Real health lies beyond the hype


It’s all very well having the perfect Instabody but there is more to health than looking good on social media. Giles Brown, probably the most explosive thing to hit the beach since D-Day, discovers real health lies beyond the hype with Marbella’s fitness professionals.

Boy and girl lifting weights

Like it or not, Marbella is a body conscious town. We spend most of the year practically semi-naked (some of us more than others) so it is a wise decision to put some effort into looking good. Visit any gym on the coast and you will see people that look like they are extras from a ‘Conan’ movie pumping iron as if their lives depended on it. Deciding to embark on my own programme for the perfect beach body – at the moment I look more like a beached whale, to be honest – I spoke to two respected personal trainers for some tips. Their answers were surprising…

Ali Mohtashemi moved to Marbella last year and has been involved in personal training for over 20 years. As the owner of highly respected NW8 Performance, Ali has worked with private clients including actress Kirstin Scott Thomas, touring with boy band Blue, and working with athletes including professional cyclists. As a sports therapist by trade, Ali specialises in mobility and joint health.

Trying to make people healthier is really what I enjoy doing the most,” Ali tells me “getting them to live a healthier lifestyle. In fact one of the main reasons that I moved to Marbella with my family is to enjoy that lifestyle.”

Ali Mohtashemi, personal trainer
Ali Mohtashemi has been a personal trainer for over 20 years

At the start of our conversation, taking place on the terrace of a popular gym with a large number of people walking past that look as if they have stepped out of an issue of ‘Bodybuilder’ magazine, Ali is quick to dispel the theory that muscle equals health.

“Unfortunately the fitness industry has been saturated with images of sculpted bodies – because everything is on Instagram and the photos that feature in magazines with fitness models etc., so the aesthetic has essentially taken over. This is a shame because being in a gym and strength training is extremely important but it is only a small segment of health.

“For me, health is not how big your muscles are. It is how you are functioning. Can you walk properly? Can you get out and go for an hour’s walk on the beach without a problem? Are you sleeping well? Are you drinking enough water? Just step away from the gym for a minute and look at what the full picture is.

“You see these big muscle guys” Ali goes on, “and unfortunately some of them are taking what we call ‘Mexican supplements’”.

“Realistically health is about being functional. Drinking enough water, getting out in the wild, into the mountains. We live in an amazing part of the world, so we should utilise it. You don’t need to go to the gym to be healthy. Learn to get outside and slowly build up your fitness. Start with a half an hour walk in the mountains, and the next time go a little bit longer”.

Getting outside to build up your fitness
Ali recommends getting outside to build up your fitness

Ali also stresses the importance of sleep and diet. “Essentially, it’s all about going back to basics. Healthier food and a healthier lifestyle will have such a profound effect on people, and you need to get the right amount of sleep as well. This is something that people really need to learn. Of course, building muscle is an important part of health, especially as we get older, but I am not talking about having a six pack and being miserable because you are not eating the right amount of food in a day.”

Having moved to Spain last year, Ali is an advocate of training in nature “You don’t have to join a gym – you can utilise what we have. Luckily, more people are turning to a healthy lifestyle. They are getting out more, walking, trekking, running, on bicycles, and when you live here the choices are endless. You can literally get out and have a small adventure every day!”

Cycling in the woods
Get outside and have a small adventure every day

So what’s Ali’s advice for those thinking of starting work on their fitness? “If I have a client that is just coming back to fitness, we look at sleep, how much water they are drinking and their diet. If they are trying to lose weight, I teach them about calories, which is really energy balance – calories in against calories out. Then I get them training in the outdoors, normally 6,000 steps three times a week to start with.

“The feedback that I get is that my clients feel amazing. At that point, I will introduce resistance training and organise a plan that they can balance out with their life and work. The key is you have to be happy. It’s not a case of going to the gym, surrounded by people pushing weights and making them feel uneasy. Health is not about this, it’s so much more.”

“The key”, explains Ali “is learning to progressively overload your training. You don’t have to go out for a five mile run. Just take it easy, start with a walk, have a plan in place and slowly, step by step, build it up”.

Female personal trainer Daniela Morosan is currently in training for her first Bikini Body competition, so she was my next stop for advice for my perfect summer physique. However, her first words were cautious: “Staying healthy in Marbella isn’t easy”, she tells me “It’s doable, but we have temptations everywhere!”

Something that, after more late nights in Banus that I care to (or can even) remember, I am more than aware of…

Personal trainer Daniela Morosan
Personal trainer Daniela Morosan

“If you want to take care of yourself and stay healthy then, yes, you can do it,” she continues. “Marbella’s climate means that you can practice sports all year round. The weather, the mountains, the beaches, they are all here, and because we live in a place where for months we don’t wear much clothing, if you look good, you feel good!”

Like Ali, Daniela recognises the pressure of media to have the perfect body. “With Instagram and magazines, everyone looks perfect, and you might make the mistake of thinking ‘I have to look like that or like that’, and that is not a healthy attitude.”

“We all have different body types, and it can be very unhealthy to want to look like a certain person. Firstly, genetically speaking, you are not that person so it is impossible to look exactly the same. You can admire people but you have to understand that you cannot be a carbon copy of that person. You look like yourself and what you have to do is try to become the best version of yourself”.

Daniela stresses the importance of diet in becoming the best version of yourself “By diet I mean lifestyle, not starving yourself to death. That is not the point!” she laughs.

“Changing your lifestyle, eating healthier and controlling the quantity that you eat (as most damage is done by the how much you eat) are all vital.  The quality of what you eat is also important, obviously. A McDonalds burger isn’t going to ruin your life if you eat it twice a year, but it will if you eat one every day, so that’s where the quality is important”.

Daniela also stresses the importance of getting into a routine “To change a habit you need around 21 days, so to make it a routine it is important not to give up. Remind yourself why you are doing this. The first two or three weeks are the most difficult, but after that, it becomes part of the routine. You need to find your own motivation – what is important for you, and remind yourself about it when you don’t feel in the mood for training.

She also recognises the pitfalls of modern living “We need to be more active because we have very easy lifestyles. We just go from the house to the car to the office, back to the car and then to the house. We don’t move enough and have become sedentary because it is very easy just to sit on the sofa!”

Exercises on the beach
Exercises that involve your own body weight can be more difficult than using the machines

Movement is the key then, be it walking, swimming or cycling. Commitment is vital as well, but you don’t need to spend money on gym memberships or equipment. “There are lots of exercises that you can do without any type of equipment,” Daniela explains. “In fact, some of the exercises that involve our own body weight are more difficult than using the machines at the gym. Go onto YouTube and you will find thousands of videos that you can follow without any type of equipment and that you can do at home, outside or on the beach”.

The good news is that more and more are starting to realise the benefits of training. “People are now realising how fragile we are,” she says “and that exercise is good for your body as well as your mind.  It counters against depression, anxiety and a host of other conditions”.

Daniela also has some advice for those who might be cautious of venturing into a gym for the first time, “Don’t be afraid to go to the gym – people are not there to judge; they are there to train”, she explains. “Serious gym users will appreciate the fact that you are taking steps to change your lifestyle”.

“Asking a professional to devise a plan for you and show you how to properly carry out each exercise is also invaluable. If you do not have the budget to hire a trainer for every workout, just a few sessions can reap huge benefits.”

She also has some important words about diet “There is no such thing as a ‘one diet that fits all’. Avoid these at all costs, as they only work for a short period! I teach my clients how to eat properly, so they experience a change in their health for the rest of their lives, not just a few months.”

So what final advice does Daniela have if you are starting out? “Try everything! Gym classes, team sports, padel – you might be surprised with what you like. You need to find something that you really enjoy, so health doesn’t become a chore and that gives you a positive mind set. Get out there and have fun!” she smiles.

Ali Mohtashemi:  Tel: (+44) 7801 545 659. Instagram: nw8_performance_

Daniela Morosan:  WhatsApp: 642 759 305  Facebook: Daniela.Fit.and.Healthy (Daniela M. Personal Trainer)  Instagram: Daniela_m_pt

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