Getting Fit At 50…And Beyond

Been feeling a little “bleh” since the holidays?  Mid-winter blues can take the wind out of anyone’s sails.  Age is a big one, but not one of the more obvious ones.  Once we get into our 30s, our respective hormones are starting to fade.  If we’ve neglected exercise for a long time, age comes up as a secondary reason to not engage; “I’m too old for this.”

When we don’t keep up the maintenance, the fenders start to sag a little.  Into our 40s, the spare tire really starts to show.  The battery doesn’t seem to want to stay charged, and the gas tank empties quicker than it used to.  If it’s been a while since you’ve been active, whether it’s the winter blahs, busyness, or getting older, read on.

Even if you’re under the half-century mark, everyone can benefit from this advice.  My main point with targeting the 50 and older crowd is that it’s easier than you think.  Most of what I’ll describe here benefits overall physical health, and can be applied to everyone.  As with any fitness advice, take it, try it, and tailor it to your specific needs and body type.  Nothing is set in stone.  And, whether you’re 25 or 55, if you apply it and stick to it, you’ll see positive results sooner than you think.

I’ve written a longer article on the topic of fitness after 50, but it’s more tailored to men getting bigger and stronger.  It’s published on LinkedIn and you can find it on my website.  If that’s more your speed, check it out.  With this post, I’ll share some personal experience, cover a couple of main ideas behind getting fit at any age – especially the 50+ category – and hopefully leave you feeling inspired to go out and get pumped.

Can It Be Done?

About 15 years ago, I found this little hole-in-the-wall gym a few miles from where I worked.  It was around in back of an old bowling alley.  The gym and its owner are long gone, but the memories of working out there, even just a few times that I did, will stay with me forever.

The owner was a little 70-something year old guy.  He looked the part, shuffling around the gym, slightly bent over.  He wore a varsity-style windbreaker and a Harley Davidson hat.  He might’ve reminded you of Burgess Meredith’s Mickey in “Rocky”.

He was always sharing advice, ad hoc training tips, especially if you were squatting or deadlifting.  But unlike his famous boxing coach doppelganger, he was a former competitive power lifter, and…well, man!  He still had it.  I watched this guy squat 500 pounds, deep, for 10 reps.  This little 70 year old man!  My jaw hit the floor.  I still haven’t hit a 500-pound squat, even for a 1 rep max!

And he did it…to teach me a lesson.  The lesson was, go deep.  He did not believe in stopping the squat at or above horizontal (when your thighs are horizontal to the floor).  His point was, you won’t hurt your knees by going deep on squats, if your form is correct.  It gets the most strength and muscle development out of the exercise.  And he’s right.  I’ve done it myself, and it works.

“You’re a tank!”

This guy was still training competitive lifters, too.  He had guys in there that were in their 40s and 50s, some who’d never lifted much at all before.  Rank beginners, and he had them deadlifting 400 pounds within a few months.

So yes, it can most certainly be done.

What’s The Secret?

I’m probably not going to tell you anything you haven’t heard before.  What I can offer that’s different is this: I’m not selling any products or programs.  I’m just a guy in my early 50s who’s done these things, and they work.  Period.  I’ve seen the results first-hand.

There are gimmicky programs out there that tell you that because you’re over a certain age, you shouldn’t be in the gym trying to build muscle. While it’s fine to shoot for a lean, trim physique, it’s a complete falsehood that someone over a certain age can’t hit the gym to gain size and strength. If that’s your goal, go for it!

So, where do you start?  What’s the number one key to gaining a fit and stronger physique, even after 50?

Diet!  Of course.  It’s the old tried and true – garbage in, garbage out.  The first thing that comes to my mind is: Do not drink soda, or too many carbonated drinks of any kind.  The carbonation is not good for you.  Cut out sugar as much as possible.  Avoid other junky foods and additives.  Common sense stuff, just start with a general clean-up.  When all else fails, drink a glass of water.

  • As far as a particular menu plan, a keto or other low carb plan works best.  Fruits and vegetables, a good amount of protein, and fats.  Don’t shy away from avocados, butter or coconut oil for cooking.  Keep your carbs at 10 grams or less per day.  Carbs take time to break down for energy use, so they get stored and used a little at a time.  Fat is burned immediately by the body for energy.  By keeping the carbs low with a “healthy” fat content, your body will burn the carbs and then dive into its own fat stores for energy.
  • There is confusion about how healthy or not a low carb diet is.  You may have heard that the keto diet isn’t safe to sustain long-term.  With proper management and food choices, it can be safe and healthy for the long haul.  If you’re unsure, try it for a few months, then switch back to a normal carb-loaded diet for a while.  For more details on low carb diets, check this out.
  • I tried the keto diet at the turn of the new year a few years ago, and coupled it with intermittent fasting.  In three to four weeks, I’d dropped 10 pounds and gained lean size and strength.  I kept it going for 3 months.  My energy level was better than ever, and I was sleeping great at night.  It works.

Exercise:  This one is pretty flexible, because it depends on your desired results.  If you want to get lean with some increased muscle tone and strength, you’ll want to incorporate more cardio or HIIT training, with a moderate, higher-rep resistance training plan.  If you want to get big and strong, hit the weights.  Hard and heavy.

  • Try to do your cardio and anaerobic activity in the morning.  Your strength training is better suited to afternoon to evening hours.  Again, there are no hard and fast rules, but research shows these are the optimal times for the respective activities.  You can pair your cardio/HIIT with your strength training, if you don’t want to do two workouts in a day.  Or split up the days, one for cardio and one for lifting.

Sleep:  The last (but not least) piece of the fitness triad.  How much good, quality sleep are you getting a night?  Everyone’s different and have differing sleep behaviors.  But, there are well-established studies and guidelines relating a healthy amount of sleep to good overall health.  This is not a new topic, or new advice.  In general, if you’re an adult, you need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night.

  • I have always been a light, fitful sleeper, so it’s taken some work for me to get at least 7 hours of sleep during the week, when I have to get up for work.  I try to hold close to the same schedule over the weekend, allowing myself up to an extra hour on Saturday and Sunday.  It’s tempting to stay up late on a Friday or Saturday, and sleep in the next day.  But significant changes to your sleep schedule will have negative effects on your sleep quality and health.
  • Your body does the majority of recovery while sleeping.  If you want to get in – and stay in – great shape and stay there, don’t skimp on sleep.

The Big 3 Are Common For A Reason

The “Big 3” – Diet, Exercise and Sleep – are so commonly repeated because they are the core elements for getting healthy and fit.  At any age.  Someone in their 50s isn’t going to be able to go out, at least not right away, and keep up with a 20-something in the gym, or on the treadmill.

But proper diet, sleep and exercise can get ANYONE fit, no matter how old.  The key is consistency.  There’s yo-yo dieting; don’t yo-yo on your exercise, or sleep.  Keep it up.  You’ll always have an off day or two, just don’t let them become slumps for days or weeks.  Get right back in the swing of things and stay on target.

Unclogging Those Stubborn Drains: Stop Procrastinating and Just Do It

I was going to write about something else completely last week, but then I got to thinking: I ended my last post about freeing up time to get other stuff done, like unclogging a slow bathroom sink.  As it turned out, I had three of them to deal with, and finally got to them…a week later, just before I started writing this.  And then I thought, “unclogging stubborn bathroom drains” can be a metaphor in itself for procrastination.

“Daaad!  We’ve got a problem!”

Do It Right, The First Time

A slow or clogged drain comes on slowly, over time.  At first, it’s barely noticeable.  Then it gets a little annoying.  But we put up with it, because it’s a pain to clear out a backed-up drain.  We’d rather stand back and wait a minute (or two, or three…) for the water to finally go down than mess with actually cleaning it out.  When I finally got around to doing the job, I got all three sinks cleared and back together in less than forty-five minutes.  I don’t just dump Drano®, or baking soda and vinegar down the drain, either.  The trap comes off, the stopper gets pulled out so I’ve got a straight shot down into a catch bowl below, and I push a wadded paper towel through a couple of times.  If you’ve ever done this – or just go Google “clogged bathroom sink” and check out some images – you know the hairy, gunky, nightmarish mess that comes out the other end.  I want it done right and I’m not waiting on a chemical reaction.  It’s messy, but it’s fast and gets the job done right.

(If you want to uber-clean your drains, as in a total teardown preventative maintenance that leaves them like new, check out these guys.  They’ve taken it to a whole new level.)

So, procrastination…about that.  A funny thing that this post has taken me forever to write.  I’ve been sputtering, stopping and starting for days now.  My goal is to write a post a week.  I did good with the first two, and now…well, I got stuck.  I didn’t want to procrastinate on it, but I just couldn’t get my mind back on topic.

Isn’t it ironic?”

Mmm, yeah.  The irony. Distractions – minor ones like watching a funny video to major ones like chaos in the house – are major sources of delay.  They can throw off the flow, and it can be surprisingly hard to get back on track.  By that time, we’ve got more on our plate to deal with, so decisions need to be made.  What to do…what’s more urgent?  Or easier?  Procrastination is as old a problem as humankind.  There are even verses in the Bible about procrastination: “Whoever watches the wind will not plant, and whoever watches the clouds will not reap”, Ecclesiastes 11:4; or, “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth”, Proverbs 10:4.  One of my favorites – certainly a more proactive one – that I’ve called on plenty of times to get me through, is Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

How Do I Delay Thee?  Let Me Count The Ways

Why do we procrastinate?  Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always laziness.  There can be a host of other reasons.  It can be anxiety, self-doubt, or perfectionism.  We might be control freaks.  A perfectionist wants the results of the work to be error free, so they delay the inevitable imperfect outcome.  Like that, a controller purposely delays a task so that it can’t go wrong, or out of their control.  Maybe we get overwhelmed at the size of a project.  The bottom line is, most of us care about the work we need to do, and when we procrastinate, we tend to regret it.  When we finally end up doing it, we feel better for it afterward.  In fact, I usually end up wondering, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”  Like with the slow bathroom drains.  I could’ve done them earlier last week.  Granted, it’s a messy, stinky job, but it’s fast and easy.  We generally have the desire to get something done, but there’s that mental roadblock standing in our way.  On the contrary, by definition, laziness is the unwillingness to do work or expend energy.  Lazy people couldn’t care less if something gets done.

Another big reason we procrastinate is disorganization.  We have so much going on around us, and the freedom to choose between so many things, we often lack the self-control to choose the thing that needs done.  So we choose a distraction instead.  Being disorganized plays right into this.  If we’re not good time managers, any and every little shiny bauble will distract us from the task at hand.  Some rely on the old “I work better under pressure” fallacy.  Been there, done that.  Ultimately we find out that less time to meet the deadline often ends up in the project providing substandard results, or it doesn’t even get finished.

Dream It?  Do It

Are you a dreamer?  I hear you.  We’re always coming up with new and fanciful ways to live life, to do the “next big thing”.  The trap of being a dreamer is, all of these wonderful scenarios play out just perfectly…in our heads.  When it comes to putting an idea into action, we get vapor locked.  That great idea that’s been bubbling in our brain can’t seem to get to get from point A to point B, our hands.  As one who’s lived through this, I can say that the biggest culprit is fear.  What if our grand idea doesn’t turn out as good in reality?  How do I even begin to make it a reality?

With writing, procrastination can come on very easy.  Two words: writer’s block.  But what is writer’s block except just a mental roadblock like what I’ve shown above?  That’s a whole other topic for a different post.  Writing is like any other task, except those of us who write love to do it, so it’s not generally seen as a chore that we might put off until later.  But it can be just as subject to stress, distraction, depression, perfectionism – some of the same causes that lead us to procrastinate on our work or household chores.

Just as there’s a host of reasons why we procrastinate, there are plenty of good ways to get over that bump in the road and get moving.  Nike made millions starting in the late 80s with three little words: Just Do It.  Simple, but effective.  I used this phrase endlessly with my kids as they grew up.  I used it myself countless times.  Just get up and get moving!  Take a step, even a little one.  If the task in front of you seems too big to take just a little step, break it down.

This is where schedules, to do lists and even diagrams can help.  I went out and bought myself an easel and a big paper pad to make notes on.  I’ve used it to list sources for an article – now turned book – that I started over the holidays.  I also plan to use it for article and blog post outlines, and even make flow chart or similar diagrams to help break a bigger project into more manageable pieces.  If you’re a visual learner like me, having it written or drawn out does wonders for being able to see it, grasp it, and do it.  Schedules and to do lists are great time management helpers, and time management is at the core of a lot of procrastination.  We don’t understand or we lose track not just of time, but the value of time.  Time marches forever onward, and we don’t get one second back.  When you let the urgency of that sink in, it’ll help motivate you to get up and get done today what you could’ve put off until tomorrow.