Fit and Fun through the Years

Posted on December 29, 2021

After 22 years as Covenant Health’s fitness promotion coordinator, Missy Kane retires Jan. 1, 2022, but it will no doubt be an “active” retirement! In this article, she shares how her perspective on exercise has changed, what works for her now and which training tips have stood the test of time.

Fit and Fun through the Years

It’s a clear day and the view is spectacular. Covenant Health fitness expert Missy Kane steps out of the way so hikers can get an unobstructed view, then pulls out her phone to capture the moment in pictures.

For 22 years, this Olympian and former collegiate track and field coach has been guiding East Tennesseans toward a better quality of life through activities and education for health and fitness. As she prepares to retire from full-time work, she shares her best advice for fitness that lasts.

Missy Kane pink shirt

Be Consistent

Still active well into her 60s, Kane has learned many lessons about how to make fitness a lifelong pursuit. Her perspective on fitness has changed since the days when she was chasing medals in track and field competition.

“As a former athlete I used to always think you had to push hard. But I’ve realized through our hiking and walking programs that for overall health, the most important ingredient is consistency in moving your body,” Kane says. “This might be a one-mile walk in the morning with your dog, then getting in other 15-minute sessions of exercise during the day.”

No matter what kind of exercise a person prefers, Kane says the point is to get up, get with it and stay with it. “Moving your body is always important for keeping your weight in check, plus keeping your heart and lungs in good shape,” she says.

Adapt and Enjoy

Time has taught Kane that exercise should be an experience and not just an achievement. Her popular group hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have become something she loves to share.

“When I was only a runner I got in good shape, but I didn’t do workouts where I could ‘stop and smell the roses,’” Kane says. “I now realize being in nature is a real stress reliever, especially during the pandemic when it’s been so beneficial to be out in fresh air.”

She’s found she can also get that breath of fresh air close to home, walking, hiking and biking on local trails or playing with her grandson in the park. In her two decades at Covenant Health, Kane has seen dramatic changes in the adventures available outdoors in East Tennessee.

“Locally, Legacy Parks has made a huge difference in developing more parks, trails, greenspaces and waterways,” Kane says. “The Urban Wilderness is only a few miles from downtown Knoxville, and yet it has over 60 miles of trails, quarries and fun bike tracks for kids. Families and folks of all ages have found that getting out and exploring these resources can be beneficial to your physical and mental health.”

Go Long

 Kane is always looking for ways to combine fitness and fun. She says taking extra time for a long hike, a bike excursion, walk or long run once a week is an approach that works.

“I realized over the years that when October and April rolled around, I ended up three to five pounds lighter,” Kane says. “The only thing I did differently during those months was that every Wednesday I was out doing a guided hike lasting two to three hours.”

She’s also seen the benefits of a weekly “long effort” in the hundreds of athletes she’s trained for events in the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon. Her team members set aside one day each week to go a longer distance, and many have seen weight loss and improvements in their health.

Be Flexible

As a fitness advocate, Kane exercises most days of the week and is still in better shape than many adults who are half her age. The difference is that her exercise is measured to match the changes in her body.

“Now that I’m in my 60s I’ve seen how a lack of range of motion can affect my back, neck and joints,” Kane says. “I’ve started setting up some routines with trunk twists, easy hamstring curls, kick-backs and exaggerated arm swings and stretches.”

Kane incorporates these range of motion exercises at the beginning of her workout, at a midway point and then again when she’s finished. She says it’s especially important for lifelong athletes whose bodies have experienced injuries.

“I have realized it’s great to get in long walks or bike rides that have helped me keep my weight down, but if I don’t add even just 10 minutes for range of motion exercises, I will find myself unable to do the things I like to do,” she says.

A Time-Tested Approach

When Kane was a college track athlete, her coaches introduced her to interval training. Runners were instructed to warm up first, then alternate between a hard, fast pace and a somewhat easier pace instead of running at “full speed” from start to finish.

Kane believes this training method is one of the best tools for making any workout more effective. Her personal experience with the success of interval training matches the science that backs it up.

“I’ve seen studies that say some short, quick movements paired with rest periods is good for us older folks, too,” says Kane.

A typical interval workout for Kane today includes three types of exercise and a timer. She might choose to alternate between swinging a kettle bell, marching in place and step exercise, each for 45 seconds at a brisk pace, then slowing down for 45 seconds and picking the pace back up for the next 45.

“I do this back and forth for 15 minutes, then cool down and stretch out,” Kane says. “It’s a good total workout in a short period of time.”

Stay Hydrated

Kane confesses that she’s never loved drinking the amount of water that’s recommended for people who are as active as she is. But she says she keeps trying.  

“I’m still working on this aspect of my health,” Kane says. “When I’m at a computer, I now make a habit of keeping a tall glass of water at my desk. I also keep a water bottle in my car.”

No matter how much Kane knows about exercise, fitness and good health, she’s always willing to learn more and listen to the advice of others. On her first bike excursions Kane says she toted one bottle of water, but other cyclists encouraged her to bring two. The extra hydration is a healthy addition and helps Kane achieve optimum performance.

“You need to drink water before, during and after exercise especially when you’re older,” Kane says. “If you are experiencing sore calf muscles, it could be a sign of dehydration.”

Other subtle signs of dehydration can be irritability, listlessness and a sense of being dizzy or light-headed. Sources recommend that older adults set a goal of drinking about seven cups of water per day.

Partial to Pedaling

Having tried and taught just about every exercise there is, Kane says she’s settled on a current favorite: pedaling a bike through the winding backroads of East Tennessee.

“I used to only like to jog, hike or do fun aerobic classes for my fitness, but over the last 10 years I have really loved cycling and I’ve found many groups in town to join,” Kane says.  “Cycling doesn’t hurt my old knee joints and I love seeing the countryside.”

She emphasizes the importance of wearing a helmet and using bike lights for safety. Kane loves biking with a group and has even experimented with an electric bike, which she says gave her a surprisingly good workout and allowed a longer ride. She enjoys spin classes, too, where groups ride stationary bikes with music while guided through various levels of speed and resistance.

Kane says she’s looking forward to spending more time with family and friends, but has no intention of giving up her active lifestyle. She encourages other East Tennessee seniors to follow her lead and follow her personal motto for enjoying life at any age.

“Life is more fun when you’re fit!” Kane says.

Best of luck, Missy – and enjoy your future adventures!

Missy Kane with free weight dumbells