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Start Fresh

Eating & exercise at midlife

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Start Fresh

Doug and Diane Clement's book Start Fresh! encourages middle-aged people to look at their health and make changes to improve fitness and increase longevity.

The West Coast’s heart health couple have a new book under their trim belts and it’s inspiring people at midlife to get back to fitness and healthy eating. The message: burn at least 600 calories a day and eat lightly, but eat well.

Sports medicine clinician Doug Clement and cookbook author and chef Diane have spent a lifetime motivating millions of readers to stay fit and eat healthy. Both were Olympic sprinters during their 20s and they have maintained their fitness level through a passion for track and field and the 10K fun run they founded in 1984–the Vancouver Sun Run.

But Doug’s heart health came into question when an irregular heartbeat exploded into a full-blown stroke, and together the couple had to step back and reassess their eating choices. The result was the Chef on the Run series of heart-healthy cookbooks, which offer readers low-sodium and low-fat versions of favourite dishes.

Their new book, Start Fresh (Whitecap, 2008), further reduces the sodium and fat content in nearly 100 classic dishes; at the same time, it challenges people in their late 40s, 50s, and early 60s to take a hard look at their health and make changes that will improve fitness and increase longevity.

“Diane and I passed through midlife decades ago,” says Doug, now 75; Diane is a vigorous 71. “We found that aging is very real and that it was necessary to adapt our lifestyle to fit the changes in our body. We had to increase our intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and reduce portion size to control our total calories consumed.”

As metabolism naturally slows with age, we require fewer calories for daily activities. The tendency is to slow physical activity as well, but Doug and Diane demonstrate the importance of keeping physically active and eating healthy.

“We have total control of the healthy choices we make every day,” Doug reminds us. “[We] begin by making gradual changes in the amount of exercise we do each day and in our food intake. Healthy choices soon become a habit, allowing us to maintain good health for years to come.”

Doug refers to a study of more than 15,000 adults aged 45 to 64, reported in the American Journal of Medicine in 2007. This cohort study followed four lifestyle habits: maintaining healthy body weight and waist size; eating five or more fruits and vegetables daily; exercising regularly; and avoiding smoking.

At the outset of the study a shockingly low 8.5 percent of the middle-aged participants practised all four healthy habits. At the four-year follow-up, among those who had adopted positive lifestyle habits at midlife, total mortality and cardiovascular disease events were demonstrably lower: 35 percent less heart disease and 40 percent fewer deaths than the control group.

If that’s not motivation enough to exercise more and eat less, Doug and Diane offer other reasons to get active: better sleep, improved mood, and generally more fun and enjoyment of life.

How Healthy are You Now?

As active as Doug and Diane are now (they power-walk or lift weights on alternate days), they realize that many people put health and fitness on hold during their 30s and early 40s when family and work commitments mean less personal time. The result is increased percentage of body fat (a better indicator of overweight than the number of pounds you weigh) and expanded waist measurement (an indicator for increased risk of developing overweight- or obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease).

As the light at the end of the parenting tunnel brightens, more free time means the opportunity for better health choices. Choosing to become active is always the right thing to do. Start Fresh offers helpful assessment tools and then provides four fitness routines to follow. They range from a weight circuit you can do at home to a learn-to-run or walk faster schedule. All are motivation to get up and get physical.

Active, but How Active?

Doug and Diane maintain that to support good health we need to be active enough to burn 600 calories a day. That’s how many calories make up the difference between our basal metabolic rate of 1,500 calories (the number of calories our bodies need to regulate internal temperature, help organs function, and regenerate cellular tissue) and our recommended daily intake of about 2,100 calories. Burn 600 calories every day and we create a modest deficit of calories each week, accumulating to a 3,500-calorie deficit each month. That’s the equivalent of one pound lost.

The goal of burning 600 calories every day may seem hard to reach. How do we spend time on personal fitness and still meet ongoing commitments? Remember that every step we take contributes to our total activity for the day. We can try to build movement into all daily activities. Getting out of the car is a good place to start. More ideas: use stairs instead of elevators. Use every opportunity to move and groove through each day so that it’s easy to burn the 600-calorie target.

Re-Energize at Midlife

Combine this fitness target with meals based on Diane’s fabulous recipes and we have a prescription for health at midlife and beyond.

“It’s a lifelong balancing act for all of us,” says Doug. “The facts are that if we truly want a realistic balance of healthy eating and exercise, then each one of us has to take responsibility for achieving it. No one can give it to us.”

Ways to Burn 600 Calories

Easy walking, gardening, tai chi, or yoga burns 4 to 6 calories every minute. Do these easy-intensity activities for 105 to 140 minutes to burn 600 calories.

Walking fast, hiking, or easy cycling burns 7 to 14 calories every minute. Do these moderate-intensity activities for 50 to 90 minutes to burn 600 calories.

Running moderately, playing soccer, or rowing hard burns 15 to 20 calories every minute. Do these hard-intensity activities for 30 to 40 minutes to burn 600 calories.

Choices Really Do Matter–How to Eat Healthy at Midlife

Choosing a double scoop of sorbet (260 calories) instead of a double scoop of ice cream (400 calories) means a weightlifting workout rather than 50 minutes on the stair-step machine. Choosing a sandwich over a take-out burger means you can walk instead of run the same length of time.

The take-home message? Intelligent food choices are just as important as exercise to start fresh and stay healthy at midlife.

ChoiceCosts YouExercise Solution
Big Mac sandwich530 calories
29 g of fat
40 minutes of
running (9 km/h)
6-inch deli tuna sub sandwich330 calories
16 g of fat
45 minutes of
walking (7 km/h)
Chocolate chip cookie400 calories
28 g of fat
50 minutes on the
stair-step machine
Dough ice cream, double scoop260 calories
1 g of fat
60 minutes on a
weightlifting circuit

Note: The number of calories burned increases with the participant’s body weight. Start Fresh lists the calories burned for each type of activity. Or use an online calculator (healthcalculators.org).

One of Diane’s Great Recipes

Diane Clement is not only the author of the award-winning Chef on the Run cookbooks but she’s also former chef and co-owner of Tomato Fresh Food Café in Vancouver. Here’s one of her heart-healthy recipes, perfect for summer entertaining.

Banana Ice With Berry Purée

Whenever you have too many ripe bananas, pop them into the freezer and you have the beginnings of an instant soft ice cream to satisfy the craving any time.

6 large ripe bananas
1/2 cup (125 mL) low-fat vanilla or fruit yogourt
2 cups (500 mL) fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries
Fresh berries for garnish

Peel fully ripe but not dark bananas and freeze in sealed plastic containers for 4 to 5 hours. Cut frozen bananas into thin chunks and zap in a food processor with the yogourt. Whirl several minutes, stirring frequently, just until thickened and creamy. The mixture should be like soft ice cream.

To serve, purée berries in food processor and spoon about 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of berry purée into a wine goblet or sherbet dish, place a few spoonfuls of banana ice on top, and garnish with fresh berries.

Per Serving

160 calories; 2 g protein; 4 g total fat (2 g sat fat, 0 g trans fat); 34 g carbohydrates; 4 g fibre; 8 mg sodium

Serves 4 to 6.

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