mens sana in corpore sano

As a teacher, I never took any exercise – at least, not in the formal sense. I had a brisk 13-minute walk to work and back, I taught on my feet for most of the day and my classroom was on the first floor; as I am a naturally forgetful person, this led to a lot of racing up and down. According to my FitBit device, I was doing plenty of exercise – not always the golden target of 10,000 steps every day but hey, that arbitrary round figure was made up by the guy who invented the pedometer, so I’ve never taken it too seriously. On some days I did way more – 15,000 steps was not unusual if I met a friend in town after work.

According to my buzzing wrist-nag, I was really very active while I was a teacher. I completely smashed the daily targets of stair-flights and standing hours, as well as the minimum healthy amount of brisk aerobic challenge every day; I’ve always walked fast and never seen the point of dawdling either on the way to work or on the way home. All of this meant that for most of my life, exercise has been laid on as a part of my career and a part of my lifestyle; I simply didn’t need to think about it.

Now my lifestyle has changed I suddenly face the inescapable fact that I simply must start working some exercise into my daily routine as a discrete, deliberate activity – it no longer comes as a perk of the job. I’ve always done a fair amount of sitting on my butt during the summer holidays, so in my mind it was the start of September when this needed to happen, to mimic the return to active living that my job has always gifted me. But what should I do?

Well, there is a branch of Pure Gym just at the end of our road (as evidenced by the number of cars that drive down it in their pursuit of burning fossil fuel on their way to burning their own calories) but the very notion of joining a gym is anathema to me. I’ve probably seen too many episodes of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, but the horror of joining the hoardes of glassy-eyed, lycra-clad gym-goers and hooking myself up to a machine genuinely brings me out in hives. So, my solution is simple. I shall go out for a brisk walk – something between a yomp and a half-hearted jog – first thing in the morning. I may progress onto something approaching a gentle extended jog but I need to take that very cautiously – I tried running before, went way too quickly and my spine (which is in scoliosis) told me in no uncertain terms that I was a total idiot for doing so: without going into details, I’ve never experienced pain like it, before or since. Still, from all the reading I have done, there is no reason why a person with scoliosis cannot go jogging; we just need to take it very gently. Lesson learnt on that score!

Some days I make plans to go walking with a local friend, in which case I can combine exercise with a chat – always a good idea; recently, I have also been checking out some local retirement villages as a possible location for my parents to move to, and getting to those has been quite a hike at times. Sometimes I have business in town (fun things like dental work) and said town is a very decent 20-minute walk. On such days, when the regular irritation of being a non-driver means that walking is my only realistic option to get myself about, I may skip my morning blast; but on any other day, I have agreed with myself, the yomp is non-negotiable. Even – as it was this morning – in the rain.

Now this is the strange thing – I have always maintained that committing to exercise is a chore, something you have to do rather than something you want to do. It was with this mindset that I started the process. Yet, within a very short time and without any effort on my part, my mindset has changed. Exercise now feels like an indulgent act of self-care, something I feel genuinely privileged to have the time for. I have chosen a route that runs down the canal, which means viewing a stretch of water and some wildlife, which definitely improves the experience beyond that of pounding the pavement. I am honestly astonished how much I am enjoying it, how much it feels like an act of self-indulgence rather than a necessity. All of this, I am quite certain, is because I have time.

There is no end to the number of self-help books and the pages of online advice telling people to “make time for themselves” but the reality when you’re working full time – especially in a job such as teaching – is that time is at a premium. When I was a teacher, the very notion of finding time to commit to some exercise felt impossible (and indeed – given the very active nature of my job – unnecessary). Yet I am amazed how my mindset has changed since the start of my new career and how quickly something which felt like a tedious necessity has become a real joy. This morning – would you believe it – the rain increased that joy. For someone like me, who always walked to work, the rain has been nothing but a huge inconvenience in the past; but in my scruffy exercise attire rather than my work clothes, hair plastered down by the wet and make-up free, it felt genuinely joyful – a natural, wondrous experience and one to be treasured. This is the difference that time gives you. I had the time to go out in the rain for 45 minutes, because I had the time to come home, take a shower, change, fix my hair and do my make-up. When you’re stuck in the school building and under pressure to look at least vaguely presentable between 7.30am and 5.00pm there just never seem to be enough hours in the day to make that kind of mud-splashed frolicking a viable option.

Now I have the time, I feel like a child again.

Author: Emma Williams

Latin tutor with 21 years' experience in the classroom. Outstanding track record with student attainment and progress.

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