Earlier this year, on my first ever trip to the US, I went to see Cher in Las Vegas. I’ve been a huge fan since I was a kid, so to see her live was a dream come true. Even more amazing, she has just turned 71. She was fantastic, and I don’t know any other 70-year-olds who look this incredible tripping around on a stage in sequins and thigh high boots.
Of course, there is plenty you do can make yourself look younger externally (well sort of) but internally, muscles and bones are a different story.
I turn 54 this year and the fifties are a strange decade. Your twenties and are all fun and high hopes, everything lies ahead. Turning thirty tends to be mild shock – but hey, you think, I’ve still got plenty of time. Then forty rolls around, and it’s all “how the hell did that happen and why does everyone look so young?”
Then fifty arrives way faster than you expect. You’ve just started to figure out life when the transgressions of your youth catch up with you. Not only do people look younger, but you often find yourself having adult conversations with people the same age as your t-shirts.
My youth caught up to me soon after turning 49, when I suffered a prolapsed disc in my lower back which trapped my sciatic nerve. That was fun. Eventually I had surgery but after two years of chronic pain and being unable to walk properly my weight ballooned and I lost all my fitness.
Slowly, as my back healed, my weight dropped and I started walking and exercising again, but nowhere near the level I was. When I was in my twenties, I had been a competitive rower, and in my forties, I started karate, gaining my black belt when I was 46.
I struggled to climb a flight of stairs and could barely crouch on the floor without pain. I had more or less accepted this was how it was going to be. Then one day, I saw a video about this wonderful woman who is now my hero – Ernestine Shepherd.
Ernestine is 80 and, in brief, when she was 56 she started bodybuilding with her sister. After her sister died, she continued training to help deal with her grief. She looks amazing. She is strong, healthy and extremely fit.
She has inspired me to regain my health and fitness, especially as I come from a line of long-lived women. It is feasible that I could live into my hundreds. That is another 46 years – more than adult life to date. It is up to me as to what state I live those years. I have decided to focus on my physical health so that I live those years in the best condition I can. Our society is obsessed with external aging and but it’s our health and bodies that will determine how well we live in our older years. Wrinkles won’t kill you, but falling and breaking a hip because you have no muscle strength will.
Preserving and improving muscle mass as you get older is vital to stay healthy, and you can keep building muscle throughout your life. Even more interesting is that, according to this recent study, although strength training builds muscle mass, High Intensity Interval Training can arrest or slow the aging of muscles at a cellular level. The study authors recommended combining 3-4 days of HIIT with strength training.
Inspired by Cher and Ernestine, I have embarked on a mission to rebuild my fitness – but it’s not easy! The key to getting fit is working in with your lifestyle and figuring out what support and resources you need to make it easy and workable.
I’m hopeless on my own and need to be part of a group to push me to keep training, so I’ve started taking regular lunchtime classes with others in the shared space I work out of. I’ve also signed up to an eight-week program with personal trainer Ben Cole from Nourished As using an app called Nudge which tracks diet and exercise. The beauty of Nudge is that Ben monitors how you are progressing and gives hints and advice via the app to help me stay on track. It’s amazing what a difference it makes when you know a real human is following your progress.
Right now, I’m at baseline – as in I’m so unfit I had to start with 3kg weights in my first class. I can barely do a push up from my knees or touch my toes, so there’s plenty to improve! The incentive is if I can’t do that when I’m 54, what will happen to me when I’m 74?!
I’m keen to see how I progress by my birthday in December as a target date to take a few shots to compare with now. I won’t be performing on a stage in Las Vegas, but hopefully, I’ll be brave enough for a swimsuit shot!
And if I can do it, so can you. Be like Cher and Ernestine.