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Joe Wicks to visit Cambridge: ‘Exercise saved me from a chaotic childhood’ he says

Known to millions of fans as ‘The Body Coach’, Joe Wicks has added children’s author to his many talents.

The nation’s favourite personal trainer, who launched the PE With Joe daily exercise sessions on YouTube during lockdown, has now put his name to a picture book encouraging youngsters to get active.

Body Coach Joe Wicks. Pic by Hamish Brown. (51796991)
Body Coach Joe Wicks. Pic by Hamish Brown. (51796991)

The Burpee Bears follows the day in the life of a bear family whose young cubs would rather laze around at home than go out. But the dad persuades them all to go on an adventure and get active.

Now Joe is starting a whistlestop tour of the UK to launch the book and will be signing copies at Heffers Bookshop on Tuesday, October 5.

He says: “I'm really excited about the book because it's my way of continuing to try to engage young people in exercise, movement and fitness. It's just a really lovely story and in the back of the book, there's some litte exercise routines and a couple of recipes to make with the children.”

The Burpee Bears, a new book for children from Joe Wicks. (51796993)
The Burpee Bears, a new book for children from Joe Wicks. (51796993)

Every weekday during lockdown, Joe delivered remote ‘PE’ sessions to children and adults alike – cementing his position as a national treasure. Through his daily live workouts, Joe raised more than £550,000 for the NHS as well as breaking a Guinness World Record after one of his ‘PE’ classes was watched live by 955,000 people on YouTube. Joe was awarded an MBE in October 2020 for his work during the pandemic.

However, it’s not just the nation’s fitness he is aiming to improve. He explains: “I'm worried that children's mental health is suffering. Since the pandemic and just because of social media and technology I think it has been really tough for them. My purpose and drive is always about children's mental health first. I think improving that is about movement. It's about getting them feeling positive and energized and as a secondary thing they will obviously get healthier and hopefully fitter and stronger. But truly it's about making children feel excited to get into fitness, to enjoy it and to feel the benefits and actually connect with how movement and exercise changes the way they feel.”

I had so much going on at home that was really quite difficult and traumatic

Joe’s own childhood was, he had admitted in the past, very difficult. His dad was an alcoholic and his mum suffered with OCD which meant she spent many long hours cleaning the house. The one escape for him was exercise.

He says: “The reason I continually do exercise is because I'm a better human being on exercise. I just feel much happier and less stressed. It really changes the way I feel especially around my kids. I just have so much more patience. I'm way calmer on exercise days.

“I think from the age of about seven or eight I realized that when I had so much going on at home that was really quite difficult and traumatic I would come to school and I'd be able to do PE and I would forget about what was going on. I’d forget about what was happening at home and so I think that really was a connection for me with PE, then going on to sport and paying for teams. I've always used it as a coping mechanism. I've always used it to forget about stressful things and to feel good and feel happy and I still believe that's what motivates me today to exercise.

“I had really bad attention issues when I was a kid and I was super hyperactive. Looking back at my diet I was pretty much 90 per cent sugar 100 per cent carbohydrate. I drank lots of Sunny Delight orange juice and ate loads of chocolate and crisps. It definitely affected my mood and my behavior. I'd be climbing the walls at 10 o'clock at night and I couldn't sleep well. All these things affected me but I think because I exercised that probably burnt it all off. I definitely didn't have a great start but now I'm really aware of the food I put in my body and how that affects me so I'm much more conscious now, of what's good for me and what isn't.”

He explains that not all exercise with children has to be a formal fitness session to be useful. “You don't want your child to be unhealthy and overweight and feeling depressed and maybe get bullied, but it's really hard to criticize a child about how to eat and exercise. So, if you can actually do things together and have fun and encourage them to play outside it will burn energy You could just play hide and seek. When a child realizes that they do feel better off the next day, they do have more energy, it does make them feel happy, then that's an amazing moment. It's a lightbulb moment for kids and I think you're setting them up for an adulthood of exercise and health and fitness.”

Created by Joe and written in partnership with author Vivian French, The Burpee Bears is illustrated by artist Paul Howard. True to Joe’s ethos, each book in the planned series will begin and end with an illustrated warm-up and wind-down exercise routine.

Joe says: “Daddy bear, who's obviously me, goes ‘Come on let's have a let's go on a big family adventure’,

“And once they step away from their screens in their bedrooms and they go outside as a family, they really have a wonderful day and they feel happy together and really grateful for that day. It’s a positive message that parents can hear and also children.”

I get in bed at half eight or nine and then I've got a head start. I need at least eight hours

In spite of his interest in exercise and nutrition, they are not the most important thing for his mental health, says Joe.

“It's the sleep,” he reveals.

“The fundamental cornerstone of my life and of my happiness and my ability to exercise and cook is sleep. I'm a zombie if I don't sleep. If the kids have been up all night or if I've been out and had a few drinks and I get like five, six hours I end up a shadow of myself. So I think the number one priority in everyone's life should be good quality sleep. Because then you wake up and go, right I'm going to smash a workout now or I'm going to cook two healthy meals and prep my lunch or dinner for the evening. These things like all linked to our energy and it really comes from the sleep, I think.”

As a parent of two preschoolers, sleep is not always easy so Joe has one tactic to ensure he still gets enough shut eye. “The key is to go bed pretty much when they do. We eat together then give them a bath and at half seven or eight they go to bed and I get in bed at half eight or nine and then I've got a head start. I need at least eight hours - anything less now and I’m a bit grumpy.”

Joe Wicks will be at Heffers bookshop children’s department at 4.30pm on Tuesday, October 5, to sign copies of The Burpee Bears.

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