What workout can help my saggy, baggy body?

Jane mugshot for JQAI am a 67-​year-​old woman, recov­er­ing from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The dis­ease and chemo­ther­apy caused me to lose 2½ stone rap­idly. I would like to main­tain the weight I am now, but my body has aged 20 years, with wrinkled skin and loose flesh hanging every­where. Can you recom­mend any exer­cise to help?

After going through the tri­als of can­cer and chemo­ther­apy, your body will really appre­ci­ate some TLC in the form of good nutri­tion, exer­cise and plenty of rest. As you will be well aware, recov­ery from can­cer can be very up and down, so don’t be dis­ap­poin­ted if pro­gress is slow in the early days.

Rapid weight loss is never good, because it almost always involves muscle loss, not just the extra fat you were car­ry­ing. The dis­ease, treat­ment and any lengthy peri­ods of inactiv­ity may all have added to muscle wast­ing and loss of body tone or shape. Weak muscles always add to gen­eral tired­ness, too.

The weight loss and the ill­ness /​treat­ment will also have played havoc with your meta­bol­ism, which affects appet­ite and weight con­trol.

Be aware that as your appet­ite and body’s func­tion return to nor­mal, you are likely to regain some of your lost weight. If you haven’t already seen a nutri­tion­ist, ask your con­sult­ant or the GP about this, because they’ll be able to give you sound advice on bal­anced eat­ing for best recov­ery. Your body needs good nutri­tion to help it rebuild bone, muscle and skin, and to bring your immune sys­tem up to full strength.

There is no magic cure for the saggy, baggy effect of loose skin. But reg­u­lar, mod­er­ate exer­cise is your best route to recov­er­ing all-​over muscle strength and tone.

Start gently: maybe a 10 to 20 minute daily walk. As you regain stam­ina, you should aim to walk for longer and at a more brisk pace. Next, try adding in a weekly swim ses­sion: if your knees, shoulders and neck-​joints are all pain-​free, then breast-​stroke would be excel­lent for all-​round ton­ing up, includ­ing your bust. Alternatively, try a begin­ners’ water aer­obics workout – tough but huge fun.

The build-​up of exer­cise should help in all sorts of ways: bet­ter sleep, brighter out­look, more energy. As you get closer to your pre-​illness “nor­mal­ity”, con­sider join­ing a gym or com­munity exer­cise class. At the gym you’ll get the chance to do weight train­ing, which will help enorm­ously to bring your muscles up to good tone and reduce the saggy effects. A well-​taught seni­ors’ class of pil­ates or cir­cuit train­ing will achieve sim­ilar res­ults – provided you go a couple of times a week.

Here’s the big trick: by build­ing your body back up with exer­cise, you are help­ing to max­im­ise “lean” body mass rather than your pre­vi­ous “fat mass”. This way you can afford to put on some of that dropped weight because it’s help­ing to make your body firmer and bet­ter defined (and keep­ing your meta­bol­ism up, too). So a few pounds more in weight is going to feel and look like a few years less in age. Not a bad trade-​off!

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