That off-handed comment struck Randy between the eyes. He looked in the mirror, and Randy realized that his friend was right. He looked like a sausage. Randy finally acknowledged to himself that his weight had accumulated far more than he ever imagined. He looked back, and he realized that he wasn’t very active, and his eating habits were not very good. So, that day, he decided, “I am going to change.”
He started by eliminating a lot of the bad habits in his life. He stopped drinking two or three Cokes a day. He stopped eating a half a loaf of bread every morning for breakfast. He stopped eating fast foods. He started replacing bad foods with better foods. For instance, Randy replaced potatoes and pasta with cauliflower. Then he started to exercise more. First, very slowly because of the weight and the pain in his back and knees. As he lost the weight, he exercised more, and he moved more. The more he moved and exercised the better he felt. The better he felt, the more he moved and exercised. The excess weight continued to drop each month.
Within six months, he lost 60 pounds, he had more energy, felt better, and his blood work improved dramatically. He was even able to reduce or eliminate his medications. Then like all of us experience, life happened, and he hurt his knee. His mobility was limited, and he had to do rehab. During that period, he regained about 15 pounds of what he had lost. However, as soon as he recovered from the knee injury, he went back to his workout routine and started a new job that he loved and required lots of physical activity. It was not long before Randy had lost 25 pounds.
What’s interesting about Randy’s story is not only did he transform his life, he inspired his wife to improve her fitness and nutrition, as well. A bonus was that he also inspired one of his coworkers to lose 50 pounds.
Randy is an excellent example of how people even in their 60s and 70s can change their lives by changing what they do, what they eat, how they move. Making lifestyle changes rewards them with the ability to do a lot more things in their life that they enjoy doing and to do it for a lot longer.
You mentioned that strength training and cardio are not enough. Why is that?
Phil: I think it starts with the goal. As Stephen Covey said, “You need to keep your eyes on the prize.” I believe in the case here; the prize is to maximize functionality, which is the ability to perform the tasks we do in our everyday life and to prevent disease.
So instead of training and working out to get some six pack abs, people want to train to win the game of life. They are talking about, “How am I going to live functionally and do the things I love doing for the next 20, 30 years?”
Functional fitness varies from person to person based on what their tasks of everyday living. Someone whom gardens require a different functional fitness than someone who plays tennis.
Being strong and having good cardio fitness are good things to have, but they are not enough for most people. As we get older, balance becomes more critical because of the risk of falling. A person who is strong and can bench press a lot or squat a lot but lack the flexibility and balance to avoid a fall. You also can have a people that run all day long and have excellent cardio fitness but do not have the physical strength to pick up a grandchild without hurting themselves.
Our approach to fitness after 50 should mirror the functional demands of our daily life. Moreover, because our lives are very multidimensional, so should our approach to fitness. This means we must include things like flexibility, balance, mobility, posture, proprioception, strength, and endurance just to name a few.
An excellent example of someone training for her “game of life” is Jill Skidmore. Jill is a 70-year-old grandmother, and one of her great joys in life is being able to participate and play with her four grandsons. They range in age from five to eleven, and they all play sports. Jill is not content to just sit on the sidelines and cheer her grandsons on. She wants to get out there and play with them. When they play baseball or soccer in the backyard, Jill wants to play alongside them. So, when Jill works out, she trains like an athlete. Her workouts include agility ladders, upper body strength, and lower body strength. She also works on her core and balance so that when she is getting checked by her grandsons, they are not knocking her over.
Functional fitness to Jill means being able to keep up with her grandsons. That is important to her, so she trains like a 70-year-old athlete who plays with 11-year-old kids in the backyard. That is functional fitness for her. Functional fitness can mean something totally different for someone else.
What are some misconceptions people over 50 have about fitness?
Phil: One misconception is that fitness over 50 is limited to physical fitness. Fitness over 50 is more than just being physically fit. What I mean by that is we need to recognize that there’s a mind, body, and spirit connection. How we feel physically influences how we feel emotionally, and how we perform mentally. On the other hand, our mental fitness and our emotional fitness strongly affect our ability to execute physically.
Just to give you some examples, most people either know or experienced a situation where a missed putt on one hole totally sabotages the entire round of golf. Alternatively, being mentally drained and then trying to perform complex and demanding mental activities for work.
Another example is how good you feel after a great workout where the endorphins have been pumped into your body, and you feel energized. That is one reason why exercise and nutrition have been proven to be as effective in treating depression as most medications.