Stop! Look, listen, smell

We all have a huge playground just waiting for us outside the house. Depending on the season and where in the world you live, there is just so much to see, hear, smell. But so often we all get caught up in our day to day life and forget to just look.

How is this about being more active, Emily? Well, sometimes it isn’t all about moving. Sometimes it’s about putting your mental health on a par with your physical health. Going outside and being in nature does wonders for mental health. (Quick disclaimer, at this point I’m talking about mild to moderate anxiety, stress and depression; I’m not purporting to cure all mental health illnesses).

When you really lose yourself in the world around you it is very hard to stay wound up and worried about the hustle and bustle. If you stop and watch a bird, or walk through autumn leaves kicking and laughing, or smell the scent of fresh flowers, in that brief moment you have no choice but to be present. And once you’re present, the worries and stresses of life can’t get a look in.

Of course we can’t go through life being present all the time, for one we’d have no ability to plan ahead or look back; however, finding your safe place outdoors where you can stop, be still, be calm and just let nature embrace you is a very powerful thing.

Try it. Take a photo of your place, and share it in my Embracing Fitness community on Facebook.

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What did you enjoy as a child?

As we get older, we can very easily become fixated on this idea that fitness has to be hard work. It has to take place in a gym or other confined space, it has to have a purpose. And as such, it can seem a pretty daunting prospect. What if I don’t enjoy it? What if I’m no good? What if… What if… What if…

How about we look at it from a different angle? When you were little, I will hazard a guess you played outside a lot. You rushed about the place. You created games that were full of physical activity. Maybe you loved playing Tag or Kiss Chase, perhaps you were more of a pretend horses type, you could have chosen handstands and cartwheels. Whichever you spent hours of play time doing, I’ll guarantee you now that if you go and try it you’ll realise how exhausting it is!

When we’re little we don’t worry about being fit or not, we just do what is fun. How about we bring that attitude into adult life? How about we step away from fitness plans and gyms and we just do what we enjoy?

I bet if you were to make a list of all the active passtimes you enjoyed as a child you’d find some sort of common theme that you could extricate and use as an adult in your activity.

For me, I have great memories of loving hanging upside down on those rings in the park and playing on the monkey bars. Can I do that now? Not a chance! But I’m working on it. I’m working on getting stronger so I can do that sort of thing again, because I loved it.

As a child I didn’t love running. Not one bit. I have clear memories of school cross country. Pure hell. It took me until my mid 30s to give running a chance. And, yep, I’m still pretty rubbish at it. The difference now is that I enjoy the feeling of getting outdoors and filling my lungs, and I’m never competing against anyone else. Also there’s never a PE teacher shouting at me!

So, look to what you loved as a child, but don’t write off everything you hated – establish WHY you hated it, and remove that aspect (the PE teacher is pretty easy to remove as an adult!).

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Will I lose weight?

Anyone who knows me, or who has read much of my blog, will know I am not a supporter of diets (because they are short term, involve depriving yourself and ultimately fail, in case you wanted to know!). To this end it surprises me when nearly every client who signs up with me tells me exactly how much weight they “need” to lose.

I have to admit this chase for some perfect number on the scales baffles me somewhat, but that’s not the point right now. The point is will you lose weight if you exercise more?

Well, maybe. Yep the answer is that wishy washy, I’m afraid.

If you exercise your body will likely use food more effectively, which can lead to weight loss. Exercising uses extra calories, which can lead to weight loss. Moving more can bring about better food choices, which can lead to weight loss.

But does exercise = weight loss? No, ‘fraid not.

And does this matter? No, it absolutely doesn’t.

Exercise does has so many benefits above and beyond the number on the scale:

  • Increased energy
  • Improved mood
  • Better sleep
  • Better muscle tone
  • Change of body shape
  • Improved concentration
  • Lower stress
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Increased confidence
  • Improved body image

And the list goes on. Diet alone won’t give you all that. Exercise alone won’t give you guaranteed weight loss.

Personally I have only once in my life lost weight only by exercising more. And that was when I was working as a ski rep so I was skiing 4-6 hours a day 4-5 times a week. I ate whatever I wanted. I drank a lot of beer. I lost weight. I have no idea how much, because I didn’t see a set of scales in over 6 months, all I know is I needed new clothes!!

Conversely, I have put on weight while training 12+ hours a week for a long distance triathlon. Why? Because I would rather eat when my body needs fuel and I would rather be strong than skinny.

So what’s my point? Well, if your ONLY reason for exercising more is to lose weight, I’m afraid I have to be the bearer of bad tidings. However, if you want your chance at the things listed in the bullet points above, get moving. Get jumping around. Dance to your favourite song. Go for a long walk. Play on the swings. Anything that gets you moving and feeling good. Go for it!

Join my Embracing Fitness community on Facebook for more hints and tips.

The danger of the comfort zone

Comfort zones. They’re there to keep us safe. Our mind wants to protect us from injury and death, and the comfort zone is where the mind is happy because we’re wrapped in metaphorical bubble wrap. Unfortunately, nothing great comes from the comfort zone.

Think about it, did any of the great explorers let their mind get in the way when heading off into unchartered territories? No. I bet they still had concerns and bad days, but they wouldn’t let those stop them.

And how about top sports people? They know they can fail. They know their mind is what stands between them and success (they’ve done the physical training, their coach is happy they’ve got it) – what do they do? Work with sports psychologists to make sure the comfort zone gremlin doesn’t stop them.

So, where’s your “safe”? Does your comfort zone keep you on the sofa? Does it keep you doing the same routines every day, week, month? Does the gremlin not like the idea of you changing and getting stronger and bolder? The gremlin tends not to like that.

My personal gremlin likes to remind me from time to time that I am a non-sporty, I wasn’t in the school teams, why do I think I can be a PT and advise other people on being active. My gremlin has been SHOUTED at on long bike rides (never when other people have been around to witness my unique levels of crazy!). My gremlin keeps me constantly looking for the next activity I can do, so I can prove it wrong.

This drive to get away from the comfort zone has seen me sign up to triathlons and other challenges that scare me. It’s also seen me work in different countries and take on projects others might not. Currently the gremlin is trying to work out how to tell me I can’t do weight lifting.  So far it hasn’t managed to find a way to keep me “safe”, but I’m sure it’ll try! It always does.

Your comfort zone escape doesn’t need to be as extreme. It might be a few small changes in your daily routine so that moving and being active become part of life. And once they’re part of life, who knows what might be on the horizon… Dare to think big…. Go on.

Drop me a reply below with what your gremlin wants to stop you doing, and what you’re doing to overcome it. And let me know what you’d love to do if you dared think big…

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ExerSIZE

“Oh I’ll start exercising when I’ve lost weight”, “well you don’t see anyone my size in the gym”, “lycra is only for the skinny girls”… and so many other thoughts can help to keep larger ladies away from moving more. I understand – I have been the fat lass at the back on bike rides enough times to know it can feel pretty alienating.

However, what if these thoughts are just the demon voice telling you what you want to hear? What if you could start moving more TODAY whatever size you are?

At the weekend I went to watch a good friend play rugby. The girls on both teams were a range of shapes and sizes, from the tall skinny ones who charge forward when they get the ball to the shorter stockier ones who are there to prevent the tall skinny ones from scoring. Everyone has their place. Everyone is as necessary to the team as everyone else. BECAUSE of their size, not despite it.

Then on Monday I was chatting to my PT about power lifting – she is getting me lifting crazy heavy weights that I would never have dreamt possible – and she told me about a competition she was in where she couldn’t lift as heavy as she used to because she had lost weight. She needed those extra few pounds to be at her strongest.

Granted there are many sports where having very low body fat is the key to being at the top of your game, and granted the pros will generally be slim, but in amateur sport? No such bias is necessary. Find the activity that suits you, work out if you’d like to try a team sport or if you’d rather go solo and head out for a walk or dance around your kitchen to your favourite songs, and go for it. Go for it today. No more internal excuses relating to your size.

Remember: yes, your size can be your strength. No, you don’t need to lose weight to be able to move more. Yes, there is always something that is right for you. No, you don’t need to hang out in a gym and be intimidated by the “beautiful people” (many of whom, incidentally are just as self conscious as everyone else – the ones who don’t look beautiful when they’re exercising are the ones who are doing it right!).

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The mystery of the missing mojo

Where does motivation go? I mean we have all had those amazing weeks/months at the start of a new “healthy living” kick when we’re on it. We’re sharing all these amazing posts about cycling to work and drinking loads of water and saying no to cake. People compliment us on our achievements and so we carry on for a while longer (at this point I won’t address the frustrating habit people have of only complimenting us on looks, not on other achievements, that’s for another day).

Then something changes. Maybe the restrictions of our “healthy living” start to feel too tight. Maybe we get a cold. Maybe work, life, something else gets in the way, and suddenly it’s been weeks since we last saw our trainers.

How do we find the missing mojo when it’s gone AWOL?

Well, there are two things to address here, I think.

First up is this “healthy living” ideal.

“Healthy living” seems to have become a new synonym for diet. Diets don’t last. They fail. That is their job. They help you lose weight in the short term, and then they fail because they are time limited. Unfortunately “healthy living” seems to have become the new name for diet. But, Emily, healthy living sounds so positive? How can you say it’s just another diet? Well, it’s still full of restriction and guilt. The cornerstones of any diet. If you find yourself saying “oh no, I can’t have that slice of cake, I’m being healthy” YOU ARE STILL RESTRICTING. If you find yourself saying “I don’t fancy any cake at the moment because I’m not hungry” you’re actually listening to your body. Meaning you aren’t dieting, or “healthy living”, you’re living.

Now don’t get me wrong, getting to the point of understanding exactly what your body wants AND then providing it, can take a long time. We have any number of ingrained habits and beliefs that can easily get in the way. We can look at intuitive eating and its benefits another time, but for now, if you’re swapping one set of diet language for another, please don’t. Your motivation doesn’t live in a pile of kale any more than it does in a Muller Light.

Secondly, the exercise mojo.

You have been jumping around to an exercise DVD every morning for 2 weeks and trying to cram in a walk every lunchtime. After doing nothing for months. By the end of the 2 weeks you’re exhausted. It’s too much. And the guilt cycle starts again. “Oh I can’t get more active, I tried but I was too tired”, “oh I don’t have the discipline to keep up my exercise regime”. Hang on a sec. This sounds just like the diet language but in exercise form.

MOTIVATION DOES NOT LIVE WITH DENIAL. That’s the biggie here. Motivation comes from a place of happiness and wanting to achieve. Denial comes from a place of misery and wanting to change from some perceived “bad” thing. Going back to the diet mentality – you deny yourself because you believe you need to be thinner and that your current self is “bad”. And on the exercise front – you deny yourself any self love, choosing instead to slog your guts out in an act of self hatred.

OK, so where is motivation? It’s in listening to your body, in doing what is right for you right now, in striving for the best, happiest YOU, not the media version of some soulless perfection.

Thanks Emily, I’ll just stay on the sofa with some chocolate in that case, cos I don’t want to deny myself this Netflix series.

Well, OK, if you’re knackered and you need to recharge your batteries, do have as much rest as you need. But… if you’re feeling ready to start moving but just can’t quite find the oomph to get out of the door or put on your exercise gear, why not catch yourself unawares – dance along to a favourite song, play on the swings in the park, go for a long walk. In doing whatever you decide, be aware of what in that activity is making you feel awesome. Is it the fact that you’re singing and dancing? Is it that you’re embracing your inner child? Is it that you’re in nature? Remember this awesome. This awesome is your motivation. This awesome is the thing that feeds your soul and makes moving more make you feel better.

Everyone’s awesome is different. I love running (very slowly) with my friend and our dogs. We chat and put the world to rights. The running is almost secondary to the “therapy”. It’s all about putting me first, not denying myself anything. I love skiing (why do I live in Norfolk?!), because it’s about being in stunning scenary while getting my legs and lungs working.

What’s your awesome? I’d love to know in the comments.

Want more ideas on how to move more without needing lycra or gyms? Come and join my Embracing Fitness Community on Facebook.

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