You can stay fit over 50, and you should - and here's why. Because you are older, wiser, and probably have the means to do and see things you couldn't when you were 25 years old. But you have to be smart about how you do it to get the maximum benefits. You can do it, and have fun doing it too. How do I know? Because I have done it. I am in my mid 50's and look and feel like I am in my mid 30's. I am not genetically gifted. I know how to stay fit over 50 and I want to tell you how I do it.
Ok - here is the big secret. One that I am sure you have never heard before. Ready?
Diet and Exercise.
Oh man, are you kidding? The same thing I hear all the time. Cut out the foods I love, and go to the gym and walk on the treadmill. Yeah, yeah. I have heard it all before. I have tried it all before, and guess what? I am still out of shape, hate diets, and hate going to the gym. So why even bother reading the rest of this article. I will tell you why.
You have the wrong definitions of Diet and Exercise. You don't know the meaning of the words. All you know is what TV, and magazines, and advertising tell you. But think about it for a minute. What if advertising and media told you exactly how to stay fit over 50 and you were successful? What if it really worked, and you did't feel deprived, and you felt wonderful, and looked young, and were able to do all the cool fun things you want? I will tell you what would happen. You would stop buying fitness magazines, and stop buying infomercial fitness equipment, and diet plans, and protein drinks, and diet pills, and worthless gadgets, and snack bars, and all the rest. It would be a financial disaster. Except for you, who would no longer waste money on these things, and would begin to chuckle at people who did. So that is why the definitions you know for Diet and Exercise are wrong.
Lets think about the fact that you even have learned a specific definition for each of these words. Is it because you have been brainwashed for so long about what to eat, and what to do, and how to feel, and the things to have, and how to be successful? Maybe. Maybe you have forgotten how to take care of yourself and have fun. I am serious. Lets think about Diet and Fitness the way you did when you didn't think about diet and fitness.
I was 12. Here are some of the things I loved to do. Ride my bike to my friend Jeff's house. Then we would ride to a nearby hill, walk the bikes up the hill, and ride down as fast as we could. Most definitely did not think about the possibility of oncoming cars. Swimming. Loved to go to the beach. Swim to the dock and jump off repetitively. Camping. Set up camp. Gather some wood. Make a camp fire. Walk down to the river and fish for an hour. Catch some fish, clean them, cook them. Sled during the winter. We had a long hill in the back yard. Climb up, sled down. Make a jump out of packed snow. Wipe out several times. Got hungry. Grabbed a chicken leg my mom had cooked. Took an apple too. Fake fighting. All the time with my brother. Slow motion kicks and punches, falling over furniture, laughing and making groaning noises. School dances. Awkward. I couldn't dance. Did anyhow. Who cares. Chores. Ugh. Mowing the lawn. Shoveling snow. Raking leaves. I had fun anyhow. Run with the mower to catch the grasshoppers. Make tunnels and forts in the snow. Jump into giant piles of leaves. Favorite foods - blueberries, barbeque chicken, watermelon, apples in the fall, tiny tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer. Candy - sure - a little. Overall fitness level - awesome. Amount of time at the gym - none. Protein shakes? Nope. Meal replacement bars? Nope.
That's because you were 12! Duh! Really? Are you sure? Look at it again - is it because I was 12 that I - and almost everyone else was fit? No - it's because we had no intention whatsoever about being fit or having a diet.
So back to being fit over 50. I know you are saying that there is no way you could do any of that stuff anymore. You would be so stiff you would't be able to sit at your desk without being in pain. I also know you are maybe saying that you hate fruit and vegetables. You might even being saying you already go to the gym. So how is that working for you? Honestly. I don't know you and I can tell you how that is working for you. Badly. If your response was as suspected, that you couldn't do all that stuff and that you hate fruit and vegetables - I can pretty much guarantee that if you are over 50, you are not fit. So what to do? Simple - do NOT have a diet, and do not have a specific exercise program. Instead, have a strategy to be fit over 50.
Here is the exact strategy I use to be fit over 50. It is a strategy - not a plan.
1. Eat to Play
2. Work to Play
3. Event Target Training
4. Seek Adversity
5. Tactical Rest
6. Avoid Injury
7. Mortality Motivation
Eat to Play
Please stop thinking you have to be on a treadmill, stair climber, eliptical, or stationary bike. Stop thinking about the weight machines, the aerobics class, or latest fitness craze. All those exist simply because be do not allow ourselves time to play. Stop thinking about low fat, sugar free, gluten free, diet pills, diet drinks. All this is simply unnecessary. Your new goal to be fit over 50 is to find every excuse to play, and to do everything that supports the play so that it is enjoyable and so that you can do it often. This is where the Eat to Play strategy comes in.
I am guessing you would not put the crappiest fuel and oil in your car. You would not buy the lowest rated tires. You would not go to the worst car wash. I am guessing you would not buy the worst tasting wine, or go to the dirtiest restaurant. Because your car wouldn't perform well and wouldn't last, and because you would not enjoy bad tasting wine, or eating in a dirty restaurant for fear of getting sick. That all makes perfect sense.
So if your strategic goal is to be fit over 50, and play is the way to do it, then in order to play you have to make sure the play machine is fueled with high quality fuel, the joints and connections are all tight and well lubricated, and that the computer system is functioning at its maximum. How is that accomplished? Through what you put in your mouth. It is that simple. What you eat and drink directly fuels the machine, keeps connections tight, and lubricates the joints. That is it. It is not about me telling you what to eat and drink. It is not about a meal plan. It is simply thinking about your desire to play, and what it takes for that to be fun. What makes it fun is the ability to play for a while, without being out of breath, or sore for 4 days afterward. Its about feeling your body machine roaring through play like a BMW on a European mountain road. It's all about the fuel. It is so so simple. Put in the right fuel. Keep out the stuff that gunks up the engine.
Work to Play
You are over 50. You made it! I bet there was a time you didn't think you would. There are times you look back at and are surprised you made it at all. But you are here over 50. If you have kids they are probably older and self sufficient. You probably have some free time in the evenings and on weekends if you work. You also probably are a ways along in your career and have a little extra money to play with. So how do you play with it? Go out to eat? Hit a nice bar? Go to an all inclusive resort to relax and relieve the stress of work? How about this as a strategy to stay fit over 50 - do something! Play! What happened to play? Why not take a motorcycle trip to the mountains and go for a couple hikes? How about rent a kayak and paddle across a lake? What about instead of sitting on the beach in Jamaica, you snorkel a local reef and look for barracuda, or hike up a waterfall. Why not bike around whatever vacation spot you are visiting. If you love to play and hate the gym - now is your chance to be fit through play. Don't just swim in the pool. Play in the pool. How about dodge ball with a beachball? Maybe play for you is planting a garden. Maybe it is helping a friend build a deck and then sitting on it in the cool evening talking about when you weren't over 50.
Whatever you do - don't just work for money or retirement. That is a waste. Have play money and play time now. And play. Walk the local botanical gardens. Do a mud run. Learn to shoot a bow and arrow. Try every Groupon that looks fun for a month. Play!
Event Target Training
Set a goal. A physical goal. It doesn't have to be big. Whatever it is - you don't need to "win", and you don't even have to conquer or succeed. Just do!
One of the best ways to drive yourself to be fit over 50 is to commit to a physical challenge event, tell everyone about it, then train specifically for it. Run a 5k. Swim a mile. Go white water rafting. Climb a local mountain. Do a mud run. Carry a 50 lb backpack for 1 mike. Bike 10 miles. Attend a martial arts class for 30 days. Anything. Set a specific goal, at a specific time, and train for it. That might mean you will have to find a group to jog with until your race. You might need to learn how to lift yourself over a wall. You might have to swim 1 lap of the pool week 1, and two laps week 2, and 3 laps week 3 until you can do a mile. You may have to increase arm and back strength to white water raft. Whatever our event is - focus on the event. Never do fitness just for fitness sake. Make yourself more fit because you need to complete some other task. The fitness is just a means to an end - so that you can accomplish your goal. Again - NEVER do fitness for fitness sake. Never make your goal to workout for 2 hours at the gym, or to see your abdominal muscles. Those are ridiculous goals. Pick goals that are things you want to do for play!
When you are setting your goals, do not go for the low hanging fruit. Challenge yourself. But I hate challenging myself - it's hard. Yes - but it is living. Doing nothing challenging is not living, it is barely existing. You are not contributing to yourself or others. When you seek to play - seek adversity. Find things that are probably more difficult than you would like. Why walk a 5k when you can run it? Physical adversity improves the mind and body. Psychologically it stretches you to places you never thought you could go. It does the same physically. Mentally and physically you become more prepared for the next challenge each time you experience a challenge. That is the miracle of the body and mind. You will barely learn or even remember the things that are easy. Difficult things will remain in your mind forever. Do you remember the small trout you caught when fishing? Do you tell stories to your friends? Do you have pictures or video? Nope? How about the Marlin you caught that weighed over 100 lbs that you fought for an hour until you thought your forearms were going to fall off, and sweat was pouring down your face, and you were unsure if you could even reel the thing in? I bet you tell stories about that one. I bet there was heart pounding excitement. I bet there are pictures. Seek adversity when you play!
Rest on purpose. Rest is not being lazy. Lazy is something else. If you want to be fit over 50 you have to plan rest. Your body simply does not repair as fast as it did when you were 20 or 30. That is just the way we are built folks. I am not a fan of the aging process, but nonetheless it is real. After 50 you have more than 50 years of wear and tear on your body - some more than others. You have to take care of yourself like a classic muscle car. You can no longer run it at 100% all the time. You need to let the engine cool down, clean the carburetor, refuel, and lubricate the parts. This all comes from rest. Make sure to get a good 6 hours of restful sleep. It doesn't have to be all the time - but when you do - make sure it is restful. Also - take a couple days off from play or training during the week to recharge body and mind. Relax at home with friends or family. Watch a movie. Laugh. Enjoy a glass of wine on the patio. Go to the beach and do nothing for an afternoon. All of this is important. But only a couple of days a week. During this time all the good fuel you take in does its job and gets you ready for more play.
Unfortunately, after 50 your body gets injured easier. Unless you have kept an exceptional level of physical fitness your entire life, there is a chance that the re-found state of play could lead to a minor injury. Your balance may not be what it used to be. Your tendons may have lost some elasticity. You may have old nagging injuries like a sore lower back from golfing, or a tender achilles tendon from running. So you have to be careful. I make sure I warm up and do some easy stretching before playing. I make some of my play activities increase my flexibility. I keep my muscles strong so they can support joints that have been pounded on for years. I take hot baths when feeling a little sore. I get massage when I can afford it to keep things loose. But more than all that - watch out for your mind!
Once you begin to play again, and give yourself better fuel, and start feeling really good, your brain might think you actually are 30 again, and remove all the stops. That's when injuries occur. Why not run 4 miles instead of 2. I can probably do 10 sets of squats, I feel good. I am going to keep up with those young guys over there. All mistakes. I have only found one way to help me when my mind thinks it should go and go and go. It repeat this to myself. "My mind is stronger than my body, and my body is stronger than my age." What the heck does that mean? It means that your mind is ready for any challenge - maybe more ready than your body. And even if your body is stronger than it should be at 50+, you are actually 50+ - so your body is going to make you pay if you go overboard.
Lastly - if you have to be on any medication for genetic disease like high blood pressure or cholesterol - continue to take those meds. They are absolutely life-savers! Never change medications prescribed by your medical professional! Always consult with them about anything related to medication.
Need motivation? Ok - you are going to die! Yep, it's on its way. Every day the final day gets closer and closer. You nor I can stop it. The only thing we can control is what we do between today and that day. So let's use that fact to help motivate. Are you 55? Do you love summer? Good - because if you live to 85 you only have 34 summers left. 34 - that's it! Are you 50 and love hiking in the mountains each year? How many of those trips do you have left? 20 or 25? If you are lucky. So what are you waiting for? Why aren't you ensuring you can play as much as possible before the games come to an end? Remember how it felt to fly down a snowy hill on a sled? How about the thrill of jumping off that rock into the lake, then swimming to shore and resting in the sun? You can do that again, you just have to ready yourself for play. Please stop waiting around to do that - there isn't much time.
Here is a little exercise for you. Tell yourself you have 60 days to live. Be serious. What is everything you want to do during the next 60 days? Who do you want to see? What do you want to accomplish? Spearfish? Skydive? Drive a racecar? Complete a Tough Mudder? Jog on the beach? Have Jerk Chicken in Jamaica? It makes you think about what you are NOT doing right now.
I have talked about the strategy to be fit over 50. I am leaving the tactical up to you. You know what good fuel is to make you ready to play. You know what to do to get ready to complete a goal. But I want to leave you with what I do to stay fit over 50. A whole bunch of stuff - because I get bored, and because there is so much stuff to do! I am not saying any of this is right for you - I am just telling you what I do to show you what is possible. I have a full time job and just the same amount of free time as you do. Sure sometimes I get a little sore, sometimes I eat some stuff that isn't the best fuel possible. But most of the times I play - because play is fun! Here is how I play:
Monday and Saturday - Jujitsu - 1 hour each day
Sunday - Swim at the pool or bodysurf at the beach or hike or fish or jetski or do any other kind of outside fun stuff.
Tuesday - Lift weights - whatever I feel like doing for about 35 minutes
Wednesday - Yoga at YMCA - 1 hour
Thursday - nothing. Probably have a glass of wine, take a slow walk with my wife
Friday - free body weight stuff, with a couple of 1/4 mile jogs in between exercises. I do some pushups, chinups, walk around with a 40 lb bag on my shoulders, whatever.
Here is how I eat:
Very little or no bread, dairy (but I like some cheese once and a while), soda, stuff with added sugar, beans, rice (dang I love rice), pasta (dang I love that too), or stuff we all obviously know is junk food. I simply don't do fast food at all. And absolutely no diet food or anything marked diet. (notice I said none or very little)
I enjoy - fish, chicken, a little pork, beef (but no more than the size of my palm), bacon, eggs, squashes, string beans, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, almonds, walnuts, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and almost all kinds of fruits.
It's pretty much that simple. I don't eat any of this stuff because it is a diet. I eat it because it gives me a ton of energy, keeps me really regular so I don't feel heavy or bloated, there is a million ways to prepare them so cooking is easy, and because it keeps inflammation down in my muscles and joints so I don't feel sore after play as much.
Being fit over 50 is both a state of mind and a state of play. Enjoy life more and become more fit doing it!