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Your Best Self in 2019: Eating Right and Staying Fit as We Age

A new year always brings motivation to make changes for the better, the potential to find ways to reach our full potential and live our best lives. You might be making New Year’s resolutions about your career, relationships or, more often than not, your health. This issue is all about taking care of yourself.

It’s that time of year. Your waistline is a little thicker, you are moving a little slower, and everyone is talking about the changes they want to make for the new year. The number one change—you guessed it—weight loss. What method are you going to try? The Whole30? Keto? Paleo? It’s hard to keep up with the newest trends in dieting, and it’s even more difficult to figure out what is healthiest for you.

For those 55 years older, it can be particularly difficult to get back into shape, so we asked local experts for their advice on how to develop an active lifestyle and practice sustainable, healthy food habits.

Fitness—Where do I start?

There are three types of exercise that are equally important, as exercise physiologist for the ProMedica Wildwood Athletic Club Trent Pilmore points out. Cardio, strength training, and flexibility are the areas that we have to continually work on, especially as we age.

Trent Pilmore.
Trent Pilmore.

Pilmore says that, before you begin a new exercise regimen, “meet with your family physician to make sure you are cleared because, if there’s a change in medication or health status, that can really affect how your body responds.” It’s also important to consult with an expert about where to start (even more so if you know you will have health-related challenges).

For people who struggle with running or other kinds of high-impact cardio and strength training, Pilmore notes that “walking and swimming are easier on the joints.” Going to the gym is great, but people often underestimate the benefits of a simple stroll through the park, particularly if it is done regularly. For those who want to push themselves further, it is vital not to start off too strong, “thinking that the harder you work, the more results you’ll see,” says Pilmore. “That’s not always the case.”

Alleviate pain, build strength

Gregg Schwartz, owner of American Mobile Fitness, does a lot of personal training with seniors. He says that, if weight-training is too challenging, simply doing the motion without weights can be enough for someone to see improvements in their health.

“Range of motion exercise is perfect for helping to alleviate pain and build strength,” Schwartz said. It also depends on the individual as to where they should start with their routine. One client of his with osteoporosis finds it difficult to stand for long periods of time, so simple exercises involving standing up and sitting down are what she needs for now.

Schwartz started working with one client when she was 89, and she actively trained with him until she passed at age 94. He likes to say that “motion is lotion. The more you move, the better you are going to feel. People don’t need to give up just because they are getting older. There’s still a lot of opportunity to get stronger.”

The American College of Sports Medicine guidelines recommend that beginners and people who have undergone a health change do light to moderate exercise. How can you tell what exertion level is right for you? On a scale of one to 10 in difficulty, your level of challenge should be between a three and a six. As you develop a routine that started as moderate, it begins to feel too light. That’s when you should up your intensity by increasing the speed or duration of your workout.

Common mistakes

Besides starting off with too much intensity, people too often make the mistake of skipping a cool down when ending their workout. If you begin with a speedy walk or jog, you should gradually bring the intensity down before you quit.

Pilmore says you should value quality exercise over quantity. He urges clients not to “rip through the motion. That can really damage the joints. It’s better to go slower, focusing on your form.”

One of the most common mistakes for people who are looking to lose weight through exercise is that they don’t change their diet, so they are doing all that work without getting the results they want.

“I’ve had clients in the past (over 55) who were doing everything right, but they admitted their diet wasn’t great,” Pilmore says. “As the saying goes, ‘You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.’”

He often refers clients to a dietitian if they are not getting the right nutrition. “It’s a multidisciplinary approach,” he says. “If you want maximum benefits, you can’t just exercise or just eat right. It does take both.”

Nutritional advice

Registered local dietitian and nutritionist Liz Satterthwaite says sustainable healthy practices are what work best. Satterthwaite doesn’t like to label foods as “good” or “bad.” Instead, she says that foods are “ideal” (whole foods) or “not ideal” (processed foods).

Liz Satterthwaite, RDN, LDN
Liz Satterthwaite, RDN, LDN

“Generally, if it grows in the ground, it’s going to be good for your diet,” she said. Lean proteins and low-fat dairy are essential as well; as we age, we lose body mass and need sources of protein and calcium.

With the popularity of diets like the Whole30, Paleo, and Keto trying to eliminate major food groups, Satterthwaite wants to remind people not to be overly restrictive. That leads to binge eating.

“All of those popular diets are trying to eliminate food groups, specific foods, or sugars,” she explains. “It’s not that those are bad approaches, but they’re not necessarily sustainable.”

The 80/20 approach

Instead of sticking to diets that have an all-or-nothing approach, try incorporating more vegetables into your diet, cooking at home more, and using strategies when going out to eat.

“If you pick foods like a grilled chicken salad and veggies when you go out to eat, prioritizing ideal foods most of the time,” Satterthwaite says, that habit is more likely to stick. Eating well for 80 percent of your meals and allowing yourself 20 percent of those “not ideal” foods allows us to treat ourselves and still see results.

Most of all, her advice is to “be eccentric with your diet. Try new plants, new beans, different colors. The wider variety and more color your plate has, the more nutrition you are getting and the healthier you’ll be.”

Healthy Options for Dining Out

Zaza Wood-fired Pizza & Mediterranean Cuisine is an excellent local option for sticking to a healthy diet when you dine out. Try their vegetarian grape leaves served with hummus, romaine lettuce, and tomatoes. More of a meat eater? Create your own bowl with lean meats, lots of veggies, and go light on the sauce. Don’t forget to fill your bowl with lots of color—the more variety, the more nutrients you are adding to your system.

Recipe from the Primavera Kitchen website:

Easy Mediterranean Salad


2 cups diced cherry tomatoes
1 yellow bell pepper
1 cup of red onions
1/2 cup of black olives
1 medium cucumber
3 tablespoons feta (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
Salt and ground pepper


In a large bowl, toss together cherry tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, red onions, black olives, cucumber, feta, and sun-dried tomato.
In a small bowl, whisk olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad mixture and toss. Top with fresh parsley. Serves 4.

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