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?

Strength

*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.