I’ll Keep Waving

I saw you today.  I’m pretty sure you saw me.  At least, you looked my way as I was pedaling west on my bike, and you were spinning east.  I smiled and waved.  Your expression never changed.  If I had to label your facial expression….I would define it as indifference.  Of course, despite my persistent headwind, we passed pretty quickly, and I was across the street.  So maybe I missed a head-nod, or maybe just an upturn of the corners of your mouth, indicative of an almost smile.

And by “you”, please understand I’m speaking to a very large group of cyclists on the roads of northern Colorado.   I would never be so rude as to call out “you” specifically.  Just, you know…”you”.

The blog section of this site is intended for advice.  From a wide variety of fitness, health and medical professionals – to any 50+ athlete who clicks on these links.

For this short entry….please manage your expectations.  Today’s blog is more of rant, and it will not be based on a peer-reviewed research study.   Let’s call this one “wisdom from an opinionated midlife cyclist”.  I’m invoking editor’s privilege. 

I lived in Roswell, GA when I first self-identified as a cyclist.  Not just a fitness enthusiast trying to get some cardio, but a spandex wearing, hopelessly addicted member of the Velominati.   At the time, almost every cyclist I passed on the opposite shoulder, loosely defined as a bike lane – would offer an enthusiastic wave when they passed.  I was on a bike, they were on a bike, that’s all that mattered.  Instant camaraderie, instant community.  It was us cyclists against…them.  The cars.  The red lights.  The sedentary lifestyles contributing to chronic disease.  Dogs not on a leash.   We are the skin-tight, brightly colored rolling billboards, not understanding why everyone does not share our love with touring the city or countryside on two wheels.  We recognize each other for our shared passion and values, and we saluted each other’s joy and dedication.  We waved.

I now live in Colorado, maybe more in love with cycling than ever.  My enthusiasm for all things related to bicycles has only grown.  Which is maybe why I am so disheartened when so many cyclists roll by without recognizing that we are in the same fraternity.  No wave, no smile, and sometimes – more disturbing – just an emotionless glare. 

I lived in Georgia for a very long time.  When I see someone flying a UGA flag from their car or house here in Colorado, I feel an instant affinity.  But my birth state – that is an even more robust connection.  I was born and raised in Arkansas.  And every Arkansan knows that no matter how long ago you left that state, you will always be a Razorback.  And Razorbacks, by birthright  – know how to “call the hogs”.   I have run into groups of Arkansans all over the country and have spontaneously broken into calling the hogs – from a restaurant in Indianapolis, to a conference center in San Diego.  “You’re from Arkansas”?  Instant community.

That is how I normally feel about other cyclists.  Whether you are a speed demon in search of new PR’s, or a couple on a tandem (who are almost always smiling), or if you are using your bike for daily commuting – we are a community.  I have no idea who you are, but we are now a “we”.   

So….why don’t you wave?

I understand you don’t have to like chocolate because I like chocolate.  I drink coffee black, maybe you prefer a latte.  But I’m constantly confused and saddened by the number of cyclists who don’t share the same sense of community.  Obviously, you don’t have to feel the same as I do, but….I’m still going to wave.

I’m going to wave at every cyclist who is not fighting horrible traffic, who is not descending at 30+ mph, who is not rotating through an aggressive paceline.  We may not be riding for the same reasons, or the same goals – but that’s ok, we are both in love with cycling and that is enough for me.

If you are a cyclist, riding in Colorado and pass a guy on a red BMC with a big grin on his face – that will be me.  And I am going to wave.  You are a cyclist, and you are part of my community.  If you have a flat, I’ll stop to help.  If you are struggling on a climb, I will shout out encouragement.  If you see me on the road and wave – I will wave back.

And if you just happen to be from Arkansas, know anyone from Arkansas, have ever driven through Arkansas….I’ll be happy to call the hogs with you.  In public.

Advice for the 50+ athlete from the Functional Aging Institute

“It does not matter how old you are. As long as you don’t stop”.

Dr. Dan Ritchie

I am going to use the blog section of my site to supplement the “interviews of the athletes” with “advice to the 50+ crowd”.   I will be interviewing a collection of professionals who work with older clients & athletes to see what kind of wisdom they can pass along to anyone who finds this site.

This first post is a love letter to anyone visiting this site  – who are not career professionals in the fitness industry.  

Dear Athlete….you need help.

You are amazing.  You have found a sport(s) or activity that you love and keeps you moving.  You have surrounded yourself with old and new friends who share your love of this activity and suddenly, this new community has become an enormously important support group in your life.  You are eager to learn from those who have come before you, and eager to share your wisdom with those who are just now discovering the thrill of the same sport / activity. 

You have learned so much about running, cycling, swimming, skiing (insert sport here) and have probably achieved more than you dreamed at the onset.  Congratulations to how far you have come, you have earned every Strava “kudos” and more.

But.  Unless you have a strength training plan that will enable you to keep enjoying these activities for years to come….you need help.   Many of you have enlisted coaches to help you run faster, cycle further, swim more efficiently – but if you are not purposefully following a program to keep your body physically capable of withstanding the rigors of your sport (and the onslaught of aging) with a strength training plan specifically tailored to your goals, needs and abilities….then you need help.  With that in mind, I spoke with one of the founders of the Functional Aging Institute (FAI) – Dan Ritchie – to see what advice he could offer. 

FAI founders: Dan Ritchie (L) and Cody Sipe (R)

Quick FAI background for my non-fitness industry friends.  The Functional Aging Institute origin story is a pretty familiar one:  a new company born from the market vacuum created by the aging baby boomers.  Prior to the boomers hitting their mid-50’s, there was simply not massive demand for senior fitness programming.  In 2002, Dan Ritchie and Cody Sipes were both attending Purdue University, working on their PhD’s, when this need first became apparent.  They opened a small training center called Miracle Fitness – focusing solely on the 50+ market.

At the time, industry education for this rapidly rising demographic was lacking.  After four years of continued success serving the boomers (then in their 50’s, today in their 70’s) other owner/operators started coming to them looking for advice on how to successfully train their own local baby boomers.  In 2013, the Functional Aging Institute was born from this need.

Today, the FAI has trained several hundreds of trainers who serve the 50+ population, while also teaching the owner/operators how to market to the boomers.   In addition to ‘training the trainers’ – Dan and Cody fill their calendars with business coaching, hosting workshops and mastermind groups.  Luckily, I was able to catch up with Dan just long enough for a quick chat about the challenges they see in keeping the Boomers as active as they want to be.

You and Cody have been doing this for quite a while now – any specific trends you can share?
The only real change is this population is getting bigger and bigger – the 65-75 age group has exploded.  Between the ages of 60-68, many seniors are noticing massive changes for the first time –  an accumulative effect of losing strength, losing energy.   Their endurance is gone, running is no longer an option, and many cannot complete a 5-mile walk, even at a slow pace.  A combination of multiple age-related issues sneaks up until they experience that light bulb moment when they realize their body is not working as before.

That’s where you and your trainers enter the picture?
Basically.  They know they need to do something, and cannot wait any longer if they want to maintain their same lifestyles.   We constantly hear:  “My Doc is suggesting I lose 20 lbs”.   Or…“My grandkids want me to do things with them”.    At varying points on that age graph – they suddenly feel their age. 

Your bottom-line advice for any member of the 50+ community?
If they want to maintain their lifestyles, it’s an absolute must to add functional strength programming and to incorporate neuromuscular exercises that train the nerves and muscles to communicate properly and to react quickly. Exercises commonly utilized in neuromuscular training programs include: plyometric and movement, core strengthening and balance, resistance training, and speed training.

Would you offer different advice for the casually active 50+ vs the still competitive 50+?
Yes.  Your readers are Fit BUT they want to prevent injury, and a good strength training program will be preventative.  They are fit BUT they realize they still need instruction / coaching – just like the coaches they hire for their sport.  We are seeing a much higher interest from 50+ endurance athletes who are looking to incorporate a guided strength training program.

How do you convince 50+ endurance athletes they need coaching for strength training?   
They need to realize this part of their overall training program is just as important as the actual activity.  This is injury reduction.  This is a reduction in muscular issues.  This is core strength and a healthy back.  Strength training helps any athlete of any age maintain their independence, lifestyle, identity.  

A not-small segment of our clients over the age of 60 are just cardiovascular giants.  However, many of them cannot perform well in an obstacle course, or a carrying task, or helping to push a car out of a ditch.  Outside of their sport, their functional capacity is very limited.

Biggest training misconceptions for this age group?
For training this age group, the two biggest misconceptions are the extremes:
** Many trainers treat them like they’re easily broken, limiting their clients to chair-based exercises, or  water-based aerobics, etc.
** The opposite is equally defeating:  train them like they are elite athletes in their 20’s and 30’s.   They are not going to respond the same or recover as quickly as those younger athletes.  Recovery is an essential part of the program.

All training programs must be specific to the individual.  Created around their goals, but it has to start with their specific strengths, weaknesses, and structural needs.  Start with a complete musculoskeletal assessment.

If anyone reading this blog wants to start a strength training program, or tweak their existing program, what should they consider?
Remember to incorporate all 6 Domains of Human Function from the Functional Aging Training Model: Musculoskeltal, Cardiovascular, Balance, Mobility, NeuroMuscular, and Cognitive/Emotional.  Fitness is multi-dimensional, all training programs need to be balanced, and must include neuromuscular training.

Dan and Cody – thank you for your time, wisdom and for educating an entire army of trainers who are impacting the lives of seniors across the globe!

Repeating the theme of this post: strengthening the body is not an option if you want to age well and continue enjoying – or competing in – your sport of choice. If you are unsure of how to design a strength training program specific to your exact needs or aspirations – I would encourage you to find a certified coach / trainer and start that conversation today. Do not wait for the lightbulb of age-related issues to make you realize your body is not working the same as before.

100 Reasons to Never Stop Moving

I strongly believe we are going to see a lot of age-related records fall.  This generation or next, those records will not be just in the realm of youth and speed.

Arthur Muir, oldest American to summit Everest

Lately, I have been forwarded articles and videos featuring amazingly athletic centenarians – mostly women.  With a website called “Age Is No Barrier”, I am more than eager for a chance to speak with these women, but I am finding it is much more difficult to get in touch with people who do not have a social media account. 

I have reached out to two of these incredible athletes, and hopefully will be able to connect soon.  In the interim – if I cannot interview these women, at the very least, I can honor them.  Their stories are inspiring for any of us who hope to age well, and remain active all of our days.  Whether or not we walk this earth for the same number of days, we can certainly strive to extend our healthspan; enjoying more time with friends and family and the hobbies / activities in which we participate and find community.

Below, you will find a few brief introductions to older athletes who are completely rewriting the rules of active aging.  If I am able to connect in person with any of the athletes featured in this blog, I will post the interview in the portfolio section along with the rest of the 50+ athletes.

Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins

Today, Julia Hawkins is 105.  When much younger – only 103 – Julia became the superstar of the National Senior Games where she won gold in the 100-meter dash and the 50-meter dash.   Born in 1916, Julia may be the new benchmark for senior track and field.   Her hometown of Baton Rouge filmed this wonderful local feature of this amazing woman.

Diane “Flash” Friedman

Another centenarian track star, this one from Ohio.  Diane did not start running competitively until she was in her 70’s.  Now 100, her coach and friend Bruce Sherman believes her master’s records will be difficult to surpass.  In this video, you can see Diane set a new record at a senior games event from this summer.   A local Ohio affiliate provided this wonderful introduction to Diane and her engaging personality.

And thank you to Dr. Bruce Sherman for bringing this incredible athlete to our attention!

Edith Murway-Traina

Then we have Edith Murway-Traina, the 100-year old powerlifting sensation.  You may have seen her story floating around Facebook over the last few weeks.  If not, here’s a link to an article from her hometown of Tampa, including a link to her Guinness World Records lift.  You may also be interested in this accolade from Men’s Health featuring another video of this amazing athlete.  I have reached out to her daughter to hopefully schedule a conversation with this former dancer who is now the world’s largest female powerlifting competitor.

As my friend Hillis Lake likes to remind me, “as long as you safely and appropriately challenge the body, the muscles will keep responding”.  Edith – who entered her first sanctioned powerlifting meet at the age of 92 – would probably agree.

Dave Keggy

Honorary mention has to go to this “Future Centenarian”, and only man on the list so far. The 95 year old Dave Keggy.   Dave’s workout routine was captured and shared in this video by a local financial advisor.  He sounds and moves like someone 20 years younger – at least.

Keep going Dave, I can’t wait to speak with you after your 100th birthday!

The Boomer generation is showing us that Age Really Is Not a Barrier to remaining healthy and active all of our days. I am positive this inspirational list will grow quickly, maybe faster than I can add their stories. However, I would like to try! So, if you know of a centenarian athlete who’s story should be shared, please let me know.

Who’s next?

YOU are the healthcare revolution

My voice is small, maybe your voice is small as well.  But combined – we can shout this message in a way that will echo.

The message is simple:  the myriad of businesses that make up the American healthcare system – as currently designed – do not benefit if you remain healthy.  There is little to no financial incentive to keep you active and healthy.  We need and deserve better.  We need a healthcare system with prevention as its foundation. And prevention starts with you.  YOU are the healthcare revolution we have all been waiting for.

Well, not everyone is waiting.  There has been a massive up-swelling of entrepreneurs, educators and activists that have all been very busy creating this change.  Direct primary care docs, concierge medicine practices and self-insured corporations – all are providing proactive care designed around your specific health & wellness needs.

And there is another massive group effecting change – the athlete.  Specifically, the older athlete, the 50+ demographic who is more commonly known to be mismanaging multiple chronic issues, slowly sliding into an expensive life of weaving through the healthcare maze.  Ok boomer, enough.

Today’s older athlete is the disruptor.  The majority seem to be avoiding every chronic issue except one – just being over fifty.  This niche demographic frequently gets addicted to a new sport – running, cycling, tennis, skiing (downhill & cross country), rock climbing – there are so many options!  Once addicted to their new activity(s) of choice…a whole set of dominos tend to fall into place. They start strength training programs, they make dietary changes, they learn recovery techniques – whatever it takes that will allow them to keep enjoying their activities / sports for as long as possible.  It is a most wonderful circular addiction.  They find community.  They find purpose.  And whether it is intentional or not – they find health.   This group of 50+ athletes is bending the healthcare cost curve and having a blast.  Best.  Medicine.  Ever.

This collection of interviews was created for two primary reasons:  first – for my personal curiosity.  (I’m a cyclist, and I’m extremely curious how other cyclists train, eat, recover.  What are their secrets?  Why did I just get dropped…again?)   Second – we are constantly exposed to messaging regarding the health benefits of exercise and I wanted to hear exactly what that meant to the people within my circle of influence. 

Every interview so far has been the proof statement I expected.  These 50+ athletes are not just exceeding their “by date” – they remain an extremely healthy bunch.  No obesity, or any of the lifestyle diseases that travel with it.   No bullhorn needed, this group is communicating a simple but important message – purely by example – to friends and neighbors: “if you are concerned with the rising cost of healthcare in America, and your health specifically – plug into an active community and become an athlete.” 

“Chronic diseases account for 75% of the money our nation spends on health care, yet only 1% of health dollars are spent on public efforts to improve overall health. Four chronic diseases—heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes—cause almost two-thirds of all deaths each year.”

National Council On Aging

Any activity, any sport you enjoy will get you moving.  And moving is smiling.  As you get involved, you will find incredible numbers of local clubs dedicated to your new sport of choice:  cycling, running, triathlons, hiking, yoga, walking, tennis, pickleball.  (if pickleball is not already in your area, it’s coming) You can find these groups by visiting your local bike shop, running store, health club, or even the bulletin board at your local park.  Meetup is another great resource.  And within those clubs, you will find more experienced athletes who love to share their experience and wisdom.  You will make new friends and find community no matter where you travel.  In time, you will be the athlete taking the newbie under your wing.

I cannot stress enough the importance of the community you choose to plug into.  Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Who you choose to surround yourself with is so incredibly important. This theme is reflected in every interview I have conducted so far. We are greatly influenced by those closest to us – they affect how we think, how we view ourselves, and how we make decisions. If you want to be more active, then find a local community that support your favorite sports / activities and dive in headfirst.

If you decide to become a 50+ athlete, your name will also be auto-enrolled as an active participant in the healthcare revolution, and I would love to hear your journey.  The good and the bad.  The pain and the glory. (there is most definitely both) 

Welcome to the land of Strava kudos, a closet full of spandex, a pantry full of electrolyte drinks and a wonderful sense of community and accomplishment.

Andrew Grahamlost somewhere in the Rockies
50+ Cycling geek
Outdoor fanatic
Mediocre downhill skier
Hiker enamored with Colorado beauty
Healthcare Revolutionary