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The Queen of good intentions

At the beginning of lockdown I was really starting to enjoy exercise for the first time in my life. I even referred to it in my first lockdown blog titled “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste”. But about three days after publishing that blog, our two year old stopped sleeping; he dropped his afternoon nap and he was regularly up every few hours in the night. I was exhausted.

My daily walk was replaced with a morning snack (or breakfast number two as I liked to call it!) and slowly but surely, my old habits crept back in.

I’m the queen of good intentions; I plan ahead, meal prep and make promises to myself every night that I'll be good tomorrow etc etc. But at 5am after a broken night of sleep the only thing I’m interested in is a mocha and toast with peanut butter and jam. To some of you that might not sound too bad, but you haven’t seen how much peanut butter I put on my toast!

I know I’m not the only one. So many people I’ve spoken to during lockdown have been struggling to find the time, energy, or interest in their usual fitness routines. Some are missing the gym at work, while others have no free time due to lack of childcare. The past four months have had a polarising effect on people – although there are a million new runners in the UK and a lot of people are going for more walks, the data coming in suggests that rest of the time, people are actually more sedentary than before.

Breaking point

My personal breaking point came last week when I had to film myself for one of our social media update videos. I couldn’t look at myself on the screen and I had a full-on meltdown (with tears).

I’ve realised that I self-sabotage myself in a lot of ways - it’s almost like a self defence thing. I know I’ll have off days, or a night when William is up a lot, and then I criticise myself for having no energy (often consoling myself with a whole tub of ice cream). So, I just don’t do anything. Not a healthy way to live, at all.

My natural instinct was to sign up to some “lose weight quick” plan – a pill, a shake or a tea. Although these things had worked for me in the past it was all short term and I’d end up piling the weight back on, feeling awful about myself and the whole cycle would start again. I know so many people who, like me, started off lockdown thinking it would be a great time to get fit, lose those extra pounds and start a new fitness regime. Daily Joe Wicks in the first few weeks? Tick! Guess how many of us managed to stick to it? Yup…not one.

Andrew is the polar opposite to me in this respect. Exercise is so much a part of who he is now, that it’s not even a conscious decision. He didn’t used to be like this though, so I guess that gives me hope that it’s a learned behaviour.

I know that to become truly healthy I need to overhaul my lifestyle; not only to lose weight but to live a longer, healthier, and happier life.

Cue Personal Trainer Steve Bonthrone

Steve’s whole ethos focusses on how we feel rather than simply how we look, and he encourages people to weave movement into their daily routines. He speaks openly on social media about his off days and rather than spout the usual “dust yourself off and hit the gym”, and he discusses the importance of things such as stretching and simply checking in with yourself to understand your energy levels.

In Zac Efron’s latest Netflix docu-series “Down to Earth”, he visits Sardinia and the famous town of Seulo. Here, like many other Blue Zones (regions with exceptional life expectancy), they credit their long and healthy lives to daily movement. No gyms, no HIIT sessions, no fad diets, just moving around throughout the day; walking, hiking and stretching.

Did you know that your metabolism slows down by 90% after just 30 minutes of sitting? And after two hours, good cholesterol drops 20%? The good news is, standing up and moving around for just 15 minutes reverses this. A recent study by Oxford University showed that standing up for as little as two hours during the standard working day reduces the risk of developing heart disease by 16%.

Steve has witnessed the effects that a lack of activity has on many of his clients, including those who previously hit the gym five times per week but struggled to shift their stubborn pouch. Steve suggests “There’s no use working out hard for an hour if you then sit sedentary at a desk all day”.

Sedentary office work is a growing issue in our modern world. The World Health Organisation estimates that 95% of the world’s adult population is inactive, failing to meet the minimum recommendations for health of 30 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity five times a week.

"I like to move it move it"

From Steve’s perspective, lockdown has compounded the issue as we’re moving around less during the day.

“I’m seeing my clients move less as a result of working from home and only moving from one room to another in the same house. This means that their step count is far less than it was before, range of movement is limited, and they’re not performing exercises as well as they were before. I’m also seeing an increase in niggles/minor injuries/lower back pain in runners/those who are exercising, coming from the way they’re sitting when they’re working. I saw one of my running club members last night who’s been experiencing knee and hip pain in the last few weeks, and it’s all coming from the way he sits in his chair at home vs work”.

We often struggle to stick to exercise plans as they are seen as something we have to fit into our day, often before or after work when we have other commitments or distractions. “Lots of people started exercising more at the beginning of the lockdown; out walking/running, following the government guidance of one outdoor exercise session, Joe Wicks PE classes etc. As restrictions have started to ease, more people are back at work and struggle to find a balance, so the exercise falls away.”

This yoyo approach isn’t good for us, and we know that, but it can be so hard to motivate yourself at the end of the working day. However, by taking a different approach, and by simply weaving more daily movement into our lives, we actually become healthier on a cellular level.

How to eat fewer biscuits

So, how can we realistically integrate exercise/better habits into our daily lives?

Steve says “I want to inspire people to make being active part of who they are and an important part of their day. My philosophy is to do small amounts of exercise more frequently throughout the day. I recommend getting up earlier to go for a walk/run/cycle - firstly for the health benefits of the exercise and it setting them up for the day, and also to use that time to plan the day ahead.

The next thing can be to get up mid morning (or between Zoom calls) and stretch or do some mobility exercises while they wait for the kettle to boil; stand outside for a minute or two, get some fresh air and think about the next task. These principles can be repeated in the afternoon and the purpose is to keep the joints moving, get away from staring at a screen and keep the metabolism going.

After work is the time to go and play with the kids or do a more focused workout. The workouts don’t have to last too long or be the most intense, whatever works for each person. Lastly, go for a wee walk late evening to clear the head and to reflect on the day gone by. The benefits to all of this - feeling more energised, getting more quality work done in less time, speed up your metabolism, feel less stressed, get better sleep…and eat fewer biscuits as you’ll no longer feel you need them!

Any other tips, suggestions or ideas Steve?

"Think of exercise and being active as time for you; space to be creative as well as being able to switch off and benefit your mental, as well as physical, health. Finding workouts which reflect your mood and energy levels (flexibility if tired, challenging when fully energised), can be more effective than trying to do the same ones all the time and make you feel like you’re closer to your goal.

I believe exercise and being active should be enjoyable, something we have fun doing at the time and how it makes us feel afterwards. How much we weigh and how we look are irrelevant compared to the feeling of getting better at something we enjoy and achieving something we didn’t think we’d be able to do."

So, last question Steve, "If I eat my peanut butter and jam sandwich standing up, while moving, does it still count?"

Or did I miss the point entirely…?