I had to pay a visit to the cardiologist last week.
Not something I was expecting to be doing as a fit, healthy 40-year-old, I must admit.
A routine trip to my GP where I casually mentioned I’d been experiencing chest tightness and dizziness when I exercised led to an ECG test (the one where they attach electrodes to your chest to measure your heart’s electrical activity), which turned out an “unusual” result. Not a word you want to hear at the doctor’s!
Less than an hour later, at my GP’s insistence, I found myself frantically driving through the city searching for somewhere to park (heart attack material in itself!) near the cardiologist’s clinic.
The irony of the situation didn’t escape me. Here I am, in a profession where I’m preaching the importance of exercise and healthy eating as a prevention for serious disease and I’m the one who ends up having to see a heart specialist!
Spoiler alert – I’m OK, and not at risk of anything serious, in case you were starting to worry. But, sitting in that waiting room got me thinking. Firstly, how did a fit, healthy 40-year-old who rarely drinks and has never smoked end up here? But of course random stuff can happen to anyone at any time no matter how fit and healthy, that’s just life right?
My second thought was: if I wasn’t so healthy – if I ate crap/ didn’t exercise/ drank/ smoked etc – it would be almost a foregone conclusion that I would end up here at some point (or if not here, then in another specialist’s office for something equally appalling such as diabetes, or high blood pressure or stroke).
Which is why, I suddenly realised, I feel so frustrated when I talk to women, usually mums, who tell me they don’t have time to exercise (or eat well). It makes me really sad (and a little mad) that they put their own health and wellbeing so far down the list of priorities that exercise becomes a non- essential; a casualty of their busy lives. But it is so, so common. (BTW if you tell me your exercise routine is “walking”, unless you’ve had a baby in the past 6 weeks, or a serious injury or illness or you’re 83 years old, then please forgive me while I roll my eyes. Walking is movement/ transport. As humans we are extremely well adapted to walking which is why is burns so few calories; it is NOT, I repeat NOT a legitimate exercise regimen in and of itself. Phew, glad we got that out of the way!)
Let’s face it, most of us mums would never let our kids get away with not exercising. But so many mums feel it’s OK if they don’t do any exercise themselves.
The fact is, no matter what age or stage of life we’re in, exercise is crucial to the smooth and effective functioning of our bodies. When we get too sedentary our energy regulation mechanisms get out of whack. Our appetite can only drop so low and it will often outpace a sedentary metabolism which makes us gain weight.
If we’re not moving, our body will store extra energy as fat. On the flip side, when we exercise, it sends a signal to our body to store nutrients (protein) as muscle, which keeps our metabolism firing.
Even if you keep your calories in check so that you’re not eating more than you burn off, if you’re not moving enough then your body won’t be converting your food into muscle as easily. So your body fat percentage will increase as you lose muscle and store fat (the dreaded skinny-fat), resulting in your metabolism dropping, which will make it harder to maintain your weight in the long term (without further reducing your calorie intake).
Exercise also helps you regulate your hormones which control your appetite as well as your mood. So it’s a double whammy – if you don’t exercise you’re likely to have a lower mood and your hunger signals will be out of whack; both of which make it more likely you’ll reach for the tub of ice cream at the end of a tiring, stressful day.
I say all this not to make you feel guilty. As women, the last thing we need is one more thing to feel guilty about (and chances are if you’re not exercising or eating as well as you should then you already feel guilty about it).
I’m telling you this so you can give yourself permission to make the time to exercise. That does not have to mean getting to the gym for an hour five times a week (but it does mean more than a light walk every so often).
On our 12-week challenges, I recommend 3-4 high-intensity sessions (of 15-20 minutes each) a week. That is not a big time commitment but it does mean making a commitment to doing it (and not finding other things that are “more important”).
Taking time to yourself to exercise is not selfish, quite the opposite. If you’re someone who always puts your kids or family first, just remember you have an obligation to yourself and your family to be healthy. Your kids might live long, happy lives but are you going to be there to see them – and be healthy enough to enjoy it – if you sacrifice your own health now?
If you use your kids/ work/ life/ business as an excuse not to exercise, it will be very hard to get back in the habit later. Trust me, those excuses will always be there. But if you can make exercise a non-negotiable part of your life now then maybe you’ll avoid a trip to the cardiologist later.
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