20 August 2008

Be in great shape in your 50s

Madonna has just turned 50. You too can look great at this age - exercise and healthy eating habits will do it.

No, you don't have to resign yourself to middle-age spread. Yes, you can have a great body, regardless of your age. Some fabulous women share their secrets. By Mandy Collins, Femina magazine

Staying in shape takes work – no-one is saying it doesn’t. But if you understand what your body’s needs are at different ages, you can tailor-make your eating habits and exercise routine to ensure you get the best possible results.

It’s a case of working smarter, not harder, so simply follow our decade-by-decade guide with dietary advice from Johannesburg dietician Shirley Norman and exercise tips from biokineticist Tiaan Campher of the Sports Science Institute (SSISA) in Cape Town.


Your body now
Most women go through menopause in their fifties – but don’t think you’ll have to go it alone. Consult your doctor about dealing with menopause’s inevitable life changes. Remember, levels of oestrogen become lower and lower as we age and an oestrogen deficiency may cause osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones. It’s important to be tested for this.

Various cancers become a real threat at this age, too, so in addition to regular mammograms, women should be screened for colorectal cancer. Although colorectal cancer can be hereditary, regular screening is important even where there’s no family history of the disease.

At this time you may feel you’re in a constant state of transition – either in the midst of menopause or in the final stages of it. It’s also common to have to make decisions about the care of ageing parents at this life stage; the stress of performing such dual roles can result in depression, causing you to neglect your own health.

Your body essentials

  • Soluble and insoluble fibre – found in foods such as oats and legumes.
  • Insoluble fibre – found in vegetables, fruit and bran.
  • Calcium – found in soya, nuts, egg yolks, the bones of tinned fish, such as salmon, and in dairy products.
  • Vitamin D – from exposure to sunlight and in fish-liver oil, fortified milk and some margarines.

Your diet tips

  • Restrict your intake of saturated fats such as butter and cheese – they are linked to some cancers.
  • Avoid crash diets – low carbohydrate intake can contribute to depression because it lowers serotonin levels.
  • Serotonin levels are increased by carbohydrates, which are found in dairy products, fruit and starches.
  • Magnesium, found in milk, legumes and wholegrains, acts as an antidepressant.
  • Good calcium intake is vital for bone health. Don’t eat too much protein because this can lead to calcium loss.
  • Avoid comfort eating when you feel mad, bad or sad. Wait 20 minutes before eating and you’ll probably find the urge has passed.
  • Keep a food diary to monitor patterns that emerge if you’re a comfort eater.

Your fitness plan
Stay active and build exercise into your lifestyle – gardening, shopping and even washing your car can all be part of your fitness plan.

As we age, we lose muscle mass and become weaker. But research shows resistance training may help offset the musculoskeletal decline associated with ageing. The key is to do strength training two to three times a week, which will build muscle and make you stronger. You also need to include weight-bearing exercises such as walking or running, where you carry the weight of your own body, to fight loss of bone density.

Remember to change your training programme frequently: don’t stick with one programme for more than four straight weeks. Frequently changing your programme helps you get maximum results in minimum time.

Raring to go
Louise Ruch, 56, (pictured here) has lost 44kg on the Weigh-Less programme. ‘I’m a comfort eater,’ she says, ‘and when you’re as heavy as I was, you know you have to lose weight. As you age, carrying too much weight affects your health – plus being overweight felt horrible.

I knew this plan worked because I’d done it before. Now that I’m well into it I can enjoy the foods I love and adjust what I eat to suit my lifestyle, so it’s not restrictive.’ Louise says she hates exercise and would never be seen in a gym. Instead she builds exercise into her life: ‘I lift small weights while watching TV and I enjoy walking. Even when I shop, I walk with purpose and use the time to exercise.’

Hettie Honiball, 50, who has lost nearly 30kg, also with Weigh-Less, says her turning point came when someone asked when her baby was due. ‘That’s when I knew I had to do something about my weight,’ she says.

She says her eating programme has worked because she has managed to incorporate it into her lifestyle and can still eat all the foods she loves – including condensed milk! ‘I also enjoy walking and a friend and I walk together over the weekends,’ she says. – (Mandy Collins, Femina, July 2008)

This is an edited extract of a article that originally appeared in the July issue of Femina. Get the latest edition, on shelf now.

Read more:
Be in great shape in your 40s
Be in great shape in your 60s


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