Reaching 50: staying healthy in a changing world

DECADES APART: less hair, but still lifting

I CAN recall quite vividly a conversation I had back in my teens at a gym where I regularly used to train. During that exchange I said to whoever it was, “my goal is still to be training when I’m 50.”

Back then 50 seemed ancient. When you reach 50, you still feel young at heart – or at least I do. So now, if asked the same question about why I train, I’d add that I hope to still be lifting weights and working out when I’m 70 – if I get that far! 

And without the lycra shorts!

Longevity has never been my aim. But for as long as I am alive, I want to be in good health. As the saying goes, “the idea is to die young as late as possible.”

Sports, athletics and training has always played a significant part in my life. Thank God I discovered it.

Growing up, I never got into excessive drinking or smoking or drugs because (a) it didn’t make sense to me (b) I took my sport (boxing at the time) seriously and (c) I valued my health enough to not want to subject my body to abuse (ironic considering the sport I chose).

It wasn that way from the beginning. As a child and young person I had a sweet tooth. I’d spoon sugar straight from the sugar bowl and spend my pocket money on chocolates and fast food. Then, over time, I realised the relationship between food and health and human performance and that to have any advantage, I needed to make the right choices.

So while many of my friends were dealing with peer pressure growing up, I was always largely excused. I was in training. That was my escape.

Amongst my peers I was always known as the one who didn’t drink. I designated myself the driver on nights out, which again gave me an ‘out’. When out on the town and, inevitably, asked why I didn’t drink alcohol as though I was someone from Mars, I always felt confident and comfortable in saying it didn’t interest me, that I didn’t ever feel the need for it and wasn’t fussed on the taste. 

BACK IN THE DAY: feeling invincible in my 20s

Without thinking about it too deeply, I cherished being well far more than I did the experience of getting drunk or intoxicated or out of my mind. It wasn’t that I was ever a sick child and scared of being ill again. Quite the contrary. But maybe I saw enough sickness and drunkenness and hangovers around me to make me decide ‘I don’t ever want that’. And the occasions when I was unwell or injured, I remember the feeling as being less than enjoyable.

Let’s face it, being unwell is pretty miserable. Why would I choose that?

As you get older, it becomes more important to stay ‘fit’. The odds begin to stack against you.

We only have one body, which has to serve us for a lifetime. It’s senseless to destroy or weaken or abuse it.

It’s difficult enough as it is, with the best intentions in the world, to remain impregnable against the cascade of attacks on our health. There’s no way to fully avoid all the pitfalls of living in a modern world. But we can limit the damage. 

Life can throw curve balls at you at any moment. You have to be ready. I know that the stronger and healthier I am, the better I can respond and the greater my chances of survival. 

We have an epidemic in western and First World culture of people crumbling and dying from over-consumption of food and, more precisely,  foods deficient in nutrients and laced with toxins and substances we’d often prefer not to know existed. This epidemic is made worse by a consumer culture driven to make life as comfortable and convenient as possible which, consequently, has resulted in populations of individuals becoming ridiculously inactive, physically.

REASONS TO BE HEALTHY: playing with my children

The advent of the technological age now threatens our children and younger generations, many of whom no longer aspire to play freely in the fresh air, but instead would prefer to be fixated, with limited movement, looking at devices that provide all their entertainment. 

Additionally, we walk mostly on concrete, wake up to alarm clocks, work in artificial light, live in heated and air-conditioned buildings, wear our feet in tight shoes, over-use prescriptive drugs for illnesses which, largely, can be avoided, find ourselves continually filling the space of every spare second of the day (thus increasing stress levels), all the while no longer really needing to employ much energy or guile to locate, collect and prepare our food in the way we were originally designed to.

It’s not a mystery why many of us are ageing well ahead of time. And so many people look and seem helpless to protect themselves.

It’s easy to fall into the trap. Although I have always been active and gone to the gym or trained at least four-five times a week since I hit puberty, I was for much of my adult life – without even realising it – what they call “active sedentary”. 

WRITING DAYS: travelling the world, meeting elite athletes

If I knew at 18 what I now know, I’d have possibly made some different choices in life and career. For instance, I worked as a journalist for more than 20 years in the heart of London. My job required that I commute by train practically every day. I sat at a desk for hours in an office and on a train and in my car. Now the idea of being pinned to a desk all day doesn’t appeal at all. Back then, though, I never gave it a second thought.

I believed, as many of us still do, the one hour or so of exercise each day could offset the endless hours perched on and hunched in a chair in a soul-less building and away from the elements we were supposed to be in contact with. It can’t.

I travelled the world, meaning I spent hours glued to a seat on aeroplanes, breathing cabin air, going across time zones, disrupting my internal body clock, all of which steadily takes a massive toll. The experiences I had may have seemed priceless, but they most likely came at some cost. 

It’s all a trade-off. But is it a fair exchange if you don’t know all the risks – if you’re not made aware, for instance, that sitting at a desk for years, as our children do in schools, is likely to wreak havoc on your posture and body later in the life? We still don’t know – because it is a relatively new invention – the full impact of how our addictive mobile devices are affecting us.

Trying to uncover the truth within the war of information isn’t easy. Those that feed us the ‘facts’ have ulterior motives or a strong bias. Sometimes you have to dig and we’re all too busy to do any digging, so we listen to conflicting opinions and messages, wind up confused and, consequently, do nothing.

However, doing something is better than doing nothing, even if it’s the wrong thing. Why? Because if you recognise you’re going the wrong way, you can always change course. It’s never too late.

For instance, about 12 years or so ago I made the choice to stop eating animal products. It was controversial in my inner circles. I’ve never regretted it for a second, though. I feel better for it. I’m not advocating it for everyone. But it was right for me and it still remains so

I didn’t exactly go about it in the right way, however. But making mistakes is how we learn. Initially, being the only non-meat-eater in my family and amongst my friends, I was defensive of my choices, sometimes fiercely so. I think I offended some people. 

I’m a lot more now of the thinking that everyone is entitled to make their own choice. But, armed with the information and feelings I now have, I’d have probably changed my eating much sooner.

TYPICAL MEAL: vegetables and greens

Overnight, I went from being a meat-eater to raw plant-based. That was a shock for my body. I lost a lot of weight and fast (not that I wanted or needed to). I tried to say I felt good, but I didn’t – at least not always. I knew the food choices I was making were healthier, but not the healthiest. How I transitioned wasn’t the best.

After I heard people discussing and being concerned for my health because of the weight loss, I made a U-turn and then, in a more sensible manner after educating myself some more, eliminated the foods I no longer wanted to consume.

I’ve found more balance now with how and what I eat. It takes time. I know a lot more about it. I became informed. I’m not obsessed. I just realise it’s important because it affects everything. Much of our immune system begins in the gut. What we eat is therefore critical. For that reason it gets my attention and is a priority.

I feel healthier, stronger, fitter and more nourished and energetic than in a long time. I’m more flexible and mobile even if I am still lacking in flexibility and mobility. I’ve always got work to do, because the work is never over.

As gymnastics coach Chris Sommer says, “You’re not responsible for the hands of cards you were dealt. You’re responsible for maxing out what you were given.”

Had I known sooner about the philosophies of people like Sommer, I probably would have changed my approach to training a long time ago. I didn’t grow up in a world where, unlike today, information was at my fingertips or Youtube existed (technology does have its advantages!).

I did a lot of fumbling around to find a system and methodology that made sense and worked. I made a ton of mistakes. I did a lot of experimenting to figure out a way of eating that also worked and was sustainable.

SHARING: coaching enables me to help others to grow

Doing the Amazing 12 program and learning from Paul McIlroy about training and food has revolutionised how I approach strength and conditioning.

I read a lot and I’m considered in what I read. I listen for hours to podcasts on inspirational and from informative people. I’m a sponge for learning more from the many incredible individuals out there leading the way in that market of the world today.

DISCOVERY: kettlebells and smarter ways of training came late, after much experimentation

I’m older now and don’t have the drive to compete like I used to. I’m happy with that, though. I wasn’t a world-beater as an athlete, even though I had aspirations to be. I’ve let go of that. I’ll leave it to the youngsters.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me greatly whether I’m first or last in something. It matters if I try my hardest and if I’ve executed a task with the standards I have set for myself and if I’ve made progress. I’m more at peace with any need to attract recognition for my achievements and exploits.

Of course, it’s nice to be applauded or revered, but it’s not essential or, for me, even required. What’s more important is how we feel about ourselves. 

The real challenge is how to find equilibrium in our world with all the demands and distractions it places upon me and my well-being.

We are being bombarded by stressors from every direction. That’s why now the simpler things bring me the most pleasure.

I’m determined to be conscientious for the future of mankind and healthy, to serve and support my family, to be active and fully able to participate and play and interact with my young children for as long as possible. I strive to share what I know with others who feel there is something to learn from me and to help them to help themselves discover the promise that each and everyone of us has the right to.

MY TRIBE: women’s weight-lifting on Sunday mornings

The emphasis has shifted from what I can do for myself – as it does when you are younger – to how much of a positive impact I can have on other people.

And while I feel more selfless now, I still make myself a priority. That may be a paradox, but I’m of no use to anyone – in fact, I become a burden – if I’m not fighting fit for life and operating from a place where my essential needs have been met.

Life is, indeed, a journey of twists and turns and falls and delights and anguish and ecstasy and heartache. But it’s also an amazing place and with so much to explore and learn and experience. Sometimes I feel as if I will run out of time to fully appreciate and discover all I want to.

Many years ago my best friend, Bob Lesson, and I were in France on a beautiful sunny day and he said to me, “I’ve probably only got another 25-30 summers left.”

I’d never thought about my life in terms of summers. But, being a summer person, that’s one way of viewing how, potentially, little time remains and how precious each moment is.

I don’t know how, but I’ve been fortunate from when I was very young to be able to seek, find and go after what it is that really brings me to life. I almost have an inability to settle for less. I hope I don’t lose that. 

AMAZING 12: a way of training and eating that I wished I’d have discovered years ago

Sure, I’ve had some jobs and periods where I felt listless, frustrated and as if I was heading nowhere, but the reality is that those moments served a valuable and essential purpose in getting me to and preparing me for where I did want to be. It nearly always does.

I’m far from perfect. But I try to work on my many imperfections. I’m patient because I have to be and because I know and have learned and understood that’s often how a process works.

If there’s one thing getting older gives you that should be really valued and cannot be ordered on Amazon, it’s experience.

Life should be a long and enjoyable journey. But, even when it’s not, I remind myself that change is constant and the most arduous paths eventually lead to some type of promised land. 


Week 11: Why the end is only the beginning

Reaching new levels of strength, Adriano and Ben

THE greatest changes in appearance and increases in strength on the Amazing 12 program come towards the end. But here’s the catch: you need the first 10 or so weeks under your belt in order to maximise and trigger those benefits.

Everyone nowadays seems to want to take shortcuts. We want to gain in five minutes what normally requires much longer.

But many things are worth waiting for. Why? Because otherwise we miss out on the process and it’s in the process that we learn and grow the most.

Jo pushing that prowler and herself

When I look at the Amazing 12 program, I don’t just see the difference between the starting photo and the end one. That’s just the cherry on the cake – a visual display of hard work and dedication. It’s the cover on the book, so to speak. But the words on the pages tell the true story.

Having nearly guided my Amazing 12 Chichester crew through their journey at Core Results Gym, I see how they’ve grown stronger or overcome different challenges or learned from their failings or developed a different mindset or understood the importance of eating and sleeping well or noticed that it takes more than just training to reach optimal health or realised how vital it is to move well or they feel a sense of pride in having lasted the course or improved their technique in one or multiple lifting/movement skills or have proved to themselves they are stronger and more determined than they thought possible. I could go on and on. 

The real you: Ben has so much untapped strength and fitness

It’s not just a program to enhance appearances. Amazing 12 boss Paul McIlroy says it best. “If you’re looking into the mirror and who’s looking back is someone not in shape, with low self-esteem and weak, then that is NOT the real you.

“The real truth is that the transformation took place a long time before the Amazing 12 – and took years to achieve by eating tons of junk food and being doggedly determined to move as little as possible. So what you see in the mirror is NOT you.

“What the Amazing 12 program does is transform that person back into the virile human being they were in the first place!”

That’s why my motivation and desire as a coach is to instill in my clients and those who read about my work the importance of leading a healthy life and what that actually entails.

Fully extended, Stacey slamming the ball

I understand that there is genuine confusion as to what ‘healthy’ really is amidst the mass of conflicting information and advice and that the average person’s comprehension of nutrition and movement and the negatives of their lifestyle choices is as limited as their motivation to change even when awareness is increased.

The Amazing 12 is about building confidence (for self-esteem), muscles (to make us leaner and protect our joints and heart), endurance (for resilience and usefulness), discipline (to take on the jobs we have to do even if we don’t want to), knowledge (so we are equipped to continue when it’s over and make informed choices in order to improve our healthstyle) and emphasising commitment (the turning up no matter what).

The Amazing 12 Chichester is now coming into the final week, the time where the emphasis is on reaching a peak. And the challenge now is to be focused and pay attention to the little details I have given them in order to achieve the best possible results.

In the zone: Jo’s almost meditative approach to battle ropes

They have worked hard and should want to see and feel the full extent of their efforts. There’s no crash-dieting involved or use of synthetic products or dehydration.

From Day One the priority has always been to eat as cleanly as possible, drink lots of water, exercise intelligently and sleep abundantly.

Even though a few of them haven’t followed the program exactly or have struggled with sleep or have missed too many sessions to say they’ve done the Amazing 12 as prescribed, week 12 is worth experiencing. With the exception of Adriano, who graduated in 2015, none of them has been through it before.

Squat queen: Stacey getting good depth

But that’s what life should be about: new experiences. It teaches us new things about ourselves. Getting to know ourselves and evolving is, for me at least, part of life’s fascination and joy and purpose.

Some new experiences are greater than others. Some of my group dislike any change. So I purposely move things around – for example, I try not to do back squats in the same place each week or set equipment up exactly the same way or use the same bars for lifting. And I’ve encouraged them to try new foods and ways of eating and strategies for continuing with a healthy diet and challenged them to break patterns of thinking and behaviours/habits that don’t serve them well.

Recovered: Ben showing no signs of being restricted by injury

The Amazing 12 changes throughout, but often in too subtle a way for it to become a concern.

However, what they can do now is vastly different from what they could do when they started in January. They’ve taken micro steps. It’s one reason why the Amazing 12 works so well. It encourages you to allow yourself to become stronger, because while strength is a skill – and therefore must be practiced and honed – ultimately it comes down to whether the body feels a given task is too great a threat or not. Confidence is key and confidence can be destroyed by being overly ambitious or impatient.

When I look back through my records of what Stacey, Ben, Jo and Adriano have achieved, it’s quite astounding.

Jo knows she’s become much stronger – in spite of skipping sessions and falling off the wagon with the diet for several weeks. So has Ben, who was set back through injury briefly, and Adriano, who has already surpassed what he achieved two years ago. And Stacey, who at the beginning said she was “shocked” by how much strength she had lost after becoming a mum, is now doing for reps more than what used to be her maximum when she was in full training.

Making steady progress deadlifting

However, irrespective of the physical successes and changes, it’s going to be easy after the Amazing 12 has finished to slip back into making the choices and living the lifestyle that prompted the need for change in the first place.

There will be a sense of now-it’s-over-and-I-can-do-whatever-I-want. But I can’t stress enough the importance of resisting those urges, for obvious reasons.

Lifestyle matters – GREATLY.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about it because it is such an critical factor in how healthily we evolve and perform and how we look and, most importantly, our susceptibility to disease and illness which dramatically impacts our quality of life.

Getting harder: it’s more challenging in week 11, but everyone is fitter

Some of us may be at a genetic disadvantage but Dr. Sara Gottfried, who I’ve written about previously and has studied over 2,500 research papers on our genes, says that “90 per cent of the time” our illnesses and sicknesses and demise is caused by poor lifestyle choices.

If that isn’t a clear warning to take more seriously how you choose to live and take care of yourself I don’t know what is.

It means we’re mostly not genetically predisposed to certain illnesses or being overweight. We have the power, through choice, to determine what path we take.

And, in my opinion, a massive and integral part of any plan to stay well should include exercise/movement and resistance training in addition to resting and eating healthily.

So if you’re interested in my next Amazing 12 wave (over eight weeks, starting in May) or want to learn to lift and join one of my ladies weight-lifting groups on a Sunday morning or are interested in an upcoming course on using kettlebells or would like personal training sessions, send a message to

Week 2: Why muscles aren’t just for show

Stacey’s biceps coming back to life

WE need muscle. There can be no disputing that. The amount of muscle, however, is more open to debate.

When it comes to losing excess fat, which all of my current Amazing 12 Chichester crew are striving for, developing muscle is king. 

We are led to believe is that if we exercise/train more and eat less we will lose weight. And to some extent it is true. But what often happens is that while we may shift some poundage, we also strip away muscle as well as fat and, more importantly, screw up our metabolism in the process (I’ll go into this in more detail later). Long-term, that’s a disaster.

Having muscle is therefore critical in the process of fat-burning. It is also vital for other functions, too.

Muscle enables us to express bodily strength and so much more. We have about 600 skeletal muscles. They help make us functional and efficient, to stay healthy and pull blood into the tissues that need it. Without movement, which requires muscular action, our hearts wind up doing too much work and, over time, become strained. Without movement, our cells starve, affecting our cardiovascular system, and the distribution of oxygen in our body falters.

Jo setting up for the back squat

When muscles are weak and injured and don’t work well, our joints become compromised.

Having too much body fat makes us more physically and mentally tired, releasing inflammatory hormones that cause us to want more food, which is why we get cravings. Fat wants to be fed.

The goal for everyone interested in being healthy should be to have and maintain lean muscle mass for as long as possible. Genetics and age will play a part, but much more so our lifestyle and dietary choices.

Josh Hillis, a respected and experienced nutrition and fitness coach who co-wrote Fat Loss Happens on Monday, said: “People who are lean are in the habit of being lean. They’ve practised eating lean – like a skill.”

We can’t do a great deal about our age and genetics, but we can about how we choose to live and what we eat.

The older we get, the harder it is for our bodies to retain muscle. Therefore, more effort needs to be put into holding on to it. What can we do? Choose to live in a way that helps support that.

Did you know that those who train or exercise for one hour daily but spend the rest of their time sitting and not moving are only 4% better off physically than those who lead a sedentary life?

“The research shows that you can stay younger, longer if you have more lean muscle on your body,” said Shawn Stevenson, an expert on sleep and fitness and author of Sleep Smarter.

Adriano hard at it on his final session of the week

“Lifting weights enables you to express your genetic potential. Your genes expect you to lift heavy things.”

That’s why on the Amazing 12 we do a lot of lifting.

Lifting and moving weights combined with eating the right foods, consuming sufficient protein and, critically, getting enough recovery and quality sleep is the path to success for my dedicated quartet.

Early riser Ben puts in another good evening shift

All of them want to get fitter and stronger – and they already are just two weeks into the program.

However, each of them is facing his or her own challenges. For Ben, Adriano and Stacey it’s sleep. For Jo it’s trying to avoid falling sick.

Jo had to skip several days training. On a few days Adriano and Stacey (who have a young baby) and Ben, who gets up for work each day at 5am, have been tired from not sleeping well enough. Lack of sleep not only makes finding the energy for training harder, but losing the all-important recovery time will reduce the chances of obtaining the best results and weaken the immune system.

There are measures we can take to help improve sleep, but you have to be prepared to implement them. What value is knowledge without application?

Muscle doesn’t repair and grow without quality sleep. Seeing as muscle makes us healthier and it’s opposite is fat, you don’t need to me to spell out what fat does.

What we need to ask ourselves is whether the choices (food, exercise/activity, sleep) we make each day are feeding our muscles or fat?

Willis added, “If you don’t constantly feed fat, you’ll lose it. If you keep feeding it, it will stick around forever.”

Crash diets don’t work! Let me repeat that: CRASH DIETS DON’T WORK! At least not in the long term, which is what matters.

Calorie-restricted diet v Amazing 12, aged 47, several years later

I’ve done crash diets. Actually, I’ve done what might seem an extreme crash diet – fasting for three weeks. I lost weight, but most of it muscle. Let me tell you, I felt as weak as a kitten. But when I started nourishing myself again, almost immediately my strength quickly returned. You can see the difference from the photos above. One is of me not eating or resistance training and the other, several years later, after completing the Amazing 12, aged 47.

Notice I said “nourish” and not “eating”? What we put into our bodies makes a massive difference. So on the Amazing 12, my team are not just training, but following a fitness and strength program that works in tandem with a healthy eating plan. I’m always on at them to eat foods that have nutritional value.

While crash diets nearly all work initially – our bodies inevitably adapt and, consequently, hit a plateau. And what can happen is that our metabolism becomes slower than it was before we started. The weight goes back on and often in excess of what was lost.

As a coach, I am always banging on about how each of us must take ownership of the problem – understand what you are putting into your body and, maybe most importantly, plan your meals ahead of time.

Learning about food and how to prepare it is a skill worth acquiring as it could greatly enhance the quality of your life.

Second time on the Amazing 12, Adriano has learned to prepare his food in advance

Adriano, for instance, travels to London to work a few times each week. He takes with him his food. When he gets hungry, he eats it. If he didn’t have everything organised, he’d be at the mercy of what’s available and that could compromise his results. Next week he has to travel to Africa for his job. If he doesn’t think ahead he will struggle to stick to the eating plan.

Committed Ben dialling in his lifting technique

Luckily for Ben, he has a mother who has his food prepared in advance for him. But, ultimately, Ben needs to take control of his own food. I’m trying to get him to drink more water, too. The more reliant you are on others, the greater the chances of slipping to failure.

As Hillis says, “Until you make the switch in your head that food preparation is the most important workout of the week, you’ll forever be caught in the trap of trying to get your results through workouts.”

Keep reading that paragraph until it sinks in!

So, to recap, muscles aren’t for show. And to develop lean muscle we need to train regularly and smartly, eat a nourishing diet and get sufficient rest.

Battle ropes: not Adriano’s favourite, but effective

Make gaining lean muscle a goal because muscle marshals our metabolism, which is critical in regulating our body weight.

Muscle, however, is high maintenance for our bodies. That means it’s the first thing the body releases whenever we follow eat-less-exercise-more diet plans. It also weighs more than fat, which is why the scales will often tell you lies. Don’t rely on bodyweight numbers as a marker for health, fitness and well-being.

Getting to grip with the ropes

More significant is what you can do with your body. I record the achievements of all the participants each week so I can monitor their progress. There will be some days and weeks that are tougher than others. That’s normal and to be expected. This is a journey that has its share of pot-holes. Reaching the end and learning enough from the experience to venture onwards better equipped is what it should be about.

All four of my prospective graduates were tired by the end of this week. When it’s cold outside – as it has been – and your body feels like it needs a rest it’s easy to want to put your feet up. But they all turned up and put in a brilliant final shift.

Worth remembering is a quote by Jason Lewis, the first man to circumnavigate the planet (over 13 years) by human power (walking, cycling, inline skating, kayaking, rowing and swimming).

He said, “Our bodies are capable of amazing feats if our minds agree to cooperate.”

Doing the Amazing 12 isn’t reserved for the elite. You just have to get your mind to cooperate. If you are interested in being a part of the next wave of the Amazing 12 Chichester or would like to know more about it, send me a message –


Porridge – breakfast of champions

Vanilla Chai porridge

I EAT porridge every day for breakfast. Sometimes I have it post-workout as well. Sometimes I even have it later in the day. Yes. You guessed it. I’m pretty fond of porridge.

Why? It’s easy to prepare and make, simple and quick to consume. It contains slow-burning (low GI) carbohydrates and some protein. That makes it popular not only for everyday people, but also those who take part in exercise and top athletes.

Because I eat it so often, I like to play around with my porridge combinations. Here’s one of my latest. Porridge with a Vanilla Chai infusion. I add berries, a chopped apple and a few almonds.

  1. Brew a Vanilla Chai tea bag
  2. Put porridge in a bowl.
  3. Add any extras: I use ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and chia seeds.
  4. Add a splash of milk (I use oat or nut milk)
  5. Pour in the tea so that the liquid covers the oats
  6. Add some coconut oil*
  7. Cook the porridge slowly until boiling and serve.

*A note on turmeric. This mustard-coloured spice is excellent for digestion, as is ginger. However, turmeric, being fat soluble, is best absorbed with fat, which is why I add a healthy fat like coconut oil.

Feel free to share this recipe with anyone you think might enjoy it. Also, try experimenting with other teas and ingredients. Enjoy.