I’m about to embark on a journey to improve my fitness, health and general wellbeing – ‘Super Fit @ 50’. I’m setting milestones to measure my progress along the way. The first will be to get a six pack by December – the ‘six pack challenge’, if you will. The real goal, however, is to run a 100-miler (the Centurion South Downs Way 100) next June in less than 24 hours.
There are a few reasons why I’m preparing to get fit in my fifties. The first goes back to something my ten-year-old daughter said to me this summer. She commented on more than one occasion that she did not like looking at my ‘fat belly’ (which was something I’d never felt self-conscious about before). She said that fifty-year-olds couldn’t have six packs and should always wear a shirt in the summer (even in my own garden!) It’s not all about body image, however. I’ve realised that improving my health and fitness stems back to a few things that have taken on significance in my life recently…
Feeling finite at 50
It’s a funny thing turning 50; it kind of snuck up on me. Like most runners, I still feel 30 in my head and keep active. So I was not depressed or panicking last September – it was more a realisation that I am probably heading into the last ten years to achieve my full physical potential in life, before my body starts to throw up its arms and say enough is enough!
Now 51, I’m more focused than ever on achieving my personal mission statement: being the best person I can be. That requires conscious effort and positive action. I recently spent some time thinking about what’s shaped me over the last year and to work out what I need to do to stay on track and keep growing.
Internally, my daughter’s dig at my belly resonated with me on a deeper level. I had a prostate cancer scare earlier this year which led me to make some lifestyle changes to try and improve my chances and lower my PSA levels. As it happens, my PSA dropped down and my doctor diagnosed Benign Prostate Enlargement (BPE). So, fortunately for me, it’s no big deal. I’ve since found out that BPE is a common condition for many men at my age, and there’s no link between developing prostate cancer and BPE, despite sharing similar symptoms. But getting fit and improving my health remain a real priority.
In July, my Mum took a turn for the worse. At the time of writing she is 78 years old, and was suffering general forgetfulness due to old age. Then, over a period of a few weeks, this became full blown dementia; a frighteningly short period of time for such a change. My Dad was suffering from dementia when he died in 2009, so we knew the signs. Mum will have a brain scan in a few weeks’ time so we will find out more.
Having both of your parents suffer the same disease is a pretty clear signal that you might be at risk, so these recent events have added a real impetus and drive to my health and lifestyle changes.
Four-time Olympic champion Michael Johnson recently suffered a mini-stroke and is thankfully recovering well. Having happened to one of the greatest athletes in the world, it hit me that we can’t make ourselves bullet-proof. I do, however, believe that we should take charge of what we can control and aim to stack the cards as much in our favour as possible.
What’s I’ve done to date
My daughter’s challenge, together with the health scares of the last year have only spurred me on to make bold changes to improve my health and fitness. I’ve kept things simple, achievable and incremental. Here’s what I’ve been doing so far:
- I drink copious amounts of tea and coffee over the course of a day; very rarely water. I’ve started religiously drinking at least two litres of water a day.
- Although the research is relatively new, there is some evidence to suggest that eating tomatoes (and other fruit and veg with the antioxidant lycopene) can reduce the risk of various cancers, including prostate. Cooking tomatoes releases the most lycopene, so I’ve been trying to eat tomatoes every day.
- Garlic has been suggested as a similarly cancer risk-reducing food. The theory is that the sulphur in garlic blocks the formation of nitrosamines, a common carcinogen. The more pungent the garlic the better, so I’ve been trying to start my day with a glass of garlic water. On intermittent fasting (IF) days, I tend to break my fast with honey and crushed garlic at lunchtime. It’s actually pretty good!
- After the garlic water, I have a glass of apple cider vinegar with fresh lemon juice, which has been linked to encouraging the body to burn excess fat.
- Intermittent fasting (IF) – eating normally on most days and fasting once or two days a week – has been linked to weight loss, as well as reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I’ve been doing this for over a year now, with mixed results. Fasting for full 24-hour periods at a time often meant I put the weight back on making up for it in the following days. I’ve worked out that 16/8 probably works best for me, especially while travelling for work. I stop eating after 8pm, and then skip breakfast the following morning in favour of a good lunch.
- I eat a lot more fruit and veg, and a lot less red meat. Regularly staying in hotels allowed me to indulge in my love of steak, which became a default choice while working away. I’ve tried to turn this on its head and ask for vegetable sides and see steak as a once-in-a-while treat. I’ve also got really into salad and fish.
- Like a lot of people, I used to drink beer or wine most evenings with dinner, which really adds up if you think about it. I’ve now cut down to roughly 10 units a week (under the 14 units recommended by the NHS for men).
I can’t claim to thoroughly understand the science behind these changes, but I’m willing to try most things and then see if they have an effect. Whether any of the above affect my BPE remains to be seen. Friends, however, have commented that my skin looks clearer and I look ‘radiant’ – something no one’s ever said before!
It’s not just diet. Since the health scare, I’ve been determined to get at least seven hours of sleep a night to allow my body to properly repair and recover. I feel as though I have more energy than before, and I think the intermittent fasting has sharpened my concentration levels and reduced some of the grumpy moods I used to have when hungry.
What does Super Fit @ 50 look like?
Other than the natural sadness which I feel about my Mum, I am really excited to be in such a period of change in my life. Once you start making change, change becomes a habit in itself. As a family, we have lots going on at the moment: my kids are moving up in school, my wife is studying towards a new career, and I’m about to start a new and exciting job.
Going back to my mission statement: being the best possible version of me, and helping those around me to do the same. I want to be sharper in every aspect of my life. It’s not just about feeling fitter or body image. I want to have the energy and resilience to be the best me – at home, at work and out on the trails.
Last year, injury scuppered all my 100-mile attempts and, this year, although I feel strong, my race efforts have not yet reflected what I know I can do.
So, what’s next?
Most runners have good core strength. The problem is that most of us also have a layer of stubborn belly fat – the hardest to lose. To kick-start getting fitter and healthier, the ‘six pack challenge’ is a bit of fun and a real focus to get me moving over the next couple of months. The aim is to have a visible six pack by Christmas – but really, it’s a way of motivating myself to become a lighter, leaner and meaner runner next year.
Why not join in and get focused on losing your belly fat? Neil Thubron, founder of endurance race organisers XNRG, will be joining me, and I’ll be blogging about our experiences with quick ways you can get involved each week.
Three things you can do now:
- Write down what goal you would achieve if you lost some belly fat. Weigh yourself, and set a realistic but challenging target weight to achieve by Christmas
- Dedicate one hour of uninterrupted ‘you-time’ to decide what actions you are going to take to achieve that goal
- Start at least one of those actions this week!
Watch this space – more to come on Super Fit @ 50! And I’d love to hear if you’re joining me, or even if you’re just dipping in and out as the weeks progress. Drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment. I also offer endurance coaching and business mentoring.