When I was younger, I remember my partner’s aunt saying to me “Everything starts to fall apart when you turn 50”, so as a consequence I was not looking forward to reaching this milestone, and never thought I’d be fit and fabulous at 50. However, I’m happy to report that if you’re fit and healthy turning 50 is not as bad as she suggested. In fact, for many women, it can be quite liberating.
In researching this topic I was horrified to find that when I googled ‘fit at 50 female’ I got a whole lot of images of women over 50 wearing bikinis or skimpy gym clothes!! Why does the google algorithm (which I’m often reminded is very intuitive) think that being fit has anything to do with wearing a bikini! I’m not suggesting that the women in these images don’t look good but it’s a bit strange that as you age the less you care about what people think of your appearance and yet, Google dishes up skinny beautiful people!!
Before I paint a picture of bliss for every woman over 50 I think we should deal with the ‘elephant in the room’ and that is the dreaded menopause that every 50-something woman must face.
Before I reached menopause, I was led to believe that the worst thing that would happen to me was hot flushes (also called flashes). Nobody told me that there are many other symptoms like the many listed on this handy website. For me, mood swings, sleep disturbances, weight gain, random aches and pains, migraine headaches, and so much more are far worse than the hot flushes.
Menopause is something that affects every woman slightly differently. Some breeze through it and wonder what all the fuss is about, while others suffer debilitating symptoms for years. For me, I’ve fallen somewhere in between those two extremes.
It’s also something that is a bit hush-hush. I find that my girlfriends are willing to talk about menopause if I bring it up but most of them never initiate the conversation which is pretty crazy when it affects all of us. It’s like we’re all ashamed of ageing, like it makes us vulnerable. I’m not criticising my friends, I’m criticising how we’ve all been conditioned to not talk about issues related to ageing.
For me, much of it comes down to attitude. If you think you’re too old, or too fat, or too inflexible, or too unfit, or too whatever, then you won’t give something like cycling a go. I worked in a bike shop for several years and many women who weren’t much older than me would say “Oh, I’m too old to ride a bike.” I would always say that I plan to ride a bike until I can’t walk to get on the bike!!
Sophia Loren said: “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” It’s a great way to say you can control how you feel about ageing. It’s all in your head.
When I first found myself going through menopause I would skip my morning ride because I didn’t feel up to it. I soon learnt that if I pushed through those feelings (both physical and mental) and forced myself out the door I felt so much better. All those feel-good endorphins flooded in and made me feel so much happier. Here’s a really good article I found about cycling through menopause.
I realise that some menopause symptoms are more severe and really do stop you functioning but for the vast majority of us, the symptoms are mild enough and can be defeated with some positive thinking.
I think it’s also important to acknowledge that being 50 and above is not all about menopause. With age comes wisdom and more self-confidence, at least that’s how it worked for me, and it’s not only governed by my hormones.
Cycling is the elixir of youth
I wrote a few years ago by a French centenarian cyclist Robert Marchand. At the time I wrote the post about anti-ageing, Marchand was 105 years old and still riding his bike. For his 107th birthday, he celebrated with a 20 km bike ride, and it’s only recently when he turned 108 that he gave up riding outdoors due to hearing loss.
He’s at the extreme end of things but he’s a great illustration of how cycling can keep you young but there’s hope for other mere mortals. Researchers at the University of Birmingham and King’s College London have found that staying active keeps the body young and healthy.
The researchers set out to assess the health of older adults who had exercised most of their adult lives to see if this could slow down ageing.
The study recruited 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79, 84 of which were male and 41 were female. The men had to be able to cycle 100 km in under 6.5 hours, while the women had to be able to cycle 60 km in 5.5 hours.
The study showed that loss of muscle mass and strength did not occur in those who exercise regularly. The cyclists also did not increase their body fat or cholesterol levels with age. The study also revealed that the benefits of exercise extend beyond muscle as the cyclists also had an immune system that did not seem to have aged either.
An organ called the thymus, which makes immune cells called T cells, starts to shrink from the age of 20 and makes fewer T cells. In this study, however, the cyclists’ thymuses were making as many T cells as those of a young person.
How to get started?
If you already cycling but want to increase your involvement, I recommend you find a bunch of like-minded riders. Here are a few tips on how to do that in a previous post. I have lots of ride buddies, both men and women and without them, in my life, I would have given up riding long ago.
If you don’t ride at all there are some skills courses and other workshops available that can help you get started. You can also trawl back through the nine years of blog posts that I’ve racked up.