Exercise classes are not all about getting fit. The smugness is great too – Susan Morrison

In the days of flares and bell bottoms, there were two sorts of girls at my secondary school. The girls who were good at sport, and the girls who did Latin.

Modern exercise classes are quite a bit different to PE during Susan's school days (Picture: Mike Powell/AllSport/Getty Images)
Modern exercise classes are quite a bit different to PE during Susan's school days (Picture: Mike Powell/AllSport/Getty Images)

The sporty gels filled the netball, volleyball and hockey teams. Their victories over neighbouring schools were celebrated every Monday assembly. They liked PE. They got on with the teachers, even Mrs MacReadie, head of girls physical education, a tracksuited whistleblower with zero sympathy for period pains and even less regard for notes from your mum. Especially the ones with the suspect signatures.

Sadly, Mrs MacReadie and her ilk never realised that they were actually the reason so many women jacked in exercise the minute they left school.

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They had a weird obsession with team sports. The favoured ones got to pick their sides, and many a woman walking today has a memory seared inside of a girl left for last in a cold Scottish school hall.

I did Latin. I hated PE. I would go to spectacular lengths to avoid gym, including one attempt to dodge netball by chewing soap and claiming I had rabies. Note: it doesn't work, but you do vomit bubbles for hours afterward.

This past grim determination to avoid PE makes it all the stranger that I am now a gym bunny, and pay out handsomely for a well-used gym membership. Yes, despite my stunning resemblance to a fly-tipped burst sofa, I rarely go a few days without doing a workout class.

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This puts me in the category of women who apparently do get enough vigorous exercise, according to a survey that came out this week. You bet I felt smug.

Helpfully, the NHS has defined “vigorous exercise” for women as brisk walking, running, aerobics classes and rather surprisingly, gymnastics, an activity best left to springy youngsters who can bounce after they fall.

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Women, they said, had fallen out of the exercise habit over the last year. No wonder, I thought. Lockdown shut down our gyms and not everyone was inspired by the herculean efforts of muscled young Joe Wicks to get the nation exercising at home, no matter how many times I watched him.

The state-sanctioned one-hour walk became boring, and the weather remained Scottish. The telly was on and this was when we could afford heating, remember.

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Now that the world is opening up again, women are under greater pressure than ever before to get kids back to school, get day jobs done and plan those family holidays spent trying to get luggage back from some far-flung airport.

Judy Murray, the closest thing we have to a national Scottish head of PE, stepped forward to tell us that exercise is good for you. Get moving for just five minutes a day to look after yourself, she says, and being the redoubtable Ms Murray, she is right.

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But for me, it's not just the classes, it's the after-workout blether I value. That, and the air of smugness.

Exercise classes are a great support system, and could help so many women, particularly young mums on their own.

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Why not make exercise easier for them all? Could we offer low-cost gym memberships? Up the number of creches to let young mums workout? It really does make you feel good.

And smug.