When the world went into lockdown in March 2020, many of us set goals and targets to achieve during our time at home, vowing we would wake up earlier, exercise more and come out of lockdown feeling and looking our best.
Of course, like with many goals, life got in the way for most of us, and whether it was juggling working from home and a toddler, raising a newborn or just feeling rather overwhelmed by everything that was going on in the world, it was hard to find that time or motivation to take care of ourselves.
According to research from Sport England, women have struggled to keep or return to their physical activity habits during the coronavirus pandemic compared with 61 per cent of men who say the pandemic has given them more time to exercise.
To help inspire women back into regular exercise, This Girl Can and Sport England have launched ‘This Girl Can Week’ from 12th – 19th June, calling on women to choose themselves and take the time to get active.
Strictly’s Karen Hauer is backing the campaign as it’s a subject she’s very passionate about. We caught up with Karen to find out more about why getting women active is so important to her.
Why do women and men have a different relationship with exercise?
"Since we’re young girls, physical activity isn’t something instilled into girls, and I think when you’re growing up, you start to feel people are judging you. I felt judged at school, when you didn’t want to change into your gym wear because your body was developing differently and maybe you had your period too. There are so many different things boys don’t have to worry about.
"If you have cramps - do you want to work out? Do you want to run? Maybe you needed to do something completely different like yoga that wasn’t going to be so hard on your body and I think there needs to be more development on how we can create more things for our girls to think about when they don’t feel like doing something that feels like it’s punishing your body in a way."
This fear of being judged is something we have continued to worry about as we've grown up as women Karen believes, and the fear of entering the gym or working out around others is very real for a lot of us.
"Being judged is a big thing. When you go into a gym sometimes, I feel like with guys, you go in pump iron, lift heavy weights and girls don’t want to do that. We want to do aerobics, bike riding. We want to do things that we feel like we don’t have to be perfect at. And I think that’s the thing, we don’t have to have the perfect body or be the perfect size, you just have to be you, and the earlier we instill that in our girls from a young age, the easier it will be for all of us to feel comfortable in our own skin and feel like we can do anything because we’re not chasing this perfect body. The only thing you’re chasing is good health and good mental health. A good balance is that you’re healhy and happy in your own skin and you feel strong and confident and I think that’s the best thing - that you feel good with what you’re foing and not thinking about what everyone else is doing."
Battling comparisons and building confidence
A quick scroll on Instagram can have us comparing our lives and the way we look to other women, and we're all guilty of doing it, even if it's unconciously.
"Don’t think about the industry that surrounds you telling you you have to look a certain way, or the other mums that say ‘Oh I lost my baby weight’ no, don’t worry about it - your body is unique, your body is your own treat it kindly. If you treat your body with value it will pay off, it will show you the love back as well as long as you show it love, but taking your time is the best advice I could give."
As women, our bodies change so much throughout the different stages of our lives, from puberty, to childbirth, right through to the menopause, but what advice does Karen have for us who might not be feeling very confident in our own bodies?
"The best thing is to start small - start in your own space in a place you feel good in. It’s funny because I'm in the public eye but when I'm working out I don't like people watching me. You feel eyes on you and it makes you feel weird so start in your own space and pick something you like to do. It could be the most simple thing like putting on your favourite song and dancing in your living room. You don’t have to be an elite dancer and have specific moves, you just need to move your body around. Do a couple of jumping jacks, some squats and do movements that you know and slowly start graduating from 10-15 mins to trying a class.
"Being active and being able to see other people and being part of a group also helps as long as you’re feeling confident with yourself. Baby steps are the best way, sometimes if you just throw yourself too quickly you'll definiutley have a set back. Let your body catch up, and be realistic that it’s not going to happen overnight and that’s okay. Give yourself a chance to enjoy the process, don’t put pressure on yourself. It might take a couple of months, it might take a year, but you will get there at your own pace."
Finding that motivation
Most of the time, getting out of bed and pulling on your gym clothes is the hardest part about exercise, so what advice does Karen have when it comes to boosting our motivation?
"Motivation is very hard if you don’t have a structure. If you have a structure and you’re consistent and you add motivation on top of that then you’re winning and it's about building small habits every day and staying consistent.
"Build a structure for yourself, stay consistent and do a little bit at a time. Even if it’s three days a week and then you slowly build to four days then to five and then you take the weekend off, it’s about building a format that works for you because if you go into it too quickly, the format will crumble.
"There are days when I wake up and I'm not motivated but I know that I'm disciplined and that’s been built throughout my years of being an athlete, and this helps on those days when I don't want to get out of bed. You feel really good afterwards, and when you feel good about yourself then you think it's better for me to get out of bed and do something than lay in bed and feel sorry for yourself. You have to be hard on yourself sometimes and push yourself because who else is going to push you?"
Karen's quick exercise tips
'But I just don't have time' is an excuse we've all used to get out of that fitness class or when we hop in the car instead of walking, but according to Karen, this is no excuse, and you can squeeze an instense workout into your day in just a matter of minutes!
"You don’t need a lot of time, there are plenty of quick work out options. In 7 minutes you can hit 7 body parts - one minute on each. If you have 7 minutes, you can workout. You can do legs, abs, upper body, chest, shoulders, biceps, back so there are so many different things you can do. Even if it's five minutes, pick five of your favourite exercises and do one minute on each. You can go for three rounds or just the one. One minute of exercise is like the longest minute - it feels like 20! But it doesn’t have to be time consuming, the more you start doing it, the more you start feeling good. It becomes a bit of an addiction in a way because you start to feel good, you feel the muscles working and then you start slowly seeing the transformation."
Karen Hauer is supporting Sport England’s This Girl Can Week to inspire women to get active - however you choose to do it, it all counts. Go to www.thisgirlcan.co.uk for advice and resources and share how you're moving on social media with #ThisGirlCan.