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How to fall in love with exercise in your 40s and 50s using the countryside as a gym

Country Living (UK) logo Country Living (UK) 5 days ago Anna Kessel
a person standing on a beach: It took a couple of colliding life events to spur Jo back into activity 25-years-later... © Jo Moseley It took a couple of colliding life events to spur Jo back into activity 25-years-later...

According to Sport England data, just 30% of women aged 45-54 and 22% of women aged 55-64 exercise at least once a week.

Well, super-active, 53-year-old Jo Moseley is bucking the trend entirely. She loves running in the Yorkshire Dales, has rowed one million metres for charity and regularly paddleboards in the North Sea along the stunning Cleveland Heritage Coast. In fact, she can't imagine life without breaking a sweat.

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But Jo hasn't always been into exercise and fell out of love with it in a big way when she got married. It took a couple of colliding life events – her parents becoming ill and her teenage sons leaving home – to spur Jo back into activity 25 years later.

Now, after going through the love-hate notions herself, Jo is passionate about getting women of all ages active. Here's her story...

a man standing next to a body of water: Jo Moseley on beach © Jo Moseley Jo Moseley on beach

At what point in your life did you stop exercising?

"[Growing up,] I loved being in the water and loved gymnastics - Nadia Comaneci and Olga Korbut were my heroes - but I never liked sports day at school. As a young adult, I liked outdoorsy things like hiking, kayaking and scuba diving. Then I met my ex-husband and, for literally 25 years, I did nothing. It’s bizarre really."

What prompted you to start exercising again?

© Getty

"In 2013, my mum and dad were both going through chemotherapy. I was really stressed and kept bursting into tears; I couldn’t sleep at night. One day I was standing in a supermarket, in the chocolate biscuit aisle, having promised to prepare the food for my son’s Duke of Edinburgh award trip, and I just felt completely overwhelmed. I remember I dropped everything, fell back against the aisle and burst into tears. It sounds dramatic but I felt I couldn’t cope."

Why was exercise the solution?

"A friend of mine had an old indoor rowing machine she was getting rid of and she recommended I give it a try to help me sleep. I put it in the kitchen and started rowing. Within a couple of weeks, I was sleeping again.

"When mum died, just before Christmas 2013, I found myself going back to the gym to row. It was bizarre, but I realised it made me feel better. So I carried on."

a person standing next to a body of water: woman beach jo moseley © Jo Moseley woman beach jo moseley

You went on to raise an incredible amount of money for charity?

"On mum and dad’s wedding anniversary, I decided to row one million metres for Macmillan Cancer Support. I knew I had to do something to turn the grief into a positive. So for eight months, I rowed 10,000m every other night after work, including rowing a half marathon on the bandstand in the middle of Ilkley! I literally poured my grief into the rowing machine. In total, I raised £10,000."

What exciting sports do you enjoy now?

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"I took little steps and followed my nose. I’m not very good at any of it, I do it for the joy it brings. I started open water swimming, and began cycling – everyone cycles in Yorkshire! But just as I was getting active, I fell and hurt my knee. So I made up a challenge for myself to do half an hour of walking outdoors everyday, I called it #RainOrShine30. This time last year I started the NHS programme, Couch to 5k, which is how I learned to run."

How did you get into surfing?

"My dad lives on the coast and I visit him regularly. I was going through his cupboards one day and I found the old bodyboards my sons used to play on – I decided to give it a go myself. It’s very easy and it was so much fun! For my 52nd birthday my partner bought me a paddleboard, which is great for building up your core strength, and for my birthday this year I learned to surf."

a person in a wet suit standing on a beach: jo moseley beach surfing © Jo Moseley jo moseley beach surfing

What is it like learning to surf at 53?

"I went on a course at Surf Snowdonia, in North Wales. For the first two days I kept falling off. On my course were two 16-year-old boys – younger than my sons! They kept saying, 'Jo, just believe in yourself'. They were so sweet. On the last day I finally learned to stand up. I say that loosely: I stood up for four seconds - but it was thrilling!

What is 'plogging' and how did you get into that?

"On the beaches going for walks, I always collected sea glass, and I noticed there was more litter. So I decided to start collecting litter everyday, on my way to work, in the hills or on the beach. It’s become a habit. It’s actually a lovely thing to do."

plogging litter © Jo Moseley plogging litter

What is special about being active outdoors, as opposed to being in a gym?

"It’s the scenery. I live on the edge of the Dales, there’s a crag I clamber up to see for miles. When I go to the coast it’s the North Sea, out on my paddleboard I see beautiful kelp, jellyfish, oyster catchers and there used to be a seal that would join me from time to time, bobbing along nearby. I like to tread water in my fins too, looking up at the coastline and the sky. Running along the cliffs you get huge views of the coast – that vast expanse of beauty."

9 forms of exercise that make the most of the countryside:

  • Walking and hiking
  • Nordic walking (here is our guide to getting started)
  • Wild swimming (here's our guide to the best spots in the UK)
  • Paddleboarding and surfing
  • Running
  • Plogging (litterpicking as you exercise)
  • Cycling
  • Canoeing and outdoor rowing
  • Horse riding

How does exercise make you feel?

© Getty

"I’m a worrier, and it calms me. Recently it was my dad’s birthday, I’d baked brownies and bread and done him some lunch, meanwhile I was working on a film project with my youngest son and we were getting in each others’ hair. I was really tense and my dad just looked at my son and said, 'your mother needs to go in the sea, now'. I pulled on my wetsuit and as I got into the water this wonderful sense of calm came over me."

Do you have any tips for women who want to start getting active?

"Follow whatever interests you – that curiosity. We get so good at doing the same things as we get older and life can become quite predictable. It’s a long time since a lot of us have been beginners, but everyone starts somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re not good at it. Do it for enjoyment and if it doesn’t work out find something else."

Related: 21 new fitness trends for 2019 [Men's Health]

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