The 78 Year Old Body Builder

Updated: Mar 3, 2019



Ernestine Shepherd is 78 years old and in 2010 was declared the World’s Oldest Performing Body Builder. Today Shepherd can be seen sporting a flat stomach, toned arms, and exceptional health. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always this way. Many, many years ago Shepherd and her sister, Mildred, were trying on swimsuits at a store. Not liking what they saw, they both decided to get in shape together. This idea never came to fruition until Shepherd was 56 years old, when her sister Mildred died.

After Mildred’s death, Shepherd found herself overweight with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, panic attacks, acid reflux, and even depression. Her life in shambles, Shepherd went to bed one night and dreamt of Mildred, her sister, telling her to pursue their dream of fitness. These days you can find Shepherd without high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, or panic attacks, or acid reflux, or even depression. You’ll find a healthy Shepherd teaching her fitness class, reading bible devotions each morning, going for runs, and lifting weights.

Her fitness class started with just ten people and now is too big to fit everyone in the room. Ernestine had once described herself as a “prissy woman” who “didn’t want anything to do with exercise”. Despite where she came from, she now tells her class “Don’t forget: Age is nothing but a number and you can get fit.”

This week’s health blog is all about achieving the body of your dreams. It doesn’t matter what that dream is. For some, they dream of being pain free or to feel better. For others, they dream a dream of bodybuilding proportions. It doesn’t matter how strong you want to be or what body fat percentage you want to have, it is possible to see those dreams through!

“But how!?” you might be saying. After all, as we get older it becomes harder to get into shape doesn’t it? It certainly feels that way. But, lucky for us, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A study performed by the University of Oklahoma flies directly in the face of this belief. In this study, 24 men aged 18 to 22 and 25 men with ages from 35 to 50 followed the exact same weightlifting routine for 8 weeks. The results? At the end of the 8 weeks the subjects were DEXA scanned and it was found that both groups made nearly identical strength and muscle gains! Nearly identical. So, who came out ahead? The middle aged men actually built slightly more muscle.

The human body is an absolutely incredible miracle of engineering and too many times we sell it short of what its full capabilities are. The fact is, your body is capable. You are capable. In order to succeed, you only need two things. For one, you need the right tools and philosophy. (Which we will discuss in detail below) For another, you need drive. This drive is something I can’t help you with. It has to be your own. Are you determined to not follow the road to a nursing home? Are you unhappy with how you look and want to change it? Or maybe, you’ve had enough pain and simply want to be healthy again. Whatever your drive is, it has to accomplish one thing: It has to make you want your goals more than you want that cookie on the counter. Your drive has to make the prospects of success taste better than any desert ever could.

This drive doesn’t come right away. In fact, I almost promise you it won’t be strong right away. But if you keep nurturing it, if you keep making it a priority, your drive will become strong enough to take you anywhere. Just make sure it’s a healthy one. We want your motivation to spur you towards healthy habits more than anything else. So, tell us your goals! We want to help motivate you forward and cement your goals so they can become a reality.

So, how exactly do you achieve your goals!? Here are four things you need to do to reach any fitness goal you can come up with.

Eliminate Sugar

Sugar is without a doubt the most toxic substance we ingest. Excessive Sugar intake has become an epidemic destroying the health of millions and leading to a plethora of medical conditions some even causing death. In the last few decades sugar (in various forms) has been linked to reduced cognitive function, memory decline, dementia, cancer recurrence and death, heart disease, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, increased visceral fat (fat around organs-worst fat to have), type II diabetes, premature aging and metabolic disease, disruption in ovary function, and decreased testosterone levels. In fact, things have gotten so bad that experts now say sugar should be controlled like alcohol and tobacco in order to protect the public. Sugar has even been found to cause inflammation within the body itself. Inflammation is the one commonality between diseases. In the world of health, sugar isn’t your enemy, it is your nemesis.

A diet or lifestyle fraught with a high intake of sugar cannot coexist with health. This is probably one of the most painful truths out there because I too love chocolate. Nevertheless, what you eat has a direct result with your health, wellness, and appearance. As they say, “abs are made in the kitchen”. If you want the body of your dreams, you are going to need to change the diet you consume. The first to go: Sugar.

One of the most important tools you need to get rid of sugar is the understanding that a calorie is not a calorie. In other words, all calories are not equal. This flies directly in the face of the common understanding in the health community. In fact, it flies in the face of some health experts! Most proponents of weight loss claim that all calories are the same. This is the opposite of what was found in a 2010 study.

In this study, some rats consumed high fructose corn syrup while others consumed regular table sugar. The results? The rats who consumed high fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than the other rats. Even when their caloric intake was equal! A calorie is not a calorie. Different calories impact us differently affecting our metabolism and sugar is the worst of all. Bart Hoebel from the study (a Psychology professor specializing in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction) is quoted as saying “When rats are drinking high-fructose syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese – every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.”

While “calories in calories out” is proven by the First Law of Thermodynamics, what people don’t understand is that the calories you put in change the calories that come out. Calories affect your body, your metabolism, your hormones, your energy levels, and so much more. That is why in execution a calorie is not a calorie.

Sugar gets even worse from here, like cocaine worse. Sugar in junk food has been found to be eight times more addictive than cocaine in one study. Eight times! Do you sometimes feel like you are addicted to sugar? It’s because you are! The problem with this is that sugar further increases our cravings for other high-calorie foods. (Including more sugar!) We haven’t even brought up what sugar will do to your blood sugar levels, endocrine system (hormones), increased fat storage, and the harmful effects it has on your liver. Before you know it you can find yourself in a vicious cycle heading towards weight gain and even obesity.

So how can we avoid it? This can definitely be a challenge seeing as there are at least 30 names for sugar! (Designed to trick you of course) It seems that the safest bet is to go back to the basics with vegetables, fruits, nuts, berries, fish, and meat. These are foods that contain vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and a whole host of substances that are amazing for the health of your body. (There might even be some good stuff in that food we don’t know about yet!) Whatever you end up eating, I can guarantee it’ll be better than sugar which is devoid of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and anything else that might be considered good for you. Sugar in excess is only good for three things: obesity, inflammation, and disease.

But yes I admit, it tastes good.

Fueling Your Body

That brings us to the next of the four, if you want the body of your dreams you need to fuel your body properly! If we put cheap gasoline into a $500,000 Lamborghini we wouldn’t be surprised when it didn’t perform well. The thing is, our bodies are far more impressive than a Lamborghini. Our bodies are incredible feats of engineering more sophisticated and more capable than even the most advanced piece of mechanical or technological innovation. Our. Bodies. Are. Incredible. In fact, they are miracles. Walking miracles.

You own a fine piece of machinery there. What are you doing with it? Your answer will always be nothing if you aren’t fueling it properly. Things like junk food and sugar contain nothing that the body finds valuable. Your body wants the good stuff: Nutrients.

It is the iron from spinach that carries oxygen to your entire body. It is the vitamin E in eggs that help form your very blood cells. Beta carotene from carrots allow you to see. Niacin in beef burns fats, glucose, and alcohols for use. Vitamin C from broccoli heals your wounds. Calcium in kale contracts your muscles. Magnesium from avocados relaxes those muscles. With everything good you eat, you fuel and supercharge your body.

Not only that, but each vitamin mentioned above is used in many, many, more functions of the human body! Magnesium alone is involved in over 300 reactions in the human body! What you eat matters. Pizzas, pastas, breads, French fries, and a million other foods in the American diet do little for you. Your body wants nourishment.

Food is fuel. Food can be used for celebration, socializing, relaxation, and even comfort but at the end of the day we only eat food for its fuel. So, what kind of diet should we be eating? That question is enough for an entire blog post, for an entire series of blog posts. I will do my best to give you the core basics of it.

There is much argument over the ideal diet in today’s health fields. Lucky for us, there is one thing almost unanimously agreed upon: protein works really well. High protein diets have been studied for some time now and the results are incredibly encouraging. In one study, 19 subjects were placed sequentially on a 15% protein diet for two weeks and then a 30% protein diet for 12 weeks. When participants doubled their protein intake, they noticed a clear decrease in hunger and by the end of the study they had achieved significant weight loss. In fact, by 12 weeks they had lost a little over 10 pounds of fat.

High protein diets have another huge bonus for those wanting to lose weight. As you diet and undergo a calorie deficit your body will tend to cannibalize your muscle tissue for energy. This is a problem because muscle is the engine that burns fat! High protein diets have been shown to prevent muscle loss during times of caloric restriction.

Protein is also excellent for muscle gain. Protein is the basic building block of the human body and so makes up most of your body’s tissue, including muscle. When you workout you create microscopic tears within the muscle that the body repairs with protein. Once your body repairs the “damage” it reinforces it so that your body becomes stronger! It would make sense then that studies have shown that exercise increases the protein needs of the body and a high protein diet builds more muscle and strength.

High protein diets also prevent sarcopenia (losing muscle as we age) and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.

So, how much protein do we need and what exactly is a high protein diet? Accounts on this vary widely. Some people claim anywhere from 10% of your daily intake to 50%! One route you could take is to replicate the study on satiation mentioned earlier by sourcing 30% of your calories from protein. (A very good approach) Luckily for us, we have a pretty reliable study to make things somewhat less complicated. In order to reach your muscle building and fat burning potential eat anywhere from .6-.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This route should be ideal for most of us.