"Having done very little exercise for decades, I could see it had been so beneficial."
‘I just can’t cope any more.” I sobbed in the middle of the biscuit aisle of our local Tesco as my sons watched on nervously.
I was 48, a working mum flying solo with two teenage boys. Both my parents were having chemotherapy and I felt overwhelmed by life. I wasn’t sleeping and was permanently stressed and anxious. Looking back I was also in the early stages of the menopause, but simply didn’t realise.
A friend lent me an indoor rowing machine suggesting exercise might help. I wasn’t convinced but was willing to try anything! Within a couple of weeks of rowing, I was sleeping well and life began to look brighter.
When my Mum died of Lymphoma shortly after, I launched a huge fundraising challenge for Macmillan Cancer Support as a thank you. My goal was to row a million metres and marathon. Rowing 10,000m every other night for 8 months, I reached the target and on 21st December 2014, 5 days before my 50th birthday, I rowed a marathon in front of friends and family. We raised over £10,000.
Having done very little exercise for decades, I could see it had been so beneficial in helping me through the enormous grief and hole in my life losing mum, as well as navigating the physical, emotional and mental challenges of the menopause.
Above all, I had rediscovered the simple joy of being active, something lost many decades before. I began wild swimming and bodyboarding in the chilly North Sea and was given a Stand Up Paddleboard for my 52nd birthday.
It wasn’t all plain sailing however. I injured my knee in a fall (not sports related) and then developed a frozen shoulder. Whilst both were incredibly painful and frustrating, they taught me how precious my health is and the importance of making time for myself on a daily basis to move.
In October 2017 I began running with the BBC Couch to 5k app and was thrilled to complete my first Parkrun at Christmas. I love the encouragement and sense of community, especially as I am always close to the back! I set myself a personal goal to run 1000km in 2018 and am a keen ‘plogger’ (picking up litter whilst jogging!), which gives my running an added purpose.
I also started strength training to build up my shoulder and ward against osteoporosis, which my Mum had had. I was always very apprehensive about lifting weights but love the feeling of accomplishment and the body confidence it has given me. It helped my arm so much I was strong enough to qualify as a Pool Lifeguard and realise a childhood dream.
My next goal is learning to surf. After one lesson, I can see it will take a long time for me to ride a wave and that’s ok!
What I have learned is that for me keeping active is about joy, gratitude and building my self-confidence. I would recommend to every woman who is going through difficult situations, the menopause or simply wants to age healthily to find something that she enjoys and to make time in her life for it. Her physical, mental and emotional wellbeing will benefit hugely. I wish her well!