Thursday, 7 April 2011


After my successes last year in having more therapy than anyone else you've ever met, giving up smoking and turning my Diet Coke consumption from excessive to once in a blue moon, I'm keeping up with the idea of breaking bad habits and trying to be a bit more healthy and hoping to embrace the somewhat alien world of exercise.

This is trickier for me than my previous life changes. I have never been one for exercise, even as a child. While I was happy to play outside, as soon it became at all organised and good for you, I would always forgo exercise for sitting quietly in a corner with a good book. I am also the opposite of competitive. I couldn't care less who wins the game and displays of intense team spirit over winning make me uncomfortable in the extreme. And I have chronic fatigue. Along with being permanently tired, one of the main symptoms of this illness is feeling excessively exhausted from minimal exertion. My body just can't take a ten mile run. It can barely take a shower without keeling over sometimes. So how do I get a bit fitter and stronger without boring myself stupid or making myself feel ill?

I'm not entirely sure and since I can't really stretch (if you'll pardon the pun) to hiring a trainer, I thought I'd avail myself of the free advice of the internet to find some blogs where people talk about starting to get fitter and stronger and take some tips from there and balance it up with my resources and abilities. I was unprepared for what I found lying behind this particular door online.

It was like stepping back into the changing rooms at school, with only the voices of the fittest and most competitive and most privileged being heard. Everyone I've found who writes about exercise seems to have either always been the effortlessly sporty type who chose a cross country run as a treat as a child or the born again type who once used to be very unfit, quite overweight and now embrace exercise with the zeal of a drowning man sighting a safety raft. Both talk about exercise in quite intimidating terms, talking marathons rather than seeing it as a hobby. They often disuss calories burning in a fashion that might pique the interest of anyone restricts food for any reason or trigger someone trying to move on from those often self destructive behaviours. And most of them take a less  encouraging tone, going for the hectoring style of a particularly sadistic PE teacher with added sanctimony. Just because your body can do a certain form of exercise doesn't mean everyone else's can too.

There seems to be little room for for personal variation in these blogs or celebration of the myriad talents of the human race that gives us a million different sorts of sport and exercise. If the blogger is a runner, then everyone reading should be a runner too, even if their skills really lie with swimming or pole vaulting. This slightly superior tone and rigidity isn't really the encouragement I need. I don't really know where my skills in the world of exercise lie yet, so I'd prefer not to be scolded and castigated from the outset. I'd like to hear more about the fun of exercise, not be bombarded with pictures of the latest workout gear and shoes so fancy they have a mind of their own.

So I've taken the unusual step (for me) of putting down the laptop and venturing out into the real world in search of inspiration and instruction in the art of getting fitter and taken up trapeze lessons. I'd like to tell you it's a lifelong dream of mine after reading all those stories of kids running off to join the circus in Enid Blyton books, but it's actually the influence of the job advice service I'm attending instead. Someone there attends these lessons in their spare time and thought that the non competitive and work at your own pace feel would suit a bunch of women get back into the world of work and exercise after mental illness while feeling a sense of achievement.

So with visions of sailing gracefully through the air (and lithe toned arms) in my mind, I went off to my first lesson yesterday and faced the challenge. And what challenges they were. Even finding something appropriate to wear was difficult enough and thanks to my appalling foot eye co-ordination half the warm up involved me going the wrong way and out of time. Things didn't get much better or easier when I saw how complicated actually getting onto the trapeze was.

You pull yourself up on the bar, swing your legs backwards over your head and then up straight with your feet on the bar, sliding your hands up the ropes until your chest and legs meet and then you should find yourself balancing on the bar, swinging gently in the breeze. Or plummeting toward the crash mat like a stone in pond if you're me. Incredibly unflexible, I found it extremely difficult to get my legs over my head while hanging upside down while holding onto something that swings about when you grab hold of it. Repeated attempts got me nowhere near mounting the bloody thing and eventually I had to climb onto the bar from a chair, only to discover that swinging about five feet above the ground on something less substantial than a child's swing makes me feel horribly nauseous and quite terrified.

I didn't feel much sense of achievement at the end of the first lesson and I'm kind of dreading next week's already, even though my arms are stronger than I thought and less achy than anticipated today. I'll be spending quite a lot of the next week practising tipping my toes over my head and steeling myself for the swinging again, but I'm not holding out hope that this is my chosen exercise regime for the future. So what works for you? What's good fun and doesn't induce the dry heaves? And have you found an exercise blog that keeps it inspiring and enthusiastic?


  1. Trapeze sounds like so much fun, I'm jealous, especially as my inability to do so much as a forward roll in PE class still haunts me to this day.

    Well, you know I'm a bore about dance lessons - not that I've done any lately *gnashes teeth* - but my stealth!exercise is cleaning up: if you're mindful about it, you can really work out. I also stretch at odd times - like when I'm brushing my teeth/in elevator/waiting for the jug to boil.

  2. Honestly, the only thing I would say is do what you enjoy or you'll never do it at all.

    I can't recommend a sport. My preferred exercises being swimming, running and ballroom dancing, I suspect I'm not a good exercise match for you.

    Bendy, stretchy, go-at-your-own-pace things like yoga and pilates are great as long as you find a good teacher. But it does depend a lot on the teacher. You don't want a class full of stuck up 'yummy mummies' and a teacher with an annoying voice. Bleugh!

    Still it's nice to hear you're doing this. I think you'll find when you get he right exercise for you you'll get a lot out of it.

    In the meantime I'd suggest that exercise blogs are like productivity blogs. They're writing to convince themselves not for your benefit. Stuff 'em!

  3. I may not be a bad match, physically. I have CFS/FM, am neither coordinated or flexible, and hate competitive sport with a passion.

    The most beneficial exercise for me has been Bikram yoga, which I took up a year ago (since getting ill). I would definitely recommend giving it a go.

    Pilates also good, but was doing that anyway. Swimming is fine once in a while, but it tends to knacker me more quickly and completely than anything else.

  4. I've never seen a fitness blog which didn't induce, display, or both, some level of self-loathing.

    The only advice I can give is to try different stuff (as far as possible), and don't be afraid to move on from a class or activity when it's stopped giving you what you want.

    I was actually thinking about balanced attitudes to exercise yesterday: No one seems to have one, because the people who do, don't talk about it.

  5. I think it's great that you're trying trapeze, even if it turns out to be not for you!

    I'm the wrong person to ask about "good fun" because I've also always slunk away from exercise. The only thing I've so far found pleasure in on its own merit is yoga, and that's only because of the silly poses and finding the ability to touch my shins with my nose. I've been running a lot, but only because I had a mental lapse a month ago and decided I want to run a 5K in June. So far, things aren't looking very promising, but I will get it done! But yeah, I don't have a lot of fun running. I really only had some sort of fun when I did it with a group of others, like when I was on the rugby team.

    On a sunny day like today I do like cycling, but not as an exercise thing as much as a hey, it's sunny and I want to enjoy the weather and the dunes thing.

  6. "I was actually thinking about balanced attitudes to exercise yesterday: No one seems to have one, because the people who do, don't talk about it." Amen!