I’ve never been fat but by my early fifties I was about two stone heavier than I should have been for my 5’ 1” height. With heels on and a belly skimming top I probably looked quite slim but I didn’t feel it. My BMI was 26 when it should have been below 25 and I had a baby belly when the babies were over 30. I didn’t consider going on a diet because even at the young age of (ahem) 52 I knew they didn’t work and anyway, I enjoyed drinking wine and eating chocolate! I had become a vegetarian twenty five years earlier (not for health reasons but because the concept of eating something dead suddenly struck me as a bit weird) so I felt that being a vegetarian and walking a lot meant I was quite healthy and I accepted that, as I approached the menopause, I was never going to be the size eight of my youth. It was only when I had my blood pressure tested during a routine examination and it was a stratospheric 210/120 that I realised that I should probably assess my lifestyle as well as religiously take the blood pressure tablets I was prescribed.
I started by giving up drinking which, thanks to Jason Vale’s book, ‘Kick the Drink for Good’ was surprisingly easy given that I could probably have drunk Shane McGowan under the table at one point. I also started to be bit more careful about what I ate choosing low salt foods and upping my intake of fruit and veg. A few months passed and feeling a bit lighter around the waist, I weighed myself. and was surprised to see that for the first time in years I was under 10 stone. It was a good feeling and a surprising one given that I was still eating pretty much everything I had before, albeit with less salt and more veg. At around the same time, I read an article in a magazine where a celebrity (I can’t remember which one) said that all they did to stay slim was weigh themselves every day. Well, that’s easy enough, I thought, I’ll do that. I diligently weighed myself every morning and lost a few pounds more. I think this worked because knowing that I was weighing myself every day, I became choosier about what I ate. I turned to Nakd bars instead of chocolate (although I still ate it but not every day), I wasn’t drinking (surprisingly though this didn’t make the pounds fly off like I thought it would) and grabbed fruit instead of a packet of crisps (but not apples which bloat me so much that I feel two sizes bigger two hours after having one). I also started moving a bit more, with the old adage in mind that the best way to lose weight is to ‘eat less move more’. Always a walker (as in walking to work or the shops, rather than getting a bus), I started walking further and going out for ‘proper’ walks. I was also swimming once a week for a leisurely ten lengths but I upped it to thirty and started go twice a week. I lost a few more pounds and started to feel much more energetic.
When I got down to nine and half stone the weight loss plateaued. I knew that I was still a bit too short for my weight and because I couldn’t make myself any taller I upped my game and bought a fitness tracker, namely a Fitbit Surge, which was probably the ugliest accessory I have ever worn. However, it soon became part of my arm and I enjoyed seeing my progress when I set myself a goal of 10,000 steps a day. I also grew to love the encouragement my Fitbit app gave me. If I had a day where didn’t walk I felt like I was letting my Fitbit down. If I forgot to put it on I didn’t want to do anything because the steps didn’t count! I realised it was really easy to become addicted to activity trackers but at this point I was already hooked. My activity tracker of choice now is a Fitbit Versa Light After a few months of just using it to count my steps I started to look at the calorie counter and became aware of the calories I was burning off, or rather, lack of them. I knew that going through the menopause would have reduced my metabolic rate due to fluctuations in oestrogen and the natural ageing process and that it takes a lot longer to burn off the calories but I still assumed that I was burning off thousands of calories by walking and swimming. I was quite shocked therefore to see that a three mile walk only burnt off about 350 calories, or a Mars Bar! I have never counted calories and wasn’t about to start but I became more attuned to my body and knew that if I clocked up a calorie burn of 1700 at the end of the day I had lost a bit of weight whereas if I had burned up around a 1300 I hadn’t lost any. I walked a bit faster and had one biscuit where I previous would have had two and eventually more pounds slowly came off and I was delighted to slip into a pair of size ten jeans. I was previously a size twelve on my bottom half but sometimes had to breath in so hard to fasten my clothes that I nearly passed out. I had been a size 12 – 14 on the top but I dropped a bra size and found that size ten dresses fitted perfectly. What pleased me most though was the renewed energy I had and the increased motivation for seeking out new activities. I added regular cycling and going the gym to my list of pursuits but I wanted to do something really fun that didn’t feel like exercise.
I was talking to a colleague about the pastimes we enjoyed doing as kids when we started reminiscing about hula hooping. I remembered what fun it was and how the hoop used to fly around my waist. I thought it would be fun to do it again and that it would probably be quite good exercise. Feeling motivated, I went to the local Decathlon store after work and bought a hula hoop. It was orange and skinny and not very big (I know now that it was the worst one I could have bought to relearn my childhood hooping skills) I thought it would be easy but it wasn’t, I just couldn’t do it, the hoop repeatedly dropped to the floor after half a turn. I circled my hips, I wiggled from side to side but down it went. I kept at it but it just would not stay up (I know now that if I’d bought a bigger hoop it would have been much easier). I didn’t want to let it get the better of me though because I used to be able to do it and was convinced I could do it again. I tried for over a week and then had the bright idea of doing it to music. Eventually Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ encouraged the hoop to whip round my waist several times before clunking to the floor. I was elated and realised then that this was the exercise for me. I carried on practicing and became more proficient (and a size 8!) as I hooped away in a small space between the television and the bookshelf. I constantly came between my husband and Star Trek and sent photos and ornaments clattering to the floor. I joined a class for hoop dance which I loved (and still do although I’m not very good at it), but it was a bit slow and I wanted to hoop energetically, with other people to catchy tunes. I couldn’t find the classes to match what I wanted so I decided to do my own. After training as an exercise instructor and devising some exercises with a hoop to ‘70s and ‘80s dance tunes. I started holding ‘Hoopercise’ classes at local community centres at the weekends. Hula hooping is, without a doubt, the most fun you can have whilst exercising, after all, when was the last time you left the gym laughing? Weighing myself every day and having a fitness tracker keeps me mindful of what I eat and how much I move but hula hooping keeps me at a size eight with the 25 inch waist I had in my twenties. Now the kids have flown the nest I persuaded my husband to make a hoop room out of the spare room (furniture out, hooks on the walls for hoops). It’s a small room but big enough to get a hoop jiggle on. With Covid having put paid to my weekly classes I’m currently in the process of devising some online hoop classes so watch this space. In the meantime, here are some tips for exercising with a hoop.
- Buy a heavy hoop but not too heavy (no more than 1kg)
- The hoop, when positioned on the floor next to you, should come up to your waist.
- Put some music on and position the hoop in the small of your back
- Put your right foot in front of you
- Tilt your body slightly forward
- Push the hoop around your waist (don’t forget to let go!) moving rhythmically but only slightly, forwards and backwards.
- Try to hoop going both ways. Usually, people who are right handed hoop to the left and vice versa. However, I’m right handed and find it easier to hoop to the right.
- You dropped it? Do a squat to pick it up and keep trying. Remember – every time you drop it you are still exercising when you bend down to pick it up.
- No room in the house? Try the garden or a park.
- Check out @hoopercisecarole on Facebook for information about free on-line classes and tutorials. I’m hoping to have something in place by April.