Friday, 8 December 2017

On health and finding a love of exercise

Something unexpected has happened... Over the past few months, I think I've found a love of exercise. Now no one is more surprised by this than I am. But it's the truth - I finally get it.

Let's rewind a bit. A couple of years back, I had a lot of baby weight to lose which I shifted through calorie counting using the myfitnesspal app. Once that was under control, I started going to a morning bootcamp class - three mornings at week at 6.30am, you'd find me in the park doing burpees and star jumps. In the summer, we sweated buckets. In the winter, we ran on frozen ground in minus temperatures (that really did happen!). For ten months, I was 100% committed to the cause, felt more healthy and lean than every before.

Then I went on holiday. I fully intended to go back to bootcamp on our return home but it just kind of fizzled out. When I think about it now, I'm really surprised that something I thought of as a firmly entrenched habit was so easy to let go of. But it went out of my life and that was that.

Soon after this, my marriage ended. The separation and ensuing divorce left me lower than I'd ever been before, on antidepressants and comfort eating and drinking more than I should have. The medication and the unhealthy lifestyle caused the weight to pile back on. Soon, none of my clothes fitted. I'd eaten my way up about two-and-a-half stone. I felt dreadful.

Time passed and life started to resemble something normal again. I tried to get active, downloading the coach to 5k app and making a shaky start. But then, a few weeks in, an unexpected hospital stay and resulting fortnight of rest broke my resolve.

Then, I promised myself that I'd lose the weight and get fit in time for my 40th birthday. The day crept closer and I just couldn't quite motivate myself. Instead, I bit the bullet and bought a party dress - a gorgeous dress that made me feel great but one two sizes up from my usual wardrobe.

So what changed? Another scheduled operation in March this year left me on bedrest for a week and it drove me mad. I felt old before my years, self conscious, achey and miserable. A friend suggested we try to lose weight together. And guess what? It worked this time. Since April I've consistently shifted pound after pound by eating healthily - I'm vegan so that made things easier, and I cut right down on fat, sugar, bread and booze.

And the exercise? Since the summer, I've made it a priority, using my gym membership to swim, take yoga classes, puff my way through Body Blitz, and I'm on the final week of the coach to 5k programme (and running my first ever 5k this week!). I've also conquered a life-long fear of gym equipment.

And the result? A year on from that big birthday and I can fit into my clothes again! Not all of them - I'm probably a month or so away from the weeniest ones - but I'm happy with that. And I know I'll keep going, one step at a time.

With that in mind, I thought I'd list the five things about the gym that have surprised me. Who knows, they might surprise you too...

1. Not everyone who goes to the gym is a scary buff bodybuilder

I honestly thought I'd be the only person there who was 'normal'. I had a mental image of ripped men grunting their way around stinky gym equipment giving me mean looks for being a flabby, middle-aged mum with no clue how anything worked.

Turns out the gym, like much in life, is populated by all kinds of people - yes, there are some archetypal gym bods but in the main it's women and men of all ages, shapes and sizes. And friendly ones! Everyone is there with the same objective - to stay healthy, to get fit, and to do what works for them. No pressure.

2. A mix of fitness options is key to keeping things interesting

As well as the swimming/yoga/body blitz/treadmills etc, there's more that I haven't yet explored. Squash, badminton, spinning, tai chi, body balance and loads more. When I did bootcamp, each day was a different combination of HIIT style exercise but overall it was quite samey. I love the idea that there's more for me to discover.

3. Personal trainers don't look down on you

They really don't. The reason they do this for a living is because they love fitness and want to share their enthusiasm with as many people as possible. Why on earth would they judge? Funny how that's even a preconception when you come to think of it - definitely one of those things that's more about the thinker...

Instead, my experience of personal trainers is that they welcome you in, are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and want you to succeed. Yes, they'll shout at you if you want them to but mainly they're there to help. At my gym (I go to David Lloyd), there's always a personal trainer on hand to help you out and tell you how to use all that scary looking stuff. Every six weeks, they'll review your progress and tweak your programme which means you're always working towards achievable goals. It's so refreshing.

4. Exercise really can be fun

No, really. It helps to exercise in a really lovely clean and bright environment, of course, but a change of mindset from 'oh no, I've got to do some exercise' to 'what shall we do today?' is the main one. Not feeling forced to do one particularly type of exercise turns it from chore to cheer.

Also, I've discovered the genius combination of 'Netflix and (tread)mill' - I download an episode of a real proper thriller, one of those series that you can't wait to motor through to find out whodunnit, and run until the end. I've just finished The Sinner which is properly gripping and my number one telly recommendation at the moment.

5. The gym is not just for exercise

The gym I go to is so far removed from a sweaty locker room or plaster-riddled pool it's untrue. Instead, it's such a relaxed atmosphere, a lovely clean and bright place to go to exercise, yes, but also to work (there are iMacs and iPads, an adult lounge for it you want to work in peace, a nice cafe (the coconut mochas are amazing!) and decent wifi).

When we go as a couple, we set up camp in the cafe while one or other (occasionally both) of us does a class or swim. There have been times we've stayed for hours. And I never thought I'd say that about a gym!

So there you go... A new-found love of exercise and five reasons to prioritise fitness. And a whole month earlier that the usual 'exercise is great' posts that pop up in January!

Do you go to the gym? How do you feel about exercise? Any box set recommendations to keep me running? Let me know in the comments!

* This is not a sponsored post, by the way! But feel free to read the three previous sponsored posts as part of my ongoing collaboration with David Lloyd *

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