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Exercise isn't always all about body image, toning, fitness goals or big muscles.

We talk to one of John Withinshaw's clients, who explains how training can be a fantastic tool to strengthen confidence, increase self-esteem and enable you to withstand anything life throws your way.

Jo Cook taking part in the Major Series to raise money for the charity that supported her after losing her child

There are so many misconceptions about exercise and the reasons why we do it.

We exercise to lose weight; we exercise to add weight, exercise to add muscle, exercise to get fit for something, a race or event. There’s sport specific exercise, media pressure exercise, exercise for aesthetics, peer pressure exercise, and the list goes on.

I’m pretty sure that underlying all these is a deeper reason, a reason that people hold inside.

Many people workout as a way to beat symptoms of depression and anxiety. The release of happy hormones that exercise brings can create a natural high, sometimes also known as “runners high”.

I’ve even known of some ex drug addicts who turn to long distance running as a way to get the high that endurance sports deliver. This endorphin stuff is powerful, believe me!


The steady decline of physical activity over the last 100 years could well be suffocating our production of these hormones - leading us to seek alternative ways to access them, often illegally.

The pharmaceutical industry also offers many legal drugs, through prescription, to deal with these issues - not all of which are safe, or necessary.

We are, in some ways, the victims of our own success on this planet, as we find more and more ways to make life as convenient as possible; chairs, remote controls, television and games consoles (a modern babysitting technique), fast food, cars etc, etc, etc. I could go on.

We move around so much less these days and as we eat more junk and find more ways of moving less, we’re just inviting systems to enter our lives that make us sad and miserable.

In some instances though, life offers up a situation that is beyond our control; an event that is completely unexpected, spontaneous and downright unfair.


There are many places for people to look for comfort and solitude at times like these. I have a story about a client of mine who came to me a little over a year ago. Her name is Jo Cook and she has a very specific story;

‘When you have a poorly young child who passes away, so much of your life has been out of control. You spend so much time feeling helpless, as a parent you’re meant to fix things but sadly some things you can’t. That really affects your self-esteem and confidence. Dr.s at the time offered drugs and counseling to help but I refused the drugs. I have in the past, and continue to use exercise as a healthy way to focus not only my emotions but to also feel in control. I took great care in choosing the right PT, someone who would help me regain my confidence in both myself and my body. I’m achieving things now that I never thought I would not just physically but also mentally. I feel like the ‘old me’ more and more. As you’d expect I will always have those days where my emotions get the better of me and on those days we work just to get the endorphins (happy hormones) going, something like boxing or intense cardio. John is able to recognise those days and help me through, even if it has meant ditching his planned session. The overall effect on my life has been vast. I recently found the confidence to apply for a promotion at work and was successful. As recently as last year I wouldn’t have applied due to lack of confidence but now I’m doing my new job and loving it.

Yes exercise is about the physical results but for me it’s so much more.

Jo Cook


The implication of such an event upon a person is beyond comprehension, how do you go about dealing with something like this?

Not only is there the loss and grief but for Jo there was also a sense that her confidence had been shattered, leading to self-doubt and low self-esteem.

Jo was using exercise to get over her loss and build her self-confidence. It wasn’t about losing weight, but doing things that triggered endorphins and gave her the strength to overcome the dark times, a different kind of strength all together.

The lifting of weights hasn’t been to get big muscles but to strengthen confidence and the body to withstand anything life throws her way.

As is explained above Jo recently applied for several different promotions of varying degrees of importance at work, she only went and landed the big one. Her newfound self-confidence shone through in the interview when it mattered.

Exercise has so many benefits, you just need to get started. You never know how things will turn out, even if you just lift a few weights, eat some healthy food and move around a bit more.

In Fitness & In Health

John 'Exercise Addict' Withinshaw


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