“I had a relationship with fitness but it was sporadic. I took fitness seriously in spurts: when I needed to enlist in the military. Before that, I ran track in high school but not seriously. When I was discharged, my health took a nose-dive. I did not feel good about myself and when things didn’t go well, I turned to food. Food was my very best friend. I joined a gym because I didn’t like how I look and how tight my clothes fit. The bigger I bought my clothes, the more I was buying bigger clothes since I outgrew my clothes within months. At my heaviest, I was 210 pounds.
Getting stuck with a year of personal training was the “best”, overlooked mistake I could have made. Two awesome women personal trainers assisted me on my journey. I learned the same way I made time to engage in other activities, I would have to learn to schedule and prioritize fitness. When I started putting my exercise workouts on my calendar, I became more accountable and made less excuses for working out. Even now with gyms closed, I use the weights in my house, download a fitness app on the phone, and get my workout in. Either way, 6 days a week for at least 45 minutes, I am going to engage in some type of HITT, strength training, or cardio. I give myself one day of active recovery and rest. For fun, I like to run races. I see it all as a great way to help with my depression and anxiety and to allow myself “me time” when I will not allow myself to be disturbed. I allow myself to be selfish during my workout times.
What has really inspired me is seeing other women who have embraced weight training, like my former personal trainers. I always thought if women lifted heavy weights, they would look like “She-Hulk”. I learned later it’s not the case. My hat is always off when I see other women doing their thing in fitness, especially women of color. It’s a great feeling and maybe it will open the door for others to put health and fitness in the top 5.”
“By day I work within the NHS and by night I’m an Inclusive Dance and Zumba Instructor.
Growing up, I was super active. I loved playing sports. Hockey was my main sport and I started off by pulling around an old sawn-off hockey stick of my dad’s from when I could just about walk. I love to dance too and I’ve tried hip hop and Bollywood dancing over the years.
My life changed in 2008 at 24 years old – I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC), a chronic auto-immune condition where my immune system attacks my bowels. Symptoms include blood loss, diarrhoea, bowel urgency, pain and fatigue. My most debilitating symptom is fatigue, which has affected how I can stay active.
Then in 2011, I was the victim of a traumatic, high-speed car accident. Overnight, my ability to exercise was taken away. I struggled to get out of bed by myself and I literally had to take everything one step at a time. I suffered with physical injuries as well as PTSD, depression and anxiety, which took years to recover from.
These personal challenges led me to becoming an Inclusive Dance and Zumba instructor. I wanted to provide a safe space for all, including those with disabilities, long-term conditions and mental health issues to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of dance. It’s also provided a space to have an open dialogue about the issues we’re facing and share our personal challenges. That in itself, has been truly powerful.
Being active from a young age taught me many skills which I‘ve used throughout my life and stood me in good stead to face these challenges. I’ve had to adapt and think outside of the box to find what works for me.”
“I’ve not always had my disability, in fact, growing up I was extremely sporty. I did karate lessons, signed up for every event at sports day, ran charity runs and eventually even got into my county Badminton team! That was an amazing achievement for me as despite my love of sport, I never really had much aptitude for it – especially running – but hey, it’s the taking part that counts right?
As I got older I tried all sorts of exercise classes, gym workouts and developed a love for mountaineering. Indoor climbing is by far what I miss the most these days. I was diagnosed with a mild case of M.E. in my third year of university, and to be honest, I kind of ignored it. Boy did I live to regret that. You can’t beat M.E. you see, thanks to the main symptom of Post Exertional Malaise (PEM) – which basically means the more I exert myself, the more ill I am. So as I continued to work hard and exercise hard, ignoring the signals my body was sending me, and using painkillers and drugs to mask my body’s cries to stop, I just became increasingly ill.
I unfortunately now have a moderate case of M.E. which heavily restricts what I can do. Even small activities can trigger PEM. I have a perching stool in the kitchen for washing up, but I still have to spend a few hours resting afterwards as my entire upper-body will feel like I’ve been lifting weights. I recently purchased a coverless duvet because changing bed sheets left me feeling worse than that time I did a half marathon years ago. I even cut most of my hair off because of the exertion of washing and styling it. Theoretically I could still go climb a wall, but I would ‘crash’ afterwards, becoming extremely ill and bedridden for days or weeks. So traditional exercise is kind of off the table…
With M.E. you can only really talk about activity rather than exercise, because things like washing up may now be a major workout for you. However, M.E. varies a LOT in severity, so you’ll sometimes see individuals with the mildest cases still doing low impact workouts, but the most severe of us are permanently confined to bed. It’s kind of like putting pins & needles and paralysis on the same scale.
I still struggle with doing any kind of activity for activities sake, most of my limited energy is used up on day-to-day living activities. But I’m trying to get into the habit of doing something, even if it’s once or twice a week, sometimes not even that. I like to do 5 minute ‘yoga’, though it’s basically 90% child’s pose. Essentially I get a yoga mat out and do some stretches. I think this helps, as I spend so much time sat still, inactive, that I think my body just starts cramping up, but I can’t really say for sure. I do know that mentally it makes a difference, it makes me feel like I haven’t given up, like there’s still something I can do, it reminds me that I’m not being lazy, that I want to do more, it’s just not good for me.
If anyone else with M.E. reads this, I can’t give you much advice because of how varied our symptoms are. Just make sure to listen to your body. Don’t push it. I know society teaches us that we should push harder, that we shouldn’t take a day off unless we’re really ill, the whole ‘no pain no gain’ but sometimes that backfires. Sometimes your body just can’t take it and if you don’t listen you’ll only make things worse. Had I stopped and listened, maybe I would still be able to work part-time at least, do some of those low impact workouts, be able to make it up a single flight of stairs without stopping to rest.
So that’s my story. Listen to your body, work with it, not against it, do what you as an individual can, and forget what others can do. For most people, exercise is worthwhile and good for your health, but that doesn’t mean you have to go all out. Just getting a walk into your day is good enough for some. We’re all made differently.”
“I have always been fit and healthy but things turned sideways when I was diagnosed with “invisible disease” which people know as “hypothyroidism”. My weight started piling off and had very less energy for anything. Later, my sedentary lifestyle made it even worse and I started feeling like a prisoner in my own body.
Then one day I thought that enough is enough because once again I wanted to feel healthy and fit. So, I made a promise to myself that no matter what, I will be consistent in my journey and will never miss a workout and I kept my promise. Since then I started eating right and working out every single day. Those small changes made a huge impact on my life and as a result now my thyroids are normal, I am very active and healthy; and I have lost 33 pounds.
I am still far away from my goals but also very proud and happy for the little achievements which I have achieved during the course. I have much more stamina and much more energy now.
It’s true when people say that, “to help others first you have to help yourself and It’s not a destination but indeed a journey”, so I am enjoying my journey. This has become my lifestyle now and I can’t miss it for a world because health (physical and mental) is everything and most importantly it is helping me to rediscover my relationship with my mind and my body.”
“Since becoming a Mum, my attitude to fitness has changed dramatically. I want to be a positive role model for my daughter showing her that fitness is a way of life and makes us feel strong and healthy and that size doesn’t matter.
When I was growing up my family didn’t go swimming or do any sort of family activities together, we ate terribly all the time and I would only take part in PE at school because I had to. I wasn’t educated about the right sort of foods we should eat, I grew up in a time that size zero was the size we had to be to fit in, get that job or man!!!
Since becoming a Mum I have struggled with my new identity and role as mummy and exercise is my therapy. It definitely makes me a better mum, it makes me feel that I can get through the day of mummy… Mummy… Mummy!”
“I wasn’t really sporty. I spent most of my primary school in choir. I loved it because there was less effort.
However; I became adventurous when I joined high school. Started off with field hockey which ultimately introduced me to running
Running wasn’t my favorite but I loved field hockey and it was the only way to stay fit. Slowly by slowly; I started falling in love with it and it became my way to go for fitness.
I have been running 10 years plus. Not consistently but a few times a year. This year with everything that is happening; I have taken it a notch higher and it has been my stress reliever. So far I am loving it; I already know that I am running more than last year and I hope to continue like that. For me; it’s more of a mindset than it is of a physical effort.
Anybody can run; it only starts with one step at a time.”
“I’ve struggled with my mental health since my early teen years. I lacked a lot of confidence and self belief growing up. I tried pole dance for the first time when I was sixteen, despite being told I wasn’t allowed to by a negative influence in my life. I removed them from my life and tried it, instantly falling in love.
Due to health and location issues, I couldn’t pole dance much after that until I was 20. I was in need of a huge confidence boost after a series of unfortunate events and to do something that was simply for me. Instantly it revoked a passion within myself, became my way of coping and building myself back up enough to care enough to want to keep living.
I later went on to train to become a pole dance instructor and have been teaching the sport to a range of individuals of all walks of life.
“Growing up I was extremely fit and active. I loved the way it made me feel and loved the competitive element too. I represented the school in running and badminton. Which I loved. Running and dancing were my staple ‘go to’ activities of choice. Every week I would take part in training or events. Winning trophies and keeping me occupied.
My parents are avid sports people, which meant that my three brothers and I followed suit. I was fit and active, training for the Brighton Marathon and weekly Zumba and Pilates classes right up to the day I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer.
At the age of 36 my life was turned upside down. It was horrific. It was so hard going from an athletic person to little exercise whilst I had to concentrate on getting better. I walked as much as I could through chemo and when I could start running again, I did. And I was so proud. I started doing other activities and events too. Exercise, sport and activity played a massive part in my recovery and became a therapy and crucial aspect in my life. I linked it with a lot of fundraising too, competing in many different events for various charities.
I have now created Survive Be Alive. A project I hope will inspire anyone going through trauma and illness and encouraging people to live the life they aspire to live and be themselves. That all exercise and activity is awesome and to be celebrated. To focus on what you can do and not what you can’t.”
“Growing up I always loved being out on my roller skates, sometimes whilst my brothers pulled me along from their BMX bikes! I basically wanted to be in Starlight Express! In school I hated PE, I wasn’t popular and didn’t enjoy any of the activities offered, so I didn’t really get involved in sport.
Fast forward to 2012, I moved to Suffolk to support my husband who unfortunately lost his life to cancer. Finding myself far away from friends and family but needing a support network I reminisced about my childhood roller skates and decided to try out for the local roller derby team.
I was instantly hooked! It’s a full contact team sport, and I love that I can take out all my stress by hitting other people on skates, but it’s also very tactical, so every training session I can lose myself thinking about strategy and gameplay, giving me a chance to switch off from real life.
Eight years on, I still skate at least once a week. We are not able to play competitively at the moment due to coronavirus, so I’m going back to my roots and taking my wheels outside. Right now I’m taking part in a virtual roller marathon, raising funds for a community skating project.
In 2019 I gave birth to my son, and now I’m finding toddler friendly ways that I can skate. Skating was great exercise physically through pregnancy and brilliant for my mental health during the post-natal period. Through derby I have many new friends for life, skating has had a massive positive boost for both my mind and body!”
“I have always enjoyed sport although I wasn’t the best at typical school sports like netball and hockey. I gave them a go but was never good enough to make the teams. I always wanted to do the typical boys sports.. football, cricket. I’ve always loved running and cross country and did that through my teens.
At uni I met a couple of girls who played football. I joined the women’s football team and loved it. After uni I carried on playing football and got my coaching badges. I kept running and going to the gym to keep fit.
After I had my daughter I gave up coaching as it took up too much time with a young family. I still tried to keep fit by running and going to the gym. I then started to suffer with a bowel condition..
In 2012 I was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with chronic ulcerative colitis. My only form of treatment was to have my bowel removed. I was given a permanent ileostomy which saved my life. As I recovered I wanted to get fit again.. I set myself targets.. events or distances I wanted to achieve, whether it was a distance or a strength goal. I’m now fitter and stronger then ever. My ileostomy has given me life.. I am determined to live every minute. I go to the gym, have run 2 half marathons, regularly run 5 and 10ks, I have done a duathlon and I cycle.
Keeping fit and active is a privilege, it helps me feel better and allows me to spend time with my daughter when we are out running or cycling together!”