I am Shona’s (marginally) fitter older brother, Rory. She’d tell you I stay fit for the wrong reasons: my unhealthily competitive nature and to impress girls. She might have a point as I’m still not having that much luck with the latter. However, whatever my reasoning there is no doubt that getting fit and keeping fit can be an important part of being a healthy and happy person. If I have a good run, gym sesh, or rugby training session, I feel like a weight is lifted from my shoulders for the rest of the day. Recently I was asked to write a few words for my university magazine about keeping fit outside of the gym and it strikes me that some of the things I wrote could be helpful tips for anyone trying to get into better fitness habits.
First off, it is totally OK not to be a gym person. I understand what it can be like. You glance through the window of a gym. What you see are seemingly expert athletes operating complex fitness machines, men mountains slamming heavy weights onto the floor, and groups in matching sports gear judging everyone outwith their clique. The motivation to become a fit and healthy person, rather than one whose main physical activity is walking to the door to meet the Domino’s guy, takes a dent. Do you really want to spend money on a membership if the gym doesn’t seem like your kind of place? Of course not. No matter how good [insert gym’s name here]’s welcome offers are, if you aren’t going to go it is a waste of your hard-earned cash.
Fortunately, not being a “gym person” doesn’t mean you can’t be a fit and healthy person. It is worth noting here that, in my experience, people who are not as fit and healthy as they would like to be can be split into two groups: those who need group activity to keep things fun and keep themselves motivated, and those whose confidence in their own fitness is so low that they don’t want to be around other people as they attempt to start (or restart for the hundredth time) their fitness “journey”. I would implore anyone who falls into the latter category to realise that people will not judge you for trying to get fitter. I have nothing but respect for the people I see struggling around a short 2k run. If you join a team, your teammates will offer you nothing but encouragement as I have witnessed countless times when people return to rugby after years on the couch. Even the fittest people I know had to start somewhere so no one should be self-conscious about not being as fit as they want to be yet. However, I am aware that some people do struggle with body confidence issues and would prefer to work out, for now, alone. For those people I will provide some advice shortly but first, let’s talk about the options open to those “group activity people”.
Assuming you live anywhere near any form of civilization, there will be fun sports clubs around that are crying out to have you come and join. I consider myself very lucky to have found in rugby an activity I love when I was just eight years old. The result has been that it has become a habit to go along to training every week and it doesn’t even seem like work. Even on those weeks when I’m really not feeling in a fitness mood I get outside in the fresh air twice a week for a couple of hours, I get to socialise with a group of friends, and I get my heart rate up and get a sweat on. On the weeks I consider zero fitness weeks, I’m still not a total couch potato. It’s just a question of finding the activity that works best for you. I never believe anyone who says they don’t enjoy playing sport: that’s an opinion forged in a youth of being forced to play the same two or three games by an unsympathetic and unimaginative P.E teacher. Look beyond the dominant sports of football and rugby and give everything else a try: martial arts, squash, badminton, tennis, basketball, volleyball, trampoline, ultimate Frisbee, the list of possibilities goes on and on and on. Go along to whatever clubs are within commuting distance, meet new people, make new friends, and find the thing that gets you working without thinking you’re working. There is a sport for everyone (click on https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/get-inspired/25416779 to get some ideas).
And there are plenty of other groups that will help you remain active without being strictly sporty. Shona’s and my mum is a member of a Jazzercise group and the local ramblers. Whether she goes to these things for the fitness benefits or simply to get some much needed time away from us (far from the easiest of children) is up for debate but that’s a discussion for another day. These groups are great for keeping slightly older people (sorry mum!) fit and healthy but they are more than happy to take people of any age and background.
Of course, you’re a busy person. If you’re a student, as the semester wears on deadlines mount and free time becomes rarer. If you work full time, you might be stuck in the office burning the midnight oil. Finding time to join others for organised club training can be a challenge. So you, and those of you referred to above who don’t want to exercise with others for whatever reason, might feel that fitness and exercise are just not going to be for you. However, there is always something you can do and doing a little is better than doing nothing. Home personal workouts are a favourite of mine for those days when I just can’t find the time to get out and about. Back in May, in the lead up to my exams I felt I couldn’t justify taking two hours out to go to the gym, or an evening off to go to rugby training. But I always managed a few minutes here and there. The analogy I have heard used is that just because you aren’t going to fill your car all the way up with petrol, that doesn’t mean you don’t put in a cheeky tenner’s worth. The same goes for the human body. Every little bit helps so keep things ticking over in a small way.
In terms of home workouts, a classic is 10 press ups, 10 crunches, 10 squats, and a 30 second rest. Repeat this 10 times (or more or less depending on how fit you are at the moment). This combo gives you a good mix of upper body, core, and legs. But you can take your pick from any number of simple exercises (sit ups, ankle taps, leg raises, tricep dips, star jumps, step ups, etc. etc. etc.) You’ll be done in under 20 minutes and you’ll go back to your day’s activities feeling more focused and happier. Do this kind of thing 3 or more times a week and you’ll see and feel a difference in a few weeks. As time goes on, you’ll start to feel more and more confident in what your body can do. There is no better feeling than knowing you’ve just done an exercise you couldn’t have done 6 months ago.
Finally, no matter what you do to stay fit, remain positive. You will not be super motivated every day. You will have weekends where you order takeaway and lie on the couch, you will have days where you sit still in the pub and chop pint after pint. Nobody is perfect and everyone slips up. The key is to not let a bad day or a bad weekend become a bad week, month or year. It doesn’t matter what you did in the last 48 hours: all that matters is what you do today and what you plan to do tomorrow.