Saturday 24 February 2018

Get fit at any age - it's never too late to overhaul your lifestyle

Prevention is better than cure when it comes to major illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. Kathy Donaghy gets some fitspiration from those in every decade proving it's never too late to overhaul your lifestyle

Joan Fleetwood, now in her 60s, goes to the gym four or five times a week. She first started going to gyms in her 40s. Photo: Mark Condren
Joan Fleetwood, now in her 60s, goes to the gym four or five times a week. She first started going to gyms in her 40s. Photo: Mark Condren
Eamonn Tuffy mixes a gym routine with playing sports to maintain his healthy lifestyle
Vivienne Doyle with her children Stephen, 8, Elizabeth, 10, Daniel, 12, and Harrison, 4. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Nikki Bradley has credited weight lifting in aiding her physical rehabilitation after surgery. Photo: Chris Bacon
Professor Donal O'Shea Photo: Doug O'Connor
Joan Fleetwood, now in her 60s, goes to the gym four or five times a week. She first started going to gyms in her 40s. Photo: Mark Condren
Paul Byrne of BodyByrne.

It's the start of a brand new year, which means the start of a brand new lifestyle mantra which usually involves getting fitter and healthier. But if the last time you pulled on a pair of leggings was to take part in a jazzercise class down in your local town hall, you may be struggling to get to grips with the latest trends - does anyone actually know what piloxing is?

But fitness expert Damien Maher says in many cases, age is just a number, and he knows 78-year-olds who are in better shape than many 25-year-olds.

Damien, who runs Be Fit for Life gym in Dublin's Sandyford, says society often dictates what a person in their 60s should be doing. But he says you must look beyond age to see what a person's body composition is, and see what their strength and their mobility are like.

"There's no one size fits all approach. Some people can get stuck in their belief system. I try to find what a person's purpose is, find out why they want to train. I try to link it to what they care most about and I'm trying to communicate that. People are looking to be motivated," he says.

His gym caters for people in their 40s-plus, and Damien says often it's a case of physiological age versus biological age. "It would be easier for me to have a template to say this is the work out of the day, but everyone is different," he says.

Physical therapist Ciaran Ahern, who runs Injury Solutions in Rathfarnham in Dublin, says typically people in different age categories approach exercise differently.

"Typically in your 20s and 30s you want to feel good and look good. People have a bit more free time in their 20s and 30s. They're not really doing it for the health benefits," he says.

"Focusing on technique and making sure you are doing things right when you are younger is really important. If people do that, they will have the benefits as they get older," adds Ciaran.

He says that coming into their 40s, people's family commitments tend to be a big factor in how they prioritise fitness and exercise. "At this age, you're starting to feel the knocks you've taken in your 20s and 30s. People start listening to their body more.

"It's really important in your 40s to strike a balance between strength and flexibility. You have to build up the strength, but flexibility is something people will very often leave out of their exercise programme".

As well as doing things like running or swimming, he says one day a week people should do things like lunges and squats or kettlebells for strength. He says yoga and Pilates are excellent for flexibility.

According to Ciaran, the 50s is the decade people lose bone density and women in particular need to keep moving, as they pass through the menopause.

"Walking, dancing, jogging should be part of your routine as well, as swimming and cycling alone won't work on the bone strength," he says.

In the 60s-plus, Ciaran says maintaining the balance between muscle strength, flexibility and balance itself is important.

"Walking is a great exercise - most people are comfortable to get out for a walk. Swimming is great and doing things like aqua-aerobics that has a social element is great too. Tai chi, yoga and Pilates are good for balance and flexibility and finding a class with a good instructor is really important," says Ciaran.

According to Irish Heart Foundation dietitian Janis Morrissey, a healthy diet and lifestyle are crucial in the prevention of major illnesses like diabetes and cancer.

"Prevention is better than cure and if your lifestyle isn't healthy now, that doesn't mean it always has to be that way. Getting good habits laid down in your 20s is the time to do it so that in your 30s and 40s when you're caring for others, you don't get left behind," says Janis.

"As you get older, your body tends to lose muscle and your body's ability to burn calories slows down.

"Coming towards the late 40s, women need to think about menopause. It's a time for women to be thinking about their heart health. Before menopause, women's hormones tend to protect them from heart attacks. Women going through menopause should go to their GP to have their heart health checked as women are seven times more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than from breast cancer," she says.

Coming into the 50s, bone health becomes really important, according to Janis. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D to support bones becomes a priority. As well as daily exercise to support bone health, she recommends three portions of dairy a day, choosing yoghurt and milk over cheese.

Because our ability to burn calories slows further into our 60s, Janis recommends that people look at their portion sizes.

"People need to keep moving whatever age they are. It's never too late to start exercising. It's all about keeping your circulation going. Exercise will help you feel better and keep your energy up. Exercise needn't be all about classes - people can walk to the shops instead of getting in the car," she says.


Nikki Bradley has credited weight lifting in aiding her physical rehabilitation after surgery. Photo: Chris Bacon

Nikki Bradley (30) ended 2016 with a climb up the Sturrall Headland, a sea cliff standing at 180m tall off the coast of Donegal. The climb was the latest in a long line of physical challenges for Nikki who undertakes the physical feats to raise awareness of the rare bone cancer she was diagnosed with at the age of 16.

Nikki, from Letterkenny in Co Donegal, turned to exercise to relieve pain in her body after she was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, which saw part of her hip bone having to be removed.

"I had chemotherapy and radiotherapy and invasive surgery. The radiotherapy caused a lot of damage. In 2003 I was told I'd need crutches forever. Since then it's gotten worse and the options available to me now are very limited - I may be facing amputation of my leg.

"It's on borrowed time and I'm fairly confident that will be a horrific time, but the rest of my body is strong and I'm happy enough to get by for now," says Nikki.

"Even though I'd no choice about how my life went, I'm happier now than I have been in years. I'm doing great things because of my experience. Sharing my experience and giving talks and advice is helping others and I find that very fulfilling.

"I love doing challenges and I wanted my campaign to raise awareness about Ewing's to be fun. The challenges started off as a one-off. I climbed Muckish Mountain in Donegal in 2013 and I learned so much about myself. I could do so much more than I gave myself credit for. Since then I've been rally driving, diving, climbed glaciers in Iceland, and abseiled into a 45ft cave," says Nikki.

Preparation for these events sees Nikki put in a lot of work in the gym to be as physically strong as she can be. "Weight lifting is a big part of the work but I do a little bit of everything. In recent times I've upped the ante a bit," she says.

"I started the challenges to raise awareness of Ewing's but also to highlight the importance of exercise in physical rehabilitation. My plan for next year is to go bigger and better. I want to increase my fitness and push myself a bit more," says Nikki.


Vivienne Doyle with her children Stephen, 8, Elizabeth, 10, Daniel, 12, and Harrison, 4. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Vivienne Doyle with her children Stephen, 8, Elizabeth, 10, Daniel, 12, and Harrison, 4

Vivienne Doyle crossed the finishing line of the 2016 Dublin Marathon a few weeks after she turned 40. It was her first ever marathon but the former Miss Ireland says it won't be her last as the running bug has truly bitten.

Vivienne, a mum of four who lives in Hollystown in north Dublin, grew up in Galway City where sport was big in her family. She ran in primary and secondary school but by the time she went to college her running shoes were not coming out too often. A move to start working with Aer Lingus as part of the cabin crew inspired her to get fit again but she says her running was a big hit and miss even though she enjoyed it.

After she got married in 2003 and her first child Daniel, now 12, arrived in 2004, Vivienne says she had to make more of a conscious effort to be fit. Her routine mainly consisted of getting out with the buggy every day for a walk. Two years later her daughter Elizabeth, 10, arrived, followed by her sons Stephen, 8, and Harrison, 4, and family life dictated that exercise took more of a back seat.

Two years ago Vivienne began to go for short runs with her friend Claire, who lives nearby. "When the children were all in bed and my husband Kevin was in, Claire and I would head out and have a run and a chat. It took us a while but then we built ourselves up to 10k," she says.

"I suppose I got back into it in a big way after that. In the last year Harrison is out at playschool and the others are at school and I found myself looking forward to the next run. I'd come back in after a run and I'd feel amazing," says Vivienne.

"I could never say running is easy. But when I made it to the distance of 10k I started timing myself and I pushed myself a bit more. I knew I was turning 40 on October 4 and I had it in the back of my mind that I might do a marathon," she says.

In October Vivienne ran the half marathon in Galway. Her eldest son Daniel has autism and Vivienne chose to raise money on behalf of the Galway Autism Partnership. "I ran for the partnership and for Daniel and for myself. I found that really powerful. It was a brilliant feeling to go back to Galway where I grew up and run that day. I was turning 40 the next day so it was all quite emotional," she says.

Vivienne got a late entry to the Dublin marathon and while she was nervous, she never really doubted that she would go the distance. "I knew I was strong. I went really slowly and came in at 4 hours 46 minutes. For me it wasn't about the time, it was about finishing. The atmosphere and the people on the run were amazing. I still have my medal hanging up - I'm so proud of it," she says.

Vivienne says she isn't running for weight loss. "When I was modelling I did go through fad diets, but at 40 I know I need to treat my body right and fuel it right. For me running is about being fit and strong - strong body, strong mind. It comes at a time when I need something for myself. Running makes me feel like I'm being good to myself," she says.

"Running is escapism too - I don't mean from a terrible life - but sometimes things can be hard. Running is my time and my space. It gives me energy to go back to my number one job which is being there for my children," she says.

Now Vivienne plans to start training early for the 2017 Dublin marathon. "Beyond that it would be amazing to run the New York City marathon. I'm not ruling it out. It's one of my favourite cities in the whole world and to run it and finish the race would be amazing."


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Eamonn Tuffy mixes a gym routine with playing sports to maintain his healthy lifestyle

Eamonn Tuffy mixes a gym routine with playing sports to maintain his healthy lifestyle

With a hectic job as director of operations for KBC Bank, Eamonn Tuffy diligently makes time in his week to work out and finds he's fitter now in his 50s than ever before.

As a youngster and teenager at home in Ballina, Co Mayo, Eamonn played Gaelic football and did some running, but found that he went backwards when he moved to Dublin as a young man.

"The weight was creeping up. I wasn't fat, but I wasn't slim," Eamonn says of his early 20-something self.

An invitation to play rugby with a few friends changed his fitness journey and soon he was training first for the Garda Rugby Club and then for Monkstown Rugby Club twice a week, with a match on the weekends.

"I played until I was into my 30s and then I started playing tag rugby and I started doing a bit of gym work. I was always messing with the gym but I was making limited progress. At that time I wouldn't say I was ever really fit - it was as much about a social life as anything else," says Eamonn.

Nowadays Eamonn, who is married to Aine and has three children, plays tag rugby a couple of times a week. The "veterans" over 33s team he plays with are currently Leinster champions. In work, he and his colleagues play once a week from April to September.

Three mornings a week Eamonn can be found at the gym. He gets there at 6am and leaves at 6.45am, and it's become a habit. "It's like you work on automatic and you just get into the rhythm of it. I'm fitter now than years ago. I'm not massively disciplined nor am I obsessed about losing weight. I just want to keep trim," he says.

When it comes to food, Eamonn says he pretty much eats as he pleases. "I wouldn't be overdoing it with desserts and I would have a drink within reason, perhaps once a week," he says.

Last year Eamonn had the honour of being selected to play for Ireland over 50s in the Touch Rugby World Cup in Australia, an experience he describes as "fantastic".

"I've probably learned over the years that one of the most important things to do is be physically fit. It will counteract any normal stresses. I forget about everything else when I'm training - it really is so important. I think I have got a bit more obsessive about it as I've got older. I particularly see the benefits now.

"My resting heart rate is 50 beats per minute. The last time I visited my doctor, he said 'whatever you're doing, keep doing it'. It's a great endorsement. It is hard work but it's hugely enjoyable," says Eamonn.

The 60 something

Joan Fleetwood, now in her 60s, goes to the gym four or five times a week. She first started going to gyms in her 40s. Photo: Mark Condren

Fitness has been a constant throughout Joan Fleetwood’s life. Now in her 60s, she trains at the gym four days a week and sees it as part of her daily life.

The mum of four grown-up children from Blackrock in Dublin, used to swim during her lunch hour when she worked for Guinness. That was a habit she continued after she got married and she was swimming up to the day before each of her children was born.

However, when she got to the age of 40, she was finding it a bit more difficult to keep the weight off and began to look at different ways of keeping fit. Around that time she found step aerobics and made her first visit to a gym.

“It was very daunting for someone who’d never been to a gym before. I remember one of the girls did a fitness instructor’s course and I thought I’d try it too,” she says.

Joan worked for a while teaching step aerobics, body toning and some personal training, but with four teenagers she found she didn’t have the time to keep up the constant studying it takes to stay abreast of the industry.

In 2001 Joan had surgery in her back to relieve a spinal disc problem. In 2008 she had further surgery on her lower back, and was told she could never do any impact exercise again. It was a blow, but Joan turned to the gym to see if it could help relieve the pain she was feeling.

Since then Joan has been a regular at Be Fit For Life gym in Dublin’s Sandyford where she works out at least four days a week.

“It’s part of my daily life. It’s like having a meal. I get up, have breakfast, put on my gear and go to the gym. If I can’t go I don’t beat myself up about it. If I go four days a week, I’m very happy; if I go five, I’m ecstatic,” she says.

“I follow a programme and it changes every month. I do a bit of stretching and a mixture of machines and free weights. If your technique isn’t right you could do yourself damage. My thing is to keep my body fat down,” says Joan.

“There’s a social element to it too. My best friend would go to the gym too. It’s a great feeling - I know I never regret going, but I might regret not going,” she says.

Six years ago Joan started acting — in the run up to Christmas she had two auditions. She says when she was younger she wouldn’t have had the confidence to do this and being fit and feeling good definitely feeds into this confidence.

Medic's view: Professor Donal O'Shea

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Professor Donal O'Shea Photo: Doug O'Connor

The ill effects of being unfit are now well documented but despite the message of lifestyle and exercise for health, not everyone is listening.

Being physically unfit has a profound impact on our health, according to Professor Donal O'Shea, consultant endocrinologist and physician based in St Vincent's University Hospital and St Columcille's Hospital. He says we must lay down good foundations in terms of being active when we are young to reap the benefits into our old age.

"We now know that physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death. It's linked to cancer, heart disease and dementia and low self-esteem. But it's never too late to start getting active," says Professor O'Shea.

In our 30s and 40s at a time when people are busy with career and family, Professor O'Shea says this is a time when fit people start to become more unfit and weight can start to go on at a rate of up to two pounds a year.

"If the foundations of exercise are not laid down in the formative years and continued through your 20s, it's not going to happen.

"We have to get people energised and physically active. It has to be structured and built into the day but that can be difficult because of the way society is set up.

"That mindset has to happen in the school years," he says.

"What you want is to get people to the age of 18 physically active and at a healthy weight. These are the critical things."

The 20s and 30s are the time, says Professor O'Shea, to keep the basics of healthy diet and exercise going because by the time we get to our 40s, weight gain tends to be around two pounds a year.

While it may be a gradual thing, this amounts to half a stone by the time a person has reached their 50th birthday.

Professor O'Shea says the 50s are typically the time people have their first encounter with illness, like type 2 diabetes, low back pain, or high blood pressure. And he says the 60s is the decade most chronic conditions begin to appear for the first time.

"If you can get physically active in your 60s, you would maintain your heart health, reduce your risk of cancer and diabetes.

The benefits of becoming physically active are there at any age," he says.

Personal trainer's view: Paul Byrne of Bodybyrne Fitness

Paul Byrne of BodyByrne.

Paul Byrne of Bodybyrne Fitness says people of all ages should make this the year to embrace the gym as the benefits of weight training are evident across all the decades of our adult lives.

In our 30s, Paul says we should aim for some weight training to keep muscle built up. He says exercise and working out slows down the ageing process so as well as the health benefits, people will look and feel better if they are fit.

The knock-on effect of being fit in our 30s means we can go into our 40s - a time when metabolism starts to slow - with a pep in our step, according to Paul. He says cardio is very important in the 40s to burn calories because it's typically a time people put on weight. However he says it's also important to work the joints, as this may be the first time stiffness starts to creep in for people.

"This is the decade when the body will start eating muscle and storing fat so exercise is crucial in the 40s because everything is also starting to slow down," he says.

Paul explains that if muscles are weak it puts more pressure on the joints and this can lead to injury, so keeping muscle definition is crucial as we get older. More muscle on the body also helps burn more calories.

In your 50s Paul says exercise is important particularly in bone health and in keeping body fat down so there's less stress on the body. And into your 60s he says exercise is the key to health and longevity. While exercise may be more about vanity in the 30s, he says by the time people get to their 60s they are looking out for themselves into the future.

In terms of exercises for beginners of all ages, Paul says the gym is not a place to be afraid of and he encourages people to do some weight training.

"That's the common denominator all through the decades. Working out in a gym with machines and free weights will speed up your metabolism and build strong, dense muscles," he says.

However he says with so much choice of exercises that are excellent all through your life, he says the main thing is for people to find something they like. "Hill walking, cycling, swimming are all excellent. Find something you enjoy and set yourself a challenge. There's something for everyone. Once you're working out, you're investing in yourself for the next 10 years," he says.

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