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The fear of not making 52…

“If I could just stop all the heavy breathing I’d be happy, but hang on…it’s okay, I’m walking up a hill. This must be okay, anybody would puff up this hill. Gosh I’m so sweaty today too…it’s not that hot. But yep, I’m working out walking up this hill, it’s hard work, maybe I should get some leggings for this…I’m sure everyone puffs and pants up this one.”

Yes we all agree walking up a hill can be tough work, and it puts the legs, lungs and heart to work. But the sad truth is that several years ago that’s exactly what I was thinking on my way home from the local shops…the hill is less than 100metres in distance and has an incline hardly worth rolling a marble down! I won’t mention the fact I couldn’t find leggings to fit.

But that was the state of things. I was inactive, carrying too much weight, eating rubbish and drinking soft drinks – everyday. Exercise was something I kidded myself about. I’d convince myself I’d done enough…dammit I walked up the hill today. Twice! And of course I couldn’t forget the really fast walk through the shopping centre – I was puffing then so it must be doing me good.

The reality was that I was in denial. I’d been a running coach once and 10km runs were my ‘thing’ – I even pushed a pram while I ran, our toddler laughing and screaming with glee the whole way. I’d played tennis to state level in my teens and I’d been a competitive swimmer as well. Sure, the tennis and swimming were prior to being pregnant, but the running was my effort to lose some of the weight I’d gained throughout pregnancy.

That’s me several years ago: inactive, unhappy and a ticking time bomb for chronic illness

The running became so much a passion for me I ended up coaching in a local fitness group, invited by the organisation to train as a coach and inspire others to run. It was something I never imagined I’d be able to do – I was trim, fit, had calves like steel and I lived for the endorphins.

But where did it all go – what happened? What made me forget how it felt to be active? To be honest, I can’t answer that…maybe it was injury, maybe it was the cold mornings, or maybe it was loss of motivation. Whatever happened, I made the decision at some point to stop being active and I really have no idea why; I just stopped. And when I stopped life changed.

Sitting in the doctors’ room…measuring my waist, then weighing me, checking my blood pressure. Probably not my finest moment. I was there to see him because I’d had really bad chest pains that had been niggling for some weeks. Tightness, breathless…oh my god I must have a heart condition. The sad part of all this is that I was too afraid to even tell my husband. I remained in silent pain.

I remember the flushing of my face with the embarrassment of being told by the doctor that I needed to lose weight – I wasn’t fat, of course I’m not! He was so polite, but the brutal honesty of being told I was in the danger zone for mature onset diabetes hit my like a sugar high! I needed to have a blood sugar test this week to check on my status, and yes, I would need to go for cardiograms to check on things because face it, I wasn’t in great shape.

But there was another factor. I lived in fear of not making it to 52. My father dropped dead of a massive heart attack when he was 52…I was 12 years old. I won’t ever forget that knock at the door in the early hours: the police were there to tell my mother that her husband, my Dad, had passed away in an interstate hotel while on a business trip. H e was alone, away from home, we never got to say goodbye. It was the one time I watched the Saturday morning cartoons on tv with no smile…just dull confusion. No, that was the day life REALLY changed!

The sad reality of his situation was that he knew something may have been up. He asked one of his best buddies who’d had open heart surgery what it felt like, what did he experience, was it sudden. He’d even been to the doctor and been given a clean bill of health. But he also wrote me a letter, knowing he might die…

“You were always a great source of love and joy to me…there is no time for tears”

He never told his family he was worried, he never discussed it with my mother….and we found the letter after his death.

I was 48 years old when I sat at the doctors. I didn’t want my family to know I was a ticking time bomb: like father like daughter! I was in so much denial I simply couldn’t bring myself to have that blood sugar test – I was terrified what it would say. I did have the cardiogram, and thankfully all was good, but again when I received the results the doctor reminded me that change was needed. I didn’t want to be the knock at the door for my family. I wanted to make it to 52.

Yes, change was needed, and it came in the shape of a bicycle. A second hand one from ebay,: rust, flat tyres and a chain about to fall off came free with the bike! It wasn’t the prettiest thing, but it started me on a journey to make some changes for myself, by myself. My husband was skeptical, but hopeful that I might enjoy a ride occasionally – at least I’d be doing something active.

On on of my first Great Vic rides with the family…my husband and I cycling Japan!

I guess now the rest is history as they say…life changed direction on that bicycle: I became active. Reaching 52 was a humbling experience – to feel what it was like to be that age my father was when he died. It seemed so young! In the forefront of my mind the day I reached his age was how fast life can be cut short because of inactivity, diet, stress, diabetes and a whole bunch of other reasons.

Heart disease is the biggest killer of women in Australia. One in two women will suffer from some form of heart disease. Our sedentary lifestyles, inactivity and modern diet have led us to an epidemic of chronic illnesses that we have the power to control: heart disease, obesity, mature onset diabetes, high cholesterol. Menopausal women are at a higher risk of heart disease than other age groups…I was every one of the above! I was headed for the one in two and I was headed for a feast of chronic illness!

Along with that bicycle I also made a commitment to myself and to my family. I’m not going to stop moving. We have far too much fun together adventuring on bikes, and I have far too much fun helping other women find the joy and freedom of a bike ride. I’m not thin, and I’m not built like an elite athlete – I’m just a middle aged woman with the same curves and lumps many of us have. But I am active. Taking time for ourselves and making the choices to be active, eat well and look after ourselves is up to us.

We have the power to change our own health outcomes…it isn’t always easy!

Lifestyle changes are not easy, though they can be fun. Buying a clapped out old bicycle got me moving, enjoying the fresh air, feeling confident, learning new skills, meeting amazing people, reduced my blood pressure, gave me normal blood sugars, increased my V02 max to ‘normal’ (I’m asthmatic), sent my resting heart rate down from 75 to 50 and put a smile on my face…EVERY day! I’ve lost weight, riding has become a family affair, as well as a small business inspiring other women to cycle, and I have NEVER looked back…I’m 54 now, all I can do is look forward.

NOTE 1: Genetic predisposition and other illnesses can affect our cardiac health. Before taking up any exercise it is best to consult with your medical practitioner first to make sure you are good to go!

NOTE 2: Always follow the advice of your GP. I ignored mine and didn’t take that blood sugar test for a long time and I didn’t lose weight even after he told me to do so. I placed myself at risk and that would have had a big impact on my family…go get the blood sugar test if they tell you!

NOTE 3: Read up on the signs and symptoms of heart attack and heart disease. Women can experience quite different symptoms to men and being aware of the sympoms can save your life. If in doubt, call 000 and get help immediately…don’t ignore the pain!!

Meeting amazing women…making changes to our own health and staying happy!

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