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Getting back on track

Need some help to get back into an exercise routine? Read on...

Exercise is great for mental health, but it can be daunting trying to get back into a routine, particularly if you suffer with stress or anxiety. Scott Britton, co-founder of Move Forward Gym, works with cancer survivors and mental health sufferers, helping them to overcome feelings of fear and anxiety around getting back into exercise. Here are his tips for if you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to begin.

Set small goals

Set out your goal for the exercise session. This could be anything, even something as simple as just starting the routine for the day. Or it could be to hit a certain number of repetitions or to complete the workout in full.

Have a back-up

Have an alternative movement, or plan for the exercise routine ready. No routine, distance or workout is completely set in stone. If you have some back-up plans ready, it can really help with exercise anxiety. For example, a 5K run feels very long, but if you break it down into set times to run or jog, that distance is not so scary, and as you tick through the minutes, you’ll feel more motivated.

Buddy up

Having a buddy, even if you’re training separately, helps to keep you both motivated and accountable. Check in with each other, have a chat about the workout or exercise before you start and afterwards, talk about how you feel, how you found the workout, what you enjoyed and what you didn’t. Verbalising in this way has so many proven benefits. Having a friend to share the journey with really helps to take the isolation out of exercise and training.

Remember to breathe

If you find you’re getting out of breath and you start to feel panic setting in, try inhaling deeply for two seconds and then exhaling for three seconds. Take time to do five sets of breathing in through your nose for two seconds and then breathing out of your mouth for three seconds. This will help to regulate your breathing and bring you to what is called ‘zone 1 heart rate’, which is your natural living heart rate. You will then be ready to carry on again.

Know that it’s okay to stop

Remember you can stop if you need to; it’s not failure. Just know that if you need to stop exercising for whatever reason it’s completely fine. It’s important to listen to your body. The exercise is always there to return to when you want. The most important thing is exercising safely and feeling good about what you’re doing.

Try some workout music

Music is an amazing way to lose yourself in the moment and go with the flow. Finding the perfect playlist can sometimes make all the difference to a workout and can be something to look forward to during exercise, helping overcome any feelings of dread. Music streaming apps such as Spotify and Apple Music have some incredible lists for all kinds of workouts. Alternatively you could compile your own one.

Avoid mirrors!

So many modern gyms have now ditched the mirrors – and so should you. Exercise is not about how great you look while you’re working out. It’s about how great you feel. So, eliminate working out anywhere with unnecessary mirrors and instead focus on the power of moving your body and unlocking those endorphins.

Scott Britton is the co-founder of Move Forward Gym ( which opened its doors in October 2020, offering free memberships to NHS-referred mental health patients and cancer patients. He is also co-founder of Battle Cancer (, a leading global fundraising event organiser.

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