Exploring the benefits of exercise and physical activity for recovery

The Big Freeze

They called it “The Big Freeze”, the coldest British winter since the late 1970s. It was 2009 and I was an F2. I was grateful to have made it to work despite driving on black ice for 31 miles. But it was more than just the weather making me miserable. My right wrist and knee were swollen and stinging. I had hardly slept the night before.

I limped to the hospital foyer and was greeted by Sam. I liked Sam but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her. She was too bubbly and perfect. She was everything I was not. Just a year ago, I had climbed up Mount Sinai with my boyfriend to see the sunrise in all its splendour. I didn’t know how to cope with this new reality.

It didn’t take me long to guess that the pain was most likely a serious form of arthritis. I was barely surviving. This was not part of my big plan - I was in my twenties, in my prime. My self-esteem had plummeted; I avoided people. What else was I supposed to feel when my boyfriend, and now husband, gave me a wash over the weekend whilst I watched my dignity slowly dissipating away?

Learning to stand tall in the rain

It was 2018. I was a qualified GP now and was going to become a mother for the second time. We had decided to have a baby whilst I was taking Etanercept injections. My health wasn’t perfect, but my Rheumatoid Arthritis and I had come a long way. I had learned to pace myself and listen to my body. I had always been that kid with mediocre sporting abilities, always part of school sports team but never with the big leagues.  Over the years, RA had pretty much killed any sporting ability I had left.

When I gave birth to my son, I was grateful to have the privilege to become a mother again. I didn’t think it would ever be okay for me to have a baby whilst I was on biologics. In my youth, I was fearless, and I never worried about my size because somehow it always took care of itself. But I was facing a very different problem now. Whilst trying to grapple with the chaos of motherhood, a career and managing my health, I started to put on a little more weight with each passing year. My second pregnancy completely tipped me over. I now had a BMI of 32 and was categorically obese.  After witnessing the far-from-peaceful deaths of two of my uncles whilst they made rounds of the kidney dialysis unit, I knew my fate was sealed. I was worried about becoming a diabetic.

My husband, also a GP, was worried that I was becoming more and more unhinged, and could see that there was more to it than just the new baby. He was heartbroken for me but offered a more unorthodox solution to my problems. I say unorthodox because there are many who would not pick this route as their first choice to manage low mood and low self-esteem issues. Along with the added benefit of achieving weight loss. He told me to get myself a personal trainer because that’s how he looked after his mental health - by using exercise. 

Spring means new beginnings

My husband convinced me that James was the guy for me. He knew him from the local gym, and coincidentally, the first time we met was on the labour ward. Both James’ wife and I gave birth to our second born on the same day.

Until I trained with James, I found gyms and gym instructors very intimidating. I was worried about many things, like my body not looking good and being watched or using the gym equipment incorrectly and making a fool of myself. I - very naively - always assumed that all gym instructors were narcissistic and overly muscular. But my newfound experience completely changed all my preconceived notions.

My gym is a small locally-owned establishment. The gym is shared by seven personal trainers. What I find most amusing is macho personal trainers taking turns and asking each other if their client could use the leg press or the cable row machine. The Briton’s unrelenting penchant for politeness clearly knows no bounds!

I am 40 and my body may not look like the hourglass figure I had when I was 21. However, with mindful eating habits and exercising between 150-180 minutes per week, I lost a total of 20 KG over a period of 1 year. I mainly do strength and resistance training as it is gentler on my joints. I have also noticed that my RA-related morning stiffness and pain disappears gradually with every workout circuit. Yes, there are dips - especially when I was dealing with Covid pressures at work and the lockdown - but I continued to train through the damp and cold weather on the local cricket ground and James has seen me “ugly cry”.

But the new Yasmin is more secure and accepts herself with her faults and the limitations. This is the fittest I have ever been in life, and I love myself for it.

When I chose to write this blog about physical activity, I was conscious to not make it sound like a parent giving a lecture. I understand that my life experience is not everyone else’s, but it would be great if after reading this, I could inspire you to give regular exercise a chance and unlock your real potential.

If you’d like to find out more, and become part of the growing network of Active Practices, head over to the physical activity hub.

About the writer

Dr Yasmin Zaidy, MBBS MRCGP DipBSLM, GP Partner with special interest in Diabetes and Lifestyle Medicine. Gilberdyke Health Centre, East Riding of Yorkshire.