"Marathons, Planks, and World Records, Oh My!"Super Seniors Prove That It’s Never Too Late to Get Fit (and 10 Tips to Help You Get Started)
If you qualify for AARP membership, you may assume that your best days of physical fitness are behind you. Think again. With some seniors outpacing their (much) younger counterparts, there’s never been a better time to take steps toward a healthier life.

Harriette Thompson of Charlotte, North Carolina, is 92 years old—and she just went into the record books as the oldest woman to ever run a marathon ! This achievement is even more impressive when you learn that Harriette is a two-time cancer survivor.

George Hood, age 57, just earned his own world record after spending a total of 5 hours, 15 minutes, and 15 seconds in the abdominal plank position. If you feel this isn’t impressive, try and hold that position for just 10 minutes.

And who can forget Jack LaLanne, known as the godfather of fitness, who repeatedly accomplished incredible feats of strength and endurance well into his sixties—and beyond? (When was the last time you towed 70 rowboats a mile through strong currents and winds…while handcuffed and shackled?)

No, the point of this list isn’t to make you feel bad about the fact that your most significant physical accomplishment in the last year was chasing your grandchildren around for a weekend while their parents were out of town. It’s to show you that being “over the hill” doesn’t have to mean you’re over being healthy.

“It is never too late to begin enjoying the tremendous benefits of exercise,” says Warren Honeycutt, author of Get Lean for Life: 7 Keys to Lasting Weight Loss “You don’t have to break a world record to make improvements—you just have to get started.”

Honeycutt points out that with people living longer than ever before, there’s every incentive to get and stay healthy. We all know that physical activity decreases your risk of diseases ranging from cancer to heart disease to dementia, and that it increases your energy levels, immunity, and mental acuity. There’s a financial incentive to exercise, too: Employers and insurance companies are paying attention to who is costing them the most money and are preparing to pass on those costs to their source.

A respected expert in weight loss, fitness, and nutrition, Honeycutt has experienced firsthand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. He is a championship bodybuilder who has been a Southern Classic Physique Champion, two-time Mr. Tennessee, and six-time Mr. America finalist. Now, at age 62, he enjoys perfect health without any prescription medications. Honeycutt offers personalized fitness training through his comprehensive Get Lean program, which features detailed fitness videos for exercising at the gym, at home, at the office, and while traveling; personalized meal plans; motivational material; and more.

Don’t worry—Honeycutt says the regimen he’d recommend for his fellow seniors does not involve getting out of bed at the crack of dawn to train for a marathon. Here, he shares 10 tips to help you get started:

Zero in on why you want to get fit. For instance: I don’t want to have a heart attack like my dad. I’d like to have more energy. I want to be around for my grandchildren. I’m tired of having such high healthcare costs. And so on.

“Without a powerful, authentic ‘why,’ the ‘how’ of getting fit will be very short-lived,” comments Honeycutt. “You need a reason that will still be relevant long after your willpower has been drained. And be sure to write down your reasons for wanting to make changes in your nutrition and fitness habits. Magic takes place when we transform our thoughts into the written word!”

Get rid of the excuses and just get started! Honeycutt says that during his 40 years in the fitness industry, by far the most common excuse he has heard for not making a change is, “I would love to be more active, but…I JUST DON’T HAVE THE TIME.”

“Folks, it honestly does not take a lot of time to improve your health,” he assures. “I stay in top shape by training only two hours per week, in four sessions of 30 minutes each. I promise, you can make tremendous changes in your body, your health, and your overall well-being with as little as 15 minutes of activity a day.

Take it slow (and don’t worry about a gym membership). After you take those first few steps toward incorporating fitness into your life, you might be tempted to forge full steam ahead. Resist the temptation to spend a lot of money on a gym membership or complex home gym equipment.

“Start small and take it slow when it comes to integrating exercise into your daily life,” he advises. “A pair of tennis shoes, elastic exercise bands, and 5- or 10-pound dumbbells are all you need to get started. Once you have established the exercise habit, then you can upgrade to that gym membership or elliptical machine if you want!

Be sure to resist. By that, Honeycutt means that you should add some resistance training into your regimen if at all possible. Doing resistance training before cardio depletes your body of glycogen early on, meaning that you’ll burn more fat when you do break a sweat.

“More importantly for seniors, though, resistance training helps to strengthen, tone, and shape muscles, ligaments, and tendons while also increasing bone density,” he states. “Unfortunately, we all start losing muscle tone as we age, so it’s important to focus specifically on maintaining strength, flexibility, and mobility. This is where those resistance bands and small dumbbells I mentioned earlier come in. Best of all, you can use them to build strength while you’re watching TV. The key to success isn’t spending a lot of time in any one session, but in consistency over a period of time.”

Schedule your workouts. Even if retirement has left your calendar relatively open, Honeycutt says workouts are still unlikely to happen if you don’t plan ahead and assign them a time on your schedule. Otherwise, you’ll always be able to think of something more pressing that requires your attention. I really need to go through that stack of mail…and there’s dry cleaning to pick up…and I promised Jean I’d call this afternoon…and oh, look—I don’t think I’ve cleaned the baseboards for months!

Switch it up. Once you’re on your way to establishing the fitness habit, Honeycutt recommends changing your routine every three to four weeks. This might mean trying a new yoga class at the community center, pulling your bike out of storage, or swimming some laps while your grandkids are splashing in the pool. (Or, if you’re ready to kick it up a notch, training for a 5k or taking a higher-intensity fitness class!)

Listen to the experts. While Honeycutt maintains that the foundation of getting fit is getting—and staying—moving, he recommends checking in with those who have been there, done that if you really want to get the most bang for your buck.

Supplement physical activity with a good diet. Yes, yes—you’ve heard it all before. You have to eat right to achieve optimal (or even above average) health. And it’s true. Fortunately, Honeycutt says turning over a new nutritional leaf doesn’t have to taste like you’re eating leaves.

“If you’re like me, the dishes you grew up eating weren’t the healthiest, so it may be time to educate yourself about health and nutrition so that you can overhaul your recipe book,” he comments. “There are plenty of natural options that still taste great. I recommend starting by learning about healthy substitutions, like swapping noodles for spaghetti squash or sweet potatoes for white potatoes. Start by mastering three or four healthy new options for each meal and keep the ingredients on hand. You can add more meals to your repertoire as you discover new recipes that you like.” NOTE to EDITOR: See attached tipsheet for 10 nutrition tips for seniors.

Measure your progress. Yes, literally measure your waist, hips, chest/bustline, neck, etc. on a regular basis and record the results. Take progress pictures too. On a day-to-day basis, you may not feel as though your nutrition and fitness efforts are making much of a difference, but over time, the numbers don’t lie. Seeing your waist measurement steadily shrink can be a huge source of pride and motivation.

Give yourself a break. You will fall off the wagon at some point. It’s inevitable. Maybe you’ll look down in surprise to find that you’ve finished the entire bag of potato chips, instead of just the few bites you meant to have. Or perhaps you’ll press the pause button on exercising while you’re on vacation and then neglect to push play again once you’re back home.

“Whatever the circumstances are, it’s important to understand that tomorrow really is another day,” Honeycutt says. “You can’t change the past, but you have full control over the future—so when you’ve slipped up, direct your mental energy to planning your next meal or workout instead of dwelling on your mistakes. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to your best friend. Encourage the most important person in your life…YOU!”

Warren Honeycutt is the author of Get Lean for Life: 7 Keys to Lasting Weight Loss. An expert in weight loss, fitness, and nutrition, he is a championship bodybuilder who has been a Southern Classic Physique Champion, two-time Mr. Tennessee, and six-time Mr. America finalist. Now, at age 62, he enjoys perfect health without any prescription medications and a physique that is the envy of most 25-year-olds.  To learn more, please visit www.getlean.guru .