February 24: Boogie on down!

Today, I painted the ceiling, did the grandfather clock, tried to pon di river and for the first time in my life, twerked. And I couldn’t stop smiling.

Keaira LaShae is an American singer with one helluva happy-go-lucky, smiley, infectious personality, who does fitness dancing on the side. She can do those moves! I cannot. But her 20 minute reggae dancehall workout has got to be close to the most fun you can have attempting an exercise video. She makes hair flinging look graceful and loves what she does.

Reggae wasn’t part of my life until 1999, when I travelled to the Caribbean with friends to watch Australia play the West Indies in four cricket Test matches. While walking through Bob Marley’s home (now a museum) in Jamaica, I realised I didn’t own any reggae music, let alone one of his albums. After two months on the islands, I loved it as much as any local and now count Could You Be Loved in my top 10. ‘Mainstream’ reggae, I know, but reggae none-the-less.

The track playing on this video was good to move to, but I laughed pretty much the entire time thinking about what I must look like – no rhythm, no hair flinging, no hip jiggling skills, no style … but it was 100% fun. Keaira must rip up the dance floor on a regular basis.

I totally recommend this to put yourself out of your comfort zone for a while, and so you can appreciate the skills of talented dancers. You learn the moves separately at the start and then perform them together as a routine, twice. It’s hard to remember what comes next if you don’t know the names of the moves, but hey, it’s really enjoyable. Despite my best efforts, and Keaira’s encouragement, I didn’t sweat as much as she did – probably because I wasn’t exercising in a cropped denim jacket!

Trying reggae dancing is another thing that’s taken me by surprise in the past few days. I don’t know what’s going on with me lately. Yesterday, I made a healthy nut slice – that’s three days of baking in a row!

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This is yum and healthy!

This recipe has been on my ‘to do’ list for ages. (I used rice malt syrup instead of honey.) And now that I think about it, I do know where this cooking bug has come from …

In the past few weeks I’ve been getting organised, using the KonMari Method. First up was clothes, then books, and I’ve started with papers. By following Marie Kondo’s suggestion to put everything of the same type in the same place, I’ve finally gone through my phone and collected all the screen grabs of various recipes and stored them on the Evernote App.

I’ve been taking screen grabs of recipes for homemade beauty products, natural cleaning products and interesting healthy food for years … and done nothing with them. I keep too many photos on my phone and could never find a recipe when I wanted it. But now they’re all stored as ‘notebooks’ on Evernote and I’ve been using the ‘Recipes – Food’ one regularly. Yahoo! Everything in its place!

Going through the phone and finally putting all those photos in one spot where I can access them easily has resulted in this extraordinary bakefest. A cake, a loaf of bread and yesterday’s nut slice. Plus, Pastora’s coming over tomorrow to show me how to make a Spanish soup! Hold the phone!

Have you been doing anything out of the ordinary or out of your comfort zone lately? I’d love to hear about it if you’ve got the time!

Wishing you a wonderful day.

February 23: The need for cardio

After running on Friday, I wanted to recreate that enjoyable whole body moving feeling today. Saturday’s arm workout and Sunday’s walk were nice, but now that Leo’s not around to laugh at me, I mean, now that it’s the start of a new week, it’s time to sweat! It’s raining outside, so that was my perfect excuse to look for a cardio workout video on the internet. There are so many, it’s a matter of knowing what you do and don’t like.

Initially I searched for Billy Blanks, on the suggestion of my friend Sandra, as he does Tae Bo routines, some focusing on cardio. But I quickly worked out what I don’t like about his workouts – the back-up athletes’ incessant counting did my head in just previewing these videos. Close to an hour of that stuff? No thanks. If you can handle listening to people count from one to eight non-f’ing-stop then, please, check out his Bootcamp Cardio Sculpt, his Bootcamp Cardio Inferno or this older cardio workout. They look like great workouts but I just couldn’t subject myself to that noise. Maybe I’ll try doing one of the classes next week, with the sound down. Maybe.

I ended up going with a 30-minute fat burning cardio workout from Bollywood actress Bipasha Basu. It’s the first time I’ve done one of her Good Health 24/7 videos and I was struck by how much she looks like Angelina Jolie with her hair up. Incredible!

At the beginning, the workout seemed quite tame (neck and ankle turns in the warm-up and so on) but when the proper workout started, my goodness, Basu and her team had me moving! The music was a bit techno-ish, but with the sound down you can still follow her dubbed instructions (it seems exercising and talking at the same time, a la Jillian Michaels, is not her thing).

There’s a water break which is needed, but other than that it’s go go go, with marching in between exercises to let you catch your breath. You don’t need any equipment, except maybe a mat for the push up exercises, but you will need a bit of space as there are forwards and backwards jumps and walking lunges.

Now that the routine is finished, and beads of sweat are still trickling from my forehead, one question needs to be answered. How did Basu not sweat?! Was her studio air-conditioned? Did she have someone pat her down between takes? She was a vision of concentration and perfection the entire time!

Speaking of concentration, do you think you’d have what it takes to run a marathon? I’ll sign off now and leave you with my second guest contributor, Karie Parker, who in less than five years has gone from being an occasional treadmill jogger to a marathon runner. Take it away Karie!

Wishing you a wonderful day.

p.s While watching the last Inspector Montalbano episode yesterday (sob sob!) it felt like two earthquakes rocked our neighbourhood. The whole ground and front side of the house shook with the impact. Hours later, once we could be bothered to move off the couches, we saw what it was – the new snow from Saturday on top of the old snow became too heavy, and three quarters of it slid off the roof in two thunderous movements. It’s incredible how such a small amount of snow shook the house so much and made such a racket.

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New snow on old snow became too heavy for our roof – nearly all of it was dumped on our doorstep. What a noise!

Becoming a runner by Karie Parker

This is the second guest post in a new series designed to show the pleasant impact that feeling fit, in all its forms, can have on your life. In the past few years, Karie Parker has become an avid runner. When we met over 10 years ago, we loved a social catch-up after work. Now she loves a social catch-up on the fly. Take it away Karie!

Becoming a runner by Karie Parker (mother of three, living in Singapore, and lover of shoes)

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A proud moment for Karie, winning her division!

I don’t know where to start. When Ange asked me to be a guest blogger, I thought it would be a piece of cake. I was wrong. My running career has become so important to me, there is no way I can sum it up in a few paragraphs but I’ve tried.

If you had asked me four years ago what I do to keep fit, I would have said I go to the gym, do Pilates, boot camps and a bit of boxing. Today, I would say I RUN! I still do other things but running is number one on my agenda. I started about four years ago and haven’t looked back. It has seriously changed my life – I am stronger, faster, fitter and happier than I’ve been in a very long time, maybe ever.

It all started with a few short runs on a treadmill and now I’m running marathons. I’m the first to admit that I hated running. I had all the excuses in the world why I shouldn’t run but when I look back, they were just that … excuses. I know lots of you are rolling your eyes and saying “running is bad for your knees” or “people die running marathons”. I’ll say the same thing I say to everyone – “Just try it!” You don’t have to run fast or far – just walk out the door and have a go.

Since I’ve started, I have learned so much about myself. I used to eat because I’m Italian and I love food! Now, I (mostly) eat to fuel myself. I used to count calories and weigh myself daily. I haven’t been on a scale for over a year and I’ve had to buy all new clothes to replace the ones that are now too big. I used to be someone who exercised and kept fit. I now think of myself as an athlete – not a great athlete but a pretty good one.

If getting fitter and stronger wasn’t enough, making new friends was motivation to keep me running week in and week out. The friendships I have developed with my running mates is beyond anything I can describe. I started as a Nike run leader in Sydney about two years ago and the people I have met through that have been unreal. We support each other through our training, we help each other reach new goals and we have become way more than running friends.

Through our marathon training last year, we had to do quite a few long, slow, runs on the weekends. This was the time we really bonded. It’s amazing how well you get to know somebody after three hours of running – and that didn’t include the big breakfasts afterwards! These guys are my inspiration and cheer squad for my running events and my dearest friends when I need personal support and encouragement.

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After her first marathon, in 2014

I recently moved overseas and thought I was going to die without seeing them two or three times a week to train, but we still manage to support each other through Facebook and daily chats. I feel like they are still with me on my long runs. I’ve been here for eight months now and I’ve had the pleasure of running my second marathon with two of my best buds from Sydney and just recently another friend joined me on a Nike run in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We have big plans for the upcoming 2015 racing season too.

Finally, I couldn’t finish this blog without a very special mention to my number one fan and supporter, my husband. He started off as my personal chauffeur, getting me to and from run clubs, races and the like. He follows me around during races to give me cold drinks and cheers along the way and once we get home, he’s online looking for my times and photos. I’m a very lucky girl.

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Karie has embraced her new way of life

February 22: A 20-minute walk for eggs

Inspiration came from … ummm … somewhere … on Friday and I baked a chocolate and raspberry cake. Then yesterday, I baked a loaf of bread. Stop me now! Both were incredibly easy and healthy, and turned out just like the photos in the recipes. They’ll be made again. (I should mention this baking/cooking thing is very unlike me. Very.)

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The bread and what’s left of the cake

Making the bread used up our last three eggs, so if we wanted a hearty Sunday breakfast, Leo suggested we walk to the nearest village to buy eggs from the honesty-box shop. It had stopped snowing but for some reason I really wasn’t interested in going for a walk – too cold, too lazy! But Leo’s coaxing did the trick and once we were outside, it was totally worth it.

I moved from Australia to Switzerland just over three years ago, and still find snow intriguing – especially the way it clings to things and the squeaky noise it makes when you walk through it. Hopefully the novelty never wears off (like it must have if you’re living in parts of the USA and Canada right now). There is a disclaimer, though – while snow can be fun, I really don’t do well in the cold.

When we arrived in the village, a chicken was cackling like an old woman; an infectious laugh and soon we couldn’t stop either. I could totally see her as a woman from the 70s, with a cigarette in one hand and a wine glass in the other, leaning suggestively over a table of hors d’oeuvres as she told the most hilaaaaarious story, darling. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a photo of her, as she was hiding under a small tree in her pen. Highlight of the day, after eggs on toast for breakfast of course!

It’s Sunday, so this pleasant 20-minute round trip is today’s fitfor15in15. I’ll raise more of a sweat during the week, promise. I hope you enjoy the photos.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

February 21: 20-minute arm workout

What a difference a day makes! The sunny times yesterday have now returned to snow.

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The beautiful spring weather of yesterday …

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… and back to winter today

I feel sorry for the poor people involved in the Fasnacht Parade today … what a disappointment! Yesterday, half of Bern would have lined the streets to see the floats and enjoy the bands and elaborate costumes. Today, people will be more inclined to lie on the couch! It’s been snowing since 10am – big, fat snow flakes for six hours so far – and all the greenery is white again.

Hard to believe I was jogging through the forest 24 hours ago. My legs are feeling pretty good, so maybe I need to stretch myself to 5km next time? My arms still feel a bit sore from Tuesday’s workout, so I thought maybe I’d capitalise on that and give just the arms a flogging today. It’s no secret – I want toned arms! These days some women dream of having “Michelle Obama arms”. When I was in high school, we wanted “Madonna arms”. Over 20 years later, I’m toning down the expectations, knowing how much genetics plays a part in all of this, and toning up what I’ve got.

This 8 min 23 sec video, from a ballet studio in Brooklyn, focuses on the arms, shoulders and back with six exercises. Make sure you grab some weights first – I used the trusty chickpea tins. Once you learn how to do each exercise, you can press pause on the video to complete each set of repetitions, before moving on to the next exercise.

For the exercises using single arms, I did two sets of 16 repetitions each side, so they took longer. For the exercises where both arms moved at the same time, I just did two sets of 16. By doing this, the workout totalled 20 minutes, and my arms are shaking as I type! I had to modify some of the exercises (and do one on my knees), because the ceiling in the office is so low.

The instructor uses quite a few ballet terms, so if, like me, you’ve never done a ballet class before, prepare for an education!

Last night we went to dinner with the neighbours Liliane and Rene, and their friends Lotti and Fritz. We spend a lot of time with these guys, especially outside by the pool in summer, along with another couple Eve and Paul.

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From l to r: Rene, Fritz, Lotti, Liliane, me and Leo. Rene looks very small here – he’s actually very tall!

Because we don’t cook a lot of meat at home, I had an amazing steak with salad … and fries 🙂 Yes, I still haven’t completely changed my diet, and at the moment, that doesn’t concern me at all. Doughnuts/donuts are no longer on Saturday’s shopping list, but I’ll still go to town when I … well … go to town!

So, that’s it for today. I hope you’re enjoying the weather, wherever you are! (Those in North America and Canada may not be so excited by what’s happening around them.) And keep an eye out next week for fitfor15in15’s next guest blogger, Karie Parker, who is preparing for her third marathon.

Wishing you a wonderful rest of the weekend.

And as usual, on Saturdays, I like to post some articles and videos I’ve enjoyed this week. Hope you like them too:

Austin Raye is a very fit man. This short video shows his flipping talents. Thanks for bringing him to our attention Rachel!

An enjoyable article and interview with American television presenter Dan Harris about meditation, from the guys behind The Minimalists.

For art lovers out there, this is a book about bark. The pictures are not as dry as the subject matter sounds (badoom tish). Totally beautiful. Thank you Jocelyn, for the link.

This story about cycling, and the rise in popularity of cycling tours, made me feel nostalgic for my trek down the west coast of America in 1999.

And this is just silly! A robot hat has been made in Japan to feed runners tomatoes. John, you are responsible for filling our minds with such craziness.

February 20: A 4km run through the forest

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Sandra ready for her run. Alas we weren’t running together, only in spirit!

After seeing this photo my friend Sandra sent me this morning, I was inspired to go for a run/jog/shuffle too. The weather is amazing – all the windows are open in the house to let the fresh air in, and our jackets are hanging on the clothesline getting an airing. Sandra stepped it up a notch and ran 8km, whereas I settled on my usual 4km track. Maybe when I’m fitter, we’ll go running together?

Seems like quite a few people had the same idea to enjoy the outdoors; I came across three couples and one man out for a stroll. So sweet, seeing the oldies holding hands as they walk in the sunshine. If they’d been eating ice creams on a bench together, I probably would have burst into tears (not sure why, but that gets me every time).

Unfortunately, the icy sections in the forest still haven’t melted. I felt a bit foolish tiptoeing through the dangerous parts (it must look hilarious from a distance) so ended up walking quite a lot, for fear of doing another learner-on-roller-skates impression. Pushing off with the back foot was always the slipperiest part.

And, of course, taking photos slowed me down! I found it hard to get into any kind of rhythm but still managed the 4km in 29 minutes 32 seconds. That’ll do me I say! My third fitfor15in15 run of the year. One bad thing though – as I set off, I realised not one drop of water had passed my lips this morning. I’m making up for it now, guzzling a few litres … in a ladylike manner.

Listening to all the birds and the snow melting has filled me with the joys of spring. It’s supposed to snow again tomorrow and early next week, but today, you wouldn’t believe those weather predictions could come true. Are the seasons changing where you are? I’m feeling for all my Australian friends on the north and east coasts at the moment, suffering in the cyclones. Hope the damages aren’t too bad.

And for something totally different, the sleepy capital city of Switzerland, Bern, came alive yesterday afternoon, thanks to the visiting fans from the Everton Football Club. Their team played Young Boys last night (yes, the football team from Bern is called Young Boys; so odd) in the Europa League and in order to prepare themselves for the match, thousands of fans took over the city. Drinking beer.

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Not sure how they got up there to hang those banners, as I think it’s an office! But they did!

I was meeting my friend Pastora in our favourite bar and we ended up having a hilarious afternoon talking to some of the more refined fans from England’s north – all totally out of the ordinary and very good for the soul. (It was a sad result for Bern and a good one for Everton: 1-4.)

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Pastora with the afternoon’s entertainment – the Everton lads!

Wishing you a wonderful day.

February 19: 15 minutes of fast moving

After completing a recent five-day workout challenge (please also see the previous five days of posts), it was time to give the body a bit of a break. I’ve still managed to sweat, but the home-spun, off the top of my head, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout today was just a fitfor15in15 minutes in total.

My idea was to keep moving the whole time, and do whatever came to mind, all while trying to keep a natural flow. So I ended up doing a mix of squats and lunges with punches, crunches, skipping on the spot, knee lifts, plank, fast twisting on the spot and so on, with a warm up and cool down. Thanks to all the exercises I’ve done in the past five days, it felt like I had plenty of options to choose from.

Minutes before starting, I’d finished my morning routine of meditation and stretching, so I felt quite warmed-up to begin with. My arms and butt cried out a little while doing this surprisingly quick routine and I’m now sitting at my desk with that satisfied grin of knowing I don’t have to do anything more today. *grin*

And that’s enough from me! I’m very happy to hand over to my first guest contributor, Nat Gauld, who has been a fitness instructor in Australia for more than 10 years. In the 24 years we’ve known each other, Nat has gone from a curious and enthusiastic participant to a fully accredited and passionate fitness instructor. Take it away Nat!

Getting Started by Nat Gauld

This is the first guest post in a new series designed to show the pleasant impact that feeling fit, in all its forms, can have on your life. Since meeting Nat Gauld in 1991, she has gone from an enthusiastic participant to a fully accredited fitness instructor with more than 10 years teaching experience. Take it away Nat!

Getting Started by Nat Gauld (RPM, Body Balance, Body Pump and Pilates instructor and lover of chocolate)

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Nat Gauld, in full swing, teaching her Body Balance class.

The hardest part of exercise is the same as the hardest part of writing a blog. Getting started. That first word. That first step. If you have the motivation to get out of bed and put on your gym shoes, you have cleared the biggest hurdle.

Having a goal is the key – doesn’t have to be a huge one. It can be: I want to do a 5km fun run; I want to wear that dress I spent too much money on two years ago; I want to have energy to play with my kids; I want to eat Tim Tams (an Australian chocolate biscuit) or I want to feel better about myself.

I don’t follow the theory that it is best to start an exercise program with a friend or family member – then you are not only responsible for your motivation but theirs. If they don’t want to go to the gym or go for a walk, that’s a way-too-easy escape clause for you and you don’t need it. Don’t let them lead you down the easy road out and don’t take on guilt when you want to exercise and they don’t. Once you have a routine, encourage friends to join you and you’ll make friends doing group fitness anyway!!! Group exercise is proven to have lots of benefits – social, as well as physical.

Set yourself a realistic goal, especially if you are starting from scratch – 15 to 20 minutes of any cardio is a great beginning. Case in point – this blog! And most of all don’t set foot on scales – they are your enemy. Your weight can fluctuate widely due to water or food consumption, hormones or once you start turning fat into muscle. Use your clothes to judge your progress and your recovery time – as you get fitter you will feel better faster and your clothes will start to loosen.

The first six weeks are the hardest but once you are in a routine it can become a great lifetime habit. Exercise will make you feel good – I find it a great stress reliever. I exercise in the morning before work because then it is done for the day. It doesn’t matter if your plans change during the day and you need to work late or go play – the job is done.

And remember to reward yourself for your commitment! Be it a beverage or something yummy – or even buying new gym gear!!! It doesn’t matter what you wear to exercise but new gear can be a motivator and a reward. You don’t need to look the part when you start though – go for comfort when working out. Thankfully the days of lurid G-strings over Lycra leotards are long gone. I must confess to wearing them back in the Darwin days, when we worked together, but Ange was way more sensible and more the T-shirt and shorts person! Shelling out for expensive gear is not a motivator when starting off, so wait until you’re hooked!

And reward yourself with a day off when you need it – especially if you are unwell or really tired.
Exercise is actually fun and once you start you won’t want to stop.

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Nat, instructing an RPM cycling class, believes exercising should be fun … and leads by example!

February 18: Fifth and final day of the Fitness Blender Challenge

It’s finished! I survived! And to be honest, at the end of today’s workout, the temptation was high to continue exercising with another Fitness Blender video on YouTube. Could it be today wasn’t as tough as they predicted? Or is my brain and body enjoying this strenuous exercise phase?

The final day of the Fitness Blender 5 Day Workout Challenge to Burn Fat & Build Lean Muscle was shorter than the others, at 37 minutes, and it felt like I could have pushed myself harder. Maybe that’s because I’m still using tin cans as weights, and the two instructors are lifting much more. Perhaps when I do this five-day workout again, I’ll try holding wine bottles instead, which I threatened to do yesterday, but totally forgot about until sitting down at my desk now. Oops.

Today’s focus was on high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for butt and thighs. My arms are still feeling it from yesterday’s workout, which I think was the toughest day, so it was a relief that they concentrated on another area completely. Lots of squats and lunges … but possibly not enough? (I’m sure I’ll be grateful for the shorter workout when I wake up tomorrow!)

So for now, it’s a fitfor15in15 thank you and goodbye to Daniel and Kelli from Fitness Blender, and I’ll definitely be back for more in the not-too-distant future. For those interested, they also have longer programs – from two to eight weeks – on their website, which cost a little bit of money. My idea is to keep costs down, seeing as I don’t have a job at the moment, but if you like their style, and would like nutritional information included too, then these longer programs could work for you. I have no affiliation with them at all, I’ve just enjoyed their workouts and thought I should mention they offer more.

Tomorrow, I’ll be going back to 15 minutes of exercise for at least one day, just to give my body a little break. But I’m looking forward to ramping it up again next week perhaps, because this feeling … it’s a good feeling!

Wishing you a wonderful day.

February 17: Day four of the Fitness Blender Challenge

Writing every day makes it feel like time is moving quickly – or IS it just going really fast? Soon enough, we’ll be one-sixth of the way through the fitfor15in15 year. Yikes!

Right now, we’re at the six-and-a-half-week mark (sounds like a movie!) and I’m definitely feeling changes … I’m using less body moisturiser. (Joking!) We don’t own a set of scales, so I have no idea how much I weigh and don’t care! All that matters at the moment is my belt does up one hole tighter and there’s a hint of some muscle about the places; there’s a little less hail damage on the outside of my thighs and my ‘toodles’, the wobbly bits at the back of the arms, sway less in the breeze – all great incentives to keep going. Maybe when I’m feeling at my peak (December 31) I’ll post some ‘before and after’ photos. *how embarrassment*

This morning, I finally wrote my review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo, so have a read if you fancy. Over the past few weeks, I’ve used the KonMari Method to lighten the clothes and books load, sort out my cupboards and drawers, and it prompted me to clean my desk too. Now I just have to go through 18-months worth of papers from my German classes so the office will be clean and organised … on my side. (Ha! Just testing to see if Leo is reading this?!)

At lunchtime, I met the friend (Leonie) of a mutual friend (Kim) in Bern, which was great. It was nice to hear Leonie’s Aussie accent and talk about life in Switzerland. My neighbour lent me his car for the quick trip, in return for buying him a loaf of Basler Brot! A very fair trade.

And now, I’ve just finished day four of the “Fitness Blender 5 Day Workout Challenge to Burn Fat & Build Lean Muscle.” My arms are really feeling it! There were quite a lot of push ups, downward dogs and punching. This workout focused on kickboxing and yoga moves and was totally enjoyable – Daniel and Kelli mix up the exercises to keep it fun, even while your arms are shaking and sweat runs in your eyes. They’ve found a really good balance of exercises, and also, for me, it’s nice working out with professionals because you feel it’s going to pay dividends. (Maybe this is also a sign I should stop exercising on my own so much, because today I found myself laughing along with their couple banter and saying thanks at the end of the session :-/ … )

Tomorrow is the last day of the challenge, and they’ve promised we’re going out with a bang, so I’m going to take it a bit easier on Thursday and include a special guest post from Nat Gauld, a fitness instructor who may give you the push you need to start your fitfor15in15 challenge. Just because it’s halfway through February doesn’t mean you can’t start now!

Wishing you a wonderful day.