Food & Fitness After 50: Consider a Personal Trainer to Reach Your Fitness Goals

“The healthier I eat, the more energy I have for exercise. The more I exercise, the more I want to eat healthier food. For me, one leads to the other.”                                                                                                                                                                          David Leard

As I approached my mid-sixties I wanted to be more fit and kick up my fitness routine. At my local YMCA, the weight room intimated me. Not because I was unfamiliar with weight training, but the equipment was old and a mixture of various manufacturer’s equipment and the adjustments from one machine to the next were confusing*.  And, I’ve never had great core strength, so I decided to hire a personal trainer for a series of 6 lessons to help me meet my fitness goals. It was important to find a trainer who understood how to work with older adults, so I met David and knew I found the best trainer for me. After our training sessions, I asked David to share his journey to healthy aging and gained a lot from our interview. I think you will, too.

What was your career path before you became a personal trainer?

David at YMCAI began my career as an elementary school physical education teacher in my hometown. To earn some extra money, I delivered newspapers and that led to a career shift to newspaper production management with the Anderson(South Carolina) Independent-Mail and Athens (Georgia) Banner Herald. While in my forty’s I earned a second degree from the University of Georgia in Environmental Health Science and began serving as the Environmental Health Manager in the county where I stated as an elementary school teacher.

How did you get into personal training?

I’ve always been interested in fitness and began lifting weights at the age of 13 after watching my older brothers play high school football. I realized that if I wanted to get on the football field, I was going to have to get bigger and stronger. I enjoyed strength exercise so much as a youth, that I’ve continued it throughout adulthood. My wife, Jean, and I found space for a makeshift home gym wherever we’ve lived and used it to strength train. A few years ago, we started exercising at the Bell Family YMCA and really enjoyed the classes and the comradery with the members. While contemplating retirement from full time work, I knew I wanted part-time work to stay physically and mentally active.  Personal training was a natural progression and I like being able to make a difference in people’s lives. I got certified through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) )after about six months of preparation. I went on to earn an additional certification as an orthopedic specialist personal trainer to help meet my client’s needs.

David and Jean kettelbell
David & Jean after Kettlebell class

What do you do to stay active and has it changed as you’ve gotten older? 

Strength training with free weights was always my go-to form of exercising. I enjoyed it and thought it was a fun activity as another person might enjoy a sport like golf or pickle ball. But as I’ve gotten older I don’t care about how much I bench press and I put much more emphasis on my core as way of avoiding injury. When I feel myself pushing too hard, I try to think of “living to exercise another day.” What I do care about is strength training for functional fitness, such as playing with my grandchildren or being able to work in the yard.

What motivates you to stay active?

David TRX
David and daughter doing TRX

My family is my motivation to stay active. I enjoy playing and exercising with my 5 grandchildren ages 6 to 13 years. They are starting to get into exercise and I encourage them to find joy in movement. My wife and I really have fun trying to keep up with our two children and their spouses who are avid exercisers. And, I must stay fit for the never-ending amount of yard work at my house and I’m too cheap to pay a landscaper! I want to continue to be a vibrant husband, father, and grandfather so that my family can count on me in the future.

Do you follow any special diet, or do you have any tips for healthy eating that work for you?

I’ve never counted calories and I enjoy junk food as much as anyone, particularly when my grandchildren visit. But, for the most part I eat healthy and enjoy fruits and salads topped with lean protein. I try to make sure I’m eating some complex carbs for sustained energy. My weakness is sweets and I do allow myself some indulgences. If you look in my freezer you will probably find some chocolate I’ve hidden from myself. I’m very fortunate that my wife enjoys eating healthy foods, so we support and motivate each other to stay focused without any browbeating. I also find a direct correlation to eating well and exercise. The healthier I eat, the more energy I have for exercise. The more I exercise, the more I want to eat healthier food. For me, one leads to the other.

If you had to name 3 things you do to age well, what would they be? 

  • I manage my weight by eating healthy and exercising.
  • I complete all wellness exams with my physician, including recommended vaccinations.
  • I read and do research on the many facets of aging and I listen to health professionals.

What are the biggest challenges to aging well?

I find that many of the clients I work with at the YMCA are fighting through aches or pains, such as arthritis or bursitis, or old injuries that continue to linger. These folks may have gone through a hip or knee replacement or are putting off a needed surgery. Aches and pains can stall or halt any progress an individual has made in their exercise program. I can relate to that as I’ve recently begun to experience arthritis hip pain. Finding ways to work around the pain is a challenge. Most of my clients are my age or older and I am always researching ways to keep these clients moving through or around the difficulties with various exercise modifications. As a Certified Personal Trainer, I’m required to complete continuing education to maintain my certification and I seek out educational opportunities on these types of problems.

Do you have any words of wisdom for others?

That’s a challenging question for me in that I don’t consider myself smart enough to dispense words of wisdom! However, I do a lot of reading and research and I know there is a lot of free information on the internet about exercise, diet, and nutrition. Some of it is good and some not, so I encourage my clients to research the qualifications of the people who are giving free advice. Make sure your information and advice is coming from a qualified health professional.

What do you see in people you train in terms of what they do well and what you wish they would do more?

While all my clients have worked hard at their employment over the years, many haven’t exercised since they were young and are now recognizing the need because they are experiencing problems with basic movements, such as getting up and down from the floor or from the couch. I’m continually impressed with their dedication and willingness to work through the aches and pains and honored to be working with them. Many of my clients told me they regret not having started a regular exercise program earlier. I recommend that just like saving money for retirement, start an exercise program now and stay consistent.

Many of my clients are concerned about their weight. I encourage them to feed their exercise program with proper nutrition.  ChooseMyPlate.gov s a wonderful website full of good information on proper nutrition.

*Recently, the YMCA obtained new “used” equipment and the machines are much nicer and easier to use ! David helped me learn how to use all of the new machines.