a A quick swipe of the other faces on the Zoom call shows that I’m clearly the oldest person on my personal course. They may be wondering if I’m having a midlife crisis because of the pandemic. Maybe I am. Aren’t we all?
I’ve always enjoyed fitness, physical activity, and sports – really any kind of movement. This intensified while working under intense pressure and scrutiny during the Covid-19 pandemic: I coped by using exercise as a time for daily reflection and reflection. When you are being shouted at from all directions, and told to predict the future, creating silence is vital to thinking.
But making the step to become a personal trainer was about something else, too. People working in public health often combine their work with a clinical career. This means that they see things on a broad, population-based level, and they also see individual patients coming in for treatment. But to me, preventing people from getting sick in the first place is at the heart of public health.
Exercise is the most effective intervention for staying healthy and avoiding disease and chronic pain. If you are Add physical activity to a balanced diet, sleep and friends, and this is a recipe for good physical and mental health. In public health, we collect data and publish studies on what factors make people healthier at a population level. However, this can often be abstract when we are dealing with huge data sets and talking about hundreds of thousands and millions of people.
I wanted to support people on their health journeys. And you wanted to meet them at the gym or the park and ask them why they wanted to stay fit and stay healthy. These are just some of the things I’ve learned.
First, you are never too old to start over and get a new qualification. We live in a strange system where teens are asked to decide what they want to do with the next 50 years of their lives. But whether you’re 25, 38 like me, or 65, there’s always the chance to go in a new direction or reevaluate your place in life. It’s not too late.”
Exercise is often seen as a luxury for young people and those who are already fit. Instagram didn’t help this photo: of women in spandex with Kardashian-like curves and men with shiny six-packs. But you don’t need designer clothes or an expensive gym membership to get started. Outdoor fitness classes, low-cost basic gyms, and even community yoga classes are becoming increasingly available.
And the people you find in these come of all shapes, sizes, and ages. It’s more about how you feel (and exercise releases dopamine and feel-good hormones) and less about how you look. And besides, no one looks like they do on Instagram: photos are pretty much filtered and snapped. So get off social media, and get into places with real people who are trying to make you feel better.
Harmful stereotypes can become self-fulfilling, especially for black women. In Britain (and globally), South Asian women The group that exercises the leastAnd this starts at an early age. If you grew up in a cultural context where you were told that exercise isn’t a priority or that exercise is for boys, of course you avoid it because you feel like you don’t belong. There are few role models and little public encouragement. And I lost count of the number of times at the gym I was asked which tanning studio I used because my dark complexion was “too natural.” It seemed to me easier to believe that I had spray-painted myself than to accept that the brown woman would be dead.
I also learned that we are much more obsessed with weight and BMI (the relationship between weight and height), rather than baseline assessments that are better at recognizing health conditions before they become a disease. A basic measure of blood pressure, body fat, cardiovascular fitness and strength over time will give you an overall benchmark to work from.
I learned that, as the saying goes, “You can’t outrun a bad diet.” What you eat is as important as moving. Diets have overcomplicated what is a relatively simple rule: only Avoid ultra-processed foods as much as you can. These foods are produced in factories with chemical processes that trick our bodies into overeating. Eat real food, with ingredients you can pronounce and it will go bad in a matter of days, not years.
Also, eat until full, then stop. Food is often used to overcome emotional challenges: I stopped eating for months out of grief after my father died, while other times I dealt with exam stress by binging late at night. It took me a while to realize that food is often relied upon as an antidepressant, especially for those without support or treatment.
Of course, healthy options are easier for those who have the time and money. Public policy is necessary to enable anyone who wants to live a healthier life, and the individuals who cannot do so should not be blamed.
I will continue to do high level analysis of public health and publish what more governments can do. But the numbers hide the stories and faces of real people. People who want to take steps to be healthier. This New Year, we should all resolve to simply move and exercise more. And I’m planning to start a training session in the park at the end of the week that people can attend for free. Who knows who might be there? Nicola Sturgeon and Lauren Kelly both said they’d like to join. That’s enough inspiration to get ahead and get moving.
Devi Sridhar is Chair of the Department of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh
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