(How a screen icon rebuilt his ‘Star Wars’ body) 

When he was younger, Billy Dee Williams worked out on his own.  But when he heard he’d been cast in the new Star Wars moving, the 82-year-old performer decided to hire a pro to help him get back into fighting-the-Galactic-Empire shape.  Williams started seeing the L.A. trainer Gunnar Peterson three times a week, and the actor says the sessions have taught him a lot about exercising with an older body.

“Working out is so much different now than it was when I first played Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, in 1980,” he notes.  “It’s more difficult to move in an efficient way.” His present workouts “keep things streamlined” by combining weights, cardio and stretching in each session, he says.  That mix has had results: Since 2018, Williams has lost 25 pounds and increased his range of motion.

One motivation booster is exercising around people who inspire him.  “I see guys like Jimmy Caan (the actor, now 79) working out at the gym, and that keeps me going,” he adds.  Williams has also taken steps to make it easier to stay active at home, such as putting a stationary bicycle in his bedroom.  “I ride it every day for 30 to 60 minutes. I can’t avoid it.”

Of course, he has the same aches and pains many of us do, including arthritis and a disc problem in his lower back.  He consulted a doctor to make sure his workouts wouldn’t exacerbate his joint issues. With that assurance, he’s been able to exercise despite the aches.  “I just had to convince myself that exercise isn’t a choice, that it’s as routine as eating breakfast,” he explains. “I don’t even think of it as pain. I call it discomfort.  Eventually, I found that staying active alleviates the issue.” 

A diet rich in fish, chicken and vegetables helped him lose weight, he says, but “you also need a reward to stay on track.  Mine’s a little fruit sorbet with some vodka in it, after dinner.”

Finding a routine he can stick to has been “a kind of spiritual awakening,” he continues.  “Burning off energy can be very centering. It helps me keep on the positive path.”

by Michael Easter for AARP Magazine

Which of the following situations can cause your brain to shrink?

  1. High Blood Pressure
  2. Starvation
  3. Pregnancy
  4. All of the above

ANSWER:  D. Gray matter, the stuff that makes up the outer layer of your brain, tends to shrink with age.  It also diminishes in response to diabetes, obesity and smoking. That’s bad, because people who have more of the stuff tend to have better judgment, stronger cognitive abilities and more positive moods.  But here’s the good news: Although your brain can shrink, it can also grow. Studies show that exercise, meditation and learning can all increase gray matter.

ADVICE:  Move it or Lose It

Researchers from Chicago’s Rush University College of Nursing found that older adults (average age: 81) who logged the most physical activity had the most gray matter in their brain.  Activities included exercise plus routine tasks such as gardening and housecleaning. If you need a specific goal, aim for three aerobic workouts a week. In a second study, subjects ages 64 to 78 who worked out that much for six months experienced improvements in their brain’s processing speed and long-term memory.
(written by Clint Carter for AARP The Magazine, December 2019/January 2020)