Happy February to you. I thought I would use my turn to write a blog to talk to you about my exercise regime, fitness and weight loss, and hopefully inspire some of you to either start exercising again, or to keep going.
I didn’t struggle with my weight until I turned 31 and left work to retrain as an osteopath. I was exercising less, sitting more and comfort eating for the first time in my life. After five years of study, I found myself carrying an extra two stone of weight, which categorised me as ‘overweight’ according to BMI charts. I was so determined to get back to a normal healthy weight that I started dieting (weight watchers, calorie counting and the 5:2), none of which worked in the long term. So I made a new plan to make a long-term change for the sake of my health.
Part one of my plan was to eat less sugar, so Monday to Thursday became treat free days (I do allow myself natural sugars such as dairy and fruit), and Friday to Sunday became eat what I fancy days. Giving up sugar entirely was a no for me, whereas cutting down substantially was doable and has made me appreciate the treats I do eat, instead of just shovelling them in without even tasting them. There have been times when I’ve fallen off the wagon, namely the Christmas break and holidays, but I’ve managed to get back on track again.
Part two, to exercise more, was more challenging. When I was studying I did the ‘Couch to 5k’, which was ok, but always a chore. I then tried the ‘Couch to 10k’, which was a step too far for me as I find running for twenty to thirty minutes or more incredibly boring. I tried swimming a couple of times a week, but after progressing to swimming 1km with reasonable ease, and teaching myself to do front crawl whilst breathing on both sides, I was bored again.
I reluctantly started Zumba, thinking I wouldn’t enjoy it because it wasn’t a style of dance I was familiar with. I was wrong. Initially it was pretty difficult to move my body in the required way because I was too stiff, but I soon I found myself able to move my body more fluidly, and I can now easily shake everything I’ve got. Zumba is such a good cardio work out, which burns around six hundred calories per class according to my fitness watch. Plus, it gets you to move your body in lots of different ways, so it is good for muscle development.
I guess it is no great surprise that I am totally obsessed with Zumba, given that dance has always been a passion of mine. Like many little girls, I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up (I still do), alas I grew too tall and wasn’t good enough to make it professionally anyway. Ballet was always one of my favourite dance styles, and for that reason, I started classes again about a year ago after a twenty year break. My body understands ballet. It might not be as strong, flexible, or graceful as it once was, but it understands the movements and posture, which I guess is muscle memory. It is benefitting my body so much. My sillouette is coming back – I have a smaller bum, more of a jaw line, a waist, and best of all I’m seeing the return of some abdominal muscles! Although I feel fitter, longer and slightly leaner, there is still a long way to go in terms of strength, which is apparent every time my posture is corrected, a common occurrence with my grand plies as I always inadvertently find a way of cheating. Like all dance, ballet is also great for my brain. Not only is the act of watching, memorising and repeating movements/exercises really good for my memory, the fact that dance is so joyful means that I get an emotional lift too, plus I get to meet new people.
My other great dance love is tap, which I started in January of this year after a fifteen year break. I definitely find tap more natural than ballet, probably because it doesn’t require as much flexibility and doesn’t hurt as much. It is great fun and good for fitness because you are constantly on the move, jumping up and down. Like ballet, there are brain benefits too as the rhythms and syncopations that you tap out are challenging mentally, and the act of tapping is a great way of bashing away the frustrations of the day. I’ve been quite surprised at how much tap I can remember, but the fact I’m constantly corrected in ballet and tap for going too fast, is proof that I need to work on my counting.
The culmination of eating less sugar and dancing is weight loss – hoorah. From my heaviest weight in 2015 to now, I have lost a little over a stone, which puts me back into the normal range of the BMI charts. More importantly I feel healthier. I feel fitter, lighter, I no longer have reflux, I sweat less, and best of all, my lower back pain has all but disappeared. I still have a stone to lose to get back to my happy adult weight, but that is fine. It took five years to put the weight on, so it is perfectly acceptable that it might take five years to shift it. My plan is to be fit for forty (in a year and a bit), and to maintain it for life.
For any of you that are struggling with your weight, especially at this time of year when we have made and possibly broken our new years resolutions, I encourage you to exercise more. The only thing that has worked for me is going back to what I love, and I encourage you to do the same. Find your inner child again. Try and remember what it was you enjoyed. Was it football, gymnastics, trampoline, swimming? If you are unsure whether you are fit enough, strong enough, or if it is safe, speak to your GP or osteopath. Whatever you do, start slowly and build up. If something doesn’t feel right, or hurts, stop and seek an opinion. If you’ve never been sporty, or haven’t yet found what it is that you like, experiment. If you can’t think of anything, or really hate to exercise, you can build exercise into your day by walking to work, or cycling if there is a safe route. Walking is so much nicer than sitting on a bus, and cheaper too. Sling on a decent pair of trainers, maybe wear something you don’t mind getting slightly sweaty, and pop some earphones in to listen to the radio or a podcast (I do this, my current obsession is The Archers). If it seems too daunting, or you have to get home to feed the kids, perhaps you could start small by walking to work and getting the bus home. Have a think about what might suit you and give it a go.
My next challenge is to improve my flexibility and my ultimate goal is to do the splits. I’m laughing as I am typing that as I couldn’t even do them as a child, I was always about 5-10cm off the floor, but I am going to give it a go. I’ll let you know how I get on in my next blog. Wish me luck.