Heath and Fitness: Stay fit at any age
February 2, 2009
One look at a glossy magazine will tell you that our society holds lofty ideals of what it means to be in shape.
Nationwide, however, the obesity rate is rising and diseases such as diabetes are prevalent. Many of us are well intentioned about our health, but shuck those New Year’s resolutions not long after the ball drops or beat ourselves up for overindulging and not exercising enough.
It doesn’t need to be like that, though, according to three top Grand County athletes who took a moment to weigh in on what it takes to stay fit at any age.
Lifelong health is a journey, not a destination to these three men who span the generations ” from age 34 to 49 a still-racing 73-year-old ” and each offers some insights into what it takes to get and stay healthy.
Craig Kozak, 34
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For 34-year-old Craig Kozak, it’s all about having fun.
Recent transplants to the Grand County, Kozak and his wife Susan Ha opened a chiropractic practice in Fraser in early 2008.
With a life-long interest in health and fitness, Kozak made a beeline to a career in medicine starting in high school. But staying fit for the busy doctor is all about doing things he enjoys and making positive choices in life.
Clients at his chiropractic office often sheepishly tell him that they know they ought to eat better and exercise more, and Kozak asks them one simple question: “Is it fun?”
Exercise shouldn’t be torture, but can be about simply doing what you enjoy, whether a walk in a park or a gnarly uphill climb on a mountain bike, he said.
Achieving better health and fitness is about setting realistic goals, however modest, for what you “want” to do, not what you “should want,” Kozak said.
He doesn’t jibe with many in the medical community who offer the proverbial “don’t do that” to patients whose problem is that “it hurts when I do this.”
As a chiropractor, Kozak tries to help his patients get back to the lifestyle or activities they love, he said.
A Chicago-area native, Kozak began cycling competitively as a student at the University of Illinois, and his passion for biking and skiing are what brought him to Grand County, where he’s a member of the Winter Park Winery Bike Team and competes in road races, mountainbiking events and cyclecross, a mix of the two.
“I begin with the end in mind,” Kozak said of his workouts.
Kozak is “geeky” about training, he said. He follows a strict schedule of riding designed to optimize his peak periods in race season, and he monitors his weight and his heart rate, plotting patterns on a spreadsheet daily.
The best thing about training, Kozak said, is that he can eat anything he likes. He aims for simple, healthy foods, avoiding an excess of certain fats ” he is a vegetarian ” but Kozak also enjoys those post-race celebrations of beer and pizza.
Eating better doesn’t mean depriving yourself of thing you love either, Kozak said, but making positive choices of healthy foods that you enjoy. It’s not perfection, just nudging oneself to better choices.
“How well do New Years resolutions stick?” Kozak asked.
“If I’m not competing, I can become a real couch potato,” Kozak said, so in colder months when he’s not gunning for podiums he has other goals, including the plan to ski one million vertical feet this season and to summit all of the 14ers in coming years.
“I try to be a good example,” Kozak said of working with his patients. And he hopes to carry on on a healthy life of competition in the coming years, adding that maybe he’ll pick up a new sport along the way (with a twinkle in his eye, he mentioned rock climbing).
Keith Sanders, 49
At 49, Keith Sanders is still gathering laurels. The ski shop owner recently won the mountain bike race series at Winter Park as well as a state championship, and said that healthy living is about balancing his race goals with all-important family obligations to his wife and 7-year-old son.
Born in Ohio and moved to Boulder as a child, Sander has been an on-again, off-again bike racer since the late 1970s. He moved to Winter Park to compete as a freestyle skier.
“Mentally, it’s something that keeps me alive and refreshed,” Sanders said of his bike race routine. His goal: “To stay fit and stay competitive so I don’t lose that edge.”
“It comes down to what’s important in your own life and how you want to prioritize those things,” he said. “I like to stay active. Things I do in my free time are more active things. I have a difficult time sitting still.”
Sanders said he simply structures his off hours to complement his fitness goals. And he works to find a happy medium with family, stressing the importance of “social exercise.”
His son, for example, has the school day off on Friday, so Sanders will schedule a light training day for Friday and get out and ski with the family. Or he’ll take a bike ride with his wife and stay together for an hour or two, then cruise off on his own for some hard training.
In winter months, Sanders is busy at work but exercises where he can, including the occasional snowshoe run or some cross-country skiing. In spring and summer months he pushes hard, he said.
“A lot of it is a matter of making training consistent and doing it whenever you can,” Sander said.
“I’m not real fanatic on diet. I just watch what I eat,” Sanders said, something that for many is unfortunately a “goal and not a reality.”
He enjoys holiday meals and plenty of seasonal indulgence like anyone, he said, but he tries to watch portions and eats “healthy, quality food.” He stressed the importance of being able to sit down to a “normal” meal with anyone (something that a strict vegan, for example, might find difficult).
“I try to limit the amount of pastas and that type of thing,” Sander said, adding that carbohydrates might be great for hard training, but can also pack the weight on in a hurry.
Sanders still has his eye on the prize, and said he is excited about the upcoming
National Mountain Bike Championship scheduled for SolVista in the summer of 2009.
“That’s certainly one of my goals is to do well there,” he said, adding that this season he’ll move into the 50-and-over bracket, a welcome move from the highly competitive guys in their late-30s and 40s.
“We live in a place where there are a lot of very active people,” Sanders said. “We tend to have a higher level of athlete here.”
But for Sanders that translates to lots of training partners and friendly rivalries.
“It’s a fun, competitive atmosphere,” Sanders said of the local racing fraternity. And
the sport is about getting out and doing fun stuff with people you know, he said.
“It’s the reward at the end that’s great,” Sanders said of finishing or placing in a race. “But you really enjoy what you do.”
Sanders admits that he’s no Superman, however.
“With age, you always find yourself slowing down just a hair,” Sanders said, something he tries to offset by being smarter and more efficient about his training, often training less for even better result.
At his job, Sanders interacts with people of many fitness levels, he said.
“A lot of people come out here and say they can’t do that,” Sanders said, adding that no one is too old to bike, ski or enjoy the mountains.
“Your mental fitness is as important as your physical fitness,” Sanders said, and age is no barrier to staying fit or achieving goals. “There are no real ‘can’ts’ in life, just obstacles.”
He admits he might back away from racing in coming years, but said he’ll always stay active.
And Sanders loves getting out and riding with local guys in their 60s, many who seem to enjoy pushing younger riders.
“You can find inspiration among a lot of people out there,” Sanders said, and there’s no one who inspires Sanders more than Tim Carter.
Tim Carter, 73
If younger athletes can project about how they plan to stay healthy in their Golden Years, Tim Carter is living it.
There’s just nothing typical about this 73-year-old athlete, and if he didn’t tell you his age, you’d guess at least a decade short.
But a humble Carter said he’s no different or better than anyone his age, just that he’s driven to compete and loves to enjoy an active life outdoors.
“Cross-country skiing is always fascinating for me,” Carter said. Despite what he called going “around the same tracks over and over,” the sport is about precise technique and efficiency of movement, he said, adding there is “more meat there” than just shushing it on Alpine skis (something he’s done all his life).
In fact, Carter fashioned for himself a “skier-based career” from an early age. The Vermont native first came to Winter Park as a teenager to install lifts and ski for a season and decided to stay. But ski racing and teaching skiing took him around the country, and he spent 14 years as an instructor on Aspen Mountain for the likes of Jackie Kennedy.
A longtime Granby resident, Carter runs “Grand County Living” alongside his wife of 20 years, Tina Wilson.
Wilson is also a competitor and the pair cross-country and downhill skiing in winter, and cycle (road and cyclecross) in the summer. But training and outdoor activities for the two is no chore nor some magical Fountain of Youth, Carter said. “It’s just what we do. It’s a lifestyle.”
Carter eats carefully, aiming for a vegetable-heavy diet, and sometimes he has to push himself to go out in the cold and train, but good living for Carter is a matter of simple choices and something he said is addictive.
At 40, while living in Aspen, Carter woke up one day and made a conscious decision to live a little better, he said. He took up running, and by age 50 was a national champion cross-country ski racer.
In February he will make his way to France for the Masters World Championship, a race he’s excelled in the past.
Competition on the world stage stiff, though. Unlike Europeans who retire early and
have more time to train, Carter is busy in the winter months putting out a magazine.
But he always finds time to get out and ski, he said, and it’s his drive to race that pushes him on.
“I just love to race,” Carter said, comparing his drive to being a musician.
Just as one learns an instrument as a child and spends a lifetime improving on it, Carter learned his instinct to race at a young age and said he’s only getting more efficient.
According to Carter, the earlier you start on a road to good health the better, but it’s never too late.