I’m too tired. I can’t find my trainers. My ‘old lady’ knees aren’t up to it. I’m allergic to Lycra. I don’t have time, I need to organise my sock drawer – just some of the excuses I have used to get out of doing exercise. This Girl Can give you a million feeble reasons why sitting on the sofa watching Hollyoaks with a KitKat Chunky takes priority over getting a sweat on.
I’ve never been ‘sporty’ and my fitness levels have generally been pretty poor. Like many people, I’d been left with the mental scars of horrible PE lessons at school – being picked last for teams, trying to play hockey in a snow blizzard and being winded in the stomach by a football (I genuinely thought I was going to die!), had resulted in associated memories of feeling self-conscious and inadequate, and hadn’t helped me find any enthusiasm for physical activity.
I’ve generally avoided exercise most of my adult life, finding any excuse not to do it (see above). The truth is, while I’m not one for competitive activities and don’t have a natural ability for sport, my main reason for dodging it is that I fundamentally, underlying everything, have a huge fear of making a fool of myself.
Over the years, my sister Helen, who is ‘the sporty one’ of the family and a real advocate for the benefits of physical activity, had made various attempts to cajole me into doing exercise. Then a couple of years ago, life gave me a bit of a kicking. As a result, my confidence hit rock bottom and I found myself sinking in a fog of anxiety and depression. It wasn’t a fun time, but my sister decided that I needed to get moving and in my limp disposition, I gave in.
First we tried swimming. Now, in my case, ‘swimming’ is essentially ‘trying not to drown’, and you can’t really think about much else when you are trying to do that. For the first time in weeks, mid-breast stroke, my mind cleared and I actually felt human. We also went walking – anywhere, as long as it was in the fresh air. Helen dragged me up the Wrekin (big hill) and around Attingham Park (big park). I respond quite well to bribery, so as long as there was a promise of tea/cake/sandwiches at some point, I would happily stride it out, and as it turns out, fresh air is really quite good for you. Who knew?!
We then tried spinning. I didn’t really have much idea about what I was letting myself in for and to say I was scared is an understatement. If you’re not familiar with spinning (otherwise known as BOOM cycle, Soul Cycle, Cycle Beat, etc.), let me set the scene. There are rows of exercise bikes, the room is dark and lit by disco lights, the music is loud and upbeat (anything from Rihanna to ACDC) and an instructor talks you through various routines while you peddle away on a bike for 45 minutes. It’s a full body workout and really good for burning calories. On my first attempt, I only kept up with 50% of the moves (Helen kept looking at me apologetically during a particularly tricky routine to Flo Rider), but by the end, despite the fact that I was utterly exhausted and my legs were like jelly, I felt AMAZING!
Like unicorns and sunny bank holidays, I used to think endorphins were a bit of a myth, but what do you know, those little neurotransmitters, produced in the brain and nervous system after aerobic activity, are miraculously real. It’s been well documented by clever sciencey-type people that regular exercise has a positive impact on your mental wellbeing; relieving stress, improving your memory, helping you sleep better and boosting your overall mood, and I’m a believer – physical activity really does give you the happy hormone.
I now spin once a week, and as a result, have more energy, feel stronger, my ‘old lady’ knees don’t give me jip anymore, and this might be too much information, but my backside is definitely firmer. But most importantly for me, the fog has cleared, the anxiety is under control and I feel ‘better’. The feel-good-factor exercise gives me is undeniable.
And spinning was just the start. I’ve since tried and enjoyed Clubbersize (clearly I have a thing for loud music and disco lights), Blockfit (invented by Chico, who was on the X Factor! I’m not joking, Google it!), Yoga (I have the flexibility of a lead pencil, but it’s so good for those endorphins), Body Balance (ditto flexibility/endorphins). I’ve even done a mud run! (Well a mud walk really, but I got a medal and everything).
Yes, my face goes bright red and I’m sweating most unattractively, but so is everyone else. And yes, quite often everyone is going left and I’m going right, but it really doesn’t matter. The fear of looking like a fool was an issue I’d let build in my head from those school days of feeling like an inadequate lump, but people, it’s time we all let that baggage go. When I exercise now, I’m only in competition with myself – to sprint a bit faster on the spin bike, or to perfect that downward dog. Crucially, I’ve never once felt like an idiot, and dare I say it, it’s really FUN. I know, it’s a shock to me too.
That’s why Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign was so inspiring and continues to capture the imagination of women and girls who, like me, have avoided exercise because they are worried about being judged on their ability and/or appearance. Let me tell you ladies, no one gives a damn, and neither should you.
I might be stating the obvious here, but I think it’s really important to find an activity you enjoy. If something feels like a chore, you’ll start to dread it and then the excuses will start. For example, pounding a treadmill in a gym does little for me – I give up almost as soon as I’ve started. I’ve found I’m better doing a fitness class, with a start and a finish time and an instructor, otherwise I’ll flake out. It might mean you have to try lots of different things out to see what clicks with you, but who knows, you might have a thing for aqua aerobics or be an undiscovered Zumba queen.
Ladies, it’s time we ditch those excuses and that fear of judgment and get moving. Embrace it, enjoy the benefits to your mind, body and soul and have fun. The sofa, Hollyoaks and that KitKat Chunky will be waiting for you when you get home.
This blog was originally written for Energize Shropshire Telford & Wrekin