Food & Fitness After 50: “If you are waiting for someone to motivate you, you’re doing it all wrong!”

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Gold Medals at Indoor Nationals, 2018

Charles doesn’t mind letting people know he is competing in the 85-89-year-old category of the USA Track & Field National Masters Championships. “We need to stop the nonsense that we are too old to do anything,” he tells me during our phone interview.

For 24 years, Charles was professor of computer information systems, but his real passion seems to be staying totally fit, “mentally, physically, and spiritually.”

From mountain and rock climbing to running to race walking

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2007 5K Race Walk. The man in white set a US record for the 80-85 yr category

Charles was a mountain and rock climber in his early adult years and with encouragement from his daughter, he started running at age 54 and “was ready to die after the first 50 feet!” His daughter didn’t give up on him and offered him her coveted Peachtree Road Race number for the annual July 4th 10-K race under one condition: he had to buy real running clothes. Before that challenge, he would go out and run under the cover of darkness because he was embarrassed about his poor running condition. He got the clothes and got hooked on running and has been running ever since. However, around age 64 he had knee surgery and turned to a new sport, race walking several years later.

I guess it was a good move because he raced walked his way to a gold medal in the 1500-meter finals this year even though his pace had “slowed” to 14-minutes per mile. “Race walking is based on form and technique. As a runner, my posture was lousy, but race walking demands a more vertical style, so my posture has improved.” In fact, he holds several medals from the track & field championships, from individual medals to team relay medals. His goal? “To get back to running.”

Smart training and smart eating


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“My fitness guru and friend,” Matt Hurst of TrainingZone

To meet that goal, he trains hard, but smart to avoid injury. He mixes interval training to improve his aerobic and anaerobic capacity, performs stretching, squat jumps, lifts free weights, and race walks within the course of a week. He also enjoys hiking up Kennesaw Mountain (elevation gain 1200 feet) in the Kennesaw Mountain National Park near Marietta, GA. To fuel his activity he eats simple, wholesome foods: lots of fresh vegetables and fruits and gets protein from beans, chicken, and occasionally beef. You might think he is crazy, but his “treat” is a big mixed veggie salad eaten with no salad dressing, so he can taste the crisp, delicious vegetables. He stays hydrated by drinking water, no sugar-Charles Indoor2018 1500-medalsweetened beverages, just water.


In May, I interviewed Sally whose motto is “no challenge, no change,”and Charles lives that motto. “Challenging yourself brings those little ‘wow’ moments, whether it’s a physical challenge or a mental one, like completing a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture. I think we should all fill our lives with ‘wows!’ “Setting personal challenges is important because “you are in charge of your fitness.” People can encourage and support you, but you’ve got to be the one to challenge yourself and do it.” And, the more you do, the more you want to do. “If you use no energy, you will have no energy. The more you use, the more energy you will have. Bank accounts don’t work that way, but exercising does!”

He recommends challenging yourself with 5K races, because you will be among similarly motivated folks of all ages, genders, and fitness levels. “Don’t be concerned by initial failures, because you learn far more from failure than from success. It you succeed in all your ventures, you’re not challenging yourself enough.”

(Charles wants you to note that he is wearing his Atlanta Track Club shirt in these photos; they have been supporting him and his running efforts for 30 years!)

For more information on eating well, moving well, and being well as you age, check out Food & Fitness After 50.


Food & Fitness After 50: Bike. Drink. Eat. Repeat.

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.

         At my 50-year high school reunion, I was reacquainted with two classmates who were planning to participate in the 2018 Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) event and they convinced my wife and me to join them.  For the past 46 years, the Des Moines Register newspaper has sponsored the RAGBRAI—the world’s oldest and largest multi-day bike ride.  Each year, over 10,000 riders from around the world gather near the Missouri River on the western border of Iowa to begin a 7-day trek across the state to the Mississippi River.

This year’s July ride started in Onawa and ended in Davenport, averaging about 65 miles each day.  RAGBRAI is a bike ride, not a bike race, so people ride every kind of bike imaginable; unicycles, tandems, recumbents, mountain bikes, hybrids, road bikes and strange variations of all of those clog the country roads and small towns along the route.  The participants are equally varied: female, male, young, old, in-shape, out-of-shape, thin, overweight, fast, and slow, RAGBRAI is an equal-opportunity event.

Each day begins whenever you want it to begin and ends in the same fashion.  Small Iowa farm towns pop up every 10-20 miles, so there are ample opportunities for rest breaks with plenty to eat and drink, along with the food and drink vendors that dot each day’s route between the towns.  RAGBRAI is a weeklong combination of food and fitness, with nights spent sleeping in tents pitched on fields near each town, or on the lawns of residents willing to accept overnighters.

Bob bike 1Depending on their speed and size, riders expend 1,500 to 3,000 calories each day (on top of the 1,000 to 2,000 calories needed for resting metabolism), so everyone had a voracious appetite.  As you might expect, the streets of each town were packed with vendors selling drinks (including adult beverages), pork, corn, sandwiches (including the peanut-butter-and-jelly, toasted-cheese, and ice-cream varieties), pizza, barbecue, pies, pancakes, snow cones, salads, egg bowls, french toast, and stir fry.  Suffice to say there was no reason to ever be thirsty or hungry.

Throughout the week, I was reminded of the saying “You can’t outrun a bad diet”, a reminder that it is the combination of food and fitness that provides lifelong benefits.  That saying usually popped to mind each day when I stopped to eat a slice of cherry pie, but RAGBRAI was a one-time event and developing a cherry-pie addiction was unlikely, so I ate pie without a smidgeon of guilt.  The same went for beer, pizza, ice cream, and whoopee pie.

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Bob, enjoying an Iowa treat

There are times throughout each year when we’re thrown out of our usual diet-and-exercise routines—parties, holidays, and vacations being good examples—but all is not lost when we occasionally overdo eating and under-do exercise.  Part of enjoying life is to avoid being so regimented that we can’t revel in special occasions and then return to the food and fitness approach that best fits our needs and lifestyles.

Bob bike 3 Enjoying food, fitness, and social connections are essential aspects of lives well lived, as we point out in Food & Fitness After 50. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to food and fitness, so it’s important to find an approach that works best for you this week.  Next week, next month, or next year might call for a different approach; there is absolutely nothing wrong with switching things up because there are countless ways to eat well, move well, and be well.

For scenic bike routes in your state, check out this link.

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, follow our blog, Fit to Eat.


Food & Fitness After 50: Writing Your Own Story to Aging Well


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Susan and husband, Ralph, at 2018 Peachtree Road Race

I admired Susan long before I met her. As food editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for almost 19 years, she was at the helm of the award-winning food section. I devoured that section every Thursday! Then one day, she had an idea for a new column, Fit to Eat, and she asked me to write it. I was thrilled to be on her team.  I was excited but also anxious: I was a college professor who wrote for professional journals, not for newspapers! I relied on her guidance to help me to find a voice that would resonate with consumers.  For 5 years she edited my weekly column and we’ve been friends ever since.

Storytelling through Food

Today, Susan is still passionate about food. She has authored many cookbooks that preserve the history of a regional or ethnic cuisine with interesting stories behind the food. She works with chefs to translate their stories into best-selling cookbooks. Her latest, Turnip Greens and Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices up the Southern Kitchen, features chef Eddie Hernandez and translates his delicious restaurant foods into meals that anyone can make at home. (A recipe from Turnip Greens and Tortillas is included at the end of this post.) Before Turnip Greens and Tortillas, she authored Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South .When I pick up her books, I come for the food, but stay for the stories.

Susan grew up in Mississippi and was a rookie reporter writing general features for her hometown newspaper. But, she was drawn to writing about old foodways and her stories resonated with her readers and her editor. Eventually the stories were compiled into her first book, A Cook’s Tour of Mississippi. Having grown up a self-professed “picky eater,” her repertoire of vegetables consisted of “iceberg lettuce, carrot sticks, and overcooked broccoli.” But, one day she was served “perfectly cooked broccoli that was bright and crunchy,” and a lightbulb moment took hold. She hungered to learn more, so she took what was the first of many nutrition classes to complement in her interest in food. A second bachelor’s degree at Iowa State led to her second book, A Cook’s Tour of Iowa.  Her path of her marrying journalism background with post-graduate studies in nutrition led her to Atlanta and editing the AJC food section.

Transferring love of food into a personal journey

While she was writing about food and learning about nutrition, she had another “aha” moment. She thought, “I need to apply this to my life to get healthier.” She took up running and “one thing led to another.” She found herself surrounded by other runners and being around healthier people helped her improve her health.

Now, in her early 60s, Susan and her husband participate in the 10-K Peachtree Road Race every July 4th, with more walking than running these days, “but walking is not only fine, it’s good!” She stays active with reminders from her Fit Bit. “I just love the accountability and the awareness that the fitness tracker gives me.” While most of us aim for 10,000 steps a day (equal to about 5 miles of walking), she aims for 20,000 steps at least one day a week to bump up her activity. She also likes yoga for flexibility and to decrease the stiffness that often accompanies aging.

Aging Well

Susan’s tips for aging well reflect the themes highlighted in Food & Fitness After 50; eating well, moving well, and being well. The one word that best describes Susan’s journey for aging well is balance. “We need balance in all aspects of our life. That includes physical activity and food choices, but in our social life, too. My husband and I seek balance in our friendships and have many friends of all ages. We found that when we just socialize with our older friends, the talk quickly turns to ailments! It’s fine to talk about health, but when the entire conversation is about deteriorating health, it makes you feel old!”

As you can image in her work she eats everything and eats out a lot. “I tune into my body and have never fallen for popular or fad diets, but I am conscious of what I eat.” In this age of craft cocktails, she also is conscious of alcohol intake. “I pay attention to the amount of alcohol I drink as it is easy to overdo it, especially when eating out. I enjoy a cocktail, but I’m really enjoying the clever mocktails that bartenders are developing. I’ve also gotten into Kombucha. It tastes like sour beer, and I like sour beer!”

She suggests we surround ourselves with friends who have a positive outlook as positivity is contagious. Like many of the people featured in this blog, she says “don’t let yourself be sedentary!” Get up and out and do something because physical activity is good for your body, but also good for your mood and mental health!”

Learn more about what Susan is doing by checking out her website and blog.

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Photo credit, Angie Mosier (c) 2018

SLOPPY JOSE TACOS Excerpted from TURNIP GREENS & TORTILLAS, (c) 2018 by Eddie Hernandez & Susan Puckett. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Rux Martin Books. All rights reserved.

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1/4 cup paprika
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 Tablespoon granulated onion
1 Tablespoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground chile de arbol or cayenne pepper
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup water
1 cup roasted, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped green New Mexican chilies (or roasted mild canned green chilies)
24 (6-inch) flour tortillas
Garnished: Crushed Fritos, grated sharp cheddar cheese, and sliced fresh jalapenos
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the beef and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and cooked through. Stir in the paprika, sugar, granulated onion, granulated garlic, black pepper, salt, and chile de arbol. Add the tomato paste, water, and roasted chilies and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the mixture gets too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.  Set a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tortilla and heat on both sides for a minute or two, until a few dark spots appear. Remove to a plate and place 3 to 4 tablespoons of beef mixture in the center of the tortilla; garnish with Fritos, cheese, and jalapenos; fold. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
(Note from a dietitian: I used ground sirloin to reduce the saturated fat from ground chuck.)

To learn more about writing your own story to good health, check out Food & Fitness After 50.



Food & Fitness After 50: Foods for a Healthy Gut: Part 2

onion_home_graphicLast week in our interview with Jo Ann Hattner, gut health expert and author of Gut Insight: Probiotics and Prebiotics for Digestive Health and Well-Being, we covered basics about the gut microbiome. This week we get down to the application: prebiotics, probiotics, and fermented foods. And, we’ll dispel some myths about pre-and probiotic foods.

Can you describe the difference between a probiotic and a prebiotic?

A formal definition of probiotics is “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” What that means for us is that when we take in foods with probiotics, either in foods or drinks or supplements, they should have a health benefit for us.

What does confer a health benefit mean?

It means that a particular strain of live bacteria has been studied and demonstrated to have a positive health outcome. “Demonstrated” is an important word because research is required to show it has a health benefit before it can be considered a probiotic.  For example, stains of bacteria called Bifidobacteria (pronounced biff-ah-doe bacteria),a group of lactic acid bacteria that live in your gut, confer a health benefit by alleviating constipation and reducing the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome, to name a couple of demonstrated benefits.

One other benefit is worth mentioning. Probiotic has an opposite…antibiotic. When we take an antibiotic for an infection, it can have a side effect of disturbing our healthy gut bacteria. Ingesting probiotic foods or supplements when we take antibiotics can help push out the bad bacteria. Bad bacteria don’t like to live in the same space as healthy bacteria.

yogurt bowlPrebiotics and probiotics are easily confused. They both contribute to the population of good bacteria in our gut. Think of prebiotics as foods that feed the good bacteria. In other words, once you have a good population of bacteria, it needs to eat! And, it’s nourishment comes from prebiotics. Another term you might hear is synbiotic. That is a food or combination of foods that contain both pre and probiotics. For example, when you eat yogurt (a probiotic) with fruit (a prebiotic) you are doing something good for your gut bacteria. A recent study demonstrated consuming yogurt and fruit is a good combination for a healthy gut.

How do fermented foods affect the gut microbiome?

Fermented foods were traditionally made by taking a food, for example cabbage, and allowing the naturally occurring microbes on the food to grow. This changes cabbage to sauerkraut, and it was originally done for food preservation. Fermented foods can naturally ferment or be aided by adding probiotics. The big question is how many of these new, trendy fermented foods actually contain probiotics that help your gut microbiome? For a probiotic to survive, it can’t be heat treated or pasteurized and it is hard to tell by looking at a food label if it contains live probiotics. Sauerkraut in a glass jar or pouch found in the refrigerated case is more likely to contain probiotics, than canned sauerkraut which is heat treated when it is canned.

One of my favorite fermented foods, and a good source of live active cultures, some of which are probiotics, is kefir, or fermented cow’s milk. It comes in lots of flavors, but you can try the plain kefir and flavor it with fruit or honey until you get used to the sour taste.

Kombucha, a fermented sweetened tea, is made with bacteria and yeast. It is sour-tasting (some people love it, and some describe it as vinegary-tasting dish water). And while it is popular and seemingly sold everywhere, documentation that is an effective probiotic is lacking.

What are some common pre-and probiotic foods that you recommend?

1008p40-live-active-seal-mYogurt is probably the most commonly consumed probiotic food. With so many choices on the market, look for a yogurt that contains the seal “live and active cultures” to make sure you are getting the right strains of bacteria. I prefer yogurt that doesn’t have a lot of added sugar; I would rather eat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt and add my own fruit or toppings, like granola.

Walnuts-in-Dish_Marble-Surface_hi-resMany fruits and vegetables contain fibers that are prebiotics.  Inulin is a prebiotic fiber found in banana and is one of the first foods we feed infants. Inulin can also be extracted from chicory root fiber and is well documented to be an effective prebiotic. Many foods, including yogurts and energy bars are adding inulin for its prebiotic fiber. Fiber-rich foods, like whole grains, contain prebiotics, as do some nuts, like walnuts.

The most important thing to remember is to include probiotic foods every few days (every day is ideal) to replenish your healthy gut bacteria. Include prebiotics at every meal; fresh fruit smoothies, veggies and salads, and whole grains all contain fibers which are good for your gut.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about the gut microbiome?

The biggest misconception is that we have a profile of what the gut microbiome should be; we know there are healthy bacteria, but how many bacteria and how much diversity do we need?  As we get older the number of good bacteria decrease. Without good bacteria, we are more susceptible to illness.

We are still in the infancy of understanding the gut microbiome and the relationship to human health, but by eating pre- and probiotic foods every day, we can get on the right path to a healthy gut.

Where can people find more information on prebiotics, probiotics, and fermented foods?

There is helpful information on the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) website.

On my website, Gut Insight, there are resources such as frequently asked questions and a shopping list of probiotic and prebiotic foods.

For those looking for a cookbook, check out The Well-Fed Microbiome Cookbook.

Learn more on a healthy gut, eating well, moving well, and being well, Food & Fitness After 50.