Food & Fitness After 50: It’s Never Too Late to Get Strong

This guest blog post was written by Dr. Bob Murray

A few year’s back, Patti’s college-aged daughter came home from a stint as a volunteer at the local hospital emergency room and declared, “Mom, you and dad have aged pretty well.”  It’s easy to understand how pleased Patti was to hear her daughter’s compliment, a small affirmation that things might not be as bad as she thought, at least in comparison to hospital patients!

Patti, now 60, mother of three adult children, and the wife of a university professor has long appreciated the value of diet and exercise, as one might expect from a physical education major.  That lifelong commitment has been recently put to the test because in October 2016, Patti volunteered as a subject in a research project that required measurement of her body composition.  The results were upsetting: her body fat was higher than she had hoped and the decrease in her muscle mass with age was evident.  Those results sparked a renewed commitment to changing things for the better.

For the past 24 years, Patti and a close friend have run at 6 am three days each week, usually covering 3.5 to 4.5 miles each morning.  For the past 7 years, Patti has gone to three yoga classes each week, something she wishes she had started 30 years ago.  After learning how her body composition had changed with age, Patti started taking strength training classes, usually completing 3-4 classes each week.

“There’s so much I like about being active,” said Patti, “and that includes the social aspect of being with friends and others around my age, but also working out with younger people.  I like that mix because it challenges me physically, gives me a strong sense of accomplishment, and an emotional high that’s good for my mental health.”  Patti explained that her long-term goal is to be able to continue all the things she enjoys doing with exercise, gardening, family activities, and travel.  “I don’t want to be one of those people who struggle to get their carry-on bag into the overhead luggage bin.  And I know I’m going to be an older grandmother, so playing with my grandkids—including getting up and down from the floor many times each day—is really important to me.”

Patti K.     In the short-term, Patti knows that her diet and exercise play a major role in leading a happy, healthy life, and minimizing aches and pains are part of that.  She has been very pleased with the results of her strength training because her nagging aches and pains have subsided, she’s amazed at how everyday activities have become easier, and her walking gait has improved.  Patti noted that she’s always had a lot of energy, but now she feels her physical strength and endurance match her energy.  A recent body composition test confirmed that she has lost fat and gained muscle, so she knows she’s on the right track.

Patti has been a vegetarian since 1991, but has recently added fish to her diet because she was concerned that she hasn’t been eating enough protein.  She knows that adequate daily protein intake is critical to maintaining muscle mass and strength and is looking for other protein sources.  She’d love to eventually develop fit and toned shoulders, abdominals, and legs, but knows that won’t happen overnight and she recognizes that the most important outcome is to maintain strength and muscle mass as she ages.

“I realize how fortunate I am now to have the flexibility to fit exercise into my daily schedule,” Patti said, “and having raised three kids, I know there are many times when that’s very tough to accomplish.  Looking back, I think one saving grace is that I stayed committed to those 6 am runs, even when the last thing I felt like doing was to get out of bed.  Doing so made me realize that I can make time to stay active, rather than just sit around lamenting that I’m too busy. My advice to those whose lives are jam-packed is to make one small, manageable commitment to a change in diet or exercise and find a way to stick with it.”

Chris Rosenbloom and Bob Murray’s book, Food & Fitness After 50 is available on Amazon