You might look back fondly to the time you were in the best shape of your life, as if they were halcyon days only to be relived in your memory. However the pandemic, which has affected more seriously those who are overweight, has shown that none of us can rest on our laurels when it comes to being fit and well.
Whatever your age, if you’re in need of some inspiration to get you up and moving, then look no further than our five interviewees. They prove that when it comes to attitude, age is just a number and being over 60 is more about running up that hill than being over it.
“I’m fitter than I was at 40”
Phil Jeremy, 66, from Marbella
My father, grandfather and great-grandfather all died aged 59. When I was that age I ran around the rim of the Grand Canyon. Everyone thought I was mad.
Today I’m in better shape than I was in my 40s. I played a bit of football and ate what most people eat, but I had a bit of a stomach on me and I didn’t have the muscular tone I have now.
Then when I turned 54 all that changed. I stopped eating bad stuff and I started running a little bit more, and more. And then I started to do a lot more. I started to do marathons in the mountains.
When you’re doing a 10-hour ultra-marathon you really need to understand the effect that has on your body. So I got a coach and learnt about nutrition.
I’d spent my career as an agent for models and actors, and then late in life, I became a personal trainer. Now I help people my age, but also people in their 20s and 30s to stay fit.
Running ultra-marathons isn’t particularly good for you, I should say. I wouldn’t recommend it to most people; it’s an extreme thing. Most of my clients just do sprints, because it’s much better for you to do high intensity training.
There’s no point going to the gym for an hour and spending most of that time on your phone. It can be for just 20 minutes but you’ve got to hit it hard.
Most importantly, being healthy is about what you eat. Most people just don’t understand that and it’s a shame because they tend to train badly and eat badly but think they’re doing it the right way.
The first thing I do with clients is stop them having sugary breakfasts like cereal, orange juice and too much fruit. It sets you up all wrong for the day. Instead you should have a protein-based breakfast like eggs.
I suppose I got fit because I was worried about not living past 59, but ultimately my wife and I enjoy feeling healthy and going out and running. We enjoy being able to do these things.
My advice to others is to build up slowly. If you can’t do much, then just try a short sprint up a hill, come back down and try it again, and go from there.
Do some push-ups. Do some squats. It really isn’t that complicated.
“I’ve run five marathons in my 70s”
Morag Roberts, 77, from Stamford
I started running seven years ago. It was my daughter’s fault. She had got into fitness and we were supposed to be going for a short walk around Regent’s Park. Before I knew it we were running! I hadn’t sprinted since I was at school, although I’d always been fit and active as a result of working as a nurse. I’d always enjoyed walking and had even done a couple of treks with a colleague in Nepal, which was fascinating. I’ve got Norwegian blood in me, so I like the hills.
Taking up running has given me a new lease of life. After that first run I set my sights high and decided to have a go at the London Marathon, thinking that I can walk that no problem. So that was that. I did my first London Marathon and I was hooked. I became a member of a running group called the Stamford Striders, which is a lovely crowd. I’m the oldest member but they’re all so supportive it makes it easy to carry on.
I’ve done five London Marathons. My fastest time is five hours 58 minutes. I don’t run the whole thing. If I see a hill, I walk! And I did the virtual marathon last year in six hours four minutes.
The thing with running is that it is so stimulating. You take in so much as you go about your environment that you would never get from sitting in a car. I tend to run on my own or with one of my friends from the club. And while I’m really quite keen to keep fit, it also keeps me happy. This has been a new chapter in my life and without it I think my fitness would have dropped off a cliff. I’d have been sat at home doing my 55th jigsaw.
“I want to be able to play with my sons”
Michael Van Clarke, 60, from London
Before the first lockdown I’d been forced to take a year off training due to surgery for a torn shoulder tendon, and my surgeon had warned me not to do anything for a year to 18 months.
I noticed an awful lot of changes. I lost half a stone of muscle from my upper body. It would have been more weight but I added some to my midriff. I didn’t feel great. When you lose muscle mass your ratio of hormones changes; you have less testosterone and more oestrogen. I felt different. I think that’s what a lot of men my age experience. And that’s because they allow muscle mass to waste away after the age of 40.
As well as four daughters from a previous relationship, I have twin sons with my partner Gaby, a personal trainer. When lockdown started I decided it was time to get back into shape, so that I can be the fully active dad I want to be for my sons.
Fortunately before lockdown started I’d bought a Peloton, so I use that every other day, as well as 20 minutes of weights and then some yoga. I try to do something every day of the week, which more recently has been about five days a week. The key is routine and trying to do the same time every day if it’s possible.
The boys keep me fit. They love playing “Tree”, which involves naming the kind of tree they want me to impersonate and then climbing up me.
Gaby took the boys out for a run recently and they ran a kilometre non-stop in six minutes and 30 seconds. Two days later they did it in
“I hate exercise, but I want to be fit at 90”
Stephanie Freeman, 64, from Knutsford
I started modelling when I was 25 and as my career took off I was aware that I had to stay in shape. I was never one of those skinny models; I like food too much to give it up.
I allow myself chocolates and biscuits, but I eat an awful lot of vegetables. I don’t eat much meat at all; just a little bit of chicken and fish.
Exercise isn’t nice. I don’t find it fun. If people do, then good for them, but I’ve just always thought, “Phew, thank God that’s over”. I can’t think of anything worse than doing a marathon, but respect to those who do it!
For me exercise is so that I can enjoy all the other things in life. It’s a necessary evil.
My generation might live to 100 but I don’t want to be one of those 90-year-olds who can’t walk. Before the pandemic I did HIIT classes, yoga and weights. Then when the gyms shut I started running.
The first nine seconds was agony, but I persevered and built it up to 10 minutes and then a further 10. I’ve stopped since the weather got cold and icy, but I’ll start again as soon as I can.
At the moment I aim to do something every day for 30 minutes; it can be hard to find the motivation but you’ve got to.
I still model a little bit, but because of my age they want me to be the grandma, and they don’t mind if I’m a few pounds heavier, because older people are supposed to be bigger. But I don’t feel like that. What does a typical grandma look like any more, anyway?
I’ve fought against ageing and I was absolutely fine until I was 58. I had loads of energy then things started to change a bit and I got a few more creaks and I got puffed out more easily. I’m still fighting against that.
It doesn’t take much. You don’t have to run. You’ve just got to walk fast and get your lungs and heart going. Then you’ve got to tone your muscles and you’ve got it covered.
“I did my first pull-up in my 50s”
Annie Bath, 63, from Bournemouth
A year ago I went shark diving. I’ve been white water rafting. I did a skydive when I was 60. I do slalom water ski and snow ski. I will try pretty much anything. I would say 99 per cent of my friends my age do none of that.
The thing is, I don’t think I’m old. If there is a challenge to do, I don’t think, “maybe not at my age”. I just do it. People fall into a negative mindset as we get older and it’s such a shame. I’ve had six children and I exercised right up until I had my eldest son, which was quite a big thing years ago because women were told not to. I did Jane Fonda with my leotard stretched until it was transparent.
After each baby it got slightly harder to get back into shape but it was important that I was fit to look after my children.
It helps that I’ve always enjoyed exercise, although my daughter says I’m not the norm. The key is to find something that you love. I don’t do normal exercise.
I used to do all the usual weight training, which is fantastic for over-60s because our muscles go, and I used to do Pilates, which sent me to sleep.
Then in my mid-50s I heard about pole classes on the radio and I just knew I had to try it. At that point I couldn’t pull myself up the pole at all, but I persevered. I got a pull-up bar and would use it every time I walked past it in the house. You have to start at the beginning. Now at the age of 63 I can still dead lift myself up the pole.
I’m also addicted to waterskiing, which my partner introduced me to in my 50s. I walk 10k every day and I also stretch every day; I can still do the splits. It’s so important when we get older as our muscles go wrong in all the wrong places, you’ve got to keep stretching them out.
Youngsters can jump straight in, but now I have to warm-up properly before waterskiing and pole.
I’m mainly vegan, but I’m not too precious about it – if my kids stick a roast chicken in front of me when I go over, I’ll eat it.
Over the age of 60 you know that if you eat rubbish and don’t exercise, you’ll feel awful – it’s that simple. There isn’t a secret formula. I’ve recently taken redundancy from the aviation industry and I’m currently pursuing fresh challenges.
In 20 years time I hope I’ll be the same. I’ve promised myself that I’ll do a skydive when I’m 90.
More… ‘I want to be in good shape when I’m 90’: the health secrets of super-fit pensioners – Telegraph/MSN