Middle age spread with Jacqui Hodder and Dr Brad McKay

Written by Rachel Smith for Australian Seniors

At the end of Melbourne’s first lockdown, high school teacher Jacqui Hodder, 62, was ready for something different, to break free – feeling like many of us, no doubt. For Jacqui, though, the end goal turned into an adventure halfway around the world. 

“I was teaching a Year 9 civics education class via Zoom,” she says. “We had a guest speaker come who talked to the class about how she’d been to Costa Rica and had worked with a jaguar project in the jungles there. She shared images of armadillos and toucans and turtles that she’d worked with, and something just spoke to me. I just suddenly felt this need for adventure and to be somewhere different to my house!” 

With long-service leave coming up, Jacqui signed up to volunteer to track and collect turtle data as part of a conservation project on the beaches of Costa Rica. But it was a physically demanding program, requiring a level of fitness she didn’t possess – she needed to be able to walk on soft sand for around four-five hours every night, in tropical humidity.

“And I was just like, I want to do this. That’s something that was very clear in my mind, but I knew I had to get to a certain level of fitness to be able to do it, and I was quite overweight.” Jacqui was also on medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. “And I thought, would I even be able to do it?”

Making a plan

So she set herself a goal to make the distance and length required to walk on the soft sand. At the beginning, Jacqui started taking long walks on the beach and climbing outdoor stairs near her home. She started to get fitter, though she wasn’t really losing weight. 

“At that stage, the goal wasn’t so much to lose weight. It was to get fit enough to do the program. But when it got closer, I started to worry about keeping up with the young people on this experience.”

Overcoming challenges

About five months before her trip, she suffered a setback: injuring her intercostals (a series of muscles between the ribs). “The physio just laid it out for me. She said, ‘Jacqui, you’re going to have to go to the gym three to four times a week and do weight training for the rest of your life’.”

Undaunted, Jacqui threw herself into her workout plan, fitting it around her full-time work. “I started going to the gym as well as doing the walking – but I had a long way to go; I still couldn’t even walk three-and-a-half hours on the soft sand.” She was building up and getting fitter but wasn’t really losing weight, so Jacqui, who was also diagnosed with prediabetes, decided to take an extra step and go on the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet. “The doctor explained everything to me about the prediabetes and I told him I’d already started walking and all that.”

Finding motivation

Seeing the turtles in her mind, on the beach, proved a strong incentive. “The motivation was so clear. In terms of the psychological part of losing weight, the fear of health issues has never been a motivation, but the motivation to help the turtles was working.”

And so did the diet, says Jacqui, who loved the manageable 12-week plan. “I’d tried many different diets but with this one, I liked the structure, the recipes; it’s very straightforward to follow. I probably lost about half of what I’ve totally lost by the time I was in Costa Rica.” Jacqui went to the Central American country healthier and more able to handle the rigorous turtle conservation program she’d been dreaming of.

“Costa Rica has the second largest population of endangered green sea turtles and this was their nesting peak season, so they were coming up on the beach and laying their eggs; and I was collecting data. It was life changing in so many ways. And I was pleased to come back from Costa Rica to learn that I wasn’t prediabetic anymore. So in terms of losing weight, it certainly helped with my health. My blood pressure medication went down by half as well.”

Staying the course

Since then, Jacqui discovered hill walking in Spain, and she’s continuing to keep up with her fitness, but adds in a treat day every now and again. “It’s very hard to stick to the same thing day in, day out. So one day a week I might have some hot chips for lunch or pizza for dinner, and then the next day I’m back on it again,” she explains.

And she already has her eye on the next adventure. “I’d love to go to India,” she says. “But we’ll see how we go!”

What the doctor says

If you’re looking to improve your health, like Jacqui Hodder, you can consider a suggestion of celebrity GP Dr Brad McKay starting with around 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, bumping that up to 300 minutes if you’re looking to lose weight. 

As we get older, it can be harder to ‘move the needle’ through exercise alone, so diet plays a vital role, Dr McKay says. “Your body loves to sabotage you and it loves to get you back to the highest weight you’ve ever been. As we age, we tend to go up and down with our weight; and when we have lots of food around, or fast food, when we’re not exercising as much, we tend to put on that weight.”

He says it can be helpful to avoid eating too much saturated fats, white bread and carbs and fat, meaty products, swapping them instead for vegetables, fibre, whole greens, nuts – the type of food that takes longer for your body to break down. “It’s a bit more about healthy eating, and having healthy habits, and being able to continue it in the longer term.”  

But he also reminds us that no one diet can offer a universal solution. “Everyone has different metabolisms. So, what may work for Jacqui may not work for you.” 

Listen to Jacqui Hodder and Dr Brad McKay on Episode 1 of Series 5: Life's Booming


This article is an opinion only, provided for general information purposes and should not be relied upon as personal advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care professional before starting any fitness program or diet to determine if it is right for your needs.