I have had my ups and downs with exercising. I am not the most talented when it comes to sports. You know the people who just step on a snowboard and slide down the slope elegantly? I am not one of them. Neither am I the one who excels at track and field athletics. As I am also extremely clumsy, many types of sport do not come easy to me.
In primary and middle school, I was a bit chubby and frequently the one who was voted last into sports teams. On the days we had Physical Education, I felt sick in the morning. I was hoping our teacher would be lazy and let us play volleyball. (One of the few things I did enjoy.) Most of the time, I found PE humiliating. We had “exams” where we had to prove we could climb up a rope (I could not), a pole (even worse) or if we managed a long jump (I did not even make it into the sandbox).
The PE teachers picked their favourite pupils early. They were the ones who needed no explanations and were just gifted or already engaging in various kinds of sports competitively. While it was perfectly acceptable to be bad at maths, it was a no-go to be bad at anything related to sports. Some PE teachers even mocked weak students. (Note: This is my personal experience, I am sure there are many great PE teachers out there.)
Looking back, I see two problems with the attitude to sports when I was in school. Firstly, it was exam-based, yet at the same time nothing was explained. The favourite students were asked to show the exercise but the technicalities were never explained. Teachers expected that we could just do it. If we were scared about leapfrogging, the teacher mocked us (and sometimes even rolled their eyes) but did not give any advice on how to overcome our fear.
Secondly, joy was not part of the class. I now go on long runs but I do not run for the sake of time, I do it for fun and because I want to relax and enjoy nature. If we did not manage to run three kilometres under 20 minutes, we failed the exam. Instead of encouraging us and saying that we should just run, maybe listen to music and give our best, many of us just felt disenfranchised and never discovered the joy of running. (And some, like me, discovered the best shortcuts in the park.)
It took me a while to discover sports for me. When I was 12, I met an amazing tennis trainer who managed to get the best out of me. I was focussed, I became better, I won and I had a lot of fun (and I lost weight). His way of training was different to my PE teachers – he was using positive affirmation.
I lost sight of sports for a while at university. I rarely exercised as I was rather focussed on partying in my free-time. I did not notice the effects on my body and mind until I started working and experienced back problems. This was in Shanghai and due to the air pollution, I had to sign up for a gym.
I felt like being back in my PE class. There were all these pros who knew how to use the machines and whose bodies looked immaculate. But I found friends to help me and encourage me to try things. Soon I looked forward to going to the gym and I saw the positive effects. (I also developed a fitness app to encourage more women to start exercising. I have added one of the videos at the end of this article.)
Today, I do a many things: I run, swim, do Pilates and I go for walks. Yes, walking is exercise. What I miss in the whole discussion about sports is the fun element. Most people post their successes – how many kilometres they ran and how fast, which weights they lifted or their perfect bodies. But exercising is so much more. It also puts our mind at ease. It does not always have to be solely competitive or to work on our bodies.
It sometimes feels that we cannot have a hobby anymore just for the sake of relaxing and having fun. I wonder if social media has pushed our society into a competitive state. (Or maybe it has made it more obvious.) I see this frequently when somebody enjoys a hobby, they are encouraged to turn it into a “side-hustle” or even a business. I think we should be allowed to do things just for fun.
What I am trying to say is that sport is not your enemy. If your way of exercising is a walk in the park or working in a flower bed, this is perfectly fine too. And if you feel like competing, it is fine too. Whichever way you choose, it is important to do it because you feel better afterwards and that you enjoy it. And if you are somebody who is very talented at sports and enjoy it, spread the joy and help those who may find It more difficult.
Have a wonderful week ahead and maybe it is time to try a new type of sports just for fun?