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Why is Strength Exercise more important as we get older?

Why is Strength Exercise more important as we get older?

We met with the lovely Fiona a few weeks ago. Fiona runs Fit Round the Family which offers casual and fun fitness classes and personal training for Mums who are either new to exercise or find it a challenge to have a consistent routine.

We thought we would use the New Year, New Beginning as an opportunity to find out a little bit more about the benefits of exercise, both to our bodies and our minds.

Hi Fiona! Thank you for agreeing to have a chat with us today. I have been to a few of your HIIT sessions and they’re great. What is HIIT and why is it good for you?

Hello! Thanks to Little Ankle Bikers for giving me the opportunity to talk to your audience… I always find your posts really useful and you’re now my go to website when I need some inspiration for weekend activities.

So HIIT – it stands for High Intensity Interval Training (don’t let that put you off!). You do an exercise at near maximal effort for a period of time and then you recover for a period of time before ramping up again. It’s great for improving your cardiovascular fitness, strengthening your heart and muscles, fat burn, boosting your metabolism – but the 2 best things I like about it are that it’s a quick workout that can be done with no equipment and you are working too hard to think about anything else so the mental switch off is great.

As a mum myself it’s often hard to find time to exercise, do you have any tips on finding the time and motivation?

Firstly, I absolutely understand how hard it is to fit everything in and find the time and motivation to factor exercise into your routine. And winter makes it all much more difficult for obvious reasons. I am always so proud of the Mums who drag themselves out of their warm homes to come out in the cold dark and do classes on Monday and Tuesday evenings. There are many barriers for women who may want to be more active. I’m trying to help people overcome some of these barriers where possible.

A few things that can help – firstly, be realistic about what you can manage. Stick to something once a week if you’re just starting out or if that’s all you can really manage and don’t let it be compromised unless it really has to be. Being tired is not an excuse! It’s a reason to go and exercise, you’ll get an energy boost! Just one class, one power walk or jog, one home workout. Anything is better than nothing.

Make it a diary entry that you simply can’t cancel, in the same way you put a hair appointment in, a night out, a work meeting, a dentist appointment, a kids party, a weekly food shop etc. Exercise is all part of that lifestyle mix so don’t compromise. Make it an enjoyable habit.

Doing it with someone else makes you way more accountable and it’s far more enjoyable. My exercise buddy moved away recently and I really miss having her around to do a session with. I am also starting training for the London Marathon this month (I’ve never done a marathon before!) and really need to find some company for my long runs to keep me motivated!

Signing up to and paying for a batch of sessions upfront is a great way to keep you motivated.

And finally, you just have to be a bit selfish about it! I’ve definitely learnt that you have to move it up the list of priorities if you really want to do it, even if it means a ball gets dropped somewhere else or you just say no to other things. It can be hard to change your mindset on that front. I made a conscious decision a couple of years ago to prioritise exercise and improve my eating habits and I feel better in so many ways. No-one or nothing else is really going to suffer if you head out for an hour to reap the many benefits that exercise has to offer. You never regret a workout!

If you really don’t have the opportunity to get out to a class due to childcare issues, lack of family support, partner working away a lot, medical issues etc, then a few sessions of Personal Training in your home to get you going, build confidence and learn correct technique is something to consider. That’s exactly what I did when I wanted to get back into fitness but had a 6month old at home and no childcare options. It was the best thing I did. There is such a great range of Personal Trainers in and around Thame covering many different specialisms. My PT focus is on helping Mums kick off or reactivate their fitness journey and providing ad hoc sessions to those who might not be able to get to their regular classes for a period of time.

I understand that strength exercise is really important, how do you feel people can benefit from this especially as they get older?

I didn’t really take muscular strength and endurance training seriously until I did my qualification 2 years ago but now I aim to do the recommended minimum 2 sessions a week. As we age (depressing chat alert!), in the same way that our hair goes grey and our skin gets wrinkly, our muscles and bones start to weaken and our metabolism slows down – this happens when we hit 30 believe it or not!

So we need to regularly exercise our muscles, keep ourselves as strong, mobile and energetic as possible, take responsibility for managing our health and well being without relying on medical intervention etc. We all have a body which is essentially our own unique machine, so let’s look after that machine so it works to the best of its ability for as long as possible. I want to be running around and lifting up my grandchildren when I’m in my 60s/70s!

Strength training has so many benefits – it reduces the risk of or manages certain conditions such arthritis/ osteoporosis, helps with back problems, postural issues, brain function, the list goes on. My Circuits class provides a good full body strengthening workout using various pieces of equipment covering all major muscle groups.

For my new Monday morning class, I’ve built in a specific Core strengthening section following the HIIT workout. Don’t just associate core with a flat stomach and a six pack! Our core is our machine’s mid-section and the muscles within it work to stabilize our whole body and are used in all movements we make. The range of muscles associated with our core need to be exercised to help with balance, stability, pelvis and spinal support, back strength, posture and incontinence amongst other things. Particularly relevant to this audience is the fact that our core muscles comes under significant strain during pregnancy/childbirth and then afterwards when the physical demands of looking after children kick in. It takes work to help our core to recover and then maintain its strength and proper function. The stronger and more stable our core, the better and longer our ability to carry out daily activities, other forms of exercise, and function independently.

We all know how important our mental health is, how can exercise help us mentally?

I had a client on my FitMum Beginners course recently and her feedback says it all – “I have suffered from anxiety and post-natal depression and whilst medication has helped, I feel this has had a far more noticeable impact on my mood and self-esteem”. Isn’t that brilliant?!

As I mentioned earlier, if I’m working hard in an exercise class, it’s the only time I switch off from home, work, kids, worries, to do lists. It can also provide some good thinking time too if you’re just doing something at low intensity like a walk or slow run.

When you exercise, your body produces a range of hormones – I won’t get all technical but basically they are ‘happy hormones’ and so your mood lightens, you feel relieved of any stress you might be feeling, you get an energy boost, your self-esteem may increase if you’ve achieved a goal, and you are most likely then going to drink lots of water and eat good stuff and sleep better, all of which further contribute to your overall mental and physical well being. It’s just positive all round!

I often run to get fit, is that enough or do I need to introduce other forms of exercise?

Anything that works for you is great! It obviously all depends on whether you have specific goals but generally speaking it’s good to have a mix of cardio, strengthening and flexibility exercises in your routine and it should be enjoyable! We’ve covered the importance of strength training above and so you should aim to do some strengthening exercises to complement your running if possible (squats, lunges etc and core work to keep you strong and injury free). My classes can offer you that!

These exercises can also be done at home and it doesn’t need to take long. I picked up running again a couple of years ago for the first time since my 20’s and after having 3 children – I definitely needed the strengthening exercises to go alongside it to prevent injury, strengthen my pelvic floor and core, develop strength and endurance in my legs and improve my performance. I started very slowly, was realistic but I set myself progressive goals and have been consistent along the way – now I find myself taking on a marathon, how did that happen?!! You definitely don’t need to aim for that though!

From a cardiovascular point of view, the guidelines are to raise your heart rate moderately through aerobic activity 150mins a week (that’s around 5 times per week for around 30mins). I bet most Mums are doing that on the school run, rushing to work or chasing their kids around at the park. If you’re not, then be mindful of it and think how you can increase your activity, even if it’s just to walk a bit faster every now and again!

And finally in the new year there is always a focus on detox or dieting. Do you have any advice for our readers when it comes to nutrition?

Well firstly, I hope everyone has been enjoying a daily fix of mince pies, Celebrations and prosecco over the last couple of weeks like I have!

I like to focus more on helping Mums get active – I think (hope!) we all know that quick fixes and diet fads don’t really work and aren’t sustainable. I worry that there will always be an immediate association with exercise = wanting to look good/lose weight. Of course, if fat loss is a goal then exercise helps and I offer nutritional guidance as part of Personal Training packages, but generally it’s just about having the right attitude and balance towards both nutrition and exercise. You may have heard that it’s 20% exercise and 80% nutrition when it comes down to fat loss goals.

Essentially we need a mixture of 3 macros to fuel our machine – carbohydrate, protein and fat. If we are consuming the right types of these 3 things, then we should also be getting all the essential nutrients and vitamins we require.

When exercising, your muscles are essentially being put under stress. They then need to recover and rebuild to become stronger – protein (eggs, lean meats, oily fish, nuts, Greek yogurt to name a few) plays an important role so think about that when you plan your exercise in.

We all need carbohydrates for energy and brain function, especially knackered on-the-go Mums! Our muscles store carbs in the form of glycogen. Aim for complex carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, porridge oats and wholegrains/wholemeal rice and pasta etc, fruit, veg) which release energy slowly as they digest, so you’re blood sugar levels remain steady rather than spike then slump quickly.

Healthy fats (avocado, nuts, oily fish) are also a must – they help the body to absorb certain important vitamins and there is good evidence that it manages our cholesterol levels.

Put the right stuff into that machine of yours! It will operate better. And don’t underestimate the need to drink plenty of water every day.

If fat loss is your goal, then try to be consistent with your exercise and nutrition most of the time but don’t be unnecessarily restrictive. Ultimately it comes down to calories in v calories out (energy expended) in most cases.

Fit Round the Family have the following classes in Thame:

  • New Class – HIIT & Core:
    • Mondays, 9.15-10am at Thame Cricket Pavilion (Starting 14 January)
  • FitMum Beginners Courses:
    • Mondays, 8-8.45pm (limited spaces and bookable in advance – get in touch for details)
  • Circuits
    • Tuesdays, 8-8.45pm at John Hampden School (from 8th January)
  • HIIT
    • Fridays, 9:25-10am at Lord Williams Lower School (from 11th January)

Classes are £6.50 drop in or £5.50 when buying a batch of 10 (with the 11th class free) that can be used at any of the classes, making it just £5 per class. 50p also goes to charity everytime anyone attends a class. Fit Round the Family has so far donated to the Red Kite Family Centre, the HELP Appeal and The Brain Tumour Charity.


Fit Round the Family also offer Personal Training sessions for mums where Fiona will meet 1 or 2 of you for an hour at a time and location (your home/outdoors) to suit you and your family commitments. There are also casual ad hoc sessions outdoors during the Easter and Summer holidays

For more information about Fit Round the Family click here

Fit Round The Family is a small fitness business that has recently been set up by Fiona Harold who previously worked in the sports industry, most recently at Sport England, a Lottery and Exchequer funded organisation that works towards creating an active nation where everyone feels able to do sport and activity, no matter what their age, background or gender.

Fiona lives in Thame and has 3 young children. She is fully aware of how difficult it is to prioritise and motivate oneself to exercise but at the same time strongly believes in all the benefits it can bring. She is always realistic about how much can be achieved, and that it needs to be sociable and fun. It’s not about how it makes us look, it’s about how it makes us feel and the longterm health benefits.

Fit Round the Family aims to help and inspire other Mums to try and build some exercise into their weekly schedule to help them feel energized and strong and give them some time out from the busy schedule of coping with the demands of family and working life.

Fiona wants to help her fellow Mums overcome barriers that lead to lack of participation.

Personal Training and classes are currently on offer. Personal Training is a mobile service so can be carried out in the comfort of your home/garden, or outdoors local to you. This is a great way for beginners or those wanting to get back into exercise to get themselves going again.

All classes are energizing, enjoyable and 45mins max.

Money goes to charity each time people attend classes.

Fiona is fully insured, First Aid trained, DBS checked and a member of REPs (The Register of Exercise Professionals).

We hope you found this post useful. For days out for families in Oxfordshire  click here.


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