Staying Fit While We Age: RHOM Star and Model Joanna Krupa Starts the Conversation

Thirty-eight-year-old Polish model and former Playboy pinup Joanna Krupa took to Instagram to post the cover of her Be Active magazine spread and pair it with her views on, well, people who aren’t as fit as she is. She starts with, “There is absolutely no excuse in not staying fit and healthy at any age!”, and ingloriously ends with, “If u love yourself you will find the determination within yourself to get off the sofa and make a change in your life and not judge others that do.” The “Real Housewives of Miami” star immediately faced backlash. While her comments seem generally kosher and motivating, it didn’t help that she juxtaposed them with a flawless professionally-edited bikini body shot of herself, as if to say to her followers, This is what not being lazy looks like, and if you don’t look like me, that’s you’re fault.

Robin5rick commented, “I have 5 kids & 2 granddaughters, I work full time & I try to work out when I can. We as women should be encouraging each other, not breaking each other down.”

Breckdoesnotcompute commented, “I would exercise if I wasn’t working 12 hour shifts 5 days a week just to survive.”

Others stood up to defend those who simply don’t have the luxury of being “fit” according to Joanna’s nearly impossible standards. Colourofsulfur commented, “The key is to love yourself no matter what—even if you gain some weight. Yes fitness and being healthy are SUPER important but sometimes people have reasons they can’t lose weight, like medical issue or medications they’re taking. They still have to know they’re worth something too.”

Krupa has every right to be proud of her body, but she clearly misjudged when seemingly shaming others for not fitting the bill she set for herself. Realizing her tone was off, Krupa edited her post to reflect her true thoughts. She wrote, “For me there is absolutely no excuse in not staying fit and being healthy at any age for as long as I can! (Staying fit means different things to various people.) To me motivation and drive is the key. Over the years during my career I heard so many comments … ‘she probably starves herself etc’ I have always eaten anything I wanted. I try to maintain a diet of 2000 calories a day no matter if I workout that day or not. I make sure to workout 2-5 times a week depending on my schedule . I try not to get lazy even when tired after work or on a vacation ….I try to find time to be active. To me It’s called being ambitious and dedicated but it’s not always easy. It’s my choice and am thankful I can do it . I choose to show myself love by finding determination within myself to get off the sofa and make a change in my life even when I am feeling lazy. And I do love to be lazy watching tv on the sofa!”

But instead of nitpicking a celebrity’s comments and parlaying them into a broad stroke character assessment, let’s take a lesson from the conversation that arose following the original post and dig more into the relationship between age and weight management.

Image via joannakrupa/instagram

Staying Slim and Fit While Aging

Krupa’s post raises an important question: is it really just a matter of not being lazy to stay fit as we age? We often assume weight gain goes hand-in-hand with aging, but is it true? And, do we blame ourselves, or just Father Time?

Becky Kerkenbush, clinical dietitian-advanced practice and board certified specialist in gerontological nutrition, breaks it down to practical concerns, “Weight gain with age isn’t inevitable. People tend to gain weight with age due to increased sedentary lifestyle/less activity, decreased muscle mass, and eating the same or more calories even though metabolism slows and calorie needs change with age.”

As we age, our bodies inevitably change and so too do their reactions to the same dietary and exercise habits. To eat and exercise the same as we enter our 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond would be unwise.

Robert S. Herbst, personal trainer, 18-time world champion powerlifter, and weight loss expert, offers a more biochemical reason, “The main reason people gain weight as they get older is that there is a natural decline in testosterone and human growth hormone levels (HGH) with concomitant changes in body composition with fat gain and loss of muscle mass. There is also a loss of bone density that can lead to osteopenia and ultimately osteoporosis.”

Higher testosterone levels are linked to sustained weight loss, marked reduction in waist circumference and BMI, and improvement in body composition. After their 30s, men’s testosterone levels decrease one percent per year. For women, the loss of estrogen can contribute to weight gain. Estrogen production starts to decline in most women in their late 40s, although menopause doesn’t usually occur until after 50 years of age. In studies, researchers witnessed lab animals eating more and being less physically active when their estrogen hormone levels were lower. Reduced estrogen levels also lower metabolic rate.

How to Offset Age-Related Weight Gain

Even though the diagnosis may appear daunting, it actually lends to Krupa’s argument: we can combat weight gain with age through deliberate, proactive efforts. First, recognizing that our bodies mature to be different than they were in our 20s is essential. Next, it’s time to get smart about our dietary intake and our exercise regimens.

Kerkenbush underlines the importance of cardio and says, “lifting weights maintains and/or increases muscle mass” because “muscle burns more calories than fat.” She also suggests monitoring portions at mealtime, with a focus on more nutrient-dense foods, as well as staying hydrated, not skipping meals, and getting adequate sleep.

When it comes to exercise, Herbst advises, “The best way to counter this is to do weight training involving complex multi-joint movements such as squats, lunges, dead lifts, and bench press. These keep the metabolism elevated as the body repairs muscle broken down during the training and builds new muscle, which itself also burns more calories.” He continues, “The elevated metabolism helps burn fat and the building of new muscle reverses the natural decline in muscle mass. Also, the exercises cause the body to make more testosterone and HGH, which has been associated with fat burning and the building of new muscle. Since the exercises stress the spine and long bones, the body makes new bone in response and bone density is improved. As a result, people who weight train in their 40s and 50s can be bigger, stronger, healthier, and buffer than they were in their 20s and 30s.”

Modest Lifestyle, Worthwhile Results

Maintaining a healthy diet and consistent exercise regimen as we age may not reap Joanna-like results. In fact, it shouldn’t. Many of us have too much going on in our personal and professional lives to aspire to model-like dimensions. That’s a full-time job. Consuming a modest, nutrient-dense diet and maintaining a regular exercise routine that is varied and constantly adapting with time should be enough to feel our best and maintain our happy weight as we age.

As the body changes, we may all have to become a bit more stricter with our diets and how we workout to maintain our weight, but why shame ourselves into having the same curves that we paraded around with in our 20s? Some of us have the willpower and discipline to achieve that feat, some of us don’t. No shame in either game.

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Aylin Erman
Aylin Erman

Aylin is founder of GlowKitchen, a food blog with an emphasis on vegan and gluten-free fare. Aylin has been living in Istanbul, where she is founder and CEO of a cold-pressed juice and healthy foods company JÜS (www.jusistanbul.com).