I blame Enid Blyton…

If you had asked me when I was younger if I ever thought I’d be working in the fitness industry I’d have laughed at you. I have always firmly believed myself to be a “non-sporty”, someone who doesn’t have any right to be enjoying being fit and active. So, of course I wouldn’t work in the fitness industry.

Why the belief? Well, I went to boarding school from the age of 8-18, and at the two schools I attended in those years, there was a strong emphasis on team sports. I can now see that I’m simply not a team sports person. I can’t catch, I can’t throw, I have no hand eye coordination. These are plain facts. My partner laughs when I pick up a ball to throw for the dogs!

Throughout all this time I have always skied. I have always enjoyed walking dogs. I have actually been pretty active, but the lack of team sports still made me think I was a “non-sporty”. And of course I always compared up the line, not down the line. Of course everyone more active than you is doing more. Of course they’re fitter. But if I just turn around and look the other way, I can see that there are way more people who are less active than me. It’s human nature to compare yourself to the people better than you, though, I guess.

So when did I start to believe I could be fitter and more active? It was when I discovered triathlon. Now, I’m the first to appreciate that swimming in a lake, then cycling and then running is absolutely not for everyone; but for me it finally gave me a sport that didn’t involve letting people down by not being able to catch, being the weak link because you can’t get there quickly enough, and so on. And for the most part in the triathlon world people are supportive of you being there, showing up at the start line; rather than expecting miracles from you. It certainly suited me.

The point of this? Well, for everyone there’s that thing that is right for them. It might be zumba, it might be hiking, it might be playing on the swings. It simply doesn’t matter – it’s what YOU enjoy and gets YOU moving.

And Enid Blyton? Why on earth is it her fault? Well, she portrayed boarding school as being just SOOO much fun, so when the opportunity to attend one presented itself to 7 year old me, of course I leapt at the chance. (And in case you are wondering, no it isn’t all midnight feasts and jolly hockey sticks – it’s just school, but with rubbish food!!!)

 

For support finding your *thing* and getting more active, come and join my Embracing Fitness Community on Facebook.

Exercise for YOUR lifestyle

I love working with people who think the fitness industry isn’t for them. Using my experience as someone who has been hugely unfit to help them, as opposed to being someone who has always been super active. Because of this all too often when a client finds their way to me, I discover that in previous interactions with the fitness industry they have been given a one size fits all sort of programme, one that didn’t take THEM into account.

For example, one lady in her late 50s had told the guy at the gym that she had weak shoulders, and that really she wanted to work on overall fitness and balance rather than anything specific to her arms and upper body. In her programme? Chin ups. Right.

Another lady in her 30s wanted to feel better in herself and find day to day tasks easier. Her programme? Mountain climbers and burpees. OK.

Someone else wanted to regain confidence after various knocks. Her plan? Focus on weight loss and feel a failure whenever the number wasn’t right.

Now, I am absolutely NOT slating my fellow fitness industry people. What I am saying is that we are taught throughout the qualifications to come at everything from the fitness world not from the real world. And for anyone who has inhabited the fitness world all their life (most PTs are life-long “sporty-types” in my experience) there isn’t necessarily a difference between the fitness world and  the real world. Whereas for anyone who is just dipping their toe into getting more active there can be a vast gaping chasm.

So for each of the people above? Client A we did a plan that focused on strengthening her legs (she was worried about her knees getting weaker) alongside general fitness in the form of walking and swimming.

Client B we looked at what tasks she actually wants to make easier. Once we had that list together, I was able to suggest exercises that specifically target the muscle groups that are required.

With client C we have removed scales and numbers from any conversations, we focus on confidence and how she feels.

The point of this post? Think about what YOU want from being more active. How will it make YOUR life better. What do YOU want to be able to do? And don’t worry about all the “sporty types” – they’re doing what they want to do and what makes their life better.

Come over to my Embracing Fitness Community on Facebook for more support.

Fun fun fun

“I hate exercise, it’s boring”

“How can anyone bear to go to the gym?”

“But it takes such a long time”

“I can’t stand being in a group exercise class”

“Exercise just isn’t for me”

I’ve heard all these. I’ve said quite a few myself! But *ta dah* exercise can be fun. It isn’t all treadmills and weights, group classes and lycra. It isn’t just the formal workouts included in magazines. It’s so many other fun things that as adults we find we’ve consigned to the “things I did when I was little” basket. How about resurrecting some of those? How about we redefine exercise as “moving your body while laughing out loud”? Or “getting healthier while getting happier”?

Mmmkay. What do you suggest Emily?

Well… I suggest thinking back to what you enjoyed as a child. Did you love doing cartwheels? Go and try again now. Did you love wheelbarrow races? Find a buddy to wheelbarrow with. Were you always climbing trees? Have a look around your local park for something suitable to clamber up.

Don’t want to try childhood things? OK. I defy you to play air guitar to your favourite rock track without a) getting a sweat on and b) cheering up immensely.

Yes, these are all ways to have FUN while you exercise. No gyms, no lycra.

Come over to my Embracing Fitness Community on Facebook for more fun ideas.

Habits

As with so many things, exercising regularly can seem a big ask when it’s not a habit. However, it can be quite straightforward to make some little changes to incorporate more moving into life.

When I start working with new clients, we tend to look at what their average week looks like and what chores and fun stuff they do when. Once we’ve looked at that, we can find ways to incorporate getting more active.

Some examples would be:

Use a basket rather than a trolley in the supermarket (unless you’re doing a big weekly shop, obviously)

Take the stairs rather than the lift at work or out and about

Do short bursts of exercise while the kettle boils

Start to see day to day items as exercise equipment (cans of beans as weights, for example)

Sit down more slowly onto your chair – those leg muscles will tell you about it if you go slowly enough

During an advert break, do 10 star jumps

 

None of this needs specialist stuff. None of this needs a gym. None of this is big and unachievable. All of this, once it becomes a habit, is moving you further away from being inactive.

Small changes lead to big results.

Come over to my Embracing Fitness Community on Facebook for more tips and hints

Where to start?

When we’re stuck in a sedentary lifestyle, but know we’d like to start moving more, it can be incredibly difficult to know where to start. I mean, there’s the gym, there are classes, there’s the local running club, there’s any number of personal trainers. How do you choose? And what if all those options feel just too daunting. I mean, what if you feel like you’re going to be the least fit person there by a mile, and that everyone’s going to be laughing at you? What if you feel that your size means people will think you shouldn’t be in those places? What if you know that right now an hour of activity is going to be way too much? What if you simply don’t have the time in the day to go somewhere, do the fitness stuff, and then come home? What if, quite frankly, you have no interest in doing any of those things and you’d much rather start on your own terms?

So, where do you start? Start with something. It actually doesn’t matter what you start with, what matters is that you start. You  might choose to start with a 10 minute walk in your lunch break. You might choose to start by taking the stairs rather than the lift. You might choose to start by doing some bicep curls with tins of beans while the kettle is boiling. Then the next day, you might find that the sky didn’t fall on your head, and that you can do that thing again.

Fast forward a few weeks and the stairs are a bit easier, the shopping doesn’t feel quite as heavy, you notice you can walk further. Hang on. You’ve just got a bit fitter. You didn’t need any specialist equipment. Nobody watched you. Your size didn’t get in the way. And maybe, just maybe, you’re feeling a bit better in yourself. Maybe just maybe people are commenting that you look better. Maybe just maybe your clothes are fitting a bit more comfortably.

All that, just because you had the courage to start.

If you want support getting started, join my Embracing Fitness Community on Facebook. I’ve got your back on this one.

Moving for mental health

As it’s Mental Heath Awareness Week, I thought it was a good moment to write about how being active can have a huge impact on mental health.

Before I go any further, I must point out that I absolutely understand how frustrating it is when someone blithely says “oh, exercise will help you feel better” or words to that effect. If you’re in the depths of a bout of depression, or at the height of a stress wave someone saying that probably prompts a pretty strong “punch repeatedly in the face” reaction in you, but please bear with me.

It is, however, widely acknowledged that getting more active can help manage the symptoms of some mental illnesses. Sufferers of stress, depression and anxiety can often find solace in exercise. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins, which make us feel good about life; when exercising, one is generally focusing on what to do now and next so there is less space to worry; if you exercise outdoors, the mindful aspect of absorbing nature can also help.

All this still sounds pretty simplistic – get moving and you’ll feel better. Of course it’s not as simple as that, but just as seeing a good friend can help lift the symptoms for a time, so can exercise. Better yet if you can get active with a friend who understands and will let you chat. The simple act of moving forwards side by side, and chatting, rather than trying to talk while face to face can remove some of the reservations about saying what you feel. If you overhear some of the conversations that occur in running and cycling clubs, you’d know what I mean (quite blush-worthy sometimes!).

Give it a try. Don’t ditch the medication – it is definitely doing a job, but try being a bit more active. If work is stressful, try a 10 minute walk when you get home. If you suffer with depression, try getting outdoors and being active. If it’s anxiety, put on your favourite song and have a dance around the kitchen. And let me know how you get on. I’m rooting for you.

The right activity at the right time

This week I am doing a course. It’s the GP referral course which will allow me to work with people with various medical conditions, and is also the gateway to several further courses that I want to do. It’s 4 days of pretty full on learning, and so far seems really useful.

However, it’s got me thinking about exercise guidelines vs personal capability. Over the last couple of years, for whatever reasons, my body has spent a lot too much time in the fight or flight mode, and as such I’ve been “stressed” (intentionally in inverted commas – I haven’t felt stressed, not in the way you do when there’s a deadline to meet, or a million things vying for your attention) for much of that time. Funnily enough existing like this takes its toll eventually, and right now I find myself in a sort of chronic fatigue type situation. If I plan ahead, I can find energy for what I need to do, but that’s all. This week, for example, I am finding the energy for this course but it will be at the expense of next weekend, when I will likely collapse; I spent much of last week gearing myself up for it, too.

Enough of the pity party, Emily, what’s the point?

OK, sorry! The point is on this course we are told the guideline amounts of exercise for people with various different conditions. Many of these conditions are attributed to sedentary lifestyles, among other things, so it makes very good sense that moving more will help. However, the guidelines seem to state that for each one ideally the person should be doing some sort of cardio exercise 3-5 times a week for 30 minutes (there are variations on this theme – I’m not for a second suggesting the guidelines are exactly the same for every condition).

Now, from my new position of understanding what it is too need to eek out your energy, and from having been told that cardio exercise is one of the big stressors for my body, I am finding this all very interesting. Yes, I absolutely agree that we all should be moving more. Yes, I 100% on board that my role is to encourage people to get more active.

What I am taking from these guidelines each time we get to that slide for a new condition is that getting active is the key here. It isn’t going and training for a 5k, a half marathon, a triathlon, whatever; it is moving more. For anyone with any of the conditions we are studying being more active WILL HELP. For me currently, being active HELPS, it’s just a different level of active to previously.

I’m really excited to learn more and to see how I can couple this learning with my experience to better support people who are inactive to take those first steps, to find their “thing”. We all have a thing. At the moment mine is walking. I walk with the dogs, I take in the sights and sounds of nature. I used to run to achieve the same, but not for now.

If you’re reading this wondering if maybe just maybe there’s an activity you could try that you just might enjoy, let me help you find it.

Right, I’m off for a snooze before today’s learning…

Leaving the diet culture behind

I have been chatting to a lot of people recently about exactly what they’d like from me when they sign up to get more active. Weight loss comes up time and time again. Initially that really saddened me, because I always want to help people feel comfortable in their own skin and strive to be the best version of them. I felt that this desire to lose weight showed that my clients were unhappy as they are now and were looking for yet another diet.

Then I had a really honest conversation with a friend, who I believe is typical of so many people. She wants to lose weight to be healthier. She worries about specific health issues that are related to her weight being higher than ideal. What she doesn’t want is yet another diet, yet more guilt, yet more chasing her tail. However, and this was the “aha” moment for me, she doesn’t want to “love the skin she’s in”, she doesn’t want to do the body confidence/boudoir photos thing, because actually she still won’t be healthy.

Interesting, I thought. I had been seeing the term weight loss as synonymous with dieting, when actually it needn’t be. Perhaps rather than looking at the diet options that are out there we can dig deeper into our relationship with food. I know I am absolutely an emotional eater. I know I don’t have it nailed on. I do, however, know that I am comfortable in my own skin and am fit and healthy.

Because of this, I feel I am better equipped than some in the fitness industry to help people who over eat, or eat food that doesn’t support their health – I get it. I totally understand the link between boredom and reaching for chocolate; having a crazy busy day and wanting a “reward”.  I am not a nutritionist or a dietician, and as such I would never dream of offering advice beyond my remit, but I have tried most of the diets, I have walked the walk. I have learnt what little swaps really do make a difference, so you aren’t depriving yourself or counting every last calorie. I have worked out how to have a more normal relationship with food, and how to couple that with being more active. It’s pretty cool!

Food: good vs bad

The topic of what food is “good” and what is “bad” seems to come up with alarming regularity. I all too often see people who have had it ingrained into them by the diet culture, previous PTs, the media, etc that some foods are “good” and others are “bad”. I hate this. I genuinely hate this.

Yes, there are foods that support our health more than others. Yes, there are foods that fuel us better for work, exercise, life. Yes, there are foods that, if eaten 100% of the time would do us more harm than good. But can we say any one of these is “good” or “bad”? If you stuck to the different food stories in the media over the months and years, you’d never eat anything. Everything seems to have been demonised at some point. I remember red peppers being a bad thing some years ago; bananas have their phases; red meat, white meat, fish, chocolate, red wine, white wine. Aarrrgh!

I am not for a second saying we should ignore the five (or more) a day idea; I’m not suggesting we all live off pizza and chocolate. No. Not for a second. To suggest that would be to go against what supports our health, and fuels our body to do what we require of it.

What I am getting at is that we can change our language around food. Rather than good vs bad, healthy vs unhealthy, why not look at it as food. I know my clients are intelligent. I know they know what foods will support their health. I know they get tempted by “yummies” – don’t we all? The huge thing here is to remove the “bad” label from the latter. So long as it’s forbidden, we will crave it. We will want to rebel against ourselves and have another slice of cake while nobody’s looking. And hey, if nobody saw it we don’t need to acknowledge it happened, right?

I am often asked by clients to review their food diary. More than happy to. Will I then produce a calorie-counted meal plan? No. I’ll look at what times of day they are eating and aren’t eating. Skipping breakfast can lead to grabbing extra food later, because of an energy slump; a mid afternoon slice of cake can show lunch wasn’t balanced enough. Also, I like to look at WHY someone is eating. Is it habit? Is it comfort? Is it stress? Is it actual hunger?

Once we get to the bottom of why someone is eating what they’re eating when they’re eating it we stand a much better chance of making little changes that will bring big results. No diets, no meal plans, just little changes.

And with those little changes comes the acceptance that food doesn’t fall in to “good” and “bad” lists. It is all just food. Some will make you feel better, some will make you feel worse. Take away the emotion and the guilt from it, and you’ll be much more likely to reach for the things that make you feel better, safe in the knowledge the “yummies” are still there, still available for you, never off limits.

Sound good? I’m always happy to have a Skype chat to see if I can help you get more active and get a more happy relationship with food.

Language we use

I hope I’m not alone in having my external language – you know, how you speak to friends and family, the nice, censored version of stuff, the one that filters the appropriateness of what you’re saying most of the time to the situation you’re in, so you don’t start screeching at the little old lady in Sainsburys; and my internal language – you know, the one that has a very different filter as all the good stuff seems to get fined out, leaving just the negative versions of any story.

In our external language we tend to find a nice way to say things. We worry that we might offend with a poor choice of words. We sometimes walk on eggshells to avoid upsetting others.

Internal language? None of that. We beat ourselves with the worst of it. “You’re a failure”, “you’ll never achieve that”, “why even start?”. Would you EVER say these things to your friends? Almost certainly not.

OK, so we know we can speak nicely. We do it externally every day. So the next step is to start speaking nicely internally as well as externally. Rather than always going to the negative, start looking to find positives. Think about how you’re phrasing things. For example, “you’re a failure” can become “that didn’t work out quite as I planned, but I can learn from it”; “why even start?” can become “give it a try, it’ll be fun”; and so on.

What I find interesting is when internal and external language sort of meet up. I hear it a lot “I should get fitter”, “I should lose weight”. Should is a failure term – it’s using someone else’s external language to justify our internal failure. How about “I want to get fitter”, “I am going to lose weight”? Suddenly they sound so much more positive, so much more achievable.

Have a listen to what your internal language usage is. See if you can play around with it. See how much better you feel when you start using the positive language internally… Go on… Try it…