Can you get fit at 40? The answer is yes!
Here’s how one of our members did it…
As a teenager, Emma Songer enjoyed sport, but after leaving school, she pretty much left it behind. Here she explains how and why, at the age of 47, she found a sport she loves and got fit!
When I officially reached my late 40s, I made an important discovery: aging didn’t bother me in the sense of grey hairs and laughter lines; what bothered me was not being able to ‘do’ things. I don’t do ‘health Googling’ (too much misinformation out there), but I did do a bit of research into what happens to the body at 40+. The most relevant thing that I took away from that Google session was that slower metabolism and a decrease in muscle mass leads to weight gain, and that’s exactly what I wanted to avoid.
I’m lucky, I know – I’ve never really struggled with my weight, apart from a blip in my 30s when I put on enough pounds to nudge me out of the BMI green zone (nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/bmi-calculator/), and into the amber one. It came as an unwelcome surprise when I realised. I sorted it out pretty quickly, though, by being more mindful about what I was eating; exercise didn’t play a part in that one-and-a-half stone weight loss.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve never been a couch potato, but I’ve never been fit. Exercise bores me. I’ve tried all sorts including swimming, cycling and even the gym (that was the worst!), but nothing has ever been able to hold my attention. When I hit 47, I gave myself a talking to. I couldn’t understand why I hated exercise so much when I’d enjoyed competitive sport in my childhood and early teenage years. I took a more logical approach and sat down to consider: why I wanted to exercise (to get fit and maintain my healthy weight); what I needed to get from exercise (fun!); and, crucially, what sport would hold my attention so that exercise became something that I looked forward to. This last one was the key.
I remembered that once at school, we’d had a tennis lesson. I also remembered that I’d really enjoyed it. Over the following 30-odd years I almost managed to get my tennis-playing hours into double figures. Almost. When I was 30, I even bought myself a tennis racquet thinking that it might be the spur I needed to join a club. It wasn’t. Seventeen years later, it remained unused.
Tennis did, however, seem to have all the aspects of sport that I wanted: a good work out, strategy, sociability, and I felt sure that it would hold my attention. But, there was one final hurdle: confidence. At 47, was it too late to take up a new sport after 30 years of doing very little?
Now, I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe in happy coincidences, and just as this crisis of confidence struck, I received an email from the sports club where I went swimming (grumpily, once a week for 15 minutes when I could bear it). It said that a new sport called padel tennis was opening at the club, and that they would be holding a taster event. I had no idea what padel tennis was, but I emailed anyway: “I’d like to try, but is it suitable for someone who doesn’t play tennis and isn’t very fit?” The answers came back quickly: yes and yes. I wrote an email saying that I’d like to come along, hit send… and then immediately thought ‘What have I done?’. While I knew that I had quite good hand-eye coordination (thank you school day rounders), I really had no idea whether or not I’d be any good. And here is when everything changed: I realised that it didn’t matter. So, I hopped out of my comfort zone and went along to that taster session. One-hour later, I was 100% hooked.
If you’re wondering, as I did when I sent that email: ‘What is padel tennis?’ I can tell you that it’s a game full of strategy, where strength isn’t a factor. You play in doubles, and it’s a sort of squash/tennis hybrid, in that you play on a court that’s marked out like a tennis one, and you can play the ball off the glass walls. That’s the layman’s description. At a good level, it’s a wonderful game to watch, and at my level, it’s a wonderful game to play. What I can also tell you with every confidence is that it’s very suitable for someone taking up sports in their middle age.
That first taster session was a game changer. I left on an endorphin high and I knew that I’d discovered a sport that was going to hold my interest. And it has. I started going to weekly training sessions, but it wasn’t long before that wasn’t enough. A year-and-a-half later, I play at least three times a week – more if there’s a game going spare, and I totally love it! It’s sociable, enjoyably competitive, and you can improve really quickly. The other positives are that I’m fitter than I was in my 20s, I’ve not just maintained my healthy weight, I’ve lost half a stone, and for a feelgood factor… the exercise high is second to none.
Taking up a new sport in your 40s can feel daunting, but when you find one that you enjoy so much that you can’t wait until your next session, it’s the best feeling. For me, padel tennis was the answer. I’ve finally discovered that exercise is something to be enjoyed!