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What midlife women want you to know about exercise

Split screen of four women
Women in midlife talk exercise

If you've never been a gym bunny, taking up exercise in midlife can be daunting, especially given that menopause and exercise don't exactly go hand-in-hand.

Disrupted sleep makes springing out of bed to hit the gym tricky, and hot flushes and sweaty workouts do not mix well.

But with doctors and personal trainers emphasizing the importance of working out in perimenopause and beyond, it's crucial to find a way to make exercise work for you.

Mature woman stretching arms in the city park. Female jogger wearing knitted hat doing warm up workout outdoor on a winter morning.
Exercise is crucial in midlife (Getty)

With this in mind, HELLO! spoke to four inspirational women over 50 about how to make exercise something you look forward to. All four of them recently starred in JD Williams' Dare to Be campaignaimed at inspiring midlife women to discover the joy of movement - and we certainly felt inspired after talking to them!

Read on for their words of wisdom.

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1. You won't find your favourite class straight away

If you're new to exercise, Mel Berry, 54, founder of fitness appHer Spirit, encourages trying a handful of different classes to find the one that's right for you.

"If you don't enjoy the first one, don’t be put off," she reassures. "You'll feel amazing when you find the one for you."

Woman smiling wrapped in a towel
Mel Berry says we should try several classes to find the one

Mel explains that women often have a negative opinion of exercise and this goes back as far as school, when we were forced to do activities we didn't like in PE. But rest assured, nobody is going to force you to keep going to Pilates if you don't like it after the first time.

"When you find something you love, that helps you feel like the best version of yourself, you won't view exercise in a negative light anymore," Mel says.

"Time is a big barrier I see women in midlife tackle. Time is one thing that is never going to change, but once you find the class or exercise for you, you'll make time for it," Mel explains.

READ: I found a sense of freedom at 49 through a challenging new hobby 

2. Remember that you belong there

"I teach a group of midlife women at the gym and many of them worry that they might not fit in at the gym," says Esme Stone, 51, of JD Williams, who teaches yoga and Pilates. "In their mind's eye, they imagine gyms full of nubile 20-something women in crop tops, but in reality, the gym is a place for every kind of body.

Woman in black at the gym
Esme Stone teaches Pilates

"I reassure my clients that nobody is looking at them because everyone is worrying about themselves. The real success of exercise is not caring about what other people think of you and just cracking on.

"Remember that every single person in your class has been the new person at some point and they too felt daunted. Everyone will have empathy for you because they will remember what it was like to be in your position."

INSPIRATION: I am a fitness expert and these 4 simple habits will keep you healthy and strong during menopause

3. It's never too late to start

"I didn't take up running until I was 57, when it became part of my breast cancer recovery," says 63-year-old Amanda Curtis-Wilson. "I started a Couch to 5k programme with a friend and carried on from there.  It’s not something I ever saw myself doing at my age.

"I’m not what you’d call a 'natural runner'. I’m never going to be fast or break any records, but it’s fabulous to be outside, moving at my own pace and finding lovely little routes to run along.

woman running outdoors
Amanda Curtis-Wilson loves running (JD Williams)

"I started running to help strengthen my bones post-cancer, but it’s helped me so much more than that. It’s my go-to when I’m stressed. It’s my mood-enhancing, energising, life-affirming me time.

"Running has given me a whole new group of friends across all ages and abilities, all supporting each other and keeping each other going.  I even found my partner through running.

"I want other women my age to know that it won’t damage your knees! (Mine have got better due to stronger muscles around my knee joints). Just give it a go - the hardest part is getting out of the door, and whilst for some of us that never gets easier, it’s true that you never regret getting out for a run. Do what you can while you can!"

INSPIRATION: I've been running for 25 years but my midlife runs are my favourite yet

4.  You'll find you *need* it

We're often told that exercise is crucial in menopause to counteract the loss of bone density, but you'll likely find you feel the urge to exercise in midlife, says wild swimmer Tess Sandilands, 52.

"I've been swimming in cold water since I was a child, but found that when I went through the menopause, I needed it.

woman in a bobble hat and swimming costume
Tess Sandilands is a cold swimming fan

"It helped me clear the overwhelm and gave me the ability to cope with what I was experiencing. Putting my head under the water helped wash away my worries and I'd encourage anyone considering getting into cold swimming to just do it! It will make you feel amazing."

Amanda, Tess, Mel and Esme are all part of JD Williams' Dare to Be campaign, aimed at inspiring midlife women to discover the joy of movement and embrace a range of activities such as wild swimming, cycling, trail running, and weightlifting. As part of the campaign, the brand has launched a range of activewear, with prices starting at £18, ranging in sizes 8 – 32.

To launch the campaign, the brand collaborated with female-led organisation Her Spirit to help women approach activities with confidence. Their goal is to raise funds to allow women on a low or no income to become more active, promoting a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle among midlife women across the nation.