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Celebrity Health – Louise Minchin

Liz Parry talks to TV presenter, journalist and athlete Louise Minchin about her book, Fearless, a collection of stories about inspiring and trailblazing women

The menopause is a hugely challenging time for any woman. So, what did TV presenter and journalist Louise Minchin do when she began experiencing menopause symptoms? She took up triathlons.

Louise had been a sporty child, with a particular aptitude for swimming, but she gave up her sport as a teenager due to body issues. However, in 2012, when she was invited to compete in a cycling event as part of a BBC Breakfast Challenge, her love of sport and activity was reawakened. So, at the age of 45, she was inspired to take up the sport of triathlon. And, three years later, she represented her age group in the World and European Championships.

Having presented BBC Breakfast for two decades, Louise went on to become an author, athlete and host of the top-rated podcasts, Push Your Peak and Her Spirit. She continues to use her profile to champion women's stories and to raise awareness of the menopause, mental health, women's safety and more.

Q Your book, Fearless, is full of inspiring stories about women who have completed incredible feats of endurance. As part of it, you cycled across Argentina, swam the shark-infested water of Alcatraz and did free diving under the ice in Finland – all with these trail-blazing women. Was it an exciting project to work on?

Louise: It was an amazing experience, being able to spend time with these incredible women and to get lots of different insights into resilience, determination and courage. None of them really talk very much about their accomplishments, and that's why I wanted to write the book on their behalf.

I wanted to say, "Look! There are incredible women out there doing amazing things!" And we need to amplify those voices.

Q In the book you talk about the moment when you rediscovered your passion for sport at the age of 45, during a BBC Breakfast cycling challenge in a velodrome. What was that like?

Louise: I feel really lucky that that happened to me. Had I not done that race against my co-presenters in the velodrome then my life would be very different right now. The instant that I went over the finishing line I had this incredible feeling of adrenaline, endorphins and that massive dopamine high that I probably hadn't had for many, many years. So it was a moment that changed me.

Q Do you have any tips or advice for older women who would love to train for an endurance challenge but perhaps don't feel confident enough?

Louise: I would say that your challenge is your challenge. Don't be intimidated by what other people are doing. Your particular challenge might be doing a 3K walk, or there could be mountain near you that you've never been up. Secondly, I would find your tribe – and that could be online or offline. Mine is the Her Spirit community. Their whole raison d'etre is to encourage women back into sport at whatever level they are. So, find your tribe and then find people who can do it alongside you. The other really important thing is putting something in the diary – having something to work towards – because I find that incredibly motivational.

Q You've spoken in the past about the menopause and your experiences of it. What advice do you have for women who might be struggling with those symptoms, but want to be active and fit?

Louise: The thing is, the menopause is like the perfect awful storm. Your energy levels feel low because of your hormonal changes, and at the time when exercise can really help you, that's when you really don't feel like doing it.

I started my perimenopause journey at exactly the same time when I started my reintroduction to sport. I can't tell you how much it helped me to be doing a lot of exercise. Not only did it help with general fitness, but the mental health benefits from being outside were huge.

I know that the last thing you want to do when you're feeling menopausal is to get off the sofa and go for a run. But you don't necessarily have to do that. Go out for a walk instead. Just get outside for 10 minutes and then build it up. There's a brilliant programme on Her Spirit called Couch to Kilo and it's a strength and conditioning programme. It's ideal for anyone who has never done any kind of weight training. You don't need any equipment and you build it up from there.

Q Do you like to follow a healthy diet?

Louise: Yes, I do try to eat healthily. I want to look after my gut health so I try to make sure that I eat as many different foods as possible. I don't eat much sugar. This morning, I had a handful of nuts and yogurt for breakfast and then I'll have some soup for lunch. We cook most of our food at home from scratch and I use a subscription meal kit service for our evening meals. I like the convenience of having all the ingredients there. It takes away the stress of having to work out what to cook for dinner.

Q In terms of recovery after a huge amount of intense training, do you have any strategies? What do you tend to do?

Louise: Protein is very important in recovery. So after a big race I might have a protein shake or some peanut butter. Then I will have a bath and just rest because your body can take quite a bit of time to recover from these things.

Q How do you remain positive and upbeat when you are competing in an endurance challenge?

Louise: Well, I have two strategies. One is that I don't overthink things too much. I don't think about all the miles I have left to run; I try to break everything down into manageable chunks, like getting to the next tree, and then the next one. The second is that I'm always running back to my husband. Every single step is bringing me closer to him. He is my biggest motivator. My daughters are wonderfully supportive too. My eldest daughter, Mia, ran the London Marathon with me, and my youngest, Scarlett, supported us. I have a great support team.

Fearless by Louise Minchin is out now, RRP £10.99 (Bloomsbury Sport)

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