I’m 74, but I look 40 because of my once-a-week splurge

A year ago, I started working with a personal trainer (Image: Ann Girling)

Standing in front of the gym’s full-length mirror, I flexed a bicep to admire my muscle definition, then snapped a photo on my phone.

You’ll see! I said to myself.

A year ago I started working with a personal trainer and the results were obvious. The reflection in the mirror was tight and strong, with a narrow waist.

Striking a pose for the camera at the gym is pretty standard behavior these days, you might think.

But I’m not a Gen Z influencer. I’m actually a septuagenarian, someone who was born in the age of typewriters, not smartphones.

I celebrated my 74th birthday this year, but I feel more like I’m 40.

I’m actually in the best shape of my life. And I’m here to tell you that it’s never too late to make changes.

Ann Girling smiling in a gym, holding a kettle

I feel more like I’m 40 (Image: Ann Girling)

If I can do it in my 70s, so can you.

I haven’t always felt so body confident. As a busy working mother, I had the same problems as so many other women.

I didn’t like how I looked, hiding my figure under loose Laura Ashley dresses. I hated eating in front of people, for fear of being judged.

In my forties I fell into the trap of trying to do it all. I juggled bringing up my daughter Laura, now 43, with a career in NHS clinical leadership which left me feeling stressed and exhausted.

At 50, Id reached breaking point. I wasn’t very good at asking for help, instead I sat in my car, listening to classical music and having a good cry.

Ann Girling and her daughter Laura take a photo in the sun

I juggled bringing up my daughter Laura with a career in the NHS (Image: Ann Girling)

It was a good friend who finally convinced me to see my GP. One day we were in the pub after work, downing big shots of wine, and I felt I needed to share how I felt.

She was very understanding, which helped me stop judging myself and gave me the confidence to seek help.

I ended up breaking down at the doctor’s surgery but luckily my GP was extremely sympathetic and I was discharged with stress related depression.

I went swimming and walked a lot. After six weeks I thought I felt a little better so I went back to work only to quit again two years later. The situation had not changed and the dark feelings were returning.

That was my light bulb moment. I handed in my notice.

Ann Girling squatting in the gym

My approach to my health was also changing (Image: Ann Girling)

I did a lot of soul searching. My exhaustion had set me on a completely different path.

Around this time, my approach to my health was also changing. Many women turn 50 and think that’s it, they’re done, but for me it felt like a new beginning.

I joined a gym and learned how to use the machines, as I felt that resistance training can help protect against frailty and falls as we age.

Ann Girling lifting weights in a gym

I needed to stay fit to handle long-haul flights (Image: Ann Girling)

For the next few years I went to the gym about twice a week. Sometimes I didn’t want to go, but at the end of each session I always felt better.

Becoming a grandmother in 2011 when Laura had my beautiful grandson, Jacob, spurred me on even more. They live in the US and I knew I needed to stay fit to handle long haul flights. Jetlag is no fun if you’re not fighting fit.

I wrote and self-published a book in 2011 called Journey to Chocolate about my quest for a more balanced and fulfilling life. People go through life on autopilot. I wanted to reach out and shake them.

Ann Girling with husband Iain

My husband Iain was totally on board (Image: Ann Girling)

I started eating clean with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, avoiding processed foods and not drinking alcohol from Monday to Thursday. Changes in my diet made me feel more energetic and alert; I slept better and controlling my weight was much easier.

My husband, Iain, was totally on board. He started eating in a similar way and started feeling better too, and I found myself meeting and making friends with younger women. who shared my enthusiasm for life.

In the spring of 2020, when the Covid pandemic hit and the world went into lockdown, I got tired of hearing the over 50s described as vulnerable. I recently celebrated my 70th birthday and felt anything but. In fact, I felt like I had the best years of my life since I was 50.

Ann Girling doing a plank in a gym

In October 2022 I signed with a personal trainer (Image: Ann Girling)

Ann Girling doing sit ups with a weight

I was surprised at how much I liked it (Image: Ann Girling)

But staying fit with age takes work, so in October 2022 I signed on with a personal trainer, Janine Worthington.

I met her through a women’s networking event and initially assumed she was quite young, but when I saw her in person at a Macmillan Coffee Morning, I realized she was middle-aged who looked very healthy.

I’d love to have a session or two with you, I admitted. If she could look so good, why couldn’t I?

During our first session at the gym in his garage, he had me doing squats, lunges and deadlifts. Despite being hard work I surprised myself at how much I enjoyed it.

It was different to how I normally worked – we were chatting at the same time so it was nicer, and she helped me get the most out of each exercise, so I was learning too.

I found that I responded well to being pushed during our one-on-one sessions, and Janine focused on what I could do, rather than my age.

I can’t believe this is actually fun! I laughed

I now exercise with Janine once a week, have regular pilates sessions with my teacher Beverley Densham and take daily walks with Iain.

We’ve been married for 45 years and still going strong.

Ann Girling and husband Iain donned Union Jacks at a big event

We’ve been married for 45 years and still going strong (Image: Ann Girling)

Say a Facebook group called The Unlikely Guru, to bring together other like-minded people who want to enjoy their lives as they age.

I call myself the unlikely guru because if you had told the 40-year-old me that I would be a fitness influencer in my 70s, I would have burst out laughing.

Now, I am determined to lead an aging movement.

My message is simple: no matter how old you are, don’t give up and don’t settle. With a few simple tweaks—like prioritizing exercise, a good diet, getting plenty of sleep, reducing stress, and having a sense of purpose—it’s never too late to improve your vitality.

As told to Jade Beecroft

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk.

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