Like many people, I tend to skip the kind of full-on exercise that gets you breathless and sets your heart racing. Sprinting, boxing, circuits - all the stuff that's pretty unpleasant, makes your body shake and sweat, your stomach feel a little queasy, and your face go red. I prefer to stick with my daily yoga and a walk. As a result, I believe that I feel positively serene compared to the sweating joggers bobbing up and down around me.
Sadly for me and others like me, jogging is exactly the kind of intense exercise that releases human growth hormone, which in turn burns fat and builds muscle. This is why, although I'm reasonably fit, my stomach and underarms remain a bit wobbly. Or at least, so say the coaches at Wildfitness (visit the website at @email:www.wildfitness.com), which offers personal training courses on the Watamu coast in Kenya, in the mountains of Crete, and, new for next year, in Mozambique.
After spending seven days with them, I've been sprinting three times a week without hating it and even my stomach and underarms have started to tone up. The Wildfitness programme takes us back to how we used to move and eat in hunter-gatherer times, before we became settled and started to grow our own food. The training course includes bursts of intense exercise to replicate our behaviour as wild men and women who would have wandered the plains with the regular need to a) run away from scary wild animals or b) hunt them down to kill and eat. This would, of course, be followed by large periods of time lolling about under trees.
When we get into a similar "fight or flight" zone, we are usually sitting behind a desk fuming over an email. When we don't use up the excess sugar created to enable us to respond to the situation, our body turns it into fat - which is why many stressed people will have fat around their stomachs. By contrast, hunter-gatherers were fit and lean. (You only have to look at tribes still in existence today such as the Masai warriors in Kenya for proof.) Their secret was and remains the intensity, rather than volume, of exercise - hard running for 20 minutes across a savannah four times a week, say, rather than jogging for miles through an urban jungle.
As well as fast running, the course uses inventive circuits, kettle bells (cast-iron weights with handles) and rhythmic boxing to replicate the movements that would have come naturally to our ancestors, whether they were lifting a heavy animal onto their shoulders, crawling into a cave, jumping off a rock, throwing a spear, squatting around the fire or fighting off tribal neighbours. "To move naturally, safely and healthily we use gravity and body weight rather than extreme effort," says the ex-commando and Wildfitness trainer Matt Walker. "Fitness and tone come as a by-product of that good movement, rather than being an unnatural focus in themselves."
Learning to move naturally not only prevents injuries, but can heal them as well, says the co-director of Wildfitness Lee Saxby, a movement and metabolism specialist who works with clients with long-term injuries. "Most injuries take just six weeks to heal, after which it's fear that continues to make our limbs feel tight. I've met people still limping from an injury they suffered five years ago, because their body is still reacting to the memory of the pain," he explains.
Learning how to move properly, he adds, makes the blood flow into the right areas, pumping nutrition back into the tissues and enabling the nervous system to relax, which helps to heal the body. Eating to appetite rather than calorie counting and not skipping meals is also key, and part of a larger holistic approach to fitness that makes the whole ethos more attractive than most. Being outdoors in natural sunlight and fresh air rather than inside the claustrophobic atmosphere of a gym, getting close to nature, having fun, and maintaining healthy social connection with others also count, especially for those of us who spend hours locked away in offices.
The good news is that rest and relaxation are part of the programme, replicating our ancestors' lolling about under trees. And though we need to keep active every day, we only need to do the intense, unpleasant type for 20 minutes twice a week to keep lean.
Caroline Sylger Jones is the author of Body & Soul Escapes and Body & Soul Escapes: Britain and Ireland, compendiums of places to retreat and replenish around the world. Visit @email:www.carolinesylge.com