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Why feeling good starts with learning to love yourself

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

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

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