In case you hadn't noticed, you're getting older. With age comes the enduring question, how did I get here? Sometimes it feels like 20 years fly by in a matter of months! At the ripe old age of 57, I've certainly had this experience. Despite the fulfillment life brings, it also exposes us to a toxic environment. Everything from processed food to a lack of opportunities to be active undermines the health of our nation. In his book, Food Fight, Dr. Kelly Brownell, Director of the World Food Policy Center at Duke University, refers to our environment as toxic. He states that the pressure to overeat is overwhelming!
At the same time, energy-conserving devices (i.e., remote controls, riding lawn mowers, escalators, etc.) have eliminated opportunities to move our bodies. In the late '90s, Harvard University hosted a conference on the relationship between physical activity and cancer. Scientists at the conference coined the phrase "sedentary exerciser" to describe people who go to the fitness center yet remain inactive for the rest of the day.
Despite paying lip service to a healthy lifestyle, few adults are embracing the promise of Smart Aging. Given that healthy lifestyles are uncommon, we need to keep things simple. Having worked as a health and fitness professional for 32 years, I've maintained my strength and health by focusing on a handful of habits. Here's two I've come to rely on the older I get.
Get a Strong Start
Contrary to popular opinion, when you eat your first meal of the day is not as important as what you eat. While there are many ways to begin your day, your first meal should include wholesome, minimally processed foods. Choosing healthy foods early in the day increases the likelihood that you'll eat sensibly later in the day. Behavioral scientists refer to this as building momentum. Creating a healthy routine around this process ensures a Strong Start more days than not.
One of my healthy routines includes black coffee, a handful of walnuts, and a fruit smoothie made with water, ice, whole fruit (i.e., dark cherries, blackberries, blueberries, etc.) and protein powder. It's quick, tasty, and nourishing. If you're looking for a magical breakfast prescription, there isn't one. Choose wholesome, healthy foods that you like, and you'll rarely go wrong. The idea that particular foods work best for breakfast is also incorrect. Start your day with wholesome food, and you'll be moving in the right direction.
It's important to realize that nothing prevents strength loss, like Strength Training. You can practice Yoga, Pilates, Meditation, and Ti Chi your entire life and still become weaker and less functional as you age. Losing strength is a problem because it leads to less formal and informal physical activity. In other words, poor muscular fitness makes it increasingly difficult to move your body. In the end, your muscles do everything. They allow you to engage in numerous activities that enrich your life physically and mentally!
Recognizing the importance of muscular strength has led to a paradigm shift in how health agencies and medical professionals view it. In 2018, the Second Edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans urged all Americans, including adults, in their 90s' to strength train. In a similar move, the UK government's latest physical activity guidelines emphasize muscle strengthening over aerobic workouts. According to Stuart Gray, who studies metabolic disease at the University of Glasgow, "It's an urgent message than needs to get through."
In their 2019 Quarterly Report, the American Physical Therapy Association writes that their Current Rehabilitation model for providing Home Health (i.e., Physical Therapy at Home) requires restructuring to a Progressive Rehabilitation model that prioritizes strength training before anything else. Strength Training researcher Alexander Lucas at Virginia Commonwealth University argues that "Strength ought to be part of an annual checkup." Lucas's research has shown that the rate of strength loss accelerates in older adults. These changes in health policy and medicine reinforce the importance of Strength Training for Smart Aging. If you haven't embraced Smart Aging, it's never too late. Getting a Strong Start and Staying Strong goes a long way towards giving you the life you have always wanted to live.
MEDFITNESS is a Strength Training Studio specializing in Small-Group Training. Schedule a Free Trial Workout at (630) 762-1784 or www.medfitnessprogram.com. Richard J Wolff: www.linkedin.com/in/richardjwolff.
1. Brownell, K., Horgen, K., 2004. Food Fight. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
2. Bittman, M., Katz, D. 2020. How to Eat. New York, NY. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
3. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, Second Edition, 2018.
4. Discover Your Inner Strength, Helen Thornson. The New Scientist, April 2020.
5. The Quarterly Report, Summer 2019. Home Health Section. American Physical Therapy Association.
6. Unexpected, 5 Recent Findings that May Surprise You, Bonnie Liebman. Nutrition Action Health Letter, July/August 20