©2020 Amy Sterling Casil

Good Things to do to Stay Fit After 50

At least for me, it’s hard to eat right, exercise enough, and feel good about myself if my feelings aren’t in the right place. I had an unpleasant experience recently. Years ago, events like these would have set me back for months, and maybe even years. I can still remember bad things that happened to me when I was young. These seem laughably trivial in hindsight. For example, my grandparents liked to go to Solvang, a small Danish tourist town north of Santa Barbara. There’s lots of pictures of four- or five-year-old me riding in the front of the “Danish Days” parade wearing an elaborate Danish outfit and sitting between two white-bearded elders. So, there’s not a Danish bone in my body but as a little blonde, blue-eyed girl dressed perfectly, they apparently thought I was the right kid to put in the front of the parade. Mostly I remember the beautiful horses.

That’s a good memory. But when I was about 12, I wore Danish clogs from Solvang to school and I got teased on the bus for the way my feet looked. Apparently the problem was the pale skin on the arches of my feet, and maybe their bony look or veins. Still not sure. But it made me want to wear thick socks and sneakers or boots for years. No — not socks and sandals — but it made me horribly self-conscious about my feet. I’ve got chigger bite scars persisting on my right instep right now … I was teased about my fat rear … didn’t wear a certain kind of pants for years … I was called “Blueberry” for wearing a loose dress with a belt that rode up over my stomach when I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter … I stopped wearing belts …

As we grow older, I think this type of incident — and we all have plenty of them to draw upon — gets less bothersome. But a couple of weeks ago, Bruce and I were on Venice Beach (FL) and he was playing his guitar. I started singing with him and this older guy sitting a few yards away gets up and moves his beach chair closer.

“Play louder,” he tells Bruce. I immediately stopped singing.

Then he says, pointing at a young family farther down the beach, “Ha ha, you know what they say, nobody’s interested in women once they get past 30.”

I turned around and looked at this joker. “Yes, I’ve heard that many times,” I said. “It’s total bullshit. My experience is the exact opposite.”

I would never use foul language under ordinary circumstances. This guy barely missed a beat. He continued with offensive comments about the young mom and started yammering at Bruce.

I know I shouldn’t let this type of thing bother me, but I was not at all patient with this situation. Afterward, I thought, why does this verbal violence continue? What would persuade a man to come up and issue a nonstop stream of verbal abuse to total strangers? Bruce told me that after I left, he began yelling at another couple, demanding they carry his cooler to his AMG Mercedes.

I estimate this unpleasant, abusive man was in his early 60s. Though he bragged about weighing himself every day at Publix, he seemed average weight, height, and fitness for his age. He was not only not a “prize,” he had no call to be commenting on anyone else’s appearance.

Didn’t stop him for a moment. And he’s far from alone — we can look at Incel message boards and see how horribly these young men who desperately want a date speak about women and other men. Despite all the body positivity out there, people continue to verbally abuse celebrities, usually women, for any and all aspects of their appearance. Lizzo makes workout videos and is immediately attacked.

From individuals we might encounter, to family members (not mine!), to what we hear in media to this day, there are a lot of mixed messages. We’re told we can continue to be active and enjoy our lives into retirement. We see messages that women can continue to be fit, active, and attractive at any age.

We see messages that wealthy and powerful older men select extremely young women as partners. Less often, we see the alternative, wealthy and powerful older women selecting younger men as partners. Or, a similar dynamic with same-sex couples. Growing older, we’re told, should be perfect, easy, and natural, with just a little help from aesthetics, cosmetic surgery, medispas, and other anti-aging treatments.

So early in 2019, I wrote about what a great thing my Fitbit was for health. Then just a few months later …

That’s right: a 10 BPM increase in my resting heart rate over 8–9 months. I was working 10–12 hour days and we were struggling to make ends meet and have a decent life in South Orange County. After 20 years of teaching at Saddleback College, it was my last semester. I was also driving down to Palomar College to teach in a supportive and positive environment, but that job was also not going to continue. Both schools were impacted by declining enrollments and state laws that were supposedly intended to help students — but in reality were cutting down available classes and reducing their opportunities for higher education. Although I’d built my writing income up a lot, it still wasn’t all I wanted it to be. And, I lacked the time to work out the way I really wanted to.

All I needed was for my hair to fall out and my spare tire to get bigger, right? Nose to the grindstone, keep going, well you didn’t really need to look and feel good, did you? Just get through to retirement and then you’ll have a blast out on that shuffleboard court.

What the heck is shuffleboard, anyway?

In December, I had an awful upper respiratory illness I contracted at school — an illness that it’s politically incorrect to indicate could potentially have been COVID-19 — but recovered.

In January, we went to Sanibel Island, and our lives changed. We decided to move to Southwest Florida. At the end of March, we did move. Six months later, everything is completely different. As has been exhaustively documented, COVID has changed everything about not just our lives, but everyone’s lives. No matter what our situation was before, it isn’t the same now. My heart goes out to those who are out of work or whose businesses are struggling, as well as to the essential workers who’ve been on the front lines during the pandemic.

I’d already learned a lot about the U.S. healthcare system, insurance system, and pharma businesses before we moved. I knew that toxic corporate food was making us fat, sick, and nearly dead. I knew that the U.S. used 80% of the opioids produced in the world as pain relief because of how easily they developed physical dependence, requiring ever-higher doses to achieve the same or even less-effective relief. What better business model for profits than selling something people have to take to get by, in ever increasing doses? What worse model for people’s health could be imagined?

So what’s the takeaway? For me? I no longer trust advertisements of any type, and I know that traditional medicine’s approach to health and weight management doesn’t work for the majority of people. People go to their checkup, the doctor tells them to lose weight, and hands them a printed diet sheet. “Don’t eat too much fat. Avoid red meat. Eat the Mediterranean diet.” On and on it goes …

And the older we get, the harder it is to stay fit, stay healthy, and stay active.

So for me, the biggest two factors in my health and lifestyle improvement have been my Fitbit (“Fitty”) and moving to Florida. Because I work at home 100% of the time and no longer teach, I can focus completely on my business consulting and writing. I can arrange my schedule to fit an hour of workouts in most days. Fruits and vegetables here are super sweet and delicious, making healthy dishes easy. There’s so much seafood that it’s also easy to eat fish often.

I’m a survivor of an eating disorder — it runs in my family. My dad told me my mom had anorexia — growing up with Nana there’s no wonder why. My grandmother’s critical nature hurt my self-esteem, but she also gave me a lifelong foundation of nutritional knowledge. It’s not hard for me to follow healthy eating habits because they were enforced on me growing up. And eating a good diet and being active while growing up also helped me build a lifelong foundation of good health and a strong interest in diet, nutrition, and food as medicine.

So, no matter where you’re starting out, if you’re 50 or over, you can totally get in shape and stay in shape. Will it be as quick or easy for you to lose weight as when you were younger? Will it be easy to build or keep muscle mass? No, it won’t. But it is possible and the alternative is not appealing. Not only does excess weight and loss of muscle as we age look unattractive, aging joints and bones don’t like it, either. The less mobile we are as we grow older, the less our potential for improving health and getting mobile again.

So, what have I been doing that has helped me out health-wise?

Since we moved to Florida, we’ve been eating almost 100% fresh, local fruits, vegetables, and protein (chicken, fish, shellfish, beef). I’ve found that if I cut out an entire food group (at one point I was dairy free, wheat free, and additive free) I can control portions and calories much better. I also do intermittent fasting and I realized that — I’ve done it my whole life. I never wanted to eat three square meals a day and most of my life, I’ve eaten only one meal a day: late lunch or dinner. I’m okay with eating breakfast only, too. I don’t drink carbonated drinks (seldom have — with the rare exception of endlessly searching for the “sweetest Coke in Redlands” when I was pregnant with Meredith) and drink only black coffee, unsweetened iced tea, and water.

Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, I recommend that everybody stop eating processed foods and consider which of the “problem” foods they most have trouble digesting or which add the least nutritional value to their meals. For me, that’s wheat-based products. I don’t eat bread or anything wheat-based. That cuts out cakes, pies, rolls, cookies, crackers, and wheat tortillas. I do eat corn tortillas but no more than once a week. I don’t use them as a bread substitute. I eat rice maybe once a week. A lot of the diets, like Paleo and Keto, eliminate processed grains and that’s a good thing. The key to having a good diet is finding a mix of whole, basic foods that works for you and planning your meals around them. Diet is about nutrition, maintaining healthy energy, and keeping your immune system strong.

Ever since the COVID crisis struck, I’ve been doing my best to keep up my immune system, so I also take supplements. Right now we are taking Vitamin A, C, D, and zinc. I also take biotin, Vitamin B, and digestive enzymes and probiotics. I have had IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) for a long time and eating the way I just described and the probiotics helps to ward off any IBS problems. An IBS attack can be extremely painful and last for several days, so it’s a good idea to develop an anti-IBS attack plan.

Getting enough sleep is also crucial to maintain health, energy levels, and to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. And finally, it’s imperative to get sufficient cardio exercise and strength training in.

Where does Fitbit come in? OK, I’m not the fastest learner, but I think I’ve learned a lot about Fitbit and how it can benefit health. I know there’s a dizzying array of weight loss, fitness, and diet apps, along with unlimited options for exercise at home or, when they’re open, gyms and fitness centers. As an outdoor enthusiast, I’ll always choose the outdoor option if I can.

You never know who you’ll see while you’re out and about.

So, Fitbit is continuously improving its app and the information it provides. I always advise people when they start using it to focus on one thing first. So, if you’re not getting enough sleep, focus on that. Start by going to sleep at a regular time, and do as much as you can to get a quality night’s sleep. Fitbit will show you if there are any problems with your sleep. After a few nights doing your best with regular sleep and wake times, and avoiding caffeine late in the day, you can move on to another goal. In my case, I decided I’d go for the recommended “10,000 steps a day” for good health. Even though I was somewhat active back in Laguna Woods, I found 10,000 steps to be a significant goal. I felt badly when I lagged behind and fell back down to 7,000 or even 6,000 steps a day — the level I’d started with when I got my first Fitbit in December 2018.

And guess what? I started to notice that the fewer steps I had, the lower quality my sleep was. These two were interlinked. If I wanted to improve my sleep quality and restoration, I’d have to move more. After my 26,000 step day — our moving day in March — I realized it wasn’t that hard to get over 10,000 steps. I just had to devote sufficient time to it.

Sometimes my work makes it difficult for me to get up and move — I could be on the phone with a client, then need to finish written work, so I will sit in place over a whole hour when the ideal is to get up and move every hour throughout the day (at least 250 steps an hour). But no matter what, I need to get those 10,000+ steps in every day. The low step day was a day I had a dental infection treated.

I’ve been watching viral running videos and running along when I can’t get outside due to extreme weather or work requirements. There’s this guy from New Zealand who posts constant, endlessly updated videos of running through the most amazing scenery imaginable. Now I want to go to New Zealand so badly. I’ve seen so many places up close by using these virtual city or trail running videos, from Venice, Italy to Sicily, Paris, London, Angkor Wat — you name it!

You can also do online video workouts. Some of them only require a small space to move in, and give you a good 20 to 30 minute or longer workout. I realized that “Zumba” is merely the jazz dance class I used to teach years and years ago. None of it is terribly difficult and all of it is good for you. If you find a movement difficult just substitute an alternate, easier or modified version and keep going. Don’t torture yourself trying to be as perfect as the instructors. Your goal is to start moving and keep moving.

If music helps you, invest in a pair of ear buds and link to your favorite music. Start out a little more slowly, but over time you’ll want to get up to 170 or more beats per minute for running or workouts. Invest in good shoes for outside running, and in comfortable, dri-weave, loose-fitting exercise clothing. Nobody wears clothing here in SW Florida (just kidding). But it’s a much more carefree, cool, easy lifestyle and clothing than even in California.

As things begin to ease with the COVID crisis, get out and see things and do things. Staying inside for months is awful for our physical and mental health. I just took Gambit to the Farmer’s Market here in Punta Gorda and bought a new pair of earrings from a glass artist. It turns out she’s from Englewood where we’re moving, and she learned how to make her beautiful glass objects in Oregon and Hawaii before moving here.

In the past few days, I’ve met two former California natives here, after weeks and months of meeting nobody from back home. I think it’s basically, generally, healthier here in SW Florida. The food is better quality (fruits, vegetables, seafood, meats) and the environment is cleaner and healthier. It isn’t so crowded and the pace of life is much more liveable. People are also nicer. All of those things add up to a great place to get healthy and stay healthy. I think our environment and homes and neighborhoods are the biggest contribution to our health of all.

Can you get fit and stay fit after 50? 92 year old Harriette Thompson was the oldest woman to finish a marathon back in 2015, and in 2013, Fauja Singh completed the Hong Kong marathon at age 101.

Maybe I’ll write more about the benefits of Florida humidity on skin and (well if you don’t mind curly hair — hair) another time.

According to Harlan Ellison and my grandmother, “You’ll go far Amy, because you have heart.” Author of 40 books, former exec., Nebula Award nominee, Poor.

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