Choosing the gym that's right for you

It’s a common cliche that we all sign up to expensive new gym memberships in January, only for them to become deserted by February. The cynical amongst us might even suggest that gyms are only interested in extracting money from us, and care little for whether or not we achieve our fitness and wellbeing goals. In fact, isn’t it better for them if we fail and then we keep going back to spend more money?

Whilst there’s always unscrupulous money grabbers, in every industry, the truth is that most people choose to work in health and fitness because they love to support and inspire people to live healthier and happier lives. Yes it’s a business, but it’s also a business striving to make a positive impact in the world.

5 Top Tips

So how do you choose a gym that’s really going to support you and dodge the money grabbers. Here are my 5 top tips:

1) Do your research.

Have you thought about what you need from your gym membership? There’s no point signing up because there’s a great looking pool if you never had any intention of going swimming. If you really want to do classes what are their classes like? Is it possible to have a taster or trial? It sounds obvious but sophisticated marketing at this time of year can often lead us to rush a decision before we’ve really done out homework.

2) If you wouldn’t pay full price then don’t buy at discount.

I think this is important because you need to make a judgement whether this place is really value for money. If you know you’d be prepared to pay top prices then you are genuinely getting a bargain. If you are only buying because “it’s cheap at the moment” then maybe your hearts not really in it.

3) Talk to the staff.

It’s the people that really make the place. Don’t be fobbed off with sales office people on a mission to lure you in. You want to talk to the reception staff and fitness instructers and decide for yourself if they come across as friendly, welcoming and supportive. Trust me, you’re going to need those positive vibes when you’re trying to motivate yourself out the door on a cold wet day.

4) Consider different gym types

There can be huge differences between different gyms and there really is no one size fits all. I know some people who love the budget style gyms, and it works well for them because they are self motivating and are just paying for what they need – the basics. Others prefer more of a luxury spa feel.

For example, I recently visited Supersonic Fitness, a boutique gym in the centre of York, and I was blown away by how much they broke the mold of the traditional chain gyms that I was used to. Before my visit some people commented that it was expensive. The reasons why became apparent as I took my tour and interrogated one of their lovely fitness instructors. With membership capped at much lower levels then traditional gyms, the Supersonic instructors are really able to focus on individual service and attention for their members. There is a real family vibe between the staff. And the relaxation suite with both infra-red and thermal saunas is a little piece of luxury after a long work out.

Supersonic have taken the deliberate decision to focus more holistically on both fitness and wellbeing, and this commitment was certainly backed up by the delicious, nutritious food offered by their cafe. So yes, it is a bit more expensive, but if they fit your needs, and you can afford it, then it could be perfect.

5) Location, Location, Location

Even if you find the greatest gym which fits your needs and your wallet, it isn’t going to work for you if you have to do a 2 hour round trip to make it there. Great locations are: close to work, on your commuting route, or close to home. The last one being especially useful if you want to use it on your days off.

Think about when you most want to use the gym and how traveling there will fit into your day. Many people prefer to go to the gym straight before, or straight after work. Having to to go home first, and then motivate yourself to get out again can be a big challenge, so a gym you can use before or after work takes one more obstacle out of your way. Another good routine is to go to the gym just before shopping. You can then use the inspiration from your workout to help you stick to healthier choices in the supermarket.

When you think you’ve found a gym in a great location, try a travel trial run on the days you think you will use it. It may be that you visit at the weekend, but getting there in the week at rush hour takes 4 times longer. This is something you’ll want to find out before paying up.

So gyms do tend to get a bad rap, but if you can find one that works for you then absolutely go for it. When you find a good fit, a gym can be a great source of support and inspiration, and a little me time space away from the wild outdoor weather. Don’t be put of by the cliches and the cynics. Only you know what is right for you

Dr Diane Brown is a Fitness & Wellbeing Coach, qualified in Sport & Exercise Psychology, Wellbeing Life Coaching and Triathlon Coaching. She has overcome her own health challenges to successfully complete an Ultramarathon (2018) and Ironman UK (2011). Diane’s current mission is to help as many women as possible to create active lifestyles, gain greater wellbeing and enjoy a better quality of life.

Family Friendly Fitness

New Year, New You!

Doing more exercise” is a popular new year’s resolution, with gyms at peak marketing trying to gain new customers.

The thing is, we all know that an active lifestyle is good for us, but how do we make that a reality when there are so many other pressures in life? From going out to work to taking care of the family, it can often seem that wherever we turn there is yet another demand on our time and resources.

This is especially the case for mothers, who typically adopt the role of primary carer for the children, as well as often supporting older relatives too. For such women, it can feel that focusing on one’s own self-care is a luxury at best, and at worst just plain selfish!

So, what’s the solution?

What we need is a more family friendly approach to fitness which is inclusive of a mother’s needs and takes a more holistic view of fitness together with a woman’s wellbeing. For example, many mothers experience guilt at spending time away from their children to exercise. Dealing with these feelings is important as they get into our sub-conscious and help generate the long list of reasons why we can’t do it. There is no quick fix to this one, but you feel that feelings of guilt are preventing you from taking up exercise then you might want to consider having a chat with an exercise psychologist or wellbeing life coach.

Another issue is that we often focus on what exercises to do, and how often, and forget to consider how our new active lifestyle will integrate with the rest of life. This can sometimes create problems down the line as our new routines become more difficult to stick to. Sustainable active lifestyles tend to incorporate physical activity into daily routines, allowing the family to be active together. Some of the most popular activities to consider are trips to the park, dancing round the house, active computer games, family friendly events (such as parkrun), swimming and walking or cycling to school. For some reason the “fitness industry” tends not to focus on these types of activities and this can lead us to feel that they’re not “proper exercise” – but they are!

Understanding your needs

Of course, any major lifestyle change requires a specific period of focussed effort, ideally supported by someone who is knowledgeable on how to overcome the setbacks and challenges ahead. But choosing where to go for support can be overwhelming, especially in the new year when we seem to be bombarded with advertising for the latest new health trend, and the quick fixes seem ever more tempting. Remember, there is no quick fix.

My personal recommendation is that to know who can help you best, you first need to understand yourself and your own needs. Try this:

Take yourself aside for 20 minutes and try the following exercise:

  1. Write down your health goals – what are you prepared to work on to make a long-lasting change?
  2. Write down who else you think will be affected by the changes you want to make. How will they be affected – include both positive and negative – does this help or hinder you?
  3. Write down the reason why you want to achieve this health goal – how will you feel this time next year if you’re successful?
  4. Write down some initial ideas of things you’d like to try to help achieve your goals – what have you enjoyed in the past or always fancied having a go at?

When you have your answers, you are ready to start looking for the right kind of support, based on your own needs. For every gym, club, personal trainer or coach you consider, think about if they will be a good fit against what you have written down.

Choose what’s right for you

Making a lifestyle change can be hard, but it can also be made much easier with the right help and support. Take your time and begin when you are ready. If you are interested in learning more about my work, I would love you to contact me through my website. Until then I wish you all health and happiness for you and your family in 2020.

Dr Diane Brown is a Fitness & Wellbeing Coach, qualified in Sport & Exercise Psychology, Wellbeing Life Coaching and Triathlon Coaching. She has overcome her own health challenges to successfully complete an Ultramarathon (2018) and Ironman UK (2011). Diane’s current mission is to help as many women as possible to create active lifestyles, gain greater wellbeing and enjoy a better quality of life.

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

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

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.

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.

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!