These days, ‘fitness’ is a loaded word.
Whether it triggers feelings of determination and motivation in you, or guilt and shame in someone else, fitness is inescapably intertwined in so many different emotions.
But, this National Fitness Day, we’re keeping things positive.
From martial arts to mental health, we spoke to five women about what fitness means to them.
‘Fitness is becoming the best version of myself’
To me, fitness is like a personal journey to be the best version of myself.
As a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), I train because the sport itself is complex and takes dedication to reach a certain belt, sometimes spanning to 15 years to reach black belt (the highest) level.
I’ve been involved in martial arts since I was 16, and none have ever come close to how complex and ever-growing BJJ is.
BJJ started as a hobby which became a lifestyle, as you can pretty much train almost every day and it becomes a part of your life journey.
Competing at world championship level is part of my own personal growth and journey to be the best version of myself. Any medals along the way are a bonus and a reflection of my training and skills.
‘Fitness is a functional tool’
I have always loved exercise, I’ve been running and attending the gym since my teens, but I’ve always struggled with hypermobility. I have weak and flexible joints and this has resulted in injury or pain as a regular occurrence.
I used to compare myself to others at the gym and feel frustrated by my lack of progress compared to theirs. Why was I still so small? Why didn’t I progress and grow muscle like they did?
Having spent time under NHS care and through physiotherapists, they all expressed the importance of strengthening through activities like Pilates and weights for injury prevention and protecting my joints.
I now see training as a functional tool to help support my lifelong hypermobility, and I’ve accepted that my body will always be different in terms of ability to build muscle.
I’ve always had to adapt fitness classes to what my body can do, and learn to not blindly follow others because their bodies aren’t like mine and my body simply cannot do certain exercises, or risk injury.
I no longer compare myself to others around me at the gym, or on social media, nor do I force myself to work through injury in order to attend the gym five or six times a week.
Rest in itself is also an important tool.
‘Fitness is an emotional outlet’
Fitness is an emotional outlet for me and, in some ways, helps me to be a better person.
It all started during my childhood.
My dad and brothers were into boxing while my mum’s side of the family was really into Aikido and Kendo. So, from a young age, I really started to take an interest in martial arts.
It took a few years but eventually, I found Brazilain Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), it helped me to be more resilient and made fitness fun.
Before I started BJJ, you would never see me within a mile from the gym but now you won’t be able to keep me away even if you paid me.
‘Fitness is being powerful but also being empowered’
Some years ago, fitness was about the scales. The scales were an obsession and my body was an obsession, but no matter what I did or how much weight I lost it was never good enough.
I developed an eating disorder while trying to reach the peak of fitness, as I wanted to be a Muay Thai fighter.
The ‘fitness’, however, was really an illness that took over my body and my goals. I couldn’t do the things I set out to do. In fact, I could barely get out of bed and I could barely make it through training. I felt really alone.
Luckily, down the line. I found a sport that I’d never played: American football.
The team needed every one of all shapes and sizes, and my body became more about what I could do with it rather than what it looked like.
Now fitness is about being powerful but also being empowered, being able to do things with my body that once seemed impossible.
I can deadlift 170-odd kilos, I can block bodies, I can run through bodies, I can kick, I can sprint across a field and I can even play both ways in an American football game.
And although I’m heavier than I was a few years ago, there is no way that I could have done any of those things.
Despite this, there are numerous people and even medical professionals who have commented on my body and what they assume my fitness is like – with their comments playing a substantial role in nearly causing eating disorder relapses and halting my development. Fitness can’t always be represented by scales or body fat percentage.
We can all do better to know that.
‘Fitness is my life insurance policy‘
Fitness is my life insurance policy. Having had to learn to walk again in my 20s, after major hip surgery, and learn to live again in my 30s, after a diagnosis of breast cancer, I know that exercise how the power to change the course of a day.
I turned to fitness during chemo because, while cancer was busy trying to take my life away, I wanted to take something back. I started running, completed my first-ever 10k before my last chemo and then went on to run the London Marathon on my wedding day before trekking the Great Wall of China for my honeymoon.
Since then, I have been on the constant search for my edges, doing increasingly challenging endurance events. And, the best bit? I haven’t found them yet. I have pushed my body and found what is possible in the seemingly impossible.
The next challenge? I turn 40 this December, an age I never thought I would reach. To celebrate, I have built a team to attempt the Guinness World Record for the longest static cycling class in the world.
The record is 28 hours. We are going for 29.
When I exercise, I feel alive. I feel me. And, I feel ready to take on anything life throws at me.
It is only by moving that we can move forward.
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