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The Figure of Fifty

Fox Citians face 50 feeling mentally, physically and emotionally fit.

The popular saying is “over the hill” but the sudden new challenges many 50-year-olds face make the incline much steeper.

Celebrating the big “five-oh” brings with it a mix of physical, mental and emotional elements. As we learn from some Fox Citians, fifty isn’t always the murky matter it’s made out to be.

Learning What it Takes

It might have taken her several decades, but Vicki Olson made a decision that would impact her life not only positively, but also academically.

She decided to go to school for interior design at the age of 47.

For years, the now 52-year-old Greenville resident aspired to work in the interior design industry. Olson invested most of her adult life into a career as a stay-at-home mom to two children. She also dabbled in jewelry retail, but the hours weren’t ideal.

College presented itself as the first step toward achieving her lifelong passion. “As an adult, your mindset is different because this time you’re choosing to go to school,” Olson says about attending college as a middle-aged adult. “But you can’t be afraid to take the chance.”

Today, after receiving her degree from Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC), she runs her own home staging and redesign business, Stage It Right Interiors. She was the first in her family to earn a degree.

Olson desired to develop the skills to “shake up a room,” but as it turns out, she shook up her life and turned her fifties into a decade of achievements.

“Going back was a scary thing, but I was surprised at the balance of young and old students,” she says. “You get to a certain point in your life where you know what you want and what you don’t want.”

In the 2009–2010 academic year, FVTC enrolled 760 program-level students ages 50 and older, up 33 percent from the previous year. “You have the economy, where there’s job loss, and then you have the voluntary career change,” explains Chris Jossart, media relations director at FVTC.

The college also offers non-credit, personal enrichment classes for adults looking to learn a new skill at a time when they may be empty nesters.  “[FVTC is] an ideal starting point,” adds Jossart. “If your desire is to find a direct link to a new job, this is your best bet.”

Olson realized how much she enjoyed learning and being challenged. This past July, she obtained a real estate license from the Laurel Stone School of Real Estate in Appleton.

Faith in Fifty

After taking the reins and living out her childhood dream, Olson makes a point to remember the advice of George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Anne Evans, an English novelist): “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

“It takes the ceiling off any box that you might have been living in,” she explains. The new ceiling brings news challenges at 50 and it has helped Olson polish her outlook on life.

To keep herself on track, she follows three simple points. The first is spirit. When she turned 50, she faced menopause and the aches and pains of maturing. “There was sadness upon realizing 50 years had gone by,” she explains. “Menopause changed a lot of things within me and now I’ve learned to live differently.”

Her second point is mind, where she strives to look at each day as a new opportunity. “You can never be what you were, the choice is yours, better or worse,” she adds.

Her advice for those approaching 50 or already facing it: age gracefully, use sunscreen and love it. “People say, ‘I wish I could be 25 again,’” she says. “But all those situations bring you to the point you are at today. You can only go forward.”

Her last point is body. Olson maintains a nutritious diet by eating “the good things,” such as garden-fresh foods, which are essential to sustaining optimal levels of health and preventing disease.

“I usually tell people to eat the rainbow!” says Angelica Gronke, a registered dietician with ThedaCare. “Get a colored variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet.” By eating an assortment of these foods, the body easily gets what it needs, including simple sugars, complex carbohydrates, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

Compromising your diet can have negative effects on your health as you come into your 50s. Gronke sees more diabetes and high cholesterol in patients 50 and older, but says the top three killing diseases are heart disease, stroke and cancer.

As adults reach the age of 50, the need for protein increases because the body starts to use protein less effectively. Lean body mass also decreases while fat body mass increases.

Certain forms of exercise can help protect older adults from osteoporosis and other serious health risks.

Osteoporosis becomes a more talked-about topic for women in their 50s along with menopause and other hormonal changes. Calcium and vitamin D are critical for the strength of bones.

Lifting weights helps to increase bone density and is especially vital for women since they lose more bone density than men after menopause because of a decrease in estrogen.

Fit at Fifty

In many ways, baby boomers are more active in their 50s than they were in their 30s and 40s.
Al Herman, 51, of Little Chute says the bottom line is: if you eat well, you look good and feel good.

Owner and personal trainer of Richmond Tanning and Training in Appleton, Herman spends his days motivating and mentoring adults about exercise and conditioning. “You have to have a strong mind and be positive,” he says. “Trying to get people in shape and stay that way is what I do all day long, but I can relate to it 100 percent.”

Herman lives with polycythemia, a rare blood disorder in which the bone marrow produces too many red blood cells. With the proper care, the disorder can be managed.

“Being fit and in shape helps me conquer my disease,” he explains. “I have no control over the disease, but I can control everything else, like how I look and feel.”

According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, older adults are hitting gyms and health clubs at a record rate. The group says the number of health club members over 55 grew by 343% from 1987 to 2003, while the number of members in the 35–54 age group increased by 180%.

Neenah resident Bob Trochil, 56, works out with Herman three times a week. Cardio, strength training and toning are part of his regime. “The older you get, the more you hurt,” Trochil says, adding that at times he experiences shoulder pain. “We don’t hold back on cardio, but we go a little lighter.”

Patty Mislinski, 54, of Appleton also works with Herman. She realized upon turning 50 that she didn’t like what she saw in the mirror. She knew she had to ditch a few unhealthy habits and learn to live well.

Two and a half years ago Mislinski was a size 12 with 25.5 percent body fat. Today, she works out twice a week with Herman, increased the protein in her diet and is a size four with 10 percent body fat.

While “healthy” doesn’t translate as “size four,” exercise does improve the health of your cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, circulatory system and mental functioning.

Lessons on Living Well

With a husband, three grown children and 11 grandchildren, Mislinski was playing tug of war with her past and her future.

Finding an avidity for fitness contributed to her new outlook on life. Now, time passes with enjoyment. “Before I got healthy, everything was a chore,” she says. “Now I enjoy my life. I don’t know where the last two and a half years have gone!”

For others, like Herman, turning 50 was just another day.

“Some people can’t wait to retire,” Herman says. “I will do this my entire life. I like people feeling and thinking young.”

In his personal quest to feel young, Herman will be the oldest person in Wisconsin to compete in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Fight. He’ll be 52 at the time of the competition.

Moving forward through your 50s means braving new challenges, morals and feats. Whether you’re feeding your mind, body or soul, face the figure head on and the hill won’t look so steep after all.

—By Alison Fiebig

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