Last week I spent the day in the company of an old friend of mine. We hadn’t seen each other for, oooh, at least a year, so the chat, the laughter (and the chilled Chardonnay) were all flowing nicely. She’s just turned 50, so much of our talk was along the lines, “Where did that go?”, and, “Who’d have thought…”, and, “Wouldn’t it be great if…”? Then, as she downed her fourth glass, we hit a rock. We landed on the sticky subject of women’s bodies which then spiralled into a heartfelt discussion about mid-life weight gain, diets, exercise, self-esteem, lethargy, marriage, men, the menopause, you name it, the whole nine yards.

“I hate myself” she said. “Look at me, Annie. What’s happened?. Years ago I could at least run for the train and not pass out. I knew the importance of green veg and I drank water. I slid into a size 14, I wore clothes that actually hugged my body and I rocked. I strutted my stuff up and down the office and I knew how to fight my corner and say no. I enjoyed life. What’s left of that?. I’m now a size 18… on a good day… and I wobble when I walk, let alone run. My trousers dig in, my thighs chafe, my feet are always swollen. I buy outsize clothes and I eat outsize meals but I haven’t been hungry since 2004. I’ve starved, I’ve stuffed, I’ve done hot yoga, cold pilates, boxing, zumba, rumba, nordic walking, couch to 5k (never made it off the couch) and New York ballet. I’ve eaten cabbage, drunk juices, done Slimmer You, Weight World, nibbled bars, shaken shakes, gone gluten-free, sugar-free, low carb, high carb and, bar amputation, I don’t know what’s next. Whatever the recipe is for making a middle-aged woman with lumps, bumps and grumps feel better, it must be well hidden or cost a bloody fortune”.

I laughed. Nicely, mind. Not in a pointy finger kind of way. “I’ll keep it short and it’s not complicated. I’m going to say two words. Muscle is one. Change is the other.”

“I feel a sermon coming on. Spit it out Deadman.”

“You want changes to your life. You’ve just said that. To make one big change to your life, you have to make a few little sub-changes to the way you live your life. Yes, it sounds scary and that’s the bit people worry about. It’s just to these three areas. Your food. Your activity. The way you fill your leisure time. Those sub-changes connect together to make one big change. Which in turn makes you feel better… physically, mentally and emotionally.”

“Oh spare me the spiritual clap-trap and get on with it.”

“One of the changes to make is to do with your muscle.”

“Isn’t that men’s stuff… muscles? I don’t want to be muscley, oh God no…”

mid-life weight gain“Listen. We all need to make our bodies work for us, and that means getting strong. That doesn’t mean big and burly. It means this. That when you start training your muscles, and making them firm and perky but not big, they will adapt. And they adapt by burning more energy (calories) to keep them in their new perky state. That means, when you’re on the sofa and on the third series of West Wing, your body will be burning more fat. Don’t be frightened of the word muscle. Embrace it.”

“So if do some… say…. press ups, I can still eat chocolate hob nobs?”

“No. That’s one of the sub-changes we must all make. Our food. Processed sugary food and no exercise means we’ll stay as we are. However, if we make modifications to our activity levels and our diet, this means change will happen.”

“You make it sound easy.”

“It is. It’s very very simple.”

“Yes, but I’m 60. I’m stuck with this, aren’t I? It’s ok for you, you’re young and fit…”

[I’m 56].

“It is never too late. Never. You have 35 more years at least in that body of yours. I’ve seen people in their early fifties modify their diet, improve their health, their strength, their clothes size, even come off diabetes medication, and still enjoy a right old knees up at weekends. It’s about eating the right things and about making your muscle burn your fat for you. But not making it the be-all and end-all. It’s about sorting it and getting it done and then living your life.”

“So, if I promise to embrace the word muscle, can we also embrace another bottle of Chardonnay?”

“Only if you do one of my low-impact fat burning YouTube workouts tomorrow..?”

“Cross my heart, hope to die. Waiter…”

Here’s the workout. Half a bottle’s worth. Annie x

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