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Fit at Fifty

It’s never too late to get in shape when extreme challenges are ahead.

By TCI Explorer John Galleymore ~ Photos By Brilliant Studios, www.brilliantstudios.com

As I explained my next planned adventure and what it entailed, a close friend replied, “Hadn’t you look to start getting in shape?” He cited a recent picture of me on East Caicos and, on reflection, I have to admit I was getting a little portly. If I was serious about competing in the 2019 Marathon Des Sables, marathondesables.com, a 250 km run across the Sahara Desert, then I had some serious training to do.

I have just turned 50 and have always been active with hiking and running, but as you get older the weight can start to creep on and it’s often harder for older folks to shift it. But take heed, excess weight is not just a vanity issue—it can lead to health problems such as strokes, diabetes and heart issues.
I decided to tackle this dilemma on all fronts and not just “crash diet” to lose a few pounds. I undertook some serious research that led me into the realms of weight training, boxing, yoga, nutrition and the understanding of hormones and their role in balancing our bodies.

Before and after

To prepare for the 2019 Marathon Des Sables, John Galleymore undertook a serious fitness regime.

I decided to set out all the things I needed to change, including:
DIET: I decided make subtle changes to my eating habits. Out went white bread, bad carbs, candy, processed foods, and most dairy products, and in came more vegetables, good fats, seeds and nuts. I cut down on my intake of meats (especially red meat) and immediately felt better for it.
GYM: I wanted to keep toned up as I lost weight so enrolled in the Wrightfully Fit gym on Providenciales (www.wrightfullyfit.com). This had the cross section of exercises I was looking for, including free weights, cardio machines and boxing punch bags. I gleaned plenty of advice from owner John Wright for the road ahead.
YOGA: I wanted to increase my flexibility. This not only decreases the chance of injury, but yoga is a great way to de-stress and it can give an enormous sense of well-being and calm. I found the best place for all types of yoga at any level of ability to be the Retreat Yoga and Wellness Studio (www.retreattc.com) at Ports of Call plaza.
SWIMMING: This is the one sport that “does it all.” If you can never run, get to a gym or go to an exercise class, then 20 minutes of swimming a few times a week will make a huge difference! Better still, you don’t need to be an expert swimmer and it’s free!
HORMONAL IMBALANCE: Most people are only not aware that any hormonal imbalance can wreak havoc on the body. From thyroid issues to insulin production, how we feel (and look) are often a direct result of our natural hormone production.

Working out in the gym
I have frequented gyms on and off most of my life, so I do feel comfortable in them and the machines and equipment are second nature to me. However, for a beginner they can be very daunting places to walk into. I appreciated the friendliness and welcoming nature of the staff and gym users at Wrightfully Fit. A good introduction for a novice would be to book a one-to-one session with either John or one of his qualified personal trainers. They will show you around the gym and give detailed instruction on how to use the equipment so that you get maximum benefit and exercise safely. They can design a program tailormade for you.

“We believe yoga is a path to connection, and the antidote to separation. Yoga is one of the most holistic approaches to your well-being, because while the physical aspect of yoga is often what draws people to the practice, there is an undercurrent of self-awareness and a broader life perspective developing.”
—Laura and Lindsay Mensen

Yoga can increase flexibility, strength and well-being.

Yoga is something I’d never done. It never appealed to me, because I thought that unless you’re heaving weights around, panting for air and sweating profusely, it’s not “real” exercise . . . how wrong I was! As a novice, I booked a private lesson with Lindsay, who co-founded The Retreat with her sister Laura. Within minutes Lindsay has me totally at ease. She takes me through several basic poses, moves and techniques which are the fundamentals of yoga. Once I’ve got the basic grasp, I can join a class anywhere I choose. I tell her my concern that I will stand out as a novice, and get the poses wrong. She assures me that yoga is all about yourself and you go at your own pace. I soon find that the positions come easily, although I’m amazed at the strength needed to hold them correctly for any period of time. Fortunately, you can make the session as hard or as easy as you like—The Retreat offers classes to suit everyone from Deep Flow to Hot Yoga and relaxing and gentle stretching.

Swimming in warm TCI waters

Swimming is exercise good for body, mind and soul.

I’ve been told countless times that swimming is the best all-round exercise you can possible do, for it’s the one activity that works all the major muscle groups and gives you a cardio workout simultaneously. Despite knowing its benefits, I’ve never been a great swimmer and if I was to stick to my new fitness regime, that had to change!
Of all the sports and exercises available, swimming is probably one of the few that you can’t initially self-learn. Once you have the basics however, you can advance and improve alone and at your own pace.
Although I could already swim, I wanted to improve my technique, so I contacted Ben Stubenberg, a TCI swim coach and founder of the “Race for the Conch” ocean swim event (www.caicunaniki.com). I started off slowly and very soon improved my technique, allowing me to swim farther. The good thing about swimming is that you don’t need to be an expert—even a short swim will give you a great workout. If it’s confidence in the water you need, there’s no better teacher than Ben, and he offers his services to any age and any level of swimmer.

“Open water swimming provides a workout experience like no other. When you swim in the clear turquoise waters of our islands, you not only engage the whole body in fluid motion, but you enter a different world. There is no other exercise that so completely utilizes every muscle group.”
—Ben Stubenberg

The training regime

Exercise is a good way to defuse the tensions of life.

Now that I had the best information from professionals in their fields, I embarked on a 12-week program of health and fitness. My goal was to lose my excess weight, become fitter, leaner and more supple. I initially set about training three to four times a week. Primarily, this was gym-based as I wanted to ease into the training to avoid any injury. I started off with light weights and built up gently as my strength increased. John Wright was a constant source of advice and inspiration. Under his guidance, I found myself using free weights, boxing punch bags and cardio machines.
I soon added a weekly swim into my program. This was actually on my “rest day” from the gym. Rest is as important as working out and without good rest days, injury and fatigue will soon follow. Swimming is the best exercise to limit stress on the body, so it’s perfect to start off with while you strengthen joints and muscle.
After a number of lessons at The Retreat Studio, I was able to practice yoga at home. It is one of the few exercises you can do anywhere! At home, on the beach—there’s no excuse once you have learnt the basics and it’s also a great way to relieve stress.
In fact, stress and anxiety are one of the key factors in gaining and retaining excess weight. Who hasn’t been in the situation where we grab a candy bar or slice of cake after a hard day? That is stress creating a hormone called cortisol. Levels of this “stress hormone” rise during tension-filled times. This can turn your overeating into a habit. Because increased levels of the hormone also help cause higher insulin levels, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods. It is a vicious circle that needs to be broken.
I would recommend that anyone serious about changing their lifestyle or concerned about excess weight visit the doctor and get blood tests to determine any underlying issues. As men age, testosterone decreases and this can lead to excess weight around the belly. In women, menopause can wreak havoc with weight, so it’s important to seek advice whatever your gender.

Changing my food lifestyle
In order to find the best way I could to change my “food lifestyle,” I contacted Tamika Handfield, founder of Nutrition In Demand (www.nutritionindemand.com) and one of the leading authorities on nutrition and health in the TCI. She says, “Don’t diet—change your lifestyle!”

“Eating well is fundamentally important to living well and having good quality of life as we age. The old adage, ‘We are what we eat,’ turns out to be true. The nourishment the body needs to support good growth in children and optimal health in adults comes directly from the foods we eat. Therefore, it is imperative that we choose whole foods over refined foods; fruits and vegetables over chips and soda and lean protein sources such as beans and poultry over their fat-laden counterparts of beef and pork.
Changing the way you eat can seem daunting if you try to do everything at once. Instead, commit to making small, incremental changes that you can maintain. For example, if you are trying to eat less meat, commit to eating a vegetarian meal at least once a week until you are comfortable cooking that way and then you can increase the number of days you have a vegetarian dinner. Eating a healthy diet consists of variety, portion control (moderation), and being intentional about what you put into your body.”

—Tamika Handfield MS, RD,
Founder, Nutrition In Demand
Tamika gives some great advice. It’s about a lifestyle change, not crash dieting or starving yourself. Despite my rigorous training and watching my diet, I still had a few beers and a pizza at the weekend. However, I was conscious not to eat junk food all weekend (as I used to) but use it as “reward’ for a good week’s training.
In my research I came across all sorts of weird diets. One that I did investigate was the Ketogenic Diet. This seems to be the “fad” diet at the moment, but I did follow it on a basic level—cut out carbs (found predominantly in processed foods), introduce more “good” fats, fish and vegetables and cook with butter and not processed vegetable oil.
After some weeks, I found the excess weight falling off and I had more energy as I “de-toxed” into a healthy diet. Training became more habit than chore and when I couldn’t make the gym or a swim, I walked to work instead. I lost 32 pounds over 12 weeks (going from 220 pounds to 188) and will look to continue to embrace a healthier lifestyle. It’s not hard to do, it’s simply a case of making good choices.

*Be sure to seek medical advice before undertaking any exercise regime or diet change.

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