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Exercise for Life

Like many of us growing up, Sally Sampson has long had a hate-hate relationship with her body. Somewhere in between all the liquid diets and binge eating however, she's realised that body might indeed be as important as mind and soul.

People go on and on about health and fitness and even though they say things like ‘it’ll improve the quality of your life and investing in your health is the best investment you will ever make,’the overall and underlying message still tends to be ‘if you don’t exercise, you’re going to die of a combination of diabetes, stroke, heart disease and some other undiagnosed condition in your mid-40s whilst you’re gradually munching your way through a bag of potato chips and watching re-runs of some stupid TV series that no one gives a shit about anymore.’

Which is unfortunate, because even though that is far from the heroic, noble and peaceful death most of us have in mind, the truth is, at least for myself growing up, I would’ve rather died than go to the gym. In fact, I always said that I wouldn’t be caught dead in a gym…mainly because I thought if I went, I would actually die from a painful mixture of hyperventilation and overall embarrassment. 

Because in the world order of fitness, there are two types of people: the gorgeous, got-it-all-together, perfectly coordinated with matching outfits folk that go to the gym in cliques and the chunky, my-gym-shoes-have-holes-in-them, overweight, uncoordinated, sweating, crying-for-it-all-to-end people who everyone feels sorry for and no one wants to be. And I know I was never in the first group, so you do the math.

I have, since I can remember, avoided the world of exercise like it was the source of the bubonic plague itself. Back in school, I’m pretty sure my high school P.E. teachers thought that I had some sort of chronic condition because every school note I ever gave them to get out of class said that I had my period or my ‘monthly problem’ (that was the weird and disturbing euphemism my mother lovingly used on all my leave excuses).

I was never athletically inclined. I was slower than everyone else, I had short legs, I got bored and if I’m going to be totally transparent, I preferred chocolate ice cream. I enjoyed dance aerobics and dance in general, but never thought that I could actually get up and shake it like a Polaroid picture in public so, again, I didn’t bother. Plus, I had the natural knack of embarrassing myself at the exact moment the person that I had a crush on would walk by, so really, I didn’t need any extra help feeling like an idiot.

Unfortunately, my overall sluggishness didn’t actually change the fact that I desperately wanted to be thin and fit and not have the three rolls of fat on my stomach, the tree-trunk thighs, and the ass that had its own pulse and circulatory system. I attempted to diet quite a few times, did a few exercise videos at home every once in a while when I got frustrated, but never really committed to anything and the result was that from the onset of adolescence up until my early 20s, my weight fluctuated quite randomly and at times, fairly dramatically.

I remember doing an all fruits diet, an all meat diet, a liquid-only diet etc. but nothing really ever gave me lasting results and I never ever felt significantly healthier or prettier or more energetic or any of the things that I expected to feel when I would lose some weight and so, the excess weight would just return and it would come back with a fucking vengeance and bring along more of its friends.

So, over time, and as I grew to hate everything about myself from the neck down, I found a way of disconnecting my head and my body. It was a gradual process, and sometimes I would look at myself and I would imagine that my body was someone else’s; like there had been some sort of mistake and the aliens had abducted me and performed some sort of body swap on me just as I was hitting puberty.

And I took care of my head and I nurtured it, because it served me well. I fed it thought-provoking books, good company, stimulating debates, engaging conversations…but that thing that my head was attached to, that uncooperative, unattractive, inelegant, cumbersome form was left to its own devices.

Body confidence was something of a myth to me or, at best, an abstract concept for celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston to go on the Oprah Winfrey show and discuss. It was always something I wanted, but was as attainable to me as was entering the world of Narnia.

I could go on and on about the years of aggravation and the self-loathing that I went through, but that would take the better part of a decade to fully relay, so I’m just going to skip right through that and tell you that, in due course, I soon discovered that the body is there for a reason and as much as I wanted to ignore it, it was bound to bounce back and smack me in my big, oversized head.

The things is, I wanted to be a performer and that separate organism, that thing I’d considered a parasite attached to my head was, in fact, my tool and my livelihood. And even though, I thought I could rough it and get what I wanted without acknowledging my body, the truth that I knew within me was that if I truly wanted to succeed, I had to reconcile with it. I had to stop ignoring it, mistreating it, hating it, treating it like it was my cross to bear…

And, even if I wasn’t a performer, I was over walking down the street wearing long black baggy clothes in an attempt to camouflage my lower half. I didn’t want to feel stupid approaching or being approached by men who found me attractive. I was tired of always feeling envious of those who exuded physical confidence and pride. And I wanted in!

Sooooo after 26 year of complaining, crying, binge eating, procrastinating, running away and pretending to have my period on a non-stop basis, I signed up for the gym…and not only have I managed to get off my lazy ass and sign up, I’ve actually been GOING to the gym too. Now I’m not going to say that it hasn’t been excruciatingly painful and difficult (particularly with the aftermath of the aching, the tension, and the overall discovery of muscles that I didn’t even know existed until they began to agonisingly throb), but I will say I have been feeling more liberated and far more empowered than I ever thought I could feel.

Granted I haven’t been going for that long, so I don’t know how long I’m going to stay on the wagon so to speak...but what I can vouch for is that this time it’s different. I feel stronger internally than I ever have, I have a lot of great things going on in my life and I am filled with a determination and a positive obsession to get myself in order. So I’m not hoping to be fit anymore; I’m actively planning and implementing to make this a way of life.

Because it’s not just about physical health (though that may be a big factor); it’s also about our mental wellbeing and quality of life. It took me a really, really, really fucking long time to realise that was the truth and not some sort of fitness conspiracy campaign slogan.

There’s no point spending hours in front of the television watching The Biggest Loser and imagining yourself to be one of the contestants getting their asses kicked by the personal trainers (although Jillian Michaels is a thoroughly entertaining beast of a trainer, who’s known to say things like “Unless you faint, puke or die, DON’T STOP!”) There’s no point to living a life in your head where you look and feel good about yourself on this imaginary plain and in reality, you feel bogged down, insecure and miserable. And I am the queen of living on imaginary plains, so I know what I’m talking about…

I never thought I would be writing about health or fitness. I’ve always been the least qualified person in the world to talk on the subject, but I refuse to be that disconnected, unhealthy, unhappy girl anymore. So if you’re not on board already, join me won’t you? 


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