If there’s one thing I, as Fitness Editor of Women’s Health UK, want to do, it’s to help other women reap the rewards of exercise. I know first-hand that it can be the difference between a good and bad day. That it can make you feel confident on days when you want nothing more than to hide under your duvet. And that it can even alleviate physical symptoms, like pre-menstrual stomach cramps. But I also know that exercising is often easier said than done.
Sure, I’ve interviewed women who manage to exercise even when a war is going on outside their doorstep, or when they’ve lost a leg, and I do hope that sharing their stories might inspire you, but I’m not for one second suggesting that there’s never an excuse for not exercising. I know that now, more than ever, there are barriers in place.
The cost of living crisis may mean that gym memberships, home gym equipment or access to virtual fitness platforms are at the bottom of your priority list, and the s*it show that is the news RN might mean you’re not feeling your brightest. On National Fitness Day 2022, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Team WH are right there with you, and today we’re sharing our own experiences with exercise. We’re not all religious gym-at-5am people, but we have all experienced the benefits of moving our bodies, and we want you to do the same.
Bridie Wilkins, Fitness Editor
‘Exercise and I haven’t always got along. In my early 20s, I became obsessed and would do HIIT classes two or three times a week, along with 5k runs on the other days. I was, to put it lightly, exhausted. I’m still not sure why or how this happened, but ending my relationship and (coincidentally) moving jobs within the same month sparked a shift and helped me turn things around. I ended up moving back in with my mum who did her best to, as gently as she could, comment on how often I was exercising, and it apparently encouraged me to stop.
‘Fast-forward five years and I’ve finally found a balance, but even as a Fitness Editor I don’t always bounce out of bed into my gym kit. In fact, there are days when I’m so tired that I can’t think of anything worse. I adore my job and getting to try all the classes and studios that come with the role, but this, teamed with my daily workload can be a lot. There have been days when I sit staring at my laptop reading the same emails or articles I’m writing over and over, without actually processing any of it because I’m so worn out.
‘This has, luckily, only happened once or twice, and putting exercise on hold for 7-10 days (and eating as much as humanly possible) quickly worked a treat to build my energy back up. So, no, even for me, exercise is definitely not always easy. In fact, one thing I really want you to know is that going too hard with exercise is almost certainly the wrong thing to do. I now aim to (note the use of aim) do reformer Pilates and yoga once a week, and weightlifting twice a week, and this is more than enough.’
Claire Sanderson, Editor-In-Chief
‘I’ve prioritised exercise my entire adult life. If I don’t work out regularly low moods kick in and it has negative ramifications on every other aspect of my being, personally and professional. Fitness, along with eating well, makes me a better mother, wife, manager and friend.
‘I love a mix of strength training and cardio and lately have introduced a lot of LISS (Low Intensity Steady State cardio) into my routine, mostly walking at a fast pace. My all time favourite type of exercise is functional HIIT, when you finish feeling like you’ve got nothing left in the tank. But now that I’m peri menopausal, and I need to reduce the stress levels in my body, that type of training only takes up 20% of my total workout week. I love fitness. Always have. Always will.’
Saima Husain, Women’s Health Collective panellist
‘Despite now being a personal trainer, I have had a few times where I’ve found fitness tough and not an option. In my previous relationship, I was not allowed to visit the gym solo which caused a lot of mental anxiety.
‘Due to the restriction of only being able to train at certain times, I felt out of my depth, I didn’t enjoy training and I lacked a lot of confidence. And when I was able to exercise, my training had no structure and I often picked up injuries. Since then, my relationship has ended and I’ve made fitness a priority, and I’m so grateful for the freedom to be able to exercise daily.’
Nikki Osman, Executive Editor (print)
‘Cementing my rep of total lockdown cliché (there was banana bread, a TRX and an ill-advised pottery kit) is my relationship with running. By March 2020, I’d been a runner for years, ticking off an ever-increasing mileage which culminated in my first (and only) marathon in 2016. But there was always a training plan, a finish line or a PB. I like to think I did it for the love of it, but I’m not sure that’s true.
‘By the time races – and just about everything else – disappeared, running had become a chore. My morning lockdown park plods began as a cry-for-routine, but soon became a non-negotiable. I rarely went further than 5k; if I did, I wouldn’t have known – I never took my Apple Watch. But they marked the start of an altogether healthier relationship with running. I still run most mornings to this day, for the simple reason that not doing it makes me feel weird. As ‘finding your why’ goes, it isn’t a sexy one; nor is it stuff of grid-posts. But it’s just good enough to get me out the door.’
Claudia Canavan, Health Editor
‘The vibe-shifting power of movement, truly, astounds me. Let me give you a story to explain why I say that. In the spring of 2020, as the world shut down, I was at my parent’s house in North Yorkshire, buzzing, like most people, with anxious feelings. My mum had received a life-limiting cancer diagnosis a month earlier; the country had been told that so much as walking with a friend was disallowed and I was at risk of losing my job.
‘One Saturday morning in this gnarly time, I flicked on my laptop for a yoga class on Zoom. About half way through, a deep sense of calm settled over me – one that I hadn’t accessed in weeks. I was reminded that I have a place of still I can come to, even in savage circumstances, simply through negotiating my body through a flow of shapes in time with my inhales and exhales.
‘That’s not the only mood change exercise gives me, of course. Running full pelt on a treadmill blasting D&B takes me from lethargic to fizzing with life. A session with free weights transforms an unsettled frame of mind to a peaceful one. I’m honestly not sure where I would be without fitness, in its various manifestations, and it’s something I am profoundly grateful for.’
Yanar Alkayat, Group Testing Manager: Fitness and Homes
‘Before I started training in CrossFit and Olympic lifting in my mid-30s I’d always been a runner, so my training wasn’t very diverse. It was mainly running and more running. So, when I first learnt how to snatch and move a barbell fast (there’s no better feeling BTW) or learn CrossFit gymnastics, I was like Bambi learning to walk. I was all over the place! These moves were alien to me.
‘A few years of being a beginner as an adult is humbling and not easy but I’m so glad I stuck with it – training is a huge part of my life now. I no longer do CrossFit classes (still love a sweaty WOD though) but I have a remote coach for Olympic lifting, who I train with three times a week. I’ve progressed from being a beginner and now focus on fine-tuning my snatch and clean and jerk lifts, which again, isn’t easy. Some days my technique is off, which can be frustrating, and it takes patience because change takes a while (a long while!).
‘That’s where I think the magic in fitness is, though – finding something I want to master and get better at means I don’t mind putting in the hours, and the hard work is genuinely enjoyable.’
Roisin Dervish O’Kane, Senior Editor
‘I remember when I first mooted giving up ballet to my mum at 14. She was horrified, explaining that the difference between the surly teen she dropped off at 6:30pm and the energised, red-faced and motor-mouthed one she would pick up at 8pm was like night and day.
‘At 31, I’m rarely as unpleasant as my 14-year-old self. But the impact of movement on my mood remains unchanged. It’s the best tool I have to shift out of whatever whirlwind is whirring in my mind. My commitment to a schedule needs work and the inevitable hiatuses arising from low energy and a discipline deficit mean it takes a lot of energy to ‘get back into’ running or a gym routine – but I’ll slip into the back of yoga class with ease. I’m working on finding my formula.’
Amanda Ngonyama, Women’s Health Collective panellist
‘Since fitness became my full-time job, I’ve realised that it’s more than just the exercise we do in the gym. If our mental health is off, there’s no way we can command our body to do what we tell it, but it’s fitness that helps us develop resilience that transfers to our everyday life.
‘A few months ago, I noticed that my motivation had dropped off and my performance was suffering as a result. I was moving less. I felt heavier, sluggish, and I had to question why that was.
‘I decided I was too comfortable. People get bored after a 6 week programme – imagine what 14 years of training the same way looks like. I needed a complete change. Body recomposition. Something new that would challenge me after all these years. The best thing about fitness is that it’s a journey. You’re never going to be “done”, and it’s normal to experience peaks and troughs.
‘I changed my training schedule and just by making a slight adjustment in my nutrition choices, I now feel more agile, faster and more powerful. There are going to be days where you don’t feel like exercising, but think about why that is and what you may be able to do to change your outlook. Is it getting an extra push from a friend? Is it making a change in your routine or diet? Or is it just taking a step back and resetting your brain and body? Either way, reflection is great to keep you accountable and on track to reaching your goals, even after 14 years.’
Emma Gritt, Acting Executive Editor (digital)
‘Since a life-changing ankle dislocation in 2014, my relationship with exercise – and movement in general – has changed.
‘After major surgery to implant plates and screws to hold my shattered fibia and tibia together, surgeons predicted that I would never regain full movement in my foot and I would need to rely on a cane to walk. Thankfully they were wrong on both counts, but I am in moderate pain most days. I’ve since discovered that I have a deformed patella, so I can’t just throw myself in to any old activity as my knee might dislocate too!
‘I was training for a triathlon before I broke my ankle, but now I purposely stick to low-impact exercise like swimming, cycling, Pilates, walking, boxing, and I have signed up for tennis lessons. I have to respect my body’s limits which can be frustrating, but I try to stay grateful for what it *can* do, and have fun at the same time.’
Georgie Lane-Godfrey, Features Director and Membership Content Editor
‘Until about two years ago, I always saw exercise as a chore. It was something I did because I felt I had to – I had to get fit to make the team, I had to get ready for a charity race, I had to lose weight after a blow-out holiday. It was only once I gave birth to my daughter, and a postpartum medical issue left me unable to exercise for 18 months, causing my mental health to decline, that I began to reassess this.
‘For the first time in my life, I was desperate to exercise; to do a hardcore HIIT session, to take a sweaty spin class, to go for a run with my dog. Exercise was a privilege I’d taken for granted.
‘Now that I’m finally able to get active again, I understand that it was the key to helping me feel like my old self both mentally and physically, and so I appreciate my fitness so much more.’
Jess Bantleman, Social Media Manager
‘My stance on working out has changed massively in my twenties. In my teen years, I would focus too much on HIIT and cardio, which was putting my body into too much stress as someone with PCOS. So now, I focus on moving for strength and enjoyment. I’ve found a love for Pilates which helps keep my cortisol levels balanced, while still giving me the intense workout that I want. I also love cycling, and prioritise going out for a bike ride every day.
‘The fresh air and the freedom it gives me is always a mood booster and can get me in a happy headspace almost immediately. I’ve also discovered the importance of being active with friends and family and incorporating movement into your lifestyle, rather than making it the sole focus. So whether it’s going on a dog walk or a game of rounders with friends in the park, exercise doesn’t have to be a solo activity for it to be beneficial. For me, movement has to be enjoyable for it to be sustainable.’
Amelia Bell, Acting Beauty Editor
‘Until recently, I had avoided exercise classes at all costs. I loved to run – but an hour-long HIIT class? No thanks. Then, one reformer Pilates workout shifted my mindset completely. Not only did it challenge my body physically, making me feel stronger after just a few sessions, but exercising in a group was actually… fun. Away from the judgement I had long feared, there was a sense of teamwork, achieving something together in a collaborative space.
‘I began to look forward to seeing the same faces every week. Since then, I’ve started barre classes, power flow and yin yoga – it’s clear that incorporating different forms of exercise into my routine is helping me on a mental level (a calmer mindset being the main one), but another benefit I hadn’t seen coming was the collective gains of group workouts. I’m a class convert now…’