I am lazy. Like, really lazy. I've had a trapped nerve in my shoulder for about five years and I can’t even bring myself to do the ten-minute daily stretch routine that I'm meant to be doing to fix it. Like Drake or Plato or whoever said: know yourself. I know myself well, and what I know is that I prefer life when I'm horizontal.
Having said that, we live in the age of fitness and wellness and Instagram baddies. At [redacted] years of age, my body is starting to do things that I did not sign off on. Gravity is pulling at things, and summer is coming. In a moment of madness, or weakness, or both, I decided I wanted (needed) to get fit – but because it is important for me to stay true to myself, to get fit with as little effort as physically possible.
With this ambitious mission statement in mind, I called up Hyde Phillips, a personal trainer at At Home Fitness, to find out what I would need to do to be the bare minimum of healthy.
But first, some background info on me: as mentioned, my current exercise routine is "none". I routinely hop on the back of the 12 bus instead of doing the 20-minute walk to the other side of Rye Lane (BTP: if you're reading this, it's too late; also, suck your mum). My eating habits are also truly shocking, and a mixture of freelance poverty and an extreme aversion to cold temperatures can often lead to me consuming nothing but coffee until 3PM and then staving off my hunger with a KFC mini fillet or something from the McDonald's saver menu. Extra background info: I have a tattoo of a burger on my arm.
Having said all this, it’s important to point out that I’m one of those annoying people who has a fast metabolism and a naturally toned body – sorry in advance. Also important to point out is that, based on my BMI, I am technically underweight, so I’m not trying to lose any weight during this extremely scientific experiment, and won’t be giving up carbs or replacing any of my meals with dressing-less salads.
So, the routine: first, Hyde tells me to remember that "anything is better than nothing", so even going for a brisk walk once a day counts if you're the kind of person who does not usually do this (hi). Having said that, "the benefits of doing a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more are exponential". Motivational power, he says, can come from the regularity of exercise.
"The way I would probably start would be to try and do something most days, but start off really little, with a ten-minute routine where you move around. Then you just get into a habit and mindset of getting up and doing something first thing in the morning as a way of establishing a new habit."
In terms of diet, Hyde tells me that "the big thing is vegetables: try to get as many vegetables as you can into your day. Maybe set a minimum target of at least one, but preferably two, meals a day that have vegetables. From there, I would say try to replace all your processed food with natural ingredients. So ready meals, pizzas, McDonald's – none of that stuff."
With Hyde’s words in my ears, I come up with a basic exercise regime to get my heart rate racing. Some squats, some push-ups, some (attempts) at press-ups, a short sprint. Fitness! I dig out my kit from underneath my bed – a pair of yoga pants and a sweat-resistant tee with the tags still on, gifted to me by Nike in 2013 when I was a #influencer (thanks @nike) and head out to the park to christen them with some SWEAT.
I feel like a fraud and an absolute prick, and find myself praying I don’t bump into anyone I know, even though – I am a journalist and therefore I cannot lie – my butt looks absolutely phenomenal in said yoga pants. The last time I exercised was two years ago, when I signed up for yoga classes in a fit of January madness. I lasted about six sessions before I realised that being in a room full of white people doing lentil farts and saying "namaste" was causing me to leave in a worse mental state than the one I'd arrived in.
To make sure this project is 100 percent scientific, I take some measurements: resting heart rate, weight, waist circumference, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility.
I manage 16 sit-ups before my core turns to actual jelly and I collapse on the grass, sweating. As for press-ups, I manage ten, which I’m actually impressed with, to be honest, due to the fact I have literal bones for arms. According to my fitness guide, however, this is an impressive number only if you are over 65 years old.
The worst part, though? Running. According to my guide, I can assess my aerobic fitness by seeing how long it takes me to complete a 2.4km run, but I smoke and I’m not even going to attempt such a feat. I decide to run to a tree about 200m away and back. I make it about three-quarters of the way before it becomes hard to breathe and I collapse on the grass again, memories of the gold medals I used to win at Sports Day for sprinting flashing before my eyes.
To my surprise, I feel pretty good ten minutes later. Contrary to what I expected, I feel full of energy for the rest of the day, and find myself more aware of my body and keeping it active. Of course, this might be because it’s the first day of 20 degree-plus sun of the year. Anyway – I’m feeling good!
This feeling is quickly replaced when I wake up the next day after one of the worst night’s sleep of my life, feeling like I have been trampled by a herd of elephants. Every part of my body is in agony. I didn’t know it was possible for your armpits to hurt, but here I am, regretting my decision to forgo stretches. I decide to focus on eating well until I can walk without wincing again. Fewer cans of coke, lots of juice, more vegetables and fruits and salads. No McDonald’s.
The statistics on millennial health – much like the statistics on pretty much everything – are confusing. According to a number of studies and surveys, millennials love wellness, fitness and going vegan. They are less approving than baby boomers of smoking and drinking, and seem to have an increased consumer awareness of health and wellness.
Having said that, the BBC claims that UK millennials are on track to be the most overweight generation since records began, which seems a bit weird considering all of the above. Maybe it’s because of all the time spent watching Netflix? I don’t know. According to this report by Goldman Sachs, research shows that, for millennials, "being healthy" means a focus on "eating right and exercising" rather than not getting sick or being overweight.
Better get back to it.
A week into my two-week extremely low energy fitness bootcamp and I am… not doing great, to be honest. I just don’t want to exercise. I don’t want to! I’ve probably done half the amount of exercise that I am meant to be doing to be a base level healthy human person, but that’s still an improvement on no exercise whatsoever, so I’m running with it, fuck you.
I’m doing a brisk walk from my house down to the bottom of Rye Lane and back every day, and I haven’t had any processed foods in a week. I have eaten at least three vegan meals and even opted for jackfruit over beef when I went for tacos. My hair looks more shiny than it has in years and I feel like a post-gummy bear supplement Kardashian.
And then: after ten days of this puritanism, I lose absolutely all interest and motivation and eat a tray of chicken nuggets and drink two cans of coke. The next day I get my period, which explains and justifies this. Without going into too much detail, I suffer from incredibly bad and painful periods, and there is absolutely no fucking way I am going to do even a single lunge for the next few days, despite all that annoying advice suggesting exercise can help alleviate period pains. I also eat a Tesco (Finest!) lasagne ready meal and a 200g bag of Haribo Sour Mix. Sorry, Hyde.
Contrary to common discourse, the hard part of living a healthy lifestyle is not so much getting started as keeping going, and after my menstrual holiday I have to really push myself to use my muscles again. Should I have downloaded a fitness app to shout out at me and force me out of bed? Does anyone actually use them once they’ve downloaded them, or do they just sit there gathering metaphorical dust on their iPhone homepage?
"For a good three weeks I woke up early, bounced out of bed, filled a Nutribullet with spinach, bananas and oat milk, and I gulped it down in one and diligently did my sun salutations," says Josh, 26, who downloaded Sworkit in an attempt to introduce yoga into his life when he noticed he'd put on some weight. "Fast forward three weeks and I'm hungover and tired and I do not want to get out of bed to do cow pose in a communal living space, and I do not want to drink carrots blitzed with milk. So I don't. I stay in bed and I get out of bed to buy chocolate and a can of Coke, and then I get back into bed. I never do yoga again."
For others, apps have proven more useful. Nerupa, 28, got an Apple Watch two years ago and swears by its benefits – "I'm definitely more aware of my fitness, and it helps to at least attempt to keep fit," she says. "It helps to keep track of my progress, and I’ve synced it with my best friend so we can encourage each other. I get alerts when she completes a workout, which makes me want to get up and pick up a dumbbell."
Similarly, Moya, 23, swears by her fitness app: "I started using it as someone who hadn’t exercised since age 16, and I often use it in conjunction with other workouts on Instagram as either a main or a precursor to more strengthening moves. I love it – it changed my life!"
Based on the fact I have averaged probably two small workouts a week instead of, like, five, I realise this might have been the way to go and that I probably should have downloaded an app or roped a friend into the misery with me. But hindsight is 20/20, and my two weeks of minimum-effort bootcamp are over.
I can now do 20 sit-ups, which is a sign of progress for my core, and I still weigh 42kg, because I have inexplicably weighed 42kg for the last decade and probably will continue to do so until I either die or get pregnant.
It pains me to say it, but I do feel better in general, having made an effort to eat less meat, drink more liquified fruit and just generally use my body a bit more. I like to think I’ll keep going, if only to have a career as an Instagram baddie to fall back on when writing ceases to be a thing in two years – but for now, I'm off to McDonald's.