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Yippee I am 76!

 

DMGGStretch2Yippee I’m 76!   It’s hard to believe it – where did all those years go?  And do you realise it’s been 32 years since the birth of breakfast television – when we the BBC pipped our arch rivals ITV to be the first network to win the early morning TV viewing audience?   I was lucky enough to be there on the very first day, a leggy six foot blonde filmed doing a star jump on Waterloo Station in front of a bunch of bleary eyed commuters.

Most of them didn’t have a clue who I was but whilst I continued to put those en route workers through their paces the national press were jamming the BBC switchboard demanding to know who the bird in the shiny bright green leotard was. The PR in charge told them I was Diana, their goddess, because that was their nickname for me. Then as an afterthought he said, ‘our green goddess’ and the name’s stuck ever since!DMGGStretch1

I was 45 fit as a fiddle and supple as a reed which I put down to my own regime of exercise and healthy eating, completely self taught. The concept of aerobics and formalised exercise regimes simply didn’t exist before I came on the scene and it has been said that I pioneered the idea of structured fitness routines in the UK, at the same time that Jane Fonda was establishing her credentials as the first lady of fitness across the Atlantic in the US. However our approaches couldn’t have been more different. While Jane was ‘going for the burn’ with her hard on the bones high impact aerobics (now considered largely unsafe), I was going for a gentler, kinder on the joints, low impact type of routine. In the early 1980’s there were no health clubs or personal trainers in the UK as we know them today, and only a few fitness classes such as the League of Health and Beauty and the Keep Fit Association.

DMGGseatedThey say that necessity is the mother of invention and in my case it’s probably true. For me it all started 40 years ago, when I had my ‘first wake up call’ health wise.  At 30 I found myself in hospital after it was discovered I had a cluster of lumps on my thyroid. As a result I had a partial thyroidectomy, a pretty major operation at the time. Afterwards, as I was lying in bed I realised I wasn’t as fit as I used to be – I used to run for the county and played a mean game of tennis in my teens but all that went by the by when I had my children, I’d married at 19 and had my first son at 21. So when I came out of hospital I was determined to regain my strength and stamina and find out as much about exercise as I could.’

I was surprised to find there was very little in terms of information. ‘There weren’t the glossy exercise guides or fitness CD’s like we know them today. Eventually I found a book on fitness devised for the Canadian Air force plus a few obscure guides on yoga, then came across The League of Health and Beauty and between all these cobbled together sources I put together a keep fit programme for me.’

I had no intention of taking it further but friends started pestering me to help them get fit too.   I was the first to have my babies at 20 and 21 and when my girlfriends started their families years later they came to me asking how to flatten their tums and tighten their bums after the toll of pregnancy, so we got down on the floor in my living room. BBC Radio 1 was always on, playing music in the background, so I struck on the idea of putting the routines to music, making my own tapes.

One thing lead to another. A friend who was a domestic science demonstrator was DMGGStretch1heading up a publicity campaign for a diet spread called Outline and the makers wanted someone who could devise some exercises to ‘suit your Outline’ and she recommended me.   As a result I found myself testing out my exercise regime on a much larger audience – holiday makers at Butlins where Outline were piloting their PR campaign. It blew them away. I remember that first day, striding out onto the ballroom floor in front of a sea of holiday makers – grans, granddads, mums and dads and kids – telling them to get down on the floor, kick off their shoes, loosen their belts and copy my moves. They all loved it. Outline and Butlins were thrilled, so much so that I was asked to replicate the idea at the other Butlin’s camps and within a few months was training up girls to head up fitness classes all over the UK.

But my holiday camp work wasn’t the only thing keeping me busy. After recovering from my thyroid operation I joined BBC Radio Bristol as a contributor (a young Kate Adie was my boss).  Prior to that I’d enjoyed a highly successful 10 year career as a model after being spotted at a charity fashion in a Bristol Department store where I had worked full time as a young personnel and welfare officer.  I was lucky, my long legs and slender figure were my passport to modelling success all over the world for both catwalk and photographic work.

DMGGStretch2My TV debut was first as a Continuity Announcer for HTV West and then on a network programme called Here Today made by HTV where I became one of the presenters – at age 40.  On Thursdays I’d do my TV stint in Bristol in the morning before changing into my tracksuit and sprinting over to Butlin’s the  Barry Island holiday resort in South Wales to do my live exercise classes in red leotard and tights.. Then one day someone suggested I replicated my routines on Here Today.

They asked me to choose a leotard colour I could wear specially for the programme – they didn’t want me in the red I was wearing for my holiday camp work so I suggested yellow. I modelled it for them and they were horrified – they said I looked like Rod Hull’s Emu! Then I tried a sophisticated brown which was rejected because in it I appeared nude on camera. The only leotard colour left that was telegenic and suitable was green, which is how that came about. I introduced the leg warmers to hide the wire leading to my mike pack strapped around my right ankle after I heard one woman commenting on what she thought were my ‘terrible varicose veins’!’

So for the next three years I honed my TV fitness slots on the local HTV station, serving the West Country, before I got the telephone call which was to change my life.

A producer called asking me for an interview – I took down the name and number not realising it was for the new national breakfast TV station, The following day I mentioned it to a friend at work and it was only when I whispered the address that I found out the audition was for the BBC, not ITV, who I’d been working for up until then.

As they say – the rest is history. I got the job and days later was seen doing that famous ‘star’ jump in the air, capturing the birth of breakfast TV ushering in the rest of the team comprising Selina Scott, Frank Bough, Glyn Christian and Russell Grant.  Amazingly” The Green Goddess” became famous overnight. But success came at a price.

My marriage to John didn’t survive the heights of my TV career. When I was offered the job presenting a seven minute exercise slot on breakfast TV five days a week I said ‘yes’ on the condition I could film the slots near my home in Bristol. The boys were grown up, but that’s where I had been living with John for 25 years. To be fair the BBC agreed.  But when they saw how well my exercise slot was working out on location, it was never going to happen in a studio. And from that moment onwards I lived out of a suitcase – for the next four years I was constantly travelling the length and breadth of the UK performing my slots in schools, old people’s homes, factories, shopping centres, hospitals, you name it.

Things didn’t always go according to plan. Once when I was filming in a health club at Roehampton, my class, who happened to be mostly male that day, were performing deep knee bends. I looked up to camera and with a completely straight face said ‘as you can see it’s not only balls bouncing on the court this morning, its members too!’ I didn’t have a clue that I’d said anything remotely funny, even when half of the class collapsed in fits on the floor. Needless to say I had a call later that day from Esther Rantzen who told me to tune into That’s Life the following Sunday because they’d been inundated with demands to repeat it. I recall sitting on the sofa next to my grown up boys who roared with laughter when they saw their mum drop such a clanger.

My stint on breakfast TV ended after four and a half years when a new Editor arrived with a bref to make the programme ‘more serious’. In  came more news and out went the lighter strands like cookery and fitness – it proved disastrous for the viewing figures, but by then I had moved on to front another health and fitness programme, Look Good, Feel Great for Central TV.  Ironically, bearing in mind the title of the show, I had my second major ‘wake-up call’ when I was diagnosed soon after with breast cancer.

I’d gone to a clinic to find out about HRT but when they did some routine health checks they also took a mammogram and spotted the cancer. It was a dreadful shock. Everything seemed to be going so well and I suddenly felt cheated.  It was 1987, 22 years ago when cancer wasn’t talked about openly – people shuddered at the very mention of ‘the big C’.

By then I was separated from John, a single woman living in London and having to support myself so I didn’t tell anyone about the diagnosis.  I underwent what was then a revolutionary procedure, a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, and was back on air, in my leotard performing her daily exercise classes three months later.

It was six months before anyone knew I’d even had the breast cancer or such an extreme operation.  Life gradually returned to normal but a few years later was a terrible time for all sorts of reasons. I was to discover that my new partner, who I had put my trust in and loved, had been having an affair with a call girl throughout our time together. He left me while I was undergoing further breast cancer treatment and I never saw or heard from him again. It was the ultimate betrayal. I sank into depression but eventually managed to pull myself back from the brink with the news that I was to become a grandmother. All my life I’ve been very good at turning negatives into negatives. It’s a big mantra of mine. I do believe what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

And here I am celebrating my 76th birthday. I’m still slender and supple and can still perform all the exercises I devised four decades ago which helps me to look and feel good.  In fact I have just made another fitness DVD called EASY FIT to be released Jan 2010.

I haven’t had a face lift, Botox or any other type of cosmetic surgery – I’ve had enough surgery for medical reasons to ever contemplate that, I think it’s more about attitude and enthusiasm for life that keeps me young. I’m as active as ever, regularly cycling, I have seven bicycles (to accommodate all sizes and ages of friends and grandchildren) and I walk twelve miles at a time and do masses for charity.  I’m patron of the Breast Cancer Campaign and am heavily involved in Breast Cancer Care and Cancer Research UK.  I help with charity events including Fun Walks and Treks like the 10k and 20k Ribbon Walks for Breast Cancer Care.  I’ve just completed a fitness training video for Cancer Research and regularly work on the cruise ships doing motivational talks and heading up the on board fitness classes.  I am a regular guest presenter in two health resorts in the Caribbean. One of my proudest recent achievements was trekking The Great Wall of China last year, covering 25 miles a day at tremendous altitudes. I was the oldest in the group which raised £140,000 for charity.

I can’t imagine ever slowing down. Even my second brush with cancer four years ago when skin cancer was diagnosed, the result of sunbathing 30-40 years ago, hasn’t quenched my zest for life.  I noticed a patch of skin on my shin which didn’t seem to heal, I got it checked out and it was diagnosed as a basal cell carcinoma. I had it treated with a special type of scarlet laser but more patches can appear, so I have to be vigilant.

Being 76 was a great excuse for a fantastic party. I invited all my family and friends, those who’ve stuck with me through thick and thin. Women of my age are so lucky. The image of age has totally changed, and at the moment I don’t feel there is anything I can’t do. My boys, Tim who’s 48 and Nick who’s 46, say I’ve lived my life back to front. Here I am doing all the things I wanted to do as a teenager like being able to go off on adventures, like trekking the Great Wall of China, and last year I also sailed down the Amazon.  My dad, who was very strict, refused to let me go to college to be a PE instructor when I was young because he said it wasn’t a “proper job” for a young lady.  But I ended up becoming the nation’s number one gym mistress so it just goes to show, you can do it.  All it takes is the courage and conviction to go out there and get it!

Strong bones

Osteoporosis, a debilitating condition caused by the loss of bone mineral, makes the bone susceptible to fracture, especially at the hip, wrist and spine.  It is most common in menopausal women as the decline in oestrogen levels leads to an increase in the normal rat of mineral loss from bone.

You can help prevent osteoporosis eating a varied diet rich in vitamins and minerals, by consuming less caffeine and alcohol and by exercising.

  • Are you at risk?

Height and weight…….

Statistics show that tall women are more likely to develop osteoporosis.  If you’re tall, pay extra attention to the things you can do to minimise your risk of developing osteoporosis.

If you are too thin, you could run and increased risk of developing osteoporosis.  An overactive thyroid gland could be causing your lack of bodyweight.  In addition, you don’t have sufficient adipose (fat) you will be less likely to produce oestrogen from this source.

Carrying a slight amount excess weight can actually push calcium into your bones.  It is not helpful to be considerably overweight, however, as excess weight will put great pressure on your bones.  If you do decide to lose weight, be careful.  Research suggests that after the menopause it is better to stay the weigh you are that to go on a sudden weight-loss programme and lose more than 10 per cent of your body weight, which can double you risk of getting osteoporosis

Exercise

Lack of exercise is a significant risk factor in the development of osteoporosis.  If you sit and do nothing, calcium tends to leave your bones; if you run, calcium tends to enter your bones.  The critical factor is that exercise should be more weight-bearing, such as walking, running or push-ups.  The more you use your bones to make demands on them, the stronger they become.   It is a great way to energise you body and becoming fitter and stronger all over.

  • Diet – what your bones need

Calcium

This mineral is a major component of the structure of bones. You lose some calcium everyday, mainly in your urine, and it is vital that this is replaced.  A daily dose of 1,000 mg is recommended, with an increase to 1,500 mg close to and thereafter the menopause.  Make sure you diet supplies a large amount of calcium.  You can also help this by making some positive changes and consider taking a calcium supplement, if necessary.

Phosphorus

Calcium’s ‘partner’ in bones is phosphorus.  The ideal would provide them in equal amounts, but the Western diet unusually contains an excess of phosphorus.  A high phosphorus intake can remove calcium from bones and can also lead to reduced vitamin D activity and hence the absorption of calcium from the digestive system.

Meat, grains and protein-rich foods in general are rich in phosphorus, so reduce your intake of these foods to the minimum that will provide adequate protein.  Most fruits and vegetables have a good balance of calcium and phosphorus.  Avoid carbonated drinks.

Magnesium

About 70 per cent of the body’s magnesium is stored in the bones, where it replaces some of the calcium and has an important influence on bone structure.  People with osteoporosis often have a deficiency of magnesium.  Many medications prescribed for osteoporosis contains calcium and vitamin D but little or no magnesium, even though some people may need it more urgently that calcium.

Other essential minerals

In addition to those listed above, make sure that you are supplying your body with adequate levels of manganese, zinc, copper, silica and boron.

Vitamin A

Also known as retinol, vitamin A stimulates the production of progesterone, thought to be more useful than oestrogen in the prevention of osteoporosis.  It is found in eggs and meat, especially liver.  Carotenes, the precursors of vitamin A, are available from orange, red or green plant foods, such as carrots, beetroot, and leafy green vegetables.

  • Vitamins B6 and B12 and Folic Acid

These B vitamins help minimise levels of homocysteine.  The effect can be enhanced by taking a supplements by taking a supplement with as much as 5 mg folic acid (ask PAUL C if this is still ok to rec).  This is a safe dose, but it should be always taken in combination with vitamin B12.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential for healthy collagen and increases the production of progesterone.  It is usually found in combination with other bioflavonoid in foods such as oranges, strawberries, tomatoes and green vegetables.  If choosing a supplement, look for one that contains vitamin C in calcium form (calcium ascorbate) in combination with bioflavonoids.

Vitamin D

By promoting calcium absorption from the intestinal tract vitamin D helps to maintain normal levels of blood calcium.  An adequate intake of vitamin D will, for most people, make a big difference to calcium levels.

Vitamin K

The vitamin encourages calcium deposition in the bones.  Many post-menopausal women stop calcium in urine whey they take vitamin K.  Leafy vegetables are the richest sources.  Because it is fat soluble, vitamin K should be eaten or taken with some form of fat.  Another form, vitamin K2, is produced by bacteria and other microrganisms in the digestive tract.  For most healthy people, this is a major source of vitamin K.  Vitamin K is not stored in the body, and so is less likely to be toxic in high doses.  A recommended does in 10 mg a day, but up to 50 mg has been used without any adverse effects.

  • Other risk factors to consider
  • excess alcohol
  • excess caffeine
  • carbonated drinks
  • smoking
  • excess salt
  • Prescription medication, such as sleeping pills and steroids. They are particularly harmful and can have an adverse effect on the bones.  If you are taking these, speak to your doctor or a qualifDMGGStretch2ied practitioner about supplements you can take for bone support or natural alternatives to help reduce the medication. Look into natural alternatives to sleeping pills or steroids.

 

Hints for health

Eat a varied diet throughout your life as osteoporosis can start before the menopause.  For strong bones, make sure your diet is especially rich in vitamins D and K, calcium and magnesium.

 

Recipe for strong bones

Fruit and nut crumble.

Serves 6

Preparation time 15 minutes plus soaking time

Cooking time 35-40 minutes

This can be enjoyed for an energising and wholesome breakfast, after dinner for a healthy desert or delicious midday snack.

Dried fruit such as apricots and prunes add to the iron content of the diet.  Absorption of iron is by vitamin C, but inhibited by a number of factors including drinking tea.  This delicious recipe contains natural foods that provide essential minerals for bone support.

  • 6 oz dried apricots
  • 4 oz dried pitted prunes
  • 4 oz dried figs
  • 2 0z dried apples
  • 1 pint of apple juice
  • 3 ½ oz of wholewheat /rye/spelt flour
  • 2 oz margarine
  • 2 oz brown unrefined sugar sifted (you can find this at local health food store)
  • 2 oz hazelnuts chopped
  • To serve and garnish
  • Low fat yogurt – natural or soya
  • Rosemary springs
  1. Place the dried fruits in a bowl with the apple juice and leave overnight to soak. Transfer to a saucepan and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until softened.  Turn into an ovenproof dish.
  2. Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the margarine until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Stir in the sugar, reserving a little to serve, and the hazelnuts, then sprinkle the crumble over the fruit (sugar does not need to be added to this recipe if you are trying to avoid)
  4. Bake in a preheated oven at 200oC (400oF), Gas mark 6 for 25-30 minutes.
  5. Serve with a low fat yogurt, if you liked, sprinkled with the reserved sugar and garnish with rosemary.

Eat to beat aging

 

  • Ensure your diet is rich is nutrients, but lean in fat and calories for overall health and to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer
  • Enhance your immune system with foods rich in antioxidants.
  • Keep your digestive system healthy.
  • Strengthen bones with diet and exercise
  • Protect eyesight with antioxidants
  • Homocysteine

As we get older, our bodies produce more of an amino acid called homocysteine, which comes from eating animal protein.  Raised homocysteine levels are though to clog arteries and increase blood clotting, and may be more harmful than cholesterol, resulting in heart disease, leg ulcers and deep vein thrombosis.  Increased intake of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 can reduce homocyestine levels.

  • Vital vitamins and minerals for healthy ageing

Beta-carotene

A powerful antioxidant, protects arteries, converts to vitamin A in the body, boosts immunity, promotes strong teeth and bones, and keeps skin healthy and essential for good vision.

Vitamin C

A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C also boosts immunity and fights infection; it is involved in collagen production and protects against skin damage; it helps prevent the development of age-related cataracts, and is thought to reduce the risk of stroke.  Vitamin C also helps your body to absorb iron and folic acid effectively and in turn food into energy.  A daily intake of the vitamin is vital.

 

Vitamin E

Vitamin E has a key function as an anticoagulant and is therefore crucial for a healthy heart and blood supply.  It also helps keep skin looking young and reduces the risk of dementia.  Although fat soluble, it is stored in the body for only a short period of time and regular intake in essential.  Absorption is reduced by high intakes of iron.

Selenium

A key antioxidant, selenium is more powerful if taken with vitamin E, and visa versa; it helps to protect the body from a wide range of diseases including cancer.  Selenium stimulates the immune system; it is required for healthy muscles (including heart muscles), good eyesight and healthy skin.  It also reduces the inflammation of arthritis.

Zinc

Zinc plays a crucial role in the protection and repair of DNA, and helps regulate hormone levels.  A powerful antioxidant and immune system booster, it is also good for brain function and a healthy nervous system.  It can help deal with arthritis.

DMGGseatedFolic acid

A member of the B-complex family, folic acid works with other B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12.  Folic acid is important is helping ward of anaemia, and reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of the amino acid homocystein.