I’m not a sporty type. I was rubbish at netball and I knew my hockey career was over the Saturday I travelled two hours on the school bus to sit on the B team reserves bench for the duration of the match. I was quite happy with my sedentary lifestyle through my twenties and a little puzzled by friends who willingly put themselves through strenuous activity for fun. Then, about ten years ago, in a moment of madness, I signed myself up for a 10k race to raise money for charity. It was a huge challenge for me. I hadn’t run more than 10 metres since school and I was terrified! I threw myself in to the training and, lo and behold, I actually enjoyed it. What I hadn’t bargained for was the clarity of thought that came from pounding the pavements. Whatever stress I was going through was momentarily parked as I focussed 100% on continuing to breath.
It never ceased to amaze me that the solution to a tricky problem would pop magically in to my head either during or immediately after a run. Seeing as I learnt this some years ago you would think I would have learnt how to prioritise exercise in my weekly routine for the mental wellbeing it brings. But no. It was always the first thing to drop when life got busy. Exactly the time I need it most. It won’t surprise you that in the first half of this year making time for exercise didn’t even enter the picture. As soon as I left my job getting back to the gym was at the top of my to do list.
My knees have started to object to running so I decided to focus on group classes. For a few weeks I hammered it: Pilates, dance aerobics, yoga, spin, more Pilates, more spin, body combat, more spin. I completely exhausted myself and felt utterly wonderful. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this level of exercise up over the long term – mainly due to time constraints – but I loved feeling wiped out physically while my mind felt clearer and sharper than it had in months. For too long I had been ending the day completely rung out, often falling asleep as soon as I shut my laptop and sat down on the sofa. It was such a different type of exhaustion. One that took far longer to recover from. Being mentally exhausted dragged me down; being physically exhausted lifted me up.
There was an added, unexpected benefit to this gym onslaught. Investing time in my physical health gave my brain the space to process everything that had come before. Focussing on my body healed my mind. It set me up for a summer of rest and relaxation with my family safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be mentally running through the whys and wherefores of previous six months. I had let so much go. I had literally worked it out.
Really recognising and noticing how connected my mental and physical wellbeing are has led me to commit much more consciously to this part of my life. I have found my perfect combination of classes: Pilates, yoga and spin. And I have been able to timetable them in a way that fits with the rest of my life. Regular exercise has revealed itself to be a central pillar for me to retain a sense of balance and wellbeing. I pledge to myself to keep that pillar strong, to not neglect it, to not forget it. I will not let it fall.