Why do I exercise?

A question I sometimes get asked (although more often than not a statement directed at me) is “why do you do so much exercise?” or “you are always exercising.”

So why do I do this? What is exercise to me?

Well I suppose it started because I grew up in an environment full of sport and exercise – my parents both ran for Mansfield Running Club so myself and my siblings were surrounded by runners and involved in ‘running’ events frequently from a young age, most weekends. My Dad also played badminton.

This was a wonderfully enriching atmosphere to be raised in, I have very fond memories of the fun and laughter as well as the hard work, tears, falls and sheer determination it took to succeed, to reach a goal, to support another individual. My parents often ran for charities – in fancy dress – I would love counting out the money afterwards and bagging it up.

So being involved in all of this set me up mentally for exercise. My parents then got us involved in running ‘fun runs’ blasting off at the start – whinging after a couple of minutes because I’d gone off too fast – ‘ I can’t breathe….. my legs are tired….. I need a drink.’  These are familiar statements which I hear from my children today, it makes me realise how patient my parents were with us all.

Exercise is hard work, you can’t just run, lift weights, play a sport… it takes time, effort, determination, a ‘can do’ attitude because you are not going to succeed all the time, believe me I’ve failed a lot. But I’ve always got up, dusted myself off and tried again…. something which has helped me to face a multitude of situations I’ve encountered in years gone by.

When my mum passed away very suddenly a couple of years ago my saving grace was being able to lace up my running shoes, pop on my headphones and run. I would take off over the fields into our beautiful countryside, I’d often feel like I was running through the pain, this is how I coped – the rhythm of my breathing with every foot strike helping to settle the panic rising inside me. Being able to calm myself in this way made the pain a little more bearable. Running also took me away from everything. I often say I can lose myself in my own thoughts whilst out running, put things into perspective and gain a clearer outlook on whatever is troubling me.

Sport and exercise helps to build your resilience not just in physical activity but through all aspects of life. I certainly don’t think I would be where I am now without it.

So these fun runs were just the start. I was also involved in swimming lessons, progressing to the Mansfield swimming club, swimming length after length a couple of nights a week, now that was tiring.

I was also very fortunate to have another great sporting influence in my life when I was young…. my PE teacher. People would either love her or hate her. I loved her, probably because I had already been introduced to the hard work of exercise but I had also felt so many of the benefits too. My PE teacher pushed me when I thought I couldn’t push anymore, made us train for cross country and hockey in all types of weather. We would spend at least 3 lunchtimes a week running around our school grounds before we could have our lunch. Hockey training twice a week. Netball practice. We had an athletic track marked on the school field…. I would run 800 metres after 800 metres on the command of my PE teacher, why? Because winners never give up. They work hard… train often… they push through the discomfort, why? Because then they achieve success and meet their goals. We were a school with a reputation, we were a school to try and beat…. a task that was difficult for others as we had been instilled with the fight, the determination to succeed.

However, you may be thinking that my PE teacher did this because she also wanted to have that reputation…. and she probably did, but she also wanted to see us succeed and better ourselves. Mrs A persuaded my parents to take me to hockey coaching courses, which they did, this is where I met another very influential role model in my sporting life, my hockey coach.

He was a lovely, kind, gentle man. He encouraged me to be the best I could be, got me involved in club and county hockey, a club I still play for today. Still battling it out on a hockey pitch every Saturday, occasional Sunday’s, training for 2 hours mid-week – my mind always says ‘yes’ go for it, push yourself….. my aging body is sometimes more reluctant. My point is that I still have a positive mind set and I attribute a lot of that to exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I have a wonderful support network around me, some amazing people who have nothing to do with my sport and exercise, this also helps.

It’s probably (by now) no surprise that when I went to university to train to become a teacher my main subject was PE, I even studied for an extra year to gain my BSc in sports studies as well as achieving my Qualifed Teacher Status. I met my husband here, we were both captains of a sports team and we are both still very much involved with sport to this day, always looking for new challenges. We enjoy the sport, the social opportunities it provides and the values it teaches our family. But it’s not just me who thinks exercise is good for you. There is plenty of research to support much of what I have said.

Taking part in exercise can improve muscular strength and endurance as well as helping your cardiovascular system work more efficiently by increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients delivered to your soft tissues. Healthy hearts and lungs mean you will have more energy to tackle daily chores. Exercise also lowers blood pressure and helps to reduce body fat, making it easier to maintain body weight. Regular exercise prevents loss of muscle tissue, maintains bone mass and joint flexibility. Physical activity even helps to improve glucose tolerance and reduces insulin resistance.

As well as the physical benefits, exercise is important for maintaining emotional health. Exercise improves mood and reduces depression as it promotes chemicals (endorphins) in the brain that make you feel more relaxed. Consequently, reducing stress and increasing the ability to cope with stress.

Through exercise people often gain a sense of pride in their physical accomplishments, a feeling of satisfaction with themselves along with gaining confidence in their physical abilities. This in turn creates an increase in self-esteem including a positive body image. The experience of these psychological benefits, will then motivate people to continue exercising so that they continue to receive these benefits.

In conclusion, exercise to me is a way of life, a way of staying healthy, feeling strong, keeping my mind positive and a way to unwind, relax and take time out of the hustle and bustle of life. You don’t have to be a super sports star, sport for many is about being the best you can be!

Therefore, if you are reading this and it has made you think, it is never too late to get involved. Go on try something new or go back to that sport you loved so much, your body will thank you for it.