Food and Fitness After 50

Assess Yourself

Assess Your Health

1. Do you have a scale that is accurate and reliable?
– Yes
– No
– If yes, how do you know?

2.  How often do you weigh yourself?
– Daily
– Weekly
– Monthly
– Periodically
– Never

3.  How do you usually feel when you see the number on the scale?

4.  Compared with when you were 25 years old, do you weigh:
– The same
– More
– Less

5.  Do you know your BMI?
– Yes
– No

6.  Do you know how to interpret your BMI?
– Yes
– No

7.  What is your waist size (circumference just above the hip bones and below the belly button)? _______ inches

8.  Have you ever been on a weight-loss diet
– Yes
– No
– If yes, which one(s)?

9.  Did you lose weight on the diet?
– Yes
– No
– If yes, how much, and how long did you keep the weight off?

10.  What do you think is a healthy weight for you? _________ pounds

Review Your Answers

Managing our weight is a top concern as we age. Physiological changes contribute to altering our body composition as we age but those changes are accelerated by an environment that encourages overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. We can halt some of those changes through sensible food choices, managing portion control, aerobic exercise, and strength training.If you want to lose weight, don’t fall for the latest fads. Instead talk to your health provider about options such as commercial weight loss programs or working with a registered dietitian nutritionist to personalize an eating plan that works for you for the short and long term. And, take some clues from those who have successfully lost weight and kept it off: reduce screen time, exercise daily, eat breakfast, and monitor your weight.

1. The first step to managing your weight is knowing your weight, an accurate weight, not a guess. If you have a scale, check its accuracy by using a known weight on the scale (like a 5-lb dumbbell) and recalibrate the scale if necessary. If you don’t have a scale, buy one!

2.  We suggest weighing yourself every day or every other day. Don’t worry about fluctuating a couple of pounds up or down from day to day; that is simply a normal change in water weight. But, by regularly weighing yourself, a pattern will emerge if you are maintaining, gaining, or losing weight.

3.  The numbers on the scale aren’t good or bad; they are just numbers to help you assess your body weight.

4.  As we age, weight-creep can happen. Many adults gain a pound or two each year, but after 20 years that can add up to an extra 20 or 40 pounds. By comparing your current self to your younger self, you might find that the extra pounds have been accumulating through the years.

5.  If you don’t know your body mass index (BMI), accurately measure your height and weight (for tips on accurate measurement, see Chapter 8 of Food & Fitness After 50).

6.  Enter your height and weight into an online calculator to determine and interpret your BMI here.

7.  Measure your waist just above your hipbone and below your belly button. For women, a waist size of 35 inches or greater, and for men, 40 inches or greater, often indicates storage of excess belly fat.

8.  There are hundreds of weight-loss diets and many people have tried them all. You can lose weight on any diet that restricts calorie intake; the hard part is keeping it off. We slowly lose weight whenever the calories (energy) we consume are less than the calories we expend.  For example, if we expend 500 calories more each day than we consume in food and drink, we will lose about a pound of weight each week.  The goal is to lose mostly fat weight rather than water or muscle weight.  Rapid weight loss is often comprised of mostly water and some muscle. Gradually losing fat weight is the best way to ensure that the weight stays off because gradual weight loss helps us establish new lifestyle habits that are easier to maintain over the long haul.

9.  If you lost weight on the diet, congratulations, but if you gained it back, that can be defeating. Read more about weight loss and maintenance here.

10.  Be honest in your assessment of a healthy weight; let the BMI numbers guide you in your assessment. As we age, it is normal to gain a little weight. We suggest focusing on good overall health instead of a number on a scale.

Assess Your Strength

1. Compared with when you were 25, how do you think your strength has changed?
– Seems about the same
– Definitely weaker
– Definitely stronger

2.  Compared with when you were 25, how has your overall muscle mass changed over time?
– Seems about the same
– Definitely less
– Definitely more

3.  Compared with others my age, I feel and look stronger.
– Yes
– No

4.  When working on my hands and knees in the yard, I can get up to my feet without a problem.
– Yes
– No
– I don’t do yard work

5.  What kinds of activities to you do on a regular basis that are good for maintaining your muscle strength?

6.  Which common activities, tasks, or movements do you think might now be affected by a loss of strength (such as opening jars, carrying heavy loads, or climbing stairs)?

7.  Can you easily lift and pour a gallon jug of milk with one hand?
– Yes
– No

8.  I’d like to increase my muscle strength.
– Yes
– It’s not an immediate concern

9.  I’d like to increase my muscle mass.
– Yes
– It’s not an immediate concern

10.  Are your muscles stiff and sore when you get up in the morning?
– Yes
– No

11.  Do your muscles get painfully sore a day or two after some activities?
– Yes
– No

12.  Are you taking statin drugs to lower cholesterol
– Yes
– No

13.  Do you have any physical or medical issues that limit your ability to do resistance exercise, such as lifting weights or doing push-ups?
– Yes
– No
– If yes, list the issues that limit your strength-related abilities

14.  Would you prefer to do strength exercises on your own or as part of a group?
– On my own
– As part of a group

Review Your Answers

The strong live long.

That’s a simple way of summing up the importance of maintaining muscle strength (and muscle mass) as we age.  Aging naturally results in gradually less muscle mass and strength.  Fortunately, we can control the rate at which those two critical factors change by staying physically active, eating properly, and by doing 20-to-30 minutes of strength exercises at least twice each week.

1. If you are over 40 and think that you are about as strong or stronger than you were at 25, congratulations! That level of strength is something precious to protect as you age, so don’t neglect it.  If, like most people, you don’t feel as strong as when you were 25, that’s no reason to worry, but it is a reason to make certain to complete strength exercises each and every week.

2.  Maintaining as much muscle mass as is practical is also important as we age. Muscle cells burn calories and the more muscle we have, the more calories we burn each day—making it easier to eat what we like and not worry about rapid weight gain. The “frail elderly” is a term that applies to those who, because of illness or neglect, have little muscle mass and are more susceptible to further illness and loss of independence.  Eating a balanced diet with ample protein, staying physically active, and doing strength exercises at least twice each week for 20-to-30 minutes is the best formula for maintaining muscle mass and strength.

3.  Comparing ourselves to others in the same age range can help us gauge how we’re doing, but only in a very general sense. Such comparisons can be misleading if our friends are completely out of shape, eat poorly, and do little-to-no regular physical activity. It’s great if you truly are a “cut above,” but make sure your personal assessment is in line with that of your physician or other healthcare professional.

4.  As kids, we never gave a second thought to bouncing back to our feet after being on the ground. It’s just something we did multiple times each day.  Yet as we age, that fundamental skill—easily rising to our feet from the ground—is something that quickly gets rusty.  In fact, a great exercise for all of us is to repeatedly get on the ground and then rise back to our feet.  Not only is that exercise a great way to build and maintain flexibility, agility, balance, and coordination, along with arm and leg strength, just learning different ways to get ourselves back to our feet will help with everything from playing with grandchildren to gardening to picking ourselves up after falls.

5.  It’s helpful to take an inventory of all the things we now do that help preserve muscle mass and strength. Aside from obvious exercise-related ways to build strength, activities such as carrying groceries, climbing stairs, house cleaning, yard work, and gardening all contribute.  Just remember that to build strength and mass, we need to get our muscles out of their comfort zone on a regular basis.

6.  While we take inventory of ways we can build and maintain muscle strength and mass, we also need to be honest with ourselves when we perceive that we’re not as strong as we used to be. When it becomes noticeably tougher to open jars, climb stairs, lift heavy objects, or use tools, that’s a signal that we need to strengthen those muscles.  If we don’t take steps to shore up our weaknesses, things will get progressively worse.

7.  Handling a gallon of milk—or even a half-gallon—with one hand is something that most people have little trouble doing until their muscle strength wanes. Living independently requires that we’re able to accomplish simple, everyday tasks. Staying strong is an important part of staying independent.

8.  We’re very biased about this topic, so we think we should all answer yes to this question, at least at some point in our lives. For those who work physically demanding jobs that help maintain muscle strength and mass, there may not be an immediate need for strength training, but after retirement, there will be.

9.  Research shows that even people in their 90s can increase muscle mass and strength, so there is no such excuse as “I’m too old!”

10.  Unless you have an illness or disease that makes your muscles stiff and sore, our guess is that if you don’t do much physical activity and still experience stiff, sore muscles on a regular basis, that’s a sign that your muscles need to get out of their comfort zone more often!

11.  Muscle stiffness and soreness a day or two after a hard exercise session or a new activity (such as the first day of yard work in the spring) is a very normal response to pushing our muscles beyond what they’ve become accustomed to.  That soreness is a sign of muscle damage that will resolve itself in a day two, leaving behind stronger, more resilient muscles.

12.  Statin drugs such as Lipitor have a reputation for exaggerating the effects of exercise-induced muscle damage.  Although the frequency, severity, and duration of the soreness may increase, this is just a passing nuisance.

13.  Those who are hampered with physical or medical limitations can still find ways to improve muscle strength and mass and in turn improve aspects of their physical and medical limitations.  Getting help from a physical therapist, personal trainer, or other exercise specialist can put people on the right track.

14.  This simple question about how you prefer to exercise is an important consideration. To make exercise a regular part of our lifestyle, it helps to find the most enjoyable ways to accomplish it. Some people can’t stand group exercise, while others can’t do without it.  Determine what works best for you and stick with it as long as you continue to enjoy that particular environment.

There is much more information on managing your weight in Food & Fitness After 50, as well as an assessment in each chapter to help you stay on the path to optimal aging. You will also find inspiring stores of adults who eat well and move well on our blog, Fit to Eat here.