Food & Fitness After 50: Meet Jean, the Dancing Queen

“I won’t be old till my feet hurt, and they only hurt when I don’t let ‘em dance enough, so I’ll keep right on dancing.”

Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson,  U.S. Dancer

Three days a week, I muddle through a dance aerobics class at the YMCA, along with about 20 other women. While I have two left feet, Jean, our instructor, is a dancing queen. Jean, age 69, loves “music, dance, and movement,” and that is what drew her to dance aerobics over 40 years ago. In school she took every PE class she could fit into her schedule, but when she discovered dance aerobics, she knew she had found her favorite exercise.

Jean class 1
Jean, center, with dancing disciples


Girls weren’t always encouraged to be active

Jean grew up in rural Georgia and loved hanging out with her two brothers. She described herself as “tom-boy,” and everyday after school the trio would be outside “running, jumping, and climbing trees until mom honked the car horn to call us in for supper.” She realizes she was active in an era when girls weren’t. In high school she played basketball and was a cheerleader and in college she played intramural basketball. Over the years, she enjoyed all kinds of activity, from running (and completing the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC) to golf to cycling. She completed the Bicycle Race Across Georgia ten times! Jean and her husband, a high school and college football player, have passed their love of exercise to their children.

Her first stint at college got interrupted by motherhood, but she eventually went back to school to earn a social work degree. Between work, school, and family, Jean taught dance aerobics in small towns in northeast Georgia and South Carolina. At the time, there weren’t many fitness facilities, so she got resourceful and used elementary school gyms or church facilities…any space that would allow her to gather with a group of dedicated dance devotees. “There were times when it was so hot in the un-air-conditioned schools or churches that we moved class outside to the parking lot. It was still sweltering hot in the Georgia summer, but at least here was a breeze!”

Dance Aerobics finds a permanent home

For the past 10 years, she has found a home in the local YMCA, teaching at 8 AM three mornings each week. She changes up the hour-long routine about every 8-10 weeks to keep in interesting for the attendees, and for herself. “Exercise is serious business, but it has to be fun,” and we do have fun. Jean transfers her joy to her fellow dancers every day, but even more so on Halloween. She surprises us with her own special look as we dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.Jean halloween

Jean says it is more challenging to stay active as she ages, but says “you have to make the effort, because some days it is easier to want to do nothing. But, we all have to take responsibility for our health and fitness and find something we love to do and look forward to doing it.” For Jean, that something is dance.

Being well

Jean also stays well by playing games, reading, and working crossword puzzles to keep her brain sharp and says maintaining relationships with her friends and family keeps her aging well. And, of course, she moves everyday for the physical and mental benefits. “Movement makes me feel happy and I hope that everyone finds an activity that makes them move and be well.”

Learn more about eating well, moving well, and being well in Food & Fitness After 50 available at Amazon.


Food & Fitness After 50: Being Vibrant at 60….or any age

Retro KimI was intrigued when I saw Kim’s Facebook post, “31 Reasons Why I’m Vibrant at 60,” and knew I had to reach out to her for an interview. I’ve known Kim a long time, but haven’t talked to her for quite a while, so it was a good excuse to reconnect. Kim had the same joy, excitement, and, yes, vibrancy, that I remember she had we when we met over 20 years ago.

Make a commitment to healthy

Kim is a culinary registered dietitian nutritionist in Indianapolis and for 30 years has been a self-employed entrepreneur and has always found time to stay fit and active, even when life got in the way. You might be thinking that it is easy for culinary nutritionist to be healthy, but while that career gives her knowledge, it still takes a commitment to choose to be healthy. Kim’s mantra is “be responsible for your fitness, nobody else can do it for you.” Kim takes a “no excuses” attitude, even when she must adjust to a change in her schedule. “I plan my workouts, but if I can’t fit in my usual exercise, I don’t agonize or stress over it; I just find a few minutes in the day to move and plan to exercise longer the next day….or, the day after that.” It all boils down to the same thing she tells her grandkids, “choices and consequences!” If we don’t make the choice to be active, we pay the consequences sooner or later.

Take a “psycho walk”

Kim likes a variety of exercise, but her favorite activity is power walking. “I walk faster than everyone I know, so while I’m not quite a race walker, I enjoy my power walks.” The consistency, discipline, and effort to power walk makes her feel better, both physically and mentally. When time is tight, and she can’t fit her usual walk into her schedule, Kim says she sneaks in 10- or 15-minute “psycho walk.” The psycho is short for psychological and the brain boost and stress relieving benefits it brings are powerful.

She also takes a boxing class twice a week, (real boxing, as in pull-on-the-gloves-and-get-Kim boxingin-the- ring, Muhammad Ali- kind-of-boxing) “I was intimidated by the idea of group exercise classes, but boxing has changed that for me.” Besides the physical challenges of boxing, it keeps her mentally sharp. “Boxing works my brain as much as my muscles; the combinations are called out by the instructor and if I’m not completely focused I can’t do the workout.” Kim has warmed to group classes so much that she signed up for a Bollywood Dance class this spring…. there is photo I want to see!

Be positive about food choices

When it comes to food, Kim doesn’t struggle with food like many women do. “I am dismayed at the agony and angst that I see surrounding women and food.” She encourages a positive attitude toward food, be adventurous and creative with food, and above all, enjoy it. Kim has some great recipes on her website that I encourage you to try. Two of her favorites include Moroccan-Spiced Sweet Potato Hummus and Indian-Spiced Red Lentil Hummus.

Small steps

Kim advises her clients to take small steps to improve their diet or fitness. “I’m a firm believer that small steps yield big results.” Don’t try to change everything overnight but ask yourself what little thing you can do that you can stick with.” But above all, “have with your eating and activity!

More tips on eating well, moving well, and being well are found in Food & Fitness After 50,  available at Amazon.

Food & Fitness After 50: The Best Way to Accelerate Recovery after Injury or Illness

Within the past months, three friends have been surprised, and not in a good way. One slipped on the stairs and shattered her ankle, one got the flu that knocked him out for about 3 weeks, and a third had dizzy spells that resulted in the need for a pacemaker. All were in their mid-60s, were in good health, and had been physically active prior to the injury or illness.

Best Defense Against Illness or Injury

They all said the same thing: they recognized the importance of being in good shape prior to the accident or illness. All agreed that it aided in their recovery. In a recent post, we met Ed who said, “get in shape to stay in shape.”   We could expand that and say, “being in shape is the best defense when injury or illness happens.” The friend with the broken ankle had it surgically repaired and could not put weight on the ankle for several weeks. A regular at strength training, she recognized that her strong upper body helped her through recovery. She was able to push herself out of a chair and use crutches with ease and she couldn’t image how difficult it would have been to get around without strong muscles.

“Skeletal Muscle Matters”

Older people exercisingAt a recent nutrition workshop on nutrition across the lifespan,  Dr. Roger Fielding, Director of the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology, and Sarcopenia Lab at Tufts University, says, “skeletal muscle matters!” It makes up 45-50% of our total body mass and our muscles move us; if we lose our muscle mass, we lose our mobility and losing mobility is associated with increased mortality. Translation: people with strong muscles live longer (more on this and tips to get and stay strong can be found in Food & Fitness After 50).

Aging = Loss of Muscle, unless we do something about it

One thing that is certain about aging is that it is accompanied by a progressive loss of muscle mass unless we do something about it. No supplement or superfood will preserve your muscle mass; the only way to do it is through strength building activities. We start to lose muscle around age 40 and continue to lose about 2 to 4% each year. The decline is even more rapid during illness and injury. So, preserving muscle mass with regular, progressive strength training and eating enough protein, can be like putting money in the bank for a rainy day. When you have the unavoidable acute illness (such as the flu), a chronic illness (like a pacemaker), or an injury (a broken ankle), you’ve got reserves to see you through the down time when brief bouts of muscle disuse can accelerate muscle loss.

My friends were in good shape, but not everyone is

It is clear that physical activity that preserves muscle mass is critical to maintaining good function as we age, but older adults may spend up to 85% of their waking hours being sedentary! The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot to get strong muscles. Muscles are “plastic,” meaning they can quickly adapt to the stimulus of weight training to regain mass, strength, and function. Just two bouts each week of progressive, resistance exercise training can really turn back time when it comes to muscle strength. It doesn’t take an expensive gym membership or fancy machines. Start with simple exercises like squats or lunges or stair climbing; add exercise bands or tubing for upper body strength. Or, hire a certified personal trainer to show you the proper form and how to build up strength to challenge your muscles. Whatever you choose, just do it! You will be stronger, fitter, and better able to withstand the inevitable injury or illness that comes as we age. exercise bands

Which will you choose?

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “To be seventy years old is like climbing the Alps. You reach a snow-covered summit and see behind you the deep valley stretching miles and miles away, and before you other summits higher and whiter, which you may have the strength to climb, or may not. Then you sit down and meditate and wonder which it will be.”

I hope you choose to stay strong to keep climbing!




Food & Fitness After 50: International perspective on eating well, moving well, and being well

March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Go Further with Food.” I am taking the prerogative of expanding National Nutrition Month to International Nutrition Month and going farther with food by introducing Catherine Saxelby from Australia. She graciously answered my questions and was the first international nutritionist to support Food & Fitness After 50. Check out her website at Foodwatch for “easy weight loss and no-nonsense nutrition.”

Catherine_Saxelby_Cooking__purple (1)Catherine is a “60-something” accredited nutritionist from Sydney, Australia. Like many of us in our 60s, she has faced some health challenges but has met the challenge by changing her fitness routine, not abandoning it. After having major disc surgery on her back three years, she is “thrilled she can still walk and exercise! The surgery forced me to down-scale how much weight I can lift and what I can tackle in terms of exercise; I gave up running, but have found strength classes geared for the 50+ population that keeps me strong.”

What 3 things do you do eat well, move well, and be well?

Like many of us, I find that it isn’t as easy to lose weight and stay fit as when I was younger – one needs to “work” at it which is not so much fun, but so important!

  1.  I have cut back on my portion sizes. I now serve myself smaller portions. I leave food on my plate if I’m full (apologies to the food waste world), don’t go back for seconds, and share dishes when eating out. That way, I have one or two bites to get a taste of something really delicious but don’t eat the whole thing.
  2. I listen my stomach and stop eating when I sense I am almost full. This sounds easier to do than it is! I have to pay close attention and find this works best when I’m dining alone. So one of my tips is to do this as an exercise when you eat on your own and pay attention to those often subtle feelings of fullness.
  3. I like to do something that makes me “huff and puff” twice a week. Here in Sydney with our high humidity, it’s easy to perspire a lot. So working out in air-conditioning can make for a pleasant exercise experience.
  4. I try to fit in 5 or 10 minutes of meditation each day. I’ve found it clears my mind and enables better sleep without thoughts and ideas churning around and keeping me awake.

What are the biggest challenges to eating well, moving well, and being well as you have gotten to be in your 60s?

Staying motivated to exercise as one gets older, particularly when you don’t attend a class where you’ll meet your friends or have a personal trainer standing over you is a challenge. And,  finding the time. Everyone over 50 says the same thing – they are busier now than they ever were than when they worked full time. How did they find time to work? Still we all need to fit in personal time to keep our bodies healthy.

What words of advice to do you have others as they age?

Find ways to stay active that can fit into your life and that you enjoy doing. It doesn’t matter if it’s just living in a two-story house and climbing the stairs each and every day. Or being part of a sporting team such as rowing, swimming, touch football, tennis or going to the gym. For some, simply walking everywhere allows you to stay active.

Having a regular activity commitment such as social tennis or training each week also ensures you’ll get your exercise in.

And, maintain flexibility through an activity such as yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi.

Thanks to Catherine for her time in answering my questions!

Food & Fitness After 50 is available on Amazon.