Staying In Shape At Fifty
by, Tina Smiley
Self-proclaimed Gym Gypsy...visiting and reviewing gyms and other cool stuff too!
"How do you stay so lean...? What's your diet look like...? How often do you work out...? What program are you following...? How do you stay in shape...?? "
These are questions I get asked quite a bit and I never really know how to answer them. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to write about today so I'm kinda winging it. In this post I will try to answer these questions and explain what seems to work for me. I'll also touch on a little background information about how I started my fitness journey and how I manage to stay in shape at the age of fifty. :)
Believe it or not and despite what many of my recent friends probably think, I was not always "in great shape." Granted I've always remained what is considered 'normal' weight and was never OVER-weight, outside of pregnancies ofcourse, but never in all my years have I been in better shape than I am right now at age 50. Yes, you read that right... I am fifty. Half a century old. Five decades underway. Over the hill plus ten. I am now officially eligible for an AARP membership. (It used to be 65. Thanks alot guys for lowering your standards)
Ten years ago when I turned 40, I didn't think much about it....the age didn't seem to hit me and I still considered myself somewhat "young." My boys were all still in school, I kept busy as a mom and wife, and I wasn't too concerned with my overall appearance or my own health and well-being. Heck I wasn't even coloring my hair...just accepted the increasingly grey strands with age.
When we moved down here, I began utilizing the neighborhood gym because one: our HOA fees were paying for it, and two: I suppose on some level I knew I wasn't satisfied with how my body looked. You know how it is...late 30's/early 40's, having birthed three kids, not over-weight per say, but finding yourself flabby in places you took for granted back in your 20's. A friend once told me just to accept it. It's what happens and it can't be fixed. Ya old now. 😧
At first it was maybe 2-3 days a week for no more than an hour at a time, but I never really broke a sweat. (The gym is air-conditioned, so I pretty much stayed 'comfortable.') Eventually 2-3 days/week turned into 3-5 days/week, but I still had that "middle-age pudge" going on and not a whole lot of muscle to show despite my efforts in the gym. It wasn't until one day I realized I needed something different. I needed to change how I was working out. I needed to sweat! So I decided to start running. To this day I credit my long-time friend and high-school pal Tammy, for inspiring me to start this awesome form of cardio. At the time she was doing 5k's and half marathons and she would encourage me to just atleast try. I thought she was nuts. But I decided to give it a shot. ❤
It kinda terrified me at first because I had told myself for years that I couldn't run.... that I had bad ankles. Literally, I convinced myself of this because anytime I'd run I would wind up tripping and my ankles felt like they were about to break. Ofcourse the reason my ankles felt like that was because they were weak and not being used. I did not realize that at the time, so I just made up excuses. It's funny how we tell ourselves little lies and we believe them!
Anyway, one day (sometime during the early summer of 2012) my fitness transformation began. I drove to a local park and just started running around the track. It was miserable. I was hot and my ankles were sore, but I persevered nonetheless. In the beginning I couldn't even run the whole 1/2 mile lap without stopping to walk. Eventually though I wound up working my way up to running the entire loop around the park. I remember the first time I was able to do that, I was so thrilled! I felt accomplished. And I was beginning to get addicted to that infamous runner's high :)
As the summer months went on I found myself running more and more and before long, I shed about fifteen pounds or so. I even began to show some lean muscle, especially in my arms. My legs started thinning out and they too even looked better. I used to stare down at my thighs when I was sitting (especially in the car...ya seem to notice stuff like this when you're alone driving) and be horrified at how they would blend together. Ugh! Well, running seemed to take care of that for the most part. Hello nice thinner thighs! Clothes started fitting me better, and I felt like a new person. I felt so great I tried to recruit my husband into joining me with my new-found passion. He's always hated running but God love him, he tried it and for a little while he persevered. He even ran a couple 5k's with me. Here's a photo he took of me after completing my very first race...the Legs for Life 5K back in October 2012. I don't remember my overall time but it wasn't bad and still remains one of my best to this day at around 27 min. total I think. Todd didn't do too bad either that day... but he still hates to run. ;)
Before that year ended, we both wound up participating in another 5k as well as our first mud-run. The mud run was a small local one sponsored by the YMCA and a few other small businesses. I vaguely recall "running into" a few crossfitters that day....little did Todd and I both know that was merely a preview of what was to come for us.
But my Crossfit experience will have to wait for another blog post. Ha!
Fast forward to today... This picture here is me just days before I turned 50 this year. It was taken right after my workout one morning at the gym. (not the neighborhood gym mentioned above as I've graduated since then to a gritty local warehouse gym with no AC and plenty of equipment) Which brings me to try to answer the question of how I stay lean and how often I work out? Well, I mix things up for one thing. I like doing cardio, HIIT movements, some Crossfit classes from time to time, weight-training/body-building, and even yoga. Typically my weekly workout schedule may look like this... Monday/Thursday: weight-train. Tuesday/Friday: HIIT and/or Crossfit classes. Wednesday/Saturday: Cardo, which includes running, biking, rowing, or all three. And I'm thinking of bringing swimming back in. Haven't done that in a while! And Sundays are usually ("usually") a rest day.
Because doing just one thing over and over gets boring to me, (and that's what happened to doing crossfit day in and day out) I like mixing things up. I even get tired at times with the gyms I go to and sort of bounce around, whether getting punch passes or temporary memberships at different places just to keep things interesting. Btw, that's how I came to be known as the "Gym Gypsy" and the reason I started this blog! Over the last 5-6 years, I've participated in multiple 5k races, crossfit competitions, OCR/mud-runs, a half marathon, and most recently my first duathlon. So ya see...I'm quite diversified when it comes to my training activities. Haha.
Question number two pertains to my diet...what do I eat? Well, it's pretty simple really. I don't really "diet." By that I mean I don't follow any prescribed or planned diet that I read off someone's blog or IG post. I just follow a sort of food plan that works for me. I eat the same breakfast every morning, almost exactly to the t, which is about 2 1/2 eggs, 3 pieces of bacon, small serving of fresh fruit (mostly berries), and coffee. Several cups of coffee that is, and yes I even add creamer! (and a dash of caramel syrup too!)
For lunch I'll typically eat either chicken, tilapia, or low-sodium tuna mixed with a little mayo and cut-up veggies. For dinner, it'll pretty much be the same thing. I don't measure my food either...I just basically guess. Since I'm not a big eater, it's typically anywhere between 4-6 oz of chicken, or one filet of tilapia, and 1-2 packets of tuna at 17 grams of protein per pkg. Introducing more protein in my diet has made a big difference in how I eat. Basically I never ate protein, hardly at all! I never understood the importance of it, and how it helps with muscle growth and bone health!
What I have learned as I have gotten older is that some of the foods I used to love eating in my younger years just don't agree with me much anymore. In other words, even though I may like eating them, I don't like how I feel 'after' I eat them. I'm half Italian so you can imagine I pretty much lived on pasta! There was always a pasta dish in the weekly menu, whether as a child or even into my adult years. I still like pasta but I couldn't tell you the last time I've eaten it. I need to look more into the veggie pasta.... maybe I'll check into that and blog about it sometime. ;) Other food/drinks as well like pre-packaged boxed meals (hello good ole mac-n-cheese), cereals, pop-tarts, soda, even beer.... they just don't bode well with me anymore. I won't say I don't eat them at all, although I can't say I miss boxed mac-n-cheese much, but I just don't eat them as frequently as I used to. My "diet" I guess you can say remains pretty simple. I like to stick with the 'cleaner' foods...ones that aren't full of false additives. But I do have my weaknesses!
I recently tracked my calories for about two weeks just to see what it was I was consuming and how it all added up. While the results were not all that surprising as I pretty much eat the same thing, I realized that some of my little vices have alot of calories when you add them up! Darn you, Dove Dark Chocolate! 🍫🍬💕
The point is is that I tend to shy away from foods that make me feel bloated and dare I say "gassy." I know that sounds yucky, but it's the truth. I can't even eat ice-cream without feeling a little sick afterwards so I just avoid it. Do I miss the gooey chocolate sundae with nuts and cherry on top? Yeah I do, but the thought of me running to the bathroom afterwards keeps me from indulging. And so is the same for alot of the junk foods I often ate 10+ years ago. It just not worth the bloat. People wonder where the six-pack abs come into play.... it's exercise yes. Anyone who knows me knows I love doing ab/core workouts. I'm sort of obsessed with them. But the coveted six-pack comes mostly through diet!
"But how do you STAY in shape?"
How I "stay" in shape [I believe] is found not only in the variety of things I like to do, but also in "how" I do them. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I never used to like to sweat. I mean, ofcourse I still don't enjoy sweating if I'm all dressed up and ready to go somewhere nice; I'm talking about sweating when you exercise. I used to stop working out as soon as I felt the first drop of perspiration on my body. I couldn't stand the feeling. So if that describes you, then that's the first place you gotta start. Get over yourself and just accept that working out and sweating a little (and sometimes alot!) is not a bad thing and frankly, it can be invigorating.
The other thing I've learned over the years of training my body, is that in order to really get something out of a workout you need to concentrate and think about the movement you're engaging in. Focus! Focusing on the very muscles you're working on and learn how those repetitions feel at 1,2, 3 all the way up to 20 or so depending on your rep scheme. If you are simply going through the motions and not putting in the effort, you will get very little if anything out of your workout. Believe me, I know! And to be honest, there are still days where I find myself doing that very thing at times in the middle of my workout. My mind will start to wander and I'm not focused on the task at hand. I'm just going through the reps to hurry and get it done OR I may just get sloppy. I have to remind myself to get back in the game and if I'm too tired or simply just not feeling it, I know when to stop. We all have days like that, and it's okay. But don't let those days keep you from coming back. It's not about falling, but rising every time we fall.
I wish I had the magic pill answer to the question of getting and staying in shape but I do not. Honestly it's different for everyone and I had to personally find out on my own what worked for me. It's a trial and error sort of thing really. I think alot of women (and men as well) get it in their heads that they just need to do this "one thing..." whatever that one thing is and they'll be able to be that fitter version of themselves. But I don't think the answer is quite so simple. It's not just 'one thing.' It's actually a combination of things over a period of time. And that's another thing.... It's taken me time to get to where I am today. It didn't happen over night. My journey started back before 2012 when I began to run and sweat! lol But to go back even further, I was working out before then too, so my real journey goes back to when I decided to work out at my neighborhood gym. I just didn't realize at the time I had over a decade of progress to do before I would become happy with myself. And the journey never ends...because if you're like me you realize that there is always something to strive for in life.
I leave you with this in mind.... Just because you find yourself in whatever state you're in right now, if you're not happy with it, if you're still breathing, there is time. There is always time. It's never too late to start YOUR journey. We all have a story to share and life worth living. Don't ever think though, that your time has past. I used to believe my life was over after 20.... that 30 was old. Then 40 years of age came along, and I thought that was it...I was as good as I could get. Well...the big 50 came and I'm living proof that there IS life well into your 40's, 50's and beyond. If you're on social media alot, you can see for yourself. There are countless men and women all over the world who continue to defy the age stigmas put on us by society or even family and close friends. Don't listen to the doubters.
Just know it's never too late to be a better version of you. ❤
**Photography credits: Cover photo is courtesy of Jeff Thrower Photography,
https://jeffthrower.com/ and other photos taken by my dear husband, Todd Smiley :)