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Guest Contributor: Sarah Banks – How I Found The Exercise That Works For Me

Sarah Banks works as an Online Business Consultant and has shared her journey to find exercise that works for her in this article.

I’ve never been a particularly active person. I’ve struggled to find the “exercise” that works for me, but I’ve always had a love for walking. Being able to enjoy exploring the countryside, meandering through forests, hills, and the coastline to see what nature had to show to me that day is so special. But, as with all good things, I never seemed to have the time to walk as often as I’d like.

Then I had a bright idea. As a businesswoman I was getting frustrated with traditional methods of networking and finding that “zoom fatigue” is a very real thing, I was looking for alternatives. That’s when I decided to combine my love for walking with networking. Having 1-2-1 walks with fellow self-employed business owners and freelancers then led to me starting a regular ‘netwalking’ club, where we walk for around an hour discussing our businesses, opportunities, and goals for the years ahead rounded up with a coffee and a chat. I find netwalking a great way to find new business owners to connect with to share the successes and challenges of working for yourself, all while getting some of the many benefits of walking in nature which include reducing stress and depression, lowering blood pressure, and helping you to think more clearly.

I learned that exercise doesn’t have to feel like exercise

I find being around nature is beneficial to my mental health, so I wanted to find new ways to get out and about in the countryside while fitting in some additional exercise. Although I lack in ability, I have always been a keen sea swimmer, it’s just so invigorating floating in the cold water!

I’d had a little dip here and there in local rivers but in April 2021 I decided I wanted to do more and so I went along to my first open water swim at my local water sports centre. They have two lakes there dedicated to swimming with courses set out so you can track how far you've swum. I'm pushing myself to complete the Lake 1 course twice or to swim Lake 2 and Lake 1, which are approximately 1 km per swim! For someone with little open swimming skill and who is, self-admittedly, unfit, it’s quite the challenge.

To enable this, I’ve changed my working hours to put aside Friday mornings to swim there weekly, which I’ve been doing since April and I’m planning to continue right the way through winter (although you can be sure that I won’t be in the water for long when it snows!)

The benefits of open water swimming

According to Open Water Swimming England, there are four key health benefits to this activity, so maybe I can persuade you to give it a go as I explain what they are.

Better sleep.
Many of us experience insomnia and difficulties getting off to sleep each night. Open water swimming helps your body to naturally increase levels of prolactin, a hormone that promotes REM sleep so you can doze off more easily.

Boosted immune system.
If you’re looking for ways to give your immune system a natural boost, open water swimming in colder water (i.e., in UK waters!) can reduce the over-production of some hormones in our bodies that can impair our immunity thus enabling it to be better at warding off infection.

Preventing long-term health conditions.
Chronic illness is something that can strike any of us at any time, often without warning. Open water swimming can reduce the chances of developing these conditions by making your body’s internal systems more efficient and effective as the cold water improves circulation. It also means if you are chronically ill, swimming in open waters can help you manage your symptoms and illness too.

Increased happiness.
For me it was boosting my mental health that was the main driver for starting open water swimming. On my first swim my anxiety was around 8/9 out of 10 and when I got out of the water it had dropped to just 2/3. This isn’t surprising as open water swimming has been shown to increase thyroid stimulating hormones by more than 50%, this leads to improved mood and increased happiness but can also help with regulating weight, body temperature and muscle strength too.

Not content with getting more active in 2 sports this year, I decided to throw in a 3rd challenge

As I was rapidly approaching my 40th Birthday I wanted to really get out of my comfort zone, and I did just that by trying Aerial Yoga! I have practised yoga for around 10 years (although not since 2020 when in-person classes stopped) and I figured that if I could do yoga how hard could aerial be!

I went along to my first class terrified but came out impressed with myself and the things I could get my body to do. 5 weeks on and I made it to every class, discovered muscles I have never had before and feel stronger. I have now signed up for another 5 weeks in September and am really excited about strengthening my core and upper body as I develop my skills further.

The benefits of regular exercise and spending time in nature are so good that it is important to try to make time to do this but finding that time can be hard when you have a family and are running a business. I have managed to flex my working day to work later/earlier so that I can fit my exercise in when the kids are at school or by taking them along with me at weekends when we head off for family walks.

You are never too old to try out new sports and types of exercise as even if like me there was very little you enjoyed in the past, you may find that something new will change your mind.