The negative affect of the COVID-19 pandemic on physical activity levels is widespread. Yet there are many who have gone against the trend and found ways to increase their activities, making positive lifestyle changes despite limitations.
One of these people is Bury resident, Lesley Downing. Lesley featured in a 2020 article by Talking About My Generation: an organisation that supports people over 50 in the Greater Manchester region to share their stories about later life. In the article, Lesley spoke from an older adult perspective about the ways the first seven months of the pandemic allowed her to find the motivation she desired to be more active.
We caught up with Lesley in March 2021 as she shared her refreshingly honest approach to the way the winter lockdown affected both her ability and motivation to exercise.
Starting lockdown with positive changes
In the first lockdown, Lesley saw that she and her husband, 57-year old Phil, had an opportunity to increase their activity levels. The couple began daily walks, noticing their fitness levels improving and their waistlines slimming.
‘My weight has yo-yoed my entire life,’ shares Lesley. ‘But I try to be practical and do what I can, as positive actions give me a positive mindset. The walks my husband and I have done together have really boosted our motivation and allowed us to be a great support to one another, sharing in our active achievements.’
Changing rules and activity reduction
As the darker mornings and evenings set in, the weather led to Lesley joining a gym in September. ‘My gym induction was tailored to the needs I have due to my back problems, as well as a physical age assessment,’ says Lesley. ‘I turned 63 in August, yet my body-age assessment was that of a 55 year-old. I credit that to the daily walks from the first lockdown supporting my lifelong commitment to maintain a level of physical activity. Being active throughout my life has helped me, though this assessment is proof that even the smallest improvements to my health now have further increased my quality of later life.’
However, in December 2020, the leisure industry closure meant the gym was shut. ‘I’d been going to the gym twice a week for three months,’ Lesley explains. ‘Yet, suddenly, I found myself without that lifeline. Coupled with darker cold nights and Christmas indulgence, I stopped exercising and thinking about my diet in January.’
It’s here that Lesley notes the strong links between physical and mental health. ‘Pandemic fatigue set in,’ she admits. ‘I found it hard to see a positive future where the lockdown didn’t go on forever. That sense of never-ending had a negative impact on my mental health, and my motivation to exercise.’
Returning to exercise with renewed focus
Lesley has suffered from problems with her back for years, and a bad incident in February meant physical activity was suddenly back in focus. ‘It was a bit of a wake-up call for me that I needed to take care of myself better,’ says Lesley. ‘So it was a careful and gentle start, but I started walking again in March and managed to keep up with my own exercises.’
‘My back is helped by walking, as well as the set of exercises I’ve tried to follow since my 30s,’ continues Lesley. ‘I do a combination of yoga and ballet, using inner muscles that I try to protect, supplemented by Callanetics. Building strength and supporting my back has been a real motivator for me, especially to help me in my nursing career.’
Mental wellbeing motivation for physical activity
Lesley’s nursing job has been a great motivator for her understanding of the importance of overall health and wellbeing throughout her life. Now retired, Lesley’s volunteering at her local hospital. ‘I’m manning the main reception desk, taking letters and care packages to residents to reduce hospital footfall during the pandemic,’ Lesley explains.
‘My skills and knowledge are important here, but so is physical ability,’ she adds. ‘I’m up and down stairs a lot, so I need to be capable – not only to protect my own health but to make sure I can still be that lifeline for people in hospital who need their wellbeing supported more than ever before.’
‘There’s a definite link between my mental health during the pandemic and my motivation to exercise,’ concludes Lesley. ‘It has been hard. But I feel better when I know I’ve achieved something for the day, like going for a walk. It’s small, but it’s incremental – and the physical exercise gives me a positive mental outlook for the day, and weeks, ahead.’
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