The best way to change your life – Exercise

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The best way to change your life – exercise. Meet the refresh You member: Christina Bakker, 49, Annandale as she explains how outdoor group fitness, a great gym alternative, helped her emerge from a place of pain and inactivity

The best way to change your life – “I couldn’t walk and now I can run”

In 2013, I was juggling childcare, elderly parents and my career. The stress, combined with a reaction to medication, made me seriously unwell, My hands and feet felt as if they were burning and I was in so much pain even getting up to get a glass of water became a major decision. I needed crutches to walk and I quit work because the pain made it impossible.

Today that version of me feels like a lifetime ago. I can run without getting puffed, have lost 20 kilos, can fit into my old jeans, and happily attend five refresh YOU classes a week.

I look in the mirror and think: ‘There’s someone with a sense of control and agency over her life,’ which is something I never felt when in the throes of chronic pain.

The journey back to fitness wasn’t easy. It took two years of visits to podiatrists and physiotherapists before I could even walk short distances. Everyone kept telling me I needed to exercise so I chose Pilates and yoga.

They have a reputation for being gentle so I thought I’d be fine but when I told my instructor I couldn’t do something because it hurt, she said. ‘Just push a bit harder’

I did as she instructed and ended up with a a frozen shoulder, unable to even dress myself.

A gym alternative? “I didn’t want to go to an indoor gym because I found it intimidating”

Everyone still kept  saying I needed to exercise but I don’t have a cover girl body shape so didn’t want to go to a gym because I found it intimidating and as if I didn’t belong, I needed a gym alternative.

I’d walk my dog in the park at Annandale and would see trainer Avril and her refresh YOU group and would often stop and observe what they were doing.

I knew Avril and knew she was a nice person and unlikely to yell at me which I couldn’t have coped with so in 2019, although I was very scared of returning to a place of chronic pain, I did a few trial classes.

I began going once a week, just testing what my body could do and 18 months later, realised it could do a surprising amount. I now do a boxing circuit, strength class, two HIIT classes and a stretch and mobility class.

A Personal trainer makes a difference

Working with Avril has been integral to my repair. It’s partly to do with her as a person and partly the style of training she embraces. Right at the start, she gently reminded me this was all about commitment. I couldn’t sign up and then just forget to turn up.

At the same time she was very helpful in helping me build up from one class a week to five. In fact, by the end she was holding me back!

Avril has a very encouraging style. She knows when to push you but what I really love is that she knows to let you listen to your own body. I work in a chiropractor and osteopathy clinic now and see so many people crawl through the door because they’ve let a trainer push them too hard.

Avril will push me until I’ve reached my fitness level but never into pain or injury. She knows we’re in this for the long haul and she’s highly preventative in her approach because she listens. I never have to explain or justify and I’ve become the Modification Queen. I’m always at the back when we run but I don’t care because I’m running and I never thought I would.

I’ve been a chronic exercise avoider in the past but I feel disappointed if I miss a workout now. I enjoy how I feel during it even though it’s hard and I enjoy how I feel afterwards. That’s massive; It’s life-changing actually.

I don’t get sick so often with colds and flu, I can walk downstairs without feeling I’m going to fall over – and even as a kid I couldn’t do that. I can balance, I can get up from the floor without using my hands and I can sneeze and skip without worrying about leaks because my pelvic floor is stronger. All these things are important now and they’ll be even more important in 30 years.

I’m endlessly surprised how much I enjoy these classes. Even at 6 am, I’ll look out at the sunrise across The Bay and think: ‘How beautiful is this?’ But the thing that surprises me most is how much I enjoy the social side because I’ve never been a group person.

People bring their dogs and children and no one freaks out. It’s completely non-judgemental and accepting..

I go home afterwards and think: ‘I had a laugh. I spent time with nice people. My body feels stronger and better. That was really great.’

If you need something more to encourage you back to exercise this Blog from Psychology Today lists 10 clear ways exercise can change your life.

You can change your life through exercise as well, contact your local refresh YOU venue, and start your journey of change.

We love sharing our members’ fitness journeys and hope to bring you more over the coming weeks. If you’d like to be included, please email a few details to: