The sister of a friend of mine had something of a shock recently when she went to her GP, having felt a little under the weather over the past few weeks.
Following a conversation with the GP and several tests, she was called back to surgery to be given the news that she had borderline diabetes and what appeared to be developing arthritis. All of which was a shock to the lady.
It’s important at this point to add in some detail to this story.
The lady in question is in her early fifties, over-weight, works a couple of jobs, has two children, eats a less than healthy diet and her physical activity is limited to going about her business and, more recently, walking a dog. Plus, there is a history of arthritis in the family and her last experience with structured physical exercise was more than five years before.
Put all of that together and it is a classic recipe for the kinds of physical (and associated mental or emotional) problems that can set in, particularly around the 50s mark. What to do about this pattern of behaviour and its consequences can appear superficially to be clear, but can also be complicated by the human condition.
My friend’s sister now faces an immediate regime of consultations with a diabetic nurse and a physiotherapist, as well as follow-ups with the GP to examine the options and the best way to stabilise her health conditions.
It can be a distressing and disheartening experience for some people when the combination of what is termed ‘lifestyle’ and age lead so pointedly to the distress and potential debilitating experience as experienced by this lady. In the course of my work as a personal trainer, I meet regularly with people who find themselves facing similar challenges and who need to make fundamental decisions about how they live and view their lives.
What to do in such a situation depends very much on the options that are realistically available to the person concerned, their level of motivation (or the motivation they can generate) to change the course of the health and life and how far down the road they may be to weakness or illness.
There are, however, some principles which are important to keep in focus:
Age matters and certain times of our lives matter more than others.
There is a world of difference between being 30 and having to take action because of weight, injury or fitness issues and, if such action needs to be taken, having to do so at 40 or 50. The world is a particularly different place at the 50 year mark and the person looking on that world is emotionally in a very different place to that they were in when they were 20, 30 or 40.
Having recently turned 40 myself, I speak from personal experience when I write that!
The challenges as we age generally get bigger and the responsibilities can become greater. Add into that mix the effects of the ageing process and making fundamental changes to lifestyle and fitness can be more challenging and demanding as we move forward.
That is not to say such changes cannot be made, but the person has to dig deeper and work harder to make those changes happen.
But the changes can be made, always bear that in mind.
It just takes more grit to make them happen, that’s all.
Illness and physical injury can have a greater effect in our later years.
Conditions such as diabetes and arthritis can be particularly troubling in our later, middle-aged years. Osteoarthritis, for example, which affects nine million people in the UK, often develops for people in their mid-40s and onwards.
Type 2 diabetes also generally affects people when they are over 40 (25 for Asian people) and are overweight or obese.
Such conditions and related illnesses can thus come together at the mid-life juncture, particularly if the person concerned has not reduced such risk factors as a sedentary lifestyle or poor diet beforehand.
Prevention is better than cure (and usually more effective).
Repairing the damage caused to the body (and the confidence of the individual) can be time-consuming and constricting due to the medications or interventions that may be needed once the damage has been done. Such interventions can also re-shape the life of the person concerned, changing him or her to make them feel weaker and more vulnerable.
To avoid such a situation, eating healthily and exercising regularly before the mid-life point is reached can push back the need for support or even make it unnecessary. In this context, a strong, fit body and an engaged, gregarious mind can be the foundation for a robust constitution which in turn can fight the threat posed by ageing and weakness. Building such a constitution can also deliver a more richly experienced life in the long run.
Freedom comes from strength of body, purpose and character, not from a poor diet or a sedentary lifestyle.
The NHS is currently running one of its (apparently never-ending) healthy lifestyle campaigns, called Better Health. This features an engaging advertising campaign, online advice and a phone app’. The upbeat message of the campaign is to use planning tools to encourage healthy eating, control weight and encourage physical exercise.
The campaign also focuses on the mid-life period and how to avoid this becoming a turning point for the worse, as with the lady, above.
I recommend everyone who might be thinking about such issues to find out more about the Better Health campaign or to have a conversation with personal trainers such as myself, or with other fitness professionals, who can advise on how to live a long and healthy life.