Bottling the energy that is Debbie Bellenger

I really need to interview a few people who have overcome poor lifestyle habits and chronic issues, but this interview is not that kind of story.   This interview represents the overall health and physical ability of a 50+ athlete who became interested in sports and fitness at a young age and has never relented.  Almost 60 years of age, Debbie is reaping the benefits of a lifelong habit of fitness, sports and eating well.  No physical limitations – she is another walking example that today, age really is no barrier.

I have known Debbie for close to twenty years.  Over those years, she has managed award winning wellness centers, developed exercise programs that have altered the lives of members of every age and mentored the next generation entering the fitness field.  She continues to wear every hat possible in the medical fitness industry:  manager, coach, instructor.  She has been a master trainer for multiple companies, specifically in the group-x world.  She does everything, and she does it exceptionally well. 

She embodies what I often see in people from the medical fitness industry – a strong belief born of experience and documenting outcomes – that exercise & lifestyle is the very best medicine for extending your healthy and active years.   And no matter her list of achievements,  I do not believe she will ever feel as if she has done enough, helped enough people, changed enough lives. 

This is my friend Debbie Bellenger.

50+ years in 50 seconds

Athlete:  Debbie Bellenger
Home residence:   A Canadian, who lived in the muggy south, now relocated to the super dry city of Tuscon
Age:  I’ll be 59 on April 8th
Occupation when not participating in your sport or activity:   Director of Wellness/Wellness Consultant/TRX Master Trainer/Presenter. I’m also thrilled to represent the athleisure clothing line Savvi.
Sports/activities in order of time and preference:  Cycling, strength training, pilates, yoga, walking
Consider your sports as a “have to” or “want to”?   Want to.  Always
Past injuries, fully recovered:   Dislocated left shoulder on an early morning run and severe case of C. diff  (Horrible strain of intestinal infection, usually with older adults) 
Past injuries that effect today:   None
Current injuries:  No injuries.
Age when I stopped recovering quickly from injuries:   mid 50’s
Medications I currently use:  n/a
Supplements I currently use:  basic vitamins
Dietary choices or restrictions:    Low milk products, cheese, yogurt and post c-diff, very little red meat.
Average hours of sleep:  8
Do you track your quality of sleep?    No.
Greatest achievement of being a 50+ athlete:    I can still keep up with the young ones and I can still trust my body to do what it wants to do.

More About All the Ways you Move…

Regarding types of exercise or sports – is there anything you DON’T do?  Well, I’m not teaching GX at the moment due to covid, but I do plan to return to spinning and body sculpt and TRX.

I think you were fit at birth.   What was your first sport?    Movement is a hard-wired purpose for me.  We grew up constantly playing outdoors – climbing, skiing, tobaganning etc. Always active, mostly outdoors.

Can I assume your environment or family were a key part of all that activity?  Yes, we grew up in a very active community, starting with mom & dad.   My brother and I both ran high school track, then I ran for the University of Western Toronto.

Top 13 favorite forms of exercise?    Favorite exercise is now cycling and walking, used to be running…

Favorite activity that you really don’t consider “exercise”?    Definitely group X.  I have taught group classes for so many years, it’s just second nature.  It’s like a one hour party.   Most of America needs a motivation, needs community, and group-x classes fill that need.

You’ve been teaching / training for so many years….how do you avoid burnout?   Always listen to my body. I’ve learned when to push, and when to back off,  when to recover.

Something the non-gym addicted person does not realize about group-x classes?    The community piece.  It’s a family.  A tribe within the larger club. 

Any specific training philosophy?    Not really.   If anything, I would say I train for both mobility AND strength.  As I’ve gotten older, I really appreciate diversity.  I’m constantly challenging myself physically in a growing variety of ways.   This way, I don’t get bored, and I don’t beat up the body by doing the same exercises over and over and over.   (editor’s note:  I’m very familiar with both yoga and TRX, but have not attempted one of Debbie’s new classes:   TRX yoga)

Protein before or after you train?   No protein before training, sometimes after…it depends on fatigue level

Did you ever dress like Jane Fonda?  (leg wamers and leotard with thong)   Yes I wore leggings, headband and wristbands – hahahaa

Prefer music when you train, or a Tony Robbins-ish mantra?   Yes, always music!  Except when on my road bike, due to safety.

as you age, you get to know your body better and you incorporate more time for recovery…”

Do you have any preference to the style of gym where you train?  Right now, during this pandemic?  I prefer the home gym.

Do you keep track of your workouts?    If yes, preferred method to track?   Nope, I don’t keep track.  I’ve been doing this for so long, I really have just learned to listen to my body. 

Opinion of the rapidly growing acceptance of virtual training?    Virtual training is a plus in that it has got some folks moving that might not have otherwise, it has kept others going through covid – I think it is an asset to many, but not for all.

Greatest inspiration for functionally strong 50+ athletes?   Being stronger now than when I was in my 30’s.   I questioned Debbie on this. Her response:  as you age, you get to know your body better and you incorporate more time for recovery.  And yes, I’ve established an even better base of strength and overall fitness than when I was younger.

Deeper Dive

Why?  What motivates you to consistently put your body through this pain?   
I do not “put my body through this pain”…..I truly listen to my limits and I enjoy my exercise time more now.

As a 50+ athlete – what achievements are you most proud of?  
Cycling with a women’s group who could hold an 18 + mph average pace over 40 + miles   (to any non-cyclists – that’s an awesome 40 mile pace for any age)

Let’s discuss injuries or medical conditions that effect your training and/or goals:  n/a

Regarding nutrition, elaborate on the role food plays in your health / training?
I eat most everything but try to limit empty calories at this age

How much time do you dedicate to training on an average week?
Training 5 – 6 hours per week

Do you follow any specific recovery protocol?
Just rest when I feel the need.

Any “non-exercise” forms of preventative care?   (massage, chiro, personal trainer, blood work, etc)
Massage – once a month.  PIlates – once a week

Any family history you’ve been able to avoid?  And/or how healthy were your parents at your age?
Diabetes – Dad has remained healthy and quit smoking in his 50’s, Mom passed at 68 with an abdominal aneurism, she smoked until her passing.

The health benefits of training:  is that a focus?  Or just a happy and beneficial outcome?   
Health benefits of training – happy and beneficial outcome.  Very much mental health these days

How do you feel – physically and emotionally – when you miss several days of training?  
Feel sad, de-energized, lethargic

Is your family supportive?
Very much.

Do you find a sense of community from the gym?
Not going to the gym right now, but pre-covid?  Yes! 

What advice would you give your younger self?
Enjoy the ride….ease up!

What advice would you give any 50+ individual that believes their athletic days are better left in the past?
I feel for people who have never experienced what it feels like day to day to live a healthy lifestyle. We all know the quote: “If you don’t have your health, you have nothing”.  Provided there are no real health issues that are limiting – they are crazy to believe they cannot improve physically.   Even if they don’t have a base level of conditioning, they can improve, get better.  I have created programming for unfit middle-aged folks and have personally witnessed their transformation.   I saw my team alter people’s lives.

How did you feel when a client came off a medication for any variety of chronic issues?     I’ll never forget one member – not even 60 and already wheelchair bound.  The day that member walked through the doors without that chair?   There are no words when you experience that level of healthy change.   What value can you place on physical independence?   This is how we build trust.   From the community.   From the physicians.

Any final hard-earned wisdom you would like to share with the 50+ crowd?
Live life out loud!  It’s not about size, shape, weight, BMI – it is about being healthy and having fun doing that!!!!

“I feel for people who have never experienced what it feels like day to day to live a healthy lifestye...I saw my team alter people’s lives.”

Have we done enough to educate / inspire people towards great physical activity?     
Hard to say.  Probably can never say “I’ve done enough”.   I’ve done all I can so far, but certainly not done yet.

Questions for Debbie?
Include any questions in the comment section below and I’ll forward her reply.  OR – Debbie gave permission to contact her directly at:

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