What happens to our bodies as we age is no fun to think about. Depending on your lifestyle, things can really start falling apart physically after only 30 or 35 years on this planet. Next thing you know you’re staring down the barrel of the big Five “Oh No.”
I always knew I wanted to look good and feel strong as I aged. At 25, I wanted to be in peak physique between 30 and 35. At 35, my goal was to be even better at 40. Well, you may be able to guess what my goal is now.
So I decided to consult some “experts” and people over 50 who I admire. I asked them if it was, a) possible to get into the best shape of one’s life after 50, and, b) should people even try? Here comes some sage advice. You may want to take notes.
First I checked in with the iconic Tony Horton, of P90X and 10-Minute Trainer fame who, as of this summer, is now 56.
Tony says it is very possible to get into the best shape of your life if you’re over fifty and spent most of those years being inactive and out of shape. But, if you were an Olympic track athlete back in the day, the answer is “No way.” He says, maybe a better goal is to be in great shape, healthy, and very active after fifty. That’s totally doable!
This issue Horton says is, “sustaining the motivation and discipline” to stick to your plan. He says you need to have three things in place. First you need a purpose. If you want a better life, physical movement is the “on switch.” Secondly he says you need to plan all your workouts in advance — what you’re going to do and what time you’re going to do it. It’s like making an “appointment with a healthy choice” that can change your life for the better. And third, you need people to be accountable to. “Being in great shape after 50 is easy when friends and family who want the same things, help to hold you accountable.”
Next I spoke to my friend Dr. Jill Broffman, who I can count on seeing at the gym like clockwork almost every morning. Dr. Broffman has the body most 30-year old women aspire to and she’s 52 “and a half!” She says the advice she gives her patients and that she herself adheres to are, making fitness a non-negotiable priority. “Like eating, breathing and sleeping.” Secondly, she says it’s important to workout smarter as we get older. Cross training and stretching to avoid overuse injuries are key. We’ve learned a lot since the days of high impact aerobics. Dr. Broffman says overworking the same muscles all the time is a prescription for injuries and, “we don’t heal like we did when we were in our 20’s.” Finally she says we just need adopt an overall healthier lifestyle. That entails the obvious, but all too neglected habits of, eating better quality foods, sleeping more, breathing deeply and finding happiness to live a more balanced life.
My third guru for aging while still being phenomenally fit is Dr. Pam Peeke, a physician, scientist and bestselling author of numerous books on nutrition, stress, fitness and public health. At 62 and by what she attributes to, “the grace of God and good genes,” Dr. Peeke just qualified for the triathlon event in the next Senior Olympics (she placed second in her age group).
As we discussed the possibility of people trying to achieve their best levels of fitness after fifty, Dr. Peeke didn’t mince words. She says the “mass majority of people are in terrible shape” so you have to look at where you’re starting. The good news she offers is if someone has been in rotten shape all their life, it won’t be that hard to get in relatively great shape by comparison, after all it’s only up from there. The opposite is also true. If you’ve been in great shape most of your life, you need to keep your expectations in check and be realistic. “Your best effort at 55 isn’t going to be what your best effort was at 20.” We need more recovery time after hard workouts and more sleep. Her advice to people over fifty going for new fitness goals is to, “be realistic, patient and consistent” and as you train, you may want to chant, “I’m am no longer 20!” Just accept that it will take longer to make muscle and to lose body fat. The upside is, if you have already built a strong foundation over the years, it’s not that hard to get it back.
Whether getting back to, or starting from scratch, she says to focus on “optimizing the key components of fitness: endurance, strength, balance and flexibility.” Finally, Dr. Peeke says most peoples’ health goals after fifty are to be both “physically and mentally independent” rather than fit into a certain jean size. Who doesn’t want to feel great during their golden years so they can enjoy their leisure time with grandchildren, travel with ease of movement, or perform optimally in their careers? The trick is to attach “meaning” to your fitness goals and do the work, step by step.
If you haven’t thrown on your gym clothes and ran out the door for a workout by now, you need a little more motivation. A recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that the higher your muscle mass index is, the more likely it is you’ll live longer! The findings suggest that muscle mass relative to one’s height is an independent prognostic marker for survival in older adults. So if you’re looking for the fountain of youth, get out there and make some muscle!