Fitness After 50: Physically fit vs. in shape

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By Vicki Morgan

Being in shape and having bulging muscles and low body fat is great, but being fit and having good strength and endurance, as well as a healthy diet is just as, if not more, important.” Josh Bintz / Flex Physical Therapy

Summer is right around the corner. As we cautiously begin to shed our protective winter wardrobe, we may balk at what appears before us in the mirror.

Most of us are a little surprised at what we look like as we emerge from hibernation. The cute little tank top that looked promising … floating gracefully on the sale rack seems to bring out the very worst in our arms. Those short shorts that are so “in” right now are only being worn by a small percentage of the population – for good reason, I discovered one day. I gaped, horrified at the “chicken thighs” that were supposedly mine – happily circling to and fro freely in the gravitational sphere.

We all are our own worst critics. But let’s not forget that just a few short years ago, the ideal shape was different. Trends keep changing. Bodyweight fashion goes up and down. Hairstyles go from short to long.  Modesty goes from conservative to out-the-window. I watched an old Laugh-In rerun the other day and I was flabbergasted! The skirts were a lot shorter in the 60s than what I remember. My mind must have blocked it out. And let’s not forget the roaring 20s. My grandmother was one of the first flappers on her block. She wore the shortest skirts and was frightfully skinny. She was, for all intents and purposes, all the rage.

AbbyeStockton1

The “First Lady of Iron” from the 1940s, Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton. She wrote Strength & Health Magazine’s “Barbelles” column for the few females that lifted weights back then. The nickname “Pudgy” came about because of some excess body weight in her teenage days. By today’s standards, she might be regarded as pudgy, but back then, she was considered to be rock solid.

Here’s my advice: physical fitness has nothing to with the shape of your body. I know plenty of people who are technically “in shape” whose insides are a mess from malnutrition, steroids, poison foods like sweetened meal replacements, pre-workout drinks, mass produced meats and so forth.

I know people who jog five miles a day whose knees are just about ready to give out. They can’t even lift their own suitcase and goodness knows they can’t sprint. Now, there’s nothing wrong with jogging religiously. (Be careful in the summer heat though). You may get nice and trim. You’ll look great. It’s amazing for the cardiovascular system.

You’ll be able to eat whatever you want and not gain – at least for a little while. But you may reach a point where your central and peripheral nervous systems are not being challenged. You may notice the adipose tissue start to accumulate again. Your joints may start to complain. Jogging will become a harmful, repetitive motion. One of my newer clients has been doing CrossFit for years. She can do an obscene number of squats, burpees, pushups and such, but her body and brain are so used to it, she’s gaining weight. Not just weight, but fat. How do you get fat with an exercise routine like that? By not being physically fit overall.

In the fitness world, it’s better to be a jack of all trades than a master of one. I learned this the hard way after 15 years of competitive powerlifting. I know people who lift weights but can’t run across the street without being winded. The point is, obsession in one direction, whether it’s exercise or appearance or dieting or building muscle or whatever – doing only one thing does not make a person fit. It only makes him or her good at doing one thing. It may give that person the “look” they want, but it doesn’t mean he or she is healthy.

You may look like you’re “in shape for summer” but it doesn’t mean you can outrun a thief, rescue a child from drowning or even carry your own groceries up the stairs. Looking good won’t help you avoid the doctor. Neither will running, or lifting weights or any other such thing.

To be physically fit means that you are “fit for anything that may challenge you.” Fit to fight off disease from the inside out. Fit to go hiking with your family. Fit to go swimming with your grandchildren. Fit to pick up your own 50-pound suitcase when traveling. So let’s get truly fit during the summer! Here’s a fun little checklist to help you begin:

  1. Research the benefits of a “real foods only” diet. This is number one. Read the “old school” book by Dr. Norman Walker called “Natural Weight Control”. He explains exactly how “real” food is absorbed by the body as opposed to processed foods. It’s inspiring and terrifying at the same time. Then ask your healthcare practitioner if this would be a good option for you.
  2. Adopt a well-rounded fitness plan. Don’t just settle for cardio alone. Incorporate weights, bodyweight routines, explosive (HIIT) cardio, swimming, stretching, balance, relaxation and even dancing into the mix. Build your bone density, endurance, coordination and strength skills. Gardening or swimming is a great way to start if you’ve been sedentary all winter.
  3. Remember — fat is not the enemy. A little body fat is not a bad thing. Healthy fats are good for you. Don’t sacrifice your healthy hormone and bone density levels to be thin.
  4. Accept your body type. You are what you are. Instead of working against your body type, learn skills that enhance your natural strengths, abilities and personal preferences. Don’t force yourself to hike when you’d rather be swimming. There are plenty of ways to change things up while doing what you love.
  5. ENJOY the process!

Vicki Morgan A.C.E. is a Senior Strength & Fitness Instructor at Flex Gym and Fitness. You can reach her at 719-445-8566. Remember to consult a physician before beginning any diet or exercise program. If you experience pain or difficulty, stop and consult your healthcare provider. This article is not meant to take the place of any treatment or activity your physician has deemed necessary. 

REFERENCES: Lammily, Wyatt Schmidt PA-C, Skydancingblog.com, Josh Bintz

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