‘Gymphobia’ is real!

Shefali Saxena Thursday 13th January 2022 02:05 EST

Anoushé Husain is a para climber and an ambassador for the Her Spirit Couch2Kilos programme in association with British Weight Lifting. Couch2Kilos is a simple and effective free six-week programme to help women of all abilities to help boost their strength, body composition, stability, and mental health. 

In an exclusive chat with Asian Voice, ‘Her Spirit’ Ambassador Anoushé Husain spoke about fitness among women. 


Q - Please describe the idea behind Couch2Kilos

The idea for Couch2Kilos came about because lots of women in the Her Spirit community tell us that strength training has helped them build body confidence and feel more able to cope with daily life. Many people are aware that we need to do 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, but it’s also recommended that we do two strength training sessions per week, which is less understood. In fact, 78% of women are not active enough to achieve a health benefit. 

We hope that Couch2Kilos will raise awareness of the importance of strength training and highlight how vital it is for building and maintaining muscle mass, which in turn helps you burn fat, increase bone density, improve posture and balance, prevent injury and improve heart health. And of course, when we feel physically stronger, we know it helps to improve our mental wellbeing too. Getting stronger also helps with doing day to day tasks which means we get more energy and improve our quality of life.

Q - What do you think keeps women away from exercising and why?

There’s a lot of pressure and misinformation aimed at women, especially around this time of year when we’re bombarded with messages about losing weight fast. Many women turn to fad diets, juice cleanses, very low-calorie detox programmes and they’re just not sustainable. These quick fixes don’t work, which is why I’m proud to be an ambassador for Her Spirit, which wants to challenge the diet and fitness industry by promoting the benefits of being active, eating well and looking after your mental health. I’ve had a difficult relationship with food due to this type of misinformation in the past. I’m keen for other women not to fall into the same trap.

Lots of women find the gym intimidating too, especially the strength training areas! If you’re at the beginning of your fitness journey or perhaps you’ve not managed to exercise during the pandemic, heading to the gym for the first time or returning after a while can be intimidating - ‘gymphobia’ is real! We need to create supportive and inclusive communities where women of all abilities, shapes and sizes can participate in a non-judgmental environment. 

Another big barrier is lack of time. Many women juggle child-care, household duties and paid work, and don't find time for themselves. I would say, make an intention in 2022 to carve out time for yourself to nourish your mind, body and soul. Start with small daily steps to be more active and build from there. Remember, three 10-minute bouts of physical activity over the day have the same health benefits as a continuous 30-minute session. Also building in activity with your children, such as walking to the shops or playing in the park is a great way to stay active. Walking isn’t for everyone so be inventive, I do bodyweight squats while my kettle is boiling and dance in the kitchen when no one is looking. It’s quick, fun, gets me moving and keeps my legs strong. 

Q - Could you please list the benefits of strength training for women?

There are a wide variety of benefits. Women are more prone to osteoporosis than men because the hormone changes that happen at menopause directly affect bone density. I was shocked to learn that women lose approximately 3 to 8 per cent muscle mass per decade after the age of 30! Regular strength training is crucial to help build muscle mass and bone strength. It can also help with mobility, flexibility, energy, as well as transforming body shape. 

One of the myths is that strength training will make women bulky. It’s just not possible. We do not have enough testosterone to bulk up! In fact, if consistent and done right, strength training can help you lose fat and maintain the body shape you desire.

Q - While physical exercise is imperative, what does it take for women to have a healthy lifestyle and more importantly, a healthy mind?

Nutrition, exercise and a good night’s sleep are the basic maintenance for both a healthy mind and a healthy body. Eating a lot of junk food, that’s high in fat, sugar and salt, has been linked to depression and anxiety. It’s also not good for your heart. That’s not to say you should never enjoy cake! It’s about finding a way to balance your diet so that you are getting all the nutrients you need. 

We also need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Getting enough sleep always puts me in a better mood and it’s good for our health too. 

Understanding your “why’ is also a key part of the journey. Why, because often women think that losing ‘scales’ weight will make them happy (it won’t), so think about your mindset and loving yourself just the way you are first. Perhaps your reason is so that you can play sports with your kids, or to spend more time in nature. The reason must come from within, and it isn’t enough to simply shed the pounds as fast as possible. Also, by shedding pounds quickly with a fad diet, you will lose fat mass but you will also lose the crucial muscle mass we all need to stay strong, healthy and active. That’s why eating enough good quality food and strength training are so important. 

Q - What is more important? Losing weight or staying fit?

Definitely staying fit! If you focus on getting fitter, healthier, and stronger, then weight loss will follow. It’s important to focus on living your life to the full and achieving your full potential. I am a big advocate for smashing stereotypes and defying expectations. If you’ve never learned to swim, who says you’re too old. If you think that running a marathon is impossible, it’s not. I would love for more women to challenge themselves and believe they can achieve what they never thought possible. 

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