'I exercise to stay mobile and supple'

Maggie Nicholls, 62, from Exeter, says that for her, exercising is about much more than being physically fit.

What's your weekly exercise routine?
On a typical week, I’ll go to my keep-fit class on a Monday evening after work. On a couple of mornings before work and at weekends I’ll go for an early morning swim – nothing Olympic, it's just about getting going in the morning and feeling on top. If I have time, I also try to fit in a yoga session during the week.

Is your keep-fit class hard work?
It’s challenging but also great fun. It’s a 90-minute gentle aerobic class that focuses on posture, mobility, balance and strength. We start off with a warm-up, gradually increasing the pace. Some of the moves involve learning and remembering a sequence of dance steps, which also exercises the mind!

Is it intimidating?
Not at all. It’s very sociable. Exercising in a group is great for motivation. Running or going to the gym can feel lonely sometimes. There can be up to 50 people at these tutor-led classes. Everyone is there for the same reason. It’s always welcoming and non-judgemental. Everyone talks to each other and has a laugh during the session, especially when we get it wrong! The social contact is just as important as the exercise.

You also swim?
I try to fit in a swim on a couple of mornings a week before going to the office. I'm in the pool by 7.30am and swim lengths of the pool for 15 minutes, mainly doing breaststroke and backstroke followed by a few flexibility exercises. After that, I’ll relax in the jacuzzi. In total, it’s about a 30-minute session.

And you still find time for yoga?
I've done Hatha Yoga since I was in my twenties. Currently, I find it really hard to attend my weekly class as work commitments keep me away, but I usually manage 5-10 minutes of early morning stretches to maintain flexibility and strength.

How long have you kept this up?
I've always enjoyed dancing. As a child I did classical ballet. During my schooldays, I continued modern ballet. Later, when I got married and had children, I joined an aerobics class as a way of expressing movement. I’ve been a member of the Fitness League for over 20 years. This started life as the League of Health and Beauty, and it's still going strong and attracting new members after 80 years. There are similar organisations, such as Keep Fit Association and Medau, which teach exercise and movement through dance.

Why do you exercise?
Well, for younger people, exercise is often a bit of a stress buster but for me, as I get older, it’s much more about staying mobile and supple so that you can continue doing all the things you enjoy. I want to be able to continue travelling, gardening and dancing. I want to be able to pick up my three grandchildren – although not all at once. And I want to stay independent.

Sounds like you enjoy exercising
It makes me feel good. It’s not about being a size 10 or having a model figure. It’s about feeling great. Exercise makes me happy ... when the music starts at the keep-fit class, within 10 minutes I feel a smile coming through.

So you exercise to lift your mood?
Very much so. When the days get shorter, I get the winter blues and exercise really alleviates that. It’s like a pick-me-up. My early morning swims set me in a positive mood for the rest of the day. For me, exercising is more about how it makes me feel than how it makes me look.

You must have days when you can’t be bothered?
I have the ability to be completely lazy. Some days, especially during the winter, I can’t be bothered but I know that if I go to my class and exercise, I’ll come back feeling on top of the world again. That’s what keeps me going.

How do you motivate yourself on days like that?
When I get home from work on a Monday and can’t face going out again for my fitness class (especially on a winter evening), I bribe myself with a cup of tea and some toast while getting ready. I don’t allow myself to sit down because if I do I know I’ll find it really hard to get up and go out again.

Do you live on your own?
Yes. I have two sons and three grandchildren. We're close but I value my independence. If you don’t keep up your strength, you'll gradually lose muscle tone. One day, you’ll wake up and realise that you’re a frail little old lady and life is a lot harder. It doesn’t have to be like that.

Easy for you to say – you’ve been active all your life.
It’s never too late to get active. A little bit of activity is better than nothing at all. It can make a real difference to things like preventing falls by working on your balance and cheating osteoporosis through better bone density achieved by load-bearing exercises. Regular exercise is known to be beneficial for those with high blood pressure or late onset diabetes. There are plenty of examples at my keep-fit class of people who started exercising late in life. I've watched them get fitter and happier.

You’re better equipped to care for yourself …
Through exercise, especially yoga, you get to know your body. You learn to recognise alarm bells, such as stress and fatigue. It gives you the tools to help you feel better through relaxation and good breathing techniques, enabling better sleep, avoiding injury and feeling in control of your health. 

Page last reviewed: 25/07/2013

Next review due: 25/07/2015

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