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Building Body

Exercising for longevity and why strength training is essential to wellness as we age

Spend one hour talking with fitness, wellness and sports performance expert Mackie Shilstone and you’ll come away feeling motivated to start a fitness routine or level up your existing one. With such contagious enthusiasm and passion, it’s easy to see why world class athletes like Serena Williams and Peyton Manning, a slew of actors and even the military have turned to Shilstone for training. At 72, he has more energy than many people a quarter of his age. His strength is also impressive — and not just for a man in his seventh decade. For example, the morning of the interview with this reporter, Shilstone sent a video of himself doing vertical incline pullups all the way up the bar and back down again. If there’s anyone in New Orleans who not only knows the population, but also has the expertise and personal experience to whip us into shape for the later stages of our lives, it’s Shilstone. He took time out recently to discuss strength training for longevity, or what he calls functional strength, and why it’s essential for all of us, especially after age 40. 

“When muscle mass goes, that’s when sarcopenia sets in,” says Shilstone. “Sarcopenia is the aging loss of muscle. It is singly one of the biggest reasons our population with aging is frail. With sarcopenia comes dynapenia, which is the loss of strength with the loss of muscle. So goes your muscle; so goes your immune system. It’s going to require resistance training. That’s isotonic. That’s using a barbell. For those that can’t do that, isokinetic, that might encompass tubing [or resistance bands].” 

Muscle mass, along with waist circumference, are important themes for Shilstone. In his book, “Stop Renting Your Health, Own It!” (which Shilstone has made available as a download on his website mackieshilstone.com), he writes, “The circumference of your midsection is a clear indicator of your health, specifically your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. While one’s body weight and body mass index (BMI) can remain the same over time, inactivity and poor nutrition can cause body fat to settle around the waist. The alarm goes off when a woman’s waist exceeds 35 inches, a man’s 40.” 

Good nutrition (Shilstone recommends the Mediterranean diet), stress management and regular stretching and exercise can translate to longevity, but there are conditions. 

“It depends on who and what you are,” says Shilstone. “For Mackie Shilstone, who’s a spartan who doesn’t eat red meat or pasta. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke and I do things on the track that would have killed another 72-year-old this morning. But the people you are talking to need to know where they are in the game. And the game is life.” 

After seeing your doctor to make sure you don’t have underlying conditions that prevent certain types of exercise, Shilstone says — citing the American College of Sports Medicine — “We humans need roughly 150 minutes of movement a week in which we don’t get in a breathless state. Or 75 mins a week of something where you break a sweat and get yourself somewhere out of breath. And you need two strength sessions a week with all the muscle groups.”

He suggests 30 minutes twice a week of circuit training, where you alternate between weight training the upper and lower and body. 

“You start the clock, you have 10 exercises, and you go around the circuit twice,” says Shilstone. “If you hit 30 minutes you stop. I don’t want to give you more time, I want you to do more in your time. I go from biggest muscles down to smallest. The last one is the aerobic pro circuit — that’s mine, I coined it — you would do a chest press you’d come out and jog in place for 30 seconds in between, do a leg press then shadow box or jump rope.” 

In “Stop Renting Your Health,” Shilstone outlines 10 exercises for people who need guidance. He also recommends visiting his son Spencer Shilstone’s website, maxwellnutrition.com, which features a video library of Mackie Shilstone’s WWL-TV “Morning Show” segments, articles, columns and podcasts on strength training, stretching and more. 

“You train like you want to live and live like you train,” says Shilstone. “But a general strengthening program at any age is going to help as part of a total program to promote lean muscle and bone, help you to walk upright more effectively and reduce risk to the inflammatory conditions. Life is an inflammatory process, I can tell you, the inflammatory cascade with aging is called ‘inflammaging’ and that is the rate limiting factor to everything we’re talking about. What we are attempting to do is suppress or slow [it] down. I’ve been training since I’m 16. You have to make it part of life. Like breathing.”  


Building BodyMackie Shilstone is a fitness, wellness and sports performance expert. He has worked with professional tennis world champion Serena Williams, NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, boxing light and heavyweight champion Michael Spinks, the New Orleans Saints, and other NFL teams, as well as hockey and baseball teams. He has also worked with actors Wendell Pierce and John Goodman and 63-year-old “Terminator” star Linda Hamilton to transform her body and performance for the reprisal of her role as Sarah Connor in 2019’s “Terminator Dark Fate.” Shilstone has also designed and directed fitness, nutrition, wellness and sports performance programs at medical facilities including the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute, Ochsner Health Systems, East Jefferson General Hospital’s Mackie Shilstone Fitness Principle and Wellness programs at St. Charles Parish Hospital and has served as Clinical Instructor of Public Health and Preventative Medicine at Louisiana State Health Sciences Center, Adjunct Instructor in the School of Allied Health at Nicholls State University and Adjunct Professor at the A. B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University, as well as serving as a special advisor to the United States Olympic Committee on Sports Nutrition, and on the Louisiana Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Shilstone appears regularly on WWL-TV and his “Maximum Wellness” podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and Android sites. He has authored several books and his articles have published in Muscle and Body Magazine, the American Medical Athletic Association Quarterly and The Physiologist, among others. In January 2020, Mackie was appointed to the Advisory Board, Tulane University School of Professional Development, Department of Kinesiology and in April of 2022 Shilstone was inducted into the Tulane University Athletics Hall of Fame as a member of the 1973 Tulane Football Team.

Building Body

Free download of “Stop Renting Your Health, Own It!” e-book, mackieshilstone.com.

Building Body

Polar heartrate sensor, polar.com. 

Building Body

MaxWell Nutrition Omega 3 Complex supplement, maxwellnutrition.com.

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