Physical Health

Getting fit after 50: how to find your fitness motivation

From training women to tackling trekking adventures around the world and raising millions for charity, Di Westaway is a force to be reckoned with.

Health Agenda magazine
April 2019

Life is one big adventure for 59-year-old Di Westaway. Almost 20 years ago, she took on a wilderness challenge that changed the course of her life. Feeling restless and dissatisfied, she knew she needed to experience something outside of work and family. So when her personal trainer invited her to climb Mt Aconcagua in South America, she took a leap of faith.

“When I was approaching my 40th birthday I went through a phase where I felt miserable,” she says. “I was sacrificing a lot, prioritising my husband’s work and being there for my young kids, who were 7 and 5 at the time. I felt like I had no time to myself.”

Standing around 6,960 metres tall, Mt Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the western and southern hemispheres and not a challenge for the faint-hearted. Westaway prepared by getting as fit as she could. Although the trip was extremely tough, and she didn’t reach the summit, it was a revelatory experience and the start of many more adventures around the world.

“It was a very difficult trip, but we came back feeling elated despite everything,” she says. “I had a real epiphany and realised I wanted to keep going and see if there were other women out there who wanted to do the same thing.”

Encouraging women to get fit

The trip inspired Westaway to launch Wild Women On Top (WWOT), an organisation that trains women for trekking challenges, and Coastrek, an annual walk that takes place in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and the Sunshine Coast. To date, Coastrek has raised more than $25 million for eye health charity The Fred Hollows Foundation.

When Westaway started her own training for treks she had a group of friends who were also passionate about being outdoors and having adventures. They did hikes near and far, from the Blue Mountains to Mt Kilimanjaro.

“I put a notice in the school newsletter to see if any other mums wanted to get together for evening walks after they put their kids to bed. The response was overwhelming. Next, I left my day job and it just took off from there.”

Westaway had discovered a new passion: motivating women to achieve fitness and adventure goals and find time-efficient ways to exercise, by training with their friends in nature.

Hiking is an accessible activity, Westaway says, because it doesn’t discriminate on age, size, shape or fitness level. It can also be cheaper than joining a gym or going to exercise classes.

“Hiking helps our hearts, buffs our butts, tones wobbly bits, increases suppleness, builds balance, reduces brooding and maximises memory. And it’s bloody great fun,” she adds.

“Adventure taught me mental toughness and helped rejuvenate me. It also gave me the power and strength to go on,” despite facing tough times personally.

Making a commitment to fitness

Living a healthy, vital life is essential for energetic Westaway, who squeezes as much physical activity into her week as she can.

“I love sunrise jogging along Manly Beach and along the bush tracks of North Head, stopping at sunrise to stretch on the spectacular rocky cliffs that look out over the Pacific Ocean,” she says. “My favourite song to work out to is ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ by Nancy Sinatra; it’s a great trekking track.”

Westaway also goes rock climbing 2­­–3 times a week and says it’s her favourite way to relax.

“I like to get active with my family, too, by going skiing and adventuring in the bush. We do night walks in national parks, and visit secret lookouts for sunrise and sunset moments.”

As she nears 60, Westaway has no intention of slowing down. “We often hear that women feel invisible after 50, but I refuse to accept that my worth has a ‘use-by’ date. I know I’ve got many more years ahead to serve, laugh, love, climb, bike, hike, travel and explore this magnificent Earth.”

Westaway’s tips for finding fitness motivation

1. Find your ‘why’. First of all, you need a goal. Why do you want to exercise? Is it to get fit for an amazing trek, or so you can run around after your kids? Whatever it is, write it down.

2. Engage your support team. Find the people who’ll help you achieve that goal – your mum, friends, partner or kids. Goal buddies share your health goals, whether your focus is physical health, happiness, weight loss or mood management.

3. Make a plan. Join a training group, sign up for a fun run or buy some great gear to stay motivated. Having a set routine makes it easier to achieve your fitness goals, so, for example, you could commit to hiking for half an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and go biking on the weekend.

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