A familiar face on our screens, Kathryn Thomas hosts RTÉ’s health-focused Operation Transformation and has become passionate about helping people to live more healthy lifestyles – and to realise they don’t have to upend everything to do so.
About four years ago, she combined two of her great loves, fitness and inspiring destinations (Thomas travelled the world with RTÉ’s No Frontiers during her twenties), and set up residential retreats company, Pure Results which offers fitness retreats around the country. The focus is on a broad approach to wellness, while the great Irish landscape makes for a motivating workout venue, something Thomas loves. “I want people to realise that you don’t have to be in a gym to work out,” she explains. “You can do it in your bedroom or in your garden. You don’t need a whole lot of equipment. Moving your body on a daily basis is what’s important.”
It doesn’t seem like a big ask, just making sure to move every day, but modern life is seducing us into more sedentary lifestyles. “The way we live our lives, it’s not uncommon for people not to be outdoors at all. You’d be in an apartment, jumping into the car, driving the kids to crèche or school, parking in your underground carpark, then coming home in the evening...,” Thomas points out. Taking time to go for a walk suddenly seems like an empowering statement, a protest.
Taking time...one of the last taboos. Carving out some time (and headspace) for yourself and your health? Madness. “I would say 80 per cent of our clients are women and the word that I hear time and time again is ‘guilty’. ‘I feel guilty that I’m away from the kids, from work, from the house’. It drives me daft but I understand it,” says Thomas. “We’re all so busy, we forget to put ourselves first. You go down the pecking order and your health goes down the pecking order. All of a sudden in your forties or fifties you find yourself with no routine and you’re eating all the wrong things. It’s because you’re trying to do so many things for so many people.”
When you’re not used to focusing on your health, or yourself, it can be difficult to shake off the feelings of ‘I can’t, and ‘I shouldn’t’ but Thomas has noticed that a visit to one of their retreats can have a deep effect. “It can be a very emotional time for people, we find. The transformation that happens to them can be quite profound. They don’t remember the last time they were on their own, thinking about themselves, their health, or being with other people they’ve never met before. It’s a chance to check out of your life for a little bit. Put yourself first, have people mind you for a week, and leave with a sense of invigoration and having learned something.”
It is telling too that Thomas and her team dropped one retreat down to a Saturday and Sunday in response to clients’ requirements. “We did three day courses and our clients were saying, ‘I can’t afford to take Friday off work’ or ‘I have to bring the kids to school on Monday’. We shortened the course to be Saturday and Sunday so people are using their weekend in a different way.”
Not everyone can or wants to head off on a retreat but it is possible to incorporate changes into any lifestyle. Along with the desire to do so, you need to make it easy for the changes to stick – and paying attention to mental health and overall wellness is as important as the 5k walk or the dead lifts.
“There’s no one right way; you have to look at where you head is at, what’s in your fridge and what you enjoy doing,” Thomas points out. “I’m an intense trainer; boxing, spinning, I love that sort of exercise but the older I’ve gotten - I’m 39 now – I’ve change the way I’ve trained and I’ve taken up yoga. I recognise the value of the mindfulness aspect now. Recovery, yoga, food, mindfulness – it has to be a 360deg approach. Otherwise it’s burn out.”
We can get tangled up in, and intimidated by, food plans and diet trends and workout options but really the key to it all is simple: exercise and good food. “It doesn’t need to be torture,” Thomas explains. “It’s just about balance. This is about making few tweaks in your life, enjoying it and living life to the full.” Sounds good to us.