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Exercise and Weight Management – Alex Conboys Story

Written by Jo Cooke-Best

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Posted on August 19 2020

Alex and I met a few months ago in the Hampshire Womens Business Group immediately we connected through our love of clean living and our mutual need to help others see the health benefits from making simple life adjustments. Not only did our business values correlate but so did our personal values. As soon as I made the decision to run wellness August, I knew this was the chance to talk about Alex's journey and the wonderful work she does. It is MY sincerest pleasure to bring you Alex's personal story and her perspective on exercise and weight management. Jo xXx

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13 years ago, I weighed nearly 15 stone (93 kg). I’m 5’7” (1.7m) tall – this meant that at my heaviest my body mass index (BMI) was 32 which firmly put me in the obese category. I’d put on 4 stone in a couple of years - I used to be very active in my job as a professional sailor, and needed to consume a large number of calories every day just to give myself enough energy to do my job. At times in my sailing career we’d lose weight on a diet of 5,000 calories a day.

I’d always had to be careful of my weight, and the weight gain started for me when I stopped sailing for a living and my lifestyle became far less active. I ballooned. I didn’t really adapt my food intake to take the change in activity levels into account, and I’d just met my future husband. Like many people in a new relationship we ate out a lot with frequent trips to the pub, and before I knew it, I was 4 stone heavier. Because I was tall I carried the weight well, but it took a comment from one of my husband’s young nieces to make me realise just how much weight I’d actually put on and spur me into action.

Fast forward 13 years and so much has changed. At just under 11 stone (69kg) I am a healthy weight for my height. My husband and I married in 2009, by which time I’d lost nearly 3 stone through healthy eating and exercise (no diets) and whilst still overweight I was much healthier and happier with how I looked. I had more energy and life was great! And then in 2015 something happened which was to completely change my life - I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was able to keep running throughout my treatment (surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy) which helped so much in so many different ways.

Alex Conboy running Farnborough Half Marathon January 2020.
Alex Conboy running Farnborough Half Marathon January 2020.

As a result of this experience, I became fascinated with health and fitness, and to cut a long story short once my year of treatment was over, I qualified as a personal trainer. I now hold a specialist qualification in cancer and exercise rehabilitation and work with people affected by cancer to help them get fitter and feel better.

I also became fascinated by weight gain and metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes. I’ve always believed that there is far more to it than the simple “eat less and move more” theory. If it was that simple, why are over 60% of adults in the UK overweight or obese?

When lockdown happened earlier this year and I could no longer work with my clients I took advantage of the time available by studying for another specialist qualification in working with obese and diabetic clients. I learned so much on this fascinating course.

Diets don’t work for longterm weight loss! When we restrict calories, our bodies think we are going into starvation mode which leads to several things. Firstly, our metabolic rate reduces so our bodies expends less energy in normal functions. When we come off a calorie - restricted diet, because our metabolic rate is now lower, we put on all the weight we lost and more.

Secondly because our bodies believe that a famine is approaching, we preserve fat and burn muscle, which is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. In particular, under these conditions we tend to store fat around our middles. As a result, we can enter the classic yo-yo dieting pattern in which many people end up heavier than they started.

In addition, when we become overweight significant hormonal changes take place which make it harder for us to lose the weight. Our bodies work on a principle called homeostasis – which means that our systems are constantly trying to maintain what has become normal. When we lose weight, especially quickly, the principle of homeostasis kicks in so that our bodies try to regain “normal”, meaning that our systems make whatever changes are necessary to try to put the weight back on.

The best way to become a healthy weight – and stay there – is to make long-term, sustainable changes to diet and lifestyle. Change will happen gradually – long-term weight loss tends to be slow and gradual, to allow our bodies to adjust properly to the new way of being and the new “normal”. We need to be patient. It took me 2 years to lose 3 stone. I’m not going to go into detail about healthy eating here – there is no one-size-fits-all approach and I'm not qualified to give specialist nutritional advice. Just remember – diets don't work for most people!

I’d like to explore in a bit more detail how and why exercise and physical activity are so important.

As I’ve briefly described, whilst there is a lot more to it than “eat less and move more”, one fundamental truth is the more we move, the more energy we expend. In addition, when our period of activity is over, we burn more calories while our body recovers from the exercise. All of which help!

Another great thing about exercise is how it helps to regulate blood sugar levels. This is of particular benefit to anyone who is insulin-resistant or has type-2 diabetes. Glucose travels from our blood stream into our cells through transporters, which are activated by either insulin or exercise. With insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, these transporters become resistant to insulin, and don’t work effectively so glucose cannot travel easily into our cells. Muscle contractions also stimulate these transporters - independent of insulin – allowing glucose into our cells where it is needed for energy, hence lowering our blood sugar levels. This is why movement and physical activity is such an essential part of managing insulin resistance and diabetes - in particular type-2.

Lots of other changes take place when we exercise -too many to list here - but one more of note is that during and immediately after a period of aerobic activity the release of our hunger hormones ghrelin and peptide-YY is reduced, leading to a suppression of appetite.

The most important thing is to enjoy what you do - otherwise it will become a chore. Government guidelines are 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week spread over 5 days at least – and this can even be done in 10-minute blocks. Be kind to yourself – regular exercises consider physical activity as part of their self-care!

If you haven’t exercised for a while, or are new to exercise, it could be worthwhile asking advice from a suitably qualified personal trainer, or your GP, about what would be safe for you to do. It’s very important to pace yourself – if you push yourself too hard to begin with you run the risk of injury - and it’s unlikely that you will enjoy what you are doing. Start with manageable goals – like going for a brisk 10 minute walk at lunchtime every day, building up to 30 minutes a day, and as your fitness levels improve you’ll be able to gradually increase your activity levels even more.

Many people still have a horror of “exercise” – with bad experiences of PT lessons at school. It can help to re-think what exercise is. Any form of physical activity will help, such as walking up the stairs rather than taking the lift, or parking further from the entrance to the shops so you have to walk a bit further. Try dancing round the house from time to time! The gym is not for everyone – doing the gardening or the housework will help. If you have a desk job, make a point of getting up and walking round the office for a few minutes every hour or so if you can.

The most important things to remember – are be kind to yourself, and keep moving as much as you can. Pay attention to what you eat too, it is not possible to out-exercise a bad diet.

If you would like any help, or would like to chat anything through then please get in touch! I am happy to offer a free introductory session to anyone who would like to explore further how physical activity can help, would like some nutritional advice or would like some help with setting goals or coming up with a plan that is right for them.             

Fit for Life - https://www.fitforlifept.co.uk/
Find Alex and fit for life on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/AlexConboyPT/

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Alex Conboy owns Alex Conboy Personal Training.   She is a mobile1:1  personal trainer specialising in cancer and exercise rehabilitation, She also holds a specialist qualification in working with obese and diabetic clients, and has nearly completed an additional qualification in exercise and physical activity for people with mental health conditions.    Alex trains her clients outdoors – in public parks or in or in her client’s gardens in the Alton and Basingstoke areas.    

In addition to her personal training, Alex set up the Basingstoke group of 5k Your Way, which is a support group with a difference for anyone affected by cancer. When Alex isn’t helping others appreciate the many benefits that exercise and physical activity bring, she flies gliders, both as an instructor at Lasham and also flying her own glider cross-country. She also loves running and walking her dogs in the stunning countryside where she lives.


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