Getting fit after 50

Improving your fitness may feel daunting, but the benefits can be huge. Rosalie Starling meets Sally Ginnever, who fell in love with running during her recovery from heart valve surgery.

Sally Ginnever running

In November 2014, Sally Ginnever, 59, from London, had surgery to replace a valve in her heart. During her recovery, a new-found love of running helped her feel invincible.

“I was born with an aortic valve problem, but only learned that I had a problem with my heart when I was in my 30s,” says Sally. By the time she was admitted to Barts Hospital in London she’d been getting increasingly breathless, so the surgery came as a relief.

After years of not being able to run at all, it was such a feeling of freedom

The following few weeks were a struggle: “It took months to be able to walk, breathe and talk at the same time.”

Sally set herself walking goals, and eventually started a 10-week cardiac rehabilitation programme at Homerton University Hospital, which included circuit training. But it was during a follow-up cardiac rehab course at her local gym that she discovered running. She ran for two minutes on her first attempt, building up gradually until she could run for nearly an hour. “After years of not being able to run at all, it was such a feeling of freedom,” she says.

Sally Ginnever running

Taking on new running challenges

Ten months after her surgery, Sally and her husband went to New Zealand to see their son, his wife and their new baby. “The thought of meeting her kept me going,” says Sally. It also marked Sally’s first big run, as she took part in a 5K race for the New Zealand Heart Foundation as part of the Auckland Marathon.

“I was very nervous, but my son and husband were there every step of the way,” she says. “I burst into tears as I crossed the finish line – I knew then that I was better.”

Sally has since completed several runs in London to raise money for the BHF. “My time for a 5K has gone from 49 minutes in Auckland to 32 minutes now, and I’m aiming to do a half marathon this year,” she says. Aqua aerobics and pilates are also part of her fitness routine. “I feel like I’ve had a second chance at life and there’s nothing I can’t achieve,” says Sally.

“And behind me all the way has been my husband – I couldn’t have done this without him.” 

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