I discovered the benefits of adopting a fitness-based lifestyle pretty late in life. I hadn’t been into a gym until I reached the age of 50, and for all my life up until that point, I believed that good nutrition was to ensure that I added a Diet Coke to my double Big Mac and large fries meal. However, I have rather turned things around since that time. Now in my sixties, I believe I have a story worth telling. I hope my experiences can inspire others who are past the first flush of youth (or, as in my case, well past said flush), and prove that it is worth adopting a lifestyle centred on fitness – starting at any age.
So, here is that story. I have divided my approach to fitness into several phases of my life. The ages are all approximate, as I didn’t actually change anything exactly on my birthday, but they are close enough.
Up to age 49
I had a great time. Ate and drank absolutely anything most of the time. Nutritionally, it was a disaster, as I now know.
As well as being McDonalds best customer, various curry houses and fish & chip shops near where I lived and worked were able to increase their profit forecasts when they saw me around. I was a massive pub-goer, being a big fan of traditional real ale – I couldn’t drink enough of the stuff. What stopped me from becoming circus-tent sized is that I did a fair amount of cycling and played squash a couple of times a week. And what could be better than three pints after a tough squash match?
I did occasionally go onto diets, which would last a couple of months, then I would give up – usually when faced with a range of beers from a particularly interesting brewery. I varied between around 15 and 17.5 stone (95 to 111kg, 210 to 245lb) – I remember hitting that maximum figure at age 45.
At this time, I decided that I needed to get a bit of a grip on my health. A doctor’s warning alerted me as the first step. I had also noticed that my body was beginning to show signs of wear and tear, and I decided that time and effort invested in fitness activities would probably repay themselves in years to come. My wife, Jenny, is keen on fitness – particularly triathlons and running – and she encouraged me to think about looking at my health.
So I started both ‘doing more exercise’ and ‘watching what I eat’. Neither of these terms suggests any degree of precision in goal setting or approach, and the results obtained reflected that. I started going to the gym a couple of days a week – but had no real focus. I worked out with whatever weights and resistances I felt like, kept no records of gym trips, and kind of copied what I saw others doing while I was there. Maybe I would do some running on the treadmill as well, but again, it was unplanned and unstructured.
In terms of food and drink, I started making a few more sensible choices – but nothing more. I certainly didn’t keep track of macronutrients and calories.
I was obviously doing something right somewhere along the line, as my weight dropped by a stone to 14 stone (195lb, 89kg) over this period. However, I wasn’t really enjoying it – any excuse for a food binge or to miss a workout was welcome. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, I needed two things – (1) inspiration, to get me keen on training and nutrition, such that these aspects of my life became both enjoyable and a priority, and (2) education – so that I would start eating/drinking and training in accordance with principles that would lead to fitness success. It turned out that both the inspiration and education I needed were to become available to me after my next birthday.
This was the big turning point for me. I had a referral from a gym receptionist to fitness professional Rob Riches via his website www.robrichesfitness.com. Rob was offering personal training in Los Angeles – a city I happened to be visiting at the time.
I set up a couple of personal training sessions with him, and his enthusiasm for the fitness lifestyle quickly copied itself to me. Rob provided the initial inspiration and education I needed, plus we worked together on some motivation factors, and as a result I made a big decision – the year up to my 53rd birthday would be different to my life up to that point: I would adopt a high-priority fitness lifestyle as a project for that period. Jenny thought this was an excellent change in my personal preferences – she saw me as a potential future running buddy or triathlon competitor, and now without the optional cardiac arrest.
I developed a set of 10 specific measurable targets for my fitness year. Most of these goals were defined by weights moved in the gym, the remainder were body statistics. These targets are set out in the table below, showing my start position, planned end position and actual end position.
As part of this, Rob designed workout programmes and nutrition guidelines for me that were focused on helping me attain my goals.
It was tough to stick to, but achievable. I had a couple of incentives to succeed – Rob had shown belief in me and I didn’t want to let him down. I also had a more tangible incentive – Jenny was so keen on me attaining my fitness goals that she agreed that if I achieved at least 7 out of the 10 targets by the end of the year, then we could stretch our family budget to a prize of one of my favourite cars (a Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sportech with electric roof, since you ask). Definitely the carrot rather than the stick approach!
I achieved nine out of the ten targets – better than the seven aimed for, certainly enough to justify buying the car. It was ordered on the day my fitness year ended – my 53rd birthday.
And that was it. My fitness campaign was complete. And a success. I had achieved my goals, I had reached the point I wanted to be. I had the car to prove it. I could now say goodbye to the gym and to planned nutrition forever.
Except… I was hooked.
I’d enjoyed the last months, and certainly I liked the way my body had altered over the time. What had started as a means of losing fat and becoming more healthy had become an enjoyable part of my life. It wasn’t a pain to go the gym any more. Indeed, it was more of a pain not to.
More importantly, Jenny very much approved of the changes in me – and encouraged me not to stop at that point. So, I decided to continue the fitness lifestyle indefinitely going forwards.
I set myself a new overall objective: to achieve the best body I possibly can, and maintain it through to the end of my 50′s – at least. To do this, I created four simple measures to check I remain on track towards the objective: (1) continue to increase weights in the gym for all bodyparts, (2) continue seeing additional ab definition, (3) a specific target to bring the bodyfat down to 10% and keep it there, and (4) keep the compliments coming from Jenny. I’ll be sticking to these measures for the next few years, I think.
I didn’t set myself a specific overall weight target – if the bodyfat comes down, and the gym weights shifted goes up, then I am happy to let the bodyweight do what it wants. But no automotive incentives this year – how far do I have to go to get domestic approval for the Porsche 911, I wonder?
I was very pleased that Rob agreed to continue in his role as coach and fitness adviser. The quality of the information and advice I get from Rob – relating to workout programmes, specific exercises, body physiology, nutrition, recipes, cooking lessons – now even camera skills, on-screen performing and video editing – continues to be outstanding.
Most recently, I have tried a few new things outside of the gym. Having told Jenny and Rob a couple of years earlier that ‘no way’ would I enter a physique contest, I did so in April 2012 and came first in the over 50′s Fitness Model category, and second in the over 50′s Muscle Model category, in the UK British Championships organised by Miami Pro. I competed in the equivalent World Championships in April 2013 and came second in both Fitness Model and Muscle Model contests, and – as mentioned later – finally came first in the World Championships in 2014.
I’ve been doing some fitness activities well away from the gym. Age 55 saw me do my first half-marathon, long-distance cycle ride, high-altitude mountain trek and triathlons, and I’ve added my first marathons in 2013 at age 56, starting with my home city of London in April 2013, then the wine-sampling Marathon du Medoc in September 2013. And the worst weather event ever: The Steelman Dorney triathlon –
The year 2012 saw me awarded the International Diploma in Advanced Personal Training, and I subsequently obtained advanced certification in nutrition for both weight management and physical performance. As a result, I now offer Fitness Consultancy, Personal Training and Motivational Speaking Presentations both in London and throughout South-East England.
In the summer of 2013, the Community Channel in the UK made a documentary about my fitness journey which was shown on Sky, Virgin Media and FreeView on various dates in 2013 and 2014. Its available now on the BBC I-Player and on YouTube – click the Videos tab to see it.
And also on TV, I recently worked on a TV series broadcast in the UK called ‘Fit Happens’, co-presented with top nutritionist Keith Cormican in the first series, adding Nicola Chan in the second. Click on the videos tab to see the shows.
This is designed to cover all aspects of fitness, from those just starting out to potential on-stage contestants.
And the pinnacle of my competing career is winning the Miami Pro World Championships for both Fitness Models and Muscle Models for my age group in April 2014. Even after a few years, I’m still getting used to being a double World Champion, and have been back on stage – a total of nine times, in fact!
Now in my sixties, I am pretty much on track with all measures looking good. To ensure that continues, I try to keep control of both my nutrition and training.
On nutrition, my target is 2500 calories per day, with 40% of the calories coming from protein. This means consuming 250g of protein per day, and it requires some planning for me to get that much protein in that number of calories. Talking about planning for macronutrients, I know I should also be keeping track of carbohydrates – but I have devised a short cut for this: if I meet the calorie and protein targets, and avoid the obviously fatty foods and sugar, then I believe the carbs will look after themselves. I tested this over a couple of weeks by actually keeping records of carbs as well, and found that this short cut does indeed work for me, so I am sticking with it.
Like many people, I suspect, I am nowhere near good enough to maintain an accurate record of calories or protein, as often I end up estimating both numbers. So, since it isn’t 100% accurate anyway, I decided to reshape the targets into daily acceptable ranges – any day where my estimate of calories is between 2300 and 2700, and that of protein between 230g and 270g, I count as a good day. And if I get five good days in a week, then that is a good week. I call this approach ‘the 10% System’ and often write and speak on this subject.
Most weeks are good weeks, especially now that I cook for myself much more than before. Being in charge of the kitchen – rather than leaving it to Ronald McDonald and his friends – gives me the level of control needed over the nutrient values and quality of the ingredients used. And I have really enjoyed learning about nutrition, and putting this education into practice. Jenny enjoys the food too, and is also a fan of joining me in producing high-quality, nutritionally planned meals at home – and still seems surprised that I am keen to do the cooking these days.
For workouts, I like to be in the gym around ten times per week – so for a few days, that’s a double visit.
Morning visits are for cardio and abs. Afternoons or evenings are upper body, and I cycle around Arms, Back, Chest, Delts and Elevators (that’s legs, but I like the alphabetical theme, so legs are now elevators!).
I find this is a pretty heavy workout schedule, and many weeks I don’t achieve all ten visits, but its a good target and I don’t beat myself up if I am a couple of workouts short – I just continue following the sequence.
I used to do cardio and abs daily, but I have reduced this to a target of three per week. My CV now consists of either steady state at a fairly low heart rate, or high-intensity intervals, or a 10km race or 5km run with Jenny, usually one of the weekly races organised throughout the UK by Parkrun.
I am currently at a weight of around 11.5 stone (73kg, 160lb), which I am happy with, with a bodyfat of around 11%, which is very much on target. I like to get to around 9% for photoshoots and contests.
To do this, I’ll be expanding both my motivational speaking and Personal Fitness Consultancy offerings, and growing my authorship offerings into more magazine columns, and have now written a book – Fat To Fit At Fifty. As well as that, there is my monthly members’ club – Fit Club 50 – designed to help as many others of my age group increase fitness levels and reduce fatness levels.
I’d also like to develop some more filmed material to help others in the 50+ age group. Plus add more marathons, triathlons, long cycle rides – to prove there is more to fitness than the gym.
I’ve recently reviewed my reasons for making fitness such an important part of my life. Friends who haven’t seen me for some time think that maybe I am in training for an event such as a marathon, or perhaps joining Jenny on one of her triathlons. But actually I’m in training for something more important – the rest of my life. I am already the longest-lived of any male in my family, and the family has a history of arthritis and various cancers. I believe that by being fit I will be in a better position to delay the onset of these or any other nasties that may be lurking to find me in the years ahead.
Rather less gloomily, I do it because I am more than a little bit vain, I guess. Jenny thinks I have made massive improvements, and as I have said before, she loves the look and feel of my new body – this is motivation enough in itself. Doing well in the April 2012 Miami Pro UK National Championships and their 2013 World Championships were real high points, and I enjoyed them so much that I’m going to do my best at the April 2014 World Championships.
Thirdly, I do it because it is fun – I enjoy all aspects of the fitness lifestyle; it makes me feel good every time I achieve a new personal best on an exercise in the gym or timing on a run, or the scales show a drop of 0.1% in bodyfat. And it’s great to go mountain biking with Jenny without her having to wait for me at the top.
Am I addicted to the gym and fitness generally? Absolutely – a couple of days without the gym and I definitely become a bit less nice. Am I obsessed? I hope not. I still go out drinking and eating out with friends and for business. Indeed, I enjoy finding out how best to integrate fitness with an active business and social life. But I now incorporate the calories and macronutrient figures from my social eating and drinking into my daily plan, and adjust the nutrition plan for the rest of the day to compensate for any big splurge. And I am still a passionate believer in traditional English ale – although I have shifted my emphasis to quality rather than quantity. I probably get through around half a dozen pints a week of good quality ale these days, compared to perhaps the same amount on a heavy day ten years ago.
Regrets? Only one. I wish I had discovered the benefits of a fitness lifestyle 30 years earlier. But I believe I am having a good go at this game, even if the journey started late for me.
Finally, I’d like to give massive thanks to Jenny and Rob. Without Jenny’s enthusiasm for the project and Rob’s education and inspiration, this would never have started. And without Jenny’s continuing encouragement and regularly telling me how happy she is with the results, and Rob’s ongoing motivation, further education and belief in me, it may have ended after the first year.
I hope my story – and indeed this whole website – inspires others to adopt a fitness lifestyle, whatever age they may be. If so, I am sure they will get the same benefits and enjoyment from this that I have.