'I lost 5lbs in a week': How Covid inspired some of us to get fit - but left others behind
- Credit: Amy Goreham
Hollie Watts put on six stone in eight months after being prescribed anti-depressants by her GP.
“The choice was to either get my mental health under control or not put weight on,” the 26-year old said. “I had to get my head sorted first.”
The mum-of-three from Walsoken, near Wisbech, joined a gym in February last year, but it was closed by lockdown a few weeks later.
Undeterred, she decided to act. For inspiration, she put pictures of how she used to look all over her house.
"I started meal prepping, cooking for myself and batch cooking,” she said.
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“I downloaded the Couch to 5K app and started running. I was losing five to six pounds a week.”
Hollie got back in the gym when the first lockdown eased. Her personal trainer devised routines she could do at home, ready for another lockdown.
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“It was really hard to keep motivated,” added Hollie. “It’s still a struggle but I’m determined not to let it slip.”
Others have resorted to even more extreme measures to keep their fitness regimes up. Fitness instructor Amy Goreham from Norwich specialises in rebound trampoline exercise, and spent months teaching classes via Zoom from her kitchen.
“It's taken time, money and a lot of deep breaths but it feels like we've all got the hang of it now,” she said.
“It's hard for people to get the motivation to exercise at home and not everyone has the space or equipment to do it. But those that do tell me it's made all the difference not their physical and mental health.”
The health gap
While lockdown served as an opportunity for many to get active, data shows gaps in the prevalence of adults and children that are overweight depending on where you live in Norfolk.
Dr Jeanine Smirl is a GP and clinical director of Norfolk Primary Care Network. She said it's inevitable that people in more deprived areas won't have been exercising as much as those in affluent areas.
"People in less deprived areas have been buying gym equipment or presenting to GPs with leg injuries from running too much during lockdown," she said. "People from poorer areas aren’t doing that, they haven’t got the means to."
Public Health England data up to last year showed the percentage of adults who were overweight or obese in Norfolk was higher than the England average in four of the county’s seven local authority areas.
In Breckland, nearly 70pc of adults were reported to be overweight or obese in 2018-19. Norwich had the lowest percentage in the same year with 58.8pc. South Norfolk and Broadland were the other two areas that came under the England average of 62.3pc.
For children, overweight and obesity levels are also different depending on location.
Breckland and Great Yarmouth both had higher rates than the England average. Great Yarmouth recorded 37.6pc, while Breckland had 37pc. South Norfolk returned the lowest rate with 27.5pc, opening a 10.1pc gap between in overweight prevalence between there and Great Yarmouth.
Dr Tim Morton, chair of the Norfolk and Waveney Local Medical Committee said the link comes down to budget and diet.
“If you look at cheap, filling food like fast food, then it tends to be high in calories,” he said.
“People in relative poverty can afford it, so they are buying it. You tend to go for the wrong stuff because it’s what’s in your price range.
“It could also be purely a lack of ability to cook. That’s why many of the obesity projects are around ways to cook rather than what to cook.
"Being overweight can lead to all sorts of conditions that make you more susceptible to Covid. The fear is now the weather is bad and the days short that those who were exercising in the summer will hunker down in their homes."
'Not all affected equally'
Another feature of lockdown has been increased use of foodbanks by families across Norfolk, further raising concerns over diets in deprived areas.
Reverend Matthew Price runs a foodbank in Gorleston. He said demand was up by 25pc each month, with families making up to 60pc of all users.
“That's the most striking feature that I’ve seen this year," he said. "Families on the brink are being pushed over the edge.”
In Norwich, the NR2 foodbank became so busy it had to stop walk-ins and focus on deliveries. County Councillor Emma Corlett said the foodbank made sure to give fresh fruit and vegetables in every delivery.
“Our busiest day has been 148 people” she said. “This virus doesn’t affect everyone equally, and we’re very aware of widening health inequalities. If the poorest members of our society are getting the worst diet, it will only perpetuate the problem.”
Norfolk and Waveney CCG said it was working within local communities to inspire people to take responsibility for exercising more and increasing their own health and wellbeing.
“Although we know that people are now smoking less, we are definitely less active and more overweight as a population,” said vice chair of the Norfolk and Waveney Wellbeing Board Tracy Williams.
“This causes numerous negative impacts on health and can lead to long term conditions like diabetes, heart trouble, joint conditions and cancer.”
Tomorrow: How lockdown affected addiction