In pursuit of well-being for the mind and body

reading time: 6 minutes

Getting In Shape is More about Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Aesthetics - 1

interview with Vanessa Palombini

Vanessa Palombini is an athlete, an athletic coach and a personal trainer. In 2017, she led blind athlete Arjola Dedaj to a gold medal victory in the World Para Athletics Championships in London. We talked to her about how the way we stay in shape is changing, as we seek a balance between mind and body, and how the concept of well-being is evolving.

There is no use denying it, even if you are someone dedicated to physical fitness: currently we have to work in a different way and with different tools. This is certainly due to the health emergency, however much of the change is a result of our awareness that being fit also means feeling good about ourselves.

What is changing in the way we keep fit?
I’ve been following my students online in recent months and, to my surprise, it’s working really well, because they are focusing a lot on physical activity.

In past years, working out in the gym or doing sports were linked to aesthetic appearance and people put a lot of work into developing muscles. But now we have understood that exercise is actually a medicine and we are learning to take care of ourselves, with greater awareness. Today, exercise is more linked to psychophysical well-being, to a more holistic concept of staying healthy.

So are we returning to the old assumption “a healthy mind in a healthy body”?
Physical activity also makes everyday life much more efficient and people have understood this, learning to get to know themselves, to recognise their weaknesses and frailtie
s, and to take them into account. Students increasingly ask me to design a targeted training routine for them and to follow them; this aspect is very much appreciated. I am not just talking about physical fitness, but about a routine that must lead to general psychophysical well-being. Students want to know what routine I have chosen for them and about strategies and motivations; this makes it easier for them to follow me and motivates them because they understand the general plan, the idea of transformation.

We are not content with a preconceived, standardised idea of well-being and fitness...
I have an athletics background, so I have experience in competing and achieving goals. But I have specialised in other disciplines in which students are accompanied as they progress. Correct training boosts motivation. I often work with small groups or individuals and I realise that many of them will not go back to doing sports in large groups, to the large classes that we were accustomed to a few years ago. And then there are the places where we train; spaces are also becoming increasingly important: we want to make them personal and suitable for our approach to staying or getting fit.

And how do we deal with technology?
I am not particularly technological, but even I use specialised apps and platforms to map and share my students’ performance and rehabilitative routines with specialist doctors. These tools, which are often free of charge, are democratic. Many of my older students are monitored and they have learned to download apps and to use them by customising them according to their needs. These tools are very helpful for people who want to follow a routine. 

I certainly appreciate this drive towards digitalisation; I am used to working with people with physical problems and it is very important for everyone to acquire a correct motor education that prevents us from hurting ourselves, overburdening ourselves and suffering from effects that adversely impact the well-being that we so desire. And technology, artificial intelligence in the future, will help us a great deal in this regard.

Vanessa Palombini was a professional athlete who specialised in obstacle racing, alternating her competitive career with work as a trainer in the various fields of athletics. A first-level Para Athletics technician and guide for blind athletes at FISPES (Italian Federation of Paralympic and Experimental Sports), in 2017 she won the Gold Medal at the 2017 London World Championships in the long jump as Arjola Dedajs’ “sighted guide”. She continues to work in the world of Para Athletics as a technical manager and coach for GSD Non Vedenti Onlus Milano. She also teaches Pilates, TRX and Bosu, assisting many clients as a personal trainer and collaborating with various facilities and professional studios in Milan, Monza and Brianza.