The importance of getting women moving

Even former world champion rower Juliette Drysdale admits she has sometimes forgotten how good it feels to exercise. Now she's urging women to join her and get moving. 

Every Monday night, a group of friends and I get together in an old shed at my place to exercise. We turn up the music, power through our circuit of body weight exercises, solve the world's problems and happily let our partners deal with getting the kids to bed. Through it all, I’m reminded why sport and movement are so good and so necessary for women. 

Moving really does make you feel good. For me, the gift of having been an elite athlete is the inherent desire to move and stay active for the rest of my life. There have been periods - following my two pregnancies - where I lost sight of just how good exercise makes me feel. It's the strangest thing how you quickly forget when you don’t do it.

The physical benefits of regular exercise are well-known - lowering blood pressure, increasing good cholesterol levels, improving bone health, reducing the risk of disease and promoting sleep. And the positive effect that sport and exercise has on mental wellbeing is also of huge importance.

It’s not uncommon for many women to feel self-conscious, or too unfit, to know where to begin. Sport England launched a fantastic initiative in 2015, This Girl Can, a campaign to help women get past the fear of judgment and simply celebrate being active in any form. The campaign was credited with getting 2.8 million women moving in its first year alone, and having a significant impact on the activity levels of women in England.

This Girl Can has this year been introduced to Australian women in the state of Victoria after research by VicHealth showed significantly fewer women than men do enough physical activity each week to benefit their health.

How long is it since you moved in a way that left you breathing hard, your heart pumping, followed by that spike of endorphins and the satisfaction of completing a workout or playing sport?

Former New Zealand Olympic heptathlete and high jumper Sarah Cowley is a firm believer in exercise. “For me, exercise is a tonic. It’s something that gives me physical strength and mental clarity. I know I’m a better person for being active - just ask my husband - so I know I need to prioritise it. When I’m tired, it’s even more important to me,” she says.

“It doesn’t have to be like my old days as a heptathlete, training for hours on end, which I loved. But it does have to be something. A 10-minute walk outside can really cause a shift if the day isn’t going as well as I’d hoped.”

The mental benefits of sport and exercise can increase two-fold when women join teams or workout together in groups. Those who have been part of a sports team or regular exercise group will know friendships form easily, exercise can seem less of a chore and an instant bond can form when you’re sweating alongside your mates.

Many women struggle to find time to exercise or commit to a sports team, often putting the needs of the family ahead of their own. Former world and Olympic rowing champion Caroline Meyer (nee Evers-Swindell), who has three children, works hard to find a way to balance daily exercise around her family life.

I love running, biking, hiking, and I do some weights through the week. Sport and fitness is my drug; it’s what makes me a better person. Being a full-time mum is hard, but if I get out and do some exercise once a day, then life is great,” she says.

“Sometimes I'm so tired that it is the last thing I feel like doing. But I think exercise is great for mental health. Most of the time I exercise by myself, but I also love getting out with friends as it makes the run go really quick.”

So here’s your reminder (and permission) if you may have lost sight of the benefits of moving, to put yourself ahead of whatever chores you may have on your to-do-list and make time for some form of movement. Or even better, make a commitment and join a sports team.

Trust me, you’ll feel so much better for it.

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