By Stella Taylor Bergan, Health and Human Performance Coach
Maintaining a healthy body weight after retirement is an important concern for many people as they enter a new phase of life. As daily schedules change, you may or may not spend more time engaging in habits to keep mentally and physically at your best. Healthy habits, no matter how you slice them, are the foundation for maximizing energy and for long-term well-being. Think of your habits as the building blocks for creating a strong physical and mental health foundation. I like to narrow healthy habits down to five categories: “eat,” “sleep,” “breathe,” “move,” and “connect.” Each of these categories is vital to overall health, but for maintaining a healthy weight in the retirement years, I’m going to focus on two: “eat” and “move.” While you’re working to maintain a healthy body weight, you’ll also improve your overall longevity. The latest research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (October 2022) shows that a combination of eating a high-quality diet combined with vigorous physical exercise resulted in lower mortality risks. I cannot stress enough that being consistent with your healthy habits will get you the long-term results you’re seeking.
- Eat to manage blood sugar. To manage blood sugar, eat a combination of protein, fat, and plant fiber at every meal and snack. There are also some glucose “hacks,” like eating your vegetables first, followed by protein and fat, then your complex carbohydrates, but making sure you include the big 3––protein, fat, and plant fiber––is a good start. Try to reduce or eliminate highly processed foods, including sodas, sugary foods, commercial juices, packaged cookies, crackers, and chips, as well as alcohol, as they can not only spike blood sugar levels but also offer little in the way of nutrients. Plant fiber is very important for optimal health as it is a “prebiotic” and stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. You can’t go wrong with Michael Pollan’s famous line from his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, “Eat real food, mostly plants, not a lot.” Fill your plate with plants, add some good quality protein, and a little healthy fat, and you should be able to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
- Maintain or build lean muscle mass. If you’re not resistance training already, it’s never too late to start! Resistance training with bodyweight (think bodyweight squats, pushups, and planks), bands, or weights is another longevity hack that will help boost your metabolism, prevent muscle atrophy, and prevent increased body fat. Not to mention all the other benefits like increased bone density, improved mental health, and increased endurance, just to name a few. My 84-year-old mother just recently started a regular exercise program at the gym in her retirement community and has been seeing positive results. So as I said, it’s never too late to start!
- Stay active and include cardio in your weekly routine. As your schedule changes with retirement, you may be more or less active depending on how you choose to spend your time. I encourage you to stay active and include at least two days of vigorous cardiovascular exercise in your weekly routine. This can be time on the bike, treadmill, walking or hiking outside, swimming––whatever is accessible and you find enjoyable. Besides burning calories and giving your heart some love, cardio helps improve the quality of sleep and brain function.
It’s true that it can be more challenging for many people to maintain a healthy body weight as they move past their middle-age years. But with a little insight, preparation, and consistency, you can maintain and even improve your body weight and composition as you age. I encourage you to take inventory of your current habits and evaluate whether they are helping you maintain a healthy weight. It might be time to make a few small changes that will profoundly impact the length and quality of your life.
Stella Taylor Bergan is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Institute of Motion Applied Health and Human Performance Specialist. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Birmingham-Southern College and her graduate degree from the University of Virginia. Her training as a therapist and a background in executive coaching/organizational strategy provide the foundation for helping her clients make the changes they need to live healthier, more productive lives and perform at their optimal levels. Stella takes an integrative approach to wellness and performance and believes that making small, sustainable changes over time can lead to profound improvements in overall health and performance. She works with some of Silicon Valley’s top executives. She is a mom, an avid trail runner, loves traveling, and really enjoys converting teenagers into green smoothie drinkers.
Throughout the “Top Priorities” section of this blog, we will provide data-backed insights for a long, active retirement.