I started exercising regularly for the first time and this is what helped me

In partnership with Garmin

Posted by for Strong Women

What happens when a fitness newbie starts working out for the first time? Christobel Hastings straps on the Garmin Venu to find out if she can transform her mind and body… 

The thing that no-one ever tells you about exercise, is that you have to be ready for it to come into your life.

Perhaps, like me, you’re the kind of person with good intentions, but patchy resolve. You probably follow a few fitness gurus on Instagram (who doesn’t?) and marvel at their graceful movements as they pass down your feed.

Once in a while, you even embark upon a YouTube workout, only to invariably run out of steam halfway through. And until your mind really aligns with your limbs, you’ll always find a way to rest.

Despite my personal aversion to the gym, I do actually want to get fit. I just want to do it on my own terms.

I realised a blocker to that for me was really understanding what was going on with my body, so I invested in a smartwatch - the new Garmin Venu. I figure if I can track my own data and adapt and learn as I go, it might be my best chance to make a habit out of exercise.

I’ve never been one for supercharged workouts (the sight of a treadmill makes me recoil in horror), so I decide to ease myself into it with Pilates - mostly because I’m intrigued by the way it can improve posture, muscle tone, balance and flexibility all in one go. Plus, Jennifer Aniston is a fan, and she can’t be wrong, can she?

The other major upside to practicing Pilates, of course, is that it’s been proven to improve mental wellbeing as well as physical health. For someone who suffers with anxiety, learning to control my stress levels and be present in the moment (without consciously trying to be mindful) is a definite draw.

This is how my first week went…

Day 1: Getting to know my Garmin

It’s my first full day wearing my Garmin, and the watch has already sussed me out. 

I spend the early morning shooting admiring glances at the beautiful display screen, but by lunchtime, my inbox has taken its toll. Thanks to the clever stress tracking feature, my watch picks on my tense mood and buzzes, reminding me to take a breather. It’s a gentle intervention of the best kind; like a well-meaning text from your Mum, albeit without the ‘I told you so’ voice thrown in the mix.

So, I take a little wander, and when I sit back down at my desk, my heart rate has reduced by 10 bpm.

After work, I decide to try a basic Pilates routine. I find one already pre-downloaded onto the watch, so there’s none of the hassle of sifting through YouTube to find a beginner workout that doesn’t require folding myself in half.

The premise couldn’t be simpler: the watch gives you the name of each move with the time that you’ll be doing it for (usually under a minute), followed by an animation so you can copy the exact move.

While my virtual instructor is demonstrating the moves, the time elapses on the clock, until a buzz on your wrist lets you know that it’s time for the next exercise. There’s something incredibly therapeutic about being able to take your own Pilates class without struggling to see the instructor or being intimidated by everyone else in the class – if you don’t understand a move, you can simply swipe back and watch it again, as I do multiple times before getting the hang of it. 

Day 2: Stretching out my spine

On top of tracking your REM, my smartwatch measures my heart rate, stress levels, respiration and body battery (a cool measurement that estimates your energy reserves throughout the day/night out of 100 so that you can make smart choices based on where your body battery is tracking - low battery = low energy levels). 

You know when you read your own horoscope and you have this weird fascination about being presented with information about yourself that no-one asked you for? Well this is like that (except scientific) and it’s like getting to know your body for the very first time. Seeing all the data is starting to give me a much deeper understanding of why my energy levels might be low or what I need to give myself leniency for during the day.

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On my lunch break, I decide to road-test one of the short Pilates workouts called ‘Articulate Your Spine’.

Like most people, I spend way too many hours hunched over my laptop, and I’m conscious that I need to work on my posture.

This workout is ideal for combating the daily slump: there’s only six steps in the session, including simple roll downs, spine stretches and forward bends – ideal for a quick stretch if you’re having a busy day and can’t fit in a full-on workout, and even better for an exercise commitment-phobe for whom an hour on the mat can seem like a daunting prospect.

Day 3: Breathing on the brain

Given the spinal workout I tried during my lunch break yesterday was so quick, I decide to give it another whirl. This time around, I find that I’m actually committing the moves to memory – something I never anticipated would come naturally within a couple of days. Not only are the animated workouts easy to follow, but they’re a world away from the complicated twists and bends that I had always assumed Pilates involved.

Later in the evening, I’m browsing the pre-downloaded workouts on the watch and come across a breathing exercise. 

For the next fifteen minutes, my watch guides me through my breaths, buzzing to let me know when I should inhale, hold and exhale.

If you’ve tried and failed to get on board with mindfulness exercises where an all-knowing voice in your ears tells you ‘clear your mind’, then you’ll know it can have the opposite effect (hello, rage) – but with this exercise, you’re only focussing on your breathing, which actually ties in nicely to the ethos of Pilates.

The proof is in the little receipt that pops up on your watch after you complete the exercise, measuring your average heart rate and stress change. I wasn’t really expecting to see a difference, but, sure enough, both my heart rate and stress levels have dropped by a decent margin.

Day 4: Switching up my stretches

As it’s such a beautiful day, I decide to work out in the garden. It’s not long before I start to feel thirsty, and it’s not just down to the warm weather, but the feature measuring my fluid intake on my watch.

Somehow, when I’m in the office, the presence of the water cooler isn’t enough to persuade me to stay hydrated, and like most people, I’m nine parts caffeine by the end of the day. But the sight of seeing ‘0/9 cups’ on my screen is a pertinent reminder that I’m not drinking anywhere near enough water.

On the other hand, watching the number rise as you log them throughout the day is strangely satisfying – it’s the small things in life, after all.

Perhaps it’s because it’s officially summertime, or maybe it’s just that I’m feeling more confident, but after work, I decide to try one of the intermediate routines.

‘Pilates On The Road’, as it’s called on the Garmin Connect app, targets parts of the body that get tight and weak during travelling, but I figure that it’s equally as useful if you’ve been sitting down for nine hours at your desk. I download it to my watch, roll my mat out on the grass, and begin my stretches. Granted, I can’t do all the moves because my core strength isn’t strong enough yet, but I’m definitely starting to feel slightly more flexible.

And, as always, it’s good to decompress from all the thoughts about work and life admin that are swirling around in my mind.

Day 5: Five days of feeling fine

It’s the last day of the working week, and it’s not just the TGIF feeling that’s making me feel happy this morning.

After yesterday’s slightly more difficult workout, I wake up fully expecting to hobble out of bed – but to my surprise, I’ve no aches or pains, which makes me feel like I’m practically a Pilates aficionado.

By lunchtime, however, the Friday feeling is slowly ebbing away as I scramble to get on top of my tasks before the day is out. Right on cue, the stress tracking feature detects that I’m feeling anxious, and buzzes to remind me to take a break. So as I wait for my food to warm, I return to the breathing exercise, and by the time my lunch hour is up, my panic has been replaced by calm.

Come 5.30pm, I’m actually looking forward to stretching out on the mat – I’ve barely moved during the day and my body feels bunched up with tension.

Happily, the practice run with the workout the day before means that I’m finding my flow with the moves. Even though I’ve only just closed my laptop, it takes no time at all to switch off from work – the routine is so controlled that it requires my full attention at all times. This also means that I don’t resort to five hours of Netflix and a takeaway before I’m finally in ‘weekend mode’ – these sunny evening hours are all mine.

Day 6: Powering up to the next level

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It’s the weekend at long last and this morning I’m charging my Garmin for the first time in five days. For a smart device that powers so many different features, I’m seriously impressed with its battery life – if this was my phone, it would have conked out after three hours.

As I’ve a bit more time on my hands today, I decide to try the longest Pilates routine on the watch. It’s about fifty steps, but a nice mixture of breathing exercises and stretches, as well as some trickier moves like knee folds, leg circles and my arch nemesis: the plank. Needless to say, I can’t hold all of the positions for long, but I expect my endurance would build if I continued for a few more weeks.

After the routine, I feel as though I’ve had a full body workout. Whenever I’ve tried working out in the past, I’m always been left with one part of my body feeling completely knackered, thanks to a series of repetitive movements. But with these Pilates routines, everything gets a look in.

What’s more, you can’t do the physical moves without regulating your breathing – and when those two are in sync, your wellbeing starts to improve.

Day 7: Feeling centred, winning at life

For the first time I feel like I’ve found a gentle workout that I actually want to stick to.

Having a guide on your wrist that not only takes you step by step through workouts without feeling intrusive certainly helps but it’s actually my Venu’s approach to health as a whole that has made me realise that I’ve become invested in my own.

From reminding me to drink more water, to encouraging me to take regular breaks throughout the working day the impact means that my mind feels more balanced than it has in a long time.

Having everything relating to my body in one place makes life a whole lot easier (shout out, period tracker!) and accessing my own data makes me feel empowered to make choices that are right for my body in a super responsive way.

While there’s zero need for me to step foot inside the gym, or scroll YouTube for appropriate workouts, getting fit has for the first time in my life felt like something that genuinely enhances my days.

For watch thats as fashionable as it is functional, try the Garmin Venu.

Made to help you manage your health and wellbeing holistically, it’s lightweight stainless steel bezel and silicone strap are perfect for whatever you get up to - and with a battery life of five days and 200 hours of data memory, it won’t let you down. 

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