Philippa Hart, 61: Evolving, Weight Training and Striving for Best Life at Every Age’

I’m Philippa. I’m 61 and I live just north of the beautiful city of Perth, Western Australia. We’re a pretty laid- back bunch here. I’m lucky enough to live on a semi-rural piece of land with bush, pasture, trees, an abundance of birdlife and a family of kangaroos in the back paddock. We are also only 10 minutes away from some of the stunning beaches that W.A. has to offer.

I started my Instagram account 4 years ago, encouraged by my daughter, with an emphasis on talking about how I stay physically fit and healthy as I grow older. On my Instagram, I talk a lot about weight resistance training and the numerous benefits incorporating this into my life has brought. I wanted to try to reach other midlife women who may be struggling and say “hey, it’s never too late to start looking after yourself and prioritising your health and fitness”. Although my account does mainly talk about the physical side of fitness I do recognize that mental health is just as important.

I think I have always been an active person. I grew up on farms in England and then Australia and remember spending so much of my time outside either riding, exploring or devising games with my younger sister that would keep us entertained and running for hours.

Me and Mental Health

For various reasons that I see with more clarity now I became depressed in my mid-teens and by my late teens had become a victim to anorexia. Bulimia followed, along with crippling anxiety and panic attacks. During this time exercise was merely a means to an end. That end to be as thin as I could possibly be. The panic attacks increased in severity to the point where functioning on a daily basis was a complete challenge. Eventually, I sought help in the form of a clinical psychologist. To this day I believe she saved my life.

Although those days are long behind me I don’t forget them entirely. Where I am today is a product of everything I have experienced to this point. Thankfully, and also because I LOVE food, I have a good relationship with it now. Anxiety and depression can still rear their ugly heads but I have developed strategies and tools to help me cope and have a strong network of support.

My working life has included being a Registered Nurse which I gave up to take on my own rose growing business producing roses for cut flower production and supplying florists around the city. After selling that I started baking and selling goods from home, supplying many cafes and restaurants. Eventually, I went into business with one of my dearest, oldest friends in the hospitality business in the form of our long-held dream of owning a café. This was sold a few years ago now and I am happy to report our friendship survived being in business together. We are still best of mates and catch up every week.

What is your attitude to health and fitness?

I think it’s important to put a high priority on your health and fitness which includes nurturing your mental health also. AND I truly believe it’s never too late.

There are so many conditions that are linked to poor diet and obesity, diabetes type 2 being the first and most obvious that springs to mind. My attitude towards this is that if it is within our control to prevent these conditions by maintaining our health and fitness, then why would you not?

After I sold the rose growing in my early thirties I started looking for other ways to maintain my fitness. It had been a very labour-intensive business. I was on my feet and moving constantly, often lugging heavy bags of fertiliser around. I missed that physicality and knew I had to do something to maintain my fitness. Tennis and netball were great but not enough. So I began walking every day and then swimming a few days a week also.

My attitude since then hasn’t changed. Maintaining my health and fitness will always be one of my main priorities but the way I go about is has changed, particularly in the last 15 years or so.

How did you start weight resistance training? 

Well, I’ve already talked a little bit about my relationship with exercise but everything changed in my mid-forties and I feel as if this is when I really started taking my fitness and health seriously.

It’s a pretty common story, isn’t it? Woman hits mid-forties or thereabouts, hormones start going yah yah and that weight starts insidiously creeping on around your midsection. No amount of cardio can address it and in my case, I just started doing more and more cardio and was ………..exhausted!!!

One day I noticed one of my tennis team members who was a similar age to me had started to lose weight and change shape. She was lifting weights and had muscles! Now, I had always loved Linda Hamilton’s look in Terminator but never believed I could attain that. Weight resistance was something I had never considered. Largely due to the fact that I thought it was a man’s domain and I believed the myth that I would get bulky. I know!!!!!! That old chestnut………

So, I bit the bullet, made an appointment at the very same gym. Really LISTENED to the owner (one of the most knowledgeable people I know) and followed his instructions. Realistically it took about 6 months before I started to notice a real change and until someone said they could actually see my muscles were becoming more defined. That was it. I was hooked and have never looked back. I will say in all honesty that I am in better shape now than I have ever been. Not forgetting the strength that comes with it and the numerous health benefits weight resistance brings to your life.

Along with this came confidence I was lacking and so badly needed. Wrinkles, saggy skin, age blemishes. These aspects of ageing I can’t change (or maybe I could but that path is not for me). It doesn’t thrill me but I prefer to concentrate on those things I can control rather than focus on the negatives.

What is your approach to diet?

I realised I had to address my diet at the same time as I took up weight resistance training. Again, I took the advice given to me but also made it my business to be more knowledgeable about food. For me, the principles are pretty straightforward. Firstly: NO FAD DIETS! Avoid packaged and processed foods and refined sugar as much as possible. I’m not of the no carbs persuasion but the carbs I include are usually low G.I. and fats are good fats i.e. avocado, olive oil. On balance I consume more protein now that I lift weights. Much of my protein is sourced from eggs, fish, chicken, tofu and quinoa. Every meal includes each of these macronutrients.

I don’t calorie count or meal prep as a lot of people do. It’s about what works for you. I include plenty of seeds and nuts in my diet also and heaps of water!!! If we dine out I don’t restrict myself. And I do enjoy a drink but try to keep that to the weekend, but if I slip up occasionally I’m not going to beat myself up. My mantra is that life is about balance.

What motivates you to keep fit?

I love being fit and strong! I am motivated to challenge my body every day and to see what more I can coax from it. The fact that we can manipulate and change our body shape using weights and diet intrigues and excites me. It continually motivates me to learn more and put that into practice.

Given my family history, there is a pretty good chance I may live into my nineties. If that’s in my future then I would prefer to be as mobile and independent for as long as I possibly can be. Staying fit, healthy and strong will continue to help with daily functionality. Plus I want to be the sort of grandmother who can actively romp and play games with her grandchildren. Pretty strong motivators from my point of view!

My father died last year but he is someone I hold in front of me as daily motivation and inspiration. At 92 he was still walking 4kms a day, playing golf and working in our very large vegetable garden which we left entirely to him as he loved it. And what a pleasure it was for me to look down into the paddock and see my dad raking, weeding and planting. If I am going to live into my nineties, I want to be THAT person.

What are your goals?

Quite simply, I just want to be the best I can be at any age.

I have no goals to compete in the fitness industry although it is often suggested I do. I have competed in various sports most of my life from horse riding, athletics, netball and swimming in my younger years to tennis in my later years. Weight lifting is for ME and I compete against myself only.

My goal is to lead by example. I want my children and their children to see that growing older does not mean you have to sacrifice your health and fitness. Maintaining these aspects only increases your enjoyment of life. We have this opportunity to guide our children to live a healthy, active life, to then pass this on to their children and so on for future generations.

What are your tips from experience?

My first piece of advice? Make sure your goals are realistic and achievable. Take advice and/or train with someone that you trust has the knowledge and experience to support you with those goals. Don’t compare yourself to others, particularly on social media. Understand your body type and work with it.

Establish and commit to a routine that is sustainable and don’t expect instant results. If you’re consistent, eat well and put the work in, results will follow. Be patient.

I think it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of food and its impact on your body then you can make an informed decision about how you eat and fuel your body properly to achieve the best results from both a fitness and health perspective.

Give your muscles time to rest and repair before training again. Don’t think you have to train every day. Recovery is super important. I train each body part once a week, but it’s a thorough workout and I mix the exercises up on a regular basis. Again, this works for me and has helped to achieved results I’m happy with.

What are some tips for ageing well?

I’m a fairly low maintenance kind of person, always have been. I’m not interested in facelifts, fillers or any other sort of surgical or non-surgical intervention. It’s not for me but I am certainly not critical of how other women choose to handle ageing. Each to their own. I use natural skincare products, wear minimal make-up and stay well hydrated. What I did do that has made a huge difference in my life is to start taking bio-identical HRT when menopausal symptoms first appeared. These are prescribed by a doctor and come in the form of a troche and include DHEA, pregnenolone and progesterone. About a week after I commenced them my symptoms abated and I have never looked back. I have blood tests on a regular basis.

I think just staying active and keeping moving is incredibly important as we age. And challenging your mind and your body.

Surrounding yourself with people who bring joy to your life and above all having a positive attitude, laughing frequently and keeping a sense of humour about life and ageing wherever possible.

Follow Philipa on Instagram @pipsfitlife


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