'I'm a PT in my 50s. Here's what I wish I knew about exercise in my 20s.'

Meg Vanderheg always loved the feeling she got from going to the gym, but it wasn't until she was in her late 40s that she qualified as a personal trainer to help other women feel the same.

"Like many women of my age, I started out with high-intensity aerobics and running on the treadmill when my kids were little," Meg tells Mamamia of her exercise habits.

"In 2007 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my recovery involved a lot of gentle movement like yoga and Pilates. As I healed and got back to the gym, I fell in love with lifting weights and all the benefits that it brought to my life, especially as I got older."

It was Meg's husband who thought personal training would be a great career move after watching Meg's love of health and fitness grow over many years.

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"He knew how much I loved working out and when I turned 48, he suggested turning my passion into my career. This was during the height of the COVID pandemic and I thought it was a good time to learn a new skill and re-train as a PT. I haven't looked back."


As a 51-year-old PT with a specialty in women's health, it is no surprise that a lot of the clients she sees are women of a similar age. Meg has a few key pieces of advice that she always shares and here are her top five tips for maximising your workout and getting fit in midlife — while having some fun.

1. Consider your pelvic floor.

When Meg first meets a new client she says she keeps communication very open about common issues women have with their pelvic floor and how it might affect their training.

"Women might not have come to the gym for years because they are embarrassed, or fear bladder leakage, so I always ask them straight up so I know where we stand and if I need to modify their workouts. Simple things like if I know you have bladder leakage issues, we can do a lot of exercises sitting down rather than standing up.

"But I also tell clients that if they have been out of practice with exercise or have major concerns about pelvic floor function, they should have a full health check-up first.

"Book in to see your GP, or go to see a women's health physio. A lot of women don't realise that there are things that can be done to improve pelvic floor function and getting help for any pelvic floor-related issues can be life-changing. There are also symptoms women might have that they don't realise comes from having pelvic floor issues. Things like pain during sex, back pain and of course, bladder leakage. I recommend checking out the free 12-week program on the Poise Hub as a great place to start and get some support with your pelvic floor."


2. Strength and resistance training is key as we age.

After years of doing high-intensity circuit classes and workouts, Meg says that it took her a while to learn the importance of weights training when it comes to getting the most out of your body.

"I still see a lot of women my age who go to the gym every day, do the circuit classes and run around doing all these crazy exercises with so much jumping but never getting the results in the way they want. I still encourage women to do cardio workouts for their heart health, general fitness or enjoyment reasons; but resistance training as we age is key. 

"I think some women still assume that by lifting weights they are going to bulk up so I have to reassure them it's not the case. Yes, you will get stronger, but lifting weights is not just about muscle growth, it's also good for bone health and managing joint pain. There are mood and mental health benefits and also helps to speed up your metabolism which prevents weight gain.

"Yes, we want to look and feel good, but we also want longevity and for our bodies to be functional as we age. We want to get down on the floor and play with our kids and grandkids or be able to get up and out of a chair without pain. Resistance training helps with these basic functional movements, as well as helping you to feel good in your body."

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3. Consistency and balance above perfection.

Meg says that so many women miss a couple of workouts, get disheartened and then stop training altogether. She says that whatever training you can fit into your life is better than nothing and in the long run, consistency beats perfection. 

"Clients set these huge goals to lose 10 kilos in a month and do a workout every day and then they give up when they can't maintain the pace. The best thing to do is just keep showing up. If you can only do two gym workouts each week, then do that. Just keep going — start slowly and build until it eventually becomes a habit.

"As we get into our 50s, this is the time to prioritise our own health. If you had kids, it's likely they are getting older and need you less so it's time to invest in yourself and your body.

"Ideally, I tell clients eventually to aim for two to three gym sessions balanced with a couple of walks or a yoga session each week but if you have done nothing for five years and are now just building up, it all helps — just don't give up!"


4. Follow a program that suits you and your body.

Following a program is always going to be the best way to stay fit and engaged with exercise but Meg says enlisting the help of experts is even better, especially to get you started.

"You can learn how to lift weights yourself and there are some good options online but it is much better to prevent injury if you get some help in the form of a PT or trainer at your local gym. 

A PT will watch you and keep a check on your form and posture, they will take into account your fitness level and modify the program to suit you and your needs. Once you know what you are doing and you feel comfortable lifting weights, you can go off and do it all by yourself!'

5. Make it fun and find a space your feel comfortable in.

Meg says that many women feel intimated about getting back to exercise or going to a gym, and so roping in a friend or family member is a good idea. She also believes in choosing the right gym or trainer to suit you will help you feel comfortable and stick to a program.


"Bringing a friend will always make training feel more fun and less scary, and you can encourage each other on your respective journeys.

"I tell so many women to find the gym or training space that is right for them as there are so many types; from big, to boutique will all types of different equipment, that there is absolutely a gym for everyone. 

"Once you get inside, grab your weights and a mat and own your space. Always remember that you have the right to be there as much as anyone else."

MOVE is the exercise app that fits into your life. It's exercise, minus the pressure and the mental load. MOVE how you like, when you like, why you like. MOVE where you like, wearing what you like. There are a range of workouts to suit your day and your needs, and you can filter them to find the right fit for you. Maybe you're low on time? Maybe you hate jumping and need something low-impact? Maybe you're peri and want a strength session? No matter what you're in the mood for, we're here to help you find movement that feels good. Head here to start your free trial.

Feature Image: Supplied/Canva.

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