NEW YEAR, NEW LIFE
It's the new year, time for new starts and new resolutions. Many of us swear we will get fit when January arrives, to rid ourselves of all the excesses from Christmas over-indulgence, but it can be hard to keep the motivation going. If you join a gym, try to do it with a friend so you can convince each other to keep up your attendance, and check out the classes on offer. These days, most health clubs in Andalucia offer different types of yoga and pilates, as well as the usual aerobics and spinning; for coordination and concentration, martial arts are extremely popular, and many gyms offer dance classes too. You can often have a jacuzzi, steam or sauna after your work-out, which is a great way to relax and wind-down. Another great way to get fit is swimming, especially aquarobics, which is ideal for the more mature fitness fan. Larger gyms have "wellness centres", with pools offering bubbling massage circuits, and jet massages. Others have crèches, very convenient for mums (or dads) who want to get into shape.
HEALTH CLUBS AND FITNESS CENTRES
Before you join a gym, you need to think about what sort of place you want:
Big and well-equipped, with plenty of machines and classes on offer at all hours to suit your schedule; or smaller and more intimate?
Do you want to contract the services of a personal trainer - ideal if you have a specific goal in mind, such as to lose weight or prepare for a marathon?
Do you want a swimming pool too?
Is a city-centre gym convenient for you, or would you prefer an out-of-town club?
Is a private car park essential, or proximity to public transport, such as a bus stop?
Do you want a women-only, or men-only, gym?
Would a café be useful for a healthy snack after to satisfy your post-exercise appetite?
Hotel gyms are often in stunning locations, such as overlooking the sea, with luxurious surroundings, and have major bonuses such as outdoor pools and sunloungers in beautiful gardens, but may not have such an extensive range of equipment as a dedicated fitness centre.
It helps if you can combine your good intentions gym membership with something more indulgent like spa treatments as a reward. Some gyms also offer their own in-house beauty salon, whether for a quick depilation or manicure, or a post-work-out relaxing massage.
SPAS IN ANDALUCIA
If you're looking for a spa, whether for a one-off treatment or a holiday, Andalucia has them in spades. While, like golf courses, the majority of them are on the Malaga and Cadiz coasts, you can also find them on Almeria and Huelva's shorelines, and inland. You can choose from pampering spas offering beauty treatments (often using seawater, called thalassotherapy) such as weight-loss wraps and rejuvenating body scrubs; or traditional spas, which have cures and therapies based around natural spring waters (see below).
PAMPERING BEAUTY SPAS
You'll find many beauty spas across Andalucia, mostly located within luxury hotels. The range and variety of treatments offered at beauty spas these days is extraordinary: everything from Thai, Shiatsu, lymphatic drainage or volcanic hot stone massage, to non-surgical cosmetic treatments such as chemical peels and face reshaping; have a stimulating jetspray massage; or pop yourself down in a heated armchair with a herbal tea or juice. Ideally, stay the weekend at one of these five-star spa resorts and take the opportunity to unwind properly. To enjoy the full benefits of your massage or other treatment, you should be able to go back to your room and lie down afterwards, not have to jump in the car and drive back to work. Even better, for a special occasion, take your partner, send him off to play golf (or her to the spa), and then meet up in the evening for drinks and dinner.
TRADITIONAL MEDICINAL SPAS, OR BALNEARIOS
Andalucia has more than 10 traditional medicinal spas (balnearios) usually either by the sea or in the mountains. These have natural spring waters, containing minerals such as sulphates, magnesium and calcium. The minerals have curative properties, whether imbibed or used in body treatments, such as mud and seaweed baths, and have been used since Roman times. These treatments can be very effective at treating health conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, respiratory and circulatory problems, as well as stress and obesity. When drunk, the waters can help the digestive and urinary systems. Inhalations are often available too. One of the best ways to enjoy these special mineral waters is a thermal bath.
You need to make sure you choose a spa at the right time of year, and in the right location with the right climate for optimum benefits - bear in mind that Andalucia has many micro-climates due its geographical variety (beach, mountain, desert etc). It's normally worth spending at least a few days at a medicinal spa, so you can follow a course of treatment, to enjoy the full advantages of your visit. Ideally a week or two, to allow time for your body to feel the effects, both inside and out. You will come away feeling relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated.