There's nothing to fear but fear itself
It's the first week of May and when I was planning what I would write about this week, I was thinking something along the lines of getting ready for summer would be just right. Like many people, once I get Easter out of the way and the May bank holiday comes round, summer starts to feel real to me and I start plotting out all the extra activities I will do in the evening to help me stay active and hopefully tone up before I get my swimming costume out. With the weather the way it is, maybe I should have the swimsuit out now for an evening swim in the garden, there's enough water out there to give it a try!
But regardless of the rain and the cold, if like me, you are a reluctant keep-fitter, every season poses its own difficulties. In winter, it's the weather and in summer, it's the clothing. No matter how long I've been exercising for, I still prefer exercising in the winter and autumn. Not because it recharges my batteries better, or that I prefer how invigorating exercising during a cold snap can be. No, that's not it at all. I prefer exercising in winter because it's dark and I believe that gives me a little more anonymity and it's easier to hide. I prefer being wrapped in layers, because I'm less conscious of how I look.
Last Monday the mental health charity Mind published new statistics from a survey they ran, which showed that I am far from alone in this. Of the 1,450 women they surveyed, they found that:
- 9 out of 10 women aged over 30 battle body-confidence and low self-esteem when considering outdoor exercise
- Two thirds of those asked feel conscious about their body shape when they exercise in public
- The same number of respondents answered that they feel an exercise group would be unwelcoming and cliquey
- 65% believe they couldn't keep up or follow a class
- 50% are afraid they'd foolish and uncoordinated in a class
Mind asked the respondents whether they knew that regular activity, from gardening to following a fitness regime can help improve both mental and physical health. 98% of those surveys knew this and still not only shun outside exercise, but actively sought other activities to do instead, including:
- 71% of those polled said they were more likely to eat comfort food
- 57% would spend time on social networking sites
- 66% said they'd go to bed
- 71% said their find a way to be alone
- 32% said they would rather listen to sad music
This doesn't actually surprise me, it pretty much describes how I used to approach outside exercise, but I still find it upsetting. And why do I find this upsetting? Because it sets a pattern of behaviour that is self-destructive and worse yet, is based on a fiction.
That fiction is that other people will judge you negatively on your efforts to get more active and will not welcome you personally into the keep fit family. This has never been my experience. I will admit that I'm not an exercise class type of person. I know lots of people who live for their Zumba or Kettlebell class, I'm not one of them. But when I took the plunge and started exercising, I just got out there and walked. I was conscious of how I looked and how I thought people would judge me. After a few days and certainly only a few weeks, I would walk past joggers coming in the opposite direction. Proper joggers, who looked the part and had the full kit. Never once did they look at me with anything other than encouragement and as they got to know my face, they acknowledged me with a nod of the head, a smile or a hello. Sometimes as I climbed up a slope and I'm red faced and panting for breath, I would get a look that said to me "you can do it" or "I know the feeling", but they always looked to me like they were saying to me, "I know it’s hard to start with, but keep it up!"
So the fear is a fiction, but we can churn over it in our minds convincing ourselves that this is a reality and we cower from that situation. But worse, not only do we shy away from it, we activity pursue solitary pursuits instead. That just gives us an opportunity to reflect on and wallow in the fiction of our own inadequacies and shortcomings. These solitary times in turn lead to greater inactivity and increased food consumption and what happens then? We feel even worse about ourselves and so it continues until we slide into a situation which is both mentally and physically extremely difficult to pull yourself out of.
So come on ladies – why are we doing this to ourselves? All of the exercise aversion tactics listed in this study can only bring short term relief, if any, but will contribute to long term health issues.
I don't want to run a marathon or climb Mount Everest, I have far more modest goals. I want to be happier and healthier and just getting 20 minutes walking or jogging 5 days a week helps me to do that. I have found that with that time investment, I have gained more energy and with that I have earned at least an hour extra of genuinely quality time each day. And with more energy and generally feeling good about myself, I want to share that with my friends and family and don’t curl in on myself.
Even when I look rough, where I've been caught out in the rain and I look like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards, I have the self-confidence to know that it doesn't matter and nobody and I mean nobody cares. But even more importantly, if they did – I don't care. More fool them, I'm doing something positive which not only has benefits to me, but to those around me. It can take a leap of faith, it may feel awkward to begin with but the benefits are life changing.