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Some national days feel pretty meaningless, but given the huge barriers many women face when it comes to exercise, National Fitness Day has never been more important, argues Helen Wilson-Beevers.

Never has National Fitness Day been more pertinent than it is this year. We’ve had an incredible summer of sport in the UK, with the Lionesses bringing football home in the Euros and the hefty collection of medals the England and Team GB athletics squads wracked up in Birmingham and Munich. On the other hand, however, half of British women haven’t exercised in almost a year.

Fitness (rather than sport) is all about getting moving and reaping the mental and physical benefits of doing so. But prioritising fitness isn’t always as simple as it sounds; women often face time, financial, emotional and familial barriers.

That’s one reason why we at Strong Women are so keen to stress that building strength comes in a plethora of forms. For some, it’ll mean lifting heavier at the gym or snatching a running PB; for others, it’ll be managing to go for a 15-minute walk around the block, away from the madding crowd.

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As someone with endometriosis and a painful inflammatory autoimmune condition, I can’t always partake in the fitness classes or exercise types I’d like to, despite loving running and weight training. The harsh reality is some types of fitness cause excruciating pain, whether I’m feeling motivated or not. That’s meant I’ve had to reassess my views about fitness and now prioritise endorphin-boosting movement when I’m able – whether that’s walking the dog, taking a dip or just spending a few minutes doing basic breathing exercises.

Perhaps the best thing about fitness is that it plays a different role in everyone’s lives and is constantly open to change. You might start off wanting to move to change how your body looks and find a few months in that your relationship to exercise – and your body – changes.

With that in mind, we spoke to a selection of women about what fitness means to them.

Whether it’s community, better health, stress relief or overcoming mental barriers, movement has something to offer us all.

“I see fitness as a chance to reconnect with my inner child – returning to a time when exercise meant having fun and messing around. It’s hula hooping and roller skating all the way for me.” – Sarah

“I’m training to be the first person to swim the channel with a stoma bag. Exercise has enabled me to raise awareness, empower others and embrace opportunities that I never thought I’d have.” – Gill

“Running along the beach with my best friend once a week is what keeps me feeling mentally, emotionally and physically fit, no matter how fast or slow I go.” – Jenni

“Fitness means creating mental space and physical confidence in my 50s. It reminds me I have agency at a time when I can wrongly feel that I don’t. My disco garage workouts are a joy.” – Karen

“Being a first-time mum, movement helps my mental health by providing an hour away from the baby to do something purely for me.” – April

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“I have chronic abdominal pain, so my focus is on moving my body in a way that feels good and doesn’t hurt. Sometimes, that can simply be lying on the floor with my knees bent while I focus on breathing.” – Nisha

“Being in perimenopause, I can really feel the difference if I don’t manage to walk or exercise at least a few times a week. Fitness helps clear my brain fog.” – Alison

As these women have so perfectly outlined, fitness – out in the real world – bears almost no relation to what we see on social media. It’s about giving people strength, freedom, peace, confidence and adventure. Movement allows us to reconnect to ourselves and overcome limitations that in other parts of our lives might feel insurmountable. And that’s available to us all, whatever our size, race, age or background. 

Images: Getty

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