The Kidman Conundrum

Nicole Kidman appears with muscles oiled and flexed on the pages of Britain’s Observer newspaper this Sunday. Nothing unusal about that, it’s her job to be noticed, to sell movies and feed all the many industries attached to that business.
Freelance journalist Yvonne Roberts  points out an upcoming article in Perfect Magazine reporting that Ms Kidman has recently acquired an impressive set of muscles. To quote Ms Roberts: “It transpires that she is definitely not alone in acquiring sculpted biceps, washboard abs and banished batwings (upper arm sag) in the elasticated period now known as midlife.” Nicole Kidman is 55, well past the age at which age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) begins and old enough to be concerned about her strength, flexibility, balance and mobility.
Ms Roberts refers to famously fit muscian Madonna (64) and asks whether the movement by high profile 40 something plus women to develop muscles will encourage other women to lift weights. As a personal trainer (and contemporary of Madonna) I really hope so, and I’m pretty sure so does  the army of personal trainers out there who care more about how their clients feel than how they look. For us, resistance training is a major tool in preserving and promoting the strength of bones and tendons as well as striving for a healthy ratio of fat to muscle. It’s not all about appearance. It’s about how healthy you are.
The journalist accepts that reinvention is Kidman’s profession, but complains that: “…the continual parade of testimonies by others intent on publicising their efforts to allegedly age-proof their lives through diet, exercise, wardrobe, abstinence, camouflage and a dose of self-deception is creepy, a kind of competitive oneupwomanship.”
Ms Roberts mixes in wardrobe and camouflage with exercise and diet in a way that I can’t help but feel muddies the waters for men as well as women and confuses the aims of the vast majority of fitness trainers and those interested in their clients’ wellbeing. 
Of course there are many “drop a dress size” promoters and people selling “biceps in five weeks” programmes. But really, the people interested in your health rather than your appearance are advising long term, balanced approaches that might take a bit of effort but will have great rewards.
 If your PT has got it right they will harness your own motivation (living longer in good health) to the point where you won’t really need them for long.  Of course PTs will be happy to help you come up with nutrition and exercise ideas for as long as you think necessary. People soon become bored of thrashing about in gyms or plodding on treadmills, hence the invention of all those fitness programmes out there.
I understand that Ms Roberts is highlighting womens’ attitudes to ageing which can involve many complex and potentially painful emotions. But I feel it is unfair to characterise the acquisition of more muscles as creepy and competitive oneupwomanship, a critical standpoint that could deter women from a beneficial activity.
 Many of my clients are acutely interested in improving their health and living longer, they don’t want to be the Peter Pans Ms Roberts refers to. If they are fitter now than they were in their 20s or aspire to be is there anything wrong with that?
In this post I am respectfully begging to disagree with a well-known and respected journalist who in her article certainly acknowledges the benefits of exercise to mental and physical health in later years. I can’t see that investing in one’s health in later years and actively working to build muscle that might have been lost and achieving greater fitness than in one’s youth is such a bad thing. I don’t see that as the pursuit of eternal youth.
Anyone entering a new decade will inevitably have to contemplate the following one. At 63 I am working on strategies to be fit and active in my 70s precisely so that I can sail into my 80s. Once I get there I expect to be doing tai chi serenely and hopefully with enough remaining muscle power to heft my great-grandchildren. I only hope I am around to see Nicole Kidman in a movie jumping out of helicopters and riding motorbikes with Madonna.

(Acknowledgements to Yvonne Roberts, Perfect Magazine, Zhong Lin and Nicole Kidman for use of images and intellectual property)

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