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Corona awakenings: a shift from the body to mind, from 'skinny girl' ideals to long-term health

Joe Wicks PE lessons, Les Mills subscriptions, and social media influencers pouring out free digital online content into the digital atmosphere, was natural by-product of the gyms being strictly out of bounds during the lockdown period. When the Government announced a global pandemic, the nation was quickly compelled to #StayHomeWorkOut – a hashtag curated by Sport England to get the nation to do what it says on the tin.

Pre-lockdown, there was an incessant obsession over the role of physical activity on the body and the need to “get those toned abs” and “feel the burn” – the words that would come out of my gym class instructor’s mouth as sweat drips down my face and I try to push through to the last few reps, wondering if I’m any closer to the classes time completely bypassing. The annual gym trends reflected why we worked out, (in other words, for the body), clearly:

YOYO gym mindsets: an annual timeline

· January – May: Post-christmas panic

· June – July: Last minute summer bod flurry

· July – September: Vacay time – eat more, workout less

· September – December: Let’s sort this mess so I can justify falling off the bandwagon at Christmas.

· December: Christmas indulgers – lean bods are overrated anyway

Body image is hugely consuming for everyone, and for a lot of people, this was the driver behind peoples’ gym memberships and yoyo gym behaviours, as outlined above. Before, we were so accustomed to slogging to the leisure facility after work to keep the body (and mind) fit. However, lockdown restricted our physical activity and movement to the home and outdoors which soon led to a broader change in physical movement that quickly swept the nation.

The isolation that lockdown channelled us into, meant the need to keep our mental state in check was paramount. The opportunity to go for a cycle, take a stroll in the park, or even engage in a sweaty cardio session in the comfort of our own garden, quickly became our sanctuary. Many of those who were previously inactive became active, and exercise became more than just an opportunity to be fit, but an opportunity to socialise. The increased family outings on bicycles was an illustration of just that, and the inability to purchase a bike anywhere simply confirmed it.

Mental clarity became a strong desire for the collective consciousness that was drained from the challenge of minimal human interaction and social stimulation that we, as social creatures, need. During the lockdown period, exercise was being strongly advocated by senior politicians standing outside No.10 such as Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Pictures have even been plastered over the news of Boris out for runs with his own personal trainer. It was the collectively prescribed medicine for individual well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And what was born out of this was a more holistic and long-term approach to health and fitness, focussed on the mind and overall health longevity, as opposed to short-term “gains” which focus on being happy with the reflection we see in the mirror based on ideals sold to us about lean abs and toned arms. As a woman, this became increasingly clear through the shift in female workout preferences. Rather than engaging in cardio and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts in a desperate attempt to shred the pounds before that precious summer annual vacay, there has been a movement to more slow-paced movement such as pilates and yoga. Tash Oakley, the well-renowned model and influencer who has been catching the attention of young women (like me) for years, has shifted from advocating HIIT workouts to plastering her slow-paced pilates workouts across social media and advocating the benefits for mental health. This shift in emphasis from getting shredded, to getting clarity is now everywhere.

Many people are now finding this to be their main driver for working out: to keep the mind healthy and have a longer-term approach to health and wellbeing. I feel it in my own approach to health and lifestyle, as I now become more comfortable and confident with a body that isn’t putting unnecessary amounts of stress on itself in a desperate attempt to have a shredded, extremely lean body. Even integrating walking as a means of gaining clarity after a long day of work has become an important component of mine, and many other peoples’ daily routine.

It is interesting to find so many lessons come out of COVID-19 on a collective level, one of them being how the language around health and fitness has changed so rapidly to one of rapid fat loss and 16 day programmes, to one of long-term and sustainable lifestyle habits. So, COVID-19 awakening number one: goodbye skinny girl narrative, hello to narratives of long-term health and wellbeing. Suddenly, a ’16-day belly shred’ doesn’t seem all that appealing….only took us until year 2020!


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