I took the plunge – literally – with childish frivolity when I was much younger. Having learnt to swim in a river while growing up in Yorkshire, I’ve continued swimming for most of my life. When I broke my ankle 10 years ago, I had to take a month off swimming and it was a real struggle to come back to it but I knew that if I didn’t do it then, I never would. As it was an unheated outdoor pool in October, the water was rather cold – actually, if I’m being honest, it felt like I’d cast myself into the Arctic. 10 years on, while it sounds clichéd, the cold water gives me a buzz and wakes me up in the morning. Dare I say it… I actually look forward to diving in.
It hasn’t always been so clear-cut and ‘simple’ though – far from it. There have been various points where life has gotten in the way. When I was bringing up my three boys, it wasn’t easy to keep up swimming or stick to an exercise routine – I’m sure we’ve all experienced it, but life is unpredictable, and busy. From getting the kids to school and helping with homework, to maintaining my boys’ social lives with after-school clubs and getting them to and from friends’ houses, there wasn’t a lot of time left over for me.
You might think that I would have slowed down when I entered my sixties but I’ve got plenty to keep me busy – I’m actually busier than ever, with my part-time work and other hobbies. It means that I fit activity in where I can, and if I’m not able to attend every class or swim every morning, I try not to be too hard on myself.
There’s no reason why you need to find one particular activity and stick rigidly with it. While I attend Zumba to ease the symptoms of osteoporosis, I also take part in other sports to keep myself stimulated by avoiding a set routine, and I find that it also allows me to fit activity around my life. I attend yoga and Pilates classes, and cycle to work. Nobody is saying that activity has to be your number one priority; I’m an advocate for fitting it in where I can.
The fact that I keep active for myself and nobody else is the key for me to stay committed. I know that I’ll finish swimming feeling stretched; I love the feeling of freedom that accompanies cycling, no matter how slowly I’m going; and I attend Zumba classes not just for the health benefits but also for the sheer fun of it, with everybody bopping about and getting sweaty together. Find what it is that makes you feel good afterwards, whether feeling supple and stretchy, that post workout ‘zing’ or something completely different; the effects of sport are as individual as we are.
The pressures on women are different today than from when I first took up swimming – for me, the ‘fear of judgement’ which This Girl Can discusses as something which can prevent women from partaking in sport is something I think comes from the increased emphasis on body image in all forms of media. While I grew up without any fear about what people thought, fear for women can sit around their appearance, because when do we ever see images in the media of women red-faced and sweaty while exercising? It might also stem from ability, and avoiding activity because they worry that they won’t be very good. Others might worry about being judged for their priorities, not wanting others to think they’re slacking off from work or that they’re a terrible mum/wife/sister/auntie for not spending every spare moment with family. It’s these fears which can prevent women from slipping off to an exercise class in their lunch break or from taking half an hour away from their families for a run, jog or walk around the block.
For example, Stacey, who also featured in the This Girl Can campaign, hated her first Bootcamp class after feeling intimidated and nervous that others would judge her. She found that persevering and having another go when she felt ready was the right tack to take. Staying determined, she kept going and six years later, is firm friends with other women from the class who she would never have met otherwise and whose encouragement forms part of the reason she comes back each week.
What I think I’m trying to say is that, from one woman to another, there’s no recipe or formula to getting active and there’s certainly no ‘right’ way. The main thing is that you’re a woman and you’re doing something.
You can read more stories from the women who feature in the This Girl Can campaign here: http://www.thisgirlcan.co.uk/meet-the-girls/
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