I was delighted earlier this week to interview my fabulous personal trainer Holly Aldridge for the Babyproof Podcast. Although she’s only the tender age of 24, Holly has had her own successful personal training business  for 7 years and I have been working with her for 5. She’s a tough but brilliant and motivational coach and had some excellent words of wisdom to share about the benefits of regular exercise – particularly for women and pre and post-natal mums. I can certainly vouch for Holly’s methods and results – our weekly Monday afternoon training sessions have been a powerful anchor for my physical and mental health over the last few years. Tune into the podcast here to hear the full interview – or read on for some of the ideas and tips that were prompted by our chat.

Why exercise for balance ?

We all know that exercise is good for us and that we should be doing it to stay healthy and reduce our future chances of suffering from serious disease, but rather than thinking of it as some sort of annoying medical obligation, it’s helpful to look at the tangible benefits for you ‘now’ – and for your hopes of achieving and maintaining a balanced lifestyle.

1. It’s great for your mental health and mood.
As Holly always tells me, you never regret a workout. However reluctant you may sometimes feel before you train about the effort required or the use of your free time, exercise makes you feel mentally good. It’s scientifically proven that physical activity can improve mood and reduce feelings of anxiety, stress and depression. In striving to stay on an even keel, keep work and family commitments in perspective, and make sound judgements in our daily lives, maintaining a calm and positive mind in this way is essential.

2. It’s time set aside for you and your self-care.
We are no good to others who may be depending on us, either at work or home, if we do not look after ourselves first. If we are feeling fit, energised, strong and positive, we are much better placed to deal with our other life commitments. Taking time out for ourselves to exercise is part of this. Holly trains many working women who are up to attend 6am bootcamps before commuting in to work full-time in London. It sounds like a punishing schedule, but as Holly points out – this exercise time is crucial  ‘me time’ for many of her clients. It enables them to concentrate on their own personal physical and mental fitness, in their own space, without the other distractions of life. It helps them deal with the pressures of daily life and work.

3. It can help maintain weight or assist with weight loss.
Holly had some really wise and straightforward advice on this. Weight loss is often seen as the be all and end all of exercise – as if we are all trying to transform our bodies into some sort of unattainable physical ideal and are always comparing ourselves to others. We need to keep it in perspective. Attaining and maintaining a healthy weight is desirable for our fitness and energy levels, but it should come as an extra benefit of exercise, rather than being its ‘raison d’être’.  Holly’s view is that we overthink weight loss, and that it shouldn’t be our primary focus. If we concentrate on eating healthily and exercising consistently (note – this doesn’t mean frequently – it means routinely – an important distinction) we will maintain a healthy weight. And if we need to lose a few pounds now and again, it comes down to consuming slightly less and exercising slightly more. No extremes, no pressure, no comparisons. Respect what your body can do – treat it as a friend rather than an enemy. Building regular (but not necessarily massively frequent or intensive!) exercise into your routine, both in the form of training and daily physical activity like walking or climbing stairs, will definitely help with weight management – but it is this combined with ‘feeling’ consistently better, stronger, fitter and more body positive – that is key for balance.

4. It can boost your confidence.
Confidence is so important for your general well being. Confidence makes you more assertive and empowered when it comes getting what you need to achieve a balanced life both at work and home. Getting regular exercise means you generate more of what Holly calls ‘happy hormones’ which contribute to confidence. The better and fitter you feel, and the stronger your body becomes, the happier and more confident you are. This manifests itself from taking pride in your appearance (tune into my podcast on this here), to being able to speak up in meetings, make flexible working requests, do presentations to raise your profile, or delegate work or household tasks. An absolute must for balance.

5. It can help you cope better pre and post natally.
We often hear about celebrities’ amazing post baby bodies and many new mums feel that they need or want to get their bodies back to their ‘pre baby’ selves. In Holly’s view, new mums put too much pressure on themselves – especially to lose the ‘mum tum’. If you have had a baby or are thinking about having one some time soon, exercising postpartum is certainly important for the mental and physical reasons mentioned above in this blog. It gives you time to yourself, it improves your mood, makes you more confident and gives you more energy and strength for dealing with your baby and your new, more challenging life. Focus on these benefits of exercise, and the rest will follow. As Holly says – be proud of what your body has done, be kind to yourself, be consistent and get support from a trainer or friend. Expecting too much, too soon can be dispiriting and cause some people to give up. The important thing is to establish and maintain the habit of exercise, however gentle, to receive the maximum balance benefits.

Likewise – exercising before deciding to have a baby and while pregnant, can have a huge positive impact. Holly recommends you go gently and take ‘baby steps’ in exercising, especially if you are new to it. But preparing yourself in this way can make it easier for you to manage your weight, helps with your energy levels, boosts your mental strength which helps with pain management during labour, and can strengthen your core and back muscles, all of which are useful for carrying a baby, giving birth – and beyond. Exercise can give you a good strong preparation for pregnancy, birth and your challenging life as a new parent. And as we all know in babyproofing – preparation is crucial for balance!

Through my training sessions with Holly, I have come to appreciate these many balance benefits of exercise. We need to see beyond the superficial facets of weight and appearance and get to the heart of what’s important – our mental and physical strength and stability and how this can help us live the lives we want. I personally love the accountability and motivation of having a personal trainer and of exercising outdoors – but as Holly points out, it’s about finding the type of exercise and environment that makes you happy.
“Don’t do what you don’t enjoy” – wise words indeed!

Do tune into the podcast to listen to Holly’s great advice on weight management, pre and post natal exercise – and if you have teenagers at home, her brilliant insight on body image and how to get your young adults to open up about their feelings.

And good luck with your exercise journey!