Women and girls today are forever worrying about their health and how much exercise they do. But they’re constantly put off by the models in sports advertisements and the fact that sport is extremely male orientated. The truth is that exercise has all sorts of health benefits–none of which are exclusively for men.
Exercising can improve your mental health, your digestive system, and bone strength; which is the real reason why doctors are keen for people to exercise. But far too many people–women in particular–are put off exercise. I would like to get a message to all you wonderful people who would love to get fit and enjoy it but just don’t feel that they ‘fit in’. A message that will persuade you to become the best version of yourself.
Being the best version of yourself or getting fit does not mean being ‘slim’. It does not mean a specific dress size. Or a specific weight. One of the things I have never been is ‘slim’ yet I exercise almost daily; running, going to the gym, swimming, and hiking. No matter how much I push myself I don’t shift much weight at all. This can be incredibly frustrating but this is when we need to be reminded that exercise isn’t necessarily about becoming lighter or slimmer–the biggest, most important reason, is our pride, our sense of achievement and our improved mentality.
Women’s participation in sport is growing, but there is still a room for a lot more. Some of today’s influential women include Jessica Ennis-Hill (Olympic Gold medallist and British record-holder in the Heptathlon), Charlotte Edwards (Former Captain of the England’s cricket team), Nicola Adams (British Boxer and the First Woman to take Olympic Gold in boxing), Susie Wolff (F1 Racing driver and Ambassador for Women in Sport) and Hannah Cockroft (Paralympic Wheelchair sprinter).
These are just a handful of women who have been through the struggle, and have fought the male orientated industry to get where they are today. We need more women to get out there and represent our gender and show the world that we are strong.
The documentary “Mind over Marathon” which was showing on BBC One just after the London Marathon was an extremely inspirational and influential documentary for many people; focusing on 10 people suffering with mental health problems training for the London Marathon. Each went through different difficulties and were all in different situations but they helped each other through the training and got to their first milestone, a 10k race together, followed ultimately by the London Marathon. The documentary is a fantastic showcase of amateur sport and although sport is competitive, in the end everyone wants to finish the race and sometimes we need to help one another to get there.
“This is your journey. Embrace it.”
My journey with exercise started when I was coming to the end of my time at school (2008). I was always much taller and generally bigger built than all my friends. I had comments every day about how tall I was. On one occasion someone said, “Jesus Christ, you’re huge!” Of course, they probably didn’t mean to offend me, I don’t even think they meant I was huge in a bad way (not that there is a bad way to be ‘huge’). But I became tired of people making comments, so I decided to embrace my natural height and size, and turn it into strength.
I put my name down for a few athletics tournaments in the summer sports day at school and was picked for most of them–which came as a surprise to me. I competed in shotput, discus throw, long jump and the 400m sprint race. I remember the feeling of achieving silver in the 400m sprint–it was incredible, everyone was cheering, my adrenaline was pumping and I could just feel the endorphins which resulted in the biggest smile that I’d had so far during school. Standing at the start line was terrifying, my peers were much slimmer and some of the most popular at school, but I wanted to prove a point. I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone stop me.
From there I started running in my spare time and joined a running club in 2015. I have improved an enormous amount–not only in fitness but my mental health has vastly improved. I was so unpredictable, quick to get upset and had a very short fuse; but as soon as I started running more with like-minded people it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. My energy was being used for running rather than building up the anxiety. Now, most of my friends who don’t run get sick of me talking about running so much, but I’m so proud–it has changed my life. I have more friends, I feel fitter, I feel like I fit in. I’ve achieved things I never thought I would and I’ve raised money for a number of charities through races.
The most important thing to remember when starting your journey in sport participation is that although you might think people are judging you and expecting you to be instantly great, this isn’t the case. Everyone starts from somewhere and believe it or not, people are accepting of that. I couldn’t run more than 2 miles when I started running club, now I have completed countless 5k and 10k races, a 10 mile race, and I am less than two weeks away from completing my first half marathon. I’m not fast and at times I feel like giving up, but I get through it. That is the most important factor.
Don’t be afraid, just go and try it–you will probably surprise yourself. But remember one thing, you don’t do it to impress anyone; you do it for the sense of achievement and the improved health in mind and body.
This is your journey, embrace it.