At age 50, Sandra Shaw was in the worst shape of her life.
Once an avid athlete who played tennis, enjoyed martial arts and bicycled more than two dozen miles daily, Shaw’s routines had been interrupted by her own health problems and the need to care for an ailing loved one.
By March 2017, after gaining 135 pounds, the Pawleys Island resident had reached a pivotal point in her life.
“I was tired of looking like that, feeling like that,” she said. “I didn’t want to have to rock myself out of a chair.”
Progress came slowly but steadily as Shaw regained her physical and mental strength.
At first, her workout routine started with walks on the beach, and then she added regular bike rides. As spring turned to summer, the longer days prompted her join Tidelands HealthPoint Center for Health and Fitness in Pawleys Island, where she had to overcome one of the biggest obstacles on her path to better health – her own self-doubt.
“I was quite aware of my size,” Shaw said. “I would walk by the mirror and immediately feel discouraged – negative thoughts would bombard me. Luckily, Tidelands HealthPoint is not one of those show-off gyms – the people are all different sizes and ages. You can feel comfortable working out there.”
In the months since starting her weight-loss journey, Shaw has eliminated dairy, fast food, junk food, soda and juices from her diet. Most of her meals center on plant-based foods, though she occasionally includes fish and seafood, too.
“You have to be willing to try new things, make substitutions and eliminate bad foods,” she said. “It is really not that hard, and it can be fun.”
At Tidelands HealthPoint, the region’s only medical fitness center, she enjoys participating in classes and has embraced strength training.
“Cardio is great and it keeps you going, but weight training is extremely important,” said Shaw, who has lost more than 70 pounds so far. “I feel like it really keeps my metabolism going throughout the day, even when I’m not at the gym.”
Shaw’s success is a testament that anyone, regardless of age, can transform his or her health with the right attitude, diet and a balanced workout program that includes both cardiovascular and strength training, said Michelle Dowd, an exercise physiologist at Tidelands HealthPoint.
“You really want to take a holistic approach to your health,” she said. “When you do that, you’re best-positioned to have a great quality of life as you age.”
One element of a comprehensive fitness plan that’s often overlooked, especially among older adults, is strength training. Older adults should strength train at least two days each week, if not more.
As early as their 30s, most people start to lose both muscle mass and muscle function, and after reaching middle age, the rate of decline can increase further. Some research suggests older adults can lose up to 3 percent of their muscle strength each decade. As a result, people can struggle to manage daily tasks. Lifting weights can help compensate for the natural loss of strength.
Lewis Waldrep, 64, has seen the positive benefits of resistance training as part of his workout routine. The Pawleys Island man joined Tidelands HealthPoint in the summer of 2016 but struggled initially to see results.
That changed after he started working with Angie Hill, a senior exercise physiologist at the medical fitness center, who helped him develop a workout routine that incorporated more variety and targeted different muscle groups.
After reaching a high weight of 200 pounds, Waldrep has since lost more than 15 pounds and feels spry. A regular gym-goer, he does 60 pushups, lifts weights, runs and swims each workout. He spends about two hours in the gym several nights per week.
Regularly changing his workout routine to incorporate different exercises has helped Waldrep stay engaged. So, too, have the results.
“I think that I’m more alert, and my mental acuity is better,” he said. “I feel fit, and I don’t get as tired during the day.”
Even if you can’t make it to the gym as often as Waldrep, carve out time to exercise each week, Dowd said.
In addition to strength training twice per week, adults in generally good shape without physical limitation should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running, each week. The more exercise you work into your schedule, the greater the health benefits you can experience.
“I always encourage people to keep an eye toward the future,” Dowd said. “The investment you make in your health will pay dividends down the road.”