Paula Radcliffe On How To Get Back Into Fitness
Paula Radcliffe On How To Get Back Into Fitness

Paula Radcliffe On How To Get Back Into Fitness

New research suggests 90% of Brits still feel their mental and physical health is being impacted by the effects of the pandemic. That’s why the team at Let’s Do This are on a mission to connect people through group sport. We sat down with long-distance running legend Paula Radcliffe, the face of the campaign, to talk about getting back out there and into fitness...

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The first thing people should take inspiration from is this amazing summer of sport we’ve had. There was the World Championships in Oregon, followed by the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and then the European Championships in Munich – and all the home nations did so well. It’s been wonderful to have it back after two very difficult years.

Over the past two years, so many people have retreated into themselves. Not only has that cost them their social lives, it’s also had a detrimental effect on their physical and mental wellbeing. At the beginning, people probably thought they had a better work/life balance and more time to exercise and focus on their wellbeing. But as time’s gone on, a lot of people have become more isolated and fearful of being in groups or crowds. It’s a shame because the impact of group sport can be so beneficial, particularly for older people looking to get out there, meet new people and find a new hobby. 

Understandably, people feel burned from the uncertainty of the last two years. Perhaps in previous months they thought the worst was over, signed up for a new challenge and started training, only for us then to go into lockdown and feel quite dejected. A lack of social interaction and routine has been so damaging. My advice would definitely be to find an event on Let’s Do This that is small to begin with – maybe a 5k walk or something – and then work up to larger events if you enjoy it. You can’t underestimate the power of having something to work towards.

The first thing people should take INSPIRATION from is this AMAZING SUMMER OF SPORT we’ve had.

Sign up with a couple of friends if you’re trying to break out of the isolation bubble. That way it’s not as daunting as having to do something with a bunch of people you don’t know – there’ll be some familiar faces and you can encourage each other and hold each other accountable. Equally, you could join a club if your own friends aren’t keen. There’ll be an existing community there who all share your enthusiasm and will want to get you involved and on your way. 

The first step is always the hardest. That commitment can be scary, but it’s the only way to motivate yourself to get out back out there. Working your way up to the first event – even if it’s just a park walk – might be the biggest struggle, but I firmly believe the euphoria we feel by doing things in a group pushes us to continue with something and not want to give up. It’s the springboard you need after the last two years.

The most motivating place I ever found myself was at the finish line. It’s something to bear in mind, because lots of people often struggle with motivation at the beginning of the process. Crossing the line, achieving a goal is the best feeling in the world. And doing it with other people makes you feel part of something – part of a family. The experience and the camaraderie are so special. 

Understandably, people feel BURNED from the UNCERTAINTY of the LAST TWO YEARS.

Spending hours in the gym isn’t the way to get back into fitness. Platforms like Let’s Do This help you realise how much is out there – and proves there are so many sports and levels for people of all ages and abilities to get involved in. The most important thing is to pick something you enjoy. We all know you won’t stick with it otherwise. 

I’m now a mother, and older and wiser too. That means balance plays a more important role in my relationship with fitness, and sport in general, which is something we should all be striving for as we age. Priorities change, and that’s okay. But it’s so vital to remember that, if you don’t look after yourself, you’re going to find it harder to look after those around you or anyone who depends on you. When I’m active and investing in my own wellbeing, I get so much more out of life and time spent with my loved ones. 

Since my retirement, I don’t look at being active as ‘training’ anymore. I still run, but it’s almost entirely for my own enjoyment and mental health. I see it as my own time and it gives me the clarity I need to be able to switch off properly. I also do more trail running, as opposed to time on the track, and I often head out with friends or family to make it more social. It’s a great way to catch up and makes it far more fun. 


Recent data suggests women haven’t been as active over the last two or so years – and that many of them still lack confidence when it comes to being fit. In my opinion, a lot of that stems from being told during the pandemic that it was better or safer for us to be at home. Often, women are primary caregivers and they probably took that message most to heart – especially if they’re older and looking after elderly parents or a dependent spouse. Breaking out of that mentality can be really hard, but the benefits come thick and fast once you do – trust me. 

Being out of shape can be a bit of a vicious circle. Some people definitely saw lockdown as a chance to get fitter, but others have taken their foot off the gas and now, they’re self-conscious about trying something new, about being judged for not being the best version of themselves. All I’ll say is you’re not alone – and you won’t be whether you sign up for a park walk or a marathon. You have to start somewhere and it doesn’t matter where that is, as long as it feels good to you.

For me, I’ve always seen running as my saving grace. It’s my go-to. My daughter was quite ill during the pandemic and I also lost my father, so I needed it more than ever – just to be able to cope. I tried to look at all that extra time as a bonus. For many of us, life looks different post-pandemic and maybe a lot of those external stressors have gone away. So instead of looking at it like life has shrunk, look at all the extra time you might have to pour into a new hobby – it might even be cooking; I’ve personally learnt so much about nutrition and eating well over the past couple of years.

The ONE THING being involved in SPORT, HEALTH and WELLNESS has given me is PERSPECTIVE.

The key to staying motivated is planning in little rewards. If you have a goal to work towards, factor in a nice meal or treat yourself to a new pair of trainers after a certain number of miles. As for other training tips or fitness tips, not enough people factor in proper rest and recovery – and this is even more important as you get older. Energy isn’t a constant thing; you have to factor in time for your body to sleep, rest and recover so you can maintain a constant effort in the long run. Going hard at something for two weeks, then feeling over-tired, sore – or worse injuring yourself – just isn’t smart and you won’t see progress either.

The other thing people tend to neglect is their diet. When you get more active, you need to start eating a bit more and a bit better. Otherwise, again, you’re on the road to nowhere. People have become stuck in a lot of habits, so it’s another thing we need to try and break out of mentally. But in my experience, the more active I am, the less inclined I’ve been to indulge in poor eating habits. When you’re exercising, calorie intake has to go up – but you have to be eating the right things. And flexibility is key – if you’re feeling really hungry or really tired, listen to your body and see what it needs. Maybe it’s just a bit of yoga that day, or a good stretch.

Remember, comparison is pointless when it comes to health and wellness. Getting back into any kind of fitness regime will not be helped by looking at what your friend down the road or on social media is doing. It’s about getting back in tune with your own body and finding out what it responds to and how it affects your mind. In my professional career, I’m so proud to be able to say I rarely worried about what other people were doing. It was only ever about focusing on what was in my control and how I could do my best – whatever that looked like. I’m lucky I wasn’t really competing in the age of Facebook or Instagram – they can foster quite unhealthy environments for some people. In my opinion, it’s a much better idea to get outside and connect with people in the real world. 

The one thing being involved in sport, health and wellness has given me is perspective. It’s something we probably all could do with after what we’ve been through in the last couple of years. Some of us have really been shown what’s important and, in my opinion, that’s doing the best you can. The pandemic also proved to me how important it’s been to have goals in mind. When you can work towards something, it gives you so much focus. Plus, it pushes you out of your comfort zone – you never know what you’re capable of until you try.

Read Paula Radcliffe’s five tips for getting back into a fitness routine…


Start small. Sign up for an event in the future that gives you an amount of time that you are comfortable with for building up your training. There are lots of free apps out there that can get you started. 


Get friends and family involved. Signing up to an event with a friend or family member means you’ll have added motivation to keep going. You can train together, track each other’s progress, reach milestones together and then celebrate at the finish line. 


Give yourself a goal. Set a goal and remind yourself of it when you feel like throwing in the towel. Print it out if it helps, somewhere that you can see it and be spurred on by it.


Find an activity you love. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stick with it. Find an activity you enjoy that will make your fitness goals more sustainable.


Track and reward your progress. Progress can be addictive. Sign up to apps that can track your runs, walks and your cycles, and get to know your fitness level. Look back, week to week, and enjoy watching your fitness levels improve – and then celebrate when they do. 

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