Growing up I used every excuse under the sun to get out of exercise. From worrying about the way my body looked to complaining I wasn’t any good at sport, I wiggled my way out of PE, after school clubs and even walking to the corner shop (“muuuum, can you give me a lift?”).
But now? Now, nothing will stop me trying out new gym classes and pushing myself until I’ve sweat so much I look like I’ve jumped in a swimming pool. Gross. But kind of amazing.
So what’s changed? In short, my attitude. I have the same body, of course, but it’s stronger, fitter and more adventurous – I’ve just changed my mindset. And I’m not the only one. According to recent figures from Sport England, more than 7.2 million women now play sport and do regular physical activity. Female sports participation has never been so high.
Sport England’s ground-breaking ‘This Girl Can’ campaign is partly responsible for that, as the numbers have increased by more than 250,000 since the advert first aired.
The adverts – which showed all different shapes and sizes, huffing and puffing – spoke directly to a nation of women and girls who have been brainwashed into worrying incessantly about what their bodies look like, forgetting that it’s what their bodies can do that really matters.
Too many women and girls associate exercise with burning calories to attain a certain body type. This, I think, is unhealthy. Then exercise becomes a chore or punishment, rather than a way to make yourself feel good both inside and out. In January we’re bombarded with negative messages about weight loss, diets and fitness, when really you should work out because you love your body, not because you hate it.
So, as a once-upon-a-time lazy girl, here are my top tips to help you learn to love exercise…
1. Find the right exercise for you
Whether that’s gym classes, joining a sports team or taking up hobbies you had when you were a child. The key is to enjoy what you’re doing. Remember: everyone is different, so just because your bestie loves being on the hockey team, it doesn’t mean you will. Don’t be afraid to try new things, or revisit old passions. Did you love climbing trees as a kid? Try rock climbing. Always cartwheeling in the playground? Yoga might be for you. Pummelling your little brother until your mum had to separate you? Boxing might be your calling! No but seriously. And if you were amazing at running away from your parents when you got into trouble, a free 5km race with Park Run is the grown-up equivalent…
2. Don’t count calories
Exercise should be part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle, not a diet or workout plan that restricts you or punishes you. Also, not all calories are created equal – a few biscuits and an avocado might have the same amount of calories, but their nutritional value couldn’t be more different. Follow this pro nutritional advice instead and exercise a few times a week, but hey, don’t be too hard on yourself. Eat the pizza and ice cream, but also make sure you don’t forget your greens.
3. Don’t try to run before you can walk
Literally, take baby steps. Set yourself realistic goals and alter them as you go along to keep challenging yourself. There is no point signing up for a 5km race if you haven’t run an inch since that time you you nearly missed the last train home. You’ll get there, you just need to pace yourself. If you’ve got a dog, take it for a brisk walk in the evenings. Don’t have a dog? This is a perfect time to beg your parents for one (which might also work up a sweat, depending how much drama you can muster).
Make sure you stretch thoroughly after working out to avoid injury or aches and pains. I’d recommend stretching for about 30 seconds with each stretch. It might feel like a long time, but your body will thank you for it. (Top tip: do it in front of the TV as a distraction if you’re bored.)
5. Get to know your body
Get to know what feels good (and what feels bad) for your own body. Shock horror, exercise needn’t be torture. Of course, no one likes rainy PE lessons doing cross-country, but when you call the shots there’s no need to make it unenjoyable or, even worse, dangerous. If something hurts, stop. If you’re tired, just wait and exercise the next day. Be kind and go easy on yourself, but also push yourself when you feel able – and one of these days, you might just realise you’re loving it.
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Image: Hailey Hamilton