Looking Back

Today I find myself looking back and I’m wondering – am I as fit at 70 as I was when I was 30? I’m certainly fit enough to do everything I want to like taking keep-fit classes, skiing, and playing tennis. In fact, in my twenties, after I’d had two babies, I wasn’t that fit. It was later that I developed a level of fitness that enabled me to go on breakfast-time television, but that didn’t start until I was about 40.

And I wonder – do I look my age? Well I suppose I must be lucky to have inherited good genes because I’m often told I look ten years younger. But it has to be said that a lot of premature ageing is down to plus exposure to the sun (which I avoid) and/or smoking (never), caffeine and alcohol (in moderation). But, equally, a lot of it is habit. Because skin is attached to the muscle in the face the habits of a lifetime get etched on to a face. So I also do some facial exercises that I designed about 20 years ago and they help in the same way that exercises improve tummy muscles.

But one thing is for certain – I would never go under the knife. No, I’ve had enough of surgery; I prefer to do things naturally. When I was 29 I had a problem with my thyroid gland and had to have a thyroidectomy and, at 48, I had a double mastectomy for breast cancer.

In the late Eighties I was a guinea pig for HRT, but I took it for only two months because the routine health checks showed that I had breast cancer and I was advised to stop immediately. For a long time I took red clover a natural alternative to HRT, which alleviated flushes and other symptoms. Other than that I don’t regularly pop pills because I prefer to get vitamins from my diet. I think my diet is healthy. It’s as varied and as fresh as I can get it. Not much red meat – I prefer fish, plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, bio-yoghurts and fresh pasta — and dark chocolate which is my weakness (along with Champagne).
However if my diet’s been a bit iffy, or I haven’t seen any sun (vit D) for a while I take a vitamin D and calcium supplement. Sometimes I take glucosamine to ease my joints. Otherwise I try to avoid taking medication. If I have backache I go to my osteopath first but if all else fails to the GP for pills to relieve inflammation and ease the pain. If I’m feeling stressed, I have a Swedish massage, aromatherapy or reflexology — it’s very therapeutic.

Sometimes I feel a bit guilty because I don’t regularly go to a gym. But to be honest I don’t have a lot of spare time and mostly stay fit from my lifestyle, which is very active. I do some exercises at home then cycle, garden and walk everywhere; that’s my workout. Let’s forget the word “exercise” it puts most people off, nowadays I prefer to speak of “activity” which I hope might encourage even the couch potatoes!
Doing something you like is the trick, such as dancing, gardening, taking long (and preferably brisk) walks, or even decorating. Whatever the activity, it’s important to maintain the three “S”s stamina, suppleness and strength in a pleasurable way and preferably with someone else!

I don’t actually mind getting older because I faced up to mortality when I was 48, so I regard this as bonus time. My house and affairs are in order, so if it all ends tonight I’m not worried. I do a lot of charity work for older people and until recently they were becoming invisible and it was depressing. But in the past three years there has been a huge awakening and I think older people are starting to be appreciated again for their knowledge and experience of life. It’s about time. Ageism has been an ugly fact of life in the UK over the past 10 years or so.

I exercise my soul and go to church when I can; it means a lot to me. I was brought up a strict Methodist. I was in my teens when my mother died. I came home one lunch time and found her; she’d had a cerebral hemorrhage. At that time my local church gave me a tremendous amount of support. But, when I was 18, I got engaged to my first husband and decided to be confirmed into the Church of England. Why? Because he was a wine importer and owned pubs, I felt it would be hypocritical to remain a staunch Methodist.
I take comfort from my faith but also found comfort from counseling from the Cancer Counselling Trust some 13 years after I had breast cancer. At the time I was diagnosed and when I received treatment (a bi-lateral mastectomy and immediate reconstruction) I must have been in denial. I felt somehow ashamed to have the disease and kept it a secret, even from people close to me. Then nine years ago a relationship ended abruptly and there seemed to be a similarity with my other relationships. I stopped and thought: what does all this mean? Until then I had blamed myself; this was the first time I recognised that all sorts of bad things were still going on because of cancer. It was a lot to do with body image. Counselling helped me to sort myself out.

But I wouldn’t change anything in my life now I’ve come to accept myself – warts and all! But when I was a young girl I used to dream that I would earn some money and have two or three inches taken off my legs. In my early teens I was so tall. My father used to call me the freak because I was this great long lanky thing. But I’ve grown to quite like my long legs. And these days, at 5ft 10in (1.78m), I’m almost average.

Now talking of height the one real fear I have is of heights. Even going down an escalator I’m hanging on for dear life. But it doesn’t stop me taking my grandchildren on rides at Alton Towers, and wondering what the hell I’m doing there.