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Running with wolves

When I started trying to reverse my post-baby weight gain, I spent several months, probably a year or so really floundering.

I was exercising, hard. I didn't feel like I was overeating, but I wasn't losing weight. In fact sometimes I was gaining more and I couldn't figure out why.

Often I get personal training clients coming to me with the same problem. They eat wholesome foods with few treats, they exercise hard several times a week, but there's no weight loss.

The answer to this problem is a staple for a PT or nutrition coach. It's about activity levels. If I sit on the sofa all day, I burn through just under 2000 calories. If I do a 30 minute HIIT workout, I burn about 200 more. But if I spend my day doing housework, walking to town to do errands and generally being on my feet, I burn 3000 calories or more. It's not the workouts, it's the activity or NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis if you feel fancy).

So how do you keep up your NEAT or low level exercise, day in day out? The Free Living Fitness answer is simple: You do what you love.

When I was faced with this issue, I got myself a Fitbit. I felt that the accountability would help, and it did a bit, but it still didn't make it any more fun.

Then this little beast came into my life, and that is what this is all about.

I'd been trying to get more walks in, because I like walking, but it's hard to prioritise when walking is just for my own benefit, even when it's an important part of my physical therapy for EDS, I've got a load of other responsibilities going.

But when you have a dog, especially a large, bouncy, perpetually growing puppy, that's different. I wasn't walking for my own indulgence, I was taking care of her. 

When we started walking together it was winter, and a particularly stormy one at that. She loves being wet though and we spent a lot of time traversing mud in horizontal rain, me using hiking canes to keep myself upright. Weather is no excuse, not feeling like it is no excuse, she needs to be out and so do I.

Finding a place in nature

I've been reading Go Wild recently. It's a really interesting book that makes the case for exercising in nature.It undoubtedly echoes my experience. 

When I walk with the dog, I like to spend at least an hour in places where we encounter as little civilisation as possible. I don't look at my phone. I don't listen to podcasts or music as I do when driving or walking alone in town. I allow myself to connect with my surroundings. A moving meditation of picking sure footholds, spotting wildlife in the bushes.

It's easy to become lost in the experience and completely forget whatever hassles and trials might be waiting back at home - it has become not only therapy for my body, but also a haven for my mind.

In Go Wild, the author talks about how humans became top predators, not because we are fierce or fast or particularly dangerous, but because we are tenacious and cunning. Our ancestors learned to read the patterns and behaviour of the wild herds and to pursue their quarry relentlessly, not to outrun, but to outlast.

When I walk, or run, in the wild, I feel echoes of that history, a rightness in traversing distances smoothly and steadily with my canine companion at my side. The strength and efficiency of gait that my training has afforded me helps me stalk smoothly and effortlessly over rough terrain. Nothing is better than a free day to set out with no plan other than to see where my feet take me.

I started running one day as a little experiment. Up until then I hadn't managed to run more than a few strides since my teens - my knees weren't really up to it, but after several months of steady walking, climbing steep hills, keeping a relentless pace for an hour or 2 at a time, it felt worth a try. I ran about 100 yards in my walking boots. Then I went home and watched videos on running form, hoping to find a way to make my gait less stressful on my joints.

The fitness that walking had given me meant that I could run 2-3 km at a steady pace straight away and that gave me confidence to keep going.

I still don't run an enormous amount. I prefer to walk and drink in my surroundings, but there is a lot to be said for running with a dog. I don't think I would go running without her. I'm clearly not the only one either as Canicross (running with dogs) is becoming increasingly popular for pleasure and competition.

A post shared by Claire Salem (@firelotusfitness) on

Finding your Free Living Fitness

I'm not sure if there is a "secret" to finding out how fitness can work its way into your life. The best I can say is that you should try everything that seems remotely interesting. You don't know where your passion might surface. Is it dance, martial arts, trampolining, rock climbing, larping, juggling? What is going to inspire you to get up off the sofa this weekend? 

When you find it, please let me know. I love to hear about how people are doing, you can use #freelivingfitness on social media, or comment here.


  1. Circus! I can't circus every day because if the specialist equipment it requires (though when we have a house I'll be looking at getting a rig), but I want to improve so I think about it every day, about my core and limb placement. My day to day strength and proprioception have both improved hugely - vital for EDS management!

    The rheumatologist also wanted me to walk more, but it's boring to do by yourself. Then Pokémon Go came out and it's exactly the kind of game that hooks my otherhalf, so now he walks with me and we're doing loads more of it - even in places with no internet 😀


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