It’s Month 5 of my blog to make myself more effective and the habit was to get off the couch. Well this one is a bit of a no-brainer really isn’t it, do I get a month off? Everyone knows that exercise is good for you, duh. The evidence on the benefits of regular exercise is vast and compelling; it increases energy levels, boosts brain function, improves your mood, and can help prevent mental illnesses like depression. But despite these benefits being widely known, a 2018 Kantar study revealed that 37% of UK adults never exercise or play sports and the trend on these statistics are NOT improving. In theory it sounds easy to do, but seeing as the evidence is so overwhelming, surely if it was that easy everyone would be doing it?
So, to kick this habit off, I decided that the first step was to establish where exactly I currently was on the exercise spectrum so I could see how much I needed to “up my game”. After some quick research I can safely (and rather dejectedly) say that whilst I’m not in the 37%, I am also definitely NOT doing enough, according to the “experts”. The recommended amount of exercise is 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity OR 75 minutes of strenuous exercise PLUS strength exercises on at least 2 days a week. Even pre-children when I had more spare time, I probably wasn’t achieving enough to get me to that level. I’ve never been a huge gym fan, I’m not good at running, and I loathe swimming. Not the actual act of swimming – I don’t mind that and yes, sigh, I get that it’s excellent all-round exercise and works every muscle in your body blah blah, but ALL THE FAFFING ABOUT! Urgh. It takes ages. And I don’t like getting wet. And why are swimming pools always so hot? And smelly? And dirty? Gyms aren’t that dirty, and they’re full of people doing exercise so I don’t see what excuse swimming pools have…. have I gone off on a tangent? Get back on track.
Team sports have always been my exercise of preference. It’s so much harder to flake out when there is a team of people relying on you. Whilst I’ll try not to get into it too much here (I could talk for weeks on this topic) – I strongly believe that all adults (and women in particular) benefit in ways way more far-reaching than just physical fitness from participating in team sports. I’ve captained my netball team for nearly 10 years now – and the women I’ve played with over the years became some of my best friends. There is something special about playing a team game together that bonds you much more quickly than when you meet new people in other ways. Sadly I think there are probably more men than women who get to appreciate this – but there is something empowering about spending 60 minutes with women who are not thinking about work, or relationships, or children, or the things they are not good enough at – and are simply working together to achieve a common goal (pardon the pun). And it’s one of the main reasons why despite two children, I have always held as sacred a certain number of nights a week that are uncompromisingly netball time.
Post-children, the number of games I play has had to reduce to one a week, and that’s about all the exercise I tend to get. That amounts to 60 minutes a week – some fair way off the goal! I bring my 18 month into work with me every day which means (for now at least) I need to drive instead of taking the opportunity to get some exercise by walking to the station (nobody would thank me for taking a buggy on the commuter train at rush hour). My workload means that lunchtime walks are normally restricted to a quick dash to Sainsburys, and whilst it does feel as if I’m constantly running around all weekend, it’s more dropping off/picking up from football/gymnastics/swimming/parties than anything else. Looking at the amount of exercise you’re meant to be achieving – being realistic, that to me looks like someone would need to find time on at least 4, if not 5, separate days in which to exercise. Considering that I don’t need any convincing that exercise is great, but that I struggle for time, I decided to focus this blog specifically on trying to find ways to fit additional exercise into a hectic schedule.
Firstly – I decided to try and revisit running. As I mentioned at the start of this blog, I have never been very good at it. I do like the idea of it – and it seems the easiest thing to fit in; you can just go for a 20 minute run without much prior planning. But like with any sport – I think it’s a mistake to think that just because technically everyone CAN physically run, it means that they can do it well without any help. For example, I always tended to just go haring off full pelt – meaning I barely made it more than 5-6 minutes before having to stop and then feeling like I’d failed. For me, and the sports that I play, sprinting is a more natural speed and I didn’t know how to do anything else. So, I decided to try one of the running apps, that give you guided runs and see if that improved things. There are lots of different ones out there, but I went with the Nike Running Club app. There are loads of guided runs and you can choose your level (for example, I started with “My First Run”, which sounds a bit remedial, but I wanted to start easy!). And it was great! There is a “coach” who guides you through the run, helps you manage your breathing and set your pace, gives you lots of encouragement around the benefits that you’ll get from running and how it doesn’t need to be perfect first time etc. Oh – and they also provide music that is perfect to run to – another thing that I was never very good at (I’d pick something too hard core which just additionally contributed to me sprinting down the road like the Deliveroo driver had missed my door…)
Since then I’ve graduated through “my second run”, “my next run”, “my first long run” and “my first recovery run”. I can highly recommend. Apps like this help you to keep things realistic and achievable whilst also making steady progression. I’m never going to be a complete convert – full disclosure I find running quite dull, however I am now more than happy to add one 30-minute run to my 60 minutes of Netball – making my new total 90 minutes a week. Getting there.
Although running is quick and easy, I’m told that it’s still frowned up to leave a 6-year-old and an 18 month old alone in the house, even for just 30 minutes. Therefore, I wanted to investigate whether there was anything I could do that could add to my exercise count, but that could be done in the comfort of my living room without facing child abandonment charges.
I considered yoga, but I hate yoga. Not quite as much as swimming, but still. Sit ups? Too narrow a focus. I could just run up and down the stairs and be grateful for pretty much the first time that I live in a townhouse? Happily before I had to resort to that, I found something on Sky called “Fit in 5” At first I baulked, because it all looked a bit Rosemary Conley (ask your mum) and I felt a bit silly – but for the sake of the blog I gave it a go. ‘Fit in 5’ are bite-sized little downloadable videos that last for 5 minutes, and you can string as many together as you like, all focussing on a different area – Legs and Core, Cardio, Full workout etc. I did 2 – a cardio and a legs and core, and I felt pretty good afterwards; it worked up a sweat, the kids were safely asleep upstairs and I had added a “strength exercises” element to my weekly count. Win, win, win. And the following day – my legs definitely felt the benefits. These videos aren’t paying lip service to the whole exercise thing, flouncing around your living room reliving the 80s; the exercises are well thought out and genuinely work. I was impressed (and achey).
It wasn’t all good news. I did also promise myself that I would start taking at least 30-minute walks at lunchtime, but I think I managed that exactly zero times. As I get more of these “habits” under my belt I’ve come to realise that you simply can’t kid yourself – your life is what it is, and if you try and tell yourself it’s going to drastically change then you’ll be disappointed. My work life is hectic – nothing is going to suddenly change the pace of my working day, or how much I have to try and fit in before I have to leave for childcare commitments. Despite my best intentions, lunchtimes are simply not an option for me – but that isn’t to say that a) I wish that were different and b) that I think lunch hours might be a great opportunity for other people to get some exercise in.
Despite my lunch hour failure, at the end of the month in addition to my weekly netball game, I can safely add a 30 minute run with support from some sort of app, and then a couple of nights where I grab 10-15 minutes to do some strength exercises at home. As my children get older and hopefully a bit more independent, as long as the habit of exercising is well engrained hopefully it will naturally increase as the time I have available increases. That’s the plan anyway. Except swimming. You’re never going to convince me that it isn’t gross. Sorry.
Next up – “Train the inner muse”. Tantalising right.