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Movement As Medicine And Finding Your Fitness Community

by Ally Head

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK’s Health, Sustainability & Relationship Editor

It’s been quite a journey, huh? Out went hugs, jobs and any form of spontaneity: in came Zoom, medical face masks and sourdough starters (albeit unsuccessful ones, at that). 

The last two years brought grief, loss and trauma, but also growth, adaptation and overcoming. In the face of immeasurable stress and sadness, new businesses were born, virtual communities were built, and friendships were forged.

In the UK, from March to May 2020, Strava, the fitness tracking app, saw 82% more activities logged than the year prior. This boom of runners, cyclists, CrossFitters and even walkers recording their mileage on the platform felt like it’s own virtual community, at a time where even the smallest things, like a morning conversation with your favourite barista, had been taken away.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pandemic led to the number of people working out soaring, with Strava gaining two million members each month in 2020. Virtual runs, for many, replicated the feeling of a sweaty workout class with 30 other humans, Zoom classes got you out of bed in the morning, and in-ear run events made you feel like you had a PT on hand to guide the way. 

Community is a beautiful thing, and losing it last year only reinforced how we, as humans, need it to thrive. But there was something really beautiful and even spiritual about knowing that no matter how lonely your workout felt, at peak restrictions, you were never truly working out alone. 

All you had to do was check the number of attendees on the Zoom call or the amount of runs logged that hour on your run app to feel part of something.

If you’re reading all this as someone who doesn’t workout, or who struggles with exercise because they haven’t found a sweat session that they enjoy yet - don’t fret.

I’m a runner - have been since university, when one day, I decided to lace up and attempt to conquer the local 2km park loop. Since then, I’ve run five marathons, countless halves, and find making time in my everyday to move mindfully an absolute godsend for my mental health. Embracing a more active lifestyle is easily the best thing I’ve ever done for myself - I’m happier, relaxed, and way more confident.

So when the world locked down, I leapt at the opportunity to go back to the drawing board—and that would be my advice to you. 

Realistically, you’re never going to stick at something that you don’t enjoy, and movement is about so much more than just hour long strength sessions or gruelling HIIT workouts you despise. Movement is about workouts that make you smile from ear-to-ear, and sweat sessions booked in with friends that boost your endorphins and your mood for the day ahead. You often forget that walking a few loops of the local park and getting some fresh air is just as viable a form of workout as CrossFit - every little helps, for both physical and mental health. 

Lockdown taught me to love walking while chatting to my sister on the phone, yoga with a Zoom class of total strangers as the sun rose to stretch and start our days, and weekends cycling around Bushy Park with my boyfriend.

Finding this weird little community - some, friends, some, strangers, and most, virtual - who all respected and embraced how powerful movement can be, and how great it can make you feel, made me feel less alone at the most lonely points of last year.

Nowadays, to find a fitness community who you love working out with, you don’t even need to meet in person. If last year taught us anything, it’s that community doesn’t need to be IRL - it can take form online, in-ear, on Zoom, or in the form of a WhatsApp group. It just needs to work for you and make you feel good. So if you prefer your virtual classes, keep at ‘em. 

Alternatively, if you can’t wait to get back to meeting your mates for sweaty workouts in the flesh now it’s legally allowed, get booking. Nothing replicates the feeling of getting a great workout in with a friend by your side, and I genuinely believe that moving your body can often be the easiest form of meditation and the single best mood boost. 

Not sure how to find a community that works for you? There are hundreds of run clubs in London, so have a Google. Workout apps like Fiit now let you workout from the comfort of your home at a scheduled time with a friend. Zoom yoga classes are still going strong - my favourites are Triyoga, Digme and my friend’s, Lillie of Passa Training, who runs stretch classes on a Sunday evening.

Movement is medicine - utilise it as a tool and you’ll improve your life in more ways than I can explain. It’s a foolproof, sure-fire way to switch off, de-stress and totally clear your mind.  If you haven’t found the type of workout for you yet, get experimenting, and if you’re yet to find your community, ask your most sporty friend. You won’t regret it.