thing. But to me, it’s actually not little. It’s like when a child loses his teddy bear. It’s quite a big deal for the child but it’s insignificant the rest of the world. So, maybe I’ll get the surgery done when I retire or something, or maybe I won’t. I have no idea. Maybe I’ll be at peace with it one day and see myself as a beautiful woman.




Laura Brocca: “I Have Scoliosis And I Wear Backless Dresses”

I have idiopathic scoliosis; we found out about it when I was 5. I had a really bad cough or something and was asked to get an x-ray of my chest done and that’s when they first saw that my spine wasn’t straight. Nobody really knows why it happens when it’s idiopathic and not injury or puberty related. After that, my entire life suddenly revolved around scoliosis. Honestly, I don’t remember a time when it didn’t. I traveled 4 months out of the year (including summer holidays) to osteopaths around the world and actually never made it to the first day of school (fun fact.) I was enrolled in swimming classes everyday until I was about 14/15 and was old enough to argue that I had to focus on studying and I would just raise hell and refuse to go. I hated it because I was forced into it. My mum always cared about physical appearances a good amount and has always been very beautiful, and (I’m sure unintentionally) brought my scoliosis up all the time, whether it was about my posture while I was doing homework or walking crooked or not fitting into my clothes right (even when I was 10.) She’d come up to me and physically try to push my hip in and stretch me out or yank at my clothes to try magically make them fit better. I know that I have been aware and extremely self-conscious about it for decades now. I didn’t properly wear a bikini until I was an adult. I’d wear them maybe around a close girlfriend but whenever we were in groups I always usually had some kind of an open shirt to cover my torso or a one-piece or I just didn’t swim at swimming parties. It still makes me pretty uncomfortable. The thing about hooking up with guys and not wanting to mention anything about it when we first meet because that’s weird and talking about it assumes that I am sure we’re gonna hook up. But I also wonder with them not knowing, whether I should prepare them for an “abnormal” torso situation. Initially, I never thought about warning dudes and I still don’t really do that unless I know them well or feel like they’d notice it immediately (and it’d be more comfortable out in the open instead of an elephant in the room). But I have had people ask me or be a little shocked. And there’s no bigger turn off (to both parties involved) than having to explain your physical deformity, a.k.a something traditionally considered detrimental to your sexiness, in the moments right before a hookup. Also, masseuses have turned me away out of fear of “breaking my back” and shop clerks as well as assistants I work with have flagged me down worriedly and told me that they know the condition and suggest that I have to get it treated immediately. Oh and I forgot about this one; one of my closest friends once looked at me seriously and said, “you’re perfect from your chest up”. My ex would comment on how lopsided I’d look sometimes just in the most blazé manner, as though it was just fact and I wouldn’t be hurt by it. But it was a toxic relationship and he was often making me feel very insecure by pointing out my flaws. Once I was at my brother’s and he wanted me to put on some of the clothes he made for a new project and alter them a bit, I later showed my ex the photos and he said (without hesitation or anything) “oh, that’s weird. Why would he want to try them out on you?” “Odd choice”. So moments like that are hard because people will just let something slip and I don’t indulge them or engage in it. I just let it slide. Also, because people are not used to seeing this, I get a lot of weird reactions where people don’t know what to say because they think I have to hide it. They’ll say things like “are you sure you want to wear that?” Unless I’m asking “Do you think you can see my scoliosis?”, which I’m very open about with my friends and everyone, then don’t mention it. I have scoliosis and I wear backless dresses now! I’ve considered surgery a lot. My mum doesn’t want me to get it done, but hasn’t given me much of an alternative other than “go swimming every day”. I’ve always wanted to just get it over and done with so I don’t have to deal with the issue anymore, but my mum has always been against it. It’s a really risky surgery and can leave you paralyzed or with loss of feeling in various parts of your body. The surgery works by fusing certain vertebrae in your spine, which ultimately means a large decrease in your flexibility. And I don’t mean like let me do a backbend flexible, I mean like I can’t bend down to tie my shoelaces as I used to flexible. Or I would but it would strain my spine (considering that I’d have to get a few vertebrae fused as my scoliosis is a double curve). It’s more of a squat to bend closer to the ground situation. I’m getting to the point where I want the surgery and I change my mind on the daily. A big deterrent for me, other than the risks, is the price – $120,000. I could afford it when I was younger through my parents, but considering costs I have now, I’d either have to save up a ton or figure out residency in Italy and try to apply there with insurance. And that’s something that I do want for myself but then, on the other hand, I want to remember that morally I think people should be okay accepting and seeing different types of bodies and not just the same one every single day. I think beauty is definitely subjective. My favorite moments are when I look at someone and I think they’re stunning but my friend looks at them and they’re like, oh, I don’t know. Yes, there are global standards of beauty like women with little noses and big eyes but for the most part, you don’t know what a person finds attractive.



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Danae Mercer: “Let’s Rock This, Bellies And All”

BLOATING – it happens. It happens A LOT, especially when we travel (hello salty food and water retention), are approaching our periods, or are stressed. One study showed that 16 – 30% of folks experience regular bloating. I definitely do. And sometimes, if I’m really honest, that’s hard. It makes me feel fragile and puffy and awkward. But lately I’ve been following a few women here on social media who struggle with it too – and that’s helping. So here’s to a bit of honesty and a bit of bloat and a big reminder that you’re gorgeous. Let’s rock this, bellies and all!



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Hamdan Al Abri: “I Didn’t Want To Go Out Because People Might Think I Have A Disease”

I had a lot of physical insecurities growing up like thinking that I have a big nose or I was too dark. And then I hit puberty and I started getting body hair and zits and I saw people on TV and their skin and body were flawless. Then around 2005, I realized that my hair started thinning out and now I had a brand new thing I had to be conscious about. My hair was thinning out pretty slowly so it wasn’t too noticeable until a few years (thats what I think anyway). My hair or hairstyle was a huge part of my image and I always stressed out about my identity if I had to cut all my hair off. So I kind of kept the hair going for as long as I could. And then when I realized my hairline was going back to the back of your ears, I was like, “God, I don’t want to be one of those people who hold on to whatever hair they have left with this big bald spot on the top of their head!”. One day I woke up and decided that today was the day I was going to shave it all off. When I went to the barber and did the deed it was very liberating, I wasn’t going to let something like my hair (or the lack of) define who I am as a whole. Having to also deal with a skin condition called Seborrheic Dermatitis (a skin condition that causes dandruff-like spots to appear on your body especially the scalp. There is no cure for it) was and at times still is really stressful and the ironic part is that being stressed out makes the condition worse. I was always worried that people would see it and be disgusted by it. And now that my head is bald it is even more prominent, so at first, I was wearing caps and hats to hide the condition and it is something that I think about and stressed about on the daily. And It happens out of nowhere. Like when I’m on holiday my head would be perfect, then as soon as I come back to Dubai and I have to stress about the rent and my music it comes back full blast. So that really bothered me. I think at one point I was like, “I don’t want to go out because people might even see these blemishes think what kind of disease does he have?” But now I’m coming to terms with it. Its a process and I am beginning to control it, trying to live a healthy lifestyle, trying not to stress out too much, not caring too much what people think. I think sometimes we place such a huge burden on ourselves to look a certain way, be physically perfect in every way. And in this day and age we live in it is even more amplified. We place too much unrealistic importance on having distorted perfect physical attributes and we forget that the most important part is loving ourselves, all our perfect imperfections included, loving who you are as a human being and treating others the same way you want to be treated. Love yourself.




Sara Gojer: “My Skin Burned Because Of Laser, Could’ve Just Tried Waxing”

When I was 18, I went to a party with a bunch of people I knew. There was this person there who was way older than me, someone I really looked up to and who I would go to with all my stories. I remember lying down halfway through the party because I was dead tired. Before I knew it, he was lying next to me and totally took advantage of the situation. It wasn’t something I really wanted. When I woke up the next day, it brought me down on so many levels because this was someone I really looked up to in life. I tried talking to my mom about it but she was horrified, started yelling at me and took me to the doctor to get me checked and get me medication to deal with the situation. And like, honestly, no one spoke to me. And I think that as a teenager, like somebody really should have sat me down and asked me, “how do you feel about all of this?” I went into a shell and this whole thing turned my world upside down. It completely shattered my sense of physical and emotional safety. I didn’t want to trust people anymore and this shaped everything in my life after that. Rewinding a bit for context, I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of boys and I was always the tomboy, outplaying cricket and whatnot. When you’re a kid, it doesn’t really make a difference, but as you grow up, people start expecting you to do things a certain way. Especially living in India, it was very difficult for me because I never felt like I really fit in. I’ve never been happy with my body and I think it has a lot to do with growing up in a country where you’re constantly judged. When I was a teenager and started wearing makeup my mom used to tease me. And I know parents say things to you like jokes or whatever; they’re also human, but these things stick with you. She used to say, don’t wear lipstick, “it makes your face look like a pig’s bum.” So for a while, I didn’t wear lipstick and I told myself I don’t care, but I really did care. I thought coming to Dubai would make it all different. And in a way it did, because you get a lot more freedom here, but there’s also way more pressure to be feminine. I actually remember when I first came here, I was doing a video for someone and he made a comment about my nails in the video even though they were clean. He wanted a woman with long, painted nails not short filed nails. Then I got into events and it was a whole new ballgame that was even crazier because everybody has so many stereotypes for women. I don’t see that much pressure when it comes to men but women have to wear particular clothes, do their eyelashes, do their nails, and everything else and I’m not into any of that stuff. I tried the beauty checklist lifestyle when I first came to Dubai and before I knew it I reached laser hair removal. You start with one body part and then they sell you packages for multiple body parts and before you know it, you’re practically living in the laser place. I became a regular, until my skin got damaged and then eventually burned. I went to a doctor and showed her my skin and she was like, “Why did you do this? Your skin is burnt because of the laser. I don’t think it will fully heal now. You could have just tried waxing.” It all grew back anyways. It was a waste of money and a waste of time. It’s pretty much a con job because they tell you that this is like magic. You do it 5-10 times and you’re never going to have trouble again but in exactly a year it’s all back to normal and you have to do it again. The irony is that I did all this at a time when I didn’t actually have a lot of money. Instead of paying for important things, I was doing laser and it didn’t make any sense at all. The funniest part is that when you’re doing these things you don’t realize that you’re doing them blindly, to feel more confident, but in reality all this actually makes you feel more insecure. When you travel to other parts of the world, you realize how none of this really matters. You can go to a club in your jeans and sneakers and it’s perfectly okay. You can get in anywhere you want without people scrutinizing you from top to bottom to see whether you fit their checklist. It took me a while to realize that none of this was meant for me. I realized that unless I fully accepted myself first, nobody else would accept me. I also realized how important it was to surround yourself with the right people because the right people love you whether you look like shit or not. It’s good to be the best version of yourself, but not to be put in a box and not to be forced to be something or someone you’re not. I also think a lot of it has to do with sexuality. Were you asking for attention? Well now deal with it. After what I’d been through, I just thought that it’s not the best thing to fully express my sexuality. I didn’t want to put myself out there because something bad could happen at any time. I still think that it’s there somewhere inside me and it’s a part of me that doesn’t let go completely because I don’t feel safe. I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that you can be strong and you can be beautiful, that you can be feminine and you can feel protected. Recently, I’ve been eating healthy and working out a lot. I was talking to a friend of mine and only then I realized how much I judged myself and how I don’t see the things that other people actually see in me. She told me, “You need to just accept that you are beautiful and that it doesn’t matter how much you weigh.” From the time I was 16, I’ve not been single. I would always end up in one relationship after another, like emotional daisy chains. Just two years ago, I decided that I needed to work on myself. So I stopped dating and stopped trying to find myself in other people. I started with meditation and yoga. On the outside, I looked brave but on the inside, I didn’t really know how to live life on my own. I didn’t know how to do a million things on my own. Now I’m realizing step by step that I can do everything I want alone, but just because I can do it alone that doesn’t mean I have to do it alone. And that’s why I love living in this house (Home of flow). It’s because I found people here who really love me. We are like a family. Every single person in this house has been through a rough time but we feel like we can really let our guard down here and let people in and people will be there for us.




Azza Al Mughairy: “After Giving Birth I Was On Water And Juice Only And Lost 15kg”

So I just gave birth. And of course I gained weight and I’m not the same size. During my first month after childbirth, I didn’t eat anything. I was on water and juice only and lost 15 kg. I was so scared. The stretch marks drama and oversized outfits got me depressed till about last month when I realized it doesn’t matter. I stopped dieting and wore my loose clothes and embraced the fact that I just gave birth four months ago. Now I eat everything.



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Dia Hassan: “When I Left Insurance I Threw Away Every Suit I Owned”

I never really had two different personas growing up. I kind of knew I was more in touch with my true self. It was clear early on when I started doing music and I knew l that I didn’t want anything to do with a job even to the point that I didn’t end up going to university, but then I had to find random jobs. The first thing I did was promoting cat food wearing a Garfield costume. And I guess a year or two down the line when my mother had cancer I was in a situation where I had to pay rent. I was 18/19 and I couldn’t afford rent other than a living room in someone else’s apartment. I remember that the rent was about 2000 dirhams a month. In the beginning, I was managing that amount from odd jobs I was doing like promoting products and working in a cinema. Then, of course, the seasons slowed down and I needed to sustain my mother to the point where she needed to have medical insurance because there was no way we were going to cover the bills. So that made me decide to take on a full-time job. That’s when the second persona began forming. I was in this office during the day becoming this corporate person because of the money but every single night I would transform into this other person where it’s all about the music; playing shows and pushing the band forward. And that was a very strong driver in who I was or who I am. And even today, when I would go into meetings or meet people the first thing they would say is “hey, what’s happening with Juliana Down?”. It’s actually becoming more of a burden to answer that question. Maybe because I feel like it’s a bit of a failure. Going back to the house story, I think the first time I started wearing my hat, how it was when we were touring in Spain and the UK. It developed into is becoming this other persona. So if I had corporate meetings I’d be in a suit without a hat but then going into like meetings with the band I would stop at a petrol station, change into my like band attire and the hat. I wouldn’t let anybody who knew me from the band world to see me in a suit. Even people who are close to me, for example, Karen, she’s not seen me in a suit. We were dealing with Audi for three years and we weren’t even together. So there was that sort of persona that I’ve managed to create to the point that people thought I was a full-time musician, and that was what I wanted. It was the kind of life that I was after. Anyway. Um, yeah, that interest kind of developed into more of the insecurity. Not so much that I don’t like the way my head looks or like my face looks or whatever. It’s a personality thing. There’s also the fact that I have no hair. I started losing my hair when I was about 18 so I decided to shave it off. It’s funny because when I go into a meeting without a hat now I feel I could look aggressive. Just because of the bald head. So that hat is kind of a barrier to tone me down as well. I feel like when I’m wearing the hat it’s the creative personality, the personality I want to be at, it’s not the guy in a suit. And it’s not about the hat itself, it’s the character who I was representing wearing the hat. The hat represented everything that is not corporate. It represented the creative life, the music and everything else that I was pursuing. So when I left insurance, I threw away every suit I owned and said to my self that for the next couple of years, whatever it is, I’m going to be working hard and try my best to be more successful wearing a t-shirt. Fast forward two years later, I think we’re doing okay.

Since I started trudging up hills and around parks four years ago, I have become healthier, slimmer and sunnier and sometimes I even enjoy it

It is a damp, grey morning in south London and I am outdoors, still half asleep. The wind cuts like a knife and all I am wearing is shorts, tights and a polyester jersey. My muscles have clenched from the cold and no amount of stretching or rubbing will loosen them. But I tighten my laces and start to run. Uphill, as if things werent bad enough. My body jars with every step. Before I have gone 100 metres, I am thinking about packing it in. But no: if I give up today, maybe I wont even get this far next time. So on I plod. Thud thud thud, trudge trudge trudge, up through Norwood Park, past the swings and skateboard ramps, through the boggy, doggy hollow, then left along the main road towards the Crystal Palace transmitter. I gain a little more height before peeling off down a side street to windswept park number two.

Beyond are more ups and downs, followed by the long, gentle decline of Beulah Hill

Four kilometres in, I am dripping with sweat. I push up my sleeves and try to forget that, because of the way I have looped back on myself, home is just a short walk away. I focus on the positives (I am almost halfway through; the bits that were hurting at the start arent hurting any more) and do my best to ignore the negatives (I am not halfway through; the bits that werent hurting at the start are hurting now).

On it goes more quiet streets and silent despair. Somehow, I make it home, to a cup of tea and a sausage sandwich.

How was it? my wife asks, breathing from the side of her mouth so that she doesnt have to smell me.

It was all right, I say, thinking: It was hell, but knowing I will be doing it again. And, secretly, both dreading it and looking forward to it.

I have been running regularly since early 2014, when I decided I had to do something about my ever-expanding gut. After moving to London from the French mountains, where wild swimming and hiking had kept me fit, I had found the pounds sneaking back on. Although I had never once run for pleasure, I liked the idea of an activity that was cheaper than gym membership, could be done almost anywhere and fit easily into the weekly routine.

I probably wouldnt have managed it without the NHSs couch-to-5k plan, a set of free podcasts that use cheesy pep-talks and detailed, real-time instructions to guide you through a series of gradually lengthening runs. Although I had barely run since I was a schoolboy, the podcasts gently-gently approach made the transition as painless as possible. I occasionally got breathless, but I never felt as if I was being pushed too hard. By the ninth and final week, I was just about capable of running 5km without a break, which seemed pretty good for an overweight fiftysomething. A year later, I was into double figures and running every two or three days.

Little by little, the distance has crept up. I now run about five times a week, totalling 40-45km. I have done it in London and Barcelona, Cornwall and Moselle, Dunbar and County Durham, down city streets and dirt tracks, on mountaintops and marshes. If I cant get out first thing in the morning, I will go for a runch at work. My shortest regular route is 5km, through the wooded hills of Dulwich and Sydenham, the longest a flat 14km to the Guardian offices in Kings Cross. I have raced in two half-marathons and one full.

I am not the fastest thing on two legs: it takes me five or six minutes to cover a kilometre, nine or 10 for a mile. The New Forest marathon took an embarrassing five and a bit hours, not least because I ran out of steam and ended up walking some of it. The only reason I can imagine for doing another is to prove to myself that I can run the whole 42.2km. I am, however, a lot fitter and slimmer than I used to be down from 100-odd kilograms to 84. It is not all because of running I have cut down on the cakes, chocolate, biscuits and booze and even done a bit of Weight Watchers but running has definitely helped. It has built muscle and stamina, too. I will never be ripped, but I am in better shape (in all senses) than I have been since my 20s.

This may sound like bragging, but I need to remind myself why I do what I do. Sometimes I enjoy running, but mostly I endure it. I frequently hate it. As for the much-touted runners high, the closest I come most days is a panted: Thank Christ thats over.

Because, above all, running is hard work. To put the full horror into words, you have to stick one foot in front of the other, again and again and again. On a good day, running just happens; on a bad day, every step must be willed into existence. On my most recent outing a joyless slog through Islington and Hackney I had to bully my legs almost 6,000 times. That is four pleas of Again, you bastard for every word in this article.

It only takes two or three bad runs in a row to feel as if you are not getting anything out of it. Running can be boring, too, especially when you are pressed for time or short of ideas and just do a circuit you have done 100 times before past the same houses, down the same streets, thinking the same thoughts. Every now and again, I just give up, mostly with the words: Sod it, I cant be arsed, rather than: Sod it, this is too painful. I tell myself that the feeling will pass, and usually it does, but sometimes it persists until the very last step.

For me, at least, running successfully is about psychology as much as physique. So, I have learned to do everything I can to shake things up, from listening to podcasts, audiobooks and music (nothing gets me moving like Agatha Christie or the KLF) to trying new routes constantly. There is a wonderful app called RunGo that lets you map out a path, then provides turn-by-turn directions through your headphones. Without it, I would either be running up and down the same main roads or getting lost down side streets, stopping to work out where I was, then trying to remotivate myself to run. With it, I can happily navigate my way across London or through a foreign forest.

This doesnt do anything for the hypochondria, unfortunately. I often feel a little discomfort tired muscles, too-tight tendons early in a run, although this usually passes as I get into the rhythm. I suspect its psychosomatic, with my body offering an excuse to cut things short.

But that doesnt mean you can afford to ignore it. Sometimes you really do damage yourself. I have been lucky so far: my only real injury was a couple of years ago, when my hips started to hurt after a string of long runs. It turned out that I had been pushing my muscles too hard before they had had time to adapt; a few weeks of physio put things right. Other than that, I am happy to say that I have never felt better. I am pretty sure that the next time I injure myself it will be by tripping on a tree root, slipping on ice or trusting a car to stop at a zebra crossing.

Not that this stops non-runners telling me I am doing irreparable damage to my hips, knees, ankles and heart. Although study after study has shown that running is good for your joints and can extend your life by several years, many armchair experts will not be told. It is hard not to think that at least some are looking to justify their own indolence.

So, why do I keep running, when my mind and body and so many other people tell me not to? Two reasons. First, when I am not actually pounding the pavement, I am pretty clear about the good it is doing me. When everyone around you is getting just a little bit chubbier and a little more out of breath, there is undeniably a thrill to seeing your own stomach getting flatter and your endurance increasing. Also, I am in a better mood when I have run. After two days of idleness, I get restless and irritable. I am not sure if this is my default state and running relieves it or if I am now so addicted that I get withdrawal symptoms when I stop, but the result is the same.

I am happy with my own company and I normally run without a partner. I relish the chance to be alone with my thoughts, even if they are mostly about how uncomfortable I am.

Plus, every now and again, maybe once or twice a month, I love, love, love the experience enough to make up for all the horrors that have gone before. I am not too hot and not too cold, just the right amount of tired, with the feeling I could run for ever and then nature gives another nudge. It might be early on a December morning, with dawn gilding the eastern horizon, or midday in August, with rabbits scattering across a field. Once it was in Catford, with a thunderstorm soaking my clothes and washing the sweat away. For a few moments, it feels as if I am flying.

I dont think a habit like this can last for ever, although some people carry on into their 80s. Fauja Singh ran a marathon at 100. I will be happy if I make it to 70.

And then? I dont know. Cage fighting looks like fun.

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Meet the river swimmers, paddleboarding Santas and others who wont be spending Christmas on the couch

The swimmers

Normally, theres only one way to get into 4C water: in a hurry. From Southampton to Sydney via St Petersburg, an in-and-out New Years Day dunk is a long-established custom; the image of hordes of swimmers charging en masse to meet the wintry waves a familiar one. But go down to the picturesque banks of the river Stour at Dedham in the early morning of 1 January 2018, and you will find an altogether more sedate, low-key gathering, as a small but committed group of swimmers pull on their wetsuits ahead of their annual New Years Day swim. We get together our thickest wetties and hoods and gloves and boots, says Stuart Hamilton, 53. Every year when we first get in, everybody complains about the cold, but thats part of the fun, to suffer a bit. And to overcome the suffering.

This will be the fifth year running that Hamilton, his wife Cathie, daughters Tiffany and Candy, son-in-law Danny and friend Kevin, brave the ice-cold currents of the Stour as they attempt to swim the 2.3km from Dedham Mill to Flatford Mill. The route, meandering along the Essex-Suffolk border, is one they know well: in the summer, Hamilton organises an annual Mill 2 Mill event on this same stretch of water, drawing up to 350 participants, all eager to enjoy a leisurely dip followed by a riverside picnic. The New Years Day swim, by contrast, though advertised to all comers on the Outdoor Swimming Societys website, seldom draws more than a half-dozen hardy regulars.

Very rarely does anybody make the full distance, because its so cold, says Hamilton, a barrel-chested gym owner from Colchester. At the halfway point theres a footbridge that crosses the water thats always a good target. If we can make it as far as there, were doing well. Meanwhile, awaiting them on dry land are Thermos flasks full of warm, milky hot chocolate. The water can be anything from 12C down to 2C. That is very cold. A normal swimming pool temperature is in the mid-20s. So I make sure I fill up those flasks.

While Hamilton and his family comprise the core of the group, it was his friend Kevin Sheath, a keen amateur triathlete and wild swimmer, who initiated the tradition. Being out on the river is absolutely gorgeous, says Sheath, 56, who swims in the river year-round. This is Constable country. Our finish point, at Flatford Mill, is where his Hay Wain was. If you go in the summer, its like Clacton beach; theres rowing boats, standup paddleboarders, kayakers, fishermen the whole world and his uncle. But in the winter, you can have the river to yourself.

Its this peace and tranquillity that keeps the swimmers coming back year after year, says Hamiltons daughter, Tiffany Wood. Christmas can be a bit indoorsy, she says. You can overcook yourself on it all, get cabin fever. As a family, none of us likes to go out partying or drinking; we socialise by going for a bike ride, or a swim. Its great to get out into a real wild space where you cant see any buildings or roads, where there are no Christmas lights or music. It wakes you up, makes you feel alive.

The fell runners

Fell runners practise for the Boxing Day Dawdle or Dash in Shropshire. We have raced in sunshine, rain and thick snow, but never cancelled. Photograph: Fabio De Paola for the Guardian

If hauling yourself out of bed on the morning of 26 December feels like an uphill battle, spare a thought for Geoff Sproson. For the past 39 Boxing Days, bar none, he and brother John have organised the Devils Chair Dawdle or Dash, a steep three-mile round trip up and down the muddy tracks and rocky moorland of Shropshires Stiperstones national nature reserve. Our first event in 1978 was purely a local affair, says Sproson, 70, who took up the sport on his doctors advice, to help him recover from a footballing injury. We had about 60 participants mostly lads from the football club. We thought it would be a one-off.

They were wrong. Last year, the Dawdle or Dash drew 460 participants, with another 150 spectators lining the course and cheering on the walkers and runners. Numbers aside, not much has changed over the years. The start-finish line is today, as it has always been, at the Stiperstones Inn the pub that has been in the Sproson family for half a century; Geoffs daughter is the current landlady. At the halfway point, some 600ft above, sits the Devils Chair, the craggy quartzite outcrop that rises from the heather-strewn hills of the Stiperstones Range. Its a tough course, and has seen its fair share of casualties. You have to go up a very steep field, and then on top you pick your way through large stones and boulders for a good half-mile, Sproson says. The event goes ahead, whatever the weather. We have raced in sunshine and rain, over frozen ground, deep mud, thick snow, but never cancelled. Several people come back with grazes and cuts. And there was one year early on, when an aunt of mine broke her ankle and had to be carried off the top.

The rewards for braving the uneven terrain are much the same as they have ever been. A gallant group of local ladies still provide sandwiches and soup to every runner and walker, Sproson says. And an intrepid band of supporters from the Shropshire Mining Club still encourage weary souls with a drop of the hard stuff at the summit. Theyre getting on a bit, but they still take a couple of cases of whisky up.

Theres a core contingent of regulars who take part. There are people who started doing the event as young boys or girls who are not only still doing it, but whose children are doing it, too, Sproson says.

One regular is Stiperstones-born Viv Jones, 73, who used to play football with Sproson, and now lives 25 minutes up the road, on the outskirts of Shrewsbury. In 39 years, the only one I missed was last year, Jones says. I had a bit of a problem with my knee. Ive got to have a new one some time, but at the moment it isnt bothering me, so Ill do it again this year, under the hour if I possibly can. I had two minutes to spare last time. Jones is spurred on, in part, by fraternal rivalry. My brother Neil hasnt missed a year. Hes 63, so 10 years younger than me, and he always gets over the line first.

The parkour crew

The Paramount Parkour crew get ready for their Christmas Jam, organised by Ruel DaCosta (far right). At the last one, we had 70 people doing back tucks in two concentric circles. Photograph: Fabio De Paola for the Guardian

This Christmas, up to 100 parkour enthusiasts will celebrate the festive season by running, vaulting, clambering and crawling their way around a purpose-built gym in Milton Keynes.

We wanted to celebrate not just parkour, but movement itself, says Ruel DaCosta, 32, co-founder of Paramount Parkour Academy and host of the Christmas Jam, now a regular fixture in the calendars of parkour practitioners, or traceurs, nationwide. We invited dancers, gymnasts, kickboxers, people from all walks of life who had one thing in common: making art with their bodies. Thirty people showed up to their first Christmas Jam in 2013; this year theyre expecting more than three times that number.

Parkour is like dance, but over obstacles, DaCosta says. Its an expression of movement, but over urban landscapes, turning a town into a playground. He opened his gym, the UKs first dedicated parkour training facility, to create an environment for traceurs of all levels to hone their skills in a safe environment.

On jam night, the doors stay open to all comers until 3am, with high-energy music blaring out through a specially set-up sound system. While the gathered crowd play around on the gyms elaborate scaffold rigs, ramps and foam pits, the DJs (DaCostas brother and nephew) will play a soundtrack of dancehall, drumnbass, bashment and reggae though there wont be any overtly Christmassy music. There are people of different religions who come along, so we dont force Christmas on them, DaCosta says. But the Christmas spirit is there, in the sense of meeting up with friends who you dont see often.

The showstopper moment is always the back-tuck circle, DaCosta says. Its what Paramounts jams are known for. Anyone who can do backflips joins in and we all do them in a Mexican wave style. At the last one, we must have had 70 people doing back tucks in two concentric circles.

Its a highlight for Charlie Higgs, 23, an ambulance dispatcher who travels 25 miles from her home in Bicester to attend the jam. When I go to training Im like, Right, Ive got to get my back tuck so I can join in the circle at the next jam, Higgs says. As a keen gymnast and cheerleader, picking up new skills is part of the appeal. The atmosphere is so friendly. Ive had issues with my confidence in the past, but theyre all so good at pumping you up. Even the tiniest skill that you get, everyone is so proud of you.

  • Find a parkour community near you at Thanks to River Island for the T-rex Christmas jumper.

The paddleboarders

Santa standup paddleboarders in Poole Harbour. I havent fallen in, but you can get pushed, says Jeff Pangbourne. Photograph: Fabio De Paola for the Guardian

Like Santa Claus himself, the all-red, felt-and-flannel get-up worn by this group of standup paddleboard (Sup) enthusiasts comes out just once a year. On the other 364 days, the floating Clauses are better known as Easyriders, a Sup club based on the Sandbanks side of Poole Harbour. Theyve been donning their festive finery every year since 2013, when a roving, paddleboarding Santa called Jay Manning first introduced them to the idea of the Santa Sup, a tradition now honoured by paddleboarding communities across the UK.

Its usually the last Sunday before Christmas, and I look forward to it every year, says full-time music teacher and part-time Santa Elaine Williams. I remember the first time I saw it, it was such an amazing sight. You just wouldnt expect a whole load of Santas to be paddleboarding off the Dorset coast.

Meeting at the clubs trailer in the harbour, the Santas paddle out to sea for up to two hours, weather dependent. With no set plan or destination, they might pootle along parallel to the shore, or venture out into the deep waters of the shipping channels. But either way, they have the harbour largely to themselves. You dont get other people out on the water; a lot of the yachts are taken in for the winter, Williams says. From the position youre in, standing up on the board, you see so much more than you would from a kayak, or from walking along the shore. These views, and the peacefulness that you experience when paddleboarding, are the main attractions for me. With the right conditions, theres no other sport like it.

While the Sups are fairly stable, and most of the Santas are experienced paddleboarders, with sea temperatures hovering around 10C, they all wear thick winter wetsuits under their fancy dress, in case of an untimely tumble. The atmosphere is quite playful, says Jeff Pangbourne, 67, who has been paddleboarding for eight years, and taken part in the Santa Sup for the past three. I havent fallen in, but you can get pushed. A couple of years ago some people decided to push each other off, and then everyone else joined in. It got quite wet. But regardless, it always makes for a bit of a spectacle. We tend to do it quite close to the shore at Sandbanks, so if people are having a leisurely walk, they can see us all on the water. People will stop and get out of their cars to take photos. We wave at them and shout Happy Christmas! Theres a lovely atmosphere.

The ramblers

The East Berkshire Ramblers in Windsor Great Park, where a Boxing Day walk is organised by Jean Todd (third from left) who has headed out with her family on Boxing Day since 1963. Photograph: Fabio De Paola for the Guardian

On Boxing Day 1963, Jean Todd and her husband Don wrapped up in their winter coats and headed out for a long walk around Virginia Water Lake in Windsor Great Park. We had a son of two and decided to walk around the lake with him in the pushchair, Jean says. My sons 56 now. Since then, weve increased the size of the family, but we havent changed our Boxing Day walk.

They often shared their traditional circumnavigation of Virginia Water with an assortment of friends and visiting relatives. So when the call came out from a member of the East Berkshire Ramblers a walking group which Jean and Don had recently joined to organise a Boxing Day walk, the Todds offered up their ready-made route. It was about 12 years ago. Our kids had more or less given up on the walks. Theyve grown up and married and they do their own thing now, though we do still spend Christmas together, Jean says. I said, Look, were doing this family walk every Boxing Day, lets turn it into a Ramblers walk.

Since then, Jean and Don have been joined by around 30 people each year. This year will be the sixth that Frank Bush and his wife Mavis have accompanied the Todds on their four-and-a-half-mile ramble. Its the perfect way to blow the cobwebs away. And we get a chance to talk about what weve done over the last few days not so much about presents at our age, laughs Bush, 75, a retired police officer who is in awe of some of his fellow walkers energy and enthusiasm. Some of the 80-year-pluses go up hills like theyre mountain goats. Theyre amazingly fit.

Part of what makes the Boxing Day walk so accessible for all ages and abilities, however, is that the route is fairly flat, and provides ample opportunity to stop and take in the scenery. It really is a lovely park, Jean says. When you think of a park, you think of flowerbeds and short grass, but the Great Park is just open land, a lot of it wild. It has everything: ponds, streams, woods. Near the end, we come to a waterfall. Its very fast-flowing and beautiful.

Theres a lovely atmosphere, Jean says. All the children have their new bikes and scooters. You bump into people and say hello, and then most of us go to the local pub. We thoroughly enjoy it. Im just hoping the time doesnt come when I cant do it. Well keep going for a few more years yet.

Find somewhere to walk this winter at

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Inspired by the London Marathon? A running watch with GPS, distance tracking and health and fitness stats is a great way to monitor your progress

1. TomTom Runner 3 Cardio + Music

TomToms Runner 3 is waterproof to 40m and comes in four versions with different features. I opted for the top-of-the-line Runner 3 Cardio + Music with GPS, heart rate and built-in music playback.

Sleep, steps, distance, calories, activity and heart rate are monitored during the day, while running, cycling and other activities can be tracked too. GPS routing was solid, as was the heart-rate data, but finding a GPS signal at the start wasnt as fast as the Garmin (see No 5).

The Runner 3 Cardio + Music is a bit bulky, but comfortable all day once adjusted properly and has a battery life counted in weeks. It syncs with a smartphone via Bluetooth, or with a computer using the USB charging cable included, which is a bit fiddly to attach to the watch. It can store music on the 3GB of internal storage but not from streaming services.

The monochrome screen is clear for general wear but the face options are limited. At-a-glance running information, such as pace, distance and heart-rate zones, is clear too, but the one-button joystick beneath the screen is rather awkward to use.

Verdict: Feature-packed and capable, despite being a cheaper option.

2. Huawei Watch 2

The Huawei Watch 2 is an Android Wear 2.0 smartwatch with dedicated fitness features and third-party app support, with built-in GPS, heart-rate monitor and optional 4G.

You get all-day activity tracking through the Daily Tracking or Google Fit, including inactivity reminders. The Workout app tracks running and cycling, which is excellent but can only export data to a handful of services. Strava is available on the watch too, while Google Play Music takes care of music playback – no offline Spotify playback on Android Wear yet.

GPS accuracy is excellent, heart-rate data is pretty good and the battery lasts more than four hours on a run with both going. It has to be charged daily, so no sleep tracking, and its only water resistant to IP68 standards (over 1m for 30 minutes).

Optional 4G means updates, music streaming and calls without a phone. Built-in Android Pay means you can leave credit and travel cards at home too.

Verdict: Good balance between running and smartwatch for Android phone users.

Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

3. New Balance RunIQ

One of a new breed of fitness-focused smartwatches from sports firms, the New Balance RunIQ is waterproof to 50m, has a fairly large, round screen, simple sports stylings, a comfortable standard rubber strap and now runs Android Wear 2.0.

The Strava-powered running and cycling app uses GPS and sensor to good effect, monitoring pace, distance and heart rate with dedicated pause and lap buttons and direct upload to Strava. Google Fit takes care of general activity tracking, with more apps available in the Play Store. A nightly charge means sleep tracking is a bit tricky.

Google Play Music takes care of music playback from the watch, but other services such as Spotify do not support caching music on Android Wear yet.

It needs either an Android or iOS device to work, but is much more feature-rich when used with Android smartphones.

Verdict: Big screen and comfortable, with direct upload to Strava (with a better app).

4. Apple Watch Series 2

Apples smartwatch now has GPS and is waterproof to 50m, making it a much better fitness tracker. The series 2 records the usual steps, calories and activity, and will remind you to get up from your seat and to breathe, but doesnt track sleep.

The Workout app handles running and other activities, working well with good GPS accuracy once locked and reasonable heart-rate data for runs, but once recorded the data is locked in the Activity and Apple Health apps. Third-party running apps including Strava are available from the app store, however.

The battery lasts over four hours with the GPS and heart rate monitor going for a run, which will cover a marathon if youre fast enough. Theres a Nike+ version, too with unique colours, straps and pre-loaded Nike+ integration.

Music from iTunes or Apple Music can be stored for playback via Bluetooth headphones, while built-in Apple Pay allows you to leave your cards at home.

Verdict: The best running-smartwatch hybrid for iPhone users.

5. Garmin Forerunner 235

The Garmin Forerunner 235 is a dedicated running watch with GPS, heart-rate sensor, colour backlit LCD screen, physical buttons and water resistance to 50m.

Steps, calories, distance covered, all-day heart rate and sleep are logged with a battery life that is counted in weeks not hours, even when connected to an Android or iOS smartphone for notification alerts. For running or cycling itll track your route via GPS, gaining a lock very quickly even indoors, and lasts about six hours with everything going, producing solid location and heartrate data.

Pace distance, time, laps and heart-rate zone are all nice and clear on the screen mid-run, even in direct sunlight, while the side buttons are easy to use without stopping. Theres no music playback from the wrist, or payments, however.

The Garmin Mobile Connect app is almost too rich with data, and can be quite confusing for those not looking to examine the minutiae of their performances, but exporting your data to Strava et al is a breeze.

Verdict: Very long battery life, excellent running and fitness, but no music playback built in.

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