The Ageless Body by Peta Bee and Sarah Schenker by Peta Bee and Sarah Schenker - Read Online

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The Ageless Body - Peta Bee

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‘My ass is definitely higher than it was when I was 20. This is the thing that people don’t understand – take care of your body [and it will] get better! It gets better as I get older.’

Cameron Diaz

As I write this my 47th birthday is looming. I’m edging ever closer to the half-century milestone beyond which women once tipped into a matronly state of old age. Photographs of my grandmothers, who reached their fifties in the 1950s and 1960s, reveal attractive women who had all but given up hope of feeling glamorous again. The waspish waists and coiffed hair of their formative years had given way to thickened middles and a stouter profile; they looked, dressed and behaved ‘old’. They adopted a uniform of flat Hush Puppies shoes and Crimplene dresses, a ritual of weekly sets and perms and then got on with it, knowing that society expected no more, no less of them. They withered into female oblivion.

What strikes me when I flick through my family albums is how starkly their perception of ageing and what it should entail, and their willingness to accept and get on with it, differs from how I see myself as a woman of a similar age today. I belong to a generation of 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds who have experienced a seismic shift in attitudes to ageing. A remarkable phenomenon has taken hold: we don’t fear getting older, we relish being wiser and more comfortable with who we are and how we feel. A poll of 2000 women revealed the fifties as being the most sex-confident decade of a woman’s life and the over-45s spend more on beauty products than any other age group [1]. We look better and feel better than women of our vintage ever did previously.

Don’t get me wrong, this new guard of the 40-plus female is not hanging on to youth in desperation. We don’t want to be 20 again, neither do we want to live forever. That longing went out with the 1990s, when diets and workouts were about extolling youth, not preserving it. Gone, too, are the chiselled, over-worked midlife bodies that we saw a decade ago, replaced instead by more delicate muscle definition and limbs that are less scrawny, but leaner and lengthier than they appeared even in their twenties.

This emerging breed of mature woman is redefining expectations of the midlife body and proving that seemingly impossible goals are there for the taking. We have our own set of goals, our own set of role models each flaunting exquisite figures that are barely distinguishable from their 30-year-old selves. From Gwen Stefani and Cameron Diaz to Jennifer Aniston and Dame Helen Mirren, they are redefining not just what a midlife body looks like, but what’s entailed in achieving it.

Their message is clear: while getting older is inevitable, wallowing in the slowing metabolism and decreased muscle tone it brings is no longer accepted. And with the right approach, you may just be able to hit the pause button. What matters is how you go about defying the years. And the rules have changed. In The Ageless Body, our job is to set about redefining them.


This is not a book about turning back the clock or about anti-ageing as we’ve come to accept the meaning of the term – via Botox and fillers, stretching and injecting. Not that we are against such procedures, but we believe there are more fulfilling ways to hit the pause button. Neither, for that matter, is it about clinging on to youth in desperation. If you feel the need to starve yourself of carbs, to schedule in five Spinning sessions a week and back-to-back yoga classes alongside training for your first triathlon, it really is not the thing you should be reading.

A dramatic shift in expectations means that, despite being plagued by the slowing metabolism that afflicts all pre- and post-menopausal women, we can realistically aim for a flat stomach and sculpted arms. Diet and exercise needn’t leave you looking as ropey and sinewy as the over-worked Sarah Jessica Parker, but it can leave you effortlessly toned, embodying the kind of appearance we all took for granted in our thirties. We can eat without gaining weight (hooray), consume carbs without them heading straight for the stomach and hips. But we need to recalibrate and re-set our systems in order to achieve an Ageless Body and relish the benefits it brings.

In the course of writing this book, Sarah and I have rifled through endless scientific papers, and tapped the world’s leading academic ageing experts for insights into what we can do to decelerate the rate at which we look and feel older. We have also used ourselves as guinea pigs. Both in our forties (me towards the top of the age group, Sarah a relative newbie to the decade), we have children, demanding jobs, hectic social lives and little time to devote to much else. In theory, we didn’t have time to overhaul our lifestyles, but we made it and the results have been transformational in many ways.

So what have we discovered? In a nutshell, many of the rules you thought held true for diet and exercise are irrelevant from this age onward. We know from our investigations and the emerging science that standard diet and activity advice simply doesn’t work from your mid-thirties onwards. What’s required is a radical alternative, an approach that has the potential to change the way you eat and exercise forever.

What can you expect? Workouts will be shorter and harder. Endless aerobic activities that were the gym fixation of the last three decades are unnecessary for maintaining and improving fitness as you get older. Indeed, throwing yourself into repetitive marathons and triathlons after 40 is now considered the ageing equivalent of sunbathing. Hugely effective in terms of fat loss, these long, pounding activities can leave you drawn and haggard.

Too much endurance slogging stresses the skin in a way that causes wear and tear and leads to a drop in its youthful plumpness. You still need it – but in shorter bursts. Up to 45 minutes of jogging, cycling or fast walking three times a week – and not going at breakneck speed – could be enough. Scientists at McMaster University in Canada reported that this kind of approach was enough to boost skin plumpness in the outer and inner layers of a group of volunteers aged 65 and older. After three months, the complexion of the exercisers resembled what the scientists said they’d typically expect to find in healthy 20–40-year-olds [2].

You’ll need to work harder for a shorter time to get results and we introduce the principles of High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT): it minimizes the amount of pounding (not good for vulnerable tendons and knees either) but works the heart and boosts metabolism (strictly necessary: it plummets by as much as 25 per cent as we age). And strength training becomes essential. There’s little doubt we need it post-35 when muscle begins diminishing at a rate of 1lb (0.5kg) a year leaving you with sag and sinew unless you address it. As someone who’d always feared weights, I am a convert and a firm one (in every way). In fact, none of the workout methods should scare you: be prepared to be won over from the first week.

Your diet will also come under scrutiny. You will be eating less of the foods that detract from healthful vibrancy, more of the stuff that helps to maintain it for longer than women have in the past. Calories will be considerably lower than is recommended for women of our age; snacks are out and the benefits of breakfast are questioned. But we promise you won’t go hungry. What’s more, you will be brimful of energy, your skin will glow and you will not only look healthier, but feel better from within.

‘I have absolutely no objection to growing older. I am a stroke survivor so I am extremely grateful to be ageing – I have nothing but gratitude for the passing years. I am ageing – lucky, lucky me!’

Sharon Stone

Peta’s background

My love affair with exercise and the science that underpins it is as enduring as Sarah’s passion for food. I was always an active child and took up competitive running at primary school, eventually competing for Wales at middle distance and cross-country. My interest in what makes the human body tick, and how we can propel ourselves to physical extremes, led to me studying for a degree in sports science and another in nutrition at university.

Fitness even became the prime focus of my career as a journalist and for more than two decades I have written about sports science, exercise and their impact on health and longevity in The Times, Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Evening Standard and many other websites and publications. More recently, I have immersed myself in the highly scientific and technical aspects of fitness for elite sport as performance editor for Athletics Weekly. In 2008 and 2012 I was named Medical Journalists’ Association’s Freelancer of the Year and I have written seven previous books about health and fitness including the bestseller Fast Exercise with Dr Michael Mosley of BBC Horizon fame.

Much of what I have seen through my work has left me cynical. I’ve discovered that, much like the diet world, the fitness industry too often bases itself on false promises and faddy workout regimens that hold no water scientifically. What’s hot in gyms today will invariably not be making you sweat tomorrow. The more I witnessed, the less inspired I became by what the gym industry had to offer. And the more frustrated I was with the knowledge that people were investing time and money without getting just reward in the shape of a body in which they should be proud. My gut instinct has always been that to get fit in the true sense of the word, to really make a difference to your health and well-being, shorter bursts of intense effort are required. In other words, a workout that echoes the training principles of the elite, but is practised in a more convenient and less intimidating format.

Throughout my career, my unwavering belief has been that we can learn a lot from those who push their bodies to extremes. And now science has proven that this is the case, more so than ever as you hit your middle years. Much of what you will read in these pages is evidence gleaned from world leaders in exercise science and anti-ageing research, some of it diluted for our age group, some of it not. It is not something to be feared and will be easier to adopt than you ever thought possible. But the results will astound you. Have you ever seen an athlete with a fat butt? Thought not. I rest my case.

Sarah’s background

It’s fair to say my adult life has been consumed with food. I am a registered dietitian and nutritionist with a degree in nutrition and dietetics from the University of Surrey, and a PhD in Nutrition and an Accreditation in Sports Dietetics. Since graduating, I have spent much of my career advising people about what they should be eating, many of them fixated with what their bodies can achieve.

I joined Norwich City FC as the team dietitian where Rob Green, an England goalkeeper, and Craig Bellamy, the Wales striker, were among my charges. Subsequently I worked with jockeys and with Kevin Mitchell, the lightweight boxer. Over the years, I have worked as a nutrition adviser to several Premiership football clubs including the teams at Tottenham Hotspur, helping them to achieve the ultimate nutritional status via intricacies such as pinpointing biochemical imbalances in a players’ blood samples.

It’s certainly been an eye-opener to see how these elite sportspeople dedicate themselves to achieving their best. They are exceptionally disciplined about their diets. There were no negotiations – no ‘I don’t like brown rice or courgettes’, they just wanted me to tell them what to eat. Nutrition is rife with complexities at that level and I have learned an awful lot about what works and what doesn’t through top level sportspeople, but for ordinary mortals the science of staying in shape can be boiled down to pretty simple advice.

What complicates matters is that the rules to which we adhere are often wrong. It has become an overriding passion of mine to set the record straight, to dispel the many myths that circulate about nutrition through my contributions to articles in newspapers and magazines including the Daily Mail, Top Santé, Reveal and Glamour as well as on shows including This Morning, Watchdog and on BBC Radio.

It’s satisfying to bust a diet myth if it helps people live simpler and healthier lives and, in the case of this book, to achieve an Ageless Body in the process: skipping meals here and there doesn’t matter, I do it myself. In a 24-hour period, it doesn’t matter when you take your calories in; whether it’s at breakfast, lunch or dinner is irrelevant compared to the overall amount of food we consume. And it’s the culmination of this knowledge that I bring to the table. By applying it to my own life, I have gained the Ageless Body I was after, now it’s your turn.

‘I absolutely get more comfortable in my body and my skin as I get older, more than when I was in my twenties. I think men are intimidated by any woman who’s sexually confident, no matter her age.’

Jennifer Aniston


It’s simple: Both Sarah and I have too many time constraints to be bothered with overly complicated diet and exercise plans and have made the assumption (given that you have bought the book and are of a similar age range) that you feel the same. Knowing how flat out most of us are, most of the time, we have made the rules as straightforward and flexible as we can.

Forget calories: Our plans are carefully structured to ensure you are getting everything you need which, incidentally, is significantly less than the 2,000 calories a day officially recommended for women in their forties and fifties. Most days you will be consuming 400–600 calories less than that. You don’t have to waste time counting them as we’ve got that job covered.

Nothing is banned: Well, other than the obvious. Clearly, we don’t recommend sweet, fizzy drinks, too much alcohol, or processed and refined foods. But neither are you required to favour one food group over another, nor to shun sugar completely (we cleverly incorporate fruit into many of our savoury dishes to satisfy the sweeter palate and reap the benefits of the nutrients and fibre it provides).

You can skip breakfast: Forget everything you’ve been told about it being the most important meal of the day, about it kick-starting your metabolism. None of this has been scientifically proven and most of the studies that back breakfast as being essential have rather dubious connections with cereal manufacturers and the like. It’s essential for young children, but not adults. If you’ve felt guilt about having just a black coffee on the run, you can congratulate yourself for taking an important health step. We are both ardent breakfast skippers and proud of it.

You won’t starve: Despite the fact you will be ‘fasting’ for several hours a day, the food avoidance is carefully planned so that you eat when you need to. You will experience hunger, but in a good way. And you will quickly learn that our bodies benefit from it; we are not designed to be drip-fed with snacks throughout the day.

You will come to love exercise: Even if you’ve loathed the gym for years, you will experience rapid improvements with our workout plans. And the beauty of them is they can be done at home with minimum investment in equipment and no monthly subscription to pay. Plus they’re over quickly. Really, what more could you ask?

Weight will fall off: But in a good way. You won’t look scrawny (the scourge of the middle age dieter) and drawn. Stick to our guidelines and most of you will drop a dress size in the course of the four-week plan. Once you’ve reached your desired weight, it’s easy to keep off with our maintenance plan and follow-on exercise programmes.

You will live better, for longer: This is more than a diet, it is a lifestyle change for the better. Reams of evidence support our approach in offsetting the risk of diseases and illnesses that begin to strike in the middle years. We can’t guarantee you’ll live forever, but you will be doing the best you can to expand longevity.

There you have it, some pretty dramatic claims. In the next chapter Peta looks at what happens to the ageing body if you do nothing to slow down the process, and what changes we can expect as the years tick by.




‘I’m almost 50, so I obviously don’t have the same body that I had when I was 20. But I also don’t have the same mindset either, when I was wracked with self-consciousness and insecurity. Now I really appreciate my maturity as a woman, my depth of spirit and soul and my understanding of who I am and what’s important to me.’

Elle Macpherson


Whether you have reached this point yet or not, the chances are – since you have purchased this book we can assume you are in the 35–60 age bracket – that you will. One of the most perplexing things about age is that it creeps up and then hits you, bang, completely unawares.

You think you have prepared yourself for the onslaught by accepting the odd crow’s foot here, and bulge there. However, few women we have spoken to in the course of writing this book have not experienced a moment of realization, a glance in the mirror, a particularly unflattering photograph, that catapults them into acknowledging that they are no longer in the flush of youth.

There’s no telling when or how this will hit. My alarm bells rang when I was slapping on body cream after a shower. There I was, blithely unaware of the impending shock that was to come when I reached my arms. As I flexed them, I noticed the skin on the inside of my elbow creased not in the neatly defined fold it had once formed, but in a crepey fashion that resembled a crumpled bit of tissue paper. Wham. It was a