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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 30 2015

Dear Mark: Too Late for Health? Never.

By Mark Sisson
59 Comments

It's Never Too LateFor today’s Dear Mark, I’m answering just a single reader question, but it’s a big one. Janice and her husband have endured their family’s light-hearted ribbing about their “caveman lifestyle” for years. Now that the paterfamilias of the clan is severely obese, almost 80 years old, and recovering from a relatively mild stroke, the family has turned to Janice’s expertise for help changing his ways. How can she convince her father that it’s never too late to get healthy? That changing your diet, exercise, and lifestyle can improve even the most unhealthy person’s trajectory and enjoyment of life? She’s confident that if she can just get through to her dad, the rest of the family—who also needs an intervention—will inevitably follow suit.

Let’s give it a shot:

I am looking for information/inspiration to share with my 77 year old father who thinks it’s too late to try and be healthy. I’m not expecting a miracle weight loss story here, however I will not forgive myself if I don’t at least try. Here is our (my 2 sisters our spouses and his 3 grand-daughters) challenge in point form about my (our) father:

– 5’9″ frame approximately 380lbs (I may be low here)
– all blood work comes back (suprisingly normal) but I do not have the details.
– had a stroke 2 weeks ago that luckily left him with nothing but short term memory issues.
– very defensive about his weight, therefore difficult to converse with.

My husband and I have been followers of yours for 4 years and have been “teased” by our family members for our “caveman” lifestyle up until now – now they believe that we should try and share our knowledge to help dad. Even though we have tried to lead by example (all of them overweight and very inactive) none of them have really given us the time of day to share our knowledge because we are “lucky to have that metabolism” and being “fitness freaks” will “do that to ya”. My husband and I are okay with that. At least they are paying attention now.

I would like an article that will give him information that will support losing weight and being active at any age will make a difference. I have read 2 success stories in the past that I had actually forwarded to him (previous to this stroke). One of a woman, perhaps in her 80’s and another of a man I believe in his 60’s. Neither one sparked any conversation with him.

I honestly believe that if I can help my dad live healthier then it may inspire my whole family to jump on “the band wagon”. Something that would make both me and my husband the happiest people in the world.

Any and all article suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kindest Regards,

Janice

Hats off to you, Janice. You’re undertaking the most noble pursuit of all in my opinion. You’re directly contradicting the most pernicious conventional wisdom around—that old folks are going to wither away and die, and they they should simply accept this “fact,” preferably while dozing in front of bad TV at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We know, and you know, that life doesn’t end after 80. It’s never too late. And this isn’t just inspirational fluff I’m talking. A vast body of research confirms that seniors can and do benefit from healthy lifestyle modifications.

The good news is that your father is likely “obese but metabolically normal.” Obesity usually comes with sky-high inflammation, poor metabolic health, bad lipid numbers, and all other kinds of dysfunction. If your dad is 380 pounds but has normal blood work, he probably has a lower baseline level of inflammation than most other obese people and should respond well to lifestyle modifications. What should he do and what evidence exists that it will help?

He’s got to start lifting heavy things. Older folks need strength training more than younger folks, simply to maintain their quality of life and freedom of movement. It’s the most important type of exercise for this population because lean mass is the single best predictor of mortality risk in seniors. Not BMI, not some specific nutrient or superfood in your diet, not whether or not you meditate every day or practice gratitude or visit the doctor regularly. Lean muscle mass keeps you young and hard to kill.

Okay, but surely it’s too late for a guy in his late 70s to build strength or muscle?

Nope. Multiple studies show that seniors (of both sexes) can build muscle with resistance training. Resistance training can also help seniors lose fat while, most importantly, preserving or even adding muscle. This is key. Your dad wants to lose fat, not “weight.” Resistance training even helps older adults target “hard to reach” visceral fat, the kind that sticks between organs and wreaks metabolic havoc.

Strength training even makes dieting more effective. For instance, seniors who lift weights enjoy better skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity. Higher muscle insulin sensitivity is linked to improved lifespan and better carbohydrate metabolism (since the carbs you eat have a place to go—the muscles).

Now, strength training can intimidate the uninitiated. He might pick up a copy of Body By Science, a system revolving around the safest, most effective, most “bang for your buck” exercises. Its author, Dr. Doug McGuff, contributed a guest post about safe strength training some years back. Read that and you’ll have a good foundation for your father’s training. Whatever you do, consider finding a trainer who specializes in older adults, at least until your dad gets his sea legs.

Walking is also crucial. For one, the ability to walk briskly presages a longer, better-lived life for seniors. One study of nearly 40,000 recreational walkers found that walking intensity predicted mortality risk. Those who walked the fastest tended to die the least. Of course, this wasn’t an interventional trial where walkers were coached to walk faster; this merely observed the relationship between natural walking speed and mortality risk. That said, coaching seniors with mild cognitive impairment to walk regularly has been shown to improve working memory. And taking a short walk in the morning and after meals can reduce postprandial blood glucose and 24-hour glucose control in sedentary seniors.

He’ll need to change his diet. The basic Primal approach—eating more plants and animals, dropping grains, excess carbs, sweets, sugar, soda, and other junk food—is absolutely crucial. Not only will eating more fat and protein and fewer carbs help him drop body fat, a low-sugar diet may protect him against age-related cognitive decline.

He’ll need to emphasize protein. Older folks need more protein than younger people because they’re less efficient at processing and metabolizing it. Seniors lose thigh muscle mass and exhibit lower urinary nitrogen excretion when given the standard 0.8 g protein/kg bodyweight, so eat well above that. Several recent studies indicate that a baseline intake of 1.0-1.3 g protein/kg bodyweight or 0.5-0.6 g protein/lb bodyweight is more suitable for the healthy and frail elderly to ensure nitrogen balance. But that’s just balance, and balance isn’t enough for your dad, especially since he’ll be embarking on his new resistance training regimen (right?). Evidence suggests that increasing protein above normal levels can both improve physical performance without necessarily increasing muscle mass and increase muscle mass when paired with extended resistance training in the elderly. Making sure to obtain enough protein may spontaneously reduce intake of more problematic foods, since protein is such a filling macronutrient.

Include some whey protein, too. Studies show that whey protein is the most effective protein supplement for countering sarcopenia, or muscle-wasting, especially compared to soy. A buddy of mine can attest to this; last year, after his grandmother hadn’t eaten for a few days, was suffering from diarrhea, mental confusion, and basically appeared to be on her deathbed, he made her a whey protein milk shake with egg yolks, heavy cream, and some high-quality ice cream every day. She drank them, kept them down, and recovered. Who can turn down a milk shake, after all? The shakes helped her hold on for another four months until Thanksgiving, when the rest of the family was due to make it out for a visit. She got to say her goodbyes in a reasonably alert state.

He should start eating fish or taking fish oil supplements. Fish oil supplementation increases muscle protein synthesis (required for gaining strength and muscle) in older adults.

So even if your dad just wants to stay where he is without regressing, he needs to start lifting weights, eating more protein (plus some whey), increasing low-level physical activity, and cutting back on carbs, sugar, and bad fats.

But we’re humans. We love stories. We tell ourselves stories about the lives we lead and respond most strongly to the stories others tell. Look what you can do at 87. Look what thousands have done. Look at Papa Grok.

Now, coming from his admittedly severely obese state, he’s not going to be a fitness model and he probably won’t end up with a six pack. That’s fine. That stuff doesn’t matter in the end.

So, Janice’s dad: it’s undeniable. I’ve got both moving anecdotes from people like you and the strongest science on my side, all confirming in no uncertain terms that we can improve our health, vitality, and ability to appreciate life at any age, from any starting point. It’s not too late.

You know when it is too late? When you’re getting your lower leg amputated because your diabetes prevented a shin wound from healing and you were already bedridden from a C. dif infection picked up during your last in-patient procedure. When you flatline in the ambulance after a massive coronary. When you give up, throw in the towel, and convince yourself you’re a lost cause. Don’t get to that point.

It’s times like these that written text fails and I wish words could enable the raw transmission of infectious emotion. Hopefully you can provide that. I’m confident you, as a loving daughter, can. Let us know how it all goes.

Thanks for reading, everyone. If you or anyone you know has any positive stories that might convince Janice’s dad to start making better choices, light up the comment section! People need to hear!

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59 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Too Late for Health? Never.”

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  1. Wow, great question and great response from Mark! Hopefully we’ll see Janice’s dad as a success story one of these days. And if it helps some other family members to change their ways, even better!

  2. My F-I-L had the same weight in his 60’s. I approached my M-I-L about getting some help for his weight, and she said, “Forget it. He feels that if he loses any weight, there will be less of him.” Less in the psychological sense.

    Sometimes time spent on a therapist’s couch needs to be Step #1. F-I-L never made it that far, because (to him) admitting you have a problem you need help with is the same as admitting you aren’t a man. He went to his grave with the same 398 lbs.

  3. My 73 year old father has completely changed his lifestyle thanks to a diagnosis of metastatic melanoma. He was first diagnosed with melanoma in 1996, losing his left eye to it, then a hunk of skin off his back. He didn’t really change his lifestyle then. Surprisingly, he was clear of melanoma for almost 15 years. 4 years ago, his doctors found very small tumors on his liver. (Oliver Sacks, the neurologist, recently died of the same condition.)

    My mother and I put him on a low carb, greens-heavy, anti-inflammatory paleo diet, he eats next to no sugar, takes some targeted supplements, and has had radiation treatment and immunoembolization procedures. He is still alive and doing extremely well four years later. His doctors cannot believe he is still alive and that any tumors he has are either shrinking or not growing at all. He is being written up as a case study because every other patient in his experimental radiation group has died, but he hasn’t and is thriving. He has lost 60 pounds as a result of his diet change, not because of his cancer. His doctor told my mother he probably had 1-2 years to live. That was 4 years ago, and he is still going strong. (Of course, he could drop dead of an aneurysm bursting in his heart that we know about at any moment, but that’s another story.)

    Long story short, diet changes can work with an older person. My dad is proof of that.

  4. “I have read 2 success stories in the past that I had actually forwarded to him (previous to this stroke). One of a woman, perhaps in her 80’s and another of a man I believe in his 60’s. Neither one sparked any conversation with him.”

    Janice, you can drag a horse to water and even shove his nose in it, but you can’t force him to drink it. I’m sure your dad’s situation is heartbreaking for you and your family, but he has to WANT to live a healthier life. Otherwise all the coaching in the world will go in one ear and out the other–as I’m sure you already know. Some people have the attitude of “This is just the way it is.” They either can’t or won’t make the connection between their lifestyle and the encroaching diseases that will shorten their lives. That kind of mindset can be almost impossible to change–particularly if depression has become a factor.

    My point here is: KNOW THAT YOU DID TRY. You have my best wishes and I sincerely hope you can convince your dad to get himself on healthier ground. But if you can’t, at least know that you are giving it your best shot. That’s really all anyone can do.

  5. I’ve said this before, the human body is miraculous. I’m always amazed at how much abuse it can take and how fast it can recover and become vibrant and healthy. Like the man said, “it’s NEVER to late”

  6. I’m 72 and have been on Primal since 2010. You can read my success story if you search for Primal Living at Any Age: One Stubborn Senior’s Testimonial. It is directed to you not just your father. As Mark says, you can improve your health, at least a little, at any age.

    As you know, just preaching is rarely going to work. Good luck!

  7. You left something important out, Janice. Does your father have any interest in all this business? He said he thinks it’s too late, but perhaps he actually doesn’t care. I had to accept that with my own dad. Perhaps your dad is more outwardly focused, to the greater benefit of all who know and love him, and your proposed lifestyle change for him is more for you?

    1. I went through much the same thing with my mother. Her favorite mantra was, “It’s just old age. Nothing much you can do about it.”

      She finally started to see the light when she was being prescribed drugs to counter the side effects of all the medication she was already taking–most of which she probably wouldn’t have needed. She wasn’t overweight but she had so little muscle that she could barely get off the sofa. She did start to listen to me, somewhat, toward the end of her life, but by then her kidneys were failing, maybe because of all the soda she drank. It was a case of too little too late.

      This was 20 years ago. Her doctor was more than happy to pass out pills but never mentioned a healthy diet or getting a little exercise and sunshine. Maybe most doctors do a better job these days. At least I hope so.

  8. This was such a moving post, I think reading Mark’s words being directed at a specific individual made it so particularly.

    My Dad changed his eating to Primal ways 5 years ago after chatting with me, he lost about 35 lbs and kept it off and is no longer taking pain relief for his arthritic knees. He turned 70 in April, he drinks way too much red wine (hasn’t taken on board Mark’s review) but no one’s perfect eh!

    It’s never too late.

  9. Janice’s dad … you owe this to your family … but more importantly to yourself. Finish your journey on a strong note, follow Mark’s advice and I guarantee you will be amazed at how much better you feel. My thoughts, prayers and encouragement to you.

  10. Agree with Rick. If Dad doesn’t have an interest/desire, no matter what you do or suggest won’t matter. But, if he is interested he can make great progress, as long as he can be satisfied with small gains from a low starting point. Mark’s recommendation for walking is right on, but Dad probably won’t be able to get out the door and go very far at his age/weight. See if you can get him to go slow and easy, building up time/distance/speed in a gradual fashion. Same with the “lift heavy things” advice, he’ll have to start with “not so heavy” and work up. The startup process will be tough, he’ll feel defeated at his inability, and you will have to boost him up mentally to get him far enough in that he sees progress and can become self-motivated.
    I’m 68, started Primal at 65 with encouragement from my son. When I hit my 1 year Primalversary I had lost well over 50 lbs and felt many years younger. .My main exercise was walking, and my early endeavors were really dismal.

    1. That is exactly the problem for so many – it’s scary! It needs to be broken down into manageable chunks (exercise not food! ) otherwise it’s just too daunting. Set reasonable (achievable) challenges to begin with.

  11. I wish you well, Janice. I have found any efforts to influence others to change their lifestyle to be fruitless. Even though at age 55 I am experiencing the many benefits of practicing primal blueprint principles, my significant other, who now has high blood pressure, has gained a lot of visceral fat weight, clearly has sleep apnea and other health issues that have developed in the past few years, has no interest in changing his behavior/habits. I have to accept that he has to make his own decisions for his life, no matter what I think would help. I may never understand this and I guess I need to accept this, as well.

    1. This is the hardest bit isn’t it, accepting that you can only change yourself, for others all you can do is encourage, and sometimes just accept they have no desire for change.

  12. Nearing 60 now. I guess I should harken and knuckle down. Get on with it.
    That activity tracker on my wrist isn’t meant to track keystrokes.

  13. My dad is the opposite, following CW religiously (but spartanly) and is active and thin at 77. I guess he matches his carb intake to his daily walking by accident! I’m watching closely, and throwing interesting scientific studies his way (he loves that stuff as much as I do) as he is much more likely to listen if it’s verified. He too at 77 is vehemently opposed to changing anything, he throws out the ‘I’m too old to change’ and ‘it’s worked for me up until now’ rubbish.
    I guess it has in his case, but I’ll keep watching 🙂

  14. I empathize with all of you who have relatives who just see bad health as ‘the way it is’ and have no interest in making changes. My significant other is on meds for mental health and he is in pretty terrible shape (I suspect start of metabolic syndrome and possibly thyroid issues). He refuses to go to the doctor to get anything checked out, and attributes any problems he has to his meds and just feels like there is nothing that can be done. He also had two family members who are CW docs, so he will not listen to ANYTHING that is not CW. Calories in calories out and lots of cardio for weight loss (not that he is actually exercising!).

    It’s just very hard to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much you love someone, you can’t make them care about their health as much as you do. It’s also tough because for me health topics are such a fun source of conversation, and we can’t even have a conversation about all the cool things that are being researched (gut health, anyone??) and he is stuck in Health Class 1985, lol!

    1. Awesome video Magda. Thanks for posting. What an inspiration.

  15. Great question, great answer, understandable dilemma. I’d say to him try it for 21 days!

  16. In my opinion, changing a man who doesn’t want to can happen if he isn’t responsible for getting the food on the table. Sometimes all you have to do is get to the person who is making all the food appear, then they can discontinue the “bad” eating and just start serving the good stuff. Of course, so you don’t get caught right off you may need to throw in a bit of sourdough bread once a week, a home made pie once a month …… or more often and then make them fewer and farther between. Sometimes it’s a case of “if I have to fix it I will just eat what is here” and if the food that is “here” is primal well, snap there you have it.
    My parents are in the late 80’s and will eat oatmeal if you let them. I just pour on the fat and remove any grains – real food always tastes better and satisfies longer. My mom was “always hungry” thinking that she was “starving” but after a primal breakfast and lunch she wasn’t interested in eating dinner (she is chair bound most of the time with a bad back/legs and dimentia), lost about 9 pounds that week but was well fed.

  17. A beautiful post and beautiful, much needed message! Thank you, Mark. This will be one I pass along again and again.

    Our bodies want to heal and want to thrive. It’s never too late to let them–to help them–do what they are designed to do.

    Sending Heart-felt blessings, Janice. Your dad and family are fortunate to have you looking out for them.

  18. I would like to suggest that you tackle this NOT FROM A WEIGHT-LOSS POINT OF VIEW! If he is angry and defensive about his weight, that would not be the way to get him to listen.
    Instead, talk to him about eating nutrient-dense food (meat and vegetables) to help him to recover from the stroke. Tell him that if he continues to eat that way, he will feel better, and that he will have less internal inflammation and his circulation will be better. These things are important truths! The weight will go with it, of course, but let that be a secondary aspect! Especially at the beginning.
    Start small with exercise. Again, talk about improving his circulation rather than weight loss or muscle building.
    Try to find anger-neutral benefits to talk about. Topics that sound more “medical” (circulation, vein health, vitamins and minerals to help his body heal, avoiding sugar because it depletes the vitamins and minerals from his system…) are less likely to rouse his resistance.
    Expect changes to be slower and less dramatic in an 80 year old. But if he feels at all better, if anything improves, you have won!

  19. Another great article. Just wondering at what age “senior” tends to kick in? Especially when related to increased protein intake. Doing weights / crossfit etc last couple years and now at 55 wonder if protein supplements would be an idea.

  20. Great question and great response. It use to bother when I would get the “you have a faster metabolism” or “you’re a fitness freak” comments like Janice mentioned. Not anymore. Now I just point to my younger 16 year old self that was 100 lbs overweight. Shouldn’t a teenager have the metabolism of gazelle and be able to eat baby elephants without gaining any weight? Why was I such an overweight teen then? Again great post Mark.
    Have a good one.
    Joe

    1. Hah! So true. I’ve gotten that my whole life

      “You’re so lucky, you can eat whatever you want and stay thin”

      To which I’d reply…

      “No, I’m thin because I DON’T eat whatever I want”.

      Which doesn’t make you popular, but it’s the truth.

  21. My heartfelt thank you to Mark considering my dads situation enough to respond with his wisdom. And to all who took the time to reply/post. Your kind words and advice have made this feel less daunting. And I truly appreciate your concern. I hope that this time next year I will have a success story to share.

  22. Female 75 years age. August 2015 Total Cholesterol 290……October 2015 TC 200. Just by cutting out sugar, wheat and fruit. Plenty of wonderful veg as in casseroles and steamed and roasted, and little cheese and little grass fed meat, some berries. Lost some weight, mostly bloat, did some senior exercise, played some Pickleball. Now I am looking at MDA (daughter introduced) and learning more about weight resistance exercise. Enjoying how my clothes fit.

  23. “You know when it is too late? When you’re getting your lower leg amputated because your diabetes prevented a shin wound from healing and you were already bedridden from a C. dif infection picked up during your last in-patient procedure. When you flatline in the ambulance after a massive coronary. When you give up, throw in the towel, and convince yourself you’re a lost cause. Don’t get to that point.”

    This is a killer paragraph, Mark. I watch the shins on my husband get more fragile every day. He says it’s dry skin. I stay quiet. We wait with fear for the results of his kidney/protein tests.

    Too many people depend on the magic of pharmacopia and don’t realize what’s in store for them with this disease. It’s terrifying.

  24. What an excellent response, Mark, I’m continally impressed at what a caring individual you are. Well done. Good luck, Janice. It is too late for my parents, my words fell on deaf ears and now they’re gone. At least Dad tried, Mom traded her last 8-10 years for crappy store-bought pies, honey roasted peanuts, diet sodas, and TV. Better luck with yours.

  25. This is the hardest piece isn’t it, tolerating that you can just change yourself, for others everything you can do is energize, and now and again simply acknowledge they have no longing for change.

  26. Great Post. Well said. Start eating fish or taking their oil supplements increase muscle protein synthesis in old people.

  27. Informative post about fish benefits, all types of energy supplement will be provided by fish is grt8 for us. thanks a lot and i am gonna try.

  28. Educational post about fish advantages, a wide range of vitality supplement will be given by fish is grt8 to us. much appreciated and i am going to attempt.

  29. fish is the best thing for our health fish flesh makes our eyes perfect. and now it clears our black marks so i m also going to use it.

  30. My aunt have to see these posts .She thinks that she will never going to loss weight ever because now it’s too late.Great inspiration man .

  31. I wish you well, Janice. I have found any endeavors to impact others to change their way of life to be pointless. Despite the fact that at age 55 I am encountering the numerous advantages of honing primal outline standards, my life partner, who now has hypertension, has picked up a ton of instinctive fat weight, unmistakably has rest apnea and other wellbeing issues that have created in the previous couple of years, has no enthusiasm for changing his conduct/propensities. I need to acknowledge that he needs to settle on his own choices for his life, regardless of what I think would offer assistance. I may never comprehend this and I figure I have to acknowledge this, too.

  32. Health is first for every human.There is no time for being healthy,what ever your age you can be fit with some exercises and good food habit.Thanks for this post.

  33. That is the exact issue for so many, This is horrible! It needs to be broken down into manageable chunks (exercise not food! ) otherwise it’s just too daunting. Set reasonable (achievable) challenges to begin with.

  34. Yes, I agree there is never too for your health. Health is an important and most auspicious part of human life.

    1. such beautiful photos! it amazes me that you can make such a lovely website and get ALL that farm Work done! you are impressive!

  35. Good luck, Janice. You’re in a tough spot. I hope your Dad listens to all this excellent advice, and you are able to help him feel better. How great that would be!

    I can relate! After my success with the Primal Blueprint, I have mentored numerous people at their request, who say they want to improve their health, but (with a few exceptions, and those are glorious) they don’t stick with diet or exercise changes, or sometimes don’t even start.

    I run a FB health group of 60 members, where we share much Primal data (including many MDA articles), yet the large majority do not come on board.

    Why? Do they think it’s too hard? Is it that their sedentary, inflamed bodies and minds, dragging from SAD diet, just can’t come up with the energy? Their gut bugs are too powerful? What?

  36. Well, now, Mark. That last paragraph made me a little teary-eyed. You know, in a good way. Hard words, hard actions, good-hearted intentions. All equal a strong response. Thanks.

  37. @Mark’s Daily Apple
    This is the great post i would say, the content and pictures are awesome. the efforts you made in this post is really appreciable. I really like this concept. Thanks for sharing such a nice post.
    Regards
    Swati

  38. i have read your success stories in the past mark now am fan yours . thanks for sharing

  39. Being healthy is a good choice. Everyone can enjoy the healthy life but can’t enjoy an unhealthy life. Here I will find practical tips on healthy eating at work. What are the right foods, energy boosters, and drinks? Thank you so much for sharing this article.