Ocean Swimming In Winter: The Best Cure For The Menopause Blues

Sometime over the past few years, I lost my spark, and even though I wasn’t sure if menopause or the medication I took for my anxiety were the culprits, or even the amount of time my husband and I had spent together in lockdown together, I was desperate to retrieve it.

Woman swimming on her back in the ocean
Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash

Impatience and irrational outbursts of anger had become a big problem that were linked (I suspected) to menopause and poor sleep, hormone fuckery, the inability to control my body temperature, and my secret fears about the life-altering changes that lay ahead.

And, clearly, emotional eating and drinking weren’t working…

And so, as we approached our seventh week of lockdown — and I found myself subconsciously plotting my husband’s death — I decided enough was enough, and determined to find another outlet for my anger.

Admittedly, I laughed when a friend suggested swimming through winter, but I didn’t completely dismiss the idea when in the past, swimming has had a calming effect on me.

It wasn’t an obvious choice. Public indoor swimming pools had been closed down in lockdown and we were in winter in Sydney, and albeit I was aware of the health benefits of swimming in cold water, I needed more convincing.

After two years of comfort eating in lockdown, the idea of contorting my body back into tummy flattening swimmers didn’t fill me with joy

And despite living in arguably one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, I hadn’t been to the beach in a while. Two years ago, our summer was spoilt by the blanket of smoke from bushfires, and last year, my age caught up with my body — with, firstly, a painful case of bursitis in my foot, and secondly, a malignant melanoma on my arm, which entailed surgery and stitches and put an end to my weekend dips.

However, those health issues did provide an epiphany of sorts, (or the cliched “wake-up call”), about the importance of living each day as if it’s my last, being grateful, getting back to nature, and enjoying the simple things in life, blah, blah, blah

And so, I decided to take the plunge

The water temperature is not warm in winter, nor indeed at any time of the year in Sydney. In fact, the only way to swim in temperatures comparable to the Mediterranean or Hawaii’s Waikiki beach in Australia, is by heading north taking your chances with the crocodiles and box jellyfish.

Hence, I admit that the thought of my first winter swim in one of our local ocean pools— originally built to protect swimmers from dangerous surf, currents, and…ahem… sharks — was hardly appealing, and in the end it was vanity that swayed my decision. Because, surprisingly, there are benefits to the crazy activity of swimming in cold water:

  1. It improves the body’s circulation
  2. It reduces stress
  3. It boosts the immune system
  4. It rejuvenates the skin
  5. It gives you an immense feeling of smugness
  6. And it eradicates any middle-aged body image issues, because NO ONE over 50 looks good in a wetsuit

Furthermore, really “cool” people like Julia Baird, Kathy Lette, and Benjamin Law swim through winter

Convinced, I ordered myself the most fetching spring wetsuit I could find in my size, a very unflattering swim cap, a pair of new goggles, and I set about preparing myself for my new adventure.

Admittedly, alcohol may have been involved as I psyched myself up for my first swim

As one of those swimmers who lingers longer around the steps than actually in the water, I knew I had to get into the water quickly for any chance of success, but as my teeth chattered and I felt the need to wee again, I strode as purposefully as I could into the shallow end and all feeling left my lower body.

Luckily, the trickles of iced water that broke through the armour of my wetsuit restarted my heart several times

The temperature of the water was around 17 degrees, but felt closer to zero. However, my new wetsuit did a commendable job of protecting me as I submerged my body with far less grace than a submarine into the icy-cold beneath me, grateful for the odd trickles of iced water that broke through the rubber and restarted my heart several times in between my underwater expletives.

Holding my breath, fully aware of the importance of keeping my heart rate up as I doggy-paddled frantically in the direction the “real” swimmers on the other side of the pool, I prayed silently that none of the lifeguards would jump into save me as a group of kids in bikinis laughed at my progress.

But I made it

And more importantly, the anger left my body as my brain switched its focus from the inadequacies of my husband to my survival. And although the smile of relief on my face nearly cracked until I located a warm spot in the water where the kids had peed, by the end of my second length I remembered why I had married him again.

Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash

What Kind Of Idiot Does Hot Yoga In Menopause?

I’ve made some pretty awful decisions in my time. My ankle-length wedding dress springs to mind, as do the countless times I chose to carry on drinking when I needed to be a responsible adult the following morning. However, very little compares to my recent decision to take up hot yoga in menopause .

Bare-chested man with tattoos in yoga pose.
The yoga teacher I thought I’d get…
Photo by Benn McGuinness on Unsplash

My gym describes hot yoga in the following way:

Hot Flow Yoga is practised in a room heated between 32 and 35 degrees to warm up your muscles and joints, encourage blood flow and increase flexibility. The heat also intensifies the practice and aids detoxification, creating a practice that is deeply cleansing. 

WTAF? I hear you ask.

Here’s my excuse. Having been laid up for a good part of the past two months with Bursitis in my foot – Yes, I can confirm that in spite of the skepticism and complete lack of sympathy from my family, I do have a bonafide diagnosis for the excruciating pain between my toes – I have had to consider alternative workouts.

And I’m not saying that the name of the class didn’t have some bearing on my decision, either…

Although, unfortunately, it turns out that hot yoga teachers are almost as rare as hot ski instructors these days – and so in hindsight, it was probably a good thing that our teacher was the psycho from Yin rather than the Russell Brand-esque guru I was anticipating. For even I have to concede that my resemblance to a wrung-out dishcloth by the end of the forty-five minute class was not exactly my best look.

And while, yes, I don’t know why anyone (whose body seems to be permanently stuck at the highest temperature ever recorded for the human body) would ever contemplate an exercise class with the heating on max – although, brain fogginess is also another symptom of this stage of life – the sad fact ism I need my fix.

And I also like to think that thrashing out my anger on a yoga mat increases my husband’s longevity by a few more years.

So, what possible reason could there be for contorting my old body into all kinds of dangerous twists and poses – none of which can be classified as “natural” at my age – in the geyser heat of a sauna? Well, if you read this blog, you will know that after years of persistence and failure (mostly failure), I have finally reached a point in my life where I almost enjoy exercise – mainly because it keeps those pesky middle-aged kilos off my meno-belly, and the anxiety gremlins out of my head.

And, frankly, doing a few grapevines around my living room while the dog passes sniggers at me, just doesn’t cut it anymore.

I know that yoga looks like the exercise choice of stoners – and in a past life, I would have been as sceptical about it as I imagine you are – but I can assure you it works, and hurts, and not in that pleasurable way those skinny, influencer types would have us believe.

It pains me to admit it – and it also means I’ve had to set this post to self-destruct before the old man sees it – but I WAS WRONG when I thought it was an exercise for lightweights.

Clearly, when I was younger (and free from the debilitating type of muscular pain I get these days from simply rolling over in bed), I underestimated the bodily trauma our dog experiences each time she stretches her body in a downward fashion. But since I’ve started yoga, I have a whole new level of respect for the flexibility of her lithe body, and that’s without even thinking about the enviable way she can roll her head backwards.

But I won’t deny that yoga hurts.

There is a huge difference between the level of soreness in your body after a yoga class and a low-impact workout. While you leave low-impact feeling nicely sore with a vague sense of achievement, yoga makes you wish you’d died in your sleep the morning after a class.

And hot yoga cranks up the pain another level, because the heat increases the flexibility of your muscles and makes them believe they really can “do it” – even when you’re middle-aged and wise enough not to believe Nike’s hype.

I imagine the class is somewhat easier to follow if you know the lingo, i.e. your Garurasana from your Tuladandasana – which I don’t. But, luckily for me, I have managed to latch onto a lithe Millennial at the front of my class, who has been (unknowingly) gracious enough to let the boomer with the permanently confused expression on her face behind her – who can’t even do a child pose without creaking – copy her moves. Her generosity reminds me of the friend whose work I used to copy in maths class, back at school.

And the heat does add an interesting dimension to the experience – if you want to refill your water flask without the risk of catching COVID at the communal water cooler, or if your active-wear needs a quick wash.

Admittedly, I’m still waiting to see the evidence of an increase in the suppleness of my joints and muscles. But I have noticed an increase in the number of times I say “fuck this!” in this particular class, particularly when my body is dripping so much sweat, I struggle to maintain my grip on my mat.

But I will persevere, because according to an article in The New York Times:

Bikram yoga…improves balance, lower body strength and range of motion for both the upper and lower body, and might even help improve arterial stiffness and metabolic measures like glucose tolerance and cholesterol levels, as well as bone density and perceived stress.

Anyway, no pain, no gain, and all that. If you’re a Masochist like me and prepared to give most things a shot – just not paddle board yoga, Emma, for obvious reasons – what have you really got to lose?

Hell, you might even find you love it as much as I do.

Anyone else tried hot yoga?

Middle-Aged Women: Let’s Talk About Exercise

Full Disclosure: As I write this post, I am sitting at my desk full of remorse about my complete lack of control around a wine bottle last weekend. Hence, I am probably the last person you should be listening to about how to improve your longevity.

I read somewhere recently that scientists have discovered that genes and family history are a much smaller risk to our mortality than previously thought – that’s the good news. The bad news is that middle-age is apparently the optimal time (or last chance saloon) to make the necessary improvements to our lifestyle that improve our chances of living longer.

What are “lifestyle improvements” I hear you ask, even though you don’t really want to know.

Kath and Kim image. Kath running with man.
Photo found on Pinterest

They’re all those boring things you have to do when you get old, like cutting back on drinking, stopping smoking, eating yucky green stuff – basically, anything fun.

Oh, and exercising!

Now, some of you may know that a couple of years ago (in what I now recognise was an out-of-control episode of health anxiety), I decided to take up running – or walking quickly, as the old man likes to refer to it – due to a horror story of a family history of heart problems and certain some pretty unhealthy life choices.

I picked running because I knew I had to do something that improved my cardio fitness, and the lazy bitch within me figured that a few laps around the block was the quickest way to do that, without impacting my other hobbies, like drinking and eating lots, too much.

As a starting point, I set myself the unrealistic goal of the 4kms Mothers Day Classic – which is basically a public pelvic floor challenge disguised as a fun run, and everyone knows that “fun” is a synonym for “walk” – and God knows how, I managed to complete it.

I didn’t finish the run/walk in a time or with any great finesse – but I did cross the finish line sweating.

However, erase from your mind that inspiring little image of me crossing the finish line jubilantly, hands in the air in victory, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. By the end of the race, I was knackered, swore I’d never run again, and then undid any good by vacuuming down a full English breakfast.

Because it bloody well hurts… like everywhere. And that’s not the only downside. when you’re middle-aged. So far, I’ve been lucky with my knees, but I’ve had a few wake-up calls when it comes to bladder control, I’ve found that I can’t knock back a couple of vinos the night before a jog, and some mornings my body aches so much I’m pretty certain it has finally succumbed to one of those terminal illnesses I’ve been waiting for my whole life – you can read about health anxiety here.

Let’s be honest, none of thought we would have to exercise in our fifties and given the choice, I would much prefer to go on a brisk walk with my girlfriends – with the added incentive of a wine milky coffee at the end of it.

But I know that’s not enough.

And I’m not here to tell you how to live your life or to lie about how running gets any easier – or about the huge selection of exercise options that may be more realistic for you – all I’m trying to do is remind you about the importance of maintaining a level of fitness at our age.

You can actually tell the state of someone’s health by the speed they walk. Did you know that? So the next time you’re out with your friends, take a furtive look at how well they cope with hills or distance.

Trust me, it’s a slippery slope once you lose your fitness – one day you can’t get out of a chair, the next you struggle to walk up hills. Before you know it, you can’t wipe your arse.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining – and I’m not trying to sweeten the pain because my local gym or any other torture chamber is paying me to – and there are benefits beyond the physical ones that come with exercise for women our age:

  1. Exercise improves your productivity: I’m sure you get those days like me when you get so engrossed with work that you put off going outside and finish the day in a slump at your desk. That used to happen to me until I discovered the importance of a change of scene. Whether it’s the beauty of nature, the increase in my heart-rate, or the free therapy from friends, I can guarantee that I feel much more productive when I come back from a walk. Being outside centres me; it resets my computer.
  2. It boosts your mood and confidence: I won’t promise you that you will lose weight from exercise, as I believe that what you put in your mouth is the biggest determiner of that, but I do think that a healthy diet with consistent exercise can help. And for middle-aged women, improving muscle tone and being a healthy weight will most likely have a knock on effect on your confidence. A dramatic boost of dopamine works wonders for mood – that’s why those crazy exercise junkies get so addicted.
  3. It broadens your community: Whether it’s a yoga class or a walk with friends, group exercise encourages connection – another vital component of longevity. One of the reasons men die younger is because they lose their social connections once they retire.
  4. It increases your sense of empowerment: I have always believed in the mantra that you enjoy things more when you’ve worked hard for them. The sense of empowerment, accomplishment, and positivity I derive from exercise filters into every aspect of my life.

I can guarantee that you’ll enjoy that evening wine so much more when you feel you’ve earned it

At school, I couldn’t run the length of the netball court without falling over. Back then, I thought I’d be on back-to-back cruises along the Danube in this stage of my life, not wheezing my way around the block, scaring old people and children. But life is about choices. And I choose to live as long as I can.

Have you taken up a new form of exercise in middle age?

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Why Try Mindfulness In Middle Age? Because That’s When You Realise Just How Fucked Up The World Really Is

I took an introductory course in mindfulness a few weeks ago. I thought that the company of calm, spiritual people would wield its inner peace on me. But when it turned out that only my friends had signed up for the course, I realised something I already knew – that we’re all dealing with our own shit.

Women practising meditation.
Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Among other living hells, Menopause is known to exacerbate anxiety, and while I have found other calming techniques for my over-active brain – such as running, writing, and drinking more wine – I keep hearing the word “mindfulness” bandied about in association with ADHD and anxiety, which is why I decided to give it a shot.

I suppose that everyone is seeking the simplest solution to cope with the trials of life, but that need becomes more pertinent the older you get, when you realise just how fucked up the world really is.

I also knew that my experience would make great blog fodder, and as I’m prepared to give most things a go to enhance the experience of this, the last, physically-able chapter of my life – apart from pole-dancing, obvs, which is a subtle reminder to my sister who, one birthday, demonstrated that my psychotic sense of humour runs in the family – I decided to ignore the natural cynicism of my inner voice that tells me that this spiritual stuff is a load of bollocks.

Indeed, I felt for the first time in my life that I had the appropriate level of maturity to handle it.

Which was where I was wrong when I got worryingly close to breaking the magical spell of silence during the walking meditation with a fart or a show tune.

But like when you give up smoking or drinking, you have to commit to new ideas such as mindfulness for them to have any hope of working, and once I got my giggles of self-consciousness out of the way, I did just that. I mean, let’s be honest, while the power of running has gone some way to combatting my anxiety, it’s far more appealing to sit in my own space and do fuck all for the same benefits.

Our teacher was lovely. Non-judgmental, with one of those soothing voices that carried us along to our safe place without too much of a fight, he managed to hide his despair at the three crotchety, middle-aged cynics in front of him, whose bodies creaked each time he asked us to change position on the floor. He didn’t even seem to mind when he told us to think about our favourite place for our first visualisation and I admitted that mine was in bed. Everyone else picked a tropical island!

Admittedly, I found that focusing on my breath was about as stimulating as Scott Morrison’s election campaign, but I loved the soothing effect of the chanting bowl. I defy anyone who has worked a full day and managed to get back out of the house for a mid-week evening meeting, not to find some relaxation in the sound – so much so, I’ve decided to invest in one for the next finance meeting with the old man. And the walking meditation was an interesting exercise in self-control and fitness as the five us us walked slowly around the room together, first like zombies, and then like Neil Armstrong on the moon, while I fought a personal battle to keep a straight face.

But there were many ideas and exercises that I loved. One of the exercises was to connect our heart to someone we love. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I picked the old man as the recipient of my limited levels of love – that are rather like the permanent level of cyan ink on our colour printer – but I suspect it had something to do with guilt. I’d been a complete bitch to him that week. Funnily enough, he didn’t mention feeling any different when I arrived home, which confirmed my suspicion that he likes being “treated mean.”

Anyway, I found this article on the web, which provides a really good beginner’s guide to mindfulness. So keep your mind open. It’s not easy, but focusing on what you are grateful has to be a far healthier way of getting through this crazy old thing called life. Since the course, I have inadvertently incorporated the deep breathing exercise when I feel anxious, and it has worked wonders for eliminating the shame I feel about pouring that extra glass of wine.

Running Doesn’t Get Any Easier, But Let Me Tell You What It Does Do…

This week, I’ve decided to guilt you off the sofa with another smug-assed update about my new running career.

Woman standing on beach with arms in the air in celebration.
Photo from Unsplash. Catherine McMahon

Cue drumroll: Last week, I reached my target of 4kms for the Mothers Day Run For Breast Cancer. In other words, my weekly jog/hobbles around the lagoon in our new suburb has paid off. Go me! And while I would love to describe to you in triumphant detail the exhilaration of reaching such a pinnacle of fitness at the age of 53, I’m too knackered. Worse, I’m worried. You see, I suspect that I’ve potentially put myself in a dangerous psychological place now. With five weeks still to go before the official run (You can sponsor me here, because as you can see, we need all the help we can get), I’m worried that I may have peaked too early, which means that the next few weeks are going to prove a battle to get motivated.

But if it makes you sloths out there feel any better, I am also here to confirm that running doesn’t get easier – that is indeed a myth – and that in no way has this new sport become my raison d’etre.

For while it is tempting for me to paint a dazzling image of me crossing the 4kms mark, legs reaching across the finish line with the litheness of a gazelle – that’s simply not how the moment was, as I’m sure that most of you can imagine. The fact is, the mechanical process of moving my legs fast never gets any easier. And frankly, if it wasn’t for sheer will-power and the image in my mind of the big brekkie and coffee I promised myself at the end of each practise session, it is unlikely I would have stuck to such a ridiculous goal.

For the record, I would also like to point out that I will never want to set myself another goal and increase my distance. I will leave that to those of a competitive nature. For me, this run was only ever about a personal goal and raising money for a worthy charity, and once I tick that box, I will resume my Friday nights with a bottle of wine and a packet of pork scratchings.

But let me tell you what this silliness has done. It has made me feel better overall – mentally and physically (sort of). I haven’t lost weight – indeed, my calves have packed on something that the old man has identified as muscle – but the push to get outside and into the fresh air twice a week has helped me develop an old person’s greater appreciation of the outside world and nature. I have more energy, I feel more positive, and I’m drinking less alcohol – because it is definitely more challenging to get my legs going after bevvies the night before.

Goals and finding ways to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, (or simply into a different zone), are so important at this stage of our lives. And it’s important to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to reach middle age, at all – a gift denied to so many victims of breast cancer.

New challenges and experiences keep me mentally alert and curious – and ultimately youthful, I hope – in what can be a disconcerting last chapter of our lives. For me, this year is about running, but next year’s challenge might entail another new hobby, travel, or meeting with a different social group – whatever it is, the curiosity that gets me there is what will keep my mind sharp.

Anyone that knows me – but in particular I must mention the crowd who did the Jane Fonda Workout with me for high school sport, (when everyone else was playing proper sports) – would laugh if you told them that I had taken up running – at any age. But perhaps, more importantly, in a period of my life when I feared that there were no surprises left – apart from those generously supplied by Kurt – I have surprised myself.

Go on, sponsor me…

“Running Really Does Get Easier,” Said No Novice Runner Ever

Image of woman running up steps in orange runners.

There’s no doubt in my mind that what this year’s fun run is really about is another narcissistic attempt to deny the physical evidence that my body is as old AF and, well, a bit buggered.

The papers – or “the news” (as my millennial daughter corrected me yesterday morning because she has never read a hard copy newspaper) – continues to be full of stories of New Year’s resolutions that never got out of the starting gate, Dry January fails, and Januhairy – the least challenging resolution for the menopausal/hormonally hirsute amongst us.

Privately, I have made a couple of personal resolutions – that for legal reasons that involve the old man, I can’t share publicly with you yet – but I have made one that I’m happy to talk about.

This May, I will be competing in the 4k Mothers Day Classic Fun Run to support breast cancer research.

Yes, FOUR FUCKING KILOMETRES, and A RUN! The “fun” part, I’m not so sure about.

I did a similarly crazy thing a little over ten years ago when I celebrated my 40th birthday – don’t ask me why I have this tendency to come up with harebrained schemes such as these, although I suspect that wine has something to do with them – when, in the wisdom of what I will now refer to as my youth, I signed up for the London To Brighton bike ride, to prove that I was still young, hot and fit to raise money for The British Heart Foundation.

And evidently, few life lessons were learned from that day of shame. Either that or I have parked them in the dying brain cell department of my brain along with memories of childbirth and whatever I once saw in Johnny Depp.

In my defense, the temperature that day in the UK was (an unheard of) 33 degrees – the precursor to what the intelligent among us now accept as climate change – but added to which, I was also sporting a rather debilitating injury, incurred at training the week before; the result of a nasty brush with gravel. That meant that I had to compete with two stitches to my right elbow and severe PTSD in relation to every getting on a bike again.

To cut a long story short, I was the only competitor to cross the finishing line as the event organizers were planning their retirements – although twelve hours to complete fifty-two miles is apparently a record…of sorts. I was also the only competitor to be slapped around the face by their husband halfway around the course when he feared for my sanity – although, again, in my defense, my bum was really sore.

There’s little doubt in my mind that what this year’s fun run is really just another narcissistic attempt to deny the physical evidence that my body is as old AF and, well, a bit buggered. However, my ambition is not to complete this year’s run in a credible time. No, all I’m really aspiring to do is not look like a complete twat as I cross the line – IF I cross the line – ie. I’m hoping for no sign of poo or wee on my pants, that I haven’t stolen water from the nearest dehydrated child spectator, or taken the bus to raise money for a commendable cause.

I’m also hoping that on this occasion I don’t have to beg a steward to pull me up the last hill in return for sexual favors – something the organizers of the London To Brighton event got very sniffy about.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t know why I don’t organize a coffee morning, eat all the cakes, and be done with it, either. It’s not like I’m one of those stoic people who can put their mind to anything for a shot of very public altruism. Frankly, I couldn’t apply myself to catching a Huntsman spider if the lives of my children depended on it – something you might have picked up on in my last post. I’m not naturally a “charity” type of person – other than my belief that it begins and stays at home, ideally in my bank account.

However, I’m proud to say that I have reached the 2km mark in my training – not an easy feat in the humidity of a Sydney summer – and my only question at this stage of my running journey is when the fuck it gets easier? When will my legs and boobs stop hurting? When will my thighs stop sticking together? Will I ever enjoy it?

Can I Suggest Eating Mindfully This Christmas Rather Than Dieting?

Let’s make a pact and enforce a community embargo against dieting this Christmas.

I won’t be dieting. In fact, I will be eating all of the pigs-in-blanket, swigging the whole jug of brandy custard, and scoffing every one of the purple Quality Street!

In Joanna Nell’s book, The Single Ladies Of Jacaranda Village, her doctor advises 80-something Peggy not to diet, but rather to ‘start eating mindfully.’ He elaborates: ‘I want you to think about every single thing you put into your mouth. I want you to taste it as you chew and listen to your body so you can work out when you’ve had enough.’

Easier said than done, I know – particularly at Christmas and when you’ve been raised by a war baby. And yet, the words of Peggy’s doctor really do make sense. He wants her to think more carefully about her relationship with food along with other adjustments to her lifestyle that will help her maintain her weight, rather than increase it.

No one should be miserable or deny themselves at Christmas, but it’s important to recognize when you’re full, make smart choices about what you eat, and exercise.

I’ve been trying to find that balance for a while. In calorie-speak, I have learned that when if I want a wine or two at night, I need to sacrifice bad carbs (such as potatoes or rice) with my dinner; I know that drinking water during the day fills me up and that chewing my food more slowly helps me feel more satisfied. I am also aware that the first mouthful of food is like the first sip of wine – it’s always the best!

I suppose that what I have been doing unconsciously for a while is eating more mindfully. The “eating healthily” part is easy for me – I love healthy food – although portion control, not so much. But I have also pushed myself to incorporate exercise into my routine each day. I don’t go on the scales anymore – why, when there are still women being murdered and Trump to depress me? – so instead, I gauge my weight by how my clothes fit.

Sadly, gauging your weight by how your clothes fit is becoming an increasingly difficult exercise due to the way that women’s sizing works.

The other day I tried on a bikini top in Bonds. I do not have a large bust, but because I have always carried some extra weight had a wide back (and didn’t want to spoil my day quite so early on), I attempted to be realistic and opted first for a size Large… moved swiftly onto the Extra-Large… and then, instead of beating myself up about it (and cutting up the Extra-Large into tiny pieces and shoving them down the front of the lovely sales assistant’s dress), I walked out of that shop with my head held high.

Generally, I wear a size 12-14 in tops, and yet I couldn’t squeeze my puppies into an Extra-Large. How can that make sense when the average size of women in Australia is a size 16?

So what do we do? How do we cater for the range of different shapes and sizes that women come in, without encouraging obesity? The only solution that I can see is education. 

I’m no scientist, but I’m always surprised by how little most people understand about the risks associated with processed food, portion control, sugar and the way our metabolism slows down with age. And that’s without taking into account the emotional eaters and drinkers among us or those of us in menopause.

I stopped self-flagellating over bad eating days a while ago. Like everyone, I have shit to deal with. Some days I feel on top of the world and others I want to never leave the house, and even though food is not my natural go-to substitute for happiness or self-medication – I’m wino! – I am guilty of major blow-outs like everyone else.

However, I’ve changed the way I handle them, which has nothing to do with the fact that I feel invisible anyway, or because these days I give zero fucks about pretty much most things, or even the emergence (finally) of some middle-aged wisdom. The alternative to getting depressed about something that is pretty irrelevant in my life right now – even if the magazines try to convince us otherwise – is to try to think calmly and positively for a solution to reverse the damage – such as half wine-half water, a few more salads, or some brisker walks. 

I’m already looking forward to those brisk walks this Christmas.

Have you got any other tips to share about eating mindfully? 

Managing Anxiety and Depression: The Trick Is To Find Happiness In The Small Things

After the cabin fever brought on by the Armageddon of a dodgy weather cycle in Sydney over the past 24hrs – totally unrelated to climate change, according to our government – it was a relief to get out of the house this morning. 

After almost a month of holiday excess, I decided that I would make my comeback to fitness with a morning jog with the old man – although for those of you conjuring up an image of beautiful blogger with handsome, virile husband pounding the pavements, please take note that the image below is far more representative of the truth and I am not about to metamorphose into a wellness blogger. 

Our jog – (roughly) 1.2k to the north end of the beach (which feels like 7k) and then back again, which is driven solely by the thought of the steaming bowl of porridge waiting for us back at home – is a strategy to get us focused for the day ahead. But the truth is that typically HE runs back to the house while I stagger back, on all fours, like some crazy woman in search of the nearest defibrillator.

This morning, however, I couldn’t even manage a stagger back. Two weeks of partying in London have turned muscle into lard and it was as much as I could do to throw off my runners halfway around and pad back along the deep sand of the beach, the ocean swirling at my feet.

A choice for which I am eternally grateful .

The point is that my failure to complete the circuit didn’t affect anything other than my pride, and that walk back along the beach turned out to be one of those rare moments of unbridled happiness that can appear unexpectedly in a moment of defeat. Kathy Lette commented about such experiences on Twitter recently:

‘Society is so obsessed with happiness. If you were happy every day of your life you’d be a brekky telly weather presenter. The trick is to find happiness in small things.’ 

Kathy Lette, Twitter

In truth, it’s hard to visualize Kathy having bad days if you judge her from her social media pages. Vivacious, successful and always in the company of the type of celebrities that most people would die to be in the company of, the writer is usually papped with a glass of Champagne in one hand – one of the many reasons, (writing and humor aside), that she remains an icon to me, even if my own glass tends to be full of Aldi Prosecco rather than Cristal. However, the truth is that Kathy, like everyone, has faced her challenges. Raising a son with autism is not exactly a walk in the park.

Finding happiness in small things has become something of a mantra for me this year. I’m currently reading Matt Haig’s “Reasons To Stay Alive”  – who isn’t? – and the message that runs through the book, (and coincidentally, has always been the advice of my doctor), is the importance of building up reserves of mental strength through activities such as exercise or creativity, or whatever floats your boat, really. Everyone goes through stages of life that aren’t easy, but once you survive a bout of depression or learn to manage your anxiety, that resilience will better prepare you for the next time. 

“Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.” 
― Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

I might be in a bad place physically at the moment, but I’m mentally okay – well…okay by my standards, thanks to Zoloft! – and I believe that it is my focus on those small things, such as the love of family, writing, peering up into a cloudless sky – I’m in Australia, Matt! – or enjoying the sensation of sand running through my toes on the beach are what keeps my silly brain in check.

Continuing to grow is also important.

‘Continuing to grow’ is a phrase that can reduce the old man to a quivering wreck since the time I accused him of ‘waiting to die’ in an argument. Now, every time he agrees to do something that he wouldn’t choose of his own volition, he feels obliged to remind me of how much he is ‘growing.’ I equate my request that he keep on ‘living’ to the compromise I make each week when I am his target practice on the tennis court.

At 53, I continue to learn and grow, through my writing, through my work, through friendships and relationships. I continue to be curious about the world around me and about my place in it. Don’t get me wrong, our life isn’t perfect – who’s is? – and yet, finally, I’ve come to realize that it’s how we approach our problems that truly matters.

‘It’s lucky I’m a happy person,’ my uncle said to me on holiday as he drove me to the 24hr care home to see my beloved aunt who suffered a serious stroke last year.

Honestly, I don’t know what gave this gorgeous, generous and humble man such a gift of positivity, for he hasn’t had a particularly extraordinary or successful life – depending on how you measure success, of course. Indeed, he has only ever truly cared about one thing in his seventy-odd years – the love of his wife of almost half a century.

So, is he lucky?

I don’t think so. But I do believe that he chose to live his life a certain way, and it’s the right way.

At 53, I Think That I Finally Have The Maturity To Embrace Yoga

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You can call me “Madonna” from now on because, since my four-hour yoga retreat on Saturday, I am officially at one with my body, nature and the limitations of my pelvic floor.

Unlike the majority of my mates, I’ve come a little late to the yoga party. I’ve struggled to find my inner or spiritual self, or whatever everyone else seems to get out of it. And fortunately, the excuse of a dodgy lower back – the pain in which is exacerbated by stretching parts of your body that aren’t supposed to be stretched – has given me an excuse. And yoga is also expensive, especially when compared to homemade Freeletics on the beach, that increase your dickhead factor at the same time.

Many of my friends have turned to yoga in later life, for the purposes of body strengthening and to rid themselves of stress. And I must admit that the type of people that do yoga always seem to have an aura of calmness about them that I envy (sort of). They’re a bit like born-again Christians – they just seem like nice people – something I hoped would rub off on me as I set out for Saturday’s session.

I suppose that l felt finally mature enough to “own” my “queefs” as I contorted my body into poses I wouldn’t even attempt in front of the old man after a cask of wine, and to chant without cracking up. And the idea of switching my mind off for a few hours from my to-do list, what I’m cooking for dinner, and what’s next on Netflix, held some appeal.

But FUCK! Yoga is seriously harder than the “Jane Fonda Workout,” when you really try; particularly when you’ve been sold the event as a three-hour sleep-fest by a well-meaning friend and so you’re in the zone for an expensive three-hour nap. My relaxation scale goes from 1. being knocked out on medication, to 10. watching back-to-back episodes of “The Bachelor” on the couch with a bottle of wine, so, no, I don’t call balancing on the balls of my feet – bum three inches off the floor – relaxing. Although I did surprise myself with how wide I can still open my legs – something I shan’t be sharing with the old man.

The Sanskrit mantras sounded like a foreign language – because they are – and I had no real idea to whom or what I was chanting as I Ommed in unison our passionate Canadian yogi, who was on the guitar. But who am I to knock something that frees your mind from the anxieties of life? Indeed, I quite enjoyed working my fingers busily around my beads, ignoring that little voice in my head that kept asking me ‘what the fuck are you doing?’

Be honest, give anyone a neck massage, an eye pack and a warm blanket and most of us will do whatever the fuck is asked of us. And it’s easy to be cynical about things we don’t understand or that take us out of our comfort zone – something I AM a natural at – but when we give them a go, sometimes we surprise ourselves.

Not even the idea of a vegetarian lunch in recompense for two hours of physical purgatory phased me afterward. Admittedly, I’m not certain that I fully relaxed my skin, my organs or my bones (?) during the session, but I did manage to dislodge one of those hard bogeys that really hurt during the nasal breathing.

 

The Hidden Link Between Muscle Tone And Weight Gain In Middle Age

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I know I drone on about the unfairness of weight gain in middle age a lot. I don’t want to sound like some narcissistic bitch bemoaning the first-world problem of the loss of my youth, beauty, and self-esteem, (which I am…obviously), but we women of a certain age have a lot to come to terms with.

Almost a year ago, as I began to watch the weight creep on, I decided to try something new. I took up exercise again. I suppose I got caught up in the hype of wanting to look young again – thank you Revitalift – and so I’ve been secretly beavering away at some fitness stuff in an attempt to shed the kilos and keep the old ticker working as it should.

I suppose I thought I’d surprise you. If women’s magazines are anything to go by, many of us struggle with our weight at this age and I thought that one day I would put up my before and after photos and my secret to losing weight on this site and you’d all hate me. I’d sell my story about how I did it, and how simple it really was, because all it really involves is loving yourself, drinking lots of red wine (not white) and walking to the pub instead of catching an Uber. I thought I’d be one of those unrealistic representations of health that you see in photos of beautiful, young people in the gym. Only I’m no longer young and beautiful.

But then, in a moment of sheer madness, I decided to get on the scales – something I haven’t done since the last time I couldn’t do up my jeans – and to my horror, I discovered that I’d gained six kilos. This, after almost killing myself for a year.

And the problem with that is that I’m not the sort that sees the unfairness of life as a challenge. I see the world in black and white – as in I’m the type that receives that kind of devastating news and heads straight to the pantry for a six-pack of Kettle Chips and a bottle of Baileys, in spite of everything I write about accepting myself for who I am.

To be honest, I’m feeling kind of cheated right now about all that time I spent gritting my teeth through the pain in my lungs and the swelling in my knees, and my disappointment isn’t entirely linked to vanity. It’s linked to the unfairness of working so damned hard for fuck-all results. It is linked to the sacrifice and unfairness of losing not only my looks, my hair, and my memory, but of also having to come to terms with how my clothes sit on my new size 14 frame.

We’ve all heard overweight friends say things like, ‘I don’t know why I can’t lose the weight,’ and then we watch them eat and become smugly judgmental. And I will admit to enjoying my food as well. On occasion, I have been known to give in to my body’s natural bent for eating MOST of the pies, and yet, in general, I eat healthily at least five days a week.

And yes, (before The Alcohol Police remind me), I am fully aware of those naughty wine calories, which I had hoped would be compensated by my hour of exercise each day. Two glasses of wine equate to 160 calories, which by my calculations, equates to an hour’s walk. Added to which, I must lose the equivalent amount of liquid in sweat during my jogs around the park.

Cortisol can be another cause of weight gain at this age, and I admit that I have been content in the past to latch onto the excuse of stress as a result of Kurt’s antics and living with the old man. And yet I can’t even blame the boy at the moment, who has been suspiciously tame for a while now.

Which leaves only a couple of possible excuses reasons for this weight gain. 1. The first is that biologically-speaking, many middle-aged women gain weight during menopause – something to do with an extra padding of fat to protect our crumbling bones, which is vital if we want to continue to outlive men and lead the human race. Because seriously…who wants to leave this world on something boring like a fall, unless it’s in a bar, of course? But as I’m not officially in menopause yet, it has to be the second reason.

2. Muscle tone.

Stiffness In Middle Age

figure-1707104_1920Sorry to mislead you with the clickbait of my title, but no, this isn’t a titillating article about the benefits of Viagra in middle age. It is, in fact, a piece on the more boring topic of stiff joints and aching muscles at this stage of our lives. Because it seems to me, that as one part of our bodies stops stiffening, the rest of it becomes as stiff as a board.

The Princess was recently labeled a senior dog by the vet – obviously, I covered her ears when they imparted the news because frankly, the dog is anxious enough – which must make us senior parents. And the vet has a point: because although our dog remains spritely for her age, is still keen to catch a ball in the garden and run away from us in the dog park – occasionally, I have seen her trip up steps or struggle to get down from the sofa.

 

Have you noticed any creaky bones, lower back pain or pinging tendons (that shouldn’t be pinging) when you get up or turn around too quickly because the strains on my body catch me out when I least expect it? Frankly, I can pull a neck muscle just reversing the car.

 

It seems ridiculous to me that I can swim forty lengths in the pool and then struggle to get out of my beach chair. Generally, I end up leaning over the side of it on all fours in the sand, in the sort of compromised bottom-flashing position made famous by that woman at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.

 

And it’s not pretty.

 

It’s the same when I do the garden when sometimes a small crane would come in handy to pull me back upright. All too often, I have to physically straighten my legs from beneath me like vets do to new-born foals, whilst I tug on a branch for support.

 

I alluded to my problems with walking down slopes and steep steps in this post, only a short time ago, and it’s not just me – the old man still can’t bend down to touch the floor – although, in fairness, the old man and his rugby-thighs have never been able to bend down easily to the floor.

 

Touch wood, my joints feel okay at the moment, but it is interesting how suddenly that stiffness and lack of flexibility suddenly catches up with us in much the same way that grey hair, naps, and early bedtimes do. One minute we’re running from security in nightclubs and the next we’re being offered a seat on the bus. I can see how easy it is for people who do desk jobs to lose their fitness and flexibility and to compromise their backs.

 

Which is why we need to look after ourselves at this stage of our lives. I am a firm believer that we reap what we sow, or is it sow what we… ? Never mind. Personally, I find that a quick stroll down to the pub at lunchtime eases and lubricates my stiff joints and can set up my body for the rest of the day.

Eating And Drinking Healthily In Middle Age To Maintain Your Body Weight

I’ve written a lot of posts about this topic in the past because let’s face it, girls, on a scale of stuff that still turns us on in middle age, (where sex with our husbands/partners is at one), food has to be at least a ten. The struggle is real. And to my horror, I recently discovered that there is sugar in fruit and wine – which is a bit rude, frankly – and a fact that has made rather a mockery of just about everything I have aspired to achieve over the past few years in my war on the muffin top.

 

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Sugar in fruit? Like, WTF!

 

The good news (this week) is that two glasses of red wine before bedtime is now good for us, according to the fat-busting scientists, which must mean that for those that are partial to a few more than two (due to mental health issues, say), that makes them virtually Roger Federer.

 

I gave up on traditional diets a long time ago, mainly because they don’t work, I can’t stick to them and they make me very dull and bad-tempered with a hunger only seen in Labradors and an irrational fixation on the breadbasket.

 

Fortunately, I am a moderation kind of girl, (Kettle Chips and cheese excluded – OBVS) and although I don’t deny myself any food groups really – except octopus because WTF and legs – I like to think that I choose wisely and healthily. I also try to balance my out my diet using a cutting-edge, self-developed point system that I stole from Weightwatchers designed for myself, that seems to work for me… sometimes – as in I don’t get the kind of hunger where all I can think about is eating other people’s leftovers in cafes and I can maintain focus on a sensible health target at this stage of my life – to maintain my drinking goals and weight at the same time.

 

Here are some of my tips:

 

If I have yogurt for brekkie, I won’t touch dairy for the rest of the day until my Snickers smoothie at bedtime.

 

If I blow out seriously on carbs, I limit myself to less than a bottle of wine that evening.

 

If I’ve starved myself with a steak and blue cheese salad for lunch, denied myself my morning tea toast and my afternoon snack of crackers and hummus, I allow myself an all-you-can-eat/all-you-can-drink week.

 

I only eat carbs when I’m hormonal, pre-menstrual, peri-menopausal, feeling fat, feeling unloved, feeling hungry, the kids hate me, or with wine.

 

You see – all pretty straightforward really. But let’s be honest, we all have those really shitty years when there’s been nothing on telly but sport for months, you’re fifty-two and still getting acne or your local restaurants decide to allow babies, and it’s hard to be virtuous all the time. Those days when all you want to do is crawl into bed with Pods on toast and an Amaretto on ice. And on those occasions – because remember, I said it’s about balance – I increase my exercise by searching out the furthest pub on Google maps and walking there AND BACK.

Hiking, And How To Unhinge An Already Rocky Marriage

It may surprise you to know that the old man and I are not adventurers. We will never jump out of a plane, never consider it personally fulfilling to scale the Himalayas or even camp locally, so it was with some trepidation that we set off on an adventure last weekend.

 

My arty shots – it’s obvious why the old man had to carry the backpack and that he took the first, blurred photo

 

I had decided in my wisdom that we needed a team-building exercise. Working together from home, in the same space, at different stages of our individual mid-life crises, means that sometimes we forget that there is a world outside and our mutual respect for one another gets lost in the cyberspace of real life and its drudgery. Although we are fortunate to have a beach at the end of the road, I decided that what better way to rekindle the spark of our working partnership than with a challenging hike.

So on Saturday, we bravely left the safety zone of our suburb to head to the Australian bush, in search of paradise – a walking track in the Kuringai National Park that leads to a beach called Flint and Steel. We’ve walked the track before – around seven years ago – when we were younger, fitter, our marriage was stronger, and I imagine it wasn’t thirty degrees in the shade.

I was responsible for making the packed lunch and packing the backpack, while the old man mooched around the house searching for his sunglasses for about an hour. As this was a team-building exercise, on this occasion I didn’t argue with him when he instructed me not to pack for a two-week holiday – mainly because somehow, (and I still don’t know how), I had coerced him to carry the bag so that I could take arty photos (chortle, chortle). So in went a single bottle of water (huge mistake), snake anti-venom, flares, spider anti-venom, a British flag – so that I would remember to “stay calm” in the event of dire straits – and a splint because you can never be too careful in this country. Mentally, I had also allocated the old man’s towel as our ligature and his lunch and water as my rations should we get lost.

The craggy track down to the beach is only about a kilometer, but as you can imagine, the ascent back up is a bitch – think climbing a massive sand dune in Dubai, on your period, and you might get the picture – it is the sort of climb in which it is impossible to carry enough water to keep your wilting body hydrated as  the sun beats unforgivably down on you. Eventually, with your heart ricocheting inside your rib cage and your lungs drained of oxygen, you forget the mechanics of how to breathe completely and death becomes a more favorable option.

The old man scoffed at me when I insisted we take our small beach umbrella – because unfortunately, there are no toilets, coffee shops and very little shade in paradise – although one couple did manage to lug a whole fucking gazebo down with them.

‘Well, you’re carrying it then,’ the old man said, begrudgingly, straight after the row about his baggage allowance and his earlier sarcastic comment, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to get into the backpack as well?’

‘Well, if you don’t mind?’ I had replied before I realized that it was one of his funnier dad jokes.

As I mentioned, the old man is every bit as grumpy, mean and begrudging as I am these days, and he can’t blame menopause. Frankly, I worry about taking him anywhere in public at the moment. Two fifteen-year-olds nearly beat the crap out of him on the tennis court the other day after he accused them (very undiplomatically) of going over into our court time – heaven forbid – and an app to warn cyclists when he is out on the road would definitely be in their interest. Suffice it to say, I spend a lot of my day apologizing for my husband’s behavior and researching male HRT.

It turns out that there is nothing better than a relentless, hot, uphill climb with dangerously-low water supplies to truly unhinge one’s marriage, and it is amazing just how quickly one can forget what was definitely one of life’s moments only minutes before. For in that mountain climb back to civilization, I completely forgot about the clear water of the ocean, the gentle crash of waves and the sand between my toes, set against nature’s background music of mating cicadas and the sway of palm trees in the breeze. How easy it was to forget how smug and grateful to be alive I had felt as I lay on that un-spoilt piece of paradise, where not even the biting ants on my towel or the motor boats with their spluttering engines and squealing, entitled spawn on inflatable donuts, could spoil it for me. No, all I could think about on that walk back up was my miserable AF husband screaming at me to get a move on before we died of sunstroke.

Aqua Aerobics: Welcome To The Middle-Aged Club Of Fitness

Firstly, I believe that this is an appropriate opportunity for me to issue a formal apology to those women that do aqua-aerobics, that I may have slighted in the past with a secret snigger of immaturity as I swaggered past them, head held high, towards the fast lane of the pool.

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Because yesterday, I joined them, and I haven’t laughed as much since the old man tried to walk through a friend’s patio door.

 

The three of you that read my post last week, might remember the video I shared by Randy Pausch here, in which he gave his recommendations for happiness – one of which, was to keep having fun. And as I am leading a rather self-imposed, solitary existence at present, with scant opportunity for a laugh – aside from making fun of my husband – I realized with a sadness the other day that he was right, and that I don’t do anything silly anymore – at least not the kind of public activity that pushes me out of my comfort zone. 

 

Not that aqua aerobics is “silly”, I hasten to add, as I discovered yesterday, but I have to admit that frolicking publicly in water and drawing attention to my shoddy fitness level, middle-aged body, and my age, (due to the stereotyping that only middle-aged women do aqua aerobics, that yes I know, I am guilty of influencing), is something I would have run a mile from in the past.

 

However, there was a relaxing and embracing ambiance when I entered the pool yesterday with twenty or so women my age, who like me, obviously don’t care that much anymore, all of us similarly kitted out in our tummy-flattening cossies and highly unflattering swim caps, one eye focused on the proximity of the nearest toilets at all times. Because…water!

 

At least that was our vibe until Iron Woman, our aqua teacher, rocked up – muscles flexed, tummy taut – the only woman (I believe) that could complete the whole forty-five minute Jane Fonda-esque workout on land ie. no water to absorb the pain and shock to the joints – which led to the swift departure of our gung-ho, ‘we’re-just-here-for-some-fun’ attitude, and in its place, a steely determination to zap our muffin tops.

 

She threw sets of foam dumbells at us, no doubt to wake us up, then cranked up the eighties music on her beatbox – loud enough to scare the mums and bubs in the baby pool next to us – as it became obvious that we weren’t really there to have fun and we sucked in what’s left of our pelvic floors and focused.

 

The last time I did Jane Fonda at a professional level was at high school – an option for those kids with zero hand/eye coordination, who also couldn’t run. But what wonderful memories managed to bypass my early onset dementia as we grape-vined from left to right through the water and pranced around like children, star jumping here, power walking there, all of us without a care in the world – the perfect sample group for a council urine test of the pool.

 

It took me a while to realize that the foam weights only work underwater, where there is resilience, and for a while there I looked like the only mum who’d nicked her teenage son’s festival drugs as I waved my weights around in the air like one of those people that guide aircraft on runways – Job title, anyone? And it was hard work – I could feel the pain in my glutes immediately, and several times caught myself looking longingly towards the café, drooling for the taste of my first muffin of the day.

 

But what a wonderful invention those weights are. You can even put them under your armpits so that you float while you do the leg and tummy exercises – the perfect opportunity for a sneaky gulp of wine from your water bottle, head resting on the lane rope, as you perv on the lifeguards.