It might appear, if you follow me on Instagram, that I do quite a bit of exercise, I’ve even been referred to as ‘sporty’ which honestly could not be further from the truth! I have never loved exercise, I did very little at school, virtually none at university and the odd reluctant step class in my twenties. As I got older it became ever more apparent that I had to make exercise a part of my life and now I do exercise on a regular basis. I still don’t love exercise but I have learned to love how it makes me feel.
Recently, I wrote a piece for Top Santé Magazine looking at what types and how much exercise is optimum in midlife. There's a sense, and I am sure you will have seen this among your social circle or perhaps even experienced it yourself, that ‘hitting the middle’ can elicit an extreme reaction – running a marathon, swimming an ocean or climbing a mountain. But before you sign up for that triathlon there’s increasing evidence that a more varied, moderate approach to exercise is better as we get older.
A study conducted by the journal Circulation, looked at the role of exercise in improving heart health in midlife, and found the optimal amount of exercise to be four to five 30 minute sessions a week, including a mix of high and low intensity activity, strength training and at least one longer session of aerobic exercise, such as an hour of tennis, cycling, or running. This might seem like a lot but the aim is simply to be active most days. So if you don’t have time for a class a quick walk after dinner or some yoga stretches before breakfast all add up and you will feel the benefits immediately.
One form of exercise I am particularly fond of is pilates and when I did a survey on Instagram recently it appears that more than half of you are big fans too. I've had back problems since my late teens and after having kids I decided it was time to act – prevention is better than cure – so I started doing pilates. I found that the benefits extended way beyond core improvement, I felt stronger, leaner and more flexible. One of my good friends Roz is a top notch pilates teacher and is also owner of Pilates & Co., a fantastic studio on the Gold Coast in Australia (if you are local I'm sure you'll know it!). Here Roz explains why pilates is so great for us midlife folk:
ʺPilates is a great thing to include in your exercise programme as you get older because it is focused on strength, agility and flexibility – all of which can decrease as we age. Reformer pilates is particularly beneficial because it incorporates resistance which improves spine mobility, muscle mass and bone density. The other aspect of pilates that is great for us midlife women is that it works the pelvic floor area, this is important to prevent leakage (yes we do have to think about these things!) and it can also improve your sex life.ʺ
Well there you go – who needs any further incentive?! Roz also recommends mixing up pilates with weight training and cardio and to make sure you have a rest day in between sessions to ensure your body has time to recover. On your down days maybe go for a long walk or do some stretching or a light yoga session.
Another tip to stay on track with your exercise is to have fun. There’s little point forcing yourself to do things you don’t enjoy and it can be a great way to socialise, so find a tennis partner, go for a walk with a friend, meet someone for yoga and a coffee or find a dog-walking pal – you’ll not only be getting fitter but regular social contact is also great for mental well-being.
And finally, a word on weight loss; exercise will, of course, burn some calories and as weight loss is largely down to creating a calorie deficit (a fancy way of saying less calories in than out) then exercise is part of the equation. However, as the saying goes, you can’t exercise your way out of a poor diet, what you eat has to be the main area of focus for weight loss but getting in to the right headspace is essential and exercise can really help with that. If you are eating well and exercising too you will feel more positive and you will see results more quickly. I like to think of your diet being the main tool for weight loss and exercise toning what’s left once the excess weight has melted away!
Well there’s a lovely image to leave you with but the takeaway message is, even if you don’t love exercise just try and be active every day, mix it up and have fun!
Hope you are enjoying the blog so far, please feel free to leave a comment if you have anything you’d like to add, I’m sure other readers will be interested to hear your personal stories or exercise tips!