Festive Fitness & Winter Wellbeing

Winter must be one of the most challenging times of year for our fitness and wellbeing. A combination of cold, damp weather, a touch of overindulgence and frenetic Christmas preparations can leave many of us feeling wiped out come the New Year.

No wonder then that January is so popular for new year’s resolutions as we attempt to inject some healthfulness back not our worn-out bodies.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. What if we were to approach winter a little more mindfully and give ourselves some self-nurturing during the festive season?

Now before you panic, I’m not suggesting you cancel all your Christmas Parties and go tee total for Christmas (unless you want to), but there are things we can add to our day to support our fitness and wellbeing through these challenging months. Here are my 3 top tips:

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  1. Get Outdoors!

I can’t say this often enough or loud enough, but if you do only one thing to support your wellbeing this winter make it spending time outside in the daylight – even dim daylight! We instinctively know that being outside is good for us, but it’s also scientifically proven to boost your mental wellbeing too. So, whatever you’re doing, try to do at least some of it outside.

  • Eat your vegetables!

Sounds obvious? Heard it all before? Well there is a good reason for that. The nutrients we put into our bodies make a huge difference to our health, fitness and mental wellbeing. We tend to over-indulge at this time of year which puts a strain on our bodies. Now I don’t want to be a killjoy and tell you to put down the mince pies. I believe healthy eating should focus on including greater nutrition rather than deprivation, so whatever you’re piling on your plate think what else you can add to boost the nutrients your getting. One of my winter veggie favourites is braised red cabbage with apples and pears. What’s yours? If you don’t have one, go experimental and see what tasty nutritious treats you can discover.

  • Move your body!

It can be challenging to stick to any kind of exercise routine in winter, especially on days when it’s icy and treacherous outside. In addition, the endless line of visitors and visiting can soon push good intentions to the bottom of the to do list. However, by focusing on just doing what you can, when you can, you can take the pressure off and get enjoyment from moving your body when the opportunity arises. Here are some of my festive favourites:

Winter walks – round the block to admire the Christmas lights, or down to the pub to meet some friends. Getting out and walking is especially fun in the Christmas holidays when lots of other people are doing it and you can dress yourselves up in Santa hast for a bit of fun.

Sledging – OK, you will need a touch of snow for this one, but if it comes make the most of your opportunity. A few kids on a sledge with you trying to pull it along will give you a great workout and make you popular parent (or grandparent) number 1!

Dancing! – This one can be enjoyed whatever the weather and is perfect for when it goes dark outside. Throw on a few tunes and boogie around the house. Great for entertaining the kids but also handy when you need a bit of motivation to get the housework done.

Whatever type of movement you want to go for, just 20 minutes of getting your heart rate up each day will really help boost your fitness and wellbeing, and will also set a great example to other family members.

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Some final thoughts:

Fitness isn’t all about weight loss, running times and muscle tone. Probably the most important thing exercise can do for us, and our stressful lives, is the boost it gives to our mental wellbeing – and you don’t need a gym membership to achieve it.

At FitBee, I focus on helping women gain greater wellbeing through exercise, and balancing fitness goals with the demands of family and work life. During my life, I have faced many health challenges from obesity to back injury and from anxiety to burnout. What I discovered was that being more active brought huge benefits, not only to my health, but also how I felt about myself. That is why I chose a new career path at the age of 41, trained in Wellbeing Life Coaching and qualified in Sport & Exercise Psychology, so that I can help support other women going through similar experiences. You can find out more about me and my work on my website www.fitbee.co.uk

If you have some fitness & wellbeing goals, I’d love to discuss them with you sometime, but until then have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Unlocking Female Energy through Physical Activity

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Why I left my Corporate Career to Help Women Exercise?

Back in 2016 I attended a women-only Wellbeing Retreat for the first time. It was my recovery strategy for the burnout I was suffering, as a result of trying to “have it all” and “do it all”. Whilst I was there I came to realise that there are thousands and thousands of women out there with huge potential, but who don’t feel that they are able to flourish due to either what life has thrown at them in the past or what they are experiencing right now. Over the months and years that followed I began to discover more about female energy, and how unlocking it could enormously benefit our society and our planet.

A Gateway to Wellbeing

Like me, many women fight hard to pull themselves into better health and wellbeing, and I noticed there are often quite gentle and supportive messages in the “wellbeing industry”, and too often quite negative messages surrounding the “fitness industry”.

My personal understanding of exercise is that it acts as a gateway to my wellbeing. It is a positive action I can take and any effort I make at all (even just 10 minutes walking) makes a positive contribution to how I feel. Scientifically, physical activity is one of the best things you can do, not just for your physical health but also your mental health. Being active has enormous potential to boost the wellbeing of absolutely everyone, yet we find it difficult to get motivated, and then beat ourselves up about it. Why?

What if instead of looking at being active through a “fitness” lens we looked at it through a “wellbeing” lens? What if instead of thinking we should exercise to lose weight, we wanted to exercise to take time out for ourselves? What if instead seeing our exercise routine as punishment for the cake we ate last night, we saw it as self-care that nourishes our body and mind? What if we took a new approach?

A New Approach

This is what I’ve set out to change. I’ve trained in Wellbeing Life Coaching and more recently Sport & Exercise Psychology and I’m blending the best of both worlds. I’ve developed a 12-week program, specifically to the needs of women, which will support those who would love to get the benefits of being more active. My aim is to change women’s relationship with exercise, so they feel empowered to appreciate and enjoy what they can do. I hope that this new approach will inspire women and support their health and wellbeing for many years to come.

Unlocked Potential

And the corporate career? Well I made my full recovery, regained my physical and mental health and could have chosen to continue with the well-paid daily grind. But that’s the thing about unlocking potential, once I could see a path towards empowering women in the world, then the daily grind had no attraction nor value for me. I left my job in 2018 and launched FitBee – Active Wellbeing, dedicated to improving fitness and wellbeing outcomes for women. Next week I open my first private consultation room. I’d be very happy to welcome you there.

Moving your body to save the planet

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I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to be both saddened and yet fascinated by David Attenborough’s recent climate change documentary. Saddened by the seemingly relentless onset of global warming and yet fascinated by some of the science behind how we can still reverse it. From electric planes and hydrogen cars to adapting our lifestyle and food choices, there’s certainly a lot of positive action we can take, and it got me thinking about active lifestyles and the role they might play.

A few simple changes

So let’s start with what I think is the obvious one: Travel. We know that driving our billions of cars around every day isn’t good for CO2 emissions. How can we reduce that?

Well if you live less than 2 miles from your destination then walking (or even running) is one option. I know this doesn’t apply to the average commuter but many of us do still take our cars on small journeys. I know I do and it’s something I’m trying to change. Unfortunately, the notion of saving the planet may not be enough to make us change our behaviour. After all, climate change can seem like such a massive problem that taking a short walk hardly seems sufficient to make an impact, so what if we try shifting our perspective?

What if the short walk is repeated every day, or even every other day?  A 2 mile trip could take 30 mins and if you’re going you probably need to come back so that’s 60 mins. Do this 4 times a week and you’ve walked 240 mins in a week. The Department of Health currently recommends at least 150 mins per week of moderate activity. This means that if you walk briskly enough to get your heart rate up you’re going to be smashing your weekly activity quota, gaining enormous health and mental wellbeing benefits, oh, and helping save the plant too -BONUS!

Ok, so I already mentioned that a 2 mile commute isn’t convenient for all of us. But maybe it’s 2 miles to the shops, or the school run? I know, I know, then there’s shopping to carry and kids to shepherd. There’s always an element of challenge involved. My approach is to consider what is possible and start there. No matter how small a step it may seem at first.

Start the day with a boost

What about using more public transport? It’s bound to require some extra walking, particularly as it rarely takes you exactly where you need to be. In health and fitness terms though, this is an advantage. Also, if you’re late you may have to break into a light run! That run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit, walk a bit, that you do when trying to get somewhere on time has been re-packaged by the Fitness Industry as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). You can do it for free when you run late for a bus!

When we run late and arrive at our workplace or appointment a little flushed, we might feel inconvenienced, but we should also consider that studies show that short bursts of exercise can increase oxygen and neuro-transmitters in the brain. Rather than feel awkward, we can be smug that our brains are running far more effectively than if we had drifted in from our cars.

Being amongst people is also good for us socially. Even having someone to smile at and say “Good Morning” to is a boost. You don’t have to get engaged in full conversation (unless you want to). The time can be used to read that book you’ve been meaning to get to or listen to a motivational podcast. Travel time doesn’t have to be ‘dead’ time, it can be an opportunity to stimulate your brain in other ways. If you’re trying to make positive changes to your lifestyle then this is helpful in increasing the neuroplasticity of your brain. The more your brain is challenged in different directions the more it learns to grow and adapt. This is exactly what we want if we are trying to overcome lifetime bad habits, or simply make small changes to improve our health.

Get creative

There are many other potential overlaps between taking care of ourselves and taking care of the planet. I heard of one guy who converted his exercise bike so he could only generate the power to watch Netflix by pedalling! A less technological activity is simply growing your own vegetables. This comes with the added bonus of being outdoors, which again has great wellbeing benefits.

So my conclusion is this. There are lots of ways we can combine a desire to be physically active with a desire to protect the planet for ourselves and our children.

It can take a little imagination, a little determination and yes a bit of an adjustment in mindset, but these are qualities and abilities that all humans possess and the result is truly win-win-win.

There seems to be so many things in life we wish were better at, and it can feel overwhelming. The brilliant thing about adopting an active lifestyle (in my humble opinion) is it offers an opportunity to make lots of things better, all at once! (Did I mention being active can also reduce feelings of overwhelm?!) Our bodies were designed to move and in turn moving our bodies supports our health, wellbeing and the health & wellbeing of the world around us. We can use this valuble asset we all possess and be the change we went to see.

Do you have ways of combining being active with helping the planet? If so I’d love to hear your thoughts. Get in touch in the comments below.

It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s January… and I’m running in the park

How is it that I came to be running in the park late one January evening? With temperatures hitting sub zero and badly lit streets, at first it seems quite unfeasible, except I’m not running outside, I’m running indoors, in my own living room!

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Yes, probably for the first time since the 90s aerobics class I went to as a teenager with my Mum, I’m actually jogging on the spot. And I’m enjoying it too!

It started at the in-laws house, where after a delicious Sunday Roast, someone decided it was time to get the X Box Kinnect out and have a go at some sports. For the uninitiated, this is essentially a computer game where a camera watches the position of your arms and legs, as you flail about trying to mimic some sporting activity, and thereby a computer version of you (your avitar), actually does the sport on the screen.

First up was bowling – fairly gentle – where astoundingly I turned out to be quite good and won! Next was a football shoot out game. This time my talent seemed to be more enthusiasm than skill, but I was still able to win the day. Finally we had a go at javelin throwing. It became rapidly apparent that co-ordinating legs, arms and timing was a bit too much multi-tasking for me. My final throw was ruled out as a ‘foul throw’. I was just pleased I’d not hit the crowd.

Apart from being lots of fun, these types of indoor activities can also genuinely get your heart rate going, and are a great family entertainment.

I was so enthusiastic that when we got home that evening, we decided it was time for the annual outing of our Wii Fit! (A rival and predecessor of the X Box Kinnect which has been gathering dust in our home for many years).

We loaded it up and were gleefully informed that we had been missed since the 350 days since the last time we used it! Obviously January is a popular month for indoor computer fitness! At first the intention was to encourage my son to have a go. He watched us for a while and then decided he would attempt some Yoga poses. Then it was his bedtime, and I was left on my own. ‘I’ll just have one more go’ I thought.

20 minutes later I was jogging through a park, up and down hills, and suddenly realised I was working up a sweat! It was cold and dark outside, but here I was jogging in the sunshine past animated green grass and  blue waterfalls. In the end, through a variety of exercises (“catching fish dressed as a penguin” is my favorite) I did 30 minutes exercise on the Wii Fit, and now of course I have plans it will be out every day and there won’t be an excuse to not exercise ever again!

Well, that might be stretching it, but I did manage to get a lot of fun activity into a day where I might have otherwise just sat around after Sunday lunch, driven home, and then sat around all evening. Maybe indoor computer games aren’t the answer to all our exercise needs, but they certainly add some variety and a flexibility. Maybe you have one gaining dust in your cupboard? Why not get it out and have a go? You might enjoy it. You could even be the next “catching fish dressed as a penguin” champion. Maybe they’ll include it in the Olympics soon!

How I recovered from a painful back injury to become a triathlete

It’s been a bit of a gap since my last blog post, but finally I’m getting started again. I’d like to share with you a bit of my own story, and why exercise is so important to me.

There are actually a lot of different tales to tell, but I’m going to begin with what was probably the most dramatic of all. This is the story of how, at the age of 30, I got a big message from the Universe to get my act together.

I thought I was doing everything right. I’d studies hard at school, got loads of qualifications, landed a job at a big multi-national firm and was living a jet-setting life flying around Europe every week to run workshops and train sales people. I’d even had a lovely boyfriend, and although we had to do the long distance thing, we met up most weekends and had a great time eating out and socialising.

The problem was, I wasn’t doing enough to take care of my health. All the eating out, and drinking too much (especially on expenses paid business trips), meant I’d gained a lot of weight. On and off, through my 20s, I’d tried to tackle it. Occasionally I’d try to start running again but often did too much too soon and got injured. This was a particular problem for me as I was a half decent runner as a kid, and so I expected high standards from myself. I basically pushed myself too hard. Of course I tried a variety of diets, some worked, some didn’t, but all were short term fixes and got swept away when I went back to old routines. The thing I probably did best was when I started cycling to work every day. 2 miles there, 2 miles back, on a little fold up Brompton. I loved it! I wasn’t even put off when I randomly fell off in the middle of Newcastle-Gateshead’s Millenium Bridge! Still it wasn’t quite enough to compensate for the heavy drinking sessions with the Sales teams. I knew I was quite overweight, and not very fit, but as I was 30 I just assumed I had loads of time to sort it out later – when I’m less busy!

The crunch point came when I was on holiday. 3 weeks in New Zealand. I’d been looking forward to it for ages. We were trying to be quite active and we’d planned to go Sea Kayaking with a group in the beautiful Doubtful Sound on the South Island. The day itself was amazing. When I woke up the next morning – I couldn’t move! I had terrible pain in my back, and when I finally begged my way into an emergency appointment with a Physiotherapist about 5 days later, he demonstrated that my spine was crooked, and diagnosed a slipped disc. Apart from the excrutiating pain which I endured for the last stages of the holiday, and the 24 hour journey home, I then also spent the next 6 months in pain, unable to walk properly and unable to sit at my work desk (I would kneel down in front of my desk as it was more comfortable).

Finally it was a suggestion that I had a steroid injection in my spine, that prompted my to take matters into my own hands. I wasn’t a medical expert but I knew I needed to do two  things 1) Lose some weight so that my back would be under less pressure and 2) Strengthen my body so my muscles could help hold me upright. Maybe it was risky, and I probably should have checked my plan with my GP, but I started going to the gym, doing gentle cardio, strength training and stretching and also had a wake up call on my food habits and began to automatically pick up better options at the supermarket, and make better decisions when eating out.

I did lose a lot of weight, but it was the fact that I was focusing on taking a positive action, through exercise, that really motivated me. I don’t think I would have lost the weight without having got more active at the same time. Also, I was being realistic with what I could do. I couldn’t just put on my trainers and go for a 5k run with a back injury. I had to be gentle. I started with the cross trainer, then I’s do short burst on the treadmill. I never did more than 10 mins of one exercise in the early days, so I could keep things varied and see how I felt afterwards.

A few months in I saw a headline in a magazine that grabbed my attention “Train for your first triathlon in 6 weeks!” OK, I thought, I will! I found the shortest race I could that was 6 weeks away, and followed the basic training plan. That event is a story in itself, which I shall tell next time, but, *spoiler alert* I did it!

That first triathlon, which took place one year after I first injured my back, was my signal that I had made a full recovery. I was no longer in pain, but it went beyond that, I had taken control of my health and in the process taking control of my life.

Many people see exercise as a burden, as something to be suffered, the old “no pain, no gain” mantra. I don’t see it that way. Exercise is life giving. It builds strength, it builds confidence and it thrives on hope. Getting active gave me my life back and opened up my world to new friends, hopes and dreams. It’s a lesson I carry through life, and has helped me many times in other stories…..  which I will tell, on another day.

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My earliest triathlon photo, taken in 2009, 2 years after my debilitating back injury. Giving a thumbs up whilst riding a bike is an important skill!