15,000 steps and a slice of cake before lunchtime. #NewcastleCan

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.

Ford Prefect*

Last night I set my alarm for 8am, which is not usual. For me Saturdays are a time to catch up on the limited sleep I get through the week. 

My partner is the sort of person who can say “Goodnight”, roll over and be snoring within 10 seconds. Sleep doesn’t come that easily to me. I toss and turn, my brain spiralling through repeated anxieties, until finally I fall asleep. I usually get about 5 hours on a weeknight, and that’s since an increase in medication made me sleep noticeably heavier. 

I know this pattern of little sleep on weeknights and long lie ins at the weekends isn’t healthy. I know lack of sleep can contribute to poor mental health. In my case I’m not sure whether the poor mental health causes the problem sleeping or vice versa. 

Anyway, none of that lounging in bed til lunchtime for me today. It turned out my 8am alarm was optimistic, as the dogs decided at 7.30 that they needed to go outside urgently. When my alarm went off I was already eating breakfast and drinking tea.

The reason for the uncharacteristic early rising is that, following last weekend’s Newcastle Can taster sessions, I have signed up for a Dancercise class. And because I had a poor week in exercise and healthy eating terms I’d decided to challenge myself even further, by walking there and back. 

It’s not a particularly exciting walk, mostly through housing estates except for a brief spell across the Town Moor, but its one I’d done before and was confident I could manage on top of an hours dancercising. My map app said it would take 55 minutes, but the app creators have a very poor understanding of how fast a fat lass can walk when she puts her mind to it, so I allowed 45. 

I threw in a couple of short bursts of jogging and made it there in 40 minutes. I’m fairly sure jogging isn’t for me, it takes all my concentration and I can’t keep it up for any length of time, but I persevere because I know it uses different muscles to walking and I reckon every little helps. (Other inspirational supermarket slogans are available!)

The class was small and friendly, and as it was the first we were all newbies together. There was shimmying, hip swinging, bhangra, rock, charleston, lindy hop and even jazz hands. Something for everyone. I struggled to get my arms and legs doing different moves at the same time, but it didn’t matter because I kept moving.

I think part of why I enjoy the Dancercise is that it doesn’t come naturally. While my peers were learning to move to music I was listening to Metallica and Megadeth, neither noted for their dance moves. So it takes all my concentration. And that means those spiralling thoughts, the worries and anxieties that have dragged my mood down this week, have to stop. There’s no room for them when all my concentration is on getting my body to move to the music.

It didn’t feel like an hour. It didn’t feel like a class either. It felt like relaxing and having fun, while at the same time moving and exercising.

Afterwards some of us went for a cuppa and a cake, because, as I’m learning, getting healthy isn’t about never having treats. Its about adding to what you already do, little changes which build and grow. You need to enjoy it, not feel its a chore you’re obliged to undertake.

I walked back, with occasional jogging, and realised I didn’t feel as anxious as I had earlier. On the walk there my brain was doing its anxious, spiralling, hamster-in-a-wheel thing which I’ve struggled to control this week. On the way back I was noticing the sunshine, thinking about exercise and movement, feeling energised. That hour of concentrating on movement had stopped the spiralling. It’s an unexpected way in which improving my physical health can improve my mental health, just giving me a break from my bullying brain.

Before I signed up to NewcastleCan I’d have laughed if you suggested I join an exercise class. I’d have given you loads of reasons why it wasn’t for me, why I didn’t have time, why the very idea was absurd. If youd said I’d be up early, and have done 15,000 steps by lunchtime, I’d have laughed too. And if you’d said I could get healthy and still eat cake I just wouldn’t have believed you!

I’m almost 3 months into my journey of getting healthier, body and mind, and I know now I’d have been wrong back then. I wonder which of my other assumptions about myself will be challenged along the way? 

* In Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. But you knew that, right? 

Wednesday walk. #NewcastleCan

My son and I have a deal. If I walk at least 10,000 steps after dropping him off at youth club I can have a piece of cake before I pick him up. 

I’m trying to make my walks more strenuous. I don’t have a lot more time I could give to walking each week, so to try and get fitter I’m trying to make the walking I do have more impact. I suppose I could join a gym, and I know many people who have done so and love it, but for the moment I’m too nervous, too used to exercising alone.

So, how to add impact to my stepping?

I’m doing it with stairs and hills. I go along the Quayside, up one flight and down the next. I have a little circuit that I challenge myself with. It’s a flight of approximately 80 steps up, a little hill, a flight of 30 or so steps down, then along the flat to get my breath back before I go again. I’m up to four loops now, and this week for the first time I managed to run up the entire first flight. Definite improvement. By the fourth circuit my legs feel like jelly and I’m dependent on the handrails to reach the top. Maybe next week I’ll manage five times round.

Made it!
Would I get this view at a gym?
I’ve started throwing a little jogging into my walk. Very little, with long walks in between, and only on the flat, but it’s progress. I’m also still nervous about being seen exercising in public. I walk past the pubs.
Exposed by low tide.

The Gateshead side of the river has a fantastic walk. I do the hilly side heading out and then back along the flat of the riverside. There are hidden artworks and more daffodils than I’ve ever seen in one place before.

Is this enough to count as a host of golden daffodils?

As I head back towards town I hear, over the sound of traffic, river and birdsong, the unmistakable roar of a St James’ Park home crowd. Back over to the Newcastle side and I have so many stairs to choose from, Castle Stairs, Long Stairs, Dog Leap Stairs. I can’t run up them by now but I keep going.

I’ve done over 14,000 steps since I dropped my son off. Time for my reward! 

Worth every step!

Organised Exercise

After enjoying taking part in a recent #ThisGirlCan 5k I felt inspired to do more, so today my partner and I joined the “Hidden Gems” 7 mile hike at Gibside. After years only exercising behind closed doors, alone, this makes two organised public exercise events in under a month! That feels like progress.

I was slightly nervous about attending something advertised as a hike. Walking is one thing, hiking seemed a whole new level of exertion I might not be capable of. But I know Gibside quite well, and have been trying its hills out recently to make my walks more challenging, so I was confident I could make it to the top of any of them, although perhaps not quickly!

Column of Liberty pictured from under the old oak tree.

I needn’t have worried. The pace was steady but not too brisk and the regular pauses to hear about the history and landscape we were passing through were ample opportunity to catch my breath. I could have done it quicker if I’d been pushing myself, but I’d have missed a lot if I did. 

Our guide, David, clearly knew and loved Gibside. He shared stories, explained the historical evidence, and pointed out the geographical clues to the lands use over the years. The walk itself was a tour of the boundaries of the property, concentrating on carriageways and coal mines rather than the grand hall, chapel and other buildings. David brought to life the 1856 Ordinance Survey map we were following. It was fascinating how much of it was unchanged.

His real skill though was in making me look at a familiar landscape anew, spotting features I’d never noticed before and interpreting them so the land was telling its own history. Hidden among the trees we saw evidence of bell and drift mines, and the man made routes to them. In the trees above one of the main routes, which I’ve walked many times, a carved bat. And at the stables, which I’ve visited almost every time I’ve been to Gibside, he pointed out such an obvious quirk about the front and sides of the building I was amazed I’d never spotted it before. 

I should look up more often!

Most of the paths we followed I had been along before, however today I looked at them differently. I went along to exercise my body and it turned out I was getting a work out for my brain too. I’ll definitely be looking out for more history walks. 

These boots were made for walking #NewcastleCan

In 2014, hoping to get healthier, my partner and I signed up to September for Scope. This was the first time I’d really heard of the 10,000 steps a day target. It was a massive challenge, my legs ached, I struggled to find the time to fit such a huge number of steps in. 

Stepping out.

I decided to try to keep it going after the month, and have done so fairly consistently right up to now. The physical change in me has been considerable. My walking pace has sped up considerably. I no longer have to pause to catch my breath on hills. I can run up a flight of stairs. My legs no longer ache the day after walking 10,000 steps, in fact I routinely get around 12,000 a day and more on the days I push myself. What used to feel like a long way now feels like an average walk. Where I used to drive everywhere I now think nothing of walking if my destination is a half hour or so away.

There have been other benefits. I’ve explored my community and city and found fascinating places, routes, alleys, patches of nature, public art, staircases and so on that I didn’t know existed. When I can I walk in more rural settings, where I feel even more connected to nature. I’ve never learned to read maps, but am lucky enough that many public footpaths nearby are well signposted. I said in an earlier post that walking hard challenges me physically and soothes me mentally, and this sums up for me why I’ve been able to keep going with this. 

Exploring and making friends.

The times I haven’t kept it up have been when I’ve been unwell, either physically or mentally. And I need to be kind to myself and not beat myself up for missing my step target when I’m unwell. I wouldn’t expect myself to walk 10,000 steps with a migraine or stomach bug, so why do I think I should do it when my depression and anxiety is at its worst? I was pleased to read this article which reflects my feels about this more eloquently than I could.

I saw a physiotherapist recently. She told me increased walking is one of the most sustainable increases in exercise you can do. While people drop out of gym sessions, or can’t always get to the swimming pool etc, people who walk more are likely to keep walking. To anyone struggling to get more active I’d recommend giving it a go. 

A few tips to get started:

  • Many smartphones have built in pedometers which can give you a good idea of how many steps you’re already doing.
  • Start small. If you’re only doing 3,000 steps a day an increase to 5,000 will have significant benefits, you don’t need leap straight to 10,000.
  • Make sure you have supportive comfortable shoes. Definitely don’t try to walk 10,000 steps in brand new Dr Marten’s- I did once, never again!
  • Take the stairs not the lift. When I first started I needed to stop for a breather halfway up the stairs to my son’s youth club. Now I can run up them!
  • Walk short journeys, and build walking time into your planning.
  • If you sit down all day at work go for a walk in your breaks.
  • Walk with other people. Whether for companionship or competitiveness will depend on you, but I find it does make a difference when you’re not doing it alone!

This may all seem obvious, often the hardest thing is getting started. But it does make a difference. Good luck! 

When is a woman not a woman? #NewcastleCan #ThisGirlCan

I know that as well as eating better I need to exercise more. I am not comfortable exercising in public. When I have attended exercise classes before it always seemed like I was the only one who couldn’t keep up so I never went for long. I exercise in my own home, with the curtains closed, or go for long walks, where I may pass people but don’t have to engage with them.

Then there’s the what to wear dilemma. I find it hard enough to find regular clothes to fit me, exercise wear is even more difficult and I’m acutely aware that I don’t have a body shape that suits leggings. I don’t even own a pair of trainers and have been paralysed by choice every time I’ve considered getting some.

When I signed up for Newcastle Can I looked at the activities on offer in the city. I noticed some were called “This Girl Can” whereas some were “Women Only”. And I only clicked through to find out about the “Women Only” ones. 

I’d seen the first “This Girl Can” video back in 2015 and been impressed, but all the women looked younger than me and when it got to the tagline I thought “what a shame its just for girls.” And when I saw activities advertised as “This Girl Can” my thought process went

This girl can, can she? I’m really, sincerely pleased for her. But this women can’t, yet, and the last thing I want to be is the only woman who can’t among a load of girls who can.

It turns out I had completely misjudged the whole campaign, as I realised when their new video came out this week.

Repeated and powerful mention of the word woman. Images of women of all ages. 

I wonder if they consciously did this because women like me were misunderstanding the original campaign?

In my defence I haven’t though of myself as a girl for years, and would be offended if anyone called me it. I’m a woman and have been ever since I passed puberty. It would never in a million years have occurred to me that something that used the word “girl” meant me. 

“But if you went to their website or looked at their events you’d see its for all women” said an incredulous younger friend when she found out how I’d misunderstood it. Maybe I would. But the very name of the campaign had stopped me clicking through to find out more. I wondered how many other people thought similarly to me. 

I did a very unscientific poll of various women I know. Interestingly it split almost exactly into age groups. Late teens and 20s knew about the campaign and knew it was for all women. 30s and 40s had mostly heard about the campaign but thought it was for younger women. 50s and over generally weren’t aware of it. Its a small sample group, but it does imply that a lot of women are missing out.

Of course as a result of these discussions now 100% of the women I spoke to are aware of the campaign and that it targets all ages. And now that I know its not all fit young women who’ll be better than me at everything I’m checking out their events and have signed up for my first one next week. Wish me luck!