Award-winning personal trainer on why exercise can make you smile

Interviewed by Jo Reynolds

How long have you lived in the area?

14 years and before that in Baron's Court.

Where are your favourite haunts?

The Oak's our local. And Detour's; Kelly's just fantastic. Bush Hall's fab for a boogie. And Ravenscourt Park of course.

Where did you grow up?

Maida Vale. I was born in St Mary's, Paddington. Mum's English and my father's Italian. I have a brother, James, a real Peter Pan, the oldest but youngest. Anything James did I did. With both parents working, we were always running in the park or kicking a ball. I was a total tomboy. My earliest memory is bouncing from sofa to sofa listening to Boney M.

Sitting is the new smoking

Were your parents sporty?

Mum did the classic Jane Fonda home workout. Papa grew up in southern Italy and ran to school over the mountains.

What's your greatest sporting achievement?

The 2011 London Marathon. I had 2 kids under 3, and people said I was nuts, but that's what I needed. I was in a bit of a funk about the kids, post-natal depression. I talk about it because the exercise lifted me up. Mental health benefits are the number one reason I exercise.

How does physical exercise improve mental health?

Focusing on one thing gives you no time to worry about everything else. A long run frees your imagination. It's good for creativity. And endorphins are released when you exercise.

What was your job before?

TV producer/director, making programmes like Dispatches and A Place In The Sun. Studying Spanish and Italian at (Cambridge) university was helpful, but the interview was embarrassing. The tutor said: So, Miss Roccelli, why do you need to learn Italian? Visiting my relatives as a kid, I'd listened and could understand 100%, but I couldn't write a word.

Do you need a qualification to be a personal trainer?

I have an Advanced Diploma from the YMCA where I studied for 6 months. It was tough. By then I was 35 and a mum and had to get up at 6 to study before the kids woke. My husband, Ed, was super supportive then – and still is.

Do you prefer one-to-one or group sessions?

When I started it was all one-to-one. Those sessions can be quite intense. You need clear boundaries to stop everyone off-loading. It's not a psychiatry session where people expect to come back next week for an answer. These days I have a team of three trainers, Babis, Ruth and Aneta, and Sophie, our membership manager. We favour group sessions, maximum of 4. It’s better for clients too. Recent research shows there are way more benefits when you exercise as a group. We do one-to-one if there's a specific goal, a marathon or health issues.

Do you exercise when you're not with clients?

It's not a gym class where you follow the leader at the front so I do need to build in my own exercise breaks, partly for headspace. I used to hoover up 20,000 steps a day, but now I'm involved in business development and stuck behind a screen.

For people who hate exercise can you get fit doing just one exercise?

My favourite whole-body exercise is crawling on hands and toes. Keep low and crawl for 20 seconds building up to a minute.

What's the best exercise regime, a few minutes a day or a few long sessions a week?

If you're just trying to maintain health, walk 10,000 steps every day or exercise for 10 minutes. As well as the crawl, do squats so you can get out of a chair. And do planks for the deep core. Cycle to work if you can. And if you have a desk job, set an alarm and get up every half hour. Sitting is the new smoking. You can run every day, but if you're doing resistance training, lifting heavy weights, you need a day off to heal the micro-tears.

Are you under pressure to be super-fit all the time?

It's something I've struggled with. And the need to be 'up' all the time. Being the face of a local business can be difficult. When I drop the kids at school I'll probably see a client, but I think it's okay to show vulnerability. People connect to that honesty.

Do you have a fitness philosophy?

You have to be kind to yourself. You need to become confident in your own skin. I'm more comfortable with my body than I've ever been. I used to be self-conscious about my big bum until I realised that strong glutes make me strong, which makes me fast, something I'm proud of.

Are you competitive?

Yes, since I can remember. Once, I was coaching 3 clients for a triathlon, but come the race I had to compete. My reputation was on the line. And when one went past me on the bike, I dug deep and beat them in the run.

What's the fastest way to lose weight?

I discourage diets but the fastest is to cut all sugar including all hidden sugars. Low-fat products have no fat and sugar added. We need fat. And remember the calories in alcohol.

Do you recommend vitamin and mineral supplements?

Only vitamin D. Most of us are deficient in the northern hemisphere. Mine was low despite spending 4 hours in the park every day. My GP said you could take a handful with no harm

Do you recommend low- or no-carb diets?

There's a place for lowering carbs when we reach 40, especially refined carbs like pasta. Avoid them in the evening. As long as you have protein and fat on your plate, ditch the potatoes and add another vegetable instead, like leafy greens, sweet potatoes or squash. Carbs are cultural. During wartime, they needed a cheap way to feed a lot of people, so they turned to flour because bread is cheap. The French government still sets the daily price so it's affordable. And in Italy, they started with a course of pasta because there wasn't much meat to follow.

What's your dietary indulgence?

Cheese, any kind. Life's too short. As long as you're careful 70-80%, you can let go 20% of the time.

You do a free weekly jog in Ravenscourt Park. Do you plan any more community exercise schemes?

This summer we organized a fitness fundraiser in the park. With the community's help we raised £2k for Grenfell Tower in 45 minutes. It's the thing I'm most proud of. I'd love to link up with a mental health charity and set up a community health hub, not a gym, but ideally somewhere people of all ages can get together.

How and with whom do you relax?

My go-to relaxation has become my job but, currently, dancing in the kitchen with the kids, Florence and Jack, 10 and 8.

If you weren't doing this, what would be your dream job?

My dream job would involve disco dancing. The only reason I want to be famous is to go on Strictly.

Thank you, Bianca. It's been a real pleasure.

Bianca's free community jog starts at Detour Café, 135 Askew Road, every Wednesday at 12.15pm.

Interviewed Nov 2017

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