It’s never too late to get fit. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or whether you’ve ever been in shape in your life, all that you really need is a shift in thinking: identify a modest goal for minor improvement and be successful at that. When Luisa Coll-Pardo Heymann, 71, started exercising again after an accident, she had no idea how that would change her life. Having recently published her first book – Get A Move On! Mini-Workouts Anytime Anywhere– she is now on a mission to prove that fitness is for anyone.
Luisa, what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always been pretty active, but in 2014, I was suddenly sidelined with a broken neck after being hit by a drunk driver—yes, ouch!—and, in a nanosecond, my life turned upside down. For months I could barely move, so when finally able to resume something approaching a normal life, I had to start getting back in shape in little tiny bite-sized pieces. Having taught aqua aerobics off and on for 20 years, I knew a lot about fitness, so was able to develop a program of mini-workouts to increase my strength and flexibility slowly but gradually. At some point, I realized that these lessons would be valuable for anyone who’s been sedentary for a while and wants to be fitter and feel better, regardless of the reason.
I’d been copy-editing other people’s work for years, so I decided to use my skills to write down what I’d learned from the accident and its aftermath and share the knowledge that enabled me to work my way back to good health.
Did your accident make you re-evaluate your life in any way?
Of course. anyone who’s lived through any kind of episode that might have been fatal if things had gone just a little differently is changed forever. My priorities around what’s really important in life shifted and I definitely had to reassess what “having a good body” meant. In our youth- and beauty-obsessed culture, we’re constantly being told to strive for someone else’s standard of beauty, but being “fit and healthy” means feeling well, sleeping well, having a good digestive system, having a robust immune system, and having enough pep for both work and play, so that’s what I focus on and strive for now. I no longer care at all that my legs aren’t longer (or slimmer or tanner), I just thank them and bless them every single day for being able to dance or ride a bike and take me from Point A to Point B.
What is your favourite exercise?
I have to list three because the favourite depends on what the goal is at any given moment: there’s what I do to keep my brain alert and my muscles fired up all day so I don’t get too stiff. There’s the regular daily exercise to keep my whole system humming; and then there’s the once or twice a week challenge where I can throw myself into something the way I did as a kid and, not incidentally, burn more fat.
My favourite mini-workout is sets of sit-squat-stands because you can do them repeatedly throughout the day and see improvements in stamina really quickly. As a devoted “dog-mom,” I have to include walking the dogs as my favourite regular daily pastime, even though I sometimes have to drag myself out the door (because I’m busy or not in the mood or the weather stinks), but I’m always glad I went both for the joy of spending time with these loveable critters with whom I share my life and for how much better my body always feels while walking. When it comes to doing something challenging, I have to mention water aerobics which, in addition to being a great workout that targets every single muscle in the body, is just really fun. I think of it as a personal dance party with great music and I love the way I can leap like a gymnast and not worry about the landing. And now that I’ve told you probably way more than you wanted to know, I’ll even expand on that to include my favourite vacation exercises, which are just what I do for R&R, namely snorkelling, walking on the beach, hiking, and/or paddling, depending on where we are.
What is your best advice for midlife women who put on weight over the pandemic?
The first question you have to ask is whether the weight you put on is from inactivity or too many calories or both. When it comes to being sedentary, at the risk of being too self-referential, I’d say “Get a move on!” If you like going to the gym, then it’s time to re-establish whatever routine you had before, but there’s no reason to go to a gym if you don’t want to. Daily mini-workouts, a regular walking program, a few minutes a week with hand-weights, and a little stretching can quickly put you on a path to being healthier, and with increased movement, you’ll lose a little weight, but you can’t ignore the food part of the equation if you need to lose 20 or more pounds.
The most important thing is to mostly eat foods that are nourishing and, maybe even more importantly, stop consuming foods that are hardly better than poison, except that instead of killing you quickly, they slowly wreck your health until you just feel like a mess (Public Enemy #1: sodas, both regular and diet). The insidious thing about most junk food is the way it affects your body and leaves you constantly unsatisfied and wanting more and more, even if you’ve already had plenty of calories.
Why is it harder for women in middle age to lose weight and stay toned?
As people age, metabolism tends to slow down and it’s typical for people to be less active as they get older for all kinds of reasons like having a more sedentary job as they advance in their career, or never getting quite back to 100% after an illness or injury, and the physical demands of life are usually less as we age. Just think about what it takes to run around after children. But as they get older, parenting becomes less physically demanding, even though it may be more psychologically challenging! The added issue for women is that they have a lower percentage of muscle and a higher percentage of fat than men to begin with. Having said that, being healthy and fit is possible at every age and, frankly, it’s even more important to stay active and eat mostly nutritious foods when we get older, since we no longer have the resilience of youth. Even though I’d love to have the smooth skin and muscle tone that I had as a girl, I wouldn’t trade the wisdom and comfort that I have now for those blessings of youth, even if I could.
What is next for you?
I have a book that I hope to launch early next year on how to enjoy eating, be reasonably fit, and not too fat and a second project, which is a guide for the adult novice cook that started as a chapter in the food book but has grown too big, so I’m spinning it off. Like most people, I want to be healthy and feel attractive and I love to eat! Plus, I enjoy cooking and entertaining, so am always looking for creative ways to balance the pleasures of the table with good health.
The bottom line is that it’s not what we do or eat once in a blue moon that determines our health and girth; it’s the daily choices that determine how well—or ill or sluggish—we feel.