It’s the season of health self-assessment – be a little easy on yourself.
You may find yourself this January – like me – having expanded during the Christmas season. Picking up your roomy items of clothing, because you know that the button on your favourite jeans might pop open at an inopportune moment. Such as breathing out.
You look around you, at the newspapers, at media ads, at articles spawning everywhere that are proclaiming new exercise regimes, shiny new exercise kit, uber-abs, flat stomachs. Great big signals that the world wants you to buy into the Instagram lifestyle of the fit and the fabulous. It’s loud, it’s bright. It’s the route of the damned.
I’m going to say straight up here that there is nothing wrong in wanting to be fitter, leaner, faster, stronger. These are good goals. But let’s focus on one thing – being healthier in the round. Physically and mentally, for yourself.
Ask yourself where you are starting from, and what an appropriate goal for you (no one else) would be. You might be like me and have an underlying health condition that limits your ability to exercise. My condition rules out activities such as running and swimming. My cardiologist recommended Pilates, but Pilates tutors wouldn’t touch me within an inch of their insurance. One suggested I see a physiotherapist for advice.
I found a physio who understood my condition (Postural Tachycardia Syndrome). She assessed me tip to toe, and for three months has been building me up into a tailored Pilates based routine to strengthen my cardio-vascular system from the feet upwards. And the benefits have been remarkable. It doesn’t make me thinner, but my symptoms and general wellbeing have improved greatly, not least because I feel I have regained some control.
Here are a few suggestions to help you think about where you might start.
- Define your own terms. We all have different starting points, different goals and limits. Remember you are an individual, and play to your own strengths. It’s worth remembering that you don’t know what other peoples’ starting points are, or what their stresses include. Never compare yourself.
- Find an interest to tie exercise to. A lovely example of this is Emma Mitchell’s photography and nature writing, which she developed from taking up walking to help alleviate depression, seeking out a spectrum of colour. Maybe incorporate a walk into your lunch break or weekend routine to shake you out of the everyday, and look for your own colour.
- You don’t need expensive kit or the latest exercise clothing to start your own routine. My home exercise expense included a yoga ball and mat for £25. Two water bottles act as arm weights. I can do my routine in my pants. However, I have invested in good footwear for my goal of 10,000 steps a day.
- What can be worth paying for is good advice. I see my physio once a month to tweak my routine. If you can’t afford this, then you could see your doctor to talk through any concerns you might have about starting exercise, and take their advice. If you are over 40 you are entitled to a free NHS health check for free (cholesterol, BMI, blood pressure etc). It’s worth taking – mine led to diagnosis two years after first becoming ill.
- Create a routine for yourself – but don’t be a slave to it. Life happens. If you overthink it, it can become a burden, and one missed day becomes a week then longer. Strike a line through that day and start again.
- Same with food. Adopt a healthier diet by all means, cut down on sugar and alcohol if appropriate. But if you want to indulge on occasion, then enjoy it. A world without cake would be a sad world indeed.
Finally, think of living a little healthier as an investment in yourself. Make it a concept to work towards, rather than a doctrine. Find what you enjoy, be it trying out the NHS Couch to 5k programme, or walking 5,000 steps in your lunchbreak listening to your favourite podcast.
Step out, have a little fun. But most of all be kind to yourself.
And thank you for reading.
Find the Couch to 5k programme at https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/couch-to-5k-week-by-week/
Follow Emma Mitchell’s beautiful nature journeys on Twitter at https://twitter.com/silverpebble