Move daily. Exercise is another way to support your brain, and your body. Aerobic exercise, or cardiovascular exercise, has been found to counteract mental decline and natural loss of hippocampal volume associated with age. One study found that those who participated in aerobic exercise 3 days/week experienced an increase in size of the hippocampus close to 2% over a year. This is equivalent to adding 1–2 years’ worth of volume back to this brain region! Even more, research has shown that endurance training can help keep your cells young and promote healthy aging overall.
Asa part of my series about the “5 Things You Should Do to Optimize Your Wellness After Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacy Rae Cappadona MS, RD, CSCS. Stacy is CEO of Stacy Rae Wellness, an online business that utilizes virtual coaching and educational courses to help women lose weight and optimize their health naturally. Stacy received her Bachelor’s in Exercise Science and her Masters in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition from Florida State University. After graduating she worked as a Registered Dietitian for the United States Air Force, where she met her now husband. As a military spouse Stacy relocates often and is currently living in the UK keeping up with her online practice so she can continue to serve others in their wellness journeys around the globe. Stacy is on a mission to help others find and maintain optimal health so they can live the life they want effortlessly.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Iwas an eager pre med student in my final year of university when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. This changed the course of my entire life. The months to follow were incredibly challenging because this was my first time seeing up close what life could look like once you lose your health. I saw the expenses, the side effects of pharmaceuticals, and the stress it put on our entire family. I felt lost, to be honest. So, I packed up a backpack and began to travel the globe where I was able to see food, movement, and mindfulness being a big part of disease prevention and treatment in many other countries. And I was hooked. I realised that preventative care is as important as disease management and that millions of people could avoid the situation our family was in with some simple lifestyle changes. Now I am on a mission to help others optimize and maintain their health permanently so they can live a disease-free life and feel great doing it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
As a physiologist, I studied the human body for over seven years in school. I learned everything from the chemical structure of an amino acid, to the cellular mechanisms of physical reflexes. I walked right into my first job with the United States Air Force with complete confidence that I had all the knowledge one might need to know to effectively change lives. After a few weeks into my new job though, I felt shocked realizing that the majority of the work that I was doing with my clients was on their mindset. The truth is, without the right mindset, no sound nutrition plan or workout plan will get lasting results. I must first ensure that my clients have the right mindset to get the results that they want before I can even begin with the nutritional and physical science. But once the mindset is right… the rest comes easy.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
The job market for performance dietitians is not very big, so I felt thrilled to receive a job offer from the US Military straight out of graduation. In the rush of excitement, and my general thirst for adventure, I accepted the job on the spot. After graduating I packed up my thirteen-year-old jeep liberty (with no working air and an oil leak that never stopped) and drove myself from Florida to an Air Force Base in New Mexico. As I drove through what appeared to be an endless desert I was nearly crying as my google maps was telling me that I was only a few miles from my final destination. On arrival, I felt like I had stepped into and old country western movie. Nothing but tumbleweeds, cows, and dust. I was shocked! I wanted to fill up my tank and turn back around! But I stayed and ended up loving my job and within my first year there I met the man who would become my husband. Even though it ended up great, I would still tell anyone to never accept a job sight unseen!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have had the support of many mentors, professors, coaches, and loved ones along the way, but the person who instilled the grit and perseverance that has created every success in my life so far is my dad. My father, who has been running his own business since before I was born, taught me about being a business owner and leader through his own compassion and action. I was never the person in class who “just gets it”. To do well in school I had to tirelessly and consistently study. So, it was pretty common that I would call my dad up crying if I didn’t do well on an exam after studying for weeks. My dad on the other side of tears would most often ask me just one simple question. “Did you do your best?”. Mumbling I would answer “yes”. He then would say, “then that’s all you can do”. These honest words would immediately move me forward to working my best on the next project, and I have since been able to carry on and do my best in all areas of my life.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
As a business owner it is all too easy for work to become your life. It is so important to set strict boundaries in your business so that when you are with your friends or family you are truly present. For me that means all notifications on my phone are turned off, one entire day per week that is electronics free, and setting an alarm every night to stop whatever I’m doing and be with my family.
It’s also important to do things daily, weekly, and monthly that bring you joy. They can be small or big, all that matters is that your savor them when you do them. My daily non negotiables include a hot beverage, exercise, meditation and gratitude, and getting dressed up (even though I work from home)! Weekly my husband and I have date nights and I take one class in town, most often it’s a dance class, yoga, or Spanish. Monthly we travel, sometimes this is in our own state or area, other times its overseas. We make it a priority to get out and have a new experience at least once a month!
To be the best for your clients or your business, you have to be the best for you too.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Ensuring employee wellness is one of the best ways to start creating a positive work culture. When employees feel their best, physically and mentally, they will perform their best. Employee wellness programs have evolved over time and, with the right guidance, you can find the perfect combination of wellness offerings for your team. One wellness focus that has grown in recent years is mental wellbeing. Many company wellness programs are now offering confidential support for issues like stress, family counseling, financial support, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. Other companies allow employees to set health goals and offer rewards for achieving them. Some businesses offer special rates and discounts for local gyms, fitness centers, or have their own fitness centers on site. Companies can provide nutrition education in the form of one on one counseling or group classes like lunch-and-learns and seminars. Extra wellness courses that are popping up more often in the workplace include weekly yoga, Zumba, or cooking classes.
Ensuring that employees, and their families, have resources, tools, and healthcare opportunities they need to live their healthiest life, on and off the job, will create a more productive and positive working environment.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In some cases, retirement can reduce health, and in others it can improve health. From your point of view or experience, what are a few of the reasons that retirement can reduce one’s health?
1. Decreased physical activity/ immobility and inactivity. For some people taking their daily journey to work is the main reason to get up and get out of the house. For other people, their jobs are physical, and they spend their days doing exertive work. Yet for others, the social connections that they make through work add to reasons to get out and moving. So while not all individuals decrease physical activity after retirement, many do. Either way, studies show that only 21% of retired and employed adults achieve the recommended 150 min/week of exercise. Everyone can benefit from more activity.
2. Decreased intake of food and vital nutrients. Research shows that nutrient intake is reduced after retirement. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing as a person’s caloric requirement will also decrease with age, but there is a fine line between eating to meet your nutrient needs and becoming malnourished. The reasons for decreased food intake after retirement could be many, but a few of the most common ones are lack of normal routine; shifts in financial allocation; decreased appetite; decreased mobility.
3. Loss of social networks/ loneliness. With ⅓ of your life being spent at work, it is no surprise that many people’s social life is tied to their work also. Evidence is mounting that loneliness is linked to illness, cognitive decline, and mortality. One study found that those who reported feelings of loneliness had a significantly higher rate of declining mobility, difficulties performing routine daily activities, and death during a six year follow up. In the United States roughly one in three people older than 65 live alone, and half of those older than 85 live alone. It is only more recently that loneliness has been examined through a medical, rather than psychological, lenses but the biological effects it has on human health can be compared to obesity.
Can you share with our readers 5 things that one should do to optimize their physical wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Prioritize those zzzz’s. After retirement, many people take full advantage of a more relaxed schedule and this can lead to fluctuations in sleep quality and quantity. This can be a mortally unwise change of routine. Impaired sleep or lack of sleep has been associated with increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that sleep is the time that the brain removes toxins that accumulate during wakeful hours. In other words, sleep is the time for “taking out the brain trash”. One of the best ways to improve your sleep situation is to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every single day (yes, even weekends), and getting between 7–9 hours of zzzz’s per night.
2. Move daily. Exercise is another way to support your brain, and your body. Aerobic exercise, or cardiovascular exercise, has been found to counteract mental decline and natural loss of hippocampal volume associated with age. One study found that those who participated in aerobic exercise 3 days/week experienced an increase in size of the hippocampus close to 2% over a year. This is equivalent to adding 1–2 years’ worth of volume back to this brain region! Even more, research has shown that endurance training can help keep your cells young and promote healthy aging overall.
3. Build balanced plates. It’s important in retirement (and at any age) to get balance in your meals. When you build a balanced plate, you are giving your body all of the nutrients it needs to thrive. Balanced plates can include a high fiber carbohydrate, a lean protein, a healthy fat, and colors from non-starchy vegetables. Along with the balanced plate, there are a few nutrients that should be considered further as we age. Calcium and vitamin D can help maintain bone health, vitamin B12 can support the body’s nerve and blood cells, fiber can lower risk for disease and support gut health, potassium can lower blood pressure, and omega-3 fatty acids can support a healthy brain.
4. Don’t forget to add in weights. With age comes a natural loss of muscle mass called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can be present major problems as it contributes to decreased metabolism, increased body fat, reduced insulin sensitivity, reduced strength, and greater difficulty doing everyday activities. Strength training 2–3 days per week has been found to increase or preserve muscle mass, preserve bone density, reduce difficulty performing daily tasks, enhance metabolism, and improve body composition. Let’s be honest, retired people want to look good naked too.
5. Build strong community connections. Social relationships, both quantity and quality, have been found to greatly affect mental and physical health. Human connection is one of the common threads that you see in every area that boasts longevity. Some places offer government supported programs aimed at increasing human connection after retirement such as running weekly activities like sewing circles, current events discussions, book clubs, exercise and computer classes, or even woodworking shops for people to participate in regularly. Retired people who don’t have access to these programs and might find themselves feeling lonely should seek out social events in their areas and find a new tribe. This can be group exercise, ballroom dancing, language classes, or volunteer positions at hospitals or other non-for-profit businesses that they feel connected to.
In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?
1. Make saving a priority. According to a recent national survey about 20% of Americans over the age of 44 have no retirement savings and half of Americans are at risk for being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Figure out what percentage of your paycheck you do not need to survive each month and commit that to your savings automatically.
2. Don’t wait until your cognition declines to do something about it. There are things you can be doing daily before, and after retirement, to train your brain. Some daily habits that will increase your chances of maintaining high cognitive function includes ensuring 7–9 hours of sleep per night; getting balanced nutrition with adequate amounts of healthy fats; building strong social connections; getting mental reps with brain busters like puzzles or continued learning; and exercising regularly.
3. Don’t wait until you’re retired to live, take action now. So many people put off adventures, dreams, hobbies, or relationships for “when I retire”. All too often people experience physical ailments, medical conditions, or financial hardships before retirement age and then can’t chase those wild dreams anymore. Don’t wait. If you have a dream, work it into your life today. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Atomic Habits by James Clear. This book highlights the power of small changes that compound to make huge transformations. All too often people feel that in order to transform their health they have to make huge, life altering changes. This strategy most often fails because making too many big changes at one time can be overwhelming. The true secrets to health and longevity lie in your daily habits. Those small decisions that you make daily determine your fate. Atomic Habits highlights how powerful small habit changes can be and teaches people how to implement habits to create outcomes.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Nutrition and exercise education would be taught in all elementary, middle and high schools. Disease starts young and studies have found signs of vascular disease in children as young as 10. If we can teach children how to create healthy habits early, the burdens of our healthcare system and of the families who suffer could be drastically decreased.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right” — Henry Ford
This quote is my mantra. Every mountain I’ve climbed, exam I’ve taken, marathon I’ve run, I keep this in mind. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you believe.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
There are so many, truly. Today though, I would love to meet and speak with Malala Yousafzai. This woman is made of courage. She began to fight for people’s rights at such a young age. She never stopped campaigning even after being threatened and injured. She has put the world over herself over and over again from childhood. She is so inspiring, and the world is a better place because she is here. That is all that I want for myself too, to leave the world a better place.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success in your great work!