Ok, I warned you, it’s a new year and we need to reassess where we’ve got to in this midlife journey of ours. Quite a few of you have sent me emails over Christmas talking about body confidence and weight loss; some have even asked for a kick up the bum. So this is a bossy post. I’m only going to do this once but before we get distracted with new season dressing (and I do have the new colours all ready to discuss) we need to do some groundwork and talk frankly about midlife bodies. I’m trying really hard to write this in a way that doesn’t make you run away with your fingers in your ears…don’t go away.
How the future looks
This is how I see it. If you’re over 40, you have two options. Firstly you can accept that as part of the natural ageing process you will probably put on at least half a stone a year for the rest of your life. Without an active body maintenance plan you will gradually lose muscle tone which means that your body will look saggy and start to struggle with everyday tasks. You will have aches and pains. As far as clothes are concerned you will either dress to disguise what is going on or you will dress purely for comfort. If you are happy to take that route then it is probably the easiest one so I don’t blame you. If not, you need an action plan.
So, the second option is to make a lifelong plan for body management. I’m not talking about new year’s resolutions here or a 6 week diet, I’m talking about the rest of your life. The sooner you start, the more effective and long lasting it will be. I am not a medic so if you are making radical changes you should probably go to the doctor first, I am just speaking from personal experience. (By the way I’m not saying that I have a perfect body, far from it, I have a long way to go. I just know that it’s in much better shape than it was this time last year and that makes me happier).
The general rule is that your body shape results 20% from exercise and 80% from what you eat so it makes sense to devise a plan for eating healthily first. With this it is a case of finding the method that works for you. For me, as you know, it’s Slimming World. I can’t recommend it highly enough: if you follow it, it works. You don’t feel deprived and the whole family can eat it – my boys don’t even notice when they eat Slimming World meals. Find a way of eating that makes sense and that you can stick to for the rest of your life.
Staying strong and flexible
Next, exercise. The first thing that I am going to say is that walking the dog is not enough. It’s good cardio, a great thing to do for your general health, your mental well being and of course for your pooch but it will not prevent muscle loss or stop lumps and bumps appearing. You need to make sure that your body is flexible and strong – groaning when you stand up from a chair is not chic!
The way I think of my body structure is that it is covered in a fine network of tiny, interconnected muscles. When you’re young, they’re springy and elastic, holding everything together. Unfortunately after 40, because of the changing hormones in your body, they start to weaken. Picture a swimsuit where the lycra has failed. This is what happens and is largely where the strange lumps and bumps come in. How can you combat it? Do Pilates. It will not only ensure that your body is toned, it will give you a strong core so that you avoid back pain, you will have a great pelvic floor so no leaky bladder and you will get to roll around on the floor and stretch every week releasing all the tension you store in your body. It doesn’t hurt. If you keep at it you’ll feel great. You’ll move like a teenager. You will be able to wear fitted clothes. Find a class and aim to sign up for the rest of your life.
The icing on the cake
Finally strength training. I’m going to let you mark this one down as optional but it is really good to tone your major muscle groups in addition to the underlying muscles that Pilates strengthens. Not only will it help you to metabolise fat but you will feel comfortable in sleeveless tops and shorts this summer. All you need is a twice weekly 30 minute programme at the gym or, if you prefer to do something in private, get a kettlebell and download a workout or buy a DVD.
That’s it. It’s simple in theory. The only other problem is overcoming your mental resistance to all of this, the voice in your head that tells you to wait till next week or until all the chocolates have been finished or until after your best friend’s birthday because you’ll be going out for cake and wine. There’s never a good time to start so just get on with it. The hardest bit is the first four weeks. After that, when you see results, you’ll become increasingly motivated as long as you haven’t set an end date. The most tragic thing is doing all this work for a holiday or a wedding and then giving up. One of the reasons I like Slimming World is because they tell you to go on the holiday or to the wedding, to eat and drink what you like and then start again with the confidence that you know how to fix the damage. It’s a plan for life remember.
So, don’t sit there thinking you haven’t got time. Think of it in the same way that you do about brushing your teeth or washing your hair – it’s good for you, it makes you healthier, you look better and like those things it soon becomes a habit if you commit to it. If you start on Monday, just think how good you’ll be feeling by Easter and when summer comes and we’re talking about shorts and dresses, you’ll be able to take your pick of any piece of clothing that catches your eye. Let’s make this the year when we reverse any midlife slide that has crept up on us by being wiser, healthier and increasingly chic.