Phil Faris is a best-selling author and radio host of Never Too Late for Fitness Radio. He has been doing his show for over a year and has interviewed local, national, international health and fitness experts. He has also heard from countless listeners and followers about what is essential about their health and fitness. He shares his insights, lessons learned, misconceptions and his message for people over 50 who want to get fit, to stay fit, and live a longer, healthier and happier life.
Based on what you have learned over the past year, what does fitness mean to people over 50?
Phil: Overwhelming, it is all about quality of life. People over 50 want to continue to enjoy their lives without pain, discomfort, or physical limitations. When they talk about fitness, it is different than it was when they were in their 20s and 30s. Most people over 50 don’t talk about six pack abs, benching 300 pounds, or wearing a bikini, though some do achieve those goals. People over 50 talk about fitness regarding health and longevity, quality time with the family, enjoying their hobbies and travel, having the energy and ability to enjoy their grandchildren, being active, energized and relevant in their community.
The bottom line is, people over 50 want to enjoy life because of their functional fitness, not endure life because of their lack of functional fitness.
You mentioned that the goals and expectations have changed since their 20s and 30s. What caused this change?
Phil: Maturity, life experience and appreciation of our mortality. By 50, most people have had a family member, friend, classmate, or acquaintance who died prematurely. When someone we know dies at such a young age, we become aware of how fleeting life can be. At moments like that, we become aware that although we probably will live another 30 years, those years are not guaranteed.
Also, at 50, most people are seeing and feeling the results of the aging process. Weight gain, thickening in the waist, hormonal changes, loss of energy, loss of stamina and strength. They become aware that their body is beginning to wear down, even if they kept themselves fit. If they did not take good care of their bodies, their bodies are quickly starting to betray them.
At 65, most people can expect to live another 20 years. However, for many, the quality of those years is still in doubt. At 65 most people are becoming acutely aware of their own personal age trajectory.
What do you mean by age trajectory?
Phil: Age trajectory is a good news, bad news kind of thing for people over 50. Before I go on, here is a spoiler alert. The bad news is we all die eventually. And everyone who dies of old age ends up dependent and in a wheelchair. The good news for many is that how long you spend in that wheelchair is determined by your age trajectory. For some, it will be 20 or 30 years. For others, it will only be a matter of days. Being fit enables you to have a long and slow trajectory into that wheelchair and your time in it will be minimal. When you lose your fitness, the descent is rapid, and the time spent in the wheelchair can be 5, 10, 20 years or more!
For most people over 50, the objective of the game of life is to maintain a fitness level that keeps you independent and out of the wheelchair. This is called functional fitness and functional longevity. As we age, our functional fitness falls into five general categories. At the very top of the list is elite fitness. These are people in their 50s, 60s, 70, 80s who are still doing marathons. They are still doing bodybuilding contests. They are still competing at a very high level for their age group. Unless they experience injuries or illness, their age trajectory is long and relatively flat. The next level is people who are fit. These are people that are still actively engaged in regular physical activities. They are playing tennis, golf, baseball, cycling, kickboxing, gardening or whatever they enjoy doing. They are participating in physical activities without significant limitations. The next group of people is independent. They can walk, move and take care of themselves. They can handle some low physical demands and participate in most, if not all social activities. The next group is frail. These are people who have some physical limitations. They can do basic chores of independent living, but they are limited regarding the amount of physical activity they can do, and the length of time that they can do them. The final group is dependent. These are people that need help with some or all the basic activities of daily living. They cannot live on their own without help.
How quickly a person moves from either an elite athlete or fit person down to dependent is their age trajectory. After 50, people need to understand that all behaviors either move them closer to being dependent and in that wheelchair or they prolong the time they are functionally fit and able to enjoy being active and independent.
Is our age trajectory set in stone?
Phil: That is the great news about age trajectory. If you do not like your age trajectory, you can change it! Making simple lifestyle changes not only can add years to your life, but it can also add quality of life to those years.
I have a great example of a man who dramatically changed his age trajectory in just a matter of months. Randy was 65 and at the end of his tenure as an educator. Over the last several years he had let his health and fitness slip. Although he talked about losing weight and changing his lifestyle with his wife and doctor, he never did anything about it. Then one day, he put on one of his favorite new shirts and went to school, and as he walked in the door, one of his friends just casually said, “You know Randy, you kind of look like a sausage in that thing.”