Why feel­ing good has to start with learn­ing to love your­self

Wag turned fit­ness guru Amara Kanu lays down her five rules for healthy liv­ing to Abi Jack­son

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - FITNESS -

Lis­ten up, ladies: putting your­self first isn’t self­ish — it’s nec­es­sary. Wish you could find time to ex­er­cise more and look af­ter your­self a lit­tle bet­ter? Try this: in­stead of stress­ing over your to-do list, take a mo­ment to check-in with your sense of self-love.

Amara Kanu, wife of Arse­nal and Nige­ria leg­end Nwankwo Kanu, be­lieves this is the key. Be­cause time to care for our­selves isn’t some­thing we just ‘find’ — but we’ll ‘make’ the time, if we truly value its im­por­tance.

“Make your­self a pri­or­ity, love your­self, and then you will make the time for your­self,” says mum-of-three Amara, who’s now shar­ing her well­ness phi­los­o­phy with the world through her new book, Healthy Liv­ing With Amara Kanu.

Here, she tells us more about her ap­proach to well­ness and the per­sonal in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the book... 1 Ex­er­cise gives you the tools to cope with life’s ups and downs Amara’s al­ways been a fit­ness en­thu­si­ast. Just 18 when she mar­ried Nwankwo, she cred­its ex­er­cise for help­ing her cope with the pres­sures of be­ing a young Wag. A decade on, she started men­tor­ing other women, help­ing guide them along on their own healthy liv­ing jour­neys.

A firm be­liever that health and fit­ness is as much about what’s hap­pen­ing in­side as out­side — it wasn’t un­til 2014 that she re­alised just how true this could be. Nwankwo, di­ag­nosed with a life-threat­en­ing ar­rhyth­mia, needed a sec­ond ma­jor heart op­er­a­tion (he’d pre­vi­ously had an aor­tic valve re­placed eight years ear­lier). He had his surgery in the US, where the fam­ily spent two months be­fore re­turn­ing to their London home. Though “lucky” it was a suc­cess, Amara ac­knowl­edges it “wasn’t easy”.

“For me to be able to take care of my fam­ily when Nwankwo was down, I needed to be men­tally strong, so that’s where my ex­er­cise re­ally kicked in,” ex­plains Amara, who’s mum to sons Sean (12) and Ian (10) and daugh­ter Pinky (5). “I did it purely for my men­tal well-be­ing. It helped me feel sane.” 2 A way of life

Her hus­band’s heart con­di­tion also ham­mered home that no­body can take their health for granted. Nwankwo faced a long re­cov­ery and re­turn to fit­ness, and the ex­pe­ri­ence in­ten­si­fied Amara’s pas­sion for healthy liv­ing.

The con­cept of ‘lis­ten­ing to your body’ also took on greater mean­ing (Nwankwo’s prob­lem was de­tected af­ter Amara had lit­er­ally been lis­ten­ing to his heart­beat while they were ly­ing in bed to­gether). In the years that fol­lowed, her knowl­edge grew — as did her client base. “I’d dis­cov­ered my gift and that was great, and helped me to put my notes down un­til I was in a po­si­tion to write the book,” she re­flects.

Healthy Liv­ing With Amara Kanu is es­sen­tially a guide to trans­form­ing your own health and fit­ness, by mak­ing it a way of life that works for you. 3 All about the baby steps You won’t find Amara rec­om­mend­ing any dras­tic di­ets. She’s all about small, re­al­is­tic changes. “These are so much more im­por­tant than the big changes,” she says. “Some­times it’s all about those lit­tle mo­ments in your day... so you have car­rots left­over from yes­ter­day and you don’t know what to do with them and you’re mak­ing a casse­role — just chuck them in. You’re get­ting in the habit of mak­ing lit­tle changes that will make a dif­fer­ence to your health over time. “There’s no point putting you on a new diet you’re not go­ing to sus­tain. I’ll say to clients, ‘Give me a list of what you al­ready eat or like to eat, and then we’ll start by work­ing on the por­tions. So you’re still eat­ing things you like, just maybe the cheese is re­duced and the tim­ings are changed so you can di­gest things prop­erly be­fore bed.” 4 Ban­ish the guilt

At the heart of it all, the key to set­ting and stick­ing to healthy habits is to feel pos­i­tively mo­ti­vated to make these changes for your­self. This can be tricky, espe­cially for busy work­ing mums — but it starts with work­ing on your mind­set.

‘Re­mem­ber, you can only be use­ful to oth­ers when you’re able to be use­ful to your­self,’ Amara writes in the book. ‘You have to take joy and pride in tak­ing care of your body and mind. Love your­self...’

So stop putting your­self last on the list. And re­mem­ber, it’s all about bal­ance and be­ing “in tune” with your­self. If your body’s telling you to slow down, pay at­ten­tion.

“Mod­ern life is so fast, ev­ery­thing is go, go, go. But you don’t have to ex­er­cise six times a day. Lis­ten to your body: When it’s start­ing to hurt, it’s time to slow down.” 5 Stay­ing on track

So how do busy mums fit the work­outs in? “I get them to log-in in the morn­ing, be­tween 6am and 6.30am, and just do the work­out or some ex­er­cises first thing, and then you know it’s done, right? And you can carry on from 7am with your chil­dren and all that. If you don’t get it out of the way early then you for­get,” says Amara. “I do a high-in­ten­sity work­out, be­cause it’s ef­fec­tive and I get up a sweat within half an hour, and when I do that, I feel my en­ergy lev­els go up.”

When she’s trav­el­ling (the fam­ily of­ten travel to the US and Nige­ria) she’ll adapt her regime. “It is hard to keep it up when you’re trav­el­ling,” she ad­mits. “I just try to take a skip­ping rope — I like skip­ping, so at least I get some car­dio in that way. Some­times gyms can feel a bit pre­ten­tious and in­tim­i­dat­ing, but if you’re in charge of your own goals and your own plans, you can keep in con­trol and just carry it along with you when you travel. And re­mem­ber, some­thing is bet­ter than noth­ing.” Healthy Liv­ing With Amara Kanu is avail­able on Ama­zon and ama­rakanu.com, £12.99

HEALTHY AP­PROACH: Amara Kanu and (be­low) with her hus­band Nwankwo

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