I turned forty this year. Entering a new decade in my life got me thinking about the experiences, mistakes and insights I’ve collected so far. What lessons would I pass onto my younger self? And what I could usefully share with my two young children when they’re a little older?
My eight-year old son is already of the opinion that having a mum who is Pilates instructor has its downsides, especially where the contents of his packed lunch box is concerned (‘too healthy’) or being asked to wear his school backpack on both shoulders instead of one (postural imbalances alert).
One of my earliest fitness memories dates back to 1992, I was 16. Cindy Crawford’s now iconic ‘Shape your Body’ workout was released on VHS. You could say she ‘had me at her lunges’. I was hooked and a lifetime love of fitness ensued. But knowing what I know now, here’s what I’d tell my younger self about the wellness journey that lies ahead:
1) Your body is your space for life
You’re young and invincible. Your body will take pretty much anything you throw at it. And you do. But remember its your space for life. Look after your body, be nice to it and be kind to your joints.
2) It’s ok to rest
You know getting enough rest after exercise is essential to performance and allows your body to strengthen and repair itself in between workouts. So please don’t over-train and don’t feel guilty about taking days off. You’re flexible now, but its easily lost. Not because you’ll age, but because of how you’ll live as an adult. Make stretching important to you to stay flexible, improve your posture and reduce your risk of injury.
3) Eat well
Food fads will come and go. Industry experts and the media will always have plenty of advice to offer up (often conflicting and restrictive). But you can ignore it. There’s no better way to optimal health than listening to your own body and eating a fresh, nutritious and balanced diet. Through food, you’ll heal your body when it needs it and prepare yourself for pregnancies when you hit your thirties.
4) Focus on form
When you are in a class environment, you’ll feel pressure to do exactly as the instructor tells you or try to jump that little bit higher than the person next to you. But the exercise is vigorous and you are increasing your risk of injury by not listening to your own body. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. So learn correct form and proper technique. Understand the essence of the exercise and what its working so you can nail it or have the confidence to modify it.
5) Health is never a number
It’s not the steps you took today, the time it took you to run 10K, the calories you burned, your resting heart rate or the numbers on the scales. Wearable fitness trackers are nothing new, but in the future their popularity will soar and they’ll be able to measure more than you can imagine. Remember, they are just a tool, not a picture of your health or more importantly your self-esteem.
6) Learn how to breathe
Your breath will control your state of mind. When you become aware your breathing is fast and shallow, change it by making it slow and deep. Become conscious of your breath and it will unite your body and mind. Your training will improve, it will ease tension, calm your nerves, bring you peace and help you regain your centre.
7) It’s about the journey, not the destination
You will hurtle at brake neck speed towards a finish line that will never come and you won’t pause to consider that maybe you’re missing the point. The journey is the point. At times in your life, you’ll change the road, the pace or the way you’re travelling. But you’ll always be on the journey.
8) Look after your feet
Because if you don’t, you’ll wish you had.
9) The friends you’ll make along the way
You don’t do team sports so at first you’ll think that exercise is something you are doing for yourself. It’s a solo pursuit. But you’ll quickly realise that it’s a shared passion that will see you forge the greatest bonds of your life. Your first encounter might be jumping jacks but those friends will go onto become bridesmaids, godparents and who you turn to in a crisis.
10) You’ll still find the Cindy Crawford workout mesmerising 24 years later
You won’t be that young girl anymore, but whenever you hear the sound of Primal Scream’s ‘Higher than the sun’ you’ll be 16 once more, transported right back again to scenes of Cindy lunging like a goddess in a swimsuit on that beach.