Fitness instructor Joe Wicks, a.k.a. The Body Coach, sat down with Suzanne Baum to discuss the mental and physical health benefits of walking, ahead of his own 30-mile walking challenge, ‘Walk With Joe ULTRA’, in aid of BBC Children In Need.
Joe Wicks needs little introduction. The 37-year-old fitness instructor has been giving the nation a run for its money these past few years, in a bid to keep us fit, healthy and motivated.
He may have risen to national hero status with his lockdown PE lessons, but the man – known to his millions of fans as the Body Coach – is now a global phenomenal success story. What makes Joe even more remarkable is that he wears his heart on his chest, literally. While the father-of-three is a huge believer in promoting fitness for its physical benefits, he also highly recommends exercising to support your mental health too, speaking openly about how it has helped him in his own personal journey.
So, it is no surprise to hear that in a bid to support children’s mental wellbeing, Joe has stepped up to the challenge of walking 30 miles in 11 hours to raise money for Children In Need.
During the ‘Walk with Joe’ event, which will take place tomorrow (Nov 18) and end live on air on the BBC show, he will be joined by special guests including Mr Motivator and Lioness Ellen White. As he heads off to walk the walk, I talk the talk with Joe Wicks about life in the public eye, the benefits of walking and how he copes under pressure.
You have done a lot of fitness events over the years, but I can’t imagine covering 30 miles in 11 hours is going to be a walk in the park. How are you preparing for it?
Joe Wicks: ‘I have never, ever walked that far so it is going to be extremely mentally challenging and I have various techniques to keep me motivated. Keeping focused on any exercise you do is important, so I swear by taking one mile at a time, rather than focusing on the finishing line. I know it is going to be tough, but it is mind over matter that keeps me going. I’ll be joined by some guests along the way, so talking to them will keep me occupied too.’
On the subject of talking, do you believe exercising with a buddy is beneficial or is it best to go it alone?
‘Having a conversation with someone working out next to you is so important, both physically and mentally. It is often difficult for people to communicate face to face, but that is taken away when you are walking beside someone or exercising next to them. By not making direct eye contact, it can often help you get things off your chest. When I have felt negative or down, being able to talk to someone I am walking alongside has always been very useful.’
As someone who has been so open about your own mental health, what is it about being outdoors that you believe can help us mentally?
‘On days I was struggling in lockdown, I realised that just getting outdoors and breathing in fresh air, enjoying nature and the sounds lifted my mood enormously. Whether you are stressed, overwhelmed with life or struggling with little kids, having some peaceful moments outdoors is wonderful. You may not want to get up and walk out that door, but I guarantee you will return home feeling so much lighter in your head. You don’t get that walking on a treadmill.’
What advice do you have for women who are new to exercise? Where best to begin?
‘If you are just starting out and don’t want to go to the gym and do a HIIT session, I recommend walking as a good starting point. I work with a lot of women who are peri-menopausal or suffer with menopause symptoms and when you have had a bad night’s sleep for example, the last thing you probably fancy is smashing it out at the gym. Walking has so many bonus factors: it can help strengthen bones, boost your mood and if you try to up the pace over time, it can be a good way to get your heart rate up.
‘My advice is to make the time pass quickly by making phone calls, listening to music or tuning in to a podcast. I am a huge fan of podcasts. My favourite is the American one How I Built This, which features interviews with the world’s best-known entrepreneurs to learn how they built their iconic brands. Whenever I feel under pressure or am struggling myself, it really gets me in a better place – a more focused mind-set.’
With such a vast following of fans and over 4.5 million followers on Instagram, do you ever feel under pressure when it comes to what you post?
‘No, as I am all about keeping it real. By doing that, I build up honest relationships with people who feel they can relate to me. I don’t paint this picture that I am a celebrity and my life is perfect. I am all about being authentic, showing my vulnerable side and the issues I suffer with. I am honest about bringing up young kids, my mental health and I will continue to share everything – the highs and the lows. It is so important for me to be honest.’
And finally, for someone who is flying so high in their career, what keeps you grounded?
‘Definitely my friends and family – and my wife Rosie is brilliant. She is a private person which I totally respect and we don’t go off to celebrity events, red carpets etc. I am at my happiest being at home watching a film with the family. And being kind. Kindness is the most important superpower!’