It's here again: Blue Monday - the start of the third week in January is allegedly the most depressing day of the year. There's no actual scientific evidence to back this up but it's the kind of theory that feels true whether there's any real science behind it or not.
It makes sense. At Christmas we overspend and overeat and then in January we overcompensate. We give up every one of life's pleasures and drag ourselves to the gym so by week three we're fed up sick and tired of it all - saving money, eating celery and sweating on a treadmill is no fun at all and those rock-hard abs still haven't turned up even after six whole workouts!
And so we flop down on the sofa and eat our body weight in biscuits. We tell ourselves we deserve a little pampering and that it will make us feel better.
The funny thing is I think we've got this pampering lark the wrong way round.
Let me explain: when I had breast cancer, if I felt a bit feel down or tired especially if I was about to have one of my Zoladex injections, it was tempting to curl up and hide on the settee, but that would just make me focus inward on the jab I was dreading and all that I was facing at that time. Instead I would go out walking. I would move purposefully, creating and repeating short mantras in an encouraging rhythm that matched my walking pace, and on the way back I would make a point of stopping at a coffee shop and having something nice. It made the whole experience feel like a treat.
Slowly I came to realise that walking is a treat. As for walking in the middle of winter - even better! It sounds perverse but this can be the best time of year to get out walking and the worse the weather the better it feels. Provided you've got the right clothes and you're not venturing out in a genuine hurricane it's great powering along all cosy in your coat and hat. You feel cocooned and empowered somehow. When you get home your skin's cold and you smell of fresh air. You make yourself a hot drink and it tastes like the best thing in the world.
People aren't time rich these days and to spend an hour or so investing in yourself like this is incredibly rewarding.
It's not like going to a gym and crashing about on a treadmill and a cross trainer then giving up because it all feels too difficult. It's something that you can build up slowly. No matter what your size or ability you can challenge yourself to get to the corner shop and back again, then push yourself a bit further the next day. It's amazing how quickly you start to see results - which is a good thing for those who've signed up for one of our MoonWalk marathons in May and June as they need to start training in earnest pretty soon.
Best of all, it's a fantastic cure for the January blues. Recent studies show that if you walk like you're happy - shoulders back, head held high and striding with purpose - your body can actually fool your brain into feeling genuinely cheerful. So when you start out, don't shuffle along but take confident steps. It helps if you set yourself a challenge. Tell yourself you're going to go once round the park as fast as possible, or leave just before the shops close so you have to power along to get there. Giving yourself a goal and some kind of structure is a huge motivator.
Once you're moving I guarantee you'll have a different perspective on life. When I was working on my book I had a terrible case of writer's block, until I realised that whilst I was supposed to be writing about the benefits of Power Walking, I wasn't actually doing it! I set off, and as I walked the ideas started to flow. Now I always carry a pen and paper to jot things down as I go.
I think that's the key to getting in shape and beating Blue Monday. Find the thing that makes you smile and do it. Last weekend I tried a series of fitness classes - I did an hour of Bollywood dance, which was great fun and then I finally learned to hula hoop, something I've wanted to do since I was a child. Hula hooping is great for your core muscles, but I was too busy giggling to be bothered about that.
So go on, get your trainers on, get out there and pamper yourself this month. The world is one big outdoor spa, and membership is free.