How to stay healthy and fit at every age with tips from local experts.
“Change is the only constant in life.” You don’t have to be a Greek philosopher to appreciate these wise words from Heraclitus, especially as you notice how your body has been — ahem — evolving with age.
As we embark on 2023, another year older and hopefully another year wiser, perhaps we can also embark on a few lifestyle changes. In this article, we’ve asked local health and wellness experts of all ages to discuss their best practices based on their personal experiences and advice shared with others. So, read on — and here’s to the year ahead! May we all be well and live well, despite life’s constant changes.
- Caring for your body in your 20s can affect your health for decades.
- Limit harmful toxins and screen time.
- Use sunscreen, get sufficient sleep and hydrate.
While many 20-somethings are not necessarily thinking hard about their long-term health, they might want to start.
Chanel Rogers is no stranger to fitness. A high school athlete and collegiate fitness competition contestant (bikini division), Rogers knows how to blend diet and exercise for desired results. She studied kinesiology in college and launched her own company, ConFITdent Training, thereafter. She provides personal training and online fitness coaching.
“After four years of creating connections and building my body mentally, physically, spiritually … I developed what I really enjoy: the whole aspect of putting it together,” Rogers said.
Whether you yearn for a bikini-ready body or looser fitting jeans, Rogers said, “Starting is always the goal.”
Small workouts add up
Often, people get overwhelmed when thinking about exercising, which can make them feel defeated even before they get going. Rogers says workouts don’t have to be drastic, just consistent. Even short workouts count.
“I want to help people believe in themselves and quit putting limits on what [they think] they’re capable of, because all of us are busy,” she said. “All of us have an excuse for why we can’t do something, but if you find a 30-minute window to just do some jumping jacks, push-ups — something intentional — you’ll definitely start seeing those results.”
Over time, Rogers believes the way you look and feel will encourage you to up your routine. After all, you will want the physical and mental benefits you are experiencing to continue.
“Whether it’s an hour on a YouTube video in your basement or a 30-minute jog in your neighborhood, it’s a mental detachment from what’s actually going on,” she said. “It’s [your time] for you to focus on a specific goal that you have set for yourself…Not thinking about the kids, not worrying about your husband or the meeting that you have in the morning — just really focus on that specific exercise and giving your biggest effort. It starts from the inside out.”
What you eat is just as important as what you do, and Rogers advises clients to practice mindful eating.
“What I mean is being mindful of what you eat and eating at home,” she said. “Have your plate become a little bit more colorful with pickled onions, kale, avocado, carrots, leafy greens and lean meats.”
If you can limit your junk food intake (and emotional eating), your healthy food choices will work even better for your body.
Rogers thinks of food as fuel: What she consumes today is going to fuel her workout tomorrow. Chips and soda may taste good, but do they provide quality fuel to your body? Nope.
Take a “rest day”
Rogers takes what she calls a “rest day,” a break in the week to relax. She advises clients to do the same. Everyone needs time to refresh.
“As a personal trainer and a fitness professional, I think for 50 people every day. It gets mentally exhausting, so my Saturdays are my mental days,” said Rogers. “I tell my clients to take a rest day to absorb all the accomplishments that you had during that week, because you’re not a robot. You have to take a break…That doesn’t mean eat crappy, it just means to be a little bit less exerting on those mental days. Read a book. Plan a vacation for yourself. Do a hobby that you enjoy — because, again, everything starts from the inside out.”
- Develop a relationship with a primary health care provider, schedule annual physicals and don’t skip screenings.
- Metabolism begins to slow in your 30s. Stay physically active and eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- After age 30, people tend to lose lean tissue. Hiking and strength training can help rebuild.
While 30s is still considered “young” by the majority of the population, it can sure feel like aging to those experiencing the changes this decade brings.
Chelsea Cooke has been working in the OKC fitness industry for 10 years. She is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), personal trainer, group fitness instructor and owner of her own wellness brand, Chelsea Cooke Wellness, and has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology/exercise science. She is also a new mom. “I am super passionate about bringing education and authenticity to this field while helping people in their fitness journey,” she said. Cooke is a NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist, NASM-certified personal trainer, Functional Movement Screen-Level 1, and ACE Group fitness instructor.
Shift your mindset
When discussing her personal wellness journey, Cooke said, “Movement has always been a huge part of my life. I have been an athlete for as long as I can remember and always been very active. Sports were my life, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. However, when I stopped playing competitive sports, my relationship with movement became very unhealthy. It took some serious self-work to change my mindset from training for punishment or aesthetic to training for quality of life. There was an innate need to be freed from the ‘punishment’ mindset — the pressure of basing my worth on the way my body looked — and [to] find a better way to think about health. I wanted to be stronger, healthier and move my body well for the rest of my life. I began to train ‘for the long haul’ and with the goal of enhancing my quality of life. Giving myself permission to shift the focus AWAY from what I looked like was pivotal and freeing. I have been blessed to make a career out of this, and my goal is to help others within this community that I love find the same freedom. We are worthy of the investment in ourselves and deserving of a healthier relationship with movement.”
Movement is key
Cooke embraced turning 30 and believes it allowed to see herself and her body in a new light. “So many things have changed the way that I move now: pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, years of playing sports and the occasional sleep-deprived workout. We truly are training for life. I am so much smarter about how I move now, meeting myself exactly where I’m at each day, and pushing myself or giving grace accordingly. The older I get, the crazier life seems to be. No matter the time frame or how I’m feeling, I just move my body. Each day looks different, but I always try to warm up properly, consistently strength train, get my heart rate up and recover with intention. Some days are full workouts, some days are going for a walk, but movement has stayed a huge priority in this phase of life.”
Focus on your own journey
To her clients and friends, she has the following fitness advice: “Put your freaking blinders on. Don’t compare your fitness journey to mine or anyone else’s. Every person, every body, every situation is so very different. Take the time to work out smarter. Warm up, focus on your form, don’t be afraid to lift weights, get your heart rate up, cool down and just stay consistent. We are blessed with the ability to move, and our bodies crave it, so buckle up and put your focus on being in it for the long haul.”
- To combat lean muscle mass loss, eat high-quality protein and begin lifting weights several times a week.
- When you hit 40, your hormones start a 10- to 15-year decline. This can be balanced with diet and supplements.
- Manage stress level and sleep seven to nine hours a night to combat brain fog.
Your 40s can be full of transitions. Many in this phase of life are caring for growing children as well as aging parents. This can also be a pivotal time in a person’s career. Self-care is especially important during this phase of your life.
Twenty years ago, Stephanie Fisher pushed her body to perform, running marathons, kickboxing and committing herself to high-intensity interval training workouts. Then, all that “push” pushed back.
“I had some bulging discs in my back that really started to bother me,” Fisher recalled. “For the first time in my life — I think I was about 36 — I got to the point where I could barely move without pain.”
Fisher had little choice. She had to shift her lifestyle.
“I had to look at what I defined as healthy,” she said. “I was so numbers- and goal-focused. It took hitting that wall and, you know, having the injury to [realize] this would not work for me going into the next decade of my life. The pain is a gift sometimes. Falling down in the dirt a little bit gives us some time to take a deep breath and just reevaluate.”
The 45-year-old mother of four began a new approach. She is now a certified yoga and pilates instructor, health coach, Arbonne vice president and Flo State studio owner (see sidebar).
Listen to your body
Fisher takes a softer approach to exercising now, which comes from a place of self-love rather than obligation.
“I don’t run as often, I don’t run as far and I don’t run as fast; some of that can be a little humbling — but also I do run when I feel like I want to run,” she said. “In the picture of health, just remember to do what feels good. Instead of checking the boxes like I did before, now I’m in a place of almost — oh, it sounds cheesy — but it’s just a fun adventure.”
Referencing the book The Feel Good Effect by Robyn Conley Downs, Fisher says we can use intuition to guide our exercise and diet habits, and then, if the results make us feel good overall, we know we’re headed in the right direction. In addition, if we enjoy the process, it becomes sustainable.
Be a wise consumer
Another book Fisher recommends is Eat Smarter by Sean Stephenson, which presents the nuts and bolts about maintaining your microbiome, consuming probiotic-rich foods and calculating how much protein you need in a day.
“I tell people to slow down long enough to listen to your body, and then start with the basics: hydration, fiber — which you need soluble and insoluble — microbiome and protein,” she said.
Rest and digest
Equally important to what we feed our bodies is what we feed our souls.
“We all have different obstacles, and it might not be just what you’re consuming food-wise, it might be what you’re consuming mentally,” Fisher said. “What sort of boundaries do you have in not bringing in some of the things that just aren’t healthy for you?”
Fisher emphasizes the mind-body-spirit connection and advises clients to take time every day to “rest and digest.” That quiet, meditative space can be found in a yoga class, a religious organization or at home with a designated time and place to sit with your thoughts.
“Slow down long enough to listen and give yourself the gift of intuition,” Fisher said. “It will personally guide you on your next steps.”
- To protect weakening bones, eat foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D.
- Physical activity helps reduce the risk of some diseases, including dementia, and helps with heart health, muscle strength, flexibility and balance.
- Begin routine checkups on blood pressure and cholesterol, and cancer screenings.
We consulted two local health experts in their 50s: Lori Payne — a physical therapist, master pilates instructor and co-owner of Absolute Wellness — and Stacy Rist, former collegiate dancer and current yoga instructor who received her 200-hour RYT yoga instructor certification through Yoga Mazé and Briohny Smith/Dice Iida-Klein in 2015.
When Payne started eating only “real foods” — organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables and hormone-free, pasture-raised meat products — she was astounded by the results.
“I lost like 20 pounds, that menopausal fat around my middle.” Payne said. Eating real foods improved how she looked and felt, reducing hormonal imbalances and inflammation. She was even able to eliminate her acid reflux medication; the reflux stopped.
Wanting to share the benefits of this lifestyle with others, Payne co-founded Absolute Wellness with functional nutritionist and fellow physical therapist Jennifer Kerr. Payne and Kerr use a science-based holistic approach to wellness, starting with diet, to address the root causes of negative health symptoms and weight gain.
“It’s more medical-based, which makes sense since we’re both physical therapists and we are trying to reduce inflammation in everyone’s joints,” Payne said. “Based on my experience and what I’ve seen with others, the single most important thing that someone can do is change their diet program.”
Quality foods, quality life
When grocery shopping, Payne tells clients to shop the edges of the store, where you’ll find fruits, vegetables, unprocessed meats and dairy products. (Preserved and processed foods are mostly found in the middle of the store.) Then, she suggests buying items that are natural and chemical-free.
“Just by eating real food, you’re not putting all these pollutants and pesticides in your body,” she said. “Anything that something is sprayed with goes into your body and affects your health. When you put processed food into your body, your body is not does not know what to do with that; it can’t use it. So, therefore, it just gets stored in your cells and bloodstream. It’s like putting something into an engine that doesn’t belong in the engine.”
As we age, our hormones change. While this change may be unavoidable, the unpleasant symptoms can be exacerbated by ingesting animals raised with hormones.
“That’s why ‘free-range,’ ‘pasture-raised’ and all that stuff is so important: Whatever that chicken or cow is being fed, you eat that.”
Follow your gut
If you listen to your body, you may find that you don’t have to be allergic to a specific food for it to irritate your system.
“If you can learn the foods that your body is intolerant to and then avoid those foods, you will reduce inflammation,” Payne said.
With a total “reboot” approach, Absolute Wellness pinpoints foods that make clients feel good as well as those foods they should avoid.
“So, you’re going through and picking the new foods that you’re going to try, and you’re seeing how your body responds. Did my reflux come back? Did I have diarrhea? Did I have cramping in my stomach? Did I start sweating at night again?” she explained. “It’s hard because you don’t get to be as gluttonous as you used to be, but it’s also not hard because you know what you’re going to feel like when you start [eating] that again.”
And yes, of course, exercise
Though Payne believes diet is 80% of well-being, we shouldn’t discount the benefits of a steady workout routine. Payne advises people to find activities they enjoy, ones they will want to do consistently to keep them active. For cardiovascular exercise, instead of overstressing your body and spiking your cortisol levels with high-intensity workouts, Payne recommends gentler activities, such as speed walking. She also says pilates is a great choice for strength building, since the equipment, resistance and moves can be tailored individually.
- Prioritize consistent, low-impact exercising at least two and a half hours a week.
- Add more fiber to your diet to reduce constipation and help with weight loss, which reduces the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
- Four out of 10 Americans in their 60s have trouble hearing. One in three have degenerative eye diseases by 65. Get your ears and eyes checked every year, even if you don’t notice a problem.
It is never too late to turn your health around. Just ask Wanda Graham, mother to four daughters and grandmother of one, who believes “aging is just a new season, not the end of life.”
With the drastic changes that happen to your body in your 60s, fitness sometimes requires a different approach. “I started my fitness journey in 2014 at the Redbud 5K Run,” Graham said, “completely out of shape and wondering what I was doing there. As I start to look at various people who outran me, these individuals were 60-plus [and] still running at their maximum. Some had knee braces, hip surgery, etc. I asked one woman what’s her secret, and she said, ‘Never stop taking care of yourself, never!’ Life is meant to be lived no matter what age. So it’s been full speed ahead since!”
Change things up
“I started out as a runner and changed my diet,” Graham said. “I was 54 years old and weighed 175 pounds. I had joint problems, no energy, no sleep and worked 60-plus hours a week. My family has a history with heart disease, especially the women in my family. I knew nothing about the proper way to care for my health; just bits and pieces of information I gathered here and there. Then I started menopause, at the same time my father was showing the signs of Alzheimer’s. I became his full-time caregiver. The stress was on a 10! I started to feel like my life was crumbling. I went from taking care of siblings, to taking care of a husband, then children and now a parent. So I began to self-loathe. That’s when I was introduced to Holy Yoga. When you are so defeated about how your life has turned out, you start to reach out for things that are bigger than you. Yoga was the key for me. Yoga has all the elements of self-care, and it’s ageless!”
Find the right fit for your body
Graham credits yoga with turning around her perspective and her body. She is now a 200-hour certified yoga teacher since 2019, Holy Yoga small group instructor at People’s Church and a breath and movement yoga instructor. Graham loves teaching middle-aged and senior women yoga, nutrition and spirituality — giving women the determination and tools to live their best lives. She said, “It covers healthy eating, movement, strengthening, and most important it deepens your spirituality. And it never gets old, you just get better!”
70s and beyond
- Create strong social connections to reduce the risk of depression.
- Begin regular osteoporosis screenings.
- Low T-cell production makes it harder to avoid infections and viruses, so take special precautions during cold and flu season.
Even though it might look different than it has the rest of your life, it is possible to stay active and healthy in your golden years. Just ask actor OvaJean Siemens, who is nearing her 80s and loving every minute of it. The current performer, former educator and widowed mother of three has never stopped evolving. She started college in her mid-40s and is planning on beginning golf lessons in the spring.
Continuously evaluate your diet
Siemens said, “Our household seemed to stay in the Depression era long past when others had moved on. We had an outdoor toilet, no electricity, a wood-heating stove and cookstove, and we carried water from the windmill 50 feet from the house that provided the best water in the world. Our diet was primarily pinto beans and fried potatoes, with pancakes every morning of the world.” This left Siemens with decades of an unhealthy diet to remedy. “At age 40, I realized I needed to take better care of my body, and I’ve been trying ever since to undo the years of indulging my sweet tooth — still have to work on that. I discovered the world of natural supplements and have practiced using natural remedies for ailments.”
Enjoy less extreme exercise
Keeping a regular fitness routine can be much more challenging for those of advanced age. The risk of injury increases even with mild actions. But regular movement can keep seniors doing day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others. According to Siemens, it is about staying active. “I’ve lived 77 years without depending on medicines, for the most part,” she said. “I still prefer natural remedies. As I’ve aged, I’ve chosen less extreme measures of exercise … I usually saunter on a walk with the dog or the little kiddos we occasionally care for, rather than taking a brisk power walk or jogging. It seems one gets lots of movement and exercise opportunities just maintaining a household. Over the years I’ve had periods of consistent exercise and other times of a more relaxed physical regimen. I am in generally good health, and actually feel better than I have in a while.”
It’s all about perspective
Siemens’ sage advice and youthful mentality inspire those around her. She said, “Above all, I honestly believe a person needs purpose. And perhaps a passion, something one loves to do that fulfills a long-held dream. I live filled with gratitude and am so thankful for this time in my life. I’m having fun. Life is good, no matter what. Having a truly positive outlook on life is, I believe, the most valuable factor for having good health — no matter one’s age.”