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Posted on Wed, May 9, 2012 : 10:21 p.m.

Calling all boomers: Get up, gear up, get active

By Jeff Jackson


Wild party for my 50th birthday? Nah! The Holiday Hustle 5K for me!

Photo by Doug Jackson

Are you a baby boomer, age 50 or older, or about to hit that milestone number?

Congratulations! It’s a great time to be alive. In 1900, the average life expectancy was just 47 years. Today that number is close to 80, and it’s likely to increase further in the years ahead. What did (or does) reaching 50 mean to you? Has it changed your outlook at all? Have you made or do you intend on any lifestyle changes to help you make the rest of your life the best it can be?

Last December I joined more than 4 million Americans who turned 50 in 2011 (“late boomers,” as it were). I want to maintain a high quality of life for as long as possible, and I’ll go out on a limb and assume everyone else wants this, too.

And the prospects are excellent; these days there’s a greater level of nutritional awareness, plentiful options for exercise and physical therapy, and a preventive approach to health care with incentives from insurance companies to stay active and fit. And with the 50-and-over demographic segment expected to make up 45 percent of the U.S. population by 2015, our voices will be heard; if we want something bad enough, we’ll get it.

So are boomers taking advantage of the opportunities to improve their quality of life? Some sure are; the number of over-50 marathon runners continues to increase, and in a study sponsored by Humana, Inc. 75 percent of the respondents over age 50 reported exercising three or more times per week. But according to a New York Daily News article, about two-thirds of all boomers are overweight, with about half of those considered obese.

Clearly, not everyone is joining the party. I suspect many of you, like me not all that long ago, would like to be more active and lead a healthier lifestyle, but don't know where to start or don't think you have the time. In my mid-forties, I decided to make the time and start training, and “Fitness at 50” is the result.


It's all about the attitude! (Glamming prior to the Borgess Run for the Health of It! 5K last weekend.)

Photo by Rachel Jackson

I’m celebrating 2012 (my “year of being 50”) with a series of activities stretching my body and mind in new ways, both to challenge myself and to show what can be done at age 50 and beyond. Here are a few of my goals this year:
  • Run and bike a combined total of at least 2,500 miles (50x50)
  • Run a 50K ultramarathon
  • Take a 500-mile bike trip
  • Attend 50 Aikido classes in one month (completed)
  • Write a novel of at least 50,000 words

Now, I didn’t go from inactivity to all this overnight. But the good news is that improvement — even rapid improvement — can happen at any age. I began running seriously at age 46 and just four years later I am performing near the top of my age group. For a really amazing example, one guy I correspond with went from couch potato at age 52 to completing an Ironman triathlon at 55.

In future columns, I will be reporting on my adventures and discoveries from this year of celebration and the lessons I learn along the way. I’ll also be talking to other active people in their 40s, 50s, and older, sharing their stories about what they do to keep fit, what they enjoy about it, and what motivates them to keep going through the not-so-enjoyable parts. I hope at least a few of you out there will be inspired to join me in getting more active and getting or keeping fit. It's good for you!


This is good for me... (gasp!) This is good for me...

Photo by Rachel Jackson

I would like to hear your stories, too! If you’ve started a fitness program, or have a success story (such as a couch-to-5K program), email me at and let me know if I can quote you.

Jeff Jackson is a runner, cyclist, and student of Aikido who writes the Fitness at 50 blog. His other interests include history, writing, and food (especially coffee, bread and chocolate). He can be reached at



Thu, May 10, 2012 : 10:31 p.m.

Jeff Jackson

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 1:52 a.m.

Amen! There was another feature on NPR today as well, that claimed that people who sit all day at desk jobs can be at greater risk of heart disease, even if they run in the morning. But the good news is that if you get up and walk a bit every now and then, the risk drops again. Jeff

Sarah Rigg

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

Great column. I'd ask you to reconsider, however, your conflation of thinness and health and overweight with poor health. Many studies have shown you can be fat and fit, and even the NIH says that genetics play a huge part in our overall body size and shape. Some of those boomers in the "overweight" category might be very fit, since we all know BMI doesn't tell the full story. I know people who are very big, well into the so-called "obese" BMI range, who run triathlons. It makes them fitter but not necessarily thin.

Sarah Rigg

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 12:30 p.m.

Actually, the role weight plays in Type II diabetes is NOT entirely clear. GENETICS are the biggest predictor of who will develop type II diabetes. From the American Diabetes Association: Unfortunately, too many people disregard the other risk factors for diabetes and think that weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes, and many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.

Jeff Jackson

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 1:49 a.m.

Thank you very much for your comment, Sarah. Of course we're all different, and I wasn't intending to universally equate body size with health. But I believe the relationship between excess weight and certain health issues later in life (e.g. type II diabetes) is pretty well established. Kudos to your triathlete friends (they're fitter than I am) but I doubt that the great majority of overweight Americans are in similar shape. Jeff

Shelley Schanfield

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 10:30 a.m.

Inspiring post, Jeff. A couple years before I turned 50, I took up yoga and wrote a 100k novel. I'm 60 and still standing on my head regularly, and almost done with the second book, clocking in over 120K words. You're probably aware of this new book by Gretchen Reynolds already: The First Twenty Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer. I just heard the author talk. Some of what she said was surprising, like don't stretch before you exercise. Looking forward to hearing more.

Jeff Jackson

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 1:33 a.m.

Good for you, Shelley! I hadn't heard of the book, but I'll check it out. Yes, static stretching before running is discouraged these days because it stresses cold muscles. Dynamic exercises are encouraged instead, to get the blood into the muscles. So, for example, I warm up before a run with loose jumps, shoulder circles, and knee raises. However, static stretching *after* exercise is a good idea. Jeff