Cycling gold medallist Victoria Pendleton says she'd jump at the chance to put the UK on the fast track to fitness
Enabling everyone to find an activity they love is the key to boosting the nation's health, says Olympic gold medal cyclist Victoria Pendleton. And it's never too early - or late - to start.
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A self-confessed gym addict, Victoria loves being active. Since she retired from competitive cycling after the London Olympics she has been on back-to-back action-packed holidays as well as taking part in Strictly Come Dancing.
'I've been hiking in Tasmania and on two skiing holidays in Switzerland, close to where I used to train at the Centre Mondiale,' Victoria says. 'I wasn't allowed to go skiing then in case I got injured so I've been making up for lost time.
'I love skiing. There's nothing nicer than when you get to the top of a mountain and it looks like you're on top of the world and you're breathing in all that fresh air - and then you do lots of leg work on the way down. Who wouldn't enjoy that? It's the most fun you can have doing exercise.
'I love the speed element of it and just pushing yourself physically.'
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Pushing herself physically is something that Victoria has done all her life, and she'd love all young people to get the same opportunity.
So would she take a role as Fitness Czar were it offered? 'Oh yes! Of course I would!' she says. 'I genuinely enjoy working out, and I think if people were really aware of how good they could feel if they worked out... the post-exercise feeling you get from a good solid workout when it becomes a routine in your life, you can't really replace it with anything else.
'It's gym smug - you can go and enjoy your food, and you don't have to feel guilty about food. Obviously don't go and completely undo all the good work, but if you eat healthily, exercise well, you can feel really good about yourself.'
Victoria is the face of International Fitness Week for Fitness First gyms. The chain is offering a one-week free pass for all comers, with the chance to try machines, classes and facilities at gyms across the country.
Get your FREE Fitness First one-week gym pass here
Her recipe for improving the fitness of the nation? 'A week's free gym access is good start. Go in, try it out for a week, maybe get introduced to new classes or modes of exercise that might suit you and hopefully you'll go back.
'I think it's very much about having opportunities to try new things and finding things that suit you and you enjoy. It may even be something you've never really thought about before. Unless you give it a go, you don't really know.'
And at grass roots level? 'I would put more hours of PE in the week in schools, and try and make PE as exciting and varied as possible, especially for girls.
'As a girl at school, I always felt the boys got a lot of coaching and advice and direction in terms of their sporting development. I was good at sport at school, I was on every team going; I did cross country, I did track and field - I even did shotputt once for school at a county competition, because no one else would do it. I just thought, 'I'll do that, I can do that!'
'I loved it. But no one ever said to me, 'have you considered a career choice in sport?', although teachers were saying to boys, 'you should try out for the county cricket team, or under-21s, under-18s because you're really good at it'.
'They got a lot more encouragement because they're boys and boys do sport.'
Try a new sport, join a club in your area
Victoria continues, 'I love competitive sport, it drives me, but I also understand that some people can't think of anything worse. But that doesn't mean they don't want to keep in shape.
'I think there's more than one reason to do it, and it doesn't matter what it is. If it's more a question of wanting to tone your body, in a fitness class, or dance because it's fun and not too regimented, then those options should be there.
'It's not a question of one thing fits all.'
Enjoy a week's FREE gym classes, facilities and support for International Fitness Week from March 11, 2012, with Fitness First. Find out more.
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