A few months ago I noticed a dragging sensation in my pelvis while out running. On the first occasion, I didn't take action, but when it happened again a week later I hot-footed it to a women's health physiotherapist to get it checked out.
"Loss of strength in the pelvic floor," she said, "is typical of women in the perimenopause."
I nodded as if this information was no surprise to me, while the news that THE CHANGE was upon me blared inside my head like a klaxon. Perimenopause is the stage of a woman's life, typically in her 40s or sometimes earlier, when declining oestrogen levels signal the transition towards menopause. The shortening of my menstrual cycle and the lengthening of each period had come on so gradually that it had barely registered. Disrupted sleep and anxiety are no surprise in 2020, and with the weather this summer it hasn't been until the last couple of weeks that it's become clear that the heat that sometimes wakes me overnight is coming from within me. In spite of my determination to be perennially in my prime à la Miss Jean Brodie, I have to accept that I may be reaching middle age.
So, what to do if you are perimenopausal or menopausal? All of the usual advice about healthy living applies even more during this stage of life. Declining oestrogen contributes to increased cholesterol, reduced bone density, reduced muscle mass and it affects the way your body responds to insulin. Therefore a healthy diet and exercise are crucial at creating resilience in your body to prepare for the changes to come. Exercise can also help to manage mood and brain performance, which also frequently suffer during the perimenopause and menopause. However, even with the best diet and exercise programme, it isn't always possible to coast through the menopause, so don't suffer in silence. Contact your doctor, particularly if you are experiencing unexpected, extreme or ongoing symptoms. The NHS offers more advice and I found this interview about the 34 (yes, 34!) symptoms of the menopause to be quite helpful. October is World Menopause Month, with the 18th being World Menopause Day, so look out for information in the press.
Lastly, if you are having any problems with stress incontinence, your first port of call should be your GP or a women's health physiotherapist rather than the Tena-lady aisle! While advertising campaigns referring to "Oops moments" have been great in destigmatising the problem, it is important to remember that loss of bladder control is common, but it is not a normal part of healthy ageing. If your pelvic floor isn't supporting your bladder, it won't be supporting your back properly either, so your whole body will thank you for taking care of it!
1. Log in to TeamUp
1a. If you have already registered for the class, the class will be displayed in your upcoming registrations. Click on the class name, which will take you to step 4.
1b. If you have not already registered for the class, visit the Schedule and click on the date of the class.
2. Select the class you plan to attend
3. Click on "Register for a single class" or, if you plan to attend weekly, click on the right hand button to reserve the class every week. You may be asked for payment options if you don't have a valid membership option.
4. You can now open the class in Zoom by clicking on the button, "Open video stream." Kindly note that the virtual classroom is only created 48 hours before the start of the class.
1. Log onto your TeamUp account.
2. Go to the dashboard.
This will display all of your upcoming reservations.
3. Select "Leave" by the class you no longer wish to attend.
4. Confirm that you want to unregister.
This will free up a credit for you to use in another class.
5. Click the hamburger button in the top right-hand corner.
This will open up the menu.
6. Visit the schedule.
7. Select the date of the class you wish to attend as a catch-up.
8. Select the class you wish to attend.
9. Register for the class.
10. You will see a confirmation page and that's all done!
You will also receive confirmations by email for both the class you have left and the class you have joined.
Sustainability is a key part of the Jane Mansley Fitness and Pilates ethos. Just as I believe that any exercise plan should be sustainable long-term, so should our lifestyle generally.
This year, I tried the Plastic Free July challenge to give up single-use plastics for a month. Why plastics? When China stopped accepting most plastics for recycling in 2018, countries such as the UK began to divert plastic waste to other countries which didn't have the infrastructure to cope with the recycling. Much ended up in landfill, and has found its way to the sea, or has simply been burned, polluting the local area with toxic fumes. According to Cambridge city council, our plastics are currently recycled, so it's worth separating your waste, but reducing plastic use generally is more sustainable as the market for recycled plastic is limited. Unlike glass and metal, plastics cannot be recycled indefinitely. Plastics are polymers (long chains of atoms) and the chains shorten during the recycling process, reducing their quality. Even with the best systems in place, a piece of plastic can only be recycled about 2-3 times before it can no longer be used.
My goals during Plastic Free July were to:
Having finished the challenge, it's been an eye-opener. I had thought that I was already pretty conscious of waste, but it transpires that I had a fair bit of room for improvement. Here are a few changes I will stick with:
Some ambitions were less successful:
This week we have a guest blog coming to you from Myra, who is sharing her experience of getting into running, culminating in finishing a Parkrun - hopefully the first of many! She writes:
I started running early last year. Most people have some sort of New Year's Resolutions. Mine were very vague, but included a feeling that it would be nice if I could jog for a mile. There have been a couple times in my life when I've tried to take up jogging/running as a sport, but my interest rapidly waned as I didn't have any real goals and I didn't particularly like running. Still, in January 2018 I thought: humans are supposed to be good at running, so I really ought to be able to run, even if for only just a mile. This remained a vague thought until March, when there was an email at work about a ladies lunchtime beginner running club starting up. The idea was that we would meet up for a relaxed pace run of about 2 miles. "What if I can't run for 2 miles?" I asked. "You can walk part of it if you need to, no worries!" was the reply. I was encouraged by it being for beginners as well as being for women. I felt that there wouldn't be any competition, and that it would be OK to be slow.
So I pulled out my dusty running shoes and joined the group. The first time it was difficult - I had to walk quite a bit of the way and my muscles really hurt for a few days afterwards. The next time I was able to jog some more and walk less, and my muscles hurt much less. The third time I was able to make it around (at a slow jogging pace) without walking, and my leg muscles barely felt anything a few hours after I got back. Now I'm a regular. I find that while I still don't actually enjoy the running/jogging itself a great deal, I like very much that I am able to do it, and the pleasure that this level of fitness gives me is enough to outweigh the discomfort I feel during the actual running. I find that I enjoy running by the river - especially looking at the birds (ducks, geese, swans, coots, moor hens, and the occasional cormorant and heron).
This year my goal was to do an official 5K run. I signed up to Parkrun but still didn't do it for several months. I added a few little loops to my runs around the science park and tried to go a bit further along the river. Although it's fine to do a Parkrun at a walking pace, I really did want to be able to jog the entire way. Finally, on Saturday I did it.
On the day it was great. Everyone was friendly and encouraging, from the little cluster of first-timers gathered for a briefing before the run, through all the marshalls along the route and at the finish, to the people with scanners after the finish line. I started at the back as I know I'm pretty slow, and that turned out to be definitely the right move. I did overtake a few people who dropped to a walk, and I was overtaken by many people who were faster than I am, but I didn't feel bad about being overtaken. They were running their own race, possibly trying for a personal best, but my goal was just to get around without walking, which I did. Mission accomplished! But even more importantly, I really enjoyed it, as the atmosphere was so good.
So what are my goals now? Train for a 10k, or the half marathon? Nah, I'm over 50 and have a dodgy knee. But having reached the ability to run a 5k without killing myself, I want to keep up this level of fitness. I'd like to try to do a Parkrun at least once a month, especially over the winter. If I can keep this up I'll be pleased with myself. Do I want to get faster? Nah, not really. I always have been a "steady as she goes" kind of person - I just don't like pushing myself too much. If I get faster, I guess that would be nice, but it isn't my goal. My goal is just to keep coming, and to watch the number of Parkruns done slowly climb up. And this fits in fine with the Parkrun ethic – it’s OK to be slow, you just need to get out there and do it.
Last Thursday, I hosted a Run For Your Life session which combined walking, jogging and running - a type of session called fartlek (Swedish for "speedplay"). I was asked by one of the participants whether this is what they should be doing during a race. Great question! Let's say you're at Parkrun and you know can't run continuously for 5 km, then it's absolutely fine to intersperse your running with the occasional walk to catch your breath. This is a great way to make longer distances achievable, particularly if you are new to running, or to that distance. However, if you know you can run the distance and want to maximise the speed overall, then you will find it best to run either at a steady pace, or run slightly faster in the second half of the race than the first. In practice, most people tend to run a bit too fast at the start, and steadily slow down during a race. This means early exhaustion, and spending most of the race tired! If you can learn to pace yourself early on in the run (which is much harder than it sounds), you will have the energy left to speed up in the second half.
So why do we often vary speed in training? Going for long, steady runs according to the distance you are training for is great, and is something that any long distance runner would want to have as the mainstay of their training programme, but there are several benefits to adding speed intervals:
I us I developed these bars as a low-cost, low-sugar alternative to shop-bought protein bars (which also come in environmentally disastrous non-recyclable wrappers). The recipe is easy and quite adaptable. The protein comes from a mixture of milk, nuts and seeds, as well as protein powder. Most of the sugar comes from the sultanas, which can be reduced if you want to really cut down, but I find that they add a lot to the texture and flavour.
30 g (1/2 cup) Hot Oat Cereal (finely ground instant oats without added sugar or flavours)
60 g (1/2 cup) Dried Skimmed Milk
2 Scoops (50 g), Whey Protein - Chocolate flavour
25 g Pumpkin Seeds
50 g Ground Almonds
20 g Desiccated Coconut
70 g Smooth Peanut Butter With No Added Sugar
60 g Sultanas
Mix all ingredients together and add enough water to make a firm dough (about 3-4 tbsp). Roll or press the dough to about the thickness of a brownie. Refrigerate until solid, then cut into eight portions with a sharp knife.
The portions can be eaten straight away, kept refrigerated for 3 days, or frozen and removed individually as needed. I usually make a double quantity, and freeze the bars down.
Please note that the nutrition panel to the right is based on an automated generator by entering the recipe into My Fitness Pal. It is therefore only as accurate as the crowd-sourced data used in its production!
Most people will suffer from back pain at some time in their life. In fact, it's one of the biggest causes of time off work, causing 12 million days of absence every year in the UK. Knowing how best to treat it is therefore of great importance for enhancing wellbeing among the general population and in the workplace. The trouble with back pain, from a scientific point of view, is that it usually get better by itself within a few weeks or months. So you can't necessarily rely on the word of your friends as to what helped them to recover from their episode of back pain - perhaps they would have felt better then anyway? Even scientific studies of back pain treatments may lead to mixed conclusions, due to differences in protocols or statistical flukes. Systematic reviews, which methodically combine the results of the best quality research trials provide the high standards needed for evidence-based medicine.
Three scientists from the University of Poznań, Poland, compiled a helpful review of the latest research into the effectiveness of Pilates in treating chronic non-specific low back pain. They found three systematic reviews since 2014 which looked at the results of dozens of randomised controlled trials comparing Pilates to controls (no exercise) and other interventions, such as cycling, general exercise, the McKenzie method, trunk strengthening exercises, and massage. Pilates was found to be effective at treating back pain, when compared to the controls, with a similar level of effectiveness to the other exercises.
Of course, the benefits of Pilates aren’t limited to treating lower back pain, and three recent studies comparing the effectiveness of Pilates with other methods widely used in managing lower back pain - the McKenzie method, trunk-strengthening and extension-based exercises - found that the Pilates group improved other aspects of health alongside the pain being treated. Think of it as the side effect that everybody wants!
Thinking of joining STRONG by Zumba®, the unique high intensity interval training class where the music is synced to the workout? Here are my top six tips to get you started!
1. You need the right kit. I’m not talking about branded clothing. I mean a decent pair of trainers, stretchy clothing in which you won’t overheat, and for the ladies, a high support sports bra.
You want a pair of cross trainers that grip well on a hard floor, with cushioning and some flexibility in the sole. Depending on the sensitivity of your skin, you may also wear fingerless gloves, to protect your hands as you press up and burpee. Also, make sure you arrive well-hydrated, and bring a bottle of water to keep you going during the class.
Looks are secondary. Nobody else is going to mind what you are wearing.
2. It’s not a competition. Well, not against anyone else in the room. STRONG by Zumba® is an intense workout, but modifications are included at every step to either make the class more accessible to beginners, or challenge the fittest of participants.
Before starting a new exercise programme, it’s wise to check with your doctor whether it’s suitable for you, particularly if you have any ongoing health conditions.
3. Pay attention to the technique cues. These help you to exercise safely and effectively. If something doesn’t feel right - ask! We move quickly from one move to the next, so there is little time for refining technique in the middle of the class. However, don’t be shy of asking about a particular move before or after class - your instructor is passionate about good form and will love the opportunity to coach you to move better.
4. It’s not a dance workout. Zumba may be famous as a dance party workout to amazing global music, but this is different. There is no hip-wiggling or arm lines; the exercises would be familiar in a circuit training class (think squats, burpees, kicks) but the music is still as awesome as you’d expect from Zumba, and will motivate you to work harder and help you fall in love with the class.
5. It might hurt. But not in a bad way. You may feel your muscles burning during class, or becoming stiff over the next couple of days. This is a normal response to hard exercise - and it’s up to you whether you push it to that level (see tip #2). However, any pain that lasts more than a few days, or is in the joints, rather than in the muscles, is not part of the plan. In this case, don’t suffer in silence; it can often be resolved by improving your technique, or occasionally it may need checking out by your physio.
6. You will burn lots of calories! This the magic of the music. In controlled experiments measuring the calories burned by participants doing the same workout either with or without the STRONG by Zumba® music, those working to the music burned an average of 48 calories more per session. On top of that, due to a phenomenon called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which occurs after high intensity interval training, you will continue burning more calories than at rest - about twice as many, in fact - for about 40 minutes after the class finishes.
I teach STRONG by Zumba® on Monday and Tuesday evenings - contact me to book!
Gymnastics. Sport of the young. The youngest athletes in the Olympic games, with an average age of female athletes being just 19. But it isn’t a hard and fast rule that gymnasts retire young. Turning that rule - and herself - upside down is Johanna Quaas, still competing in her nineties!
Born in Saxony, Germany, in 1925, Johanna is a few months older than the Queen. She took part in her first gymnastics competition in 1934, and although her career was interrupted by World War II and a subsequent ban on gymnastics by the Allied Control Council until 1947, she never lost her love of the sport. Following her marriage and the birth of three children, Johanna became a PE teacher and coach to young gymnasts, but did not resume competing.
According to website sixty+me.com, “people take one of two paths in their sixties. Either they become a more extreme version of the person that they have always been. Or, they broaden their perspective and become the person that they always wanted to be. Johanna is a shining example of someone who focused on her potential, not her past.”
And so it was that in 1982, inspired by meeting up with some former gymnast friends, she started training and competing again, going on to win 11 medals from the German Championships. In 2012, she was certified as the World’s Oldest Gymnast by the Guinness World Records. Here she is in a heartwarming interview, discussing her career:
In 2016, she decided to “finish what the monarch had started” - referring to the Queen’s apparent parachute jump at the London Olympic Games opening ceremony. She claimed that parachuting is much easier than gymnastics, but I’ll take her word for it.
The only age-related problem that Johanna appears to suffer from is a scarcity of competitors in her own age category - she often has to compete against gymnasts up to 25 years her junior!
In a 2017 interview with the Straits Times of Singapore, she said, “If you are fit, it is easier to master life … When there is movement, there is life."
Fitness and Pilates instructor with a passion for science.