Make This The Year...

I am feeling quite bossy at the moment, which, believe it or not, is unusual for me. I generally subscribe to the notion that as long as no harm is being done to others by their actions, people should be free to do whatever they want. 


However I also believe that ignorance is not bliss and that knowledge is power, especially if that knowledge can save you from doing harm not to others, but to yourself. 


Three interesting facts for you:

On average 77% of a woman’s life is spent in good health. This ‘morbidity disadvantage’ means that women spend 19 years at the end of their life in poor health.

There are twenty-three diseases of old age which can be prevented or delayed by exercise

A study showed that 55% of people over 55 have insufficient strength in their  quads and glutes (the large muscles in the lower half of the body) to lift themselves out of a chair without using their arms.


So, knowing all of that, I hope you will be more receptive to what I want to share with you both this week and next. Because if you did act on all of the suggestions I am going to make and persevered with them as I have decided to do throughout this year, then I can guarantee that they will have a positive impact on your health and well being by January 2025.


My guide, as usual, is Dr. Michael Mosley and the scientific evidence for all of the top tips in a new series of podcasts comes from leaders and experts in their field. In this case the guru is Dr. Marie Murphy who is Professor of Exercise and Health at Ulster University and leading expert in physical fitness and lead scientist advising on UK physical activity guidelines. If you’d rather get this advice from the horse’s mouth, I have given you a link below to the interview Mosley conducted with Murphy which is on BBC Sounds.


As many of you know I was an exercise refusenik until I was 69. I lived in my head and ignored my body. I associated exercise with sport and saw myself as the opposite of a ‘sporty’ type. I considered my body to be ‘built for comfort not for speed’ with its generous bottom and heavy legs - more of a cart horse than a racehorse. From an early age I saw all forms of physical activity as punishment without any glimmer of pleasure, and in the 1980s, when I had a brief flirtation with Jane Fonda exercise tapes, her exhortation that there was ‘no gain without pain’ and to ‘go for the burn’ as confirmation of my deepest prejudices.


What changed for me was the engagement I started to have with the whole ‘positive ageing’ movement thanks to starting Look Fabulous Forever. Knowledge is power. Ignorance is not bliss. At nearly 70 I could no longer kid myself that my sedentary lifestyle and disdain for any and all forms of exercise was either amusing or clever. I knew that I was probably drinking in the last chance saloon unless I changed my entire attitude to physical activity. Fortunately at that precise moment I met Lindsay Burrows at a business meeting. I signed up for some initial one to one sessions of personal training* with her and, seven years later I am still going strong and she has most likely changed my life and might just have saved me from developing some of those 23 diseases of older age. Do I now love exercise? No, I absolutely hate it, but I hate the idea of creeping senility much, much more.


Dr. Marie Murphy’s Five Top Exercise Tips for a Healthier Old Age:


Exercise in Short, Vigorous Bursts. 

The amount of daily ‘proper’ exercise that adults need is a minimum of 30 minutes a day. However, studies show that only 60% of people are getting anywhere near that level. So, one way round this is to think ‘VILPA’ or Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity. The idea here is that exercise is not a separate ‘thing’ from everyday life. It also goes against the notion that in older age we should put our slippers on and our feet up. So, you find as many ways as you can to stay moving from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed. Then, in addition to this you find several opportunities throughout the day for short bursts of intense exercise which will raise your heartrate. This can be going up and down stairs (quickly), very brisk walking or for me, it means going on my little pink Opti exercise bike for five minute bursts, six times a day. As I am INCREDIBLY sedentary, I have also started setting my timer to ring every hour to remind me to MOVE for at least five minutes (often on the bike).

Benefits Include: Metabolism (the rate at which you consume calories) goes up and stays up with a burst of vigorous activity. Do this in 6X5 minute sessions and you get the lift six times instead of just once.


Focus on Your Muscles as You Age. 

We all know the statistic that muscle mass starts to decline from the age of 30, BUT YOU CAN BUILD/REBUILD MUSCLE MASS AT ANY AGE. If you cannot get off the toilet, out of a chair, out of a bath, out of bed, or get up from the floor if you have fallen over, then you cannot live independently. Simple as that. So, no matter how old you are or how weak you have become, you can slowly but surely rebuild muscle strength in your arms and legs (and the core of your body). And you don’t need to go to a gym or to have the help of a personal trainer. You just need to start using your own body weight to build back that lost strength. Simple ways include:


Sit to stand from a dining chair. Fold your arms over your chest and nearly sit down then stand again. Do this 30-40 times a day - as with all the following exercises.

Do calf raises while you clean your teeth: Just lift and lower your body onto the balls of the feet.

Put your hands at shoulder height onto a wall, feet back a little from the wall. Slowly push your body back and forth by straightening your arms.

Hold a weight of some sort (a tin of beans/small bottle of water) and bend elbows with hands out front. Lift and lower the weight to your shoulder (bicep curls).

Stand sideways onto a chair and raise your legs sideways.


The best movements to build muscle mass include lunges, squats and press-ups all of which can be done at home without special equipment. Start slowly and gently, monitor your progress and gradually increase frequency as your muscles respond, as they surely will. See my two videos made with Lindsay for safe and easy ways to build upper and lower body strength - link below.

Benefits include: Cardio-vascular benefits as large muscles need more blood, so whilst exercising them there is increased blood flow to the brain and heart.


Walking Can Change Your Life

Don’t dismiss walking as an inferior form of exercise. It can be better for your fitness than running as long as you are walking at a really fast, brisk pace and not ambling along. Why? Because running adds stress to your knees, hips and back in a way that brisk walking does not. Again the benefits only come if this is a daily activity rather than a two hour hike once in a blue moon. When people clock up 10,000 steps they really do reap the benefits of increased cardio-vascular health which means that they are at much lower risk of heart attack or stroke.

Benefits include: No special equipment and, as long as you can walk, literally anyone can do it.


Find a Healthy Motive for Exercise.

An unhealthy one would be because you want to lose weight. I am sorry to disillusion you but lots of research shows that exercise will help to keep weight off your body, but the calories burned are derisory compared to the amount in (say) a single breakfast muffin.  The reason that physical activity helps to keep weight down is that muscle mass affects metabolic efficiency. In other words if two bodies weigh the same but one is mostly composed of muscle and the other mostly of fat, then the one with muscle tissue will (even when at rest) burn more calories. 

My motivation for exercising is very stark and centres on the fact that I love baths and hate showers. In order to continue my enjoyment of a relaxing soak in a bubble bath every evening, I need to be able to lift my body weight with my arms so that I can easily get out of the bath on my own.  I intend to be able to do this for very many years to come!

Benefits Include: Motivation is the key to keeping going with any form of exercise. I am incredibly physically lazy (built for comfort not for speed), but with every fibre of my being I want to keep being able to get up from the floor without needing someone to haul me to my feet.


Buddy Up or Get a Dog!

For those that exercise in groups or with a friend or family member there is the added bonus of it being a social enterprise. It’s also about not letting the other person(s) down by opting out or deciding that you just can’t be bothered because it’s blowing a gale or raining cats and dogs. And speaking of dogs, most dog owners do many more steps a day than cat lovers, because dogs really do have to get out of the house and get moving around in order to live a long and healthy life…. Just like their owners!


And of all of those five excellent tips on exercise, Dr Murphy chose the second one as her most important. Why? Because building and retaining muscle mass is the most neglected, yet most vital way to stay independent the older we get. This is true functional fitness.


I hope you haven’t found this too hectoring. Some of you will doubtless feel that I am teaching my grandmother to suck eggs. If so, I suspect you would have been the kind of girl at school who would have found me irritatingly supine with my endless excuses for why I couldn't play hockey again because one of my boots had strangely disappeared from my locker. And, for my part, I would have found you irritatingly ‘jolly hockey sticks’. Now we are no longer schoolgirls and find ourselves all in the same old boat, you sporty types will be having the last laugh, but for those of you like me, I hope I have convinced you that we really do use it or lose it as we get older.  And I am absolutely determined not to lose it.


*BBC Sounds Dr. Michael Mosley talking to Dr Marie Murphy:


*Here is the session I have recorded with Lindsay to show you how to increase lower body strength:


And this one is all about upper body strength:



Tricia x

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