An Introduction to Active Wellbeing
30th Sep 21
I remember it like it was yesterday: the sheer sense of frustration, the sense of loss, and yet a deep, instinctive knowing that I had to do something.
Just 18 months earlier, I had been the fittest- and healthiest-ever version of myself, having recently completed a 17-hour ironman triathlon; the culmination of a dream that required four years of building up my strength and stamina, as well as generally getting my act together. I was so proud of my achievement, and it represented so much more to me than a fitness event. It symbolised a journey towards becoming the sort of person that I wanted to be – who I’d dreamed I could be.
I thought I would be fit and healthy for life; that I could finally be the kind of person who goes out and exercises just for the fun of it. From now on, I could join any event I wanted at the drop of a hat. I’d finally made it, and nothing would ever be this hard ever again. Little did I know…
Is this book for you?
Having read the introduction, you may be thinking that this is the story of how I lost and then recovered my ironman fitness, and your reaction to that could be, Well, this book isn’t for me. There’s no way I’d ever want to do an ironman event!
Rest assured, that’s not the story I’m here to tell, although I did lose my ironman levels of strength and stamina after becoming a mum, yes. This is the story of how I picked up the pieces and rebuilt my fitness anew, discovering a unique method for better living in the process, as I came to realise that there was a different way to approach exercise, a gentler, more self-compassionate way. A way that would help all women, but especially those at mid-life and beyond. Eventually, I gave it a name: Active Wellbeing.
This book is about how women struggling with fitness can finally feel in control of their own bodies, and why that matters.
Anyway, let’s get back to the beginning…
Pregnancy hit me like a train. I felt sick, and I didn’t want to move at all. Mid-pregnancy, I felt like I could exercise again, but at the same time, I was an anxious first-time mum. Which exercises was I ‘allowed’ to do? Was it safe? Should I be more careful, seeing as though I’d had three months off? Confusion led to inaction, and then my baby was here.
You see so many incredible stories of fit, athletic women who work hard to recover their fitness soon after childbirth. I am in complete admiration of them, but it wasn’t my experience. My baby didn’t let me sleep, ever. I was up all night and then all through the days, too.
‘Sleep when he sleeps,’ they said.
Well, that advice doesn’t work with babies who only ever want to be carried. Fear of him waking would prevent me putting him down, and fear of squashing him would stop me sleeping myself. A sleep-deprived six months later, and I was not in good shape, neither physically nor mentally.
I’d worked so hard to improve my physical health, and now it felt like it was all just slipping away; like I’d gone into reverse, and all the work had been undone. I was back where I started, only worse, as I now had the family situation to balance, too. It was so frustrating. On the rare occasions where I had opportunities to exercise, I was either too tired or too busy being Mum to do anything, and so I started to wonder if it was time to accept frumpy mummy status, and consign my active lifestyle to the past.
After many false starts and motivation struggles, I started to realise that it wasn’t just my baby stopping me from exercising; something inside my head was getting in the way.
I’d set out with a new plan and all the best intentions, but then either guilt or laziness would stop me putting my plan into action. That was when I started looking for help. I found a life coach, and decided to give it a try.
After just three sessions, she had helped me to change my whole perspective on how to approach getting active again. I started to realise that it didn’t have to be ‘all or nothing;’ it didn’t matter if the plan wasn’t carried out perfectly. Small steps and self-compassion were the ways forward. It took some years, and the road was a bumpy one at times, but I eventually went on to complete several more triathlons, a half-ironman and an ultramarathon in the proceeding years.
Now, this may be where you expect the ‘happily ever after’ story to end, but there’s a twist to this tale.
Yes, I got back to ironman levels of fitness, but the funny thing about going back to something you once had is that it’s never quite the same, and I soon realised that it wasn’t really what I wanted, either. I’d been on a journey, climbing a mountain, crashing to the bottom and then climbing back up again, and although I loved the view at the top, I began
to understand that maintaining such an intense level of training and commitment wasn’t what I wanted anymore. I had learned the hard way that by pushing myself up those mountains again, I was only increasing my chances of crashing out and spending a few months (or years) doing not much at all. I began to wonder, What if… which is where the story of this book really begins.
What if there was a gentler, more balanced and more moderate way to approach fitness and exercise?
What if you could enjoy being healthy and active without feeling you had to push yourself so hard? What if moving your body could be about developing a greater sense of wellbeing, instead of some weird, modern-day penance for eating cake?
This is how the idea of Active Wellbeing was born.
This book is for women who want to find a better way to engage with fitness and exercise, but are not quite sure how.
It’s for those who want to be more active, but have previously struggled with low motivation, lack of time and feelings of guilt for putting themselves first.
It’s also for those who are generally active, but sometimes find themselves locked in an internal debate about whether or not it’s self-indulgent to be taking care of themselves, forever asking if they’re doing too much or if it’s really worth the effort.
It’s also for people who, like me, used to spend a lot of time on sport and fitness, but whose lives have now changed to the point that they need to find a new approach.
It’s not about getting you fit for an ironman event or a triathlon; fitness doesn’t have to look like that.
You won’t find much in this book about fitness plans or exercise routines. I am not a personal trainer. What you will find is a focus on health and wellbeing, and support in finding the right path for yourself. What’s in these pages isn’t just the sum of my own experiences, or what I’ve seen as a coach; it’s grounded in psychological research.
When I went back to university to study Sports and Exercise Psychology at the age of 42, I went there with the express intention of learning everything I could about the psychological factors that could help mid-life women to lead an active lifestyle, and to find evidence for mental wellbeing benefits that are so often mentioned anecdotally. What I discovered is that the worlds of personal anecdote and scientific evidence do indeed overlap, and I have made references to some of the most interesting research papers that I came across throughout this book.
At the end of each chapter, you will find short learning activities to help you explore your own thoughts and feelings about getting active, each designed to guide you along the small steps towards making Active Wellbeing a key part of your life.
The beauty of a book is you can go at your own pace. Keep a pen or pencil handy for the written activities, and find yourself a lovely, quiet space to read (if all else fails, I find that locking myself in the bathroom works pretty well for at least five minutes).
Now, let’s dive in.
[Extract from The Little Book of Active Wellbeing, available in my store or visit fitbee.co.uk] or visit fitbee.co.uk]