Food & Fitness After 50: What is strength?

strength throughout lifecycle

Quick word association….what pops into your into your mind when you hear the word strength? When I was asked that question the first thing I thought of was muscle strength. But, after being a part of a 2-day Strength Summit, sponsored by The National Cattleman’s Beef Association*, I came away with a much broader definition.

Strength encompasses more than having big muscles and working out with weights. Strength also means mental and cognitive strength that begins, not when we are old, but starting strong from birth through old age. Dr. Robert Murray, a pediatrician at The Ohio State University, summed it up best; “the platform for strength begins early in life.” And, no we’re not talking about baby weight training; developing cognitive strength requires nutrition and we need many nutrients to build a healthy brain. A balance of vitamins, minerals, fats, and plant and animal bioactive compounds (like lutein and flavonoids) are all needed to promote brain health in infancy and childhood. Helping to build a healthy brain helps develop the basic motor skills that lay the groundwork for physical activity as a child grows.

My focus is on the 50+ population with the tag line of “eat well, move well, and be well.” Strength helps us with all three:

Eating well means eating variety of foods and not chasing the latest fad, like keto or the Carnivore Diet. (Yes, that really is a thing!) What I eat may not be right for you, but I suggest these basic principles for a healthy dietary pattern for adults 50+:

    • Includes a balance of all the energy (calorie) containing nutrients of carbohydrate, protein, and fat
    • Focuses on nutrient-rich foods, meaning that every calorie packs a nutrient-rich punch. A small 3 or 4-ounce serving of lean beef provides more than just 25-grams of protein. It also contains zinc, iron, choline, selenium, and B-vitamins needed for good health and strength. Likewise, a whole orange provides more nutrients, like vitamin C, fiber, and phtyo (plant) nutrients than a glass of orange drink.
    • Concerns for disease-risk. As we age, we are more likely to develop issues with bone health, joint health, and cardiovascular diseases. Eating more fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, lean protein, and healthy fats can help keep diseases in check.
    • Enjoying foods and mealtimes. I’ve said it before, but too many people fear food and have lost their enjoyment of good food eaten in a relaxed setting with family or friends.
  • Moving well means focusing on exercise that gets your heart beating faster, your breathing getting deeper, and challenging your muscles to stay strong. Your heart is a muscle so think of aerobic exercise as a good workout for your heart. And weight training does more than build muscle; it helps develop muscle strength, so we can remain functionally fit. For me functional fitness means living independently, being able to lift a 50-pound bag of dog food into my shopping cart, transfer it to the car, take it out of the car, and move it into a storage container. All that requires strength!
  • Being well means strength for resilience that we need as we age. We all know that challenges will occur as we age; we lose loved ones, we get joint replacements, we act as caretakers for family and friends and that all takes mental (and physical strength).

Besides hearing from top experts in the field of strength, we also were inspired by Lance Pekus, The Cowboy Ninja. If you are a fan of the Ninja Warrior competition you will recognize the name, if not, check out Lance and his unique training style!

We were asked to think of a letter in the word STRENGTH and come up with a word that represented our thoughts on strength. Mine was the letter T and word was toughness. What would your word be?


*The Strength Summit: The Role of Strength in Optimal Health and Well-Being was funded through the Beef Checkoff by Beef Farmers and Ranchers. I participated in a panel discussion on strength in older adults and my travel was paid for. However, I was not asked or compensated to write this post.

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50 available at Amazon and other book sellers.

Food & Fitness After 50: Being Thankful for Family and Friends

Kathy Maxine and brother Bill
Maxine with daughter Kathy and son, Bill

Originally, this post was to be titled “Like Mother, Like Daughter” because I interviewed two incredible women for this story. Maxine (aka “Granna”) aged 89 and her daughter, Kathy, who is in her mid-60s. The more I talked to them, the more I realized that this is perfect feel-good Thanksgiving post. And, I’m not talking about the “isn’t everybody happy and wonderful” kind of Facebook post. This is a story of maternal influence and family love.

The Value of Education

Maxine with 3 of 5 great grandaughers
Maxine with 3 of her great-grandaughers 

Maxine was born at the start of the Great Depression and her mother instilled in her the value of hard work and the importance of education. After high school graduation, she attended business school and moved from North Carolina to Georgia, where she met her husband.  Maxine’s work ethic and resilience lives on through her son, Bill, a retired dentist, and daughter Kathy, a retired educator and associate superintendent of a county school system. Today, she instills those same values in her six grandchildren, and soon to be nine great-grandchildren. She is a lifelong learner and while she didn’t exactly embrace new technology, she can’t image not owning a smart phone, so she can view pictures and videos of her family via texts and Instagram. And, facetime keeps her in close contact between visits.

Retirement and the freedom to be physically active

I first saw Maxine in a yoga class. Twice a week, there she was, second row from the front on the left side of the class…. regular as clockwork. I admired this woman who could hold the tree pose longer than I could. I asked her about her activity and she said, “oh, I’m not that active.” In addition to twice weekly yoga, she is a regular at strength-training class two days a week, walks two miles a day, and plays golf. I respectfully disagree that she is “not that active!”

For Kathy, while she had always walked and worked in her yard, her life centered around her work and family. Having four sons who were all active in sports from middle school through college, kept her busy. In fact, all four of her sons were captains of their school’s football teams. But, when she retired four years ago, she started walking with Maxine (who was 85 at the time) and her mother told her she “needed to start lifting weights to stay strong.” So, she started weight training alongside her mom. Being retired gave her the time to do more. She can be found at the local YMCA every morning for different classes: boot camp, strength training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), yoga and dance aerobics…. she tries it all. Her attitude is “I’ll try any new exercise…no one is grading me so it’s fun to try something new that will nourish and foster a healthy, happy life.”

Family Meals

Kathy and Maxine with family 2015
Kathy with husband Bill and the 4 sons who enjoyed Granna’s cooking

Maxine grew up in a time when dinner was a “meat, a starch, and a vegetable” but today she is a little more flexible in her meal planning. She starts every day with a hearty bowl of Kashi cereal with added oat cereal, homemade granola, low-fat milk, and a banana with added cinnamon, a dash of olive oil, and sunflower seeds. After morning exercise, she snacks on almonds or peanuts for a protein boost. She makes incredible sourdough rolls (I was fortunate to be given some after our interview!) and she fed her grandsons and their football teammates for years. “There was always a giant submarine sandwich made with my sourdough bread in the refrigerator and the kids couldn’t get enough of it.” Kathy reminded her she always made cookies for the locker room before every home game…. with four grandsons playing football, that was a lot of cookies!

Kathy loves to good food and sometimes reminds herself to stop nibbling by going out for a walk or work in the yard. While she enjoys cooking and takes pride in preparing a simple meal, she gets more enjoyment out of being the sous chef for her husband. “Bill is a great and adventurous cook. He loves making Mexican and Thai dishes that the whole family enjoys.”


As Maxine near her 90th birthday, she says her appetite has diminished. She tries to eat more food early in the day because by evening she just doesn’t want to eat. Kathy helps her by inviting her for dinner and “not telling her what we’re cooking to surprise her.” That keeps her interest up.

For Kathy, the biggest challenge is setting her exercise goals too high. “If I tell myself I’ll walk a mile, even after exercising at the YMCA, I’m not happy unless I walk two miles.”

Words of advice

Maxine’s advice to others is simple and straightforward with a dash of good humor. “Get up and move! You have to look forward and you can’t back up!”

Kathy and Bill with grandkids
Kathy’s 2017 annual Thanksgiving photo; 2 more little grandsons will be in the 2018 photo. The little redhead is Maxwell, named after Maxine

Kathy’s advice echoes her mother’s words, “Being active is a conscious decision and commitment to do things that are productive, provides enjoyment, and leads to a positive health outcome.  My father always told me that what you put into to something is what you’ll get out, so I try to remember that in everything I do.” That applies not just to eating well and moving well, but to being well. “Working and building relationships is so important. When my sons got married I vowed to be a wonderful mother-in-law and the best one I could be!”

Maxine, Kathy, and the entire family spent many years on the “football caravan,” supporting their children at games even though it meant splitting up so someone could be at each game. Kathy’s son Ben was the star quarterback at Auburn University and in the 2000 football program he was interviewed and summed up the importance of family.

“I think my parents did a great job of making us realize the importance of family. All the support that I got from my parents, brothers, and grandmother is something that I’ll never be able to repay.”

Happy Thanksgiving!






Food & Fitness After 50: Wading through a Sea of Foods and New Products

The annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Exhibition, known as FNCE, is the largest gathering of food and nutrition professionals in the world and an event I’ve attended for over 30 years. Each fall we gather in a different city that has a convention center big enough to hold the 10,000+ dietitians who descend on the city. This year, Washington DC was the venue and perfect fall weather was on the menu for the 4-day conference.

mount-vernon-may-2013-shenk-5110-2-webThere were plenty of evening receptions with good food, drink, old and new friends, hundreds of educational sessions, culinary demonstrations, and thousands of exhibitors. I also took a pre-conference tour of George Washington’s Gristmill and Distillery, thanks to the Distilled Spirits Council and learned that Mr. Washington began making rye whiskey in 1797, when his Scottish farm manager knew what to do with excess grain, a gristmill, and a good water supply. I’ll be writing more about alcohol and how aging changes how we metabolize alcohol in a future post, so watch for that.

It wasn’t all fun and food, I attended several educational sessions that inspired me, so more to come on these topics in future posts.

  • Dietary nitrate and what it can do to help lower your blood pressure
  • Dispelling the myths about monosodium glutamate (MSG) and how using MSG in home cooking can help you reduce sodium intake.
  • Importance of weight maintenance and that excess body fat is lipotoxic.
  • Pros and cons of nutrient supplements as we age.

But, today I want to focus on the new trends emerging from the exhibit hall floor, the good and the wacky!

  • Kudos to those exhibitors who paired with charities to raise awareness and money by designing clever campaigns that made me smile. The first was the National Peanut Board who for a small donation gave “Peanut Envy” t-shirts for Peanut Butter for the Hungry charitable organization. soccerkid
  • And, another great campaign by the Tomato Wellness Council who sell “Legalize Marinara” T-shirts. The goal is to raise money for the Movember Foundation to support men’s health and awareness of prostate cancer. You can order the shirts and other merchandise at this link.t shirt
  • I always enjoy seeing the “nuts” as exhibitors…from the International Tree Nut Council, to the Almond Board of California, and California Walnut Commission…handing out healthy snacks and delivering tasty recipes. The first recipe I tried when I got home was Pistachio Coconut Crusted Chicken Tenders and it was a keeper! (Recipe follows this post).
  • Gut health was a big focus and new products with prebiotics, fiber, and probiotics….all three needed for a healthy gut, was found in Kellogg’s new cereal, Happy Inside. It was tasty and I loved getting the sneak peek at a product that consumers will be asking about.
  • A clever way to showcase processed meats (they get a bad rap, but what meat-eating person doesn’t love a good deli sandwich occasionally?) was Beefshi, a take on sushi using beef, like pastrami, corned beef, or bologna. Check out this video on making Beefshi Rueben Rolls.
  • There were a few misses on the exhibit floor, at least for me. The plant-based “milk” craze went a little too far with banana milk. The sales person told me it was great for making banana bread and I responded that I used bananas to make banana bread, no banana milk needed. (My favorite banana bread recipe comes from the California Walnuts website.)
  • Then there was the protein-packed cookie and my question is why do we have to pack protein into everything? If I want protein, I won’t get it from a cookie. I’ll pass on that one. And, then my strangest conversation was with someone selling sprouted bread….I asked what makes sprouted bread healthy and he said because the “bran reunites in the stomach during photosynthesis.” Say what????

Already looking forward to next year’s meeting in Philadelphia!

Wonderful PIstachios Coconut Crusted Chicken (1)Wonderful Pistachios Coconut Crusted Chicken (recipe and photo courtesy of Wonderful Pistachios)


1 pound chicken tenders

1 cup Wonderful pistachios no-shells

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 cup coconut flour

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a blender or food processor, pulse the pistachios a few times, until ground into a coarse powder. Add the Parmesan cheese, thyme, rosemary and pulse again until it is finely chopped. Transfer the mixture to a plate.

In a bowl, mix the coconut flour and pepper. In another bowl, beat the eggs.

Dip the chicken tenders in the flour and roll to coat. Dip the chicken in the eggs, shaking off any excess. Roll in the pistachio-Parmesan mixture and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with all of the chicken.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping once about half way through, until browned and cooked through.

Serves 4


Food & Fitness After 50: Catch the Competitive Spirit

I have a group of friends who inspire me in many ways; in fact they have all been featured in this blog (posts on Lisa, Linda,and Jill can be found by clicking their name).

Competing on the World Stage

We always remember birthdays with group email happy birthday wishes, and for a day or two we play catch up with each other. This year, when we emailed Stella on her 55th birthday, she was surprisingly silent. Then, a few weeks later, she burst into our email inboxes apologizing for her delay by revealing that she had been in Terrasssa, Spain as a member of the USA Women’s Master Field Hockey World Cup Team. That caught us all by surprise and with delight. Not because she made the team; Stella is one of the most competitive, accomplished athletes we know, but because she kept it quiet. Stella has played field hockey since she was in the 9th grade and still plays on a fall and spring competitive league. When she tried out for the USA Masters National Team she was nervous, but thought there wouldn’t be many competing for the “0-55” (over 55 years of age) team. She was told to wear dark socks to identify herself as an 0-55, but when she showed up to the try-outs “most of the people had on dark socks!” She kept the try-outs quiet from her family and friends, and only her husband, Gary, was in the know. When she got the call that she made the team, she said the moment was “magical.”  For a year leading up to the World Cup there were many competitions played around the U.S. before heading to Spain. The women came in 6th in their division and were proud to represent the USA. “I will try out again in 2 years for the next World Cup Team,” says Stella with enthusiasm.

Yes, women can play any sport!

stella ice hockey
Stella on ice

But, everything she does is with enthusiasm. Field hockey isn’t her only sport. She also plays ice hockey. As the youngest of four in an Italian family, growing up involved in competitive sports of all kind, but there was no ice hockey for girls when she was growing up. She spent many years watching her brother play, and supporting the nearby home team, Philadelphia Flyers. When many years later she had the chance to join a woman’s team, she was all in.

Row, row, row your boat

Stella rowing
Crew team

After more than 20 years of running (of course she ran a marathon) and competed in triathlons, she fell in love with another sport…rowing. “Rowing is a beautiful sport and good for physical and mental health in so many ways.” She is such a devotee of the sport that she is often quoted in national publications extolling the benefits of rowing for all women, but especially for older women. In this story from the Washington Post she explains how the muscle movement in each pull helps to strengthen bones. She was also featured in this 2014 piece in Harper’s Bazaar on “why rowing is the new spinning.”

Stella cross fit competition
Cross Fit Competition

She starts each morning with CrossFit and a walk with Bear and Sasha, her German Shepherd dogs. (Stella and I have a special bond over our love of German Shepherds…when I called her for this interview her first question was “how is that handsome boy?” and I knew she meant my dog Samson, not my husband!) Did I mention she has a full-time job as Department Chair and Professor of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University? The obvious question I asked Stella, is “do you sleep?”  She admitted that she gets about 6 hours of sleep a night, but it is working on getting more sleep.

Stella with dogs and search and rescue trainer
With Sasha & Bear on search and rescue training

Getting older doesn’t have to mean getting old

Her tips for optimal aging?

  • “Do not stop moving, no matter the barriers, keep moving. Even if you can only do chair exercises, do something.” And, remember “aging is not a disease.”
  • “Eat well most of the time, but enjoy food and the pleasure of eating. I think the 80-20 rule is good for physical and mental health!” (80% of the time eat healthy foods, and 20% of the time eat foods that may not be as healthy.)
  • “Don’t be afraid to try something new with sports or activity. Keep variety in your
    stella students cheering
    Stella’s student cheering her on


I’ll admit, I was tired and felt wimpy after talking to Stella, but she closed with these wise words, “I don’t know when God is going to take me from this earth, so enjoy life, eat and move well every day!”

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50.