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Member guest blog: health benefits of exercise

A fitness blog in January? Groundbreaking, we know. But Co-Women’s Co-Founder and resident personal trainer, Becky Hughes, prides herself on doing things at least a little differently. So here, our Horsham-based female fitness aficionado shares the top reasons why women in Sussex should prioritise movement in 2024…


January 2024 actually marks the beginning of my eighth year as what I used to refer to as “a fitness person” (my definition being the type of person who exercises). I turned 30 in 2017, and spent most of 2016 panicking about that day. My 20s were fairly typical: I started with university, where I really didn’t care what I put in my body or did with it, segued into a mental health crisis (same again), and then sat on the sofa or laid in bed recovering.


I came to understand that, if I wanted to continue using my body into old age (and even encouraging it to live that long), I needed to take care of it, and that included nourishing it differently via food intake, and actually moving it intentionally. I’ve learned a lot since I began, and these are my favourite motivators which get me back to training time and again – I hope that they’ll help you too…


Bone health

Minds out of the gutter! I mean your literal skeleton. Women are particularly vulnerable to loss of bone density and strength as they age, and one of the best things you can do to counteract this is heavy resistance training. Yes, that means challenging your body by lifting serious weight.

In our lifetime, we are more likely to break a hip than develop breast cancer. Both health conditions have devastating consequences. If you fracture your pelvis as an older person, it’s likely that your bones were vulnerable, and are therefore in a poor position to make a recovery. If you were mobile prior to that injury, you’ll still have a tough time recovering from it, and suddenly your life and confidence are very different versus how they were before you tripped on the corner of the living room rug.


Future-proof your skeleton and support your metabolism by strength training. The younger you are when you start, the more you stand to gain.


Brain health

Something I noticed in myself before learning a little more about it technically, was the difference that learning something new – and physical – really helped my ability to take on information. This was particularly stark for me as, during the doldrums of a mental health crisis, I shunned all novel input and learning opportunities, as I just couldn’t cope.


When I took my first steps in strength training, learning all of the movement patterns was hard because it was unfamiliar, and I was uncomfortable in a gym environment. Once I got the basics down, things got much easier, and just when I thought I knew it all (ha!), I discovered more complex movements that I was able to develop… and that’s when the penny dropped.


Learning to lift and move my body in new ways was helping my focus and broadening my capacity for learning, something I hadn’t really experienced as an adult. The world continues to change around us as we age, and continuing to learn new skills is important for this reason – stuff just doesn’t stay the same, and having watched my grandparents struggle to adapt when they have to buy a new washing machine or oven and the controls are different, I know how critical this sort of thing is. Keep your brain moving.


General mental health

On a similar, and much-better documented note, the mental health benefits of movement and exercise are huge. Another thing that I really noticed when I pushed myself to learn more complicated lifts was how mindful I find strength training.


You HAVE to concentrate when you have a barbell above your head. The consequences of not doing so are serious injury (and embarrassment). And for those of us who have wandering brains or are hooked on their scroll hole of a phone (it’s me, I’m both of those things), the opportunity to slow down and concentrate on something else is valuable. But the task at hand makes that focus feel more achievable and less forced.


Plus, as the great Elle Woods would tell us, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” It took me a long time to understand that one on a visceral level, because I spent several months barking up the wrong tree. My fitness journey started with running, and never have I ever experienced the mythical “runner’s high”. But I have had that experience in the gym. If you’re chasing and not finding the feeling, check that you’re moving in the right direction for you.


Taking care of yourself

We’re all busy. Whether or not we do paid work. Whether or not we have children, or other caring responsibilities. Whether or not we live alone. We have lives to live, homes to run… and bodies to look after.


Fitness is part of that. You can drink all of the water and eat all of the plants, and still not be strong. Because the two things go hand in hand. Exercise – no matter how you choose to do it – is an important pillar of self-care.


Building the habit

I didn’t leap out of the blocks and straight into my current training programme (which is lifting four times per week). I started with once per week. One session eventually became two, and so on. I’ve found my sweet spot by building myself up. I take a week off to go on holiday, then return to my routine.


And it takes time. It took me months to establish myself in the mindset of believing that I would just do it. So give yourself a chance, and know that developing this trait within yourself will help you to take better care of your mind and body, and allow you to have a more comfortable life today and in the future.


If, having read all of this, you’d like some more help, visit my website to find out more about how I can help.

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