If you're reading this, then I bet you've had a very interesting relationship with fitness and exercise for most of your adult life. It's either something you love because you've always been active or athletic, or something you grew to love over time, or if you're like most of us in the modern world, something you dread and loathe from the bottom of your soul but have been told repeatedly is a necessary evil. If you're in the latter category, this blog post is for you and BOY CAN I RELATE! I don't remember consciously caring about how active I was as a child and I suppose that's because it was so intuitive given that it was the 90s so we still had very few options for indoor play and spent most of our free time doing cartwheels, playing ten-ten, catcher* or stuck-in-the-mud! So how and when did exercise become this looming presence in our lives constantly reminding us that we're not good enough or healthy enough unless we're pumping serious iron 7 days a week and spending thousands on gym memberships and equipment?
Here's the truth, exercise (or movement as I prefer to call it) is essential. There's no sugarcoating that. We are designed to move in order to maintain a stable, healthy heart rate, purify our lungs, strengthen our muscles and lubricate our joints; not to mention the positive effects of movement on our mental health as well. Movement helps us significantly reduce our risk of developing chronic and autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. For many of us these seem like far off "old people diseases" that we don't have to think about on a daily basis, however little drops of water make an ocean and the old cliche stands true - prevention is always better than cure!
One thing we always have to remember though is that unlike our ancestors who had designated "market days" and were only exposed to goods maybe once a week, we now live 24/7 in a market so the image of exercise that we are constantly confronted with is not the be all and end all of movement options available to us. Through media and popular culture we have this set image of what our fit lifestyles and bodies must look like to be determined healthy. Not only is this mindset itself unhealthy, it's also wildly inaccurate and discouraging, and makes most of us feel like we've failed before we even try.
So you can begin to see why movement seems to come so easily to some and can often be a major struggle for the rest of us mere mortals! The standards arbitrarily set for basic health are just ridiculously high and out of reach for most people, not to mention completely unnecessary to pursue or achieve! You absolutely do not need visible abs to be considered healthy, nor do you have to fall within a narrow weight category either. I want to emphasise that there’s nothing wrong with you if you struggle with fitness. There are so many external factors at play that we've been exposed to for most of our lifetime that gently suggest that to be fit is to be superhuman with 0% body fat. The truth is, you struggle with movement for 2 reasons. One is because, thanks to media and marketing, you haven't figured out how to be creative about your fitness options, and two, when you visualise your starting point as in "I'm ready to begin my fitness journey", you compare it to other people’s “expert level” training such as fitness models, personal trainers and gym junkies! I'm going to share a few things that helped me see movement and fitness for what they truly are to the average human being, which has led me to work out consistently 4 to 5 times a week and genuinely LOVING it!
1. Mindset - This is the most important point I'm going to make in this post. You must alter your orientation and perception towards exercise and see it as the necessity to move, be active, get your heart rate going and your muscles progressively stronger rather than simply thinking “I must gym and look like Jennifer Lopez to be healthy”. Remember that fitness models and Personal Trainers exercise FOR A LIVING. How many hours do you spend on your work, career or passion? That's how much time and effort they invest in theirs yet we expect to look exactly like them and model our personal health goals after their literal careers! Which leads me to my next point...
2. Goals - The very worst metric for measuring progress on your fitness journey is weight loss. If you want to get discouraged quick quick, just keep stepping on the scales after every workout session and see how you instantly drop off after a month of zero / minimal results. It is so demoralising to see the number on the scale barely move after spending so much time and so many near death experiences at the gym! Better metrics that will undoubtedly encourage you to keep up are strength (being able to lift a little more each week or fortnight), time (being able to power through a little longer each session even if it's by 30-second increments), heart rate and stamina (discovering that you can fully immerse yourself with ease into activities like dancing, playing with your kids or aburos* or even something as basic as climbing a few flights of stairs), and any other metric you can think to add to this list! Do no feel restricted and come up with other metrics specific to your life and lifestyle.
3. Fun! - Start with something that simply brings you joy. If you have a visceral reaction to the idea of going to the gym then do not start there! If the idea of dancing the night away at an owambe* or kayaking with friends on the Lagos lagoon is more your speed then see how you can incorporate dancing or outdoor sports into your lifestyle. I had a phase where all I could hack was a one hour dance party in my living room on Sundays and it was such a great place to start. I was alone, felt absolutely free, the gbedun* really used to "enter body" (insert BurnaBoy voice) and my heart rate was definitely up! It was a fantastic way to realise how great I felt when I moved versus when I didn't and encouraged me to take baby steps exploring other things such as Youtube workout videos, boxing classes, Peloton, and even choreography videos online. (Ever tried the NaeNae twins choreo to Meg thee Stallion and Beyonce's Savage? Yea... THAT is a workout!)
4. Commitment - but set the starting bar very low. Simply committing to jogging on the spot for 10 minutes a day to get your heart rate up and work up a light sweat is 10 minutes more than you did the day before! Set a minimum requirement for yourself that you can do with no obstacles - no leaving your house, no fancy equipment, heck not even the need to wear workout clothes - and commit wholeheartedly to doing it. Try sticking to this for 21 days (with a day or two off if you need it) and see what you can add to it little by little over time. Remember, given the new metrics you've set that are not focused on weight loss, there are other things to look out for to track your progress.
5. Support - For some people, it really helps to have another person that cheers you on, encourages and motivates you to do more. Having a trainer, health coach (such as myself) or accountability partner can be of major benefit here but I will add a caveat to this. Your accountability partner is not to take over your fitness journey and force your commitment. The journey must remain yours and you set the goals and parameters for yourself. One reason I'm super hesitant to recommend personal trainers to clients who are just trying to set out on a fitness journey is that so few of them recognise the need to work on mental health twice as much as physical health, and lack the empathy to gently encourage clients rather than making them scared to "fail". You cannot fail at a true fitness journey because it is a lifelong commitment to your health. So while support from a personal trainer might work for some, be sure that it's healthy, loving and encouraging support that keeps you in charge of the course you're charting. This is the kind of support I can definitely offer through my health coaching sessions and I would be super happy to help you on this journey if you'd like!
These tips are really powerful when implemented and are really only a few of the things that have helped me personally and can hopefully empower you to feel more able to move and be your most active, healthy self. As always if you'd like clarification on anything mentioned in this post please feel free to comment below or you can send me a DM on Instagram 🙂
Lots of love and positive vibes,
* ten-ten, catcher - Popular children's games particular to Nigeria (with variations in West Africa)
* aburos - younger ones in Yoruba Language
* owambe - society party / event in Yoruba Language (slang)
* gbedun - good music in Yoruba Language (slang)