Wellbeing expert talks about energy and heart-mind health
A highly sought-after wellbeing expert gives us tips on health.
Aside from her Scottish accent and a smile that lights up the room, the first thing you notice about Nicky Donald is her warmth and authenticity. Then, as you get to know the super fit 47-year-old sports remedial massage therapist, personal trainer, yoga instructor, and qualified community education worker, you realize that there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
Nicky has worked in wellness for the past 27 years. This experience includes founding the massage business Vital Kneads and working for a five-star hotel in Gstaad. Her hotel tenure drew the attention of a private family that, among other things, drives for the Formula One circuit. She now works for them as a personal trainer and massage therapist.
But all of the glitz has not changed Nicky, whose sense of humor and down-to-earth attitude remain.
“And I’m a Nutribullet enthusiast!” she says laughing.
Health and fitness is not just a profession for Nicky; it’s also a hobby. This explains why she and her husband moved from Scotland to Switzerland seven years ago. (By the way, her husband is the novelist and up-and-coming filmmaker Jason Donald.)
“We came here, because it enabled us to mix business with pleasure,” Nicky says. “We both love mountain biking, snowboarding, hiking, and paddleboarding. Moving is apparently something that I just do. As a child, I never sat still. As soon as my parents blinked, I was gone!”
Nicky credits her parents with fueling her lifelong interest in athletics by encouraging her to participate in sports at an early age. As a young child, she competed in gymnastics and synchronized swimming at the national level. Competing at such a high level was tough, sometimes requiring massage and physiotherapy to aid in recovery from training and injury.
“This experience fueled my belief in therapeutic touch and my fascination with the mind-body connection, health and healing. All of this led to my professional training.”
The following are some of her tips for health.
1. How should someone who is out of shape start?
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is doing too much, too soon. They buy expensive gym memberships that they don’t use, train too intensely and become demotivated by pain, or get overwhelmed by unfamiliar and sometimes intimidating fitness environments. Going from inactive to fit does not happen overnight. Like most things in life, baby steps are good!
I advise people to start from a place of self-love, not self-deprecating. The first step is a mental decision to want to create change in your life regarding your health. That’s a great thing! Valuing yourself to want to make positive change is a strong foundation upon which to build. Getting really clear on what that means for you is vital, and helps create realistic (SMART) goals that you want to achieve.
This can be done on your own or, if you would like some support, with the help of a coach or personal trainer. But all change comes from within. You need to know your own motivation. A series of small changes actually results in big changes in the end, rather than a spike of good intention and then an abandonment of commitment.
2. How can busy professionals fit training into their days?
The number one reason/excuse for not taking part in training is: “I don’t have time.” However, we all know that if you really want to do something, you can make it happen. You might have to be creative, or make sacrifices somewhere else, but if training is one of your priorities, if it is really important to you, it will happen. The perception of not having enough time is normally a more accurate indication of a lack of interest in or enjoyment of the training, or not being committed to the training activity itself.
One of my friends is a busy single mum with two young children. She juggles three part-time jobs, and not only does she find time to take her kids to their activities, she finds time for her own fitness classes as well. Why? Because despite feeling tired sometimes, she knows that her training helps her sleep better. She prioritizes some of her own needs and gains enjoyment from it.
So, if you hear yourself saying that you don’t have time, take a good look at this belief and what the demands on your time actually are. If training truly is one of your priorities, choose to make it happen with good goal setting, time management and support.
Some simple tips can also help, depending on your goals. For instance, save time by doing resistance and cardio training at home using your own body weight. Or choose a gym on the way to your office and go at lunchtime or before work. You can also double up activities like spending time with family/friends whilst going for a bike ride.
How about trying a walking meeting, taking all phone calls standing up at your desk, walking to work, or always taking the stairs rather than the elevator?
3. How much of weight loss is exercise and how much is food?
That really depends on the person, what his or her body is like, and what exercise they do. Every individual has what’s called a resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is basically the amount of energy/calories your body needs just for basic function. Several factors will influence this resting rate, such as body composition. Two people who do the same job, get the same amount of exercise, and eat the same amount of food, can have a different experience of weight loss or weight gain. This can be due to factors such as how much muscle tone they have, as muscles themselves require and burn more energy.
The basic rule of thumb for weight loss is calories in (through food) must be less than calories burned everyday (through RMR, training and other activity). The type of calories you are consuming, the intensity of your training, and other factors will also affect how much weight you lose.
4. What’s the biggest mistake people make with their diets?
Portion control. Eating a balanced diet in appropriate proportions is essential for health.
More on attitudes to food/nutrition: Often when we think about food/nutrition, we think in terms of calories, diets and weight. This approach is not enough. Our focus needs to be on nurturing. Seeing nutrition for what it actually is: fuel. Just as you put the best quality fuel in a car to ensure performance, we need to put the best quality food into our bodies as fuel for performance too.
Food is nourishment. But sadly, often the nutritional value of the food we consume is often lacking the basic components that will add to our energy supply. And even worse, what we consume can deplete our energy supply, as the body has to work even harder to break down unwanted substances and remove them from our bodies.
Processed foods promote inflammation, drain energy from the body, and can aggravate several health conditions. Many common problematic health conditions have an underlying inflammation basis. Some foods promote inflammation; while others prevent it. We can all choose what we put into our bodies by seeing food as fuel, not treats.
We need a balanced diet that is composed of real food, not something processed and served out of a packet! Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are things that have the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that our bodies need to create and give us energy.
5. What’s the biggest mistake people make with training?
Having poor form and technique, leading to injury or pain
6. How often should someone go to the gym? How often should I work out or lift weights? Would you agree people should exercise 20 to 60 minutes, three to five days a week for health/fitness promotion (ACSM 1995)?
Hmmmmm… It all depends on your goals, and your definition of training!
For health—which is often not the real reason people go to the gym—the type of training that takes place during these 30 minutes of “exercise” depends on each individual’s fitness starting point and goals.
What does “30 minutes of exercise” mean to a gym bunny or a couch potato? The reality of “training” can look radically different to different individuals.
Exercise can also be more general movement, such as walking to work rather than taking the car, or going to the gym to lift weights.
For me it comes back to intention and goals. If all you want is to be skinny or to “look good naked,” as prescribed by the glossy magazines, this requires some serious structured training, sacrifices and a strict diet. Six-pack abs and a toned butt do not come for free!
But if your goal is heart and mind health, training can take many—often more enjoyable—forms.
Training, for example, includes recovery. Imagine someone who is totally stressed out, overstretched to the max, and juggling a whole host of responsibilities. Then, on top of everything else, you add the burdened belief that he or she also needs to “train” to lose weight, to be “good enough”… that person is heading for a breakdown!
We all need to be aware of: our starting points, what demands we have on our time and resources, and how much energy we are willing—and what is appropriate—to expend in “training.”
We only have one source of energy to draw from for all the demands of our lives. Sometimes we need to rest, rather than train, to have the strength and reserves to cope with the demands of daily living.
7. When is the best time to exercise?
When it works for you!
We are all different, and we all have different needs and responses to exercise. Personally, I like to exercise first thing in the morning before I get washed and ready for my day. Other people prefer to exercise after work and enjoy the “me time” feeling of working out after a hard day at the office.
I loved the advice I heard from a colleague who works for the organization Hintsa. She said: “If exercise is something you do ‘after work’ then consider changing your thinking! Exercise is the reason you can do hours of work! It keeps you healthy and gives you energy. Exercise should be calculated as part of your ‘working hours,’ not considered part of your ‘leisure time’ or something you try to do after you are already exhausted from ‘work.’”
Unless you are an elite athlete pursuing mastery of your craft by pushing and dedicating yourself to grueling training regimes, it’s all about understanding what works for you.
For example, a lot of people find it too stimulating to exercise just before bed, finding that it affects their sleep. But there is an exception to every rule!
8. Is there such a thing as the best exercise for weight loss? Such as running?
Not really. Intensity, frequency and pace do matter. But working in fat-burning zones, ventilatory threshold (VT) zones, creating after-burn, efficient exercise approaches, cardiovascular, cardiorespiratory, or resistance training… This is all fitness jargon!
It’s the job of personal trainers to understand the science of exercise, and to be able to create and communicate appropriate exercise programs for their clients. But the bottom line is that all movement counts! It doesn’t matter if you are sweating due to scrubbing and cleaning your windows or sweating on a treadmill. If you are using and moving your body, you will burn calories, which promotes weight loss.
One thing to bear in mind for weight loss is the fact that the more muscle you have, the more calories the muscle itself burns for you. So, weight training or resistance training can be advantageous for weight loss, not just cardio, like running.
9. What should you look for in a gym?
Hygiene and safety first!
Is the gym well-maintained and in good working order? Gyms can be one of the worst places to pick up bugs, if they are not properly cleaned after use. Hygiene is vitally important.
Injury can also occur. And you can get very frustrated if the gym space has a poor set up.
In addition, if you want to go regularly to a gym, make sure it offers the activities that you like doing. Does it have a pool? Do they offer group classes? Does it have opening hours that match your schedule? Etc.
10. Anything else?
Sleep is vitally important for recovery of the brain, and therefore, body functions.
We all need good sleep if we want to demand more from our bodies and minds.
Schedule sleep/rest/recovery into your “training program.” We remember to recharge our cell phones every night, so why is it that we often don’t value the need to recharge our bodies too?
Born in Scotland, Nicky Donald lives in Switzerland with her husband, author Jason Donald. She has been in the wellness field for the past 27 years. Her brand, Vital Kneads, encompasses her wellbeing offering. She is a qualified community education worker, personal trainer, Yoga Alliance instructor, sports and remedial massage therapist, and Nutribullet enthusiast! She works for a private family involved in Formula One race car driving as a personal trainer and massage therapist. Nicky will be running a Swing Dance and Yoga weekend retreat in Switzerland later in 2018. Anyone interested can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.