For anyone who knows me, they will know I have spent a large portion of my adult life avoiding exercise like the plague. I dallied with the gym in the mid-nineties thanks to a nymph-sized co-worker who thought the exercise room in the basement had been put there for something other than clandestine after-hours office affairs. I bought a bike and cycled up the VERY BIG hill to the train station for three weeks after we moved out of London, and then it rained and I got fed up with soggy helmet hair so I bought a car on my credit card instead. I loved pre-natal yoga, but suspect it was hormone-related, and also, let’s face it, not actual exercise. The personal trainer I treated myself to, to lose the baby weight, lasted a full year, but that was only because I was desperate. Once my jeans went back on, I was done. And since then…nothing. For the entirety of my late thirties and early forties, I have done no exercise at all; and in the meantime taken up being a writer, which is about the most desk-bound career you could possibly think of, and improv comedy, which involves hanging out in darkened rooms above pubs, drinking pints and eating crisps for dinner.
All in all, not exactly a lifestyle Gwyneth Paltrow would approve of (Not that I’m a huge fan of kale shakes or vagina steaming either, to be honest, so like I give a fuck). The point is, up until I turned forty, I got away with it. And then the middle aged spread began, and I had a small thought that I should do something about it.
So off I went to something called Barrecore, because it was near where I lived and I could park right outside. Barrecore, for the uninitiated, is like a cross between Pilates and torture. For my efforts to plank my way to a better body, I was rewarded with a frozen shoulder that needed months of physio and a steroid injection, followed swiftly by a hip injury that needed another six months of physio and a blanket ban on ever going back to Barrecore by my therapist. So I found myself, at forty three, ‘suddenly’ up a dress size and a bit more flobby around the middle than was ideal, and in a HUGE panic about having to don various versions of ‘leisurewear’ for the rest of my life, because none of my clothes fit me anymore without three pairs of Spanx and a sports bra.
Around about April, I resolved to do something about all this. After twenty years of being a complete lazy arse and relying on good genes instead of cutting carbs, it was time to change it up. I gave up bread. I cut down on booze. I tried to eat better, snack less, and even switched out my flat whites for americanos. I started playing tennis, because I’ve always loved tennis, and I live in Wimbledon, and it seemed a bit silly not to at least have a go when you’re surrounded by courts and clubs and it costs less for a lesson than a trip to the cinema (if you count the extortionate but obligatory fizzy drink, popcorn and pick ‘n’ mix). And then, because I’d managed to accomplish an hour of exercise a week and not injure myself, or feel like I was going to throw up, I added a ‘Couch to 5k’ app to my phone and began to run. Tennis fulfilled my need to combine physical activity with social interaction. C25K allowed me to switch off from the rest of my life and enjoy the fresh air and peace while I ran. I got a suntan. I felt good about myself. My stomach began to flatten out a little. And just like that, I began to hate exercise a little less.
All of this has stunned my husband, who is waiting for the sky to fall in, or at the very least, for me to injure myself again. But so far, so good. SO good, in fact, that I asked for a FitBit for my birthday last month, and he actually agreed to buy me one.
I can’t imagine life before it. For a person who is somewhat goal-oriented, it’s the ultimate self-improvement tool. I wear it everywhere. I sleep in it. By around dinner time, I become obsessed with the steps I’ve taken, the flights of stairs I’ve climbed, the number of minutes I’ve been active for; I question my commitment to myself if I haven’t fulfilled my goals for the day by the time I sit down in the evening. Right now it just buzzed me to tell me I need to get up and move and I’m fighting the urge to try and dictate the rest of this on Siri while I walk. To be honest, if I’ve had a quiet day working from home, walking around the living room while I watch TV just to get to 10,000 steps is a fairly regular occurrence, and last night I went up and down the stairs three times before bed while I brushed my teeth, just because I couldn’t bear to underachieve my ten flights goal I set myself. I study my sleep patterns each morning, comparing how refreshed, energised or happy I feel with my deep sleep to light sleep to REM ratios; if I haven’t achieved my requisite number of hours sleep, I go to bed early the next night so I can. It is, by default of me being in almost permanent competition with myself, making me a fitter, healthier person. But the weird thing, the really weird thing, is how happy it makes me.
I wonder, will this happiness last? Will the romance blossom and me and my FitBit be a marriage made in heaven, or will it be a fling, the passion dying as quickly as it came? Who can tell? Maybe I’ll tire of it telling me what to do, telling me off, buzzing at me when I’m busy with other things. Maybe as the winter comes on, I’ll cycle through feelings of guilt and resentment about not making my quota of steps because it’s pissing down with rain and I want to stay indoors and drink hot chocolate and write a book, and end up dumping the thing until the clocks change again and eating pies and drinking pints and buying bigger jumpers to drape over my muffin top in the meantime. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve finally hit on a way to make exercise something I want to do, rather than something I have to do. I think, dare I say it, I may have found the ‘one’, who will guide me and encourage me to get out there and do it.
I have fallen completely and utterly in love with a wristwatch. To say it’s life changing would not be an underestimation. I love the buzz on my wrist to tell me to get my butt out of my chair and move around. I love the fireworks that go off when I hit my steps goal for the day. I love the graphs, the averages, the satisfaction that comes from knowing I’m improving my number of active minutes by going out and running, or getting a better night’s sleep by going to bed before midnight. That ‘buzz’ that everyone always talks about having after exercise, that I never, ever felt, is suddenly tip toeing into my life, filling me with the feel good factor, and making me want to do more.
I have my limits. Boot camp, for example. Marathons. Anything involving mud or cycle pants with bum padding. But I’m like that girl who dumps all her friends as soon as the man of her dreams comes along – I don’t want to have a massive night out, or eat crap for lunch, or go for another cup of coffee and a croissant, like I did in the good old days. I’d rather slip on my beloved FitBit and go for a good long walk.