Graham Bell: I’m really upset to leave Dancing On Ice – but I’m fitter than ever

Former Olympic skier Graham Bell talks to Lisa Salmon about making fitness a habit and how a new hobby – kayaking – has helped him through lockdown.

Graham Bell in Dancing on Ice.

Graham Bell may already have been eliminated from Dancing On Ice, but the former Olympic skier says he’s reaped great health benefits from his short time on the show.

Since training started back in September, Bell – the second skater voted off the popular ITV series this year – has lost weight, massively cut back on alcohol, and says he’s as fit now as he was when he stopped ski racing 20 years ago.

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“Health-wise, I feel really good,” says Bell, who lived in Harrogate when he was growing up.

“Everyone else [on Dancing On Ice] has been complaining about their joints and other stuff and I’m like, ‘You know what, I’m feeling really good’. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as fit.”

The BBC’s Ski Sunday presenter says he was sad to have left the show so early. “I felt I had a lot more skating in the locker to bring out as the show progressed. I’m not sure how I’m going to fill my time now, in lockdown. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to go skiing, so my usual work of ski instructing and hosting trips is off. I’m planning on keeping the skating up, and will start visiting ice rinks again once they open up.”

As with many people, lockdown has hit him quite hard. “I was right in the middle of a ski season and I felt like my livelihood and passion was being taken away. I struggled with that. I started doing the training I’d normally do, which is triathlon-based, so swimming, biking, running.”

He lives next to the River Thames and started kayaking, which has been a boost.

“The faster the boat, the more unstable it is, and I ended up falling in a lot. But I found my general outlook and mental health really improved through learning a new sport. I wasn’t just challenging myself physically, I was also learning something new – that was the key for me.”

Bell also hosts Decathlon UK’s The Power Of Ten podcast and health and wellbeing has been a central theme. “There’s a massive key – between your mental wellbeing and your physical health, and exercise really does make a massive difference for your mental health – everyone agreed with that.

“Everyone finds different ways of getting that to happen. Kirsty Gallacher’s got a guy she trains with, and she sees that as her time to zone out from everything,” says Bell.

“Another thing that came across was to make a habit of exercising, make it part of your daily routine. It becomes what you do, and as soon as you can get that – and I don’t know how many weeks it takes for something to become routine – that’s when you start to notice the big difference.

“You don’t have to be a monk, you don’t have to be completely good all the time – what you’ve got to do is start to sway the balance in the right direction, focusing on your fitness and exercise, your mental wellbeing and what you eat. But you don’t have to do it all at once. That’s the key.

“Aljaz [Škorjanec] said he spent lockdown sitting on the sofa – that’s what his body needed because he’d not stopped and was at a level where he needed the break. His body was telling him he didn’t need to go out and go crazy and run and stuff, what he needed was a break.

“It’s different for everybody, and finding what you need is the key, and finding a way of making something work for you.”

Graham competed in skiing for Great Britain in the 1980s and 90s, along with his brother, Martin, and admits he longs to be back on the slopes.

“I am missing skiing, but I’ve been so engrossed in skating, it’s the one thing that’s been keeping me going. I’m very glad I’ve had some kind of distraction.”

Graham Bell hosts Decathlon UK’s podcast The Power Of Ten (decathlon.co.uk/landing/podcast-series/_/R-a-podcast).

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