Finding new ways to boost fitness levels and wellbeing is essential as you get older
Helen’s upper body is affected by thalidomide but it’s never stopped her exercising. Like all of us, though, she slowed down as she was getting older – and now she’s found new ways to boost her fitness and wellbeing.
“When I was young I did the same as my sisters – cycling, swimming and enjoying the outdoors. When my children were small I had one of the first dogs for the disabled which meant I had to get up and walk every day, whatever the weather. It was a social thing too and I made friends then that I still have now – twenty-five years later.”
“When your kids get older you end up running them around to places. You stop doing things for yourself and exercise tends to drop off. You get older and your joints deteriorate, you eat more and then you start to notice it.
The turning point for me came when I had a hysterectomy. I felt awful, like my legs had been taken away from under me. I got an infection which partly came from the fact that, having short arms, I couldn’t move around too much in hospital. I wasn’t used to feeling so wiped out – it just wasn’t me.”
Getting fitter helps manage pain
“On a visit to an NHS rheumatologist, nothing to do with my hysterectomy, he suggested that I tried hydrotherapy to increase my mobility. It was hard to get myself out of bed to go, get in my swimming gear and go to the pool – and when I got there we did 20 minutes of what felt like basic warm up exercises and then we were done.
I was cross, thinking ‘Did you drag me all the way over here just to do this?’ but when I lifted my arms to reach for the shower button in the changing rooms afterwards – I really, really felt it. I hadn’t realised I was so unfit. I signed up for an eight week programme of two sessions a week, and by the end of it I could really feel the difference. I didn’t hurt anymore.”
Focussing on food and social life can really improve your wellbeing
“Another turning point was three years ago when I embarked on The Daniel Plan with my church group. The plan covers five areas; Faith, Food, Focus, Fitness and Friends.
The food part of the plan concentrates on eating whole foods with no additives and eliminating certain things from your diet for ten days to explore how they make you feel. I discovered that dairy foods (apart from yoghurt and parmesan cheese) are really bad for my digestion.”
“I really loved the Friends part of the plan – it encourages you to exercise with friends and we’ve been meeting up for walks ever since. There are some beautiful walks around Plymouth. We set ourselves a goal of doing the Neon Midnight Walk for the local hospice and met up to train from January until the Summer. The walk is 13.5 miles and we did it!
Now we also walk with our friend who has dementia, at just 52, it gives her husband a break and we get to spend time with her. It’s really good for her too.”
“I went to the Trust’s ‘Fit for the Future’ event two years ago and got a lot out of it."
"I knew a lot of the stuff already but also picked up lots of tips. When I got myself out of bed at 7.30 am to do Sue’s stretch class I thought I was mad, especially as I had a really painful hip – but I came away with my hip totally pain free. That’s why exercise is so important.
I then looked for a yoga teacher and finally found someone who works with ex-service people through Help for Heroes. That’s the best thing ever – now when I ache I can usually find a way to make it go away, rather than popping pills which just mask the symptoms.”
“When I went to the second Fit for the Future event I found Pilates a real help. I’ve just got the number of a lady who does one to one tuition and I’m going to get in touch.
Paying attention to diet and exercise really makes a difference – but it can be hard to make a start.
I’d advise anyone thinking of making some changes to make an appointment, with a trainer, or at a class. You’re less likely to back out if you think you’ll be letting people down.
Once you start and begin to see the benefits you’ll find it easier to do it on your own.
Having to turn up for exercise is a real incentive and the benefits soon become too big to give up.”