Former Hollyoaks actress turned health and fitness influencer Davinia Taylor, 45, shares why exercise, especially running, is a must for her wellbeing and some of her top health hacks we can all try.
Davinia Taylor on her running journey
‘I run not to lose weight but to align my feel-good hormones. When your muscles are activated, you release antidepressant hormones. For me, running is a no-brainer because it requires little effort, little concentration, and the plodding rhythm plus the music I listen to lifts me and takes me back to good times – it’s so beneficial for my cognition.
‘Also, I’m worried that I might lose my mind as I get older, so my mantra now is to use it or lose it! That applies to physical and mental health. So running is my mental health strategy. I never regret a run, except perhaps when I’ve rolled my ankle going off road, so I’m sticking to the roads now!
‘I’ve done the London Marathon twice and I did one during lockdown at home! London was cancelled so I just did it on my treadmill and raised about £30,000 for the NHS. It was so nice because people were following me live and sending in messages and we listened to 90s house music and everyone was like, “I love this tune!” It was really uplifting.
‘I signed up to the Manchester Marathon earlier this year to force myself outside in February. With marathon season generally around April, it means you have to train during winter so that was my motivation – to boost my mood.
‘As part of my training, I used a ReOxy machine, which constricts you of oxygen for a few seconds, on and off. Then it saturates you with oxygen – it’s hypoxic breathing (find out more at reoxy.co.uk/method-overview). It makes you learn to relax into an oxygen-depleted state, which then makes your body becomes more oxygen efficient.
‘Normally after a long run, I can feel quite depressed, achy, and inflamed. But I didn’t get that after this marathon. I struggled too as a toenail came off – my big toe on my left foot is completely black and disgusting! – but I got through it and didn’t get the come down or aches and pains afterwards.
‘Running is my mental health strategy. When your muscles are activated, you release antidepressant hormones’ – Davinia Taylor
‘Anyone who trains hard, wants to get their cardio fitness up, or who’s got long covid, should have a look at this machine. You wear a mask and breathe into it while watching TV for about half an hour. You do it for 10 days consecutively and it resets how your body uses oxygen. It’s good for people with chronic inflammation and the recovery after exercise is great; I didn’t have any stiff joints or muscles after Manchester – I think I was running again two days later! (Ed’s note: check with your GP whether the ReOxy is suitable for you and always use any equipment under the guidance of a trained professional).
Upping the weight training
‘I want to increase my weight training, but my small home gym is quite dark and I thrive in daylight. I used to be a nightclub person but now I’m quite the opposite – I wish I had a gym that had a view of nature! My boys have just started getting into weights because they’re at that age. Three of them are into bulking up. We’ve currently got an exercise bench in our tiny kitchen, and I keep stubbing my toe on 25kg weights! I’m nipping to Aldi later as they’ve got some weights they use in Barry’s Bootcamp, so I’m going to get those and start doing arm exercises. I have strong legs and am good at walking lunges and curtsies.
‘When working out I need to not be counting as my brain loses focus. I exercise to music so I’ll do, say, arm curls for the verse, and then for the chorus I’ll do push-ups or something like that. That way I don’t have to count because I find it really taxing! I don’t think it matters how many reps you do; it needn’t be 10 of this and 10 of that, counting just overcomplicates things – just move, I say!
‘I’ve had a million PTs over the years. For learning about alignment and keeping you accountable, they’re great. I also started a PT course as I thought that was the next move for me at one point. But when it got down to the food information and the stuff about “women being just small men”, it was so dated! I said forget it, I’m not preaching this. So, I walked away because I just wasn’t inspired; it was more of the same old outdated teachings. When it comes to muscle groups and things like that, PTs know their stuff but not necessarily about nutrition.
Davinia Taylor on the importance of electrolytes
‘We’re electrical creatures and need electrolytes to function. If you start the day with electrolytes – magnesium, sodium, calcium and potassium – it helps fire up your brain and helps with energy. And you need them even more if you’re exercising. Constantly drinking bottled water is just going to make you wee and make you dehydrated because you’re flushing out minerals. You can’t expect tap water or water from a plastic bottle that’s been sat on a shelf for 12 months, maybe longer, to have any benefit. We are humans that used to drink spring water that’s alive and full of minerals.
‘Cold water is an adaptogen. It’s one of the best free health hacks there is.’ – Davinia Taylor
‘At home I have a whole-house water filter that takes out everything bad. Also, I use a Brita filter with black carbon in it, which sucks out all the chlorine, all the toxins. I then add electrolytes into that. If you can’t afford proper electrolytes, just put some unrefined sea salt and some lemon juice in and drink that when you wake up – it’ll help fire up your brain. My Will Powders ElectroTide (£34.99 for 28 sachets) is full of potassium, sodium and all the minerals you need to hydrate your cells. It also contains horsetail and dandelion, which are diuretics to help flush out any PMT water retention.
‘Another way to get your minerals and to recover from exercise is to do a sea salt bath. Add Epsom salts, which contain magnesium citrate. I don’t take magnesium citrate orally though because it can upset the gut and cause diarrhoea. The best way to absorb magnesium citrate, which helps with muscle relaxation, is via your skin. Spend 40 minutes in the bath, lights low, listening to a podcast, then jump in a cold shower. Lowering your body temperature sets you up for a great night’s sleep. Cold water actually helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is your serotonin, your melatonin, your oxytocin. All these hormones cascade through you because your body has taken cues from your eyes that it’s dark, and the cold helps release the hormones.
‘I think collagen has really helped me too. I’m 45 now and feel better after exercise than I did when I was 35 because I’m not as inflamed; I don’t get stiff. Also, I don’t get the DOMS either (delayed onset muscle soreness). Another good thing for inflammation is dark cherries – take a cherry concentrate at night as that really helps with DOMS. Also, infrared saunas are brilliant for just getting all that inflammation and water retention out.
The benefits of infrared saunas
‘I bought an infrared sauna during lockdown and have used it every day since. It was about £200 from Amazon and is one of the best investments I’ve made. It’s a little pod and where your head sticks out, and I sit in it in front of the TV and can use my phone too to answer my DMs.
‘Sweating releases certain hormones and it’s a bit like taking a truth drug; it relaxes you and makes you feel good, like having a glass of wine, which I don’t do anymore. When you’re in a public sauna, you often hear people almost oversharing; some wellness gurus do podcasts from saunas just to get the most out of their guests as it’s very much a bonding experience.
‘I use mine at night. It clears your liver, which is where you store stress from the day, so getting rid of that helps you have a better night’s sleep. Speaking of which…
‘I have an Oura ring and am a huge fan as it helps me track my sleep. I’ve found that if I wake up in a bad mood, I blame it on having slept badly but the ring will often show me I’ve had a great night’s sleep so it’s just being an idiot and I need to snap out of it! It’s amazing how you can talk yourself into thinking you’ve had a bad night’s sleep when you’ve had a great one. When you see the data from the ring, you go, “oh I’m OK, I’ll go for a run after all”.
‘But it’s also good for telling you when to take it easy and not go for that run. The body temperature bit tells you if you’re coming down with something and to rest. My mindset makes me I’m inclined not to rest and to push myself too much, but the Oura ring helps me work out what to do.’
3 simple and free health hacks from Davinia Taylor
1. REMOVE YOUR SUNGLASSES
‘I know this goes against what everyone says, but I don’t wear sunglasses. Your eyes are connected to your brain, and your brainstem is connected to your pineal gland, which releases hormones at certain times of the day based on the amount of light coming into your eyes. Even a cloudy sky gives your eyes information. The pineal gland will cascade certain hormones in certain volumes at certain times of the day. Sunglasses just stop this process. Plus, they make your body think it’s in the shade and so not to produce melanin, meaning you’re more likely to burn.
‘You need blue light from the sky to wake you up and regulate your circadian rhythm. Why would you want your body to think it’s night-time during the day? When I see people walking the dog in the morning with their glasses on, I’m like, take your glasses off!’
2. EARTH YOURSELF
‘Take off your shoes and spend five minutes with your bare feet on the ground. This helps reduce inflammation in your body, as your body is electrical, and you tune into the energy of the earth. There are tons of YouTube channels on this. You can also get earthing mats for your bed. They plug into a socket but it’s just the earthing part of the socket it’s connected to. This means you’re biohacking throughout the night, reducing back pain, hip pain, this sort of thing.’
3. HAVE A COLD SHOWER OR ICE BATH
‘I live in Lancashire where it’s freezing, so I just use my own bath for cold exposure! When I knew I was doing the marathon, I bought some bags of ice, put those in, and did two cold baths after the race. Cold plunge pools are becoming popular but are expensive. I just fill my bath with ice as that’s much cheaper!
‘At night a cold shower will help your body switch off, while in the morning, the opposite is true, as it will make your body go, “let’s boost up the dopamine and cortisol and get ready for action!”. That’s why cold water is an adaptogen. It’s one of the best free health hacks there is.’
Davinia is the founder of science-driven, female-focused community and supplement brand WillPowders, dedicated to enhancing your chemistry and physiology through a range of products, advice and guidance from expert research. Her latest book, Hack Your Hormones (£14.99, Orion) is out now and her podcast Hack Your Health is released weekly. Find Davina at instagram.com/daviniataylor.
Words: Katy Sunnassee. Photography: Karl Collins.