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Celebrity Health - Gemma Atkinson

Former Hollyoaks actress and Strictly Come Dancing star Gemma Atkinson talks to Liz Parry about her health and fitness regime

© Image of Gemma Atkinson courtesy of David Venni

I’ve always been into fitness since the age of about 10 or 11. I used to run for Manchester girls’ athletics team and I did hockey, netball and rounders at school. I wanted to do sports therapy at college but then I got the part in Hollyoaks when I was 15 so I had to make a choice because we were filming long hours and I couldn’t keep up with the training. I’ve been doing Thai boxing for about seven years but I was always a bit fearful about lifting weights because I was worried about getting bulky. It was only when I started training properly with a trainer in the weights section of the gym that I started to notice a massive change in my body.

I’ve always followed the rule of 80 per cent what my body needs and 20 per cent of what I want. I’m very aware of the fact that at certain times of the month I just want chocolate, wine and pizza so I never deny myself. I haven’t eaten red meat for about seven years now and I love lean protein such as chicken and fish. When it comes to carbohydrates I love sweet potatoes, rice and oats. So if it crows or grows or swims I’ll eat it, but if it’s processed then I’ll avoid it. If there’s anything I can’t pronounce on the label then I don’t really want to be eating it.

I’m always up early, at around 4am, for my radio show. Before I go into work I’ll have three scrambled eggs along with half an avocado and some spinach and a coffee. Then, mid morning I’ll have porridge oats with some whey protein in it. Lunch is usually a chicken salad or chicken and vegetables. Mid afternoon I quite like to have an apple with some peanut butter or a banana. For my evening meal I might have some cod with sweet potatoes and lots of veg. Then after tea I’ll always have a square of 90 per cent dark chocolate. It’s good for satisfying sweet cravings but you can’t eat too much of it.

I take iron tablets because I don’t eat red meat but that’s about it, in terms of supplements. I try to get all my nutrients from my food. I used to take krill oil before I started eating fish.

I’ve recently launched a new fitness clothing line because I decided I wanted to develop a range of clothing that I would wear myself. It’s a mixture of gym gear and leisure wear. There’s something for everyone from crop tops and t-shirts to tracksuit bottoms and hoodies. We’ve tried to make it so that every woman feels comfortable in the gym.

I do three weights sessions per week at the gym. I do compound movements and supersets. I train with my trainer, who’s called Evil Steve, and I try to do between 45 minutes and an hour. It’s lots of weightlifting, squats and lunges. I superset them which means that you work one muscle group, and when that muscle group is resting you work another one. The rest period is more for the specific muscle group than your whole body. I have two days a week where I’ll do around 30 minutes of cardio and I’ll either do a long walk with my dogs or go on the stairmaster. Some days, if work is manic, I’ll try to do at least 20 minutes HIIT training in the living room.

I haven’t done any dancing since the final of Strictly Come Dancing. My partner, Aljaž Škorjanec, was the best teacher – he’s a 19-time Slovenian champion in ballroom, Latin and ten dance – so I feel like I’ve had the best of the best. I think if I was to dance with anyone else it wouldn’t be the same experience. I absolutely loved Strictly, but I did find it difficult because I’m not a dancer.

When I was training for Strictly I was doing my radio show from 6am to 10am and then Aljaž and I were dancing from 10.30am to 6.30pm so it was pretty full on. But since the age of 15 I’ve been used to working 12-hour days on Hollyoaks so it wasn’t really anything new to me. It was more about the mental challenge for me as I used to beat myself up if I didn’t know the routine straight away. Aljaž would always remind me not to be too hard on myself.

In order to stay motivated and stick to a health and fitness regime I think it’s important to prioritise your health rather than the way you look. A lot of people get disheartened when they go on a diet or exercise programme and within a week they don’t notice the difference. It will take at least three weeks to notice a physical difference but within about two weeks you’ll start feeling better. A lot of people use celebrities as their motivation but when I did a 12-week programme I got out a picture of myself when I wasn’t looking or feeling great and I put it on my bathroom mirror. Every morning it was a reminder of what I didn’t want to go back to. It wasn’t that I was overweight – I was just very unhappy. Exercising and eating well makes you feel so much better. It’s more about giving yourself a better shot at living a healthy life rather than trying to get into size 10 jeans.

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