Over 50 But Not Over the Hill — A Diet and Exercise Plan for People 50 and Over

Jeff Sanders, after his first half-marathon in 2013. Image via Facebook.

I love to read inspiring stories about people who completely disregard what others see as a handicap, like Ernestine Shepherd. This lady started weightlifting at age 56! She is currently 80 years old and still competes as a bodybuilder! When most people start thinking of slowing down, she just started to hit her stride. Here’s a quick little video about her:


Or take a look at the dad of FightTips coach Shane Fazen. Watch Mr. Fazen just kill it at the gym … at the ripe old age of 55.

And who can forget the incomparable Jack Lalanne? Here is a great video showing him swimming on his 70th birthday pulling 70 boats in tow! He passed away at 96, but how many people in their 40s or 50s don’t have the health of Jack Lalanne when he was 90? People like Lalanne and many others prove that age is just a number, and you don’t have to listen to what other people think is a handicap.

I was a couch potato when I was in my 20s and 30s. But then my father died suddenly. I simply could not work through my grief, so my wife suggested that I take up running (she was already a power runner). It was quite the struggle to start walking, then jogging, then running.

But after about a month of doing this three days a week, I was hooked! (And, although I miss my father every single day, my exercise has been therapy and has helped me achieve “a sense of balance” whenever I think of him.) For the next 14 years I would run two or three miles three days a week. It was a good addiction that later saved my life.

In 2012, I found out that I had five almost complete blockages in my heart. (You can read the whole story here.) My doctors told me that I had a genetic problem — the condition was not due to abusing my body. They also said that my running had so strengthened my heart that I was living on only 15 percent of its usage, and I did not even know it until almost the very end.


Exercise had kept me alive. When I came out of surgery I asked my surgeon, “What do I do to NEVER wind up with something like this again?” He told me “First, take your meds.” (Check. That’s easy.) “Next, eat right.” (No problem, I’ve been a health food nut for almost 30 years.) “Lastly, exercise like a mad man.” (Got it. I can do that.)

Anytime I am tempted to sit around and NOT get my workout done that day, or to eat junk food … all I have to do is remember my stay in the hospital and a hose down my throat when I woke up. I never want that to happen again, and I want to live a happy, healthy life for my wife and kids. So I get up and start moving!

I think there will be enormous controversy over diets and dieting, but I also think a few things are clear. The typical American diet of eating processed foods, junk food, and tons of sugar and salt and fat is a death sentence. If you would just get rid of the sugar, you would go a long way toward better health and feeling better each day! Some people are sold on the Paleo diet; others at the other end of the spectrum swear by the “plant perfect” Esselstyn diet (completely vegan).

Me? I eat a Mediterranean diet: lots and lots of good vegetables, some fruit, and only a little very lean meat. I have mostly eliminated bread from my diet. And I drink water all day long. Some tea in the morning. Occasionally some coffee.


I also take a really good multi-vitamin and some herbal supplements. But no “bodybuilding extras” like creatine monohydrate. Sweets? Only on special occasions. I have also begun to see the emotional, spiritual, and physical benefits of occasional fasting. And you know what? I would never go back. I feel liberated.

And I look forward to — I mean I seriously look forward to — my workouts six days a week. In fact, I get cranky if I DON’T do some serious training for the better part of an hour six days a week. (I completely rest one day a week.)

So, if you are middle-aged (or older), what forms of exercise are best for you? Only you can determine that. If you haven’t worked out in a long time, start slow with something you are comfortable with, like walking briskly. Start by doing it 3 or 4 days a week. If you can walk and carry on a conversation with someone, you’re not really exercising. It needs to be vigorous.

No time? How about 25 minutes of exercise a day? Shaun T and his Focus T-25 Program is terrific body weight training for busy people (I’ve done the whole program).

How about just 22 minutes a day? Try Tony Horton and his “Hard Corps” program. (I did that too, loved every minute of it.)

You say, “Man I’m too old for that!” Stop defeating yourself with that kind of talk! You CAN do this stuff … maybe not as well as the people in the video can, but you can start! And what I love about these programs is that they always have people on the side doing the “modified” version of the exercise. You CAN do this!


I work out with weights (dumb bells, bar bells, etc.) three days a week. Why? Because weight bearing exercises create bone density, prevent osteoporosis, and anyone can gain muscle mass at any age by lifting weights. And it’s just fun.

Then I spend the other three days a week doing bodyweight calisthenics and/or cardio. Try swimming or biking or hiking. Look up bodyweight/calisthenics programs on YouTube and see if anything grabs you. I try to keep things different each day and work different areas of my body (to give various muscle groups rest, and to prevent boredom).

I highly recommend all the DVD programs put out by beachbody.com.
Whether it is P90X or Body Beast or PiYo, they are all terrific. I also recommend a good Mixed Martial Arts DVD program called Rushfit, featuring MMA champion Georges St. Pierre.

So, here’s a typical week for me. I will do this for three weeks in a row (often selecting a DVD that leads me in exercising these areas). The fourth week of the month will be a “recovery week” — I will stay in motion, but my training will not be as intense.

Training week:

Monday is working the biceps, triceps, and shoulders. Lots of curling and kickbacks with dumb bells.

Tuesday is just running three miles. If the weather is really awful, I will do “Insanity.” As far as I am concerned, it truly is the hardest workout on the planet. Here’s the trailer:


Wednesday: A PiYo DVD. This program by Beachbody is wonderful. It is a combination of pilates and yoga. It involves no weights and creates strength and flexibility.

Thursday: Chest and Back. So, I’ll do lots of pull ups, chin ups, push ups, bench presses and upright rows with dumb bells.

Friday: Optional. Maybe I’ll work out on the heavy bag. (Sammy Franco has the best instruction on how to use the heavy bag.) Or maybe I’ll do Tony Horton’s “Kenpo X” DVD, or Rushfit’s “Fight Conditioning.” Or I’ll just go out and split firewood! Anything to break up monotony and still exercise.

Saturday: Leg day. Dead lifts, barbell squats. Bulgarian split squats. Leg extensions. Calf raises.

Recovery Week: I will ride my bike once or twice a week, do yoga (from P90X) once or twice a week, and focus on stretching. I still stay in motion for six days, but the training is just not as intense.

I probably will never be an Olympic weightlifter or track star. I still have physical setbacks (thank God for my chiropractor!), but I keep on pushing forward. And I’m loving every minute of it!

Some day I will be a grandfather. I do not want to be all locked up and unable to get down on the floor and play with my grandkids. I want to be running and wrestling and biking and just having a ball with those kids — for as long as possible!


No one has ever shown me a picture of what a 55-year-old man is supposed to look like. So,every day I draw my own picture!


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