This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.
When he was 61, Sam’s right leg collapsed as he was getting out of bed, the result of a long-ago knee injury from playing lacrosse, damage (torn meniscus cartilage) that happened two months before he graduated from West Point in 1971. His compromised joint is now supported by a knee brace that allows Sam to be physically active. Sam wrestled and played golf and baseball in high school and remained physically active during his college years at West Point. Meals at the Academy were high in calories and consumed quickly, laying the foundation for rapid weight gain after college when Sam’s career as an aerospace engineer entailed much more sedentary time, lots of travel and restaurant meals, and a frequently disrupted routine for exercise and eating. His love of sweets hasn’t helped matters; Sam says he has been at least 10 to 20 pounds overweight for most of his adult life.
Sam’s story is typical of so many older adults whose busy family and professional lives—along with injuries or health setbacks of one sort or another—made it difficult to maintain a healthy balance of food and fitness. Such is modern life. Now retired and in his late 60s, Sam now has the opportunity to find the right balance. “I want to be consistent with my calorie intake each day,” Sam said, “I want to eat a healthy breakfast, reduce eating out, drink more water, and lose fat weight. These are important goals for me because I want to live longer than age 87 that my annuity says is my life expectancy.”
Bicycling is Sam’s primary form of exercise and he also stays active doing yard work and repairs on rental properties. He credits his wife Elizabeth for being a great role model who cooks healthy meals, joins him on bike rides, and watches her calorie intake. High blood pressure runs in Sam’s family but he has been able to keep his BP well within the normal range by biking more often, eating healthier, and staying well hydrated. Sam has found that increasing his daily water intake has helped curb his appetite and keep him energized, especially important in the warm weather he experiences living in San Antonio.
Sam understands what he has to do to achieve his goals and is committed to staying the course. That commitment does not mean that he has to follow a stringent diet or exercise to exhaustion every day. Living a long “healthspan”—a term that reflects the importance of being as healthy as possible for as long as possible—includes enjoying what life has to offer … in moderation, of course. According to much scientific research, Sam is on the right track. For example, scientists from Harvard University recently estimated that a low-risk lifestyle (never smoking, a healthy weight, regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and moderate alcohol consumption) could considerably prolong life expectancy (longer than 10 years) compared with individuals who followed none of the low-risk lifestyle factors.
Sam’s main advice to others who want to strike a better balance between food and fitness is twofold: 1) count calories—Sam uses a phone app called FatSecret to help keep him from overdoing it, and 2) read Food & Fitness After 50 because Sam considers the book to be a great guide for pointing out errors and helping motivate him to achieve his goals.
(We appreciate Sam’s unsolicited compliments and are happy to hear that he found our book helpful.)