“Lockdown” – a word not even in our vernacular a few months ago, and yet after half a year of living with a global pandemic, one that one that will likely be burned on our collective consciousness forever more, much as we will try to forget it.
It has been a time of extremes. And its impact on our physical and mental health perhaps one of it’s most extreme legacies.
At the beginning of lockdown, social media painted a picture of a fitness frenzy. Facebook was awash with people posting pictures from their once-a-day 30-minute exercise allowance. Meanwhile, a 10-minute scroll through Instagram would result in a bombardment of live exercise classes, home workouts and influencers posting quotes about lockdown as a period of introspection and self-improvement.
However, for most, the reality of lockdown was a far cry from the fitness focussed retreat envisaged by many at the outset. Survey findings from Sport England illustrated that 41% of Brits actually became less active. Newly founded exercise resolutions were understandably thwarted and seemed to pale into insignificance in the face of a worldwide pandemic. For many, the reality was characterised by fears of losing loved ones, habitual daily structures stopped in their tracks, rising physical and mental pressures and forlorn goodbyes to the usual social support structures.
Furthermore, women have been disproportionately affected by lockdown in almost every area of their lives: financially, physically and mentally.
Women are more likely to be key workers with 70% of the global health force being made up by women. Also, lockdown has exacerbated gender stereotypes in the home: Recent research from Women in Sport found ‘Mums were struggling to juggle home school, jobs, cooking and cleaning, and were more likely to do these tasks than their male partners’.
During a time of such rampant uncertainty, these added pressures made carving time out to exercise a seemingly impossible task and 32% of women reported they “couldn’t prioritise exercise because they had too much to do for others”.
Instead, during rare moments of free time, lethargy, the couch and compensatory eating often won out with 50% of women reporting they’ve eaten more and 30% increasing their alcohol intake. This has caused a spike in weight gain and a dip in self-confidence.
As a result of all these factors, the gender gym gap, previously on the decline, widened by 10% with only 30% of women completing the recommended amount of exercise.
However, these negatives can be reframed. Lockdown has illustrated the importance of exercise both mentally and physically: indeed, 63% of women say they want to improve their activity levels as lockdown is lifted. Coronavirus has illustrated the importance of health since 72% of COVID- 19 ICU patients were classified as overweight. Women in Sport found that lockdown has founded new appreciations for freedom, the outdoors and social connections. All of these heightened values can be accesses through sport.
Exercise is about so much more than fitness: it is a vehicle to access greater energy reserves, better productivity, a toolkit against mental illness and the chance to claim a moment in your day for yourself.
Many mothers report not exercising due to feelings of guilt at taking time away from their family responsibilities. This is a sentiment that has been widely echoed amongst the This Mum Runs running community, particularly during lockdown. Addressing this concern, Mel Bound, CEO of this health and happiness focussed exercise community, draws an insightful parallel to the oxygen mask analogy reminding us: “You’ve got to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. In the same way, only once you have looked after for yourself, will you most effectively look after others.”
It is never too late to start. Women in Sport found that one in four women are fearful of being able to resurrect their previous exercise habits. However, in the scheme of our active lives, four months is no time at all: fitness does not need to be a linear journey. It is no wonder that a phenomenon that has been compared to the apocalypse may have temporally sapped motivation and energy levels! Instead, we should perhaps give ourselves permission to pick up our fitness journey a few rungs lower on the ladder than prior to lockdown.
While many exercise opportunities may have dwindled with the closure of gyms and the banning of large group activity, new opportunities have emerged in their wake. Fitness apps can play a fundamental role in rebuilding fitness in a socially distanced world. As an example, the This Mum Runs Run30 App provides users with structured and supportive coaching while creating a virtual platform to connect with others. This Mum Runs is there every step of the way to help you embark on your journey, rebranding fitness as a hunt to find headspace as oppose to a hunt for arbitrary running PB’s. This is a community built by women for women with empowerment at its core.
Many women may not emerge from lockdown as the embodiment of the Instagram dream. But more importantly lockdown has placed the advantages of exercise in the limelight and has illustrated the importance of taking time for yourself for yourself. Whatever your motivation, be it social connections, freedom or fitness, you can find an attainable exercise path for you irrespective of previous experience.
‘If you are putting one foot in front of the other, then you are a runner.’ Mel Bound