The article glared at me from England’s Daily Mail. Stopping over in Dubai on the long-haul from NZ on my way to the UK to take my lecture series, I picked up the English papers. The story about J-Lo caught my attention – “J-Lo and behold … a goddess at 50!” screamed the headline. Interesting.
Feeling tired and un-refreshed from the long-haul, I read on, not with envy, but with intrigue – because at 50, she will be in peri-menopause and putting on muscle becomes harder to achieve. But you guessed it, the article didn’t mention that. Nor whether she was sleeping, nor whether she had a lot of stress in her life, nor whether she had any symptoms of menopause whatsoever. That obviously doesn’t sell newspapers. 😊
With an upcoming Super-Bowl appearance next week and obviously a sweet-deal from Guess to model swim-wear, the article focused on her 3 divorces and of course her abdominals. Training with Personal Trainer, Dodd Romero, 5 times a week, the article went on to describe doing a ‘platypus walk’ to strengthen her butt (after 30 years in the fitness industry education, I can assure you that this exercise does not appear in any Exercise Prescription manuals 😊). But the main thing her Trainer had to say, was this – “Don’t worry though – she does allow herself one ‘cheat’ a week, which probably includes a chocolate chip cookie”. Of course.
I was taking my lectures in Portsmouth, Reading and Oxford this week. I told the audiences that as women in our 50’s and into our early 60’s we are unique.
Not only from the perspective of the incredibly fast-changing society we have lived through but also the influences we have been subjected to from the various fitness, dieting and media industries. These messages help to shape our beliefs and how we look after ourselves in more ways than one. When I asked each of the audience, who had become confused about how to look after ourselves with all the fitness and dieting information available today, nearly every single woman nodded and put up her hand. And don’t worry, when I arrived in menopause, I felt pretty confused as well.
As many of you know, I was the first Personal Trainer in New Zealand for the Les Mills group. Coming off a background of teaching aerobics (some of you will recognize fitness legend, Jackie Mills in the photo above, taking a Jazzercise class in the late 1980’s), I helped to influence the growth of the personal training industry.
I argued in my doctoral defense that as the first generation of women to be going into our menopause transition, in the context of all the fitness and sporting influences, we were being ‘forgotten’ not only in terms of our exercise needs as we move through menopause, but also with understanding how to manage our nutrition and our changing cardiac health, moods, sore joints, liver health, hot flushes and every other symptom that impacts on us, as we move through menopause.
J-Lo’s photo and achievements at the gym aside, the Australian Women’s Longitudinal Health Studies have been going for 30 years and consistently report that mid-life women are one of the highest groups to get out of being active – along with pubescent females. No surprises there. Between pubescent girls and menopausal women, that’s a lot of hormones to consider … interestingly, this rarely gets a mention in the research.
The fitness industry featured a lot in my doctoral studies. As I spoke to women up and down the length of New Zealand, they told me stories about their ageing. Nearly all had positioned ‘healthy ageing’ in doing lots of exercise. When I inquired further, every single one of them said, “Because I don’t want to age like my mother. “High intensity workouts to exhaustion, were worn as a badge of honour. On further investigation, they all said that they did what their Trainer asked of them and persevered with this, because the Trainers refused to believe that they were ageing. “You can”, not “You can’t” was the general motivational quip from Trainers.
We can seek inspiration that we all need at this stage of life from others, including powerful women like J-Lo and to some extent, Personal Trainers. Because they are in the camp of those who refuse to accept the ‘decline of ageing’ which is how ageing is positioned in the medical literature. And yes, menopause is the gateway to many of these health changes occurring. It’s a vulnerable time for all of us.
When I look at women like J-Lo, it is not with envy but admiration.
She has positioned her life in ‘success’ and according to behavioural psychology, ‘success’ demands a fierce inner fire and a drive to persist against all obstacles. Which also means that when we ‘fail’ we need to keep going. Many athletes give us a great example of this too. Look at Roger Federer this week at the Australian Open.
As I mentioned to women in my coaching groups this week, in the story about J-Lo, only allowing ourselves one cookie a week is not the point. Nor is it about looking good in a bikini at 50, though, yes, this does boost our morale. And no, ‘healthy-ageing’ is not about having a 6-pack, but if you want one, then go pay a Trainer 5 times a week. But as I often mention to women, if you are going to do lots of exercise or heavy weight training, then come onto my programme and I will help you get your sleep sorted first. You only grow muscle when you sleep. Just like babies.
J-Lo has succeeded in achieving what she needed to achieve because she has re-invented herself at every milestone. This requires a game-plan and a vision for her future. “So, what is your vision for your future, I asked women at my UK seminars this week?”
When nothing I was doing for my symptoms in menopause was working for me, from HRT to dieting to endless exercise, I had to do the same, which is why I headed for the research on women’s healthy ageing. My vision for my future was about feeling healthy again because as I went into menopause, I didn’t feel healthy. I felt tired, overweight and grumpy!
J-Lo has people around her to help her get to where she wants to get to and yes, she has the money. But the double-gift that she gives us all, is not a photo of her lying around posing in a bikini, but instead, it’s the gift of two things that enable her to achieve what she wants to achieve in her life after 50:
Determination and Self-Belief.
People who reach the top of their fields tend to be ferociously determined as well as self-directed. But above all, they need to believe that they can achieve what they want to achieve. And with self-belief comes passion and perseverance in getting there.
Putting together this programme for you has been my passion and purpose. It is based on my women’s healthy ageing studies. And it’s not about dieting or exercise. It’s about the 7 pillars of health as we age. We need to un-do the past inflammation, learn to sleep all night, lose weight if we have to and restore joint health as well. And yes, food and exercise matter, but so too does social connection and re-discovering our purpose as we move into the next phase of our lives.
We all deserve to feel better in mid-life – there’s still so much to do! And whilst, I can’t give you determination and self-belief to see it through, what I can do is to encourage you to take a leaf out of the J-Lo book this week and stay determined and passionate about where you are heading with your healthy ageing too.