The Balancing Act of Life

As women we often face a balancing act between work, our family, and taking care of ourselves.

In this balancing act, it’s usually taking care of ourselves that comes in a distant third place.

We know we need to work, because that’s how we earn money to live.

And then we use all the rest of our available for family, and caring for their needs.

There’s even a scientific term for this: the ‘ethic of care’ which has been shown to be an especially strong force on women’s lives.

And that’s fine, to a degree.

But sometimes, the balance goes wrong.

Sometimes we realise that over time we’ve neglected ourselves. We’ve neglected our own self-care.

And as a result our wellbeing, physically and mentally, can begin to suffer.

So what to do?

Well, I work with women to help them lead more active lifestyles because I know how important it is to our well being. I’ve felt the benefits in my own life, and I’ve seen it with my clients too.

But women often worry about taking the first step with exercise. We’re used to seeing the usual promotions on exercise: keep fit classes, gyms, boot camps, and it just all seems like such hard work.

We also worry it will take us away from our families too much. That it’s too selfish and self-indulgent to spend all that time on ourselves.

But there is a better way to approach this.

There’s a way to approach getting active that fits in with life.

And there’s a way to approach getting active that fits in with family life too.

This is what I promote in my Active Wellbeing Academy. It’s a more integrated holistic approach to being active, moving more and feeling better about ourselves.

When we take care of our own wellbeing our families benefit.

They benefit directly.

It’s not possible to take care of others, if we have started by first neglecting ourselves. Our well being has to be the priority because it’s at the very centre of what makes everything else work.

7 Exercise Myths Busted!

We have a lot of ideas about exercise. What it is, and what it isn’t. Often these ideas have come from our past experiences and even the experiences of others, but because of the way our brains work we seldom question whether these experiences offer conclusive evidence, or even if they are still relevant to our current situation. They are simply integrated into our beliefs and our being.

Let me give you an example. If you went to see your doctor about having an operation, would you prefer that recommendation was based on 10 years of scientific research or on conversations she’d had with friends and family?

If your last experience of “exercise” was 90s Step classes, 80s Keep fit videos or even P.E. at school, then you need to know that the world of fitness has moved on. Yes there are still gym-bunnies and Personal Trainers who want to push you “to the max”, but they are following a model of fitness mostly tailored to young men (or middle-aged men who wish they were young men).

I am championing a fresh approach to fitness and “exercise” based on recent research. It focuses on an active lifestyle rather than just a training plan. It allows for all different kinds of body movement and body types, and most excitingly for me, it places the emphasis on mental wellbeing and how people feel – not looks or performance numbers.

I’m calling it ‘Active Wellbeing’.

It’s time to take back the benefits of body movement and I’ll start by busting 7 common exercise myths.

  1. Exercise is hard work

No. Exercise can be hard work but that completely depends on what you’re doing and how much effort you want to put in. Government recommendations are based on 150 minutes per week of ‘moderate’ activity. This means getting slightly out of breath. A fast walk or slow jog will do it for most people, and there’s lots of other options if they don’t sound like fun.

2. You need to lose weight before starting to exercise

No, not quite true either. Above a certain weight we do need to be a bit more careful as carrying extra weight can increase injury risk, but there are two good ways to address this. One is by choosing low impact activities in the beginning and the other is by building strength which can better support the weight. There is always some kind of movement that we could be doing. The confusion often comes in when we start dismissing movement as ‘not proper’ exercise. If weight loss is a goal then you need to know that being active improves body confidence and increases adherence to healthy eating, so you could actually argue that you need to start “exercising” before losing weight.

3. Life is too busy to fit exercise in

This is a very popular myth, and we are all too accepting when people offer this as a reason for not taking action. Life is certainly busy. There is no doubt about it. But this is actually a reason for increasing exercise, or at least increasing the amount of physical activity we blend into life. When we increase our physical activity levels we improve our sleep, we improve our eating habits and we reduce our stress levels. All of this combines to make us more energised, refreshed and effective in our life and our work. When you feel more energised you can get more done in less time, and with less effort. It can be hard taking the first step, but we can begin with very small steps.

4. Only “exercise-type” of people can enjoy fitness

There is a persistent myth of the “exercise-type” of person. By this I presume people are referring to those people the see as physically active: marathon runners, long distance walkers, Olympic athletes etc. These are highly visible and often elite athletes, but they don’t possess special physical-activity-enjoyment abilities. What they possess is an ability to give something a try, build up their confidence and recover from set-backs. This is something anyone can achieve (the confidence – not the Olympics!). If you have never exercised in a confidence-building environment, it is not surprising if you don’t enjoy exercise, but it doesn’t mean you’re the wrong type of person, it just means you haven’t been given the right, supportive environment to try out an activity you enjoy.

5. Now is not a good time

Similar to ‘Life is too Busy’ comes the classic ‘Now is not a good time’. One of the best things I see about getting more active is that it doesn’t take long to get results. Yes, it can take 6-8 weeks to see the physical benefits of exercise, but if you go for a walk today, you will feel mental wellbeing benefits today. I’ve yet to come across a day or situation that wouldn’t benefit from a 10 minute walk, some fresh air and a clearer head. I’ve never heard anyone say “I had it all under control until I took that 10 minute walk and it ruined everything!” I’m just going to leave that there.

6. Everyone will look at me

I was once really sad to hear of a lady who really loved swimming but wouldn’t go because she didn’t want people to see her walking from the changing room to the pool. The saddest thing about the story was I realised lots of women feel the same way, and it’s not just swimming either. Some women won’t exercise in public because people will see. Some women don’t even want to exercise at home because the family will see. There is a worry that everyone will be watching, but you know, they won’t. Yes some people might see you, but they are more interested in themselves than whatever it is you’re up to. I completely appreciate the self-consciousness that can come with larger body size in particular, but these are your thoughts. In reality you have no idea what other people are thinking. You are guessing based on what you are thinking. I happen to know that most people seeing someone exercise feels inspired to do the same or happy for that person who’s giving it a go.

It’s not that everyone is looking at you. It’s that you are looking at you. And if you look closely enough, you’ll see a person being brave enough to give it a go, and inspiring other people.

7. I’m too old to start

One of the most eye-opening moments for me, in my Sport & Exercise Psychology training, was when I saw the evidence for improved wellbeing of active versus inactive people, across different ages. As you would expect it was always better to be active than not, but what was startling was to see a relatively small gain for someone in their 20s turn into a large gain in the 40s and bigger and even bigger gains were made as life progressed. What I realised was the biggest benefits of becoming active were available to those in their 40s, 50s, 60s and up. It really was never too late to start – just more important!

I hope this has given you some useful insight into the world of physical activity. Do let me know if it raises any thoughts or question for you in the comments below, and please do share if you think it will help others.

Stay Well

Diane Brown

Wellbeing Life Coach & Exercise Psychology Coach

http://www.fitbee.co.uk

How to stay active with kids at home!

One of the most common barriers to exercise for women is not being able to get time away from children. This has never been more true than now.

During the lockdown of COVID-19. How on earth can you keep exercising with 2 and 3 year olds running round your ankles, your other half trying to work from the kitchen table, or coping as a single Mum without any of the relief of nurseries or relatives having the kids for an afternoon?

Kids love to move!

Whilst it’s not ideal, the great thing about being with kids is they do love to move! You will be surprised at the types of exercise you can do where young kids especially will happily watch or join in: dancing, aerobics, hula-hoop, piggy backs, kids yoga on YouTube.

The traditional approach might see you turning to Joe Wicks (I’ve done far more of his sessions than my 7 year-old!), or (quite understandably) putting them in front of the TV whilst you sneak in a Zoom Yoga class. There are lots of ways to be energetic in your home, with a bit of imagination, planning and open-mindedness about what ‘counts’ as ‘exercise’.

Get outside

Make the most of your outdoor daily exercise time. Maybe you can get some jogging done as the kids go up and down on their scooters. Or you can have ‘races’ with them to the end of the street and back. And let’s not forget skipping. Competitions to see who can get the most jumps without stopping really appeals to a child’s sense of competition and challenge. And it’s much harder than I remember it too!

Blend it into your routine

If that’s not enough. there are also ways to make housework into a fitness routine. Rather than carry out your chores as simple jobs to be done, look where you can inject more movement. Speed walk around the house. Race the kids to see who can put the clothes away the fastest. Go up and down the stairs more times than you really need to, and wiggle your hips to the music when washing up.

Recognise what you’ve acheived

At the end of the day what you do doesn’t really matter, along as you are staying safe and well. that is your most important job. Recognise that you have made that extra effort to take care of yourself and notice how it makes you feel. Then make plans to repeat it the following day, and see if you can do a little more.

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:

A person standing in the snow

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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.

  1. 2. 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.

  • 3. 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.

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!

Moving your body to save the planet

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.