Staying fit and healthy as we grow older

Show notes (summary)

There are few places better than your local village hall for exercising, especially if you’re not getting any younger! Nesta Shephard, despite being in her seventies, still takes 6 fitness and pilates classes a week and and is passionate about exercise for all kinds of reasons. ‘Pilates Nesta’ talks to us about how she battled back from debilitating health, the era of leg-warmers & headbands and how she believes halls are the perfect place for staing fit, provided everything is run properly of course…

Transcript: Season 2 / Episode 7

Johnny Thomson 00:01
Staying fit and healthy is really important and as my guest today will tell you, there’s few places better than your village hall to exercise, especially as we get older. Hi, everyone. I’m Johnny Thomson and welcome to The Village Halls Podcast sponsored by Allied Westminster, the UK’s largest specialist provider of village hall insurance and the home of VillageGuard. Now, keeping fit and maintaining our health is not just about living longer. It’s also about maintaining our quality of life. Nesta Shepherd is passionate about exercise. And now in her 70s, she not only works out regularly, but also continues to run pilates and exercise classes at two different community halls and even offers classes online. Nesta believes halls are the perfect place for exercise, provided everything is run properly, of course. And so today, we’re going to talk about this and staying healthy in general. Welcome Nesta and thanks for coming on the show.

Nesta Shephard 01:06
Oh hi Johnny. Thanks for having me.

Johnny Thomson 01:07
It’s a pleasure. Now apologies for mentioning your age there in the introduction, but isn’t it great to still be so active?

Nesta Shephard 01:18
Yes, I can’t think of being any other way to be honest. It’s my whole life I’ve spent being active. So the thought of kind of putting my feet up, sitting down and vegetating on the sofa isn’t very appealing.

Johnny Thomson 01:33
How many? How many classes do you do you run in a week Nesta?

Nesta Shephard 01:37
I’m teaching just six at the moment. In addition, I go to a gym three times a week for me for my fitness, because when you’re teaching you’re not really focusing on your own fitness. You’re focusing on people in front of you, making sure they’re doing it properly.

Johnny Thomson 01:54
Okay, so so when I said when I said you have a huge passion for fitness and exercise, at the beginning, I wasn’t wrong. And there’s there’s more to it than than just a love of working out here isn’t there? Take me back Nesta to the years of Fame, Olivia Newton John, leg-warmers and headbands of course, and tell me used to wear those didn’t you?

Nesta Shephard 02:18
Yeah I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

Johnny Thomson 02:19
Yeah. Fantastic. Brilliant.

Nesta Shephard 02:22
So, in the 80s, when the aerobics boom was at its height, I was working in an office in London, in central London. And I used to go to an exercise class in my lunch hour, three times a week, which seems crazy now. That’s what I did.

Johnny Thomson 02:40
Yeah, it was all it was all the rage, wasn’t it?

Nesta Shephard 02:43
It was, yeah. That with Saturday Night Fever and all those dance classes. They all kind of gelled together. And there were loads of people out there doing exactly the same.

Johnny Thomson 02:53
Yeah. And I guess we’re kind of getting the benefit, some of us are getting the benefit of that now. But of course, something else happened around that time in your life as well that made you value even more what it means to be fit, agile and healthy.

Nesta Shephard 03:07
Yes, indeed. In 1985, following the birth of my daughter, I suffered a severe postpartum haemorrhage, which was unprecedented. And I ended up in Intensive Care on a ventilator for 17 days. Further complications led me to stay in hospital for longer. My recovery took a long time, I was very weak, I couldn’t walk. I could barely move. Yeah, I mean initially I wasn’t expected to survive. And then I wasn’t expected to walk, but I surpassed everything. I kept giving myself little challenges that from my hospital bed, my first challenge was to walk to the loo. Second one was to walk to the nurse’s station. And I finally made it to going upstairs. And it progressed from there.

Johnny Thomson 03:59
Yeah. So there’s some determination in there, as well as as well as a passion for just staying fit and healthy. Yeah,

Nesta Shephard 04:06
Yeah. So my hospital stay was about two months. After that, following that, it took me probably 18 months to two years before I came anywhere close to being normal.

Johnny Thomson 04:18
And now here you are, what around 40 years or something like that later, and…

Nesta Shephard 04:24
Gosh is it that long?

Johnny Thomson 04:26
Yeah, well, if my maths is any good, yeah.

Nesta Shephard 04:30
My daughter’s 36, so there you go. 36.

Johnny Thomson 04:33
And yet you’re in you’re still at it. You know?

Nesta Shephard 04:35
Very much so!

Johnny Thomson 04:36
Yeah. How important is it that we keep fit and healthy later in life Nesta?

Nesta Shephard 04:44
Well daily life involves movement. It doesn’t involve, well it can… involve sitting about and not doing a lot, but you have to be able to bend, stretch, twist, turn, in your everyday activities. For example, in order to put your shoes and socks on, you need to be able to bend forwards, which means you need to be flexible in your hamstrings and lower back. Reaching up to a cupboard, same thing, you need to be flexible in your shoulder, upper back.You need to be able to twist and turn to do things like put on jumpers coats, put on your seatbelt. And also you need strength to be able to carry shopping bags, etc.

Johnny Thomson 05:30
I think you’re right. I think all of these activities are the kind of things that we take for granted when we’re younger, and it’s only if you have an elderly relative, or you’re kind of experiencing those changes yourself, it’s only then you start to appreciate just how vitally important they are to your simple everyday existence.

Nesta Shephard 05:48
Yeah, I remember my mum, every time she got my car, she couldn’t put her seatbelt on, I had to do it for her. She didn’t have that rotation in our spine to get round there. It’s awful. And it goes so quickly.

Johnny Thomson 06:01
Absolutely. And I imagine there must be some kind of right kind of exercise to be doing as the years advance and nothing too strenuous I imagine, or not too much of that cardio stuff or am I talking nonsense as usual?

Nesta Shephard 06:18
Well, cardio encompasses lots of different things. You don’t have to go out and run a marathon just to build up your cardio system. Going for a walk is fine, in fact it’s fantastic. It’s kinder on your joints for a start. So walking, especially outside, which is great for your mental health. Strength, I did touch on strength. And a lot of people shy away from any resistance training, which means either using your body weight to create resistance, or something external, like a weight, a dumbbell, a stretchy band, things like that. Again, they’re really important to build up your muscles and also to strengthen your bones. We all know that our muscles deteriorate with age, probably joints we know about. But did you know your bone density starts to go down as you get older as well?

Johnny Thomson 07:14

Nesta Shephard 07:15
The issue with that, is that if you were to fall and falls are more common as we get older, you’re more likely to break a bone. Because the bones aren’t so strong.

Johnny Thomson 07:25
So it’s kind of keeping everything going, in many respects. And I think I listened to a, you know another podcast, a BBC one, a few months ago, and they were talking about balance, for example on that, and how vitally important that is as you get older.

Nesta Shephard 07:41
Yeah balance is so important. I teach a lot of balance in my classes. So just for example, standing on one leg, seeing how long you can stay there. And then moving different body parts as you are standing on one leg. So balance is so important when we’re thinking of fall prevention.

Johnny Thomson 07:58
And is that part of Pilates as well? I’m not kind of that aux fait with Pilates, what kind of advantages and things are…

Nesta Shephard 08:06
Oh it’s hard to put in a nutshell. But it’s basically moving your limbs away from the centre by keeping your centre or your core strong and stable. There is a lot of balance work in pilates, yes indeed.

Johnny Thomson 08:20
Yeah. Now, as I mentioned your classes mostly take place at at village and community halls. Which halls are they Nesta, because it’s probably, you know, nice to give them a mention and what are they like and what are the classes like and the people in the halls themselves?

Nesta Shephard 08:38
Okay. So one is called Ickleford Village Hall. A very villagey sounding name, isn’t it?

Johnny Thomson 08:45
It is, it is.

Nesta Shephard 08:47
So yeah, it’s a village! And I think it’s been there for 90 odd years, because I remember going to the… they had a party, a 90 year party a little while ago. And it looks like, much like all the other village halls around the country. You know, it’s got a little stage. It’s got a wooden floor…

Johnny Thomson 09:09
Which I guess is good. The wooden floor must be good for the impact?

Nesta Shephard 09:13
A really good floor. This one. This particular one. It’s not very big and there’s another smaller hall out the back and there’s a little kitchen. There’s that one. So that’s a real traditional old village hall. I’ve been teaching there since I qualified which is 32 years now.

Johnny Thomson 09:29

Nesta Shephard 09:30
Yeah wow! But the other one, up where I live here is much more modern. It was built in 2012 and it’s called a community hall. And it’s much bigger, obviously much more modern. It’s the size of two badminton courts. It’s huge. So completely different, chalk and cheese those two.

Johnny Thomson 09:51
And what are the people like the people that come to the classes? What are they coming for?

Nesta Shephard 09:57
I think they like coming to a community class rather than going to a gym based class, which can be a bit impersonal. I know all my clients names, I know probably know, their children, their grandchildren, I know all their problems. I don’t mean personal problems, I mean, physical problems, which helps me to help them. And they have a real community feel. They all chat when they come in. Although having said that, you know, they do vary, because I’ve got two classes in the second hall I mentioned, which is the more modern one. On the same day, one’s in the afternoon, one’s in the evening, exactly the same class. The afternoon class, they’re so quiet, so shy, they wouldn’t say boo to a goose. I ask them questions, and I get errrr. But the evening class, completely different. They come in, they chat, they walk around and ask questions. And…

Johnny Thomson 11:00
They’re the rowdy bunch. Yeah?

Nesta Shephard 11:01
…And they joke and take the ‘what’s it’ out of me?

Johnny Thomson 11:05
That’s really fascinating, actually, because it shows there’s almost different personalities around the classes themselves. And I guess from a community perspective, what it shows is you’re welcoming all kinds. I would imagine those at the quiet class probably really like the idea that it’s pretty anonymous, that it’s quiet, they don’t have to socialise too much, they’re just there for the exercise. And that’s great and some people are like that, which is, which is fine. And then, and then others probably not there for the exercise at all. It’s probably only just to come and have a chat, have an escape from the house. And…

Nesta Shephard 11:44
Maybe because the evening people are probably out at work all day, whereas the afternoon aren’t, generally. Yeah, you’ve got a point there.

Johnny Thomson 11:51
Brilliant. And you believe it’s really important that the classes are delivered really professionally and competently?

Nesta Shephard 11:58
Definitely. Yeah, I mean, I believe in ongoing education. I’m always doing more courses, to give me more knowledge to help people.

Johnny Thomson 12:08
So you’re highly qualified to begin with yeah? You’ve done qualifications for years and years, yeah?

Nesta Shephard 12:13
Yeah well, when I did my first one, back in 1990, I then started looking for the next one, which was to teach older people, because I felt that’s where I wanted to go. And then I went into pilates, something called trigger point pilates, which is a whole completely different thing. I’ve done courses on osteoporosis on arthritis.

Johnny Thomson 12:35
And so when when halls are looking to deliver those services, I guess you’d be a strong advocate of them making sure that they are working with people like you who have those levels of competence and experience and so on?

Nesta Shephard 12:50
Yeah, I would hope they would, and that they are appropriately insured. That’s so important.

Johnny Thomson 12:54
Of course, yeah. Yeah, that’s part of that as well. What else? What else Nesta would surprise people as to what you have to do and what you have to go through and which loopholes you have to jump through in order to just deliver a class in a village hall?

Nesta Shephard 13:12
Well, you know, the participants think you rock up with your music, you plug in, well I don’t even plug mine in anymore, because it’s all digital. And you just stand there and you do your thing and go home. But gosh, no. There’s a lot of planning goes on behind the scenes. I keep registers, I keep records of everybody’s little problems, you know, they have to fill in a form before they come to class, with all their medical history on there, the medical history that’s relevant. And then there’s music licencing, which is a whole other ballgame. It’s so complex. I can’t really say much about it, because I don’t understand it fully myself.

Johnny Thomson 13:56
Yeah, I think it’s I think it’s got a little less complex recently, because there used to be two different kinds. And I think they’ve kind of joined them. Yeah, combined together. But yeah, you can’t just play anybody’s music, because…

Nesta Shephard 14:10
No you can’t because you need a licence and the licences are expensive. They are currently about because £4 per class. So if you multiply that by my six classes, multiply that probably by about 40 weeks in the year teaching, it comes to a lot of money. So the way I’ve done mine is that I don’t use licenced music, I use, it’s a company I use called Pure Energy. They make their own music specifically for fitness classes.

Johnny Thomson 14:49
Yeah, so it’ll be kind of royalty free or something like that as the way they’ll describe it, so that you don’t yeah, there’s no copyright issues or…

Nesta Shephard 14:58
I pay a subscription fior that and I can just use whatever I want, I don’t have to worry about the licence.

Johnny Thomson 15:03
So they’ve got all kinds of energetic beats and things like that for you?

Nesta Shephard 15:08
Oh they’ve got everything. High energy stuff to pilates, to yoga, to real chill out stuff. Huge choice, really good and they put out new releases all the time.

Johnny Thomson 15:20
And you’re also doing online classes as well?

Nesta Shephard 15:24
Online, well obviously that happened in the pandemic. When we went into the first lockdown. I threw my hands up in horror, like everybody else did and said, oh my business, what’s going to happen?And my daughter, who she has a dance school, she was obviously in the same boat, so we converted one of our spare bedrooms, which is actually her office into a little studio. We bought a tripod, we bought a ring light, we set it all up. A webcam. So she was teaching her classes to her children. And we had to work out the timetable and then I was doing mine. So I made a little Facebook group and I still have it now. They still love it!

Johnny Thomson 16:15
Because you’re quite active on social media as well aren’t you. Instagram for example, which is how we first got in touch. You know, there’s regular regular stories on there. Nesta doing her exercises and so on. Do you not have enough to do Nesta?

Nesta Shephard 16:36
It seems mad doesn’t it?

Johnny Thomson 16:37
It does yeah. And I imagine anyone effectively can join your classes now as well by being online. It doesn’t really matter where you live?

Nesta Shephard 16:46
No, not at all. I mean, I know, instructors who have got participants from all over the world. So yeah, and the thing about, you can do it either via Zoom, which is more instant, or what I do, I have a Facebook group, a private group. So I do a few live ones in the group, but then they’re saved into it’s like a library. So I’ve got about 200 saved workouts now. So anybody can go in there and just pick one. If they can’t come to a live class, they can maybe do it the next day or a week’s time or whenever.

Johnny Thomson 17:25
Is it just for kind of older people, or is that your niche?

Nesta Shephard 17:30
No. Well it is my niche, yes, but no anybody can join in, anybody. Because I mean, anyone who is wanting to start out in fitness or in pilates, will probably be doing the same things as the older people anyway. They probably wouldn’t want to come to an older persons class, whereas online they’re not so much aware of it.

Johnny Thomson 17:51
Yeah, yeah, true. So where can people find out more information if they’re interested in that?

Nesta Shephard 17:57
Well they can go to my website, which is or email me, contact me on Facebook or Instagram.

Johnny Thomson 18:06
Right, so just look for Nesa Shepherd on Instagram or Facebook.

Nesta Shephard 18:10
Yes I think the Instagram one is called Pilates Nesta.

Johnny Thomson 18:13
Pilates Nesta. Yeah, that’s right. I love that. Wonderful, Nesta you’re an absolute inspiration to be honest. You know, the problem I often find with exercise is, if it’s something like going for a run, it just didn’t do anything for me, if you know what I mean. Whereas if I’m playing a game, like football, I’m not really thinking about the fact that I’m exercising, I’m just really enjoying the activity. And I guess that’s the thing more than anything else that you have to look for you. You clearly love those activities that you that you do, and you’re not really conscious of the fact that you’re, well, not necessarily all the time, working-out.

Nesta Shephard 18:52
Yeah and also, sometimes if you’re going for a run or going for a walk, if you find it boring. It’s quite nice to listen to a podcast as you do it.

Johnny Thomson 19:00
Hey, I like it. Well done. And which podcast should they listen to Nesta?

Nesta Shephard 19:10
The Village Halls Podcast?

Johnny Thomson 19:11
Fantastic. Brilliant. Yeah. And there are of course many other great podcasts out there as well.

Nesta Shephard 19:17
Ues there’s loads of them outr there and yeah, I find that quite good.

Johnny Thomson 19:22
And thanks as well for given so much to your local community as well Nesta, I think we should make sure that you know, that gets a mention as well. Community and people are really really important.

Nesta Shephard 19:33
Oh they are!

Johnny Thomson 19:34
So thanks for your contribution. And thanks again.

Nesta Shephard 19:37
My pleasure.

Johnny Thomson 19:38
It’s been it’s been lovely meeting you.

Nesta Shephard 19:40
Okay, and you too.

Johnny Thomson 19:42
And that’s it, everyone for this episode. Big thanks to our headline sponsor and specialist insurance provider Allied Westminster for making our podcast possible and whose services you can discover more about at And to online booking system provider Hallmark, who also sponsor our podcast and can be found at You’ve been listening to The Village Halls podcast, a unique listening community for Britain’s village, church and community halls and anyone interested in the vital community services they provide. We’ll be back again soon with another episode. So if you haven’t already, visit to subscribe, sign up for updates, link through to our social media pages and to find out more. But until the next time, goodbye for now.