Friday, February 3, 2012

Outrunning Father Time and the Grim Reaper for Those 50+

Photo by Rita T 
When I hit my late 40s, I became crushingly tired. I asked my doctor to run a series of tests in an effort to find the cause: Anemia? Thyroid problems? Diabetes? The labs came back with no evidence of a disease or disorder. I ended up talking to a number of middle aged women and doing a little reading. I concluded that the aging process was zapping my energy levels, and this was only going to affect me more each year. I now understand from first-hand experience that older adults need to expand their fitness regime to include the following:

· Cardiovascular /Aerobic Exercise (walking, elliptical, swimming)
· Strength Training / Weight Lifting (weight machines, free weights, hand weights)
· Flexibility /Stretching (yoga, pilates, calisthenics)

I had practiced yoga regularly in my early 40s, which helped me with flexibility and with stress management. However, it did not increase my muscle mass the way strength training does. By lifting weights, I increased the amount of muscle I have, which improved my metabolism. Cardiovascular exercise not only addresses heart health. It helps with cognition, balance, digestion, and more. Even with adding strength training and cardio to the flexibility workouts did nothing for "the middle aged spread." My weight that was not coming off even with upping my cardio to two hours a day, five days a week.

I love to eat, so I thought I could just burn it off at the gym. Not true. I finally caved and also reduced the amount of carbohydrates I consumed, especially refined carbohydrates and starchy foods such as cookies, cakes, pasta, crackers, white bread, rice, corn, potatoes, etc. I switched them out for larger servings of green and orange vegetables and more servings of beans and legumes. Ten days after I made these eating changes, I lost 6% of my body weight--primarily off my waist. These changes also helped me have more energy throughout the day.

[Note: Some people who experience fatigue do have a medical problem, so please talk with your doctor about running tests as a way to exclude a serious cause for your fatigue. Here are some causes to consider with the support/expertise of your physician.]

Once I diversified my fitness and diet regime, I no longer feared that I would fall asleep if I sat down in the afternoon. Yes, I spent more time at the gym—4 to 7 hours a week--but I regained that time by improved energy throughout the day. As I have often explained to my peers, I gain my motivation not by pursuing a hot body as I did during my single years: Now I am running away from Father Time and the Grim Reaper. I felt these two shadowing figures nipping at my heels when I started experiencing weight gain and crushing fatigue in my late 40s. Fear is a great motivator.

I realize that talking about diet and exercise does open a real Pandora’s box. The aging body has strengths and weaknesses unique to each person. I grow very impatient with people who try to persuade me to adopt in toto their very specific choices for eating and exercise. Each person should develop a diet and an exercise program unique to his or her needs. But even people living in skilled nursing centers can benefit from a fitness routine, tailored to their needs. Are your parents and other people a generation above you maintaining a fitness routine? See what you can do to gently offer support in this area.

Over time, I will share research-based information about diet and exercise as they relate to the aging body. In the meantime, if you have an observation on the topic, please leave a comment.

Older Adults Who Are Athletes
Embracing My Age
Aging Involves Increased Time on Self Care
The Senior Discount: A Matter of Fashion

1 comment:

  1. Karen thank you for this great post. As a personal trainer working primarily with women 50+ I can attest to the fact that each person’s body is different and there is no “one size fits all” diet and exercise program for the aging body. I have a client who has worked with me for 18 months, getting stronger, losing inches, eating healthy, reducing back and hip pain but the scale was not budging for her. She was getting into clothes she hadn’t worn for 2 or 3 years and we agreed that the scale is only one barometer of fitness progress. But her lack of actual weight loss still bothered both of us. We tried different workout and diet strategies but nothing worked. I finally recommended she talk to a gynecologist who specializes in menopausal and post menopausal women. Some nutrition suggestions from the doctor helped my client start to lose actual weight. Maintaining a healthy body, as well as a healthy outlook, is a marathon, not a sprint as our formerly predictable and “hot” bodies succumb to Father Time!