Have you looked at yourself naked in the mirror lately and felt depression seeping throughout your entire being as you stared at that out-of-shape figure? Or have you developed a lot of aches and pains that keep you from feeling as well or being as active as you were ten or twenty years ago?
Many boomers have spent their 30s and maybe even 40s concentrating on career and family and really don't realize how out of shape they have become. They always intended to work out and maybe even joined a gym or bought some home exercise equipment hoping to get serious about health and fitness only to let their membership lapse or dust collect on that home equipment.
If it isn't difficult enough to raise the courage and determination to begin a fitness program, to make matters worse most of us can't count on friends and relatives to encourage us and help keep us motivated. In fact, people are more likely to discourage any lifestyle changes we attempt with comments like, "What do you expect at your age? You're not in your 20s anymore!"
What do you think? Now that youth is gone, is it too late to do anything about the damage done by not living a healthy lifestyle? Before we give you some answers from recent research, take the following true/false test about repairing the damage:
- You can't expect at 40 years old to ever bring your risk of heart attack as low as someone who has been exercising consistently his whole life.
- You can't immediately decrease your risk of diabetes just by eating more fruits, vegetables and fiber.
- If you quit smoking, you can't expect to ever drop your risk of heart attack to that of someone that has never smoked.
- People in the 60s and 70s are foolish to think that they can lower their risk of heart disease by finally quitting the smoking habit.
- If you quit smoking, within five years your lungs will be healthy and free from the risk of cancer.
- To stay healthy, one must avoid all fatty foods, including fatty fish.
- People in their 80s and 90s are doomed by old age from receiving any benefit from weight training or aerobic exercise.
- If you are fat, don't bother to exercise because the benefits of regular exercise depend on how much you weigh.
- You simply can't expect to make gains in strength and fitness past 40.
Yes, all those statements are false (even #6, since fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids which lower triglycerides and reduce the risk of clot formation in blood vessels).
The first thing one should do to feel better and fight the ravages of aging is to quit smoking, and the second is to lose weight. There is no excuse. These two risk factors that account for an alarming increase in cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease are avoidable, so STOP SMOKING AND LOSE WEIGHT and exercise!
Smoking causes 400,000 deaths per year, not too far from the total American losses in World War II and almost seven times the American losses during the whole Vietnam war! The great news is that blood vessels and coronary tissue begin to recover almost immediately upon cessation of smoking, even in smokers 60 and 70 years old. In five years, it is as if they had never smoked! The bad news is that you may already have set yourself up to lung cancer. It may not show up for 30 years after you quit, but at least your risk is lower than if you hadn't quit at all.
A picture of Richard at 52 years of age and still training five to six days per week! Richard refuses to give up and plans to train with weights until they nail him in a pine box. No "spindly legs and arms" and a big gut for him!
With the obesity epidemic going on in America, we have much to be alarmed at. For, in fact, it turns out that obesity is the second leading contributor to mortality. Doctor's have long known that being 30 lbs. or more overweight dramatically increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, gallbladder disorders and arthritis. The cure for obesity is no great secret: reduce calories AND increase physical activity.
I hear many excuses, but no valid reasons for being fat. People are fat because they eat too much, not only too much but too much of the wrong foods. Two of Richard's favorite pieces of advice for his friends who ask for the secret to fat loss are:
Richard's Fat Loss Secrets
- "Do push-aways." That is, push yourself away from the table and stop eating so much.
- "I've never met a fat person that ate nothing but grilled or baked chicken and salads." Quit eating junk!
The point is that eliminating processed foods and eating chicken and fish or low fat meat and fresh fruits and vegetables low in fat and sugar will result in weight loss for the overweight person. There is no big secret! Just eat balanced, healthy meals. It's a lifestyle, not a diet!
Now for some more great news: If you have tried and tried and can't lose weight, workout anyway. A 1999 study determined that the benefits of regular exercise appear to be relatively independent of how much you weigh!
The problem is that if you want to lose the weight, you MUST include INTENSE exercise. Rena Wing, a leading obesity researcher has identified 3000 successful weight loss people, those that lost an average of sixty pounds and kept the weight off for three or more years.
Through her work, Dr. Wing identified several factors that lead to successful long-term weight loss. Individuals in her study burned an average of 2800 calories per week through exercise. The studies clearly show that exercise must be given priority.
Yes, much research can be found that supports the lower risks of heart disease with only 30 minutes of daily vigorous activity. But, "60 minutes of physical activity was necessary to maintain body weight and avoid excess gain." No wonder people are getting frustrated! Expecting results through a 30-minute exercise regime, when daily 60-minute sessions are required for success only leads to frustration. So modify your expectations by your goals as you turn the clock back and repair the damage!
Finally, don't let the nay-sayers destroy your resolve to get in shape because you are past 40. I'll never forget how excited I was to hear about the amazing study done in 1990 on elderly nursing-home residents ranging in age from 86 to 96. These old folks dramatically increased their strength and improved their balance in just eight weeks of supervised weight training! For me this meant that I didn't have to look like most past-40 men do; I didn't want to be Mr. Potato Head with spindly arms and legs and a big gut.
If you want some extra motivation, check out the Web sites of those over-40 bodybuilders who are in better shape than most men half their age, like Larry Scott, Dave Draper, and Frank Zane. For instance, check out the series of photos on Larry Scott's home page right now that shows his physique at 24, 54, and 64 years of age.
Richard and Diane
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Copyright 2003. Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC. All rights reserved.
The advice given in this column should not be viewed as a substitute for professional medical services. Before undertaking any exercise or nutrition program, Legendary Fitness, LLC advises all to undergo a thorough medical examination and get permission from their personal physician.
Klem, ML, Wing, RR, MeGuire, MT and Hill, JO. Does weight loss maintenance become easier over time? Obesity Research
Sturm, Roland. "The Effects of Obesity, Smoking, and Drinking on Medical Problems and Costs." Health Affairs. Mar/Apr2002, Vol. 21 Issue 2, p245-53.
Wakefield, Mary K. "Turning up the Volume to Battle Chronic Disease." Nursing Economic$. Sep/Oct2002, Vol. 20 Issue 5, p229-31.