For many of us, the lockdown period meant it was all too easy to slip into bad exercise habits – by which we mean exercising very little or not at all. Asha Sherwood, marketing expert and founder of Abu Dhabi Review, already had a very on-off relationship with exercise but found that the weeks of restriction gave her a new motivation to get fit.
And the motivation has stayed with her. Here she tells The Livehealthy Podcast how having time on her hands set her on a path to better health, to the extent that she feels able to say something rare for most people: “2020 has been quite positive for me.”
What got you started on your fitness journey?
I had to step back from my job because I have an eight-year-old daughter, so I had to get involved in home schooling. I couldn’t give 100 percent to both, so something had to give.
I didn’t have a lot to do and my studio, F45, was offering home classes through Zoom so I thought, why not? I was going there on and off before and the timings for online classes were good – they had a great 6.45am class.
How did that work out?
It was 100 percent helpful. Sometimes I’d feel nervous going into a studio but doing it at home gave me the confidence to practice without worrying that I was making an idiot of myself.
All I had at home were two 4kg weights and that’s what I used for three months, so once the studios opened up again, I was excited to get on the equipment and weights and push myself a lot more. But if I hadn’t started doing those classes at home, I wouldn’t have gone back to the studio. I didn’t have the motivation before but at home, without coaches and trainers present, the motivation all came from myself. And I went further than before. I did stretching classes and nutrition classes – it was a whole new thing.
How did it feel going into a gym again?
I wanted to push myself more and I found I could do a lot more. I also found a community that supports you. I had a different partner every day. There was one in particular, a really strong woman called Dina, who encouraged me to pick up the black kettle bell. And I did it!
Did you have any goals in mind when you started?
I turned 40 in 2020 and I promised myself I would lose weight because I want to run around and do things with my daughter, so my main aim was to be fit.
What was the hardest part of the Covid lockdown?
One of the hardest things was the naysaying – people saying gyms were never going to be the same and they were never going to survive, especially my gym, F45. But they did survive. There was nobody more excited than gym owners when they reopened. This is their life’s work, their product and if you can’t offer it to people, that’s a problem. But they did a great job, putting on all those classes so that the community wasn’t lost.
How do you feel now?
I’ve lost weight and could probably lose a bit more but gosh, I am fitter. I surprise myself on a daily basis. Before I loved doing strength exercises because I could push myself without getting out of breath. I never used to like cardio but now I love it.
My mind is fitter, too. I’m a busy person and I’m always tired but now I feel I can keep going. Before, I would keep going but it was like being in a fog. I have fewer negative thoughts now, too. I care less about what others might be thinking and I have the confidence to say ‘no’ – not just because it’s good for me but also for my family and my business. My mind is clearer and I have a much more positive outlook on life.
It’s about being able to value myself more, knowing that what I’m doing is valuable. It’s taken me a while to understand that. I do feel it has been a journey and it continues, but I don’t obsess about it.
How do you make time for exercise now that life is more normal?
We don’t have help at home, so I used to feel it was up to me to make everything fit, to the detriment of myself. If there were family things or events to go then I would be the one who would say, ‘Well ok, I won’t bother going to my exercise class’.
It’s hard to say ‘I need time for myself,’ but having those three to four months of focusing on me has made it a habit. That’s what’s clicked. I can actually do it all. I was doing it all before, minus the exercise. Now everything has to fit around my 45 minutes of exercise and noticing the difference it makes helps me make sure I prioritise it, because if I don’t, it will get left by the wayside.
Also, it shows my daughter that it’s good to keep fit. When she wants me to do the freefall at Hudayriyat with her, I have to man up, otherwise she’ll wonder why I can’t do it and I want her to know she can do everything.
If 2020 has been positive, how does 2021 feel?
Personally, I’ve launched the penpal scheme, which is about keeping kids connected by encouraging them to write letters to relatives abroad or friends at home. Of course, kids these days don’t understand how we used to wait to get letters through the post so we do it through WhatsApp. They write a letter with pen and paper, we take a photo of it and send it to parents who then give the letter to the child and the child writes back. Encouraging kids to write helps them improve their vocabulary and stay connected.
More generally, I’m excited that Abu Dhabi is opening up. There are some great outdoor locations. Hudayriyat Island is a leisure and entertainment destination and it’s become a bit of a fitness hub as well, with obstacle course races and adventure playgrounds for kids and adults. There are exciting things coming in 2021 and the fitness scene will open even more. Apart from wearing a mask and keeping to four to a table, we’re not in a bad place. Whatever’s coming we should make the most of it.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.