Food & Fitness After 50: Embrace Life’s Challenges

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Karen from Boise“I’m not going to get younger, so my goal is to maintain or improve what I have,” said Karen when asked about her food-and-fitness goals for the future.  At age 71, Karen leads an active lifestyle, although one that is far less active than when she was younger and trained to compete in a couple half-marathons every month.  In those days, Karen would run 6 miles before work, usually by herself so that she wasn’t beholden to someone else’s schedule.

Karen from Boise 1Karen has spent her life in Boise, Idaho and has always enjoyed being active outdoors.  After she remarried at age 50, Karen reduced her running and took up tennis, only to injure her knee and ankle.  Two back surgeries followed a few years later (one to remove a benign tumor, the other to stabilize some vertebrae), putting an end to Karen’s running and skiing, but not her desire to keep moving.  Injuries and surgeries often become excuses for inactivity, but Karen saw those setbacks as just unforeseen detours to work around.  Karen now enjoys 3-mile walks almost every day, along with 18 holes of golf with her husband twice each week when the weather allows.  They walk the golf course; no golf carts for these two.  Also twice each week, Karen tries to get to the university fitness center for strength training and time on a stationary bicycle.

“I’m happy with my overall strength,” Karen reported, “because I am still able to gradually lift more weight on the machines at the fitness center.  But I can tell that my hand strength has fallen off and I’m going to work on that.  My doctor told me that I have osteopenia in my wrists (low bone-mineral density), so that’s another reason why I have to strengthen my wrists and forearms.”Karen from Boise 2

Karen said that her diet has improved over the years as she’s learned more about nutrition.  Her meals usually include fresh vegetables, fish, and chicken, and she has yogurt and milk almost every day.  Karen limits foods that are high in fat and sugar because they make her feel uncomfortable, as though she’s eaten too much.  “Over the years, I’ve become much more aware of what I eat and how it makes me feel, and that has really helped me find a diet that suits me best.  Whenever I stray from what I’ve become accustomed to, I can definitely feel it.”

When asked what advice she would give to others who want to improve their approaches to food and fitness, Karen said, “There’s something out there for everyone, so find activities you enjoy to keep you moving.  It’s amazing the improvements that can occur with just one or two simple changes in what we eat and how often we move.  Those improvements can happen quickly and that’s a great incentive to keep going.  We shouldn’t be afraid to challenge ourselves because the longer we wait, the harder it is to develop new habits.”

Although Karen realizes that there are always little ways to improve her diet and physical activity, she has developed a lifestyle that reflects the health and longevity benefits of eating and moving well.  “I just want to be as healthy and happy as I can for as long as I can.  And if I continue to do things right, I won’t have to always rely on doctors to achieve that goal.”

For more inspiring stories of eating well, moving well, and being well, follow our blog Fit to Eat.

Healthy Aging

Healthy aging isn’t an oxymoron. You can be healthier and more fit at 60 than you were at 40 if you exercise–both aerobic exercise (brisk walking, jogging cycling, etc) and weight training or resistance exercise. While most of us know that aerobic exercise is important for good health, as we age strengthening our muscles may be even more important for good health. It is especially important for functional health–that is, being able to perform the everyday activities that we did when we were young without even thinking about them. Things like lifting and carrying a 50-pound bag of dog food or reaching the top shelf in the kitchen cabinet or maintaining our balance without worrying about falling. We lose muscle mass as we age, something researchers call sarcopenia, but it can be prevented with strength training and diet.

You don’t have to go to a gym to strength train, although that is a good option. Using resistance bands or hand weights can have the same effect as fancy gym equipment–the key is to do it two or three times a week and eat a diet with good quality protein to promote muscle strength. The two go hand-in-hand. I always tell athletes that you can’t push protein into muscle to make it bigger–you have to pull it in with strength training.

What is a good diet for muscle? Research suggests getting high quality protein three times a day. Aim for 20 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Spreading the protein throughout the day is better than eating it all at one meal. What is high quality protein? Protein from meat, fish, dairy foods, eggs, or soy is all high quality. Twenty grams of protein is found in a little over 2 cups of milk or yogurt, and 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry and 3 eggs. Nuts are also a good source of protein and make for a good protein-rich snack.

I recently retired after 30 years of teaching and one of my colleagues said we spend the first 30 years of life getting our education, the second 30 years making a living, and if we are lucky the next 30 years enjoying life and doing what we love. Here’s to the next 30 years–now I’ll have time to get fitter and pick up those weights.