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'We're in our 50s and we've never been fitter!'

 

Mid-life might once have conjured up images of wrinkles, double chins, grey hairs and pot-bellies, but three Northern Ireland women prove that doesn’t have to be the case - and they are reaping amazing health results. By Leona O’Neill.

The yoga instructor:  'Working out helped me get better after a brain tumour'

Gillian McDonald (52), from Bangor, is a social worker and yoga instructor with YogaBody. She is married to Michael and the couple have two children, Claire (27) and Robbie (30), and one grandchild. Gillian says yoga and being fit helped her through a brain tumour battle.  She says:

I've been practising yoga for nearly 30 years now. Most days I incorporate it into my gym workout. It definitely is a de-stresser.

It's a holistic science, it's not just about the physical body but the mental and the emotional body. It's about the whole self.

I am fitter now than I ever was, definitely. I wasn't well three years ago. I had a brain tumour. I knew something was wrong and my yoga very much guided me. I was very lucky in that it was benign. There were very subtle symptoms, there was something squeezing in my head that I just knew was not normal. Through meditation and yoga, and knowing my own body, I pushed my GP - who initially thought it was the menopause - for further investigations.

I was sent for an MRI and it was discovered. It was a 3.4cm by 4.5cm mass on my right temporal lobe. I went through a seven-hour surgery and they managed to get it all out.

I used yoga to recover from that. It was a very frightening experience, in relation to what might have been. It was just caught in time and I was so lucky.

I do yoga for a wide range of benefits, the most prominent of which is feeling happy in my own skin.

But I do yoga for everything. It's holistic and it's not about weight-loss or body image. It's about feeling good and feeling confident, about building self worth, about building a sense of gratitude and awareness of our environment. It's about being happy in my own skin.

Yoga has the feelgood factor. It releases endorphins.

You are never too old to start anything. I've always been into following a healthy regime, so yoga is just part of my lifestyle. And I think that's what really saved the day in relation to having had the brain tumour.

I don't only do yoga, I go to the gym, I do weight-lifting, running and I do classes.

I do all this for toning and for keeping my body as strong as possible. I often whip the ass of 20-year-olds in sport and people say they wish they could do what I do.

Gone are the days when you need to spend hours in the gym. There's evidence now to show that short blasts of high-intensity training are just as effective so that's what I do.

There is a good mix of people in the gym when I go. There are people in there well past their 80s. There are a group of older gentlemen there every day working away. I'd like to see myself doing that when I'm 80."

The runner: 'Keeping fit is a way of life for me'

Catherine Moran (58), from Londonderry, is a domiciliary care worker and is married to Cathal. They have four children,  Marie (38), Catriona (35), Terri (33)  and Laurence (22), and six  grandchildren. She runs 40 miles per week. She says:

I would do a lot of running, which I took up after my youngest child was born, so I've been doing it now for nearly 23 years. I would run between 35 and 40 miles per week.

I feel fit. I run and I race and I compete. I run for the Foyle Valley Athletic Club and would compete in the cross-country leagues. I win medals regularly in the over-55 categories.

I run because to me it is a way of life. I would run around five times a week and it's not something that I have to force myself to do.

I enjoy it. I go out, I enjoy the company of other runners, I enjoy club training.

I run quite a bit on my own too because I work part-time, so I'm off most afternoons and would run when I had the time.

I am super fit. I started running when I was 35 and I have been running ever since, continuously. I've always been fit and when I do go to the doctors for different things they tell me that I am looking good with regards my heart health, blood pressure and the like, so I would definitely be classed as being very fit for a woman of my age.

I think keeping fit fights the ageing process, not least because you are doing something you enjoy, that is good for you.

Also, it keeps you motivated, especially if you are going to be taking part in races. It's not just racing to win, but being part of the buzz of the race.

Keeping fit definitely helped with going through the menopause. I went into the menopause when I was 48 years old. It really hit me hard because I took an under-active thyroid at the same time. That left me really fatigued.

I got medication from the doctor and went back to running and started feeling more energetic. The exercise helps you not only physically but mentally also. I was very lucky with regards the menopause and I think it was because I was so fit."

The walker: 'I'm lighter and no longer a diabetic'

Patricia McVeigh (55), from Dungannon in Co Tyrone, owns Give Us A Twirl formalwear shop. She is married to Paul and the couple have two children, Olivia (19) and Gene (14). Patricia walks some 18 miles a week, has lost three stone and turned a diabetes diagnosis around. She posts her progress on her page, Walking Updates. She says:

I walk a lot - I walk around three miles every day, with one rest day, so that adds up to about 18 miles a week.

I drop my son off at the bus stop for school and then I take myself off for a walk, so that's it out of the way for the day. It clears my head. I started this routine in January 2017 and I've lost over three stone so far and feel great.

I was a diabetic from 2014, which I completely ignored, thinking it would go away. My mother became ill in 2016 and my sister and I went to live with her in Donegal for three months to look after her until she passed away.

But in that summer I put on another stone in weight because we were taking mum out for lunch every day. I went into the city one day to get a pair of shorts. I had to buy a size 24, and they were still tight on me. I was over 17 stone.

I just like there was a dullness in me and I don't know how it came on me, but it did.

Looking back, I had put everyone else first. I was in full mummy-mode. But then I thought if I don't do something about this I'll be dead. I could see myself having a heart attack. Something just clicked. I joined Weight Watchers and I started walking in January and I had most of the weight off in the first six months. Now I'm a size 14/16. It's a nice feeling, but I know I still have a long way to go. Having said that, I feel great.

From the very first day I started I posted a video up on Facebook. I videoed myself out walking. Ordinarily I would have parked my car right at the door of the supermarket and gone in. If I could have done so, I would have taken the car right in there.

I made the video because this was the complete opposite of me, so in the back of my head I was almost shaming myself into sticking at the walking because I had stuck at nothing before.

The feedback was so positive on that video that I put another one up a few days later and it literally got legs and walked, a bit like me. Before long I had nearly 8,000 followers.

I feel so much better now than I ever did. I've done six 5k races, walking. It's a great achievement. I go out in rain, hail, wind and snow. Nothing stops me, I love it. It's my 'me time'.

The other dramatic health benefit is that I have eliminated my diabetes. When I went for my annual tests the results came up as normal in all of them. My doctor said that she could no longer class me as diabetic. I couldn't believe it, because the next step for me was full-time medication. That was the best feeling ever.

I know that I still have weight to lose and I'm still at it. I walk every week.

My mother was always at me to lose weight. She was always telling me that I was going to get sick and that diabetes was serious. And now I feel that, she's not about, but I'd like to think that she'd be happy and that she'd be proud of me."

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