Food & Fitness After 50: Good Health = A Lifetime of Activity + Good Nutrition + Thankfulness

“You’re the captain of the ship, not a passenger!”

Do you weigh the same as when you were 20? I’m guessing that few people in their late-60s can say they do, but Phil can. He attributes his long running career to the fact that he doesn’t carry excess weight, which puts extra pressure on knees and hips when running.

Intrinsic Joys of Being Active and Eating Well

 

Phil Sparling bike trail in Sanibel
Riding on bike trail at Sanibel

Phil grew up in pre-screen days where playing a variety of team sports with neighborhood kids was the norm. In the 8th grade he discovered a knack for distance running and ran competitively in high school, college, and for another decade after college. At his peak, he was running 3,000 to 4,000 miles a year; the equivalent of running more miles in a year than from Atlanta to Las Vegas and back. Today, he runs “a lot less, and a lot slower,” but still runs three days a week for about 10 miles a week or 500 miles a year. In addition, he does calisthenics, stretching and enjoys gardening and hiking in the surrounds of his north Georgia home.

 

Phil is motivated to stay active for the “personal satisfaction of the physical effort of moving; feeling the body at work still motivates me after all of these decades.”
Of course, to stay at your college weight, diet is also important. Phil and his wife focus on eating a plant-centered diet with “real food, including plenty of fruits and vegetables while minimizing highly processed foods.” He also adds that “preparing food and eating together is relished, as this simple pleasure wasn’t always possible with busy careers.”

Overcoming Challenges

Sometimes we look at people like Phil and think it must be easy for him to stay active and eat well, but, for everyone it is a choice. Phil says he understands the challenges, including the tendency by many to be complacent regarding their health. “People think if they aren’t sick, why bother to change. Over time, sedentary living and convenience foods become the default comfort settings.” And, while he recognizes medications can be modern miracles, “too many people think pills are the answer to every modern ailment when sometimes small lifestyle changes can fix a health issue without drugs.” Another challenge is the “slick advertising hawking magic pills or short cuts to exercise or diet. We are inundated with pseudo-science making us more vulnerable to believing the hype.”

Four Tips for Healthy Aging

When asked to give tips for optimal aging, regular exercise and healthful eating were at the top of the list, but Phil also encourages us “to continue to set goals and stay engaged.” For those who haven’t been active, “start by developing a plan to do something every day; even if it is just a 10-minute walk, stair climbing, or stretching. But, tell yourself you will do something every day and then do it.” Phil also is thankful. “We need to be thankful for the people in our lives, the body we were given, and simple everyday joys.” When considering the big picture, he reminds us: “There’s no single pathway for living a long and full life. There are many possibilities. Embrace the challenge and act on it! You’re the captain of the ship, not a passenger.”

From Scientific Writer to Creative Writer

Phil was a professor at Georgia Tech for 30 years and was a prolific researcher and Sparling_coverscientific writer, as the adage “publish or perish” is true in academia. These days, he turns his attention to creative writing and has published his essays in a new book,  The Sneakers in the Closet, reflecting on a lifetime of sports, health, and a life well lived. And, he and wife enjoy traveling from decades of “pent up wanderlust when we had limited time off to travel.” You can also read some of his essays in Smoke Signals, a north Georgia community newspaper (click on Smoke Signals to read a sample column.)

 

Food & Fitness After 50: The Power of Having a Plan A and Plan B for a Healthy Life

As a 10-year-old, Samantha loved animals. She had 5 cats and her favorite Walt Disney movies were the ones featuring animals, not princesses. And, she faithfully watched the television show, Wild Kingdom. Her love of animals made her question what she was eating, and she told her mother she was going to be a vegetarian. By the age of 18, she made a deeper commitment and became a strict vegetarian. Today, many years later Samantha remains a strict vegetarian who is mostly vegan.

In her early 20s, she moved to New York City to pursue her dream of singing and acting; a Broadway star-to-be! Like many aspiring entertainers, she needed a Plan B and that led her become a licensed massage therapist, fitness instructor and ultimately to going back to school and getting master of science degrees in exercise physiology and nutrition.

S Heller photoToday, in her 50s, she may not be winning Tony Awards, but she is an entertainer of the educational kind. She hosts a weekly radio program on Sirius XM Doctor Radio and is a frequent health expert on TV. A sought after speaker, Samantha blends her musical talent with her passion for science and medicine by infusing many of her keynote presentations with music and song. “These presentations are not musicals” she says “But the science is accented with popular music and humor which adds a whole other dimension, facilitates learning and retention and is fun.” (For example, see her at work in the fusion of science and song.)

Let’s back up a bit…after Samantha completed school and became a registered dietitian nutritionist, she started counseling patients with medical conditions at NYU Langone Health. Though Samantha is a vegetarian, the nutrition advice and medical nutrition therapy she provides her patients is always evidence based. She understands the importance of meeting people where they are and working with them to optimize their health. She learned to listen to her patient’s needs and gently nudge them to a healthier life. If that means eating meat, then she teaches them the healthiest choices and how to moderate portions, while increasing nutrient-rich plants and whole grains.

While working as a clinical dietitian at the medical center, the public relations department tapped her to do local television appearances and her acting chops and her knowledge of health made her a natural. In 2008, Doctor Radio came along, and she has been hosting the show every Friday for the past nine years. “The radio show, which is conducted live every week, has provided an amazing opportunity to work with a variety of health professional from medical doctors to nurses to registered dietitians who otherwise would have no reason to talk to me!” Her goals are simple: provide science-based health information, showcase her guests so they do a great job, and have fun. As a guest on her show several times, I can attest that she meets all of those goals with a 5-star rating.

There are many keys to her success, certainly her performance skills shine through her radio voice, but she doesn’t just talk the talk, she lives it. Samantha exercises most days of the week. She loves running, hiking and walking when the weather cooperates, but in the cold NYC winters, she hits the gym. Just as with her career, she always has a Plan A and Plan B for exercise. “Aim high when it comes to activity; we are not always going to meet the goal, but that just makes you want try harder.” As mentioned earlier, she eats a plant-centered diet for health and enjoyment. “In 2017 it easier to be more plant based than ever before. There are tons of recipes online and many restaurants now have vegetarian and vegan options.”

She also promotes being well by managing stress. “I promote a positive approach to daily life by rewriting the script when bad news intervenes. We can’t avoid stress, but we can manage it by redirecting negative thoughts into proactive, positive responses.” She also encourages her patients and her listeners to “be kind and respectful” to their bodies. “Our body’s job is to keep us alive so use your brain…your mental muscle…to move yourself to good health.”

She knows it isn’t always easy, especially as we age. She sees many of her friends struggling with finances as they age, working 2-3 part-time jobs and worrying about who will care for them when they are old. Many are caretakers for aging parents or loved ones, creating another layer of stress. However, she encourages a proactive approach to good health and optimal aging to be the best we can be at any age.

Samantha may not have ended up on Broadway (but, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a Plan C up her sleeve!), but she has positively impacted the lives of her patients and Doctor Radio listeners. For that I give her the 2017 Food & Fitness After 50 Award!

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out my new book (with co-author, Dr. Bob Murray). Available in paperback or Kindle edition at Amazon.