Margaret Jennings speaks to a woman who decided to take up marathon running when she turned 50. Ten years later, she is still competing.
It’s “never, ever too late to start taking care of yourself."
“WHEN I turned 50, I was ready to take the proverbial blanket, put it over my head and hide from the world for the rest of my life.
"I was coming out of the menopause and even though my body was definitely changing as a result — I had gained 15 pounds for starters, I hadn’t made any changes at all, in how I was living my life.
"And the result was obvious: weight gain, cholesterol levels rising and feeling as though life as I knew it was going to end.”
Barbara Hannah Grufferman, who was 60 in December remembers that birthday marker a decade ago, so clearly. But instead of hiding under that blanket she decided to take the reins and to try and learn how she could negotiate her next stage of life positively.
“There is information at our fingertips 24/7 thanks to the internet,” she says.
“But that is a double-edged sword because it can create confusion, not clarity. That’s what happened to me when I turned 50: I was unsure about what it all meant. That was when I decided to do my own research and write my first book.”
Researching the book, called The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More, inspired her to change her life and has spawned a social media platform, which the New Yorker uses to encourage older women to age positively.
A few years ago she asked her followers on Facebook and Twitter to share the number one fear that keeps them awake at night.
“And guess what — not a single woman mentioned crow’s feet around her eyes,” says Barbara.
“But almost all of them talked about their fear of not having enough money, or physical stamina, to keep going and live a good, long life.
“My advice? Take care of yourself right now, so you can continue to engage with work, maintain stamina, and live an independent life.”
One of the main messages the mother of two propagates to achieve this is we need to get physical: “By far the most important lesson I learned from doing the research for my first book, and actually doing the programmes recommended by the experts, was this: move your body every day.
“That simple new healthy habit for me became the foundation for a whole new life filled with other healthy habits: eating well, sleeping better, and so on.
"All studies show that exercising is crucial to long term health and wellbeing and that has become the central focus of my own plan.”
So central has it been, that at age 50 she ran her first New York City marathon: “The first time I ran the marathon, I did so because I wanted to prove to myself that I could. While I did make it to the finish line it took a very long time for me to get there,” she says.
“When I was about to turn 55 and by then a regular, committed runner, I did it again to beat my last time — success!”
Then three months ago, at almost 60, she ran the marathon again to raise money for colon cancer research, after her brother-in-law succumbed to the disease.
“I wasn’t sure how I would do, since I had taken a break from running, due to a herniated disc, but with careful training, I ran my best marathon ever — more than one hour faster than the first time I did it.
"I think that’s good news for everyone who is getting older, because I’m no different than anyone else. My body is ageing right along with everyone’s, but I choose to nourish it with the right food, exercise to make it stronger, and give it the rest it needs. I am in training to run the 2017 Edinburgh Marathon! “
One lesson to be learnt from Barbara is that it takes determination to get there.
Over the decade since she wrote her book — and she has a new one due out later this year — she has suffered from arthritis in her thumb and right hip but has not let that slow her down.
However all her lifestyle changes that she took on board at 50 weren’t easy initially, she admits.
“They were all a struggle! I hadn’t exercised in decades before I started to take long walks which then evolved into running (with walk breaks), leading up to my first marathon. And living with other people — my family — created some challenges with cooking and eating.
"It was hard for me and I came up with the same old excuses that everyone else does: no time, will start tomorrow, too tired, and so on.”
But it’s “never, ever too late to start taking care of yourself,” she adds.
“My health check numbers are better than they’ve ever been and I’m more fit than I was in my 30s.”
Which fits in with the mantra she professes to her fans: “We can’t control getting older but we can control how we do it.”
“Humour is mankind’s greatest blessing"
— US author Mark Twain
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