Food & Fitness After 50: Fitness Tips for Getting and Staying Active

In Food & Fitness After 50 co-author and exercise physiologist, Dr. Bob Murray, likes to make the distinction between physical activity and exercise.  He defines the terms this way, “physical activity is body movements that require increased energy expenditure. Exercise is body movements that require increased energy expenditure and are planned, structured, and repeated with the goal of improving fitness.”

Dr. Murray explains that “there is an emotional aspect to these definitions. Some people dislike exercise but are very open to increasing physical activity, such as walking, gardening, bike riding, swimming or golfing.” While we all know that regular exercise or physical activity improves our healthspan, the length of time that we are healthy. Increasing the moments spent being physically active benefits our physical and mental health. “We have a sitting disease in this country. Older adults can spend up to 85% of their waking hours being sedentary. Working in periodic exercise snacks, even 5 minutes every hour, increases physical activity and can lead to health improvements,” says Dr. Bob.

Book Cover 2So, it was timely when I was e-introduced to K. Aleisha Fetters and her recently published book, Fitness Hacks for Over 50  (Simon & Schuster, Inc, 2020). The subtitle of her book is 300 easy ways to incorporate exercise into your life. I interviewed Aleisha to learn about her and how her book can help us to get and stay more physically active.

Tell me about yourself, Aleisha.

I’m a Chicago-based certified strength and conditioning specialist who works with people both in-person and online, and the author of Fitness Hacks for Over 50 and several other books. I came to fitness writing through journalism–I got my undergraduate and master’s degree in journalism and worked primarily in health and science journalism.

I originally pursued certification as a strength and conditioning specialist to be a better journalist in the fitness arena but the more I got into it, the more I wanted to be able to connect with people and work directly with them, not just write about it. I continue to write for many publications including US News & World Report, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, SilverSneakers, AARP, and O, The Oprah Magazine. In addition, I am a personal trainer to people at the gym and through online virtual training.

As you are in your early 30s, what made you interested in writing the book for those over 50?

Aleisha Fetters 2
Author, K. Aleisha Fetters

Vital, healthy aging is important for all us and aging should not be synonymous with loss of function, frailty, or a decrease in quality of life. As a trainer, I enjoy working with those over the age of 50. I find older adults are interested in exercise and movement for intrinsic reasons, whereas younger adults tend to go for looking good. Older adults enjoy the functional health benefits that come from exercise…feeling food, being strong, playing with their grandkids. My older clients are excited when they hit their goals and find they are experiencing less shoulder or back pain or that they can do something in the gym that they once thought was out of reach.

I’m glad to hear you mention functional fitness as that is something we emphasize in our book. Everyone has different functional goals but for me a good life means the strength to walk my big, strong dogs and lift a 50-pound bag of dog food in my shopping cart. 

That speaks to how we are more alike than we are unalike. Afterall, we all need to squat, hinge, push, push, rotate, and carry. We all need to foster strength, balance, mobility, and move in ways that we enjoy and allow us to finish our workouts or daily tasks feeling better than when we started them. We need to stay fit not only for the present but for the future. I, for one, plan to age like a fine wine!

What do you think are the reasons people don’t exercise or engage in physical activity as they age?

iStock-Older couple runningI think the reasons people don’t exercise at 50, 60, 70+ are the same reasons people don’t exercise at 20, 30, 40+. Lack of time, thinking exercise isn’t fun, believing in the “no pain, no gain” idea that exercise hurts, or that exercise is a means to burn calories or fix perceived flaws.

However, as people age, there are some unique challenges. Aches and pains can make exercise seem hard and if an older person hasn’t exercised in the past they might not know why or how to start. Many older adults have chronic health conditions, such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes and they don’t know how to find workouts and activities that are right for them and their unique circumstances.

One question I get all the time is what is the “best” exercise I can do? Dr. Bob’s answer to this question is “the one you enjoy doing the most because then you will continue to do it.”

I agree, exercise you enjoy and will help you cultivate a healthier relationship with your body and movement. However, I will add that the deadlift is my definition of a “best” exercise and I’m not talking about being able to lift a massive load. A deadlift is simply picking a dead weight up off the ground–it’s a fundamental movement pattern and strengthens the entire body while focusing on the posterior muscles, which are prone to weaknesses and injury, and have a huge effect on everyday function. It’s the number-one exercise in my book for reducing the risk of lower-back injury! We’ve all heard, “lift with your legs, not your back,” for good reason!

It seems that this book is perfect for exercise instructors, like Silver Sneakers instructors, to give them ideas and creative ways to keep people interested in fitness. Was that one of your goals or was it written for the consumer?

That wasn’t the intention when writing the book, but once it came together, I realized it had that going for it. After all, even the best trainers can benefit from collaboration and what trainer hasn’t wracked his or her brain trying to think of more exercises or active lifestyle tips when training clients? But it really works for the everyday person; training during structured classes and workouts is one thing, but the difference-maker is what people do when they’re not at the gym or taking a class. This book gives a lot of practical solutions for both trainers and the average older adult who want to change things up.

How should people use this book? What type of equipment do you think people should have at home to get and stay fit?

I would encourage people to use it as a movement menu. Every person might not want to perform every exercise in the book, and it was purposefully designed that way. I encourage people to try out different fitness hacks and see what feels good and meets a person’s unique needs.

Within each chapter, the exercises progress upon one another. So, work on mastering a single-leg stand before trying a single-leg sit to stand. There are notes for exercises to illustrate how they can be safely performed and how they build on one another. I would also encourage people to read the full instructions, tips, and recommendations on modifying exercises based on mobility or other unique circumstances.

exercise bandsAs for equipment, most of the exercises can be done with the resistance of your own body weight, simple household items, or resistance bands. Resistance bands are my number-one equipment choice because they are incredibly versatile, space-saving, and inexpensive–and open the possibility of doing a lot of fun exercises.

What are your 3 favorite fitness hacks? 

As I’m answering your questions, I’m doing “Strike a Tree Pose!” The tree pose, usually associated with yoga, is modified in the book using a kitchen countertop for stability. This pose helps both balance and stability. I would say my favorites are:

  • “Do the Deadlift,” for reasons mentioned above.
  • “Do the I, Y, T” for improving upper-back muscles and posture. The I, Y, and T refer to position of the arms, sort of like the movements in the old song, YMCA!
  • “Hollow Your Core” a foundational exercise for core strength.
  • “Pull Apart” using a resistance band to strengthen should and back muscles.

Dr. Bob talks about activity snacks, and Fitness Hacks for Over 50 gives us lots of “snacks” for variety! I’m going to gift this book to my favorite personal trainer….after I learn all 300 hacks!

Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved