Back to Fitness: Staying Fit After 50

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By John Andersen

Jeff Lysiak and his sons.
Jeff Lysiak and his sons.

I turned 40 last month. And you know what? Turning 40 can feel pretty fantastic! Unfort-unately, many of us have fallen out of shape for so long that when a monumental birthday comes up, such as 40 or 50, turning your fitness around can seem downright hopeless and pointless.

That’s when it hit me to share about one of my best running buddies, Jeff Lysiak. Jeff is turning 52 this spring and is training for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile race, taking place this July. He has completed 20 ultramarathons over the past few years, but just five years ago Jeff was not running at all. He was out of shape, carried 35 extra pounds, and was on medication for high blood pressure.

Then, Jeff made a decision to change course and he stuck to it. Jeff’s story is very inspiring because he’s “one of us” – a busy parent, working professional, etc., who now does extraordinary things because he decided to. I caught up with Jeff for a great interview:

Back to Fitness: “So, how would you summarize your general health and fitness before you started running?”

Jeff: “Ha. For some reason people like to hear my story. Maybe it’s because I went from running zero miles to running a 100-mile race in a little over a year. Before I started running I was like so many people, a really common story. I was very athletic growing up, but then life happens. You get married, have children, have a busy career, and you have no time for yourself. I continued to play hockey but then even that stopped after both my boys began to play and we were at the rink five days a week. So then I really did not do much.”

BF: “Did you feel out of shape?”

Jeff: “Yes, I definitely felt out of shape. I noticed I was getting out of breath on short hikes and specifically one day when I was enticed to play hockey for a team I noticed that when I tried to tie my skates my belly was preventing me from bending over. I even had to start on a high blood pressure medication. Not good.”

BF: “What finally got you to start exercising and running?”

Jeff: “A few things influenced my decision to start running. In no particular order they are:

1) My neighbor Dan Spearin. He had to have back surgery a few years ago, so we together decided that after his surgery we were going to get back in shape. That is really how it started. There are a lot of funny stories from those first few weeks of us starting running. One is that after our first run (probably just a mile or so) we went back to my garage and had beer. Another is how he made fun of my grass-stained shoes because they were the only pair I had and I had been wearing them to mow the lawn for a number of years. Now I do not even know how many pair of running shoes I own. Ha! But we were on our way!

2) I did not want to be an overweight, sit-around-the-house parent. I wanted to be an example for my boys that you need a healthy lifestyle. Also, having a wife who is an endocrinologist who sees mainly obese and diabetic patients was a stimulus not to become one.

3) There is this famous quote by the Dali Lama when asked about what surprised him about humanity. His response was, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” This really hit home. It is so true and I keep it on our refrigerator at home. I wanted to start living now and doing things now. Not waiting for the future because, as you know, that time may never come for some us.

BF: “Did you face some initial challenges that made you want to stop and go back to life as normal?”

Jeff: “Not really. I am of the belief that anyone can do anything. You just have to stick with it. Also, as we began to explore all the beautiful trails in the mountains around us, I really enjoyed it. I love getting out in the mountains, being in nature, seeing the wildlife, and being on some mountaintop at sunrise.”

BF: “What kept you motivated?”

Jeff: “At first it was having a friend to run with. Dan and I really motivated one another. And now, as you know, we have quite a large running community in Crozet and Charlottesville. It’s always nice to run with someone or a group of people. I also like going out by myself sometimes, just to be enjoying the peace and quiet of the mountains.

BF: “Can you describe the fitness transformation? How your life is better/healthier now vs. 10 years ago?”

Jeff: The other day my wife pulled out this picture from several years ago and said, “Wow, look how fat you were!” I guess we did not even consider that I was overweight because it is the new norm nowadays. But when I compare myself now to that picture, yeah, there is a difference. I lost about 35 pounds since running. I am off all medication, and I feel great. I know it sounds like some commercial, but its true.”

BF: “Did you start just paying attention to your diet more?”

Jeff: Yes, my eating habits changed. I no longer drink any soft drinks and I now will have a beer only occasionally. When I began training for my first 100-mile race I started documenting every meal and that really helped me become aware of what I was eating and how to improve upon it.”

BF: “Parting advice/motivation for current couch potatoes, busy parents/professionals who want to start getting fit but seem stuck in a rut?”

Jeff: “When I first started running it took me a long time to realize that everything at home was going to be OK and still there when I got back, and that I would still get my work done. It is not that I did not think my wife Jen could handle things. Of course she can. It’s just my personality, I like being around. I would always think that I had to hurry and get a run done to get back home. I was not enjoying it. Even though I was out running it still did not feel like it was ‘my time’. But as I went out running more and more I realized that every time I got back home everything was just fine and life in my household could go on with out me. Thus, I finally really started to enjoy my runs. Now when I go for long runs, which could be a few hours or more, I think of them as adventures and I am relaxed and having fun.

“If I could offer one piece of advice, it would be to make running fun. Do not make it un-enjoyable. Many people think that they have to go out and run at a certain pace and hurry up and get done. Slow down, have fun, breathe in and out, and enjoy your time. After all, it is your time to live.”

So all you 40, 50, and 60 year-olds, it’s never too late to get back to fitness!

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