Fit Club


Whether you were a gym bunny in your 20's, or never really bothered about exercise, there's something about finding yourself in middle age that can cause close examination of your health and fitness. The meteoric rise of the 'wellness industry', social media and the normalisation of gadgets such as the fitbit have made us increasingly aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and expose us more to those advocating them, so it's no wonder there's a growing trend for those in their 40's and beyond to pick up their running shoes again. The problem however is how to get back into exercise safely, as (loath as we may be to admit it) our post-40 bodies are very different from those we had in our 20's, thanks to desk-bound jobs or having children (or both) and the simple physiological changes that come with age. While these can all make us more susceptible to injury and aches and pains, it doesn't mean you can't reclaim your fitness - it simply means starting slowly. Shona, a mum of two, was a keen gym-goer before having children, but family commitments and later running her own business meant time for exercise was in short supply. At 40, she decided a concerted effort was needed. "I was starting to feel my age; I had this thickening going on with this whole midriff spread. I was just feeling quite frumpy," she says.

Personal trainer Kristy Robertson of KLR Body Architects in Auckland says it's a common feeling for women over 40, who make up around 70 per cent of her clientele. " I think a lot of women are just not feeling great," she says. "There's a lot of fatigue, even chronic fatigue maybe since they had their first child and never really got back on the fitness wagon. It could be 10 or 20 years of not feeling themselves. That can be a good motivator for people to start some sort of exercise program."


Slowly Does It

No mater your age, understanding your body and any potential weak points is important before embarking on a new exercise regime, which should be built up slowly. Physiotherapist Ben Teusse of Habitat in Wellington says he commonly sees injuries in those who return to sport without giving their a chance to adjust. "With social netball we see lots of Achilles ruptures and ankle sprains, with running it's shin splints and calf strains, or the gym is (problems with) shoulders and backs - it all comes back to the fact that people aren't as strong as they used to be and the muscles don't turn on and off in the way they used to when they were active."


For women after childbirth in particular changes can include pelvic instabilty and muscle weakness. Osteopath Sarah Boughtwood says scar tissue from C-section can cause problems. "A few women have come in with lower back pain and I've done work around their C-section scar. If you imagine it like a big rubber band - if that scar is pulled tight at the front with their scar tissue then that's only going to pull on the lower back, so treating through the scar helps release any tension from that lower back."


Robertson says the postural and strength tests she does with new clients often show weakened glutes. "That allow their knees to roll in...(then) women go out and try to start running and they're not stable enough through the pelvis to do that. They might be fine for a few months and then suddenly their knees give way and they don't know why, or (it's) their back - it's related to core muscles too."


Teusse agrees that posture is key. "If people are active their posture is better, when people have been inactive they've got terrible posture and then suddenly loading results in neck sprains and shoulder and back issues. If there's been an interruption to exercise then you're back at the start and you've got to take it slowly."


Shona started walking regularly, then built up to running and downloaded apps for HIIT (high intensity interval training) and pilates to do at home. "I was seeing my cardio fitness increase," she says, "(but) I wasn't seeing a change in my body shape." She joined a group fitness class, changed to a more nutritious diet and recently added a personal trainer to the mix, whom she sees weekly.


Robertson says getting professional advice can make all the difference. "I would strongly recommend meeting with a trainer and having a consultation to start with so that there is some accountability from both sides, and support. They may go to a group fitness and feel a bit lost and perhapes give up eventually if they feel they're not progessing."


The Pain Barrier

Re-introducing your body to regular exercise will inevitably bring a few aches and pains - but shouldn't be to the point of injury. "Sometimes if people go to a boot camp they can get caught up in doing things that they just can't do and that's where injuries come into it. It always making sure they discuss any issues they may have with their trainer before they get started," explains Robertson.

The key is recognising the difference between good pain (which, if needed, can be managed with over the counter remedies from your pharmacist such as heat or ice packs or compression products) as your body adapts and builds muscle, and pain that needs medical attention.

"Muscle soreness, to an extent, is expected," says Teusse. "You normally have what's called delayed onset muscle soreness 24-48hours after exercise. That is due to a small amount of damage to the muscle, which then repairs itself and comes back stronger. Where the micro-injury is slightly larger, you get swelling, and where it's larger again you get bleeding into the site and it's where there's that true injury..that we're typically needing to manage it better."

"Once I started with a personal trainer and lifting weights it was exhausting," recalls Sona. "For a good two months, after our session each week I had to take paracetamol at night because I was just aching." But for her, the work has been worthwhile. "I think alot of it as we get older is (to) just keep moving. I feel really strong again and I feel younger."