Barbara and I are quickly approaching our 63rd birthdays. November for me and December for her. And now, even though we are kind of “senior citizens”, we are healthier, stronger, more agile, and trimmer than we’ve been since our thirties.
To be honest, I feel the best I have since I was 32 years old. For me, that’s especially significant because I suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome for about 25 years. But, thankfully, I’ve overcome that and now I have enough energy to strength train and enjoy life.
As for Barbara, well, she looks “mahvelous”. And her energy levels are amazing. Take a look at her Instagram page here. At 63 years old, she deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, and bench presses every week. And after lifting, she heads to the kitchen to whip up one of those awesome recipes she features here on the blog.
Neither of us takes any prescription meds and we look forward to aging as an adventure to share together instead of something to be feared.
Now, I’m not saying that we never wake up with some assorted aches and pains. We do. But most times it’s related to that heavy weight lifting session we had the evening before. Barbara is always quick to remind me that, “It’s a good pain.” She’s right, of course.
In this post, I’d like to share with you what we’re currently doing to stay fit and trim. Our strategies are pretty much the same but in different degrees.
Perhaps you may consider adding them into your daily fitness routine.
Diet Is The Foundation Of Our Health Strategy
First We Went Gluten-Free
Barbara and I both went gluten-free (GF) about 15 years ago. While we don’t have celiac disease, we went GF for some specific reasons.
The gluten protein found in wheat causes intestinal permeability (leaky gut). A leaky gut can lead to all kinds of autoimmune and other health problems. So, since I was looking for healing solutions for my CFS, improving my gut health was a priority.
I also suspect that I have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Though wheat wasn’t a problem for Barbara, she didn’t want the potential intestinal problems associated with gluten, so she just stopped it altogether as well.
Paleo – Low – Carb Phase
Our health journey really started in earnest about 7 years ago when we decided to adopt a paleo diet. We ate a lot of whole foods and cut out all processed foods, even the GF ones (bread, pasta, etc.). For the differences between a paleo and GF diet see my post here.
From paleo, we transitioned to low-carb (<100 grams of carbs), then to very low-carb (<50 grams).
Ketogenic Diet Phase
Two years ago we went extremely low-carb (<25 grams). I suspect we both were in nutritional ketosis at that point. Nutritional ketosis is a natural metabolic state where your body adapts to burning fat rather than carbs as your main fuel source.
Barbara’s blood test came back positive for ketones. At less than 25 grams of carbs, I had no doubt I was in ketosis as well. For more on a ketogenic diet see here.
We just never had the initiative to check our ketones. Less than 25 grams of carbs (total) should be sufficient to keep us in ketosis.
However, we definitely both wanted to be in ketosis. I needed to lose some extra inches off my waist, and I also wanted the powerful anti-inflammatory effect of ketones. I was still suffering from some effects of CFS and I needed something to get me over the top.
Amazingly, it worked!
Barbara wanted to lose some stubborn pounds that were refusing to come off under low-carb. But she had another reason. Her mom suffered terribly from Alzheimer’s disease.
Medical professionals are now calling Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes because of a type of insulin resistance found in brain cells. These cells cannot use glucose as a fuel and thus become damaged.
But they can use ketones as fuel. So by having her body produce ketones, Barbara can have a healthier brain and increase her odds of avoiding Alzheimer’s.
Type 2 diabetes is also an increased risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Barbara, even though not overweight, was borderline pre-diabetic. After going keto, her A1C normalized rather quickly.
Oh, and she lost those unnecessary pounds as well.
A Low Insulin Lifestyle Is A Key To Good Health
So our ultimate diet strategy is that we maintain a low insulin lifestyle.
Another important function it has is promoting the removal of glucose from your blood so that it can be sent to your liver, fat, and muscle cells.
When you ingest carbohydrates, they are broken down by your body into glucose which finds its way into your bloodstream. Excess glucose can’t remain in your blood so insulin is secreted to remove it.
However, if your insulin levels remain persistently high over an extended time (years), a situation called hyperinsulinemia may result.
Hyperinsulinemia may then result in a condition known as insulin resistance. This is the inability of cells to respond to the effect of insulin.
While there are several causes of insulin resistance the primary drivers are the persistent overconsumption of refined carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-6 linoleic acid).
So, in order for us to maintain a low insulin lifestyle, we keep our carbs very low and avoid vegetable seed oils (canola, vegetable, cottonseed, soy, and corn) like the plague. See my post on healthy fats here.
Now, there are some people who tolerate carbs really well. You know those people. They can eat anything they want, and they never get fat.
Well, I’m not one of them. For me, carbs have a tendency to manifest as fat around my waist. I tend to a skinny-fat or TOFI (Thin Outside – Fat Inside) body type. This means my body weight was normal, but inside I was carrying a lot of fat. This is a very unhealthy body type. See my post here. So avoiding carbs is necessary for me.
Here’s a tip for anyone trying to optimize their diet. Avoid consuming refined carbs mixed with fats. This is an especially poor diet practice for anyone. Those combos (french fries, potato chips, etc.) are especially tasty, but do a lot of harm to your body.
Needless to say, we also avoid all processed food as much as possible.
Another good way to improve insulin sensitivity is through exercise. More on that later.
Getting Healthier By Increasing Our Protein Intake
Anyone over 50 years old, especially if you’re doing any kind of strength training, should evaluate their protein consumption.
Current protein experts now recommend that older people consume at least 30 – 40 grams of high quality protein at least three times a day. Each meal should contain at least 2.5 grams of the essential amino acid leucine. See my post on protein here.
These amounts assure us that we’re protecting ourselves against excess muscle loss due to aging.
Supplementing With Whey Protein
So, yes, we consume a minimum of 30 grams of protein three times a day. In the evening, I’ll add a protein shake to my meal to ensure it’s at least 30 grams. Since I’m lifting heavy, I need at least 40 grams to ensure good muscle growth.
Yes, your muscles can still grow at 60 years old and beyond. See here.
This is the whey protein we take.
Barbara finds it hard to consume all that protein so she often substitutes a protein drink for lunch instead of a full meal.
Since upping my protein intake, I’ve noticed a significant increase in muscle strength. This is not subjective. Because I train regularly, I can measure my strength in how many pounds I can lift.
When I lost about 10 pounds after going keto, my lift totals declined slightly. That was expected. Since upping my protein, I’ve gained back all the strength I lost and then some, even though I weigh 10 pounds less!
In order to get all that protein, a large part of our diet consists of meat and eggs. They constitute around 90% of what we consume. We’re not quite carnivores but almost.
Our meat basically consists of beef, pork, and chicken. We’ll also have liver and salmon at least once every two weeks.
Is there a danger to consuming too much meat? This recent report says no!
What about Vegetables?
Our vegetable consumption is limited to broccoli or cauliflower every evening. Barbara’s sautéed broccoli in olive oil is to die for. I never tire of it. We’ll also add in sauerkraut and pickles often. We might occasionally also have some sautéed bell peppers or Brussels Sprouts.
That’s it for veggies.
You Can’t Forget Snacks, Can You?
Okay, here’s our main indulgence. Every day we’ll snack on 1-2 small squares of 80% dark chocolate. Sometimes we’ll also sneak a few macadamia nuts or almonds, but not often.
I’ll also occasionally have a small portion of low-fat Greek yogurt during the week.
That’s it for snacks.
Because of all the protein we eat, we’re seldom hungry. So we rarely have food cravings.
A Typical Daily Meal
Breakfast 12:00 – 1:00 PM
3 eggs (Here’s our favorite omelet)
Lunch 4:00 PM
1-2 squares 80% dark chocolate
Dinner 8:00 PM
One Pan Chicken Thighs (See all of Barbara’s low-carb recipes here)
Broccoli, sauerkraut, or cauliflower
1 scoop of whey isolate protein powder
A small portion of low-fat Greek yogurt if I’m feeling hungry.
If you notice above, we don’t eat our first meal until at least 12:00 PM, usually later though. Our last meal is at 8:00 PM. This means that we consume our food in an 8-hour window.
So, in essence, we do a 16 hour fast every day. This is another strategy that allows up to keep our insulin levels low. If you’re not eating, your insulin levels will decrease. That’s why fasting is such an important strategy for those trying to lose weight. See here.
Our 16 hour fast may also allow for some autophagy (removal of damaged cell structures) to take place in our bodies. Maintaining proper autophagy is a key strategy for longevity.
Okay, that’s about it for diet. Let’s get onto the second most important strategy we use to stay strong and healthy.
Getting Healthier With Barbell Strength Training
Barbara and I have been strength training with barbells for over four years.
Along with our gluten-free low-carb diet, it’s an essential core of our health routine. You simply cannot age well if you don’t maintain good muscle mass and quality.
Many of the lifestyle diseases we see today are directly associated with poor muscle. See my recent post on protein here.
Also, strength training is the only non-pharmaceutical treatment for age-related sarcopenia. Everybody over the age of 40 is losing muscle mass. It’s a fact of life. However, if you’re sedentary, you could be losing a lot and not even realize it until you can’t get up the stairs anymore.
Sorry about this but I’m going to mention insulin again. Skeletal muscle is the primary site for glucose disposal in your body. If you want better glucose control, then build up your muscles. The best way to do that is through strength training.
Our Strength Training Routine
We do at least 4 basic exercises during the week. These are bench press, squats, overhead press, and deadlifts. These lifts work the major muscle groups of our body.
Barbara does 3-5 reps for 3-4 sets on each exercise not including warmups. Shhh… here’s a secret. She’s not really a strength training fanatic. She would much rather be drinking a hot cup of coffee and reading a good book.
But she is diligent at her lifting because she likes the results it gives her. She also covets the health benefits strength training offers.
Here’s one benefit she really wants. Remember I mentioned that her mom had Alzheimer’s. Well, strong legs have been positively identified with better cognitive performance in aging people.
Now, on the other hand, I enjoy working out. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that I suffered from CFS for 25 years. Once I was able to start lifting at 57, it was as if I had a new chance to start getting strong again.
Okay, we understand that at our age we have to be careful. Older folks can’t lift like the younger generation. So we’ve listened to what the experts say. We follow a good program, rest often, lift conservatively (don’t max out often), and listen to our bodies. So far the results have been impressive.
Here’s a recent deadlift of mine. Age:62, Body Weight: 165, Lift: 293 lbs View this post on Instagram
A post shared by John Bianchi DPM (@johnbianchi56) on Nov 6, 2019 at 8:11pm PST
Here’s Barbara knocking out some bench press reps. 70 lbs x 3 View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Barbara Bianchi ? Easy Recipes (@glutenfreehomestead) on Sep 3, 2019 at 12:35pm PDT
If you want to start strength training and you’re over 40 years old, see my post here.
I started at 57 years old following 25 years of CFS and two frozen shoulders from bursitis. If I can do it, and unless you’re severely debilitated, you can probably do it too. If you do choose to strength train make sure your doctor says it’s okay.
Just as an aside, Barbara no longer has knee pain which bothered her for years and my fingers are virtually pain-free from arthritic changes.
Oh, you say you have a bad back? Well, so did I. I had two lumbar herniations and one cervical. Since lifting, my back has never been better. See my post here.
One last reason to strength train. Did you know strength training can make you younger? See my Medium article here.
Okay, the supplements we take may not be as important as our previous two strategies, but they still play an important part in our health regimen.
On a very low-carb (ketogenic) diet, there’s a tendency to lose electrolytes like magnesium and sodium.
Therefore, to maintain good magnesium levels, we take at least 2000 mg of magnesium every day. This is the one we take.
To make sure we’re getting enough sodium, we salt our food at every meal. We also take a pinch of salt with water three times a day. We favor Redmond Real Sea Salt.
Adequate vitamin D3 is also essential for good health. Of course, the best way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure. If you’re not getting enough sun, make sure you get your D levels checked.
We take 5000 IU a day. This is the one we take.
Vitamin K2 is another key element in our supplement plan. K2 is an important compound for promoting heart health. Incidentally, it is thought that vitamin D may work synergistically with vitamin K2 to decrease vascular calcification.
This is the vitamin K2 we use. It has one of the higher concentrations of K2 on Amazon.
There are others with higher concentrations on the web, but they are rather expensive.
Watch this video on how one man reversed his coronary artery disease.
Okay, as you get older, your production of stomach acid decreases. This means that your food digestion might suffer, but you may not absorb nutrients as well as you used to.
Betaine HCL promotes the production of additional hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which aids digestion. It also assists with absorbing important nutrients, especially proteins. Remember, we need those proteins for building muscle.
We take one capsule with each meal. Here is the one we take.
Okay, I’m going to get a bit nuanced again. I mentioned previously about our desire to have our bodies produce ketones. When you reduce your carb intake drastically and consume adequate fat, your body will direct your liver to make ketones.
Instead of using glucose as a fuel source, it can use these ketones. Ketones are thought to be a much cleaner and efficient fuel. The brain especially seems to do well when fueled by ketones.
Remember I mentioned that the brain can develop insulin resistance. When this happens, the brain cannot get enough glucose for fuel. But the brain can use ketones for fuel. See here.
Now, back to MCT oil. MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides. It’s made from coconut or palm kernel oil.
Here’s the thing. MCT oil gets broken down into ketones directly by your liver. That means you’ll have extra ketones for your body and brain. See here.
Some people anecdotally relate that they have better cognitive power after taking MCT oil. This would make sense since it’s an efficient fuel for your brain. Since I’ve experienced this, I agree with the anecdotal reports.
This is the best MCT oil for the best price we have found so far.
If you’re trying to lose weight beware that MCT oil is a fat and will add extra calories.
We take one tablespoon at our first meal. Barbara has it in her coffee; I put it in my green tea.
We’ve been taking collagen peptides for about 3 years. Collagen is reported to support bone, joint, and skin health. Barbara says that since taking collagen her knee pain, which she had for years, has disappeared.
Since I’ve been taking the collagen, I haven’t sustained any major injury from lifting. So, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and that includes taking the collagen.
This is the one we use. Again we put one scoop in our hot beverage along with MCT oil.
Getting Healthier With Our Walking Routine
Barbara and I have had a walking routine for over 10 years. We walk at least five days a week during the warmer weather. Our pace is brisk (about 3.4 mph) and we usually do at least 1.5 miles. That includes hills.
While walking doesn’t offer a lot of cardio benefits (most of that that comes from high-intensity lifting from squats and deadlifts), the other health benefits are tremendous. See my post here.
Fortunately, here in North Carolina our walking season lasts a lot longer than in New York. However, we hate walking in the cold, so during the winter we use our treadmill.
While walking provides excellent health benefits, remember it won’t help you a lot if you want to lose significant pounds. You just don’t burn enough calories to make a difference. The best way to shed pounds is through diet.
For me, walking is a great stress reducer. For Barbara, well, she has my full, undivided attention for the entire walk.
Hey guys and gals, here’s a longevity tip. You can increase your own longevity by keeping your spouse as healthy as you are. See my post here.
Okay, who doesn’t need a strategy to deal with stress? Besides the obvious ways to reduce stress like uncomplicating your life, working at a job you love, avoiding toxic relationships, and letting today take care of today, we use two main techniques to deal with stress.
I already mentioned one of them.
Walking is a great way to reduce stress. By going for a walk you have to break away from whatever you’re currently engaged in. It gives your mind a chance to calm down and be more reflective.
This seems to be especially true when walking through green spaces. A small study from the UK showed that the brain enters a more meditative state when going through green spaces.
This study showed that walking through forest environments can reduce stress hormones and lower blood pressure.
There is also some evidence that trees give off a substance that helps our immune system. If you have a stronger immune system, you’ll have a lot less stress.
For the last couple of years, we’ve used deep breathing as an important strategy for stress reduction.
This is an especially essential tool for me because along with CFS, I have an associated condition called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). It involves a dysfunctional autonomic nervous system (ANS).
Briefly, the ANS control unconscious body functions such as heart rate, respiratory rate, and digestion. The ANS consists of two main branches. These are the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous systems (PNS). The SNS controls what is known as the “fight or flight” response while the PNS controls the “rest and digest” response.
With POTS, my SNS often would go into overdrive resulting in significantly raised heart rate, palpitations, IBS, insomnia, fatigue, and headaches, among other things. As you can see, all of these symptoms are highly related to the stress response.
One important way to deal with POTS is through deep breathing techniques. Our breathing is the only part of the ANS we can control. And if you learn how to breath correctly and practice it daily, it’s amazing what it can do for your nervous system.
Most people don’t realize that they don’t breathe correctly. See here.
We use this method as illustrated by the Cleveland Clinic. It may take you a little while to get it right, but it’s easy to learn.
See my post here on how stress can increase your cortisol levels and increase your belly fat.
Getting Proper Sleep
If you don’t sleep well, you can’t recover from stress well. It’s that simple.
Unfortunately, this concept has probably been the hardest one for me especially to accomplish. I tend to be a night owl. And because of that Barbara stays up later than she wants.
Here’s something that works well for me if I’m having trouble getting to sleep. I use the diaphragmatic breathing technique. I use it almost every night. And it works like a charm.
Barbara is like, “How do you fall asleep so fast?” The key is the proper breathing, my dear. It really does work.
Cultivating A Thankful Spirit
We’re told so often that cultivating thankfulness is a powerful tool for obtaining health and wellness. We believe it is, but it ultimately has to be directed to the one who governs our body and soul.
We’d be foolish to think that the above strategies are the ultimate source of our health. It’s the LORD who keeps us well and we thank Him for every blessing we receive. Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty.
Okay, that’s it for the main things we’re doing to stay healthy and active. If you have any questions, please let us know.
Blessings on your health journey and have a great week.
This article originally appeared on glutenfreehomestead.com.