Interview: Gemma Atkinson on feeling stronger, healthier, confident and comfortable in your own body

Photo: David Cummings
Relatable and real as well as being aspirational, Gemma will be sharing her advice at Manchester Wellbeing Festival this June
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“You’re never going to be perfect at everything, but it’s important to keep going and keep challenging yourself,” believes Gemma Atkinson.

Bury-born Gemma is an actress, model, author, Hits Radio host, and a fitness guru – one who is refreshingly relatable and real as well as being aspirational.

A finalist in Strictly Come Dancing, and former star of Emmerdale, Holby City and Casualty, Gemma will be heading to Manchester Central on Saturday 11th June for Manchester Wellbeing Festival, where she’ll be sharing her fitness advice on how to feel stronger, healthier, more confident and comfortable in your own body.

A firm believer that being the best version of ourselves is more important than losing weight, Gemma, who is also the author of The Ultimate Body Plan and The Ultimate Body Plan for Mums – which she’ll be signing copies of at the festival – welcomes the recent shift towards embracing wellness.

Photo: David Cummings

“My niece and her friends are 18, and they’re always posting pictures of themselves going to the gym, or at the juice bar having smoothies,” says Gemma. 

“It’s now seen as a cool thing to do to keep yourself healthy – as opposed to when I was 18, and it was all about binge drinking and going out. 

“Which people still do, obviously. But people are starting to realise the benefits, I think, not just for appearance, but benefits to your mood and how you feel, how you sleep and how your skin looks.”

These days there’s more of a focus on quality of life, not just longevity of life, observes Gemma. 

“I don’t want to be an 80-year-old woman stuck in a chair on an oxygen machine, if I can help it. Obviously some things are out of our control, but if someone said you can get to that age and still be playing with your grandkids and still driving and doing all these things, just by making better choices in your youth, then I’m all for it.”

Gemma is all about a holistic approach to wellbeing, and believes eating well is vital to nurture and fuel our bodies and minds.

“When I was younger and probably more shallow, I got into fitness to keep my figure – but it dawned on me that training was so much harder without the right nutrition,” she recalls. 

“I could get away with eating the odd McDonald’s and takeaways, and I’d be okay, but I wasn’t feeling great. I was quite bloated, and my skin wasn’t great. 

“So I did a course on nutrition, just to look into it and see where I was going wrong. 

“It dawned on me, you can’t out-train a bad diet. If I was fuelling my body properly, it enabled me to perform better in the gym.

“So I fell into it by doing my own research, and I started surrounding myself with people who were on a similar path to me. There’s such a nice community of people who are into their health and fitness.

“I know a lot of people find it boring, having a kale salad and a juice on a Sunday instead of a fry-up. But the benefits I feel mentally outweigh everything.”

Photo: David Cummings

It’s also important not to put too much pressure on ourselves, believes Gemma. After the birth of her daughter, Mia, by emergency C-section in 2019, it was “a good 15 weeks” before she even thought about getting back into a fitness routine.

“Getting back in the gym was the last thing on my mind,” she admits. 

“I was more focused on nutrition and looking after myself after what was a major operation. It was nice to take some time out, and I didn’t feel any pressure to snap back or anything. I just did my own thing in my own time.

Gemma says Mia is now her main motivation “to be around for as long as possible”. 

“I want to see her children. My motivation to keep healthy is for myself, but also for my family.”

How does the busy working mum find time to fit exercise and healthy eating into her jam-packed schedule these days?

“It’s about making time – and it’s not always glamorous,” she laughs. 

“My alarm goes off at 5.10am every morning, and I know I have until about 7am to get my exercise in, whether it’s the gym or a fitness session or yoga. 

“Because as soon as Mia’s up around 7am, I have to get her ready for toddler group, then get all my Zooms and everything else done before I get into Manchester city centre for my radio show. So I like to get up early and get it out of the way in the morning. 

“And you feel better for it, don’t you? There’s something quite smug about sitting down at 7am and thinking, ‘I’ve already done my workout!’.”

But not every day goes to plan or runs to schedule, despite our best efforts. So how does Gemma deal with a bad day? 

“It’s important to remember that it’s just that, a bad day, and there are plenty of other good days,” she says. 

“And if anything, a bad day makes you appreciate those good days more.”

Gemma is thrilled to be part of the Manchester Wellbeing Festival – and even more so that it’s taking place in her city.

“It’s great to have a festival like this in Manchester – they’re so often in London,” she says. 

“There will be people of all fitness levels and abilities there, and I’m so looking forward to meeting like-minded people – and learning something, too.”

So what does the proud Mancunian love most about the city?

“It has to be the people,” she says. 

“Everyone talks to everyone. They really are the friendliest, aren’t they?”.

We couldn’t agree more.

Bringing together authors, influencers, doctors, fitness instructors, yogis and therapists, Manchester Wellbeing Festival will take place at Manchester Central on Saturday 11th June 2022 from 10am – 6pm. Tickets are priced £25 plus booking fee. 

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