I have to admit now, I’ve done next to no exercise since having kids. And not a great deal before that. So, that is well over eight years of doing very little. Although running around after three kids does tend to mean I don’t do a lot of sitting around.
After all that time, I have finally started moving a bit more. Mostly jumping about the living room and a bit of swimming. I am horribly unfit but I’ve already noticed a bit of a difference in fitness in just a few weeks, which is really pleasing. As in, I no longer feel like I’m going to die five minutes in.
The thing about making time for exercise is that you know it makes you feel better (although not always at the time) but getting into the habit of it when all your energy has been sapped by kids is the hardest thing. Having been in a state of permanent exhaustion for years, with broken nights and horribly early mornings, I simply had nothing left to give. Plus, the idea of dragging myself out to a class in the evening, when all I wanted to do was collapse and savour my couple of child-free hours? Well, I simply couldn’t contemplate it.
Before you say anything and tell me how you were out at buggy fit with your three-month old and back to pre-baby weight by six months in, yes, I know it can be done. I am well aware there are Mums out there who put me entirely to shame. I’ve always been cowed by all the bouncy Mums on the school run, in their skin-tight leggings and shiny trainers. I have felt intimidated by their smug fitness for years. Admittedly, most of the exercise-ready Mums don’t have preschoolers kicking off under their arm as they try to extricate themselves from the school playground. Even so, I have always quietly hoped that some of them put on their Lycra just to look impressive, before going home to eat biscuits and watch This Morning. But I doubt it.
I did try to join their ranks a few times over the last couple of years (although without the Lycra). I could only imagine getting fit by going along to a class, with a teacher to help motivate me through my sleep deprived exhaustion. But finding a class at the right time, on the rare occasions that I did have a couple of hours off, was near impossible. And the cost of a class plus childcare for a couple of kids was astronomical. So I gave up.
I do have to admit that I gave up pretty easily. I know that if I had been serious about it I could have made it work with an evening or weekend class or two. But I was simply defeated by it before I even began, utterly embarrassed by my own pathetically poor level of fitness, by my ‘mummy tummy’ (a term I hate), wobbly bits and awkwardness. My body image perception was at rock bottom and the thought of tackling what seemed like an impossible task was simply too much for me.
But a few things have changed since then:
A) I am getting sleep. I cannot overstate the importance of this in my ability to do stuff. I feel about 10 years younger than I did this time last year. It is epically awesome and the key factor in making my sudden exercise plan work.
B) The kids are older. Old enough to tolerate being told that Mummy is going to leap about and Zumba her way around the living room for 45 minutes and that they can either join in or get on with something else. (Sadly, the something else is usually squabbling or moaning, but hey, at least I can keep bouncing through that, with the odd yell at them thrown in).
C) I’ve finally worked out that I don’t need to feel jealous of my husband legging it out for a run at the worst point on Sunday afternoon, when the kids are at each other’s throats and my head is close to exploding. I can do the same and go for a swim. An hour of kid-free time by stealth, and he can’t possibly complain, because I am bettering myself, right?
D) I am older. As I creep closer to 40, I suddenly seem to care a bit less about what people think of me and I’m also cutting myself a bit more slack. So what if I have the dreaded ‘mummy tummy’? I’ve had three kids. That’s what happens. So what if I am unfit and not remotely ‘beach body ready’? I am finally doing something to make some small, realistic changes. That should be enough for now. It is certainly a lot better than doing nothing.
So, because of the above and also because some switch seems to have been flicked in my brain, exercise suddenly seems not only possible but also desirable and fun. Yes, fun. Get me! Exercise-phobic for years and now I am actually enjoying it and thinking about when I can fit in my next session.
Yesterday was the first time that I noticed that I was a little less out of breath after my swim. I needed shorter pauses between lengths. And it was the first time after exercise that I didn’t have a thumping headache. Today, I played football in the park with my eldest boy and felt full of energy, rather than giving up after five minutes, feeling breathless and useless.
My long neglected body is an old crock that has been abandoned for years and it has a lot of ground to make up. These are baby steps but, my God, it feels good to know I’ve made any kind of steps at all. I’m not after massive weight loss or extreme fitness. I won’t be training for a marathon any time soon. I just want to feel better. And I already do, even if most of it is psychological.
It was quite a revelation to work out that you don’t need any gear or a class to start making those baby steps in the right direction. I don’t even own a pair of trainers yet. I just bounce about with bare feet to crappy Zumba videos on YouTube. The adverts are actually a welcome breaks; a breather for a bit of wheezing and a swig of water.
So, who knows how long it will last, but something has shifted a bit. Yes, I have even less time now, with another thing to fit into my day (one of the many reasons I’ve been a bit quieter on the blog recently) but it is entirely worth it. I honestly couldn’t imagine ever enjoying exercise again just a few months ago.
Things have come together for me on this, thanks in no small part to a few fellow Mums who I have chatted to and who made me see things in a different light. Thanks to them – and to a few subtle and not so subtle changes in my life and in my head – I think I can see ahead to being a little bit fitter, a little more energetic and, hopefully, a little bit healthier.
Thank you ladies. You know who you are.