Losing your period – amenorrhea and training

This piece is part 2 to last week’s blog post on how periods affect training. If you haven’t already, give it a read!

When it goes wrong

A topic I have spent some time (though probably not enough) discussing on my Instagram page, as well as on here, is overtraining and RED-s, or Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport. The condition has spent more time in the limelight recently, with high profile cases coming to the fore, and more people on social media opening up about their experiences too. However, unfortunately the topic is still shrouded in mystery and shame, meaning that every year more people are affected. Even worse, it’s often assumed that losing your period is a normal, even healthy side effect of training, and isn’t anything to be concerned about. This is a myth that needs to change

Exercise is a stressor to the body. For the most-part, it is a good stressor, leading to adaptive changes to make us faster, stronger, fitter. There comes a point, however, where the demands of a particular sport go beyond the recovery that is given, and beyond what the body can handle. There are many ways that this can happen, and the outcome is a cascade of physiological responses with serious, even life-changing, consequences. RED-s refers to a state where there is insufficient energy intake for the amount of training being undertaken, leading to reduced bone density, low energy availability and, among other things, hypothalamic amenorrhoea, or stopped periods. In the general population, around 2% – 5% of women are affected. Within athletes, the prevalence is much higher, at 3.4% to 44%. 

Somewhat problematically for diagnosis and recovery, there are many stories of athletes having their best seasons right before their body starts to shut down. This is because the effects of RED-s take time to come into play, and can be caused by the most innocuous-seeming deficiency in calories over a long period of time. However, this is an important issue as it is increasingly common even among for-fun athletes, even those of a ‘healthy’ BMI, and RED-s is quietly sidelining more and more people.

Periods are important. They show that your hormones are functioning as they should – it is impossible to function optimally as a human and athlete without the hormones your body needs.

RED-s, a condition that encompasses a number of symptoms, including menstrual irregularity

Why do people lose their periods?

Secondary amenorrhea is when you have experienced regular periods before, but then stop menstruating for 3 months or longer after that point. Functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA) is a type of secondary amenorrhea, caused by low energy intake, weight loss, stress or a combination of these factors. Note: you do NOT have to be underweight and be training loads and have a really low calorie intake for this to happen. All of these make it more likely, but FHA can happen to anyone. It is also important to rule out other causes of amenorrhea, in case it is caused by some other factor. 

Losing your period as a side-effect of training should never be seen as acceptable. The idea that it’s a sign that you’re working hard is both harmful and wrong – you can train much better if you have a healthy cycle. 

Evolutionarily speaking, FHA in times of stress may have been adaptive. If you can’t support your own body and health, there’s no way you could support another life (i.e. a baby), so it doesn’t make sense to ovulate, as this is energy consuming. The downregulation of the body’s natural functions protects the brain and vital organs. However, there’s no questioning that it is a red flag that something is up, and in this day and age we are lucky to have the knowledge to protect ourselves against such outcomes. 

What happens when you lose your period?

FHA results from changes in the hormone GnRH, which in turn reduces luteinising hormone (LH) and eventually oestrogen availability. This has a number of negative consequences affecting the whole body, including bone density, cardiovascular health and mental health. The longer it continues, the greater the effects. Conditions such as osteoporosis, previously associated with post-menopausal women, also become more likely, due to the reduction in oestrogen’s protective effects on bone density. This in turn increases risk of injury such as fractures. Research suggests that athletes with menstrual irregularities are also likely to experience more injuries and recover slower from those injuries.

There can also be short and long-term consequences for reproductive health. Of course, if you are not ovulating, you cannot get pregnant (though this should never be used as a form of birth control!!), but there may be long-term impacts on fertility in response to chronic amenorrhea. However, when treated properly, the prognosis for future fertility is good

How can I get my period back?

This is a question I get asked a lot, and I am reluctant to give prescriptive answers, as I am not a medical professional. Generally speaking, reducing stress on the body and increasing energy availability are good places to start. Often the causes of FHA are not entirely physical, and seeking professional mental health help can assist too. 

These are some of the factors most important to optimising physical health:

  • Ensure you are allowing for adequate rest between training sessions. 
  • Reduce the number of very intense sessions per week, and space them out.
  • Make sure you are eating enough carbohydrates, fats and proteins. 
  • Avoid fasted training sessions. 
  • Get enough sleep – it is vital to recovery! 
  • Eat within 30 minutes of a training session. 
  • Reduce stress in other areas of your life where possible.

If you are unable to get your period back by yourself, after reducing exercise intensity and improving recovery, it is recommended to seek professional help as soon as possible. A specialist sports dietician should be able to help if you’re concerned or not sure if you need pointing in the right direction. 

Conclusions

With the increase in uptake of sports, and higher stakes especially in competitive sports, it is unlikely that conditions such as FHA and RED-s are going away any time soon, especially among young women. While we place pressure on men and women both to perform and look a certain way, regardless of actual health, it is vital to continue to educate athletes and coaches on the consequences of not treating our bodies well and with respect. 

Unless you’re actively trying to get pregnant, it can be easy to push issues such as FHA to the back of your mind, especially if the perceived immediate benefits are greater the perceived long-term risks. Ironically, if your primary concern is performance rather than long-term health, it will be difficult to become healthy and thus perform optimally. I’m hoping that by talking about it more and improving public awareness, we can start to encourage people to seek help when they need it, and hopefully reduce stigma while we’re at it! 

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, these podcasts were particularly helpful for me:

If you found this blog post helpful, please do share with anyone who might find it useful or share and tag me on Instagram! Many thanks to specialist Renee Mcgregor for talking me thorough these complex issues too. If you enjoy my posts regularly, please consider contributing so I can keep this page up and running (no pun intended).

How periods affect training

Despite working in the realm of ‘women’s health’ for many years of my life, I recently realised that this wasn’t something I’d ever written, vlogged or even talked about much on my social media. As something that affects so many of us, I thought it would be a good idea to rectify this, and hopefully shine some light on how menstrual cycles can affect training, what it means to lose your period and how we can take care of our bodies the best we can, while achieving the fitness goals we set out to achieve.

To give a little background, I worked at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists as a press officer and social media manager for over a year after I left university. I then went on to run the social media accounts for Freda, a sustainable period products brand that helps reduce period poverty here in the UK with every purchase. So, I know a thing or two about periods and the taboos that surround them, but for some reason have never spoken about it openly. Many thanks to Renee Mcgregor, a sports dietician specialising in overtraining and athlete health, for her help talking me through the complexities of the human body. Give her a follow, and check out her ebook for more information on this topic. 

Do periods affect training?

Historically, scientific research on women has been limited, thanks in no small part to the fact that periods are considered a ‘confounding factor’ when it comes to medical trials. In addition, the difficulty of finding a large enough cohort of people whose cycles match up adds an extra layer of complexity in organising scientific trials, limiting the number that have been carried out. However, more recently there have been several studies that show that changing hormones can affect both how we feel, as well as our performance. For years, scientists and coaches have worked on the assumption that biological females are essentially the same as males, just with different reproductive organs, but when it comes to training and the effect of hormones, we see that this isn’t true. 

Anyone who has periods will know how moods, energy and motivation vary throughout their cycle, although you might not know why this is. FitrWoman, an app designed to assist training planning around the menstrual cycle, explains how training can be affected by fluctuating hormones throughout the four-phase cycle. It is important to remember that while the average length of a cycle is 28 days, for someone else it may be more or less – what is important is knowing what is normal for you. 

“Starting with periods (phase 1), this is when women can experience a high amount of symptoms (e.g. back pain, cramps, fatigue) which can impact how you are feeling and therefore may impact exercise training/performance. Anecdotally, lots of the sportswomen we come across also cite that heavy bleeding has either caused them to change the way their train or miss training altogether, so this is definitely something key that we want to address. Things like moon cups can be game changers for some, and really heavy bleeders may want to be referred to a gynaecologist.

“After menstruation, levels of the sex hormones oestrogen start to increase (in Phase 2), and this can often be a good time to progress in training and just crack on. There is a little evidence to suggest that you can actually capitalise on strength training a bit more in this phase, likely due to the effect that oestrogen has on muscle anabolism/muscle protein synthesis.

“Oestrogen levels rise to a peak just before ovulation, and then progesterone levels start to increase (in Phase 3). Both of these hormones travel in the circulation and therefore can affect many physiological systems, not just the reproductive system. Progesterone often causes a small increase (by about 0.3-0.5 degrees C) in core body temperature and may cause an elevated heart rate, both which may affect exercise in the heat. Phase 3 can also be when sleep disturbances occur, and so without the right strategies in place, this can affect training. 

“Towards the end of Phase 3, and in Phase 4, pre-menstrual symptoms are likely to occur, and this is where a lot of our work with our Female Athlete Programme is focused on. Whilst there is little evidence that exercise performance is affected by menstrual cycle phase, this is with a slight caveat of: ‘given that symptoms are managed’. Research has found that many active women say their menstrual cycle has negatively impacted their performance, and it is often during this phase. The sharp drop in oestrogen and progesterone concentrations could result in delayed recovery, increased cravings, increased fatigue, pain, mood swings and poor motivation through a multitude of mechanisms. However, it’s not all doom and gloom! It’s just about learning what your individual menstrual cycle means for you and being savvy about how to manage any symptoms you experience”. 

Esther Goldsmith, sports scientist at FitrWoman
How hormones fluctuate during a standard 28 day cycle

All this to say: where you are in your cycle really can affect how you feel during training, but provided it’s not too hot, and provided you are able to manage symptoms, there’s little reason why your overall performance would be affected by your cycle. Having said that, it is important to note that if you are struggling, it might be worth switching round your routine in order to capitalise on days that you feel stronger. Tracking your cycle might help explain days where effort felt higher, or days you really aced training. I generally think that if I can workout on a day where I feel very ‘meh’, I can workout any day, and it’ll feel so much easier!  It is important not to beat yourself up for a ‘bad’ training session – every session serves a purpose – and while your cycle may not be an excuse for a bad session, it may well be a reason. 

Should you exercise on your period?

We are all unique, and as with so many health-focussed topics, the answer to this depends on personal preference and how you feel, as mentioned above. For many people, exercising during their period alleviates symptoms such as cramps and low moods, meaning that training is a great way to manage these things. For others, however, training can feel impossible, or at least immensely unpleasant. Dr Vanessa Mackay, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, recommends attempting light exercise during your period. 

“Women may not feel like exercising during a painful period, but keeping active can help relieve period pain and discomfort. Woman are encouraged to try low impact exercises such as swimming, walking or cycling.

“Exercise can also help to regulate menstruation. If women are stressed, their menstrual cycle can become longer or shorter, their periods may stop altogether, or they might become more painful.  Regular exercise, such as running, swimming and yoga, can help women to relax.

“If women experience severe period pain, or their normal pattern of periods change, they should speak to their GP.”

What’s important to note is that while it may assumed to be ‘normal’, being bedbound during your period is not something you should just ‘have to live with’, and if you are experiencing extreme discomfort and pain, you should visit a gynaecologist or doctor. Sadly, understanding around these issues is still pretty poor – it takes on average 7.5 years for someone to be diagnosed with endometriosis, for example – but if you feel something is wrong, please insist on seeing your doctor and getting a diagnosis. Similarly, if your normal pattern changes, e.g. you experience very heavy bleeding suddenly or lots of pain, speak to your GP, or even better a gynaecologist or endocrinologist. You should not have to suffer in silence. 

Fuelling also may need to change around your cycle, especially in endurance sports. As hormones fluctuate, the need for protein and carbohydrates varies, as well as micronutrients, such as iron. Iron is especially important during and after your period, as iron is lost when you bleed. During phase 1 and 2 (the first half of your cycle), more carbohydrates are required, as the body is burning more fat. This is especially important in endurance training, and long fasted sessions should be avoided, as they place unnecessary stress on the body. During the second half of the cycle (phases 3 and 4), progesterone levels are higher, as is the BMR (basal metabolic rate), meaning that cravings are higher, but also that the body really does need more food. Energy expenditure can increase by 2-11% during this half. Here you should consume more healthy fats and have a regular intake of protein. A general rule of thumb is to make sure you’re getting in enough carbohydrates, have a regular intake of protein and listen to your body – it may be telling you exactly what you need! 

For what it’s worth, I do not consciously change my exercise routine around my period. However, I do experience very low energy at certain times of the month (not every month – I’m still trying to figure out when, exactly) and often change around my routine to allow for extra food and rest on these days. I would never head out for a long run on a day when I feel exhausted to the point of needing a midday nap, and might instead take a walk or fit in a stretching session (both of which are useful parts of training, just less intense). Having said that, I also find a short (5-8k) run helps with PMS symptoms more than anything else, including painkillers! They’re definitely not my best runs, but for cramps and low mood, nothing beats an easy run for me.

TL;DR

  • Your hormones may affect perceived effort in training depending at the point you are in your cycle, especially in endurance training and in the heat.
  • Every woman is different: while some may feel no change, others may experience severe symptoms that affect how they are able to train each month. If you feel unable to complete normal tasks, consider visiting an endocrinologist or gynaecologist.  
  • Low intensity exercise may help reduce pre-menstrual symptoms and regular exercise is recommended to keep the body healthy. 
  • Your hormones can be capitalised upon to make the most out of your training – it’s not all bad news! Some parts of the cycle may be better for muscle growth, and training when you don’t feel your best can make other training sessions and races feel that much easier. 
  • Be kind to your body! Don’t beat yourself up about a bad training session. Ensure you are getting enough rest days and taking on enough fuel and you’ll be back on track in no time. 
  • Don’t forget that carbs are a necessary part of training, and especially required in the first half of your cycle. Make sure you have a good intake of protein and healthy fats. 
  • Periods and hormones are healthy. It is impossible to be optimal if these hormones are out of whack e.g. if you lose your period due to overtraining. More on this later!

I hope this helps you and answers some of your questions about training at different parts of the cycle. Many thanks to Fitr Women for explaining the different phases and how these may affect training. If you are not sure how your cycle affects you, it may be worth tracking it with an app or on your calendar. While it may not be an ‘excuse’, it can often be reassuring to know why a particular session felt so hard, and know the days you will be able to make the most out of your training. 

What I’ve learned from this research is that everyone is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. However, it does seem to be the case that when everything is functioning well, the menstrual cycle can be beneficial for capitalising on training and optimising performance. It’s sad to see so many women experiencing debilitating symptoms every month and assuming this is normal. I hope this encourages more people to know what they are capable of, and others to seek help if they feel something is off. 

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, these podcasts were particularly helpful for me:

If you found this blog post useful, please do share with anyone who might find it useful. If you enjoy my posts regularly, please consider contributing so I can keep this page up and running (no pun intended).

How heat affects your training

As summer kicks into full force here in the UK, I see more and more comments about how heat is affecting training – both from others and myself! Running in the heat is hard, as is doing any form of exercise that raises your temperature. Our bodies work hard to maintain a stable internal environment and when that’s put under pressure, it has to work even harder to keep everything steady. If you learned about homeostasis at school you’ll know all about this!

The ideal temperature for endurance running is 9.5 – 11 degrees C (50F, with women preferring the upper end of this). For sprints, however, the optimum temperature is around 22 degrees C (72F), showing that the best temperature for training depends on what you’re doing, as well as personal preference. However, there are numerous benefits to training in the heat, not to mention it’s fun to get out on a sunny day! So long as certain precautions are taken, there’s no reason hot days shouldn’t be enjoyed just like any other.

Make sure you plan long, hot runs and are kitted out appropriately! Check out this vlog for an introduction to trail running.

What happens to your body when you train in the heat?

To compensate for the warming temperates created from exercise, your body sends more blood to the skin, allow heat to be lost via convection, radiation and evaporation. The warmer and more humid the external environment, the harder it is for heat to dissipate quickly, meaning you’ll cool down more slowly.

There are many physiological changes that occur to keep you cool, but after a point they may not be able to keep up. If your body gets too hot, it starts to rebel, telling you to slow down, drink, maybe even have a sit down. The first symptoms of heat exhaustion are dizziness, nausea, headache, extreme fatigue, cramps and mild confusion. Pushing through exhaustion can lead eventually to heat stroke, with the result being damage to vital organs as the body’s internal thermostat goes out of whack. It’s advisable to slow down long before this point, and planning your nutrition and hydration can stave off heat exhaustion for a long time.

Humid weather reduces the speed at which your body can cool down, meaning that even relatively cool temperatures can become exhausting.

How to train in the heat

It takes our bodies one to two weeks to adapt to training in the heat, which is why training can be especially hard at the start of summer – as soon as you get used to running at one temperature, it gets hotter again! In addition, beginner runners and people new to exercise will be less optimised to cool down quickly – the more you exercise, the more efficiently your body learns to cool. Hence very fit people may sweat more, and less fit people may need to take it easier on hot days! There are, however, certain things you can do to still make the most of hot days, and make sure you’re keeping safe when you train.

  • Avoid training in the hottest part of the day. Aim for early morning for the best temperatures (there’s also nothing nicer than a run at the start of a glorious summer’s day!).
  • Replace lost electrolytes (salts) with dietary salt or an electrolyte drink/rehydration salts.
  • Make sure you are hydrated well before heading out on a run or to the gym. This doesn’t necessarily mean glugging 2L of water before heading out, but make sure you’re hydrated the night before and morning of a big run or training session. If you’re working out for a long time, take water with you.
  • Wear sunglasses, a cap and light clothing to reduce the effect of the sun when outside. Always wear sweat-proof suncream.
  • Take it easy. As you acclimatise, your training sessions will get easier, but while you’re adapting, train by effort, not data. This means you may be running slower, shorter and lifting lighter with fewer reps, but that’s ok! The effort you expend is the same, and it’ll leave you a better athlete.
  • Avoid training on the hottest days if you’re concerned. It is possible to plan training days around the weather – I often do this to avoid rainy or extremely hot days, and train either side of those days.

The more you train in the heat, the more tolerant you will be to it. Stick it out, knowing that your runs/workouts may be compromised in the meantime, and within a week or two you’ll be amazed how normal it feels. Think of it as training adaptation – in the same way that training stresses out the body to make it more adapted, heat does the same. So long as you’re being sensible with hydration and your goals, there’s no reason not to train on hotter days. It’s just up to personal preference!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider contributing so I can create more. Feel free to suggest more topics while you’re at it!

Should you wear a mask during exercise?

With UK gyms reopening last week, there have been more and more instances of activewear manufacturers creating masks specifically designed for exercise. It is now the law to wear a face covering in shops, on public transport and when visiting other public services (banks, post offices etc), but is it necessary in gyms?

Thanks to the doubling (or even quadrupling!) of breathing rate during exercise, gyms were some of the first places to be closed at the start of the pandemic. Now, in the UK, gyms are exempt from face covering rules, but in the interest of safety as the gyms reopen, some people may decide to wear them. A similar situation arises when considering outdoor exercise, such as running, as the streets get busier. So what are the pros and cons of this?

Masks have been implemented in various locations as a method of ‘source control’, to prevent droplets from the mask wearer from spreading to surfaces or other people. While there has been much discussion around this topic, the evidence suggests that a reduction in transmission coincides with mask wearing in countries where this is observed.

While the exact figures of transmission risk will depend on various factors, this graphic shows how wearing a mask benefits everyone around the wearer.

This article by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) lists some of the considerations that should be taken into account when considering the wearing of a mask during exercise, namely:

  1. Masks that work the best (FFRs, e..g N95) should be reserved for healthcare workers and not lay use.
  2. Masks increase the rate of perceived exertion, creating an effect similar to minor altitude training.
  3. Masks that have increased airflow to reduce discomfort are also less effective at source control, allowing more droplets to spread.
  4. Cloths and masks are likely to become damp during exercise, reducing their breathability and increasing perceived exertion.
  5. Masks may encourage less social distancing behaviour.
Graphic from the BMJ

So, with the above considerations, are they recommended?

It depends. Masks are effective at reducing transmission, so long as compliance is high. However, many people will choose not to wear one during exercise due to the increase in perceived exertion. So long as everyone adheres to social distancing guidelines, increases hand washing and avoids touching their face during exercise, mask wearing in gyms and out running may be unnecessary. However, if you feel safer wearing a mask during exercise, please do so, so long as it is not at the expense of other guidelines designed to reduce transmission. This may be the case if you are exercising in a crowded space and can’t avoid people – although I would argue that in this case, exercising should be postponed to less busy times.

If you choose to exercise using a mask, remember to bring hand sanitiser and use it before and after touching the mask. Reduce the intensity of your workout to compensate for the increased perceived exertion. If you have an extended workout session, consider bringing a spare mask for when the first gets wet, as this could pose extra risks and increase discomfort. If you feel ill, do not go to the gym, and remember, always wash your hands.

I hope this helps! I’d love to know if you’ll be wearing a mask when you go back to the gym, or indeed whether you feel safe to go back to the gym at all? I have not yet, and will not feel safe for a while, unless it is nigh on empty! I don’t think I’ll wear a mask at the gym, but I also won’t go at all if there are lots of people in there. Let me know your thoughts below and feel free to share on Instagram!

If you enjoyed this piece and my other posts, please consider contributing – post suggestions welcome!

Rewilding – what, why and how?

I first learned about rewilding in depth at university, where we explored it as a means of conservation, in contrast to ex-situ conservation programmes, such as zoos. When we think about conservation, often we think about large mammals – tigers, elephants or pandas, perhaps – and not entire ecosystems, from fungi to ancient trees and everything in between. With 2021 – 2030 labelled the ‘decade of ecosystem restoration, now seems like as good a time as ever to talk about how rewilding could fit into our sustainability goals and increase biodiversity.

Rewilding means returning a non-wild area back to the wild. The term originated in North America around 25 years ago during projects to help with the reintroduction of large mammals, such as wolves to Yellowstone (I would thoroughly recommend giving this short YouTube clip a watch!). Due to the relative recency of the field, scientific studies are relatively limited, and projects are instead often privately funded, limiting research into efficacy. Anecdotally, however, the changes rewilding induce can be vastly beneficial.

In Europe and North America (rewilding’s biggest proponents), rewilding often takes different forms, with the latter focusing on wildlife corridors for large mammals, and the former decentralising large mammals, focussing instead on habitats, not individual species. Either way, rewilding is essentially recreating habitats more similar to those that existed before human intervention, to the benefit of the natural ecosystem.

The impact of rewilding on the Knepp Estate

Why rewilding?

  • Helps nature recover

With 41% of UK species in decline and 15% threatened with extinction, it is evident that nature needs all the help it can get. Habitat loss and degradation have meant that the ecosystems in which many animals live are changing at a rate that they can’t adapt to. While woodland cover had actually increased, more unique habitats such as wetlands are vital for so many of the UK’s native species. Rewilding is not the only option for improving species outcomes, but it had the potential to significantly help, when done in the right way. More complex and robust ecosystems will be better able to withstand future environmental pressures.

  • Reintroduce missing species

Of 8,431 species assessed in the UK, 15% were classified as threatened with extinction from Great Britain, and 2% are already extinct. Rewilding habitats has helped with many conservation cases, both here in the UK and globally. Here is a great list of some of those success stories. Reintroduction of species cannot happen without significant amount of their native habitat being available, so rewilding could play a major part in global conservation efforts.

Wolves have been returning to mainland Europe for many years now thanks to information campaigns and conservation projects, after being persecuted for millennia.
  • Revitalise communities and bring economic benefits

While an entirely anthropocentric view, ignoring the economic benefits of rewilding would be foolish, as often this is the key way of getting these projects funded and facilitated. In the UK National Parks and nature are seen as a national treasure, but even abroad, many governments are starting to see the economic benefits of protecting, rather than exploiting nature. E.g. North American countries favoring wilderness showed faster growth in their employment and income level than counties in which the economy is mainly based on resource extraction.

“From an analysis of turnover, employment and county-level productivity data, it is estimated that England’s National Parks generate £4.1 to 6.3 billion of Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2012″.

National Park England Report
  • Ecosystem services and other environmental risk management

Ecosystem services‘ are the benefits humans gain from nature, including climate regulation, flood management, maintenance of nutrient cycles and, of course, improvement of quality of life. For example, trees lock water into the soil, preventing flooding after lots of rain. There are plenty of examples of how disrupting nature had led to far worse outcomes for humans too – this is just one example. Forest growth also promotes carbon sequestration (absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere), improving air quality. Natural regeneration allows soil recovery and nutrient availability and improved water quality, as forests regulate hydrological cycles too. Essentially, without nature and the services it provides as a byproduct of its existence, we’d really struggle.

  • Keep us healthy

I’ve spoken a lot about the mental health benefits of spending time in nature, and when you combine that with the benefits of exercise, walking, running or cycling through a rewilded forest is so good for you! Mind charity also released a report in 2018 on the benefits of nature for mental health. Nature is good for your physical health too, and the benefits of avoiding pollution where possible are multifold.

  • Restore for future generations

I believe that young people nowadays feel resentful at the way nature has been left, in a way that means they have to pick up the pieces. Rewilding is an opportunity to reverse that, and leave our ecosystems in a better position than when we inherited it. A legacy for future generations.

Rewilding and intersectionality – a note

I think it is important to note that the only reason we have to rewild, is because we have de-wilded. Europe did so so long ago that it is difficult to imagine how habitats looked before they were destroyed. North America, however, still maintains some indigenous lands, looked after by indigenous people, nature’s best custodians. It is important not to look at the rewilding movement as one of ‘saving’ habitats (that we destroyed), and instead look to learn from the indigenous philosophies, without marginalising these groups of people.

Historically, much of the (public) environmental movement has been vastly white, not taking into account both the viewpoints and vast experiences of indigenous people and those outside the white middle-class. This is counterproductive on so many levels, and, especially in the United States, where much land is still protected by its Native inhabitants, ignoring this threatens the strength of the environmental movement in its entirety. By its nature, the rewilding movement bases many of its principles on indigenous practises and beliefs, such as reconnecting to nature and respecting the Earth. It is important not to forget that we are late coming to this realisation, and we cannot afford to ignore local knowledge where it exists.

How can we help?

Donate

It is important to support charities and projects working to save and restore our natural ecosystems. This doesn’t have to always be monetarily – commenting, sharing and engaging on social media is also valuable. I have listed some great charities both in the UK and abroad below – please do support their work if you can!

Global

  • Amazon Watch – Since 1996, Amazon Watch has protected the rainforest and advanced the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. They partner with Indigenous and environmental organisations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability, and the preservation of the Amazon’s ecological systems. DONATE.
  • Rios to Rivers – This organisation’s aim is “to inspire the protection of rivers through youth-focused experiential and educational cross-culture exchange programs, where underserved students are empowered to become informed stewards and ambassadors for their rivers and the communities who depend on them. DONATE.
  • National Parks Conservation Association – The NPCA works to protect and enhance the US’s national parks. The charity has been going for over 100 years, protecting both habitats and policy changes that would put the national parks and their inhabitants at risk. DONATE.

UK

  • Woodland Trust – Specifically a charity for UK’s woodlands, this trust works to restore and protect ancient woodlands, and campaign for policy changes where they are needed. DONATE.
  • Rewilding Britain – Launched in 2015, Rewilding Britain seeks to tackle the climate emergency and species extinction by restoring ecosystems to their ‘natural’ state, providing jobs in the process. DONATE.
  • Heal Rewilding – A new nationwide charity which looks to buy up low-grade, non productive land and passively return it to its wild state. The sites will be in easy reach of cities for the most benefit. DONATE.
  • National Parks UK – There are 15 national parks in the UK, and this organisation works to manage the maintenance and restoration of these spaces, while also benefitting local communities.
  • London Wildlife Trust – London’s wildlife has been under threat for its whole history, but the LWT helps to manage and expand natural spaces through the work of volunteers and members. It has been particularly hard-hit by COVID. DONATE.

Educate

  • Educate yourself. Join charities, work with NGOs, volunteer, read. I am still learning so much everyday, because I choose to research and look up topics that are important to me.
  • Share articles, educational social media pages, new studies and more with friends and family. Until nature moves to the forefront of our minds, it’s easy to forget how vital it is, and how much we can help or harm it with our actions.
  • Remember intersectionality in your activism. I have been guilty of viewing environmentalism from a purely white, UK-centric viewpoint, but this ignores a huge number of people who are both fighting for, and impacted by nature and natural ecosystems.

In your backyard

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, the number of front gardens totally paved over tripled between 2005 and 2015. With fewer and fewer green spaces in towns and cities, niches for insects and birds are declining. Check out this piece for ways we can increase biodiversity from home, and read this for some of my favourite plant shops.

There are a million things we could all be doing to decrease our footprint on the planet and increase the number of wild spaces, both here in the UK and all around the world. I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say I’m not doing enough, but I hope articles like these help you realise some of the many ways we can have an impact. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or over on Instagram.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a small contribution. Feel free to make any article suggestions while you’re at it!

Many thanks to Hattie for helping me research this topic! If you’re into sustainability (why else would you be here?), give her a follow on Instagram.

Microplastics – a macro problem?

Microplastics, as the name implies, are tiny particles of plastics, created either for commercial use (primary microplastics, e.g. for use in cosmetics), from the breakdown of larger plastics (secondary microplastics), measuring 5mm or less in diameter. Over the last few years, there has been a lot of light shone on the prevalence and environmental and health impacts of microplastics, from their presence in drinking water, to their ubiquity in the ocean.

Thankfully, plastic pollution has come to the forefront of public perception (WWF)

It has long been known that plastics never really break down – instead, they break up into ever smaller pieces, causing environmental damage at every stage of the process. Single use plastics are thought to be the foremost contributor to secondary microplastics, but many microplastics are created intentionally to be used in industry. Wastewater treatment cannot filter out all microplastics, so they end up everywhere – in our oceans, freshwater systems and even the air we breathe.

Understanding the leading causes and relative abundance of microplastic in our ecosystems is key to understanding the how this might affect us, our environment and how best to limit that damage. With the problems being multi-fold – impacting both the environment and out health – we need solutions sooner rather than later, before irreversible damage is done.

For a summary of this article, scroll to the bottom.

A fish fry entangled in microplastic – National Geographic

What are the major causes?

A 2017 study found microplastics in 81 per cent of tap water samples globally. In the past few years, in mountain ranges in the US and France, researchers even found microplastics in rain. They have recently been found in the Arctic, too, giving an indication of their ubiquity. So where are these microplastics coming from? Without knowing the key sources, it is impossible to begin to understand how to tackle the problem. Here are the two key ways microplastics get into the environment.

  • Runoff from land-based sources, such as agriculture, tyre wear on roads and landfills.
  • Wastewater overflow, including treated water, as treatments cannot always capture such small particles. The microplastics come from the washing of clothes (microfibres), cosmetic microbeads, flushed period products etc. Every time we wash our clothes in the washing machine, millions of microfibres are shed. It is estimated that one load of clothes in a washing machine releases about 700,000 fibres per wash. Washing machine filters are not currently able to filter out these microfibres, so they work their way into our water systems.

What are the environmental impacts?

Environmentalists will be no strangers to images of seabirds with plastics filling their stomach, but do microplastics cause the same harm? The science suggests that the environmental impacts can be severe and far-reaching, with microplastics being found in 47% of Fulmar guano samples (a good indicator of their presence in marine environments).

The potential issues are multifold. As plastics do not degrade, they accumulate both with ecosystems and up food chains. They can also absorb toxic chemicals and pathogens, providing another route of harm. Another issue is that for many organisms, ingested plastics can make them feel full, so they stop eating and eventually die of starvation.

“Microplastics have been found in a wide variety of species including zooplankton, mussels, oysters, shrimp, marine worms, fish, seals, and whales. Several of these species are of commercial importance. For example, a 2009 survey in the Clyde Sea found 83% of Norwegian lobster contained plastic, mainly in the form of fibres. Similarly, trawls in the English Channel found microplastics in 36.5% of fish caught” (DEFRA).

Further to their effect on animals, microplastics have the potential to carry around pathogens and invasive species. High levels of microplastics on beaches may even change the temperature of the sand, affecting animals such as turtles where offspring sex is temperature-determined.

Despite the complex science, a 2017 United Nations resolution discussed microplastics and the need for regulations to reduce this hazard to our ecosystems. The problem is so widespread it’s unlikely to not be seriously harmful over the years, and combined with the other pressures on our oceans, they need all the help they can get.

Are they causing us any harm?

There is a huge absence of science in this area, thanks in part due to the relative recency of interest in the subject, but also due to the difficulty of carrying out robust scientific studies on humans. It is estimated that the average person consumes up to 120,000 particles of microplastic each year, with that number increasing for those drinking mostly bottled water. However, whether or not this has had adverse effects in the decades we have been consuming them is not entirely clear.

As with many environmental issues, our exposure to microplastics is partially dependent on where we live. In the UK and other high-income countries, sewage treatments can effectively remove most microplastics from effluent, reducing the amount present in freshwater systems. In low and mid-income countries, however, only 33% of the population have sewer connections, meaning that for most of the population, water is poorly treated, leading to greater microplastic concentration in soils and water systems, and thus greater potential adverse health incomes.

For the most part in richer countries, drinking water is treated enough to prevent large quantities of microplastics working their way in. However, the smallest plastic particles can assimilate their way into our food, including seafood (primarily shellfish). While most plastics are inert (don’t readily react) and insoluble and therefore unlikely to be absorbed into our bodies, there are concerns about their absorption of toxic chemicals from the environment. However, with the relative paucity of scientific studies on the subject, there is not enough evidence to suggest a link between microplastics in drinking water and food and adverse health outcomes. This doesn’t mean that the link is not there, simply that more studies need to be done in this area.

What can we do?

  • Reduce littering and improve rubbish collection systems.
  • Move on from the idea that plastic is disposable. With the average single use cutlery being used for just 3 minutes, yet taking hundreds of years to break down (not disappear), this will never be a sustainable attitude.
  • Install and optimise wastewater treatments which reduce the amount of plastic pollution in waterways, and thus the amount being consumed in drinking water too. While the UK has extremely effective treatment facilities, this isn’t the case everywhere.
  • Limit the introduction of new plastic sources into the environment. A lot of microplastic pollution comes from single-use plastics in one form or another, so by reducing the amount of plastic we consume, we can reduce the amount that eventually ends up in our ecosystems.
  • Improve plastic recycling systems and use them. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic that has been produced (2018), 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste, and 91% of this has not been recycled. By reducing the amount of plastic sent to landfill we can reduce the amount of plastic breakdown there is globally. This includes dealing with our own plastic problem, and not shipping it elsewhere (just another form of environmental racism)
  • Introduce global bans where possible on unnecessary use of microbeads (already done in the UK), for example in cosmetics, while recognising that this is only a small part of the issue.
  • Improve sustainable plastic alternatives. While current ‘bioplastic’ alternatives are not always less harmful than conventional plastics, existing technologies have the potential to decrease the prevalence of harmful plastics in our ecosystems. It is vital to ensure that replacements to conventional plastic is not more damaging than the plastic itself.
  • Introduce the widespread use of filtration bags when washing synthetic clothes (e.g. Guppyfriend washing bags).
  • Encourage brands to take responsibility for their plastic pollution at all stages of industry, from banning microbeads, to having consumers report litter (e.g. via the Plastic Patrol app).

TL;DR

Microplastics are everywhere, from rain to our drinking water, to the Arctic to the Mariana Trench.

Microplastics can break down into nano plastics, even smaller microscopic particles that can have differing impacts in lots of different ways.

There is not enough evidence to suggest that microplastics lead to negative health outcomes in people, but more research needs to be done in this area. Health impacts are likely to vary between countries depending on their treatment systems.

Improving sewage and water-treatment systems in LEDCs will likely have far-reaching positive effects, far beyond simply reducing microplastic exposure, and should be a priority where possible.

The real issues with microplastics lie in their effect on the environment, as they have been shown to be harmful to animal life at every stage of their degradation.

As with all environmental issues, behavioural change is all well and good, but what is really needed is system change that holds corporations accountable for their disastrous impact on the environment.

While the impacts are not fully understood, the ubiquity and prevalence of microplastics will likely already be causing issues to the environment and potentially our health too. We need more research to see where and how.

Thanks to Hattie for helping me research this huge topic! For more sustainability content, go and follow her on Instagram.

How to get back to running after injury

We’ve all been there. With 65% – 80% of runners experiencing an injury each year, the chances are, you’ve spent some time injured in the time that you’ve been running. Getting back to training after time off can be daunting and confusing – what level of pain is acceptable to push through? How far should you run? What cross training should you do, if any?

Disclaimer: before we start I’d like to point out that I’m no expert, I’ve simply experienced my fair share of injuries , physiotherapy treatment and coaching. In 2016 I developed IT band syndrome, a common runner’s injury, which I proceeded to push through, after being told it ‘won’t cause any permanent damage’. Still now I am experiencing the effects of this recurring injury, although I have since developed many techniques to reduce the amount of flare ups I have, and haven’t felt pain since last year!

With so many people taking up running during lockdown, it’s no surprise that injury rates have gone through the roof, and with access to physios and doctors seemingly limited, people are more and more turing to the internet for help and advice. So, here are my top tips for returning to running following an injury. Remember though – if the pain doesn’t go away, or is recurring, please do visit a specialist, as they will be able to help far more than anyone on the internet.

  1. Prevention is better than cure

The best way to recover from an injury is not to get it in the first place. ‘Oh great’ you’re thinking, a bit too late for that. Well, yes and no. If you are injured at the moment, think about why you ended up in this place. Injuries are often a sign that you are trying too much, too soon. Most coaches recommend the ‘10% rule’, increasing weekly mileage by no more than 10% per week. More than this puts your body at greater risk of injury, meaning that you have to take more time off. Consider sticking to this rule to avoid future injuries. Another piece of advice would be to avoid trying too many new things at once. Want to try longer runs? Don’t do extra speedwork that same week. Giving hill sprints a go? Go easy on your longer run. Having a diversity of training is good, but don’t add everything at once. Are you doing strength and conditioning and mobility work? Is your footwear wrong? Working through all the possible causes of injury can reduce your risk of having the same issue in the future. Almost everyone gets injured, it’s just a part of running, but reducing triggers means that you can spend more of your time doing what you love, and less time rehabbing.

2. Slow and steady wins the race

There are many different kinds of injury, but for the most part, rushing recovery won’t help the situation. The temptation once most of the pain has gone, is to jump right back in where you left off, but this is inadvisable. Since most running injuries are caused by doing too much, too soon, the same logic applies for coming back after an injury. It might feel like your first few weeks back are boring, slow and monotonous, but these are your ‘testing’ weeks. You should be keeping in tune with your body, listening out for small niggles and trying to maintain good form throughout. This is hard to do if you’re going for killer miles or sprints, so just take it easy. A slow return to running will likely mean that you remain un-injured for longer, and get help quicker if you do get injured again. Slow and steady wins the race.

3. Don’t run through the pain

Generally, pain is there for a reason. Ignoring it ‘because you know better’ can backfire horribly, and unlike ITBS, many injuries can leave you with permanent damage if ignored. As you progress and become more experienced, it may be possible to tell what pain is OK to run through, and what pain is most definitely not, but for beginners, running through a new pain is ill-advised before getting it checked out. Recovery from common injuries such as shin splints can be further hindered by even walking on them, let alone running. Always ask your physio if you’re not sure what level of pain is acceptable.

4. Physiotherapy and strength & conditioning

The chances are, if you know what injury you have, you’ll have some sort of mobility/S&C/physio plan to strengthen the area and get yourself back on track. As stupid as it sounds, simply thinking about the physio session are not going to lead to the same improvements as actually doing them. Yes, they might be boring, and yes, they’re probably not why you started running, but they’re also the thing that will keep you healthy, balanced and less injury prone long into the future. If you do them. I would also recommend keeping up elements of your physio long past the point that your injury has healed, even incorporating them into your weekly strength sessions. If your injury was due to a weakness or imbalance, this will help rectify that, reducing risk of the injury recurring.

5. Cross train

Cross training (i.e. incorporating training sessions that aren’t running, e.g. weight lifting, cycling, yoga) has a plethora of benefits, from reducing boredom to making you a stronger runner. This is perfect if you’ve taken some time off running, as it will reduce the weekly load on your muscles and joints, while still increasing strength and endurance. Find something you enjoy so you can remain consistent. My cross-training days are at least as important as my run days!

6. Join a running group

Finding motivation and friends to chat to following some time off running, whether due to an injury or simply just taking some time away, can be difficult. Joining a run club means more people to chat to about training, niggles etc etc, and also means you’re likely to have some qualified advice regarding your return to training. Always let them know if you have a history of injuries, or a particular injury you’re coming back from.

7. Invest in the right kit

If you’re injured, there’s a chance it could be because the shoes you wear don’t complement your running style. Most people pronate one way or another (I overpronate, because for some reason I run like I’m on a catwalk – I blame the narrow Dorset trails!). Up to 4 in 5 runners run in shoes that don’t suit their running style, potentially increasing the risk of injury. Having a gait analysis, or investing in some gait analysing insoles, such as NURVV, means you can find the right shoes to correct your gait, and work on improving form to reduce exacerbating existing injuries, and reduce risk of getting more in future.

8. Stay positive!

After injuring yourself, it can be easy to feel let down by your body. After spending months or years looking after it by exercising, eating right, resting etc., it’s easy to feel despondent when you get injured. I got to the point a year after my injury where I felt like I was never going to be able to run more than 2km again, as every time I did, I couldn’t walk for days afterwards. However, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of the time, it won’t always be like this, and you have the rest of your life to hit PBs and get back into running. This year doesn’t have to be the year. Maybe this is the year you learn to love running again, or the year you hit your first 1km without pain, or the year when you find a running community. Your experience of running doesn’t have to be dictated by PBs, races and intense training sessions. Stay positive, focus on your recovery and you’ll be back in no time! After all, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point? Running should be enjoyable, not hell!

I hope these tips help you, whether you’re injured at the moment, or want to take stock for future potential injuries. I would also say that most of these tips are suitable at all times, not just when you’re struggling with an injury. Generally, injury recovery techniques work well as injury prevention techniques and vice versa. Unfortunately, running is a high-risk sport when it comes to injuries, but I think we can all say it’s worth it!

I’d love to hear your tips for getting back to training post-injury. Please comment down below and share on Instagram!

Alcohol-free spirits – the best of the best

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of an ice cold Gin & Tonic – in fact it’s the sort of birthday present I could get every year and always be delighted with. I even wrote this piece on combining alcohol and my love for fitness – I think balance is important and would say my attitude to drinking is ‘intuitive’ – I rarely drink to excess, but enjoy a tipple a couple of times a week. With the advent of great tasting alcohol-free spirits, however, I’ve found myself switching more and more to these when I want something non-alcoholic that’s not water or tea, but also doesn’t taste of Ribena.

In the UK, around 20% of the population is teetotal, rising to almost 30% in 16-24 year olds. Among people who do drink, the amount of alcohol consumed is decreasing too – in 2005, 43% of young people said they drank above the recommended limits, but this proportion had fallen to 28% 10 years later. Needless to say, the popularity and availability of non-alcoholic drinks is on the up!

Common among teetotallers and those who choose not to drink at an event, is the expectation from other people to explain why they aren’t drinking, as though this is some unacceptable breach of social norms. Although this obviously shouldn’t be the case, the increase in non-alcoholic spirits and adult ‘mocktails’ makes not drinking at social events significantly easier. They’re also perfect for those of us who enjoy fitness and don’t want to always feel groggy after a night out/wedding/dinner.

Here are some of my favourite non-alcoholic spirits – I hope you like them too! Please comment below your favourites too.

Ps. Because I am a massive gin fan, I like to have most of these with tonic. I find it very refreshing, but know many people aren’t a fan. Most of their website’s have alternative recipes and cocktails, so it’s worth checking those out if you’re keen on giving them a go!

 

Seedlip

One of the original non-alcoholic spirit brands I was aware of, Seedlip was debuted in Selfidges in 2015, where it was immensely popular as one of the first drinks of its kind. The brand produces three varieties of spirit – Garden 108 (herbal), Spice 94 (aromatic) and Grove 42 (zesty). I like them all, though my favourite is Grove 42. Serve with orange peel, ice and tonic.

“Back in 2013, whilst researching interesting herbs I could grow at home, I came across a book written in 1651 called ‘The Art of Distillation’ that documented distilled herbal remedies – both alcoholic & non-alcoholic. Out of curiosity I bought a copper still and began experimenting in my kitchen.

Three months later I was out for dinner at a nice restaurant in London, not drinking and got offered this pink, fruity, sweet, childish mocktail. I felt like an idiot, it didn’t go with the food, and it wasn’t a great experience. Surely there must be a better way! The dots began to join and I spent the next two years working with my still, my mother on the ingredients, my father on the design and slowly beginning to believe that maybe we could begin solve the ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking’ dilemma with a different approach to non-alcoholic drinks.”

Price: £26 for 70cl

Seedlip_Photo-credit_Rob_Lawson-644x429

 

Bax Botanics

I learned about Bax Botanics via a support system for small businesses during COVID lockdown, and was delighted when I got to try their Verbena ‘spirit’, one of two varieties they currently produce (the other is Sea Buckthorn).  The creators of Bax originally worked in wild foraging, so note that everything about this drink is incredibly sustainable and made in small-batches – even their drinks labels are waste from the sugar industry rather than paper. This drink is perfect with cucumber and tonic – just like a G&T. Thoroughly recommend.

“Our drinks were the product of over 15 years working with wild food flavours. The very first incarnations of Bax Botanics actually used foraged ingredients from our local woodland! The brand is completely sustainable, with Fairtrade organic botanicals – the flavours and the green credentials are our priorities. We would still be working in our wood if we couldn’t make Bax Botanics in a kind and sustainable way.”

Price: £18 for 500ml

Bax-Botanics-TIFF-ALL-125-smaller-1024x682

 

Caleño

Columbian-inspired spirit Caleno is a little different to the other drinks on this list, in that it doesn’t aim to replace a spirit such as gin, but instead is delicious in its own right. It contains Inca berries, juniper (it main similarity to gin) and various spices, and isn’t overly sweet to taste, but a little more fragrant that what you might expect from a spirit. It’s extremely refreshing with lots of ice, some lemon and a little tonic. The packaging is probably my favourite of all of these drinks.

Price: £24.99 for 70cl

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Atopia

This 0.5%ABV drink is extremely close to being alcohol-free, so fits well into this category.  This brand has two flavours – Spiced Citrus and Wild Blossom, both of which are beautifully presented and delicious. This isn’t surprising considering the creator is Lesley Gracie, master distiller of Hendrick’s Gin at William Grant & Sons (one of my favourite gins!).

“Inspired by the more mindful, lifestyle choices of today’s consumer, the exquisite liquid comes in two perfectly balanced flavours. We’ve used our distilling heritage and expertise to ensure no compromise on flavour is experienced when drinking the ultra-low alcohol spirit. The flavour is full, from first taste to finish.”

Price: £25 for 70cl

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Is the Fitness Industry really for the Black community too?

This piece was written by the wonderful Oli from @wellwitholi on Instagram. She is a qualified Nutritionist and Personal Trainer and works to increase inclusivity and diversity in wellness spaces. Oli puts out incredible content, with references, well thought out arguments and inclusive mindset. I also promised to use my platform to amplify voices that deserve to be amplified 1000x over. Go and give her a follow on Instagram!

 

Spoiler alert: the answer is an unequivocal – yes! However, as social media has helped highlight especially over the last two weeks, a lot of fitness brands, gyms and health magazines have a long way to go in assuring racial equality throughout their companies.
For most White people who are active in the fitness world, racial inequality might not be something that is often considered, if at all. As with many things, unless it directly affects you, it can be easy to overlook the significance.

My earliest memory of fitness outside of compulsory P.E. lessons was when I signed up to my first gym membership in my first year of college. Although I went to a gym with predominantly White people, and this definitely did feel alienating at times, this was a reality that mirrored the area I grew up in just outside of Brighton. At the time, I put my head down and got on with it. However, when I moved to London, a city commonly praised for its diversity, I was surprised to find myself in similar scenarios – particularly when going to ‘boutique’ or ’higher-end’ gyms.

Even outside of the gym, whether I’m scrolling through Instagram, flicking through a women’s health magazine or online shopping for some new gym clothes, there is a perpetuating image that lean, White women with ‘perfectly perked’ glutes constitute what is considered the ‘body ideal’ for fitness. If you fall outside of this, especially if you are Black, this space can start to feel very unwelcoming.

You may be thinking, what does race have to do with fitness? Why is it important?

In this post, I’m going to explain some of the racial inequalities that are interlaced throughout the industry. Beyond just over-priced green juices and 5K run challenges, the fitness industry should be one that aims to improve and support the physical wellbeing of everyone, right? I don’t believe we can continue to move forward with this narrative until we address its racial disparities.

It’s no secret that in recent years, the fitness industry has gone from strength to strength. In 2019 gym memberships in the U.K. grew by 4.7% to 104 million, whilst in the same year, the fitness industry was estimated to be worth £5-billion. With this considered, it continues to surprise me that an industry that is thriving – both economically and through popularity – continues to lack diversity and inclusivity.

 

  1. Accessibility

Undoubtedly, one of the key influences of these inequalities is cost.

On average, a gym membership costs £40. In London, where prices of everything are inflated and ‘boutique’ gym memberships are more common, gym memberships can cost as much as £92, with some over £350 per month.

In the UK, Black people make up 55% of the 2 lowest income quintiles. This is reflective of pay gaps between ethnic groups where Black people who were born in the UK are paid on average 7.7% less than white counterparts who were also born in the UK. Similarly, Black people who were born outside of the UK are paid on average 15.3% less than white counterparts also born outside of the UK. To gain an understanding of the reasoning behind these figures, I recommend doing further research on employment gaps and race inequality. However, with these statistics considered, it can be more difficult for Black people to gain access to a gym, especially those that are higher priced. Notably, the latter are typically fitted with better equipment and sometimes have extra perks (e.g. spa facilities).

Research highlights other barriers that can block Black people from having fair access to gyms, including transport difficulties. When looking at which ethnicities are most likely to live in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods, Black people took the lead at 19.6%, indicating minimal disposable income for this group. If these statistics are readily available on the British government website, could gym branches be doing more in terms of research to ensure they are including more gym facilities in economically deprived areas? Moreover, what’s stopping them from doing so already?

Screenshot 2020-06-15 at 11.17.50

Figures from Gov.uk 

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was suggesting ways fitness branches could be doing more to accommodate the communities they enter. For example, take an area like Hackney, that through gentrification is considered to be ‘up and coming’. According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG),in 2019 Hackney was reported to be in the top 10 most deprived authorities in the U.K. Harmonious with statistics previously shown, a 2011 census shared approximately 40% of this community is made up of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups, with 20% of the BME community being Black. That is, despite gentrification, the community who still lives there reflects income disparities already mentioned. Therefore, it makes no sense why a fitness branch would open a studio in an area such as Hackney, and with all statistics considered, not even try to accommodate to the surrounding community. It continues to push the same narrative that Black people are not welcome in fitness spaces. One idea we shared was the idea of having a ‘community rate’. This would work similarly to a student discount; however, you’d just need to show proof you lived in the area/postcode and you could have your class at a cheaper price.

 

  1. Representation

Pretty much every gym and fitness company has a catchy slogan that pushes the idea they welcome ‘fitness for everyone‘. However, when you consider the actual advertisements these companies show, particularly the ‘boutique’ brands, is it really everyone who is represented? Sometimes Black people are not even included and if they are, it’s often not at the same inclusive ratio as non-Black counterparts. On countless occasions, I’ve seen brands include one ‘token’ Black person in their promotion and pass this off as being ‘inclusive’.

It’s not just advertisements that can lack representation of Black people though. Health magazines and newspaper articles can be just as guilty for pushing the ‘diversity’ narrative, but not actually following through. This includes the lack of diversity on magazine covers. In just one example, following its first launch in the U.K. in 2013, one of the leading women’s health magazines has only included Black women in 4 out of 73 magazine covers thus far. Only… four. There are definitely more than four Black women in the fitness industry, so why the lack of inclusivity?
A figure I think is also important to highlight here is that in 2016 it was reported that 94% of the British journalism industry was made up of White people.

Screenshot 2020-06-15 at 11.25.53

There have been only 4 Black women on the cover of Women’s Health magazine out of 73 issues. For comparison, Kayla Itsines has also been on it 4 times. 

When you look even further, lack of representation of Black people can prevail within gyms as well. This could echo the fact that Black people have the highest unemployment rate out of all ethnic groups in the U.K. at 9% (research employment inequalities & race); or, it could be harmonious with the notion that these spaces aren’t particularly targeted for Black customers, therefore the desire for Black personal trainers isn’t there either. I share the same experience as some of my Black friends that on several occasions I have been the only Black woman to attend a class full of only White women, maybe one or two other POC, but almost always instructed by a White person. Being in this situation can be daunting. I have sometimes felt a certain responsibility to not take up too much space, be quiet and almost set a good enough impression of myself to ensure that other Black women (as we are often seen as a monolith for each other) will still have access to the space. Whilst I’m not saying it’s imperative that I am surrounded by Black staff or members to have an effective workout, the lack of inclusion does give the message that these spaces are not created with ethnic inclusivity in mind.

 

  1. Fitness Influencers

I’m sure we can all agree Social Media is a powerhouse full of influencers telling us the things we should buying, how we should be eating, and the next best workout plan we should be following. Unsurprisingly, the same lack of representation of Black people exists here too.

For YouTube alone, there are no Black people in the Top 10 paid Forbes list and only 2 POC, whilst on the Top 10 Fitness Influencers list also published by Forbes, there is only 1 Black person and 1 other POC. I’m not trying to dismiss the merit and amount of hard work each non-black individual has put into their niche to achieve these top spots; however, I think it’s really important to challenge the statistics and ask, why are they so imbalanced?

I strongly believe the lack of diversity of fitness bloggers who are at the ‘top of their game’ reflects the same reality that fuels the lack of diversity offline. That is, fitness brands recruit who they consider being the most desirable consumer by endorsing fitness bloggers who mirror that image (think, White skin, washboard abs and perfectly toned bum). The fitness industry as a whole has then gone on to make this an almost elitist standard. It fuels the same narrative that if you don’t fit this image, and God forbid you have Black skin too, then you’re unwelcome. Of course, some fitness bloggers do go out of their way to challenge these ideologies by actively promoting more body and skin colour diversity, however, the fact these bloggers even exist further highlights there is a big representation problem within the industry.

In 2019 it was found 62.3% of adults 18+ were either overweight or obese in the UK and of that figure, 73.6% were Black adults – the highest percentage out of all ethnic groups. With these statistics considered, isn’t it the purpose of the health industry to help improve the health of everyone, but especially those who might need it most? So why, when beyond just anecdotes there’s published social research highlighting the fact that some Black people feel too intimidated to start fitness because of lack of representation, they continue to be so underrepresented?

Just this International Women’s Day 2020, one of Europe’s leading sport’s nutrition brands failed to include ANY Black women in their Instagram feed press photos for their event… zero! (N.b. Whether or not any Black women were even invited is still unclear).

 

So, what does this mean?

The momentum we’ve seen in people supporting the Black Lives Matter movement over the past couple of weeks will go down in history books – it’s a given. But we must continue to challenge and keep the same energy as we continue to fight against racial injustices. As much as I wish these two weeks of trending #BlackLivesMatter now means that racism is eradicated, that just isn’t the case. To be quite honest with you, this is only just the beginning.

It makes me angry that because of the colour of their skin, an individual might not feel welcomed to exercise.

If that doesn’t make you just as angry, I’d have to question your integrity in an industry that should be focusing on the wellbeing for all.

The information highlighted throughout this post wasn’t tucked away in a secret archive. This is information that is readily available to the public and I would recommend everyone in the fitness industry to continue to do your own research.

 

To fitness brands: What are you doing to make sure Black people are equally included? Do you have Black people throughout your team that can challenge racial disparities? Are you making sure you actually represent Black people within your brand, and aren’t just including one ‘token’ Black person?

To fitness branches: are your gyms equally dispersed into lower economic areas? Do prices reflect the general economic status of the community you’re in? What could you be doing to make sure Black people feel just as welcome in your gym/studio as non-Black people?

To consumers: Are you also supporting Black fitness bloggers online? (following someone is free, by the way!). Are you challenging your favourite companies who have been silent regarding the Black Lives Matter movement? Are there conversations you could be having with the owners of the gyms/studios you go to?

Every voice matters and can be used to initiate positive change. Don’t let yours go to waste.

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Ways Black people can experience inequality in the Fitness Industry. (UK based) ~~~ I hope this post can help highlight how systematic racial inequities can have a snowball-effect impact that can block Black from getting some of the same opportunities as non-black people. Just today I had a comment under a post where I had questioned why a specific sports nutrition brand hadn’t included ANY Black women in their International Women’s Day event that said “…maybe pick the bigger battle right now” … I literally: 🤦🏽‍♀️. It’s been BEAUTIFUL and encouraging and inspiring to see so many people (finally) listening more to #blacklivesmatter and taking note. However, I feel like I really want to make clear here that racism and racial inequality isn’t just a thing/object that once you’ve ‘beaten’ it it’s gone. It’s woven throughout society and something we’ll need to continue to challenge daily. When you make a cake you need to get each individual ingredient, weigh them out, mix them together, bake the cake, cool it and then ice it. A lot goes into it right? It’s the same with racism – a LOT goes into it, therefore it’s going to take a LOT of work to even begin undoing it. That is why my reply to the comment mentioned above was “challenging lack of diversity in big brands is part of the ‘battle’”. It’s part of the ‘undoing’. The words ‘educate yourself’ have been seen a lot the past week+ and it’s really important that you (and I) continue to do that. Sometimes even I can find myself baffled by ignorance or racist words that I am actually lost for words. That’s why it’s important to build up a catalogue of knowledge that you can articulate well in response to challenge what you see/hear. #themarathoncontinues . 👇🏽Let me know if you have experienced any other inequalities in the fitness industry. I LOVE healthy discussions & HATE racism so leave it out of my comments ☺️ #shareblackstories

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World Environment Day – increasing biodiversity from home

Biodiversity loss has been highlighted as the third biggest risk to the world both in terms of likelihood and severity this year, ahead of infectious diseases, terror attacks and interstate conflict. Let that sink in. 

As we sit in the midst of a pandemic, it is easy to look only inwards, turning our backs on the changes that need to be made in our world for humans to continue thriving. However, now, more than ever, it is outwards that we need to look and wonder how we got ourselves here in the first place.

Biodiversity is the abundance and variety of life on earth. Humans are entirely dependent on biodiversity for the air we breath, food we eat and water we drink. Almost half of global GDP – around €40 trillion – depends on nature and the services it provides.

The recent COVID pandemic has brought to light just how much this is true, with scientists positing that the increased incidences of viruses such as Ebola, Bird Flu, Dengue Fever and COVID are exacerbated, if not caused, by biodiversity loss, deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade.

Today is World Environment Day, an international awareness day built to engage and motivate environmental action within governments, businesses and the general public. Each year WED has a theme, focussing efforts on one element of environmentalism in an effort to educate, share resources and make a difference.

This year’s theme is Biodiversity, a term which has seen the light of day more and more in recent years. The United Nations even labelled 2010 to 2020 the ‘decade of biodiversity‘, implementing strategies to improve it worldwide. However, a recent report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), found that nature is being eroded at rates unprecedented in human history, leading to the acceleration of climate change and demise of our natural world. Businesses are also not doing anywhere near enough, with most countries on track to miss the targets of the Paris Agreement.

“The more one thinks, the more one feels the hopeless immensity of man’s ignorance”. Charles Darwin, More Letters of Charles Darwin, 1903.Apt, but today we don’t have ignorance as an excuse.

Climate change, biodiversity loss and our own wellbeing are all intrinsically linked. Biodiversity loss in Europe alone costs the continent around 3% of its GDP each year, around £400m pa. It is in our best interest to do as much as we can to prevent further loss of the natural world, and start rebuilding where we can.

Biodiversity loss is not only an environmental issue, it also impacts upon many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including those tacking food security, poverty, peace, justice and development. As mentioned by Sir Robert Watson, chair of the IPBES, biodiversity is “a security issue in so far as loss of natural resources, especially in developing countries, can lead to conflict. It is an ethical issue because loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest people, further exacerbating an already inequitable world. And it is also a moral issue, because we should not destroy the living planet.” (Guardian, Nov, 2018). Closer to home, biodiversity in green spaces is inextricably linked to mental health and wellbeing for all of us.

“This is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve. It has eaten the storms – folded them into genes – and created the world that created us. It holds the world steady”. E O Wilson, The Diversity of Life, 1992.

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This destruction of ecosystems has led to a million species (500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects) being threatened with extinction, potentially many more (UN). Figure from Guardian 2018

 

But what can we do from home?

I would argue that most of us interested in the natural world generally already know ways in which we can help, from changing to a green energy provider, cutting back on travel, switching to an ethical bank and changing to a meat-free diet, and it’s just a case of enacting this. However, there are many more small ways to improve biodiversity from home.

Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic has turned our sights away from many parts of the world where threats to biodiversity are greatest, from illegal bycatch in fishing vessels and the deaths of those who regulate this, to the deforestation of sacred indigenous land in Sierra Nevada, Colombia, to make room for tourism (you can support a petition to end this illegal activity here). Because of this, it is important to look not only in our own backyards, but also what we can do to support efforts across the globe.

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While many backs are turned due to COVID, sacred regions within Sierra Nevada, Colombia, have been invaded and damaged by tourism projects and mining. Sign a petition to end this.

Close to home:

Leave wild spaces around your home.

  • If you have a lawn, leaving it for longer between mowing, or avoiding mowing patches altogether. This will not only improve the biodiversity of the plants, but also provide shelter for small mammals and insects.
  • Consider piling up wood, stones and garden cuttings to provide homes for more types of insect and mammal, as these are becoming rarer with the loss of woodland and increased obsession with ‘clean’ spaces. Composting organic matter also increases bacterial, fungal and other decomposers, providing a healthier garden all round.
  • Providing bird feed and water in your garden will also provide vulnerable bird species with a better chance of surviving harsh winters and being able to raise more young. Offer a mix of food for the widest variety of birds and provide protection from cats where possible!
  • Planting a window box with flowers that pollinators love can help maintain biodiversity in urban spaces. Having greenery at home is also great for your mental health!

Shop eco friendly.

Understanding how food and other crop production impacts the environment is a huge topic that deserves an entire literature review of its own. However, there are a few small steps we can make to ensure everything we buy is as biodiversity-friendly as possible.

  • Buy organic where possible. This does not always make a difference, but many of the farming practises that are intrinsic to organic farming (prohibition/reduced use of chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilisers, sympathetic management of non-cropped habitats and preservation of mixed farming) benefit local flora and fauna. On average, organic farms have 12% more biodiversity than equivalent non-organic farms. Look for the Soil Association label to make organic shopping easier. 
  • Buy shade-grown or bird-friendly coffee. This is vitally important as coffee is grown in some of the most biodiverse but rapidly changing environments, meaning that it can either support or harm endemic wildlife. Here’s how you should choose your coffee.
  • When buying furniture, only buy FSC certified wood. The FSC holds businesses to a standard that helps them carry out sustainable management practices to ensure forests thrive today and in the future (FSC).
  • Buy from ethical clothing brands. The fashion industry is immensely polluting, encourages deforestation, and if the fashion industry were a country, its emissions would rank almost as highly as the entire European continent. This is evidently bad for biodiversity. Buying less and choosing ethical companies can reduce your impact. Brands such as Veja are leading the way in supporting, rather than exploiting, the ‘guardians of the forest’ in the locations they source their materials, working with locals to promote biodiversity, instead of simply deforesting as many other brands do. Have a look at Good on You and EcoAge for other brand recommendations.

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Further afield:

Donate, support, fund, share.

We can make changes in everyday life and do what we can to maintain diversity, both close to home and further afield. However, the work of charities, NGO and certain businesses takes this a step further, keeping an ear to the ground to call out environmental injustices, hold governments to account and support local communities around the world. Here are just a few – comment your favourites below!

NGOs

  • Traffic, a NGO, supports efforts to end the illegal wildlife trade and combat wildlife crime. They focus on educating governments on sustainable wildlife management and regulation systems, reducing reliance on poaching and unsustainable trade. Donate here.
  • Amazon Watch works with indigenous people to protect large swathes of the Amazon rainforest. Recent research demonstrates that while the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples make up less than five percent of the total human population, they manage or hold tenure over 25% of the world’s land surface and support about 80% of the global biodiversity. Protecting Indigenous people is protecting the environment they live in and vice versa. Donate here.
  • African Biodiversity Network (ABN), a UN accredited NGO, accompanies Africans in voicing their views on issues such as food and seed sovereignty, genetic engineering, agrofuels, biodiversity protection, extractive industries and the rights of small-holder farmers. They ‘focus on indigenous knowledge, ecological agriculture and biodiversity related rights, policy and legislation’. I cannot find anywhere to donate but do check out and share their work!
  • National Biodiversity Network works closer to home (UK) to record and analyse data collected about UK wildlife, enabling conservation efforts to be focussed on areas that really need it. Knowledge is power! Donate or join here.
  • Cool Earth work to end deforestation and environmental degradation in rainforests, some of the most biodiverse places on earth. Rather than exerting top-down control, they work with local people to help them benefit from protecting their surrounding forests. Donate here.

Businesses

While NGOs and charity organisations are excellent, some estimates suggest they receive only 10% of the funding needed to avert a biodiversity crisis. Engaging the private sector to fill in the gaps is a necessary and productive next step.

  • Treedom supports biodiversity by allowing people to purchase native trees and plant them in small, sustainable agroforestry systems around the world. Trees contribute to biodiversity by providing shelter, food and homes for animals, insects and other plants, increasing the number of pollinators and natural pest predators, like birds (thereby supporting the pollination of the world’s crops), capturing CO2, preventing soil erosion and much, much more.
    The trees people sponsor with Treedom support smallholder farmers and their families, providing either food or an added income source. For transparency, all of their trees are geolocated and photographed, and customers receive regular updates about their tree and the project where it is planted.
    Treedom have planted over 1.1 million trees across 16 countries, offsetting over 340 million kgs of CO2 and providing food security and income for over 66,000 farmers. If you’d like to purchase a tree or two, the code FLORA10 gets you 10% off! Please do let me know if you buy one, as I’d love to share 🙂
  • There are many re-wilding projects also happening in the UK, returning deforested woodlands to their former diverse glory. You can learn more about rewilding projects here.

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Trees are vital for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem health, but also are excellent for your mental health too! Photo Johny Cook.

 

Nature provides us with everything we have, and we cannot afford to lose more biodiversity on this planet. While we may have long ago destroyed much of the biodiversity in the UK, there is still a chance to make an impact with our actions and reverse some of the damage, both close to home and further afield. The best time to at was yesterday. The next best time is now.

Many thanks to Hattie Webb for helping research this post – there was SO much more I could have put in, but in the interest of people actually getting to the end, I have saved this for another time. I hope you enjoyed reading! Please share it if you found it useful, tagging @foodfitnessflora and @hattie_eco on Instagram. Do add any ways you have found of increasing biodiversity, as well as any charities you like to support. Thanks for reading!