What is your fitness routine like? How has it changed over the years - do you find yourself looking back and thinking how much fitter you were when you were younger? Or do you know that you're stronger and healthier now? As someone in her 40s whose fitness routines have varied quite a bit over the years, healthcare service Benenden UK challenged me to write about my own fitness timeline. I've started with what I did as a kid, worked right through up until my 40s, and have pondered what I hope to achieve into my 50s, 60s and beyond.
Putting it into writing makes you stop and think about what you're doing right - and what you're doing wrong. It's never too late to start healthy habits, so maybe my fitness timeline could be of some inspiration to you (of what to do and also what not to do)...? Here goes.
MY FITNESS ROUTINE IN...
My pre-teen years
As a very small kid (pre-school) I played outside all year round with our next door neighbours' children. I used to ride my bike around all day, every day. I also learnt to swim at a young age and my mum used to drop me off for swimming lessons once a week (it turned out to be my best sport at school). My dad and I would also go swimming together regularly. Basically it's easy as a kid - you just run around a lot; exercise just comes naturally.
I was lucky that my school made us do one lesson of sports a day, throughout the whole year (not sure this happens in schools today). In the summer it was athletics, tennis, rounders and swimming. In the winter it was hockey, netball, aerobics and swimming. I loved rounders and I loved swimming. I think I managed to scrape onto the school swimming team just the once - I was never over-serious about it but I had a mean backstroke and could do one whole length of butterfly (probably the hardest type of exercise I've ever had to do). I was naturally slim, but also healthy and thought nothing of doing so much exercise.
This is where my fitness routine, as I think it does for so many people, dropped off. It's very typical that once you leave school you either carry on with a sport that you already love, or you just stop. And I just stopped. The only exercise that I ever did was walking to and from work - about half an hour each way - for about 5 or 6 years whilst I lived in London. Luckily the walking and my naturally high metabolism saved me from putting on excess amounts of weight. It wasn't till I was 27 (and about to get married) that I thought I should do something to get myself fit.
So I started running. At first all I could manage was about 3 minutes of running, then 3 minutes of walking. This is what happens when you stop exercising for a decade: Your body has totally forgotten what to do. Your lungs can't cope. It was scary, and it was also the first time in my life I'd been made aware that I wasn't fit by default any more.
Within a year, however, and together with the walking, I could manage a 20-30 minute run without stopping: A massive achievement.
My fitness routine in my 30s was a bit hit and miss. I moved to the West Country and got myself a sedentary office job which I drove to and from, door to door, every day. With that and my metabolism coming to a grinding halt (a common occurrence in your 30s), the weight simply piled on. I'd forgotten to keep up the running until I'd piled on an extra two stone. I'm naturally slim and small-boned and this made a massive difference to my frame.
After a few years I got back into the running, albeit sporadically, until I had an epiphany aged 35. I realised that my health was the most important reason for staying fit, so I got back into it. I walked regularly, ran regularly, started yoga and bought a lot of exercise videos (and eventually could do them with my eyes closed). By my late 30s I was fitter than I had been in my 20s.
My 40s (now)
My 40s started well as I was continuing the regular fitness routines I'd started in my mid-late 30s. I became probably the fittest I'd ever been. I cleaned up my eating habits (despite the ever-present need for cakes and chocolate) and now know that being fit, strong and most of all healthy is my number one priority. This is the age that you start to notice aches and pains, but your body is still young enough to be retrained fairly easily.
For the last few years I've made sure I've gone for a brisk 20 minute walk, once or twice a day. When I had my office job I used to do it at lunchtime; now I work from home I walk first thing in the morning. It clears your head and gives you time to breathe, think and de-stress. It shouldn't really be the only thing you do, but it's the best way to keep up your basic levels of fitness.
What's just as important, however, is training your brain. Unless your head's in the right place and you know the reasons why you're getting yourself fit, a strong, healthy body will never follow. Although my 40s started well, I've let my brain training slip in the last 6-12 months. I've got to find that mojo again, and hurry up about it. Sleep, exercise and clean eating are what we all need and currently I'm only completely succeeding with the last one.
WHAT I HOPE FOR IN...
So what am I hoping for in the future? I'm only seven years away from my 50s, and looking at the rest of my family I'm pretty hopeful for a fit future. My dad used to run half marathons in his 50s; my 52-year-old sister beat me (by a long way) in the 10k we ran together earlier this year, and my 55-year-old brother still cycles competitively and takes part in the Three Peaks Challenge. I have a lot to live up to, but I see that as a good thing. They are the inspiration for my future fitness.
I know that I'll need to keep up my basic levels of fitness in my 60s and beyond. I like the idea of still running at this age - and plenty of people do - but the two things I know I want to keep up are the regular walking and yoga. My auntie did yoga right up till her 70s and was incredibly supple. My dad still does the gardening aged 86 and, despite two knee replacements, is pretty fit and mobile for someone of his age. If I can achieve either of these things at the same age I'll be happy.
I'm so glad I've realised early enough that keeping my body strong and healthy is important for a happy life - the last thing I want to be doing into old age is battling with my general health because I've let my fitness slide. I'd have no one to blame but myself for that. Sure, you can never prepare for what you have no control over, but I certainly want to be as healthy as I can be.
Benenden have made a video "100 Years of Fitness in 100 Seconds" - depending on your age, how many of these do you remember doing? Aerobics in the 80s is my favourite - brings back happy memories of doing it at school and giggling at the back of the class whilst trying to keep up with the teacher:
What were your fitness routines throughout the years - and are you fitter now that when you were younger? What are your hopes for your health and fitness as you grow older? Do share in the comments below!
P.S. Like this post? You might also enjoy 10 Ways To Keep Fit in Your 40s (Or at Any Age)!
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Disclosure: I have written this post in collaboration with Benenden (click here for my full disclosure). All content is original, however, and opinions are my own and 100% honest.