When I was in my early thirties and my youngest child was two I got a terrible shock. I was coming down the stairs one day and caught sight of a frumpy, fat, grey woman in a shapeless, elasticated-waist skirt I did not recognise. Who was it? It was me. For once I’d looked up into a mirror attached to the wall just where the stairs ended-the first look at myself full length for some time. I’d been preoccupied with matters of childcare-to the extent that I’d quite lost any sense of myself at all.
Overall, that shock was a good thing. I was never a sporty type. I was born into a sedentary family. My parents invented the potato couch. My mother’s preferred activity was to sit in front of the TV and knit-preferably next to a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray. My two brothers did not pursue any type of sport, or display any interest in sports activities. Aside from gardening, my father was alone among us in enjoying watching cricket. That was it.
Despite this we were not fat children, and we played outside in all weathers as well as eating a somewhat conservative, but healthy diet.
So having been jolted into undertaking an uncomfortable appraisal of my state, I took myself to an exercise class in a local church hall. This was the eighties; an era of leotards, tights and leg-warmers, an ensemble that most of my fellow exercisers had taken to with gusto and in a plethora of pastel colours [predominantly pink]. Swathed in a camouflage of baggy, jersey jogging pants [that had seen action as decorating and gardening gear] and shapeless tee shirt, I cringed somewhere near the back with little hope of blending in.
But I loved it. I loved the cheesy music and the chance to almost dance, and I loved the way I felt afterwards, tired, aching and jubilant. I loved meeting my fellow aerobic-ers and being part of the shared ethic. Soon I progressed to a proper gym and even acquired some acceptable and appropriate clothing [not pink and not leg warmers]. Over time my shape became more conventional, but best of all I felt fit. I started running a bit-only half a mile at first, but slowly building up until I could do about 5 miles without too much discomfort.
I probably reached a ‘peak’ of fitness [for me] at around 40-45. After that the joints began to complain, I slowed and had to start modifying what I did. I went to the GP with a condition called plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the membranes under your feet. The doctor asked me why I couldn’t just go for a nice walk. It was a growing trend, he said, for the middle aged to present themselves with exercise-related injuries.
Nowadays, being as fond of dance exercise as ever, I’ve taken to the ever popular Zumba, coupled with, as my doctor suggested, a good deal of walking [with a bit of cycling thrown in during nice weather]. During the day the gym is packed full of sprightly ladies [and a few gents] of more mature years all strutting their stuff. It is a wonderful and uplifting sight. I just wonder what my mother would make of it all if she were around and were to look up from her knitting and to see it!