Our columnist Jane Alexander heads to Portuguese Riviera for some age-old wisdom
We can’t stop ourselves getting older, but we do have some control over how we age. I’ve never forgotten meeting a 91-year old woman who was just bursting with energy and vitality – she put me to shame, but also showed that it’s possible to be fit and active right into our 10th decade. Now the wellness world is catching on to the concept of healthy ageing with more and more spas offering a cool, calm appraisal of our bodies and individualised advice on how to age-proof them. Having just hit a landmark birthday I took off for Palácio Estoril (palacioestorilhotel.com) on the Portuguese Riviera to try out their Healthy Ageing programme.
The hotel itself has an intriguing history. Just half an hour from Lisbon by car, it was built in 1930 and became home to exiled members of European royalty during the Second World War. It still oozes oldfashioned (though slightly faded) glamour and seems an unlikely place to find a topnotch medispa. Yet trip-trap through the underground passageway and you fetch up in the sparkling fresh wellness building.
Sipping a cup of ginger tea, sweetened with honey, my spa concierge Vanessa showed me my programme, explaining it would be fine-tuned during my stay. She then introduced me to massage therapist Mondy, who gave me an absolutely cracking deep tissue massage. Next up was diagnostics. In order to age well, we need to understand our bodies and minds. It’s about peering beyond how we look in the mirror; what the scales say. I was quizzed on my diet and lifestyle by nutritional therapist Patrícia Segadães. ‘Over the years, nutritional needs change,’ she said. ‘Our metabolism tends to slow down, oxidative processes in the body tend to increase, inflammatory capacity increases and there is a greater predisposition to loss of muscle mass, especially in women.’
From here, I was passed like a delicately wrapped parcel from consultant to consultant. I was wired up for a biofeedback consultation; I had my blood analysed, my posture peered at and my fitness assessed. My file grew fatter, but the team reassured me that I didn’t need to worry - my ‘prescription’ was actually pretty straightforward.
First up was diet: ‘Food has a fundamental and crucial role to delay, and even reverse the ageing processes,’ said Patrícia. During my stay, she said, I’d be 75 eating an individualised menu to kick-start the process and to demonstrate the kinds of meals I should be preparing at home. All too often spas dish up food that looks and tastes stunning, but which is nigh-on impossible to emulate at home. Here, they have no qualms at serving virtuous vegetable soup or crudités with an avocado dip in the silver service restaurant, while the ‘normal’ guests are tucking into steak and red wine.
My personal training session focused on a routine I could easily do at my local gym (or even at home) but the real joy was the huge range of accessible fitness classes on offer. Alongside Pilates, Zumba, yoga, TRX and standard toning and stretching workouts, there was Tae Bo (a dynamic martial arts style class), Fit Barre (a fun ballet-inspired class) and the mighty Krav Magna (a form of self-defence for people of any age, shape or size). Yet more classes are held in the deliciously warm hydrotherapy pool including hydrogymnastics, aqua t’ai chi and aqua circuits. They even drop bikes into the water for a hydro spinning class – it’s hardcore, but gentle on the joints.
I’ve had a lot of osteopathy in my life (much of it very good) yet I was blown away by Isabel Tomás. She read my body like a book, tracing structural issues back to old operations and injuries. Some of it felt like pure magic. Who knew that a stressed liver could impact on the movement of a shoulder? Equally, people flock here purely for the ministrations of the enigmatic Paolo Fonte, who specialises in physiotherapy and Chinese medicine. He worked on me using, not only his fingers, but instruments that looked like large crochet hooks. It wasn’t painful, yet really loosened up a stiff, post-operative wrist and arm. He’s a master of many arts and his qigong-based Postural Education and Hydrotherapy classes were subtle yet effective, crammed with practical DIY tips to keep supple and stretched.
It’s not all hard work though. The team insist that rest and relaxation are a vital part of the anti-ageing equation and so my programme included some delicious massages, a serene watsu session, and an excellent facial.
I left Estoril feeling both soothed and sprightly (I also lost three pounds which was a nice surprise). Initially I had been worried that all the scrutiny might be off-putting and demoralising but, in fact, quite the reverse. It pinpointed the areas that needed attention while reassuring me that I wasn’t a lost cause. Between them, the team gave me a clear road-map of where I needed to go and really practical tips and techniques for getting there. Maybe I’ll be able to rival that 91-year old after all.
Healing Holidays (healingholidays.com; 020 7843 3597) offer a seven-night Healthy Ageing break at Palácio Estoril from £1,829 per person, including transfers, room, full-board and a personalised healthy ageing programme.
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