January 2019 was filled with talk of Brexit and New Year’s resolutions to get back in shape and pressure to change your behaviour, lifestyle and health. Look closely and you’ll see there are five lessons that Brexit can teach those trying to do so, not least that changing your body, and more importantly your lifestyle, is about far more than glib phrases and quick fixes. Tim Oliver and Andrew Brinkley (Loughborough University) give their advice on how to Brexercise.

  1. Have a personal goal or plan in place. If you’re shocked at how Her Majesty’s Government and the Westminster Parliament have struggled with Brexit, then it’s because the strategy has been all over the place. A strategy, remember, is a combination of ends, ways, and means. The most important of these is the end: the goal or end-state sought. British politics has been so divisive since the June 2016 vote because nobody has succeeded in defining what that goal is. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is about as meaningless as ‘fitness means fitness’.
  2. Your goal should be a lifestyle you are comfortable with rather than something you feel pressured into. Losing weight, running a marathon, toning-up, climbing a mountain and so forth should be steps towards the goal of changing your behaviour and lifestyle. If you can’t see that end goal, then you’ll fail just like British politicians have failed to agree what the Leave vote is to mean in practice. That means seeking harmony and balance. Don’t let your goal be defined by peer pressure to conform to a certain look or agenda. It should be something important to you personally and therefore about what sort of person you want to be. If you can’t define that personal goal then the end result, as you can see every day in the news on Brexit, will be frustration, acrimony, bitterness and a tendency to blame others.
  3. Be in it for the long-run. Britain has tried to withdraw from the EU as if it’s a sprint when it’s actually a marathon. Trying to detach yourself from a forty year relationship or way of life is never easy. It’s all about changing behaviour; whether it’s changing an old habit, losing a bit of weight, or building up endurance, you need to stay motivated, take your time, have patience and maintain the willpower to carry on.

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  4. Don’t obsess about the gym or a specific activity and overlook your life, family, friends and well-being. The negotiations with the EU have consumed British politics, leaving little time and energy for everything else. But this distracts from the fact that the relationship sought with the EU is in itself a means to an end, that end being what sort of country the UK wants to be. That’s what really sits at the heart of Brexit, but has often been overlooked in debates. What sort of person you want to be is also what should sit at the heart of any fitness routine you set out to achieve. Focusing on number of reps, distance run, weight lost, or terms of gym membership won’t get you far if you forget about your happiness, diet, sleeping patterns, work-life balance, relationships, mental health and so forth. A new UK-EU relationship cannot be a shortcut to a super new reinvigorated Britain just like a new gym routine cannot be a shortcut to a new you.
  5. Believe in yourself but don’t be stubborn and believe in unicorns. Theresa May has been applauded for her stoicism in the face of repeated failures and leadership challenges. She’s also been stubborn in the face of a mess that was all too predictable and which she played a leading part in creating, in no small part because she ignored the advice of others in the UK and EU. Consulting, seeking advice and taking note of what others think are important qualities for anybody looking to succeed in life. That means you should also avoid Michael Gove’s belief that people ‘have had enough of experts.’ Your body is infinitely more complex than Brexit. Changing it can be even more complex. Jumping onto a treadmill, doing HIIT or free weights without knowing what you’re doing will end in predictable failure and pain. That’s also likely to happen if you depend on hearsay on social media or someone trying to sell a quick fix in a magazine or newspaper. Whether it’s finding a PT or a physiotherapist, seeking reliable and accredited help and guidance is a routine and sensible thing to do.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE.

Dr Tim Oliver is a Senior Lecturer at Loughbrough University London and author of Understanding Brexit (Policy Press, 2018) and Europe’s Brexit (Agenda, 2018).

Dr Andrew Brinkley is a Research Associate at Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences.

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