Ten Habits for Masters Fitness
Established masters athlete and author Bill Pritchett shares his philosophies on healthy living for men over 50 with these important 10 habits.
By: Bill Pritchett
There’s an old Hindu proverb that says, “For the first thirty years of your life, you make your habits For the last thirty years of your life, your habits make you.” While I don’t like the
implication that our lifespan is limited to sixty years, I completely agree with the idea behind this saying. We truly are the product of our habits, whether they’re healthy ones or not, and for masters athletes, the second half our life can be dictated by the habits we formed earlier. When I read this proverb, it made me think of some of the healthy habits I have tried to develop over roughly the past twenty-five years, as I’ve sought to live a healthy lifestyle:
Habit #1: Drink a lot of water. Then drink some more. About 57% of your body is water, so you obviously need a lot of it to be healthy. Be sure to drink a glass every morning immediately after you wake up. You wouldn’t go 7 or 8 hours during the day without drinking water, would you? When you wake up, you’ve gone that long without it, so be sure to drink water before you have coffee, tea, or juice. During the day, keep a glass on your desk or wherever you work so that you can stay hydrated throughout the day. To know how much to drink after exercising, weigh yourself unclothed before and after your workout. A pint’s a pound, so drink 16 ounces of water for every pound you lose during exercise.
Habit #2 If you want less fat ON you, put less fat IN you. I’m sure many of you might disagree with this tip, because healthy fats have an important place in a well-balanced diet. However, a fitness instructor shared this tip with me many years ago, and I have put it into practice ever since. As a general rule, I try to eat foods that get less than 30% of their calories from fat. Fortunately, this is easy to calculate, because food labels show the total calories per serving, along with the calories that come from fat. Divide the fat calories by the total calories to determine if the food breaks the 30% rule. Since fat contains 9 calories per gram (compared to just 4 calories per gram of protein or carbohydrates), you’ll save calories by avoiding high-fat, calorie-dense foods. There are exceptions, of course. Your diet should include “good fats,” like those you find in almonds, olive oil, and avocados.
Habit #3: Make your own fast food. Fast food is popular because it’s cheap and convenient. Rather than buying high-fat, high-sodium fast food from McDonald’s or Taco Bell, why not make your own? Whenever you have time to cook, make extra portions of your healthy favorites. After all, it’s no extra work to grill an extra fish fillet or a couple of extra chicken breasts. Just package the leftovers as single servings, either in reusable plastic containers or in resealable plastic bags. A day or two later, when you’re busy and you don’t have time to cook, you’ll have a healthy lunch or dinner, instead of hitting the closest drive-thru.
Habit #4: Avoid certain foods completely. Rather than make daily decisions about what to eat and what not to eat, why not decide today that there are certain foods you simply will not eat anymore? There are certain foods and drinks I avoid completely: donuts, candy bars, hot dogs, bratwurst, liquor, regular soda, and snack cakes, to name a few. These foods are “off limits” — I simply don’t buy them. With the decision made not to eat these foods, there is no temptation on a daily basis whether or not to eat them. You don’t have to decide which snack to buy from the vending machine at work if you don’t eat candy bars at all. You don’t have to try to figure out which donut is the “healthiest” option when a friend brings in birthday treats if you’ve already decided you don’t eat them. Which foods are you willing to give up today in order to be healthier and more fit?
Habit #5: When In doubt, pick the food with fewer ingredients. With so many different healthy-looking foods lining the supermarket shelves, it can be difficult to select the best options. Most packaged foods are full of preservatives, and low-fat options can hide extra sugar. When comparing two items, you are almost always selecting the healthier choice if you pick the one with fewer ingredients. Of course, the best choices are fresh fruits and vegetables that have nothing added. A banana has just one ingredient, and so does an apple. Those are always good choices!
Habit #6: You don’t have to eat fruits and vegetables – you can drink them, too! If you have trouble getting enough fruits and vegetables in your diet, you might find it more convenient to drink them instead. Drinking fruit juice is an easy way to get the nutritional benefits of eating fruit, without having to keep fresh fruit on hand. (Be sure to check the sugar content of your favorite juices — many are blends of different juices and can be loaded with sugar.) Experiment with different types of smoothies. Just throw a banana or two in the blender with some ice, low-fat milk, and some low-fat yogurt for a healthy snack. (Hint: bananas that are too ripe to eat make great smoothies — you’ll never throw out bananas if you make smoothies out of them.) Add strawberries, mango (available frozen in bags), raspberries, or other fruits for variety. If you don’t get enough vegetables in your diet, try tomato juice or V8. (I recommend low-sodium V8 — the regular kind is fairly high in sodium.) Again, this is a convenient way to get the nutritional benefits of eating vegetables when you don’t have access to fresh produce.
Habit #7: Don’t go to the party hungry. If you have plans for the evening, you might think you’ll save calories by not eating before a party, since you’ll be eating while you are there. However, if you go to a party hungry and fill up on high-fat appetizers and desserts, you haven’t reduced your overall caloric intake, nor have you eaten nutritious foods to fuel your next workout. So don’t go to the party hungry! Eat a healthy meal beforehand, and allow yourself one “treat” while you are there.
Habit #8: Work out only on days you feel like it (just make sure you feel like it six days a week!) If you really want to get in shape, you need to exercise nearly every day. Forget those plans that say you should work out three days a week, and reject any gadget that promises visible results in just minutes a day. Find a variety of activities that push your limits, and do at least one of them every day. For optimal results and health benefits, your routine should mix both cardio and strength training. (For complete information on why both are important, I recommend the book “Younger Next Year” by Crowley & Lodge.) Rest one day a week if you choose, but make sure you are exercising vigorously the other six!
Habit #9: Make specific goals. It’s easier to stay motivated if you have a specific goal you’re working toward, whether it’s to lose a certain amount of weight in a given time period or to reach a certain time goal in a race. I always keep a few races on my calendar so that I’m never “just running” or “just swimming.” During these workouts, I can focus on the marathon that is 4 months away or the triathlon I’m scheduled to race in July. By having a specific goal, I’m motivated to give each workout my best effort, and I’m much less likely to skip a workout on days when I’m busy or tired. Set a specific goal and tell your spouse or a close friend what it is.
Habit #10: Surround yourself with healthy, fit friends! There’s a reason the first word in “workout” is “work.” It’s hard to exercise vigorously 6 days a week. It’s sometimes difficult to stay motivated. It’s work! But if you make friends with fit people, and you enjoy working out together, you’ll enjoy exercising. Your fit friends will help keep you motivated. You’ll learn from each other, and you can hold each other accountable to stick to your training plans. If you’re serious about your health, you need fewer friends who say, “Oh, skip the workout today — you can always go tomorrow.” You need more friends who will say, “Let’s go a couple of extra miles today,” or “I have some new free weight exercises to show you.” Make friends with people at your local gym, at exercise classes, or races and other events. Fit people can never have too many fit friends!
It’s true that in the second half of your life, your habits make you. By following these suggestions, you can form habits that lead to a healthier, more enjoyable life!