Below our Midlife writer, Nicola talks about “Gymtimidation”… an all too common experience amongst midlifers keen to prioritise their wellbeing but are nervous about dipping their toes into the gym environment.

Let’s be clear, I have never liked the gym, I have been a sporadic exerciser since school, dipping in and out of exercise classes, never really committing and I will find any excuse not to go … who’s with me?!

Somehow, I always felt out of place, a club that I didn’t belong in, despite having paid the joining fee, slinking around the edges, not sure how the machines worked, nervous of all the sweating bodies who clearly knew what they were doing, all in their perfect matching outfits.  Now, I look around and think “am I too old to be here”?

Mix it up in Midlife 
I was always one of those people that never worried about exercise or diet, regardless of what I did, I stayed the same size and weight.   But once I got past 30, I noticed that I was finding it harder to shift the weight and things were hanging around my middle section more than before.  It was after my son was born when I was 39, that I decided to take matters in hand and I joined a gym near the office and discovered … the joy that is spinning .. it was like nothing I had ever experienced, and I was hooked! I had been a committed clubber in the 90s and this took me right back… the dance anthems kept coming and I was getting fit – I loved every minute! I am still a firm believer that spin classes are populated by reformed ex-clubbers to this day.  One of the best bits for me was that the whole thing took place in semi-darkness, and I was focused, so was everyone else for that matter, lost in the music with no voice of comparison to put me off.

Now a midlifer, I know that a varied diet of exercise is important for longevity and an integral part of the menopause holy trinity  (that’s exercise, diet, and hormones by the way) I am very aware that including weights in my regular routine is important for bone health and building lean muscle, so it’s back to the gym I go, with some trepidation, so I decided to canvas opinion to see if any midlife pals felt the same? I was sure I knew the answer, but the more I researched, and asked the question, the more the responses came back telling me something different.

Lockdown changed our attitude toward working out
For those that took the time to send me a message on insta – I thank you. Social media generated some brilliant feedback – it seems that lockdown changed a lot of people’s attitudes to the gym.  I was clearly not the only one inspired by Joe Wicks and his daily workouts.  I am now the proud owner of a couple of sets of home dumbbells and many of you say you love your home workouts– enabling you to fit your exercise routines in around your daily lives and the best bit is it’s free!  Some, like Junita, love a challenge and have signed up for a 1000 km sponsored walk and look forward to the training walks, enjoying time for themselves in nature – good for the soul and the body. 

For many, it’s about freedom – many of us work, run businesses, have kids to get to and from school, or elderly parents to look after and find gym timetables too restrictive, so having something that you can fit around all that works well, I have to say that Peloton was a recurring theme in my research and one that I definitely would consider if I had the space. 

The Gym can provide new inspiration and focus and you might enjoy it…
I personally need structure, I will always find an excuse to not exercise no matter how good it makes me feel, so having a class booked and in the diary, means I will attend. 

I spoke to freelance make-up artist Kerry September as have been inspired by her Instagram posts about her fitness journey and the variety of exercises she manages to fit in.  She says: “I LOVE my gym; I love talking to everyone of ALL ages ALL sexes even the ones with high ponytails and tiny bums”. She is constantly inspired by other gym members and gets new workout ideas from them. 

Evelyn Duro, head coach Champneys Forestmere in Hampshire, says “I have a lot of midlifers in my classes, I feel that people gained confidence in lockdown working out at home, once they were allowed out, we have seen many more over 40s coming back to the gym and trying out new classes.  They aren’t doing it just because they know it’s good for them, they do it because it is an act of self-care”.   

My business partner did a trial session at her local gym convinced she would hate it and was pleasantly surprised, finding everyone supportive, and friendly.  She has now been a member for over a year and is delighted to be holding her own against the younger members, so a high feel good factor and stress reliever to boot – what’s not to love?

What’s out there for the die-hard gym refuseniks?
Emma set up Fitstate with her partner Zoe and they run classes between Winchester and Wimbledon outside in local parks.  Exercising outside is good for mental health and gives a boost of vitamin D and they train in all weathers, so it’s not for the faint-hearted!  Fitstate has seen its numbers swell and say the reason for this is because they put their female clients at their ease.  Emma says “It’s a safe space and we are both peri-menopausal, so we can empathise with how our clients are feeling and provide lived experience and guidance.  We are all pretty open with our conversations on women-led topics which builds a supportive, fun and caring community ”.  

It’s all about encouragement, not pressure
I think what I have found in midlife is that anything that involves movement is good, it’s more about how it makes you feel and if you find something you enjoy, you will want to do it more.  Many of us are fitter now than we have ever been, Gabi Jennings is a case in point, she is the founder of Love Ocean, a sustainable and natural bath and skincare range for kids  she says “HIIT training and strength training are part of my routine,  but I also enjoy more mindful movement practices like Yoga, as I find they are a way to disconnect from the endless and sometimes unhelpful thought patterns and worries. I really believe as the strength in my body has developed, so has my mental strength and life resilience.”

Don’t be afraid to try new things, until you find what works for you.  As the Fitstate girls say, don’t see it as punishment – reframe it and enjoy it. I personally find that the music I listen to when I work out makes a huge difference and if there is a good group of women (and men!) in the class it can really bring a sense of community and can improve your mental health as well as your physical health. 

Finding your groove
Think about what you enjoyed doing when you were younger…. maybe now is the time to revisit it? Dance classes can be huge fun and great exercise and learning routines and new steps are also great for brain health and focus.  I for one have been inspired to dig out my old roller skates and give it another go after seeing so much of it on social media – go on, what will you try? 

My favourite workout kit:

  • Vuori offers no-nonsense, feel-good kit that is long-lasting and sleek I love their V1 uplift leggings that do exactly what they say!
  • Decent sports bras for larger busts are hard to come by, I swear by Sweaty Betty Ultra Running bra – brilliant high neck with no cleavage worries sweatybetty.com
  • Has anyone else noticed that Marks and Spencer have seriously upped their sportswear game? Their GoodMove collection is pocket friendly and stylish to boot ! These tops are a firm favourite.
  • I have always been a fan of H&M for their gym gear with a great selection across a variety of sports – they even do ski wear!

words by Nicola De Burlet