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Digital Subscriptions > Healthy Food Guide > March 2019 > HOW TO FIX A FEAR OF FITNESS


Whether you get over-anxious about the gym, are too scared to swim, or have a health reason holding you back, our expert advice and inspirational real-life stories will help get you up and exercising. By Charlotte Haigh

THE MINIMUM AMOUNT of activity we all need to do to stay in good health is 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly, or 75 minutes of more vigorous activity. But one-third of UK adults don’t do enough, according to a recent World Health Organization report.

There can be all sorts of reasons for that – from lack of time to finding exercise dull – but a surprising number of us are kept on the couch and in our comfort zone by simple fear. Research by Sport England has identified lack of confidence as a key reason women, in particular, don’t work out enough. This can play out as anxiety preventing you getting to your Zumba class – or you may have a full-on phobia, says exercise psychologist Dr Julie Johnston, who lectures at Nottingham Trent University.


A phobia is a fear of something that leads to avoidance tactics, which may get in the way of your life. However illogical, the fear is very real. There are varying degrees. A phobia of swimming, for example, can mean you won’t go any deeper than your ankles and won’t take your feet off the bottom of a pool – or it can mean you won’t even go near a pool.

‘Phobias can develop for lots of reasons and can be focused on a simple thing such as water or heights,’ says Julie. ‘They usually come about through some kind of trauma. A fear of water could develop because you were held under water by older children when you were little, for instance.

‘The other way a phobia can develop is through learned behaviour. If you saw a parent or sibling being fearful of water and refusing to swim, and perhaps also warning you all the time to be careful near water, at an early age you may have picked up the message that it was dangerous.

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About Healthy Food Guide

Should you try the latest fasting diets? Our dietitian examines their effectiveness for weight loss and better health and helps you pick the one for you. Our healthy kitchen makeover will get you in the zone for easier healthy cooking, with an ingredients checklist, storecupboard recipes, plus tips from Marie Kondo and Aggie MacKenzie. And inspiring stories for facing fitness phobias will get you into the pool, gym or class – and loving it.