Back in the late '80s, I was a new mommy at home with two babies, toting around—in addition to diaper bags and all that baby paraphernalia—35 extra pounds from my pregnancies. Who had the time to take a shower, never mind get to the gym to exercise? So when I put my two sons in for their midday naps (thank goodness they were great nappers), I headed downstairs to our little family room and popped in an exercise tape. There was just enough floor space to march in place, do some jumping jacks and push-ups and, if I had managed to clear the clutter of toys, I could even manage sit-ups and stretching. I had a variety of tapes that I played, depending on my mood and energy level, and at least they got me moving and back into the swing of exercise.
One of my go-to teachers-on-tape was Kathy Smith, who was not only gorgeous but motivating and instructive. Would I look like her if I kept at it? One could only dream. But in time I did manage to lose the baby weight and get fit. And then, when my boys started preschool, I lost track of Kathy. I traded in my in-house exercise sessions for a gym membership.
Recently, this fitness icon resurfaced when I received an e-mail announcing her new age-fighting workout line of DVDs. Her first, called Ageless with Kathy Smith: Staying Strong, is a strength-training program divided into four 15-minute segments that can be combined or performed separately.
Kathy Smith is getting older right along with us: she is turning 60 this year. She looks remarkable! Want to know why she doesn't deprive herself, what her typical day's diet is like and her personal plans to stay one step ahead of aging? Keep reading.
Sheryl: What's your secret to staying so thin and in such great shape?
Kathy: The secret is consistency with diet and exercise. And if you surround yourself with like-minded people, you set yourself up for success. Having friends who share my passions for hiking, strength training and healthy cooking makes it a no-brainer.
Sheryl: What would you tell a woman over age 40 who has not exercised consistently but now wants to get in shape? What's the best way to get started with an exercise program? How much time should she devote to cardiovascular exercise and strength training each week?
Kathy: The one thing you don't want to do is set yourself up for failure with an immediate "go for broke" attitude right out of the gate. Remember: slow and steady wins the race. Start with a 15-minute walk, and then add 5 minutes to your walk every week. The same goes for strength training: Start off using your own body weight and lighter weights and build up. The key is to find something you enjoy that fits your personality: dance classes, swimming and hiking. And there's always strength in numbers—find a friend to serve as your gym partner or walking buddy. You'll keep each other motivated and accountable.
I'd recommend devoting three days to cardio and three days to strength training—but these aren't strict guidelines. It depends on your body type and what you're trying to accomplish.
Starting around the age of 30, we begin to lose muscle mass—a process I call "the Great Decline"—and that leads to a whole host of issues, from arthritis to back pain to (you guessed it) weight gain. The key to slowing—or even reversing—the Great Decline is strength training. So regardless of our age, we always need a balance of cardio, strength and flexibility training. But after we hit 40, the need for strength training becomes greater than ever.
Sheryl: So many women get discouraged with a strength training program, either saying they don't have enough time or it's boring. Is there a best/worst way to get started?
Kathy: Once you learn to really feel the movement, rather than just going through the motions, experiencing the sensations of your body and the connections through your joints and muscles, you'll find that there's an exciting new relationship between your body and the exercises you're doing. Each workout, you'll discover more and more about yourself, and strength training actually becomes fun.
Sheryl: For most people, food equals pleasure. Do you deprive yourself at all? Or, do you have one secret indulgence you allow yourself?
Kathy: I don't deprive myself, but I do practice portion control. So when something is high in sugar, salt or fat, but is too delicious to pass up, I'll indulge—but not overindulge. I'm a chocolate fanatic, so I'll have a small square of dark chocolate when I really crave it—but, of course, not the whole bar. I love foods that taste great and are good for me, so for the most part, I prefer eating "clean."
Sheryl: Can you talk a little about a day in the life of your typical diet? What are the best foods for women to eat before/after they work out to maximize fat burning and results?
Kathy: I usually eat three meals and two snacks a day. Breakfast is often steel-cut oats with nuts, blueberries and almond milk, or a scrambled egg white veggie omelet. Pre-lunch I'll have a protein shake (see below for an easy recipe). Lunch is typically some sort of salad with lots of greens (arugula, spinach, an assortment of veggies), some legumes and protein on top. For a midafternoon snack I'll have an apple with a slice of peanut butter (see below for a list of some of my favorite snacks). For dinner, I love fish with asparagus (and pretty much any veggie except cauliflower), and for a bedtime snack, I'll have a cup of tea and sometimes a bit of chocolate.
Kathy's Top 10 Favorite Snacks:
10. ASPARAGUS WRAPS: 4 asparagus stalks wrapped with 4 ounces turkey slices. (Optional: add mustard)
9. HUMMUS DIPPERS: 2 hard-cooked egg whites, cauliflower, or celery dipped in 1 to 1.5 tablespoons hummus.
8. CUCUMBER BOATS: Slice a 6-inch piece of hothouse cucumber lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Fill the hollow boats with 1/2-cup of low-fat cottage cheese and 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts.
7. CELERY STICKS: Stuff celery sticks with 1 to 1.5 tablespoons soy nut butter, almond butter or natural crunchy peanut butter.
6. YOGI BERRIES: Stir together 3/4 cup organic fat-free plain yogurt and 1/2-cup fresh berries.
5. TUNA WRAPS: Season one 5-ounce pouch of tuna with fresh dill, lemon juice, scallions or lemon pepper and dab with 1/2 tablespoon of light mayonnaise. Wrap in lettuce leaves.
4. CANTALOUPE WEDGES: 1 wedge of cantaloupe (1/4 of a whole) with 1/2-cup low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese.
3. NOT YOUR MOTHER'S ONION DIP: In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add 1 large onion (thinly sliced). Cook on low until golden brown. Remove from heat and cool. Add 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese and 1/2 cup fat-free Greek-style yogurt. Mix all ingredients together. Serve with sliced veggies.
2. PARMESAN CRISPS WITH SMOKED TURKEY: Shape 1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese into 8 mini-mounds. Drop mounds into skillet and cook over medium heat, gently flattening with a spatula until crisp. Remove and cool. Season with pepper and top with sliced smoked turkey breast.
1. SHAKE IT UP! Protein shakes are a staple of my diet. Here's a classic version. Using a blender, mix 1 cup skim, soy or almond milk, 1 scoop of protein powder, 1 cup frozen mixed berries, 1 tablespoon flax oil and half of a medium banana.
Sheryl: What are your plans going forward to stay ahead of aging?
Kathy: Staying young is about energy and vitality—and every day, we get to choose whether or not we do things that energize us or things that deplete us. One of the great things about growing older is that we get to know ourselves on a deeper level. We know what our triggers are, and we know what we can do to avoid them. So I look for things that refresh and recharge me: morning meditation, a cup of green tea, protein shakes, and, of course, exercise. And meanwhile I try and stay away from toxic relationships and negative energy. Over the years I've learned that this formula doesn't only keep me feeling young and vital, it gives me a sense of gratitude that I carry with me throughout the day.