Everyone Needs a Break Now and Then

Summer vacation 2015

The subject of “self-care” is not a new one on this blog. From the beginning, I have stated that in order for us to be there for others, we must first take care of ourselves.

Some of us are better than others at doing this. Americans in general–at least by one standard–are not faring well. In general, we leave a lot of vacation days on the table; in other words, our employers give us a certain number of vacation days and most of us do not make use of all of them. In 2018 (pre-pandemic), according to www.ustravel.org, Americans left a record 768 million days unused, up 17% from the previous year; of those, 236 million were completely forfeited amounting to $65.5 billion in lost benefits!

The figures look even worse when we consider how many vacation days American workers get on compared with other countries. The US on average has 16 paid leave days and 10 public holidays totalling 26 days per year; paid leave days are not necessarily vacation days–that could be used for sick leave, bereavement, etc. Countries such as Great Britain, France, and Brazil are much more generous. Japan and Thailand are at about the same level as the USA.

You can imagine why folks do not use all these days. During the pandemic, a lot of people were working from home and felt that it just was not right to take “more time off,” as if the work being done at home was some kind of vacation; for many people, it was way more stressful than being at the office or other place of work. Others do not take those days off because they fear what will be waiting when they return–either piles of work or missed opportunities. Others still are afraid that if they take the time off, the job will no longer be there when they get back.

The reality is that our society places a premium on production. We cannot “produce” while we are on vacation…or so the logic goes. On the contrary, taking proper time off and engaging self-care will make us more productive in the end. How many of us are feeling completely burned out? How many of us are ready to “take this job and shove it?” How many of us feel caught in a rut. My guess is too many.

Perhaps we as a society need to re-examine our view of vacation and time-off. What price does society pay for a workforce that is tired, “stuck,” and lacking exposure to the world that is out there?

I will set the example. No blogs for the next couple of weeks while I engage in some R&R. See you on the other end–hopefully refreshed, inspired, and full of energy!

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth (and Your Values) Are

Money Roll - $100 Dollar Bills

Just a couple of weeks ago, I gave a “sermon” on the evening of Yom Kippur about aligning our actions with our words and values.

I focused on a time-management tool with which many of us are familiar; take a piece of paper and divide it into 2 rows and 2 columns. At the top of one column put “Important” and at the top of the other put “Not Important.” In front of one row put “Urgent” and in front of the other put “Not Urgent.” The exercise is to review an entire week and categorize each activity on the grid: laundry, grocery shopping, watching Netflix, exercising, working, studying, etc., and attach a time component to it, ie., how many hours were spent doing each activity. Finally, do the math. How much time was spent on activities that are not important? How much on stuff that is not urgent? Ideally, anything that is not urgent and not important should grab the least amount of our attention, time, and energy; conversely, we should focus on those things which are important and urgent. How well does this line up in reality?

This is not just a question of time. It is also a question of our finances. How much money do we spend on things that are not important or do not line up with our values? A recent FaceBook post by Amanda Malcolm-Brown addressed this very issue. She relates it to our health and fitness. How many of us complain about the high cost of gym membership or personal training, but are willing to drop a lot of money to go to a pro football game? Why will we spend a fortune at a fancy restaurant, but balk at spending a little extra at the supermarket for foods that are healthier for us? Malcolm-Brown notes that what really counts are our actions–not our thoughts or intentions. This is, of course, a statement that aligns with Jewish values and is at the core of the High Holidays and the Kol Nidre (Yom Kippur eve) service.

Here we are in the last quarter of 2021 (or the beginning of the Hebrew year 5782); what can we do now to ensure that our actions (and money) help us to reach our goals? Perhaps a good start is to take a piece of paper, divide it into four quadrants….

Weights? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Weights!

Pushups

As the pandemic wears on, more and more people who used to be regular gym-goers are realizing that it has been 18 months since they have stepped foot in a fitness center. Some have found other ways to keep fit, but many have simply stopped working out altogether. It is a sad reality, and one whose end is not necessarily in sight.

One of the issue stopping people from working out at home is that they lack the equipment found in gyms. I have been working virtually with clients (first for a local gym, and then in my own business “At Home Senior Fitness”) since the earliest days of the shutdowns in 2020. By now, many of my clients have at least a couple of dumbbells or perhaps some resistance tubes. Even so, I am able to put together workouts for clients that use body weight alone. This is especially helpful when clients are traveling and cannot bring equipment with them.

Is a body weight workout effective? The answer is a definitive yes. To paraphrase the classic film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, “Weights? We don’t need no stinkin’ weights!”

Of course, there are certain principles that should be followed. As in workouts using weights/resistance, the best results occur when there is a pattern of progression. In other words, either increase the weight being used, decrease the rest period between sets, increase the number of reps and sets, etc. In a body weight fitness regime increasing the weight does not figure in, so it involves getting more creative. There are many ways to make the workout more challenging: single limb exercises, changing the angle, increasing tempo, introducing hybrid exercises, etc.

It should go without saying that this applies to resistance training, but it is also the case in cardio workouts. Treadmill, ellipticals, and stair climbers were created to replicate already existing body movements. Instead of a treadmill, one can walk or run on a street or trail; speed can be varied and (depending on where you live) so can incline. Running or jogging can replace ellipticals, although the impact on joints is much greater. Bicycle riding can replace a stationary bike, and one can simply climb stairs! We have become so accustomed to thinking that we have to go to the gym, but it is possible to be fit–and even “ripped”–without using equipment.

Finally, a body weight workout regime requires a lot of creativity. Every piece of equipment in a gym is designed to work a certain muscle or muscle group; these muscles can be exercised without that equipment as well, but it may take a fitness professional to help adapt them. Finally, a personal trainer can help to ensure that a body weight workout is not only effective and safe, but also fun!

Weights are great, but their absence should not be a reason for avoiding a workout. The good Lord gave us all bodies, and we can use them creatively to keep ourselves fit and healthy.

The Jewish Thanksgiving…Healthy for You?

sukkot-9

This evening we begin the Jewish holiday of Sukkot; in English it is known as the Feast of Tabernacles.

The holiday has agricultural roots; it is the time of the fall harvest and the beginning of the rainy season in the Land of Israel. It is a joyous holiday; in the liturgy, it is referred to as Z’man Simchatenu, “the time of our rejoicing.” It also has an historical connection; it recalls the forty years of wandering in the wilderness between the Exodus from Egypt and the entrance of the Israelites into the Promised Land.

The agricultural aspect of the holiday is commemorated with the Lulav and Etrog–a palm branch decorated with myrtle and willow twigs, and a citron (a relative of the lemon)–that is held during certain prayers. The historical side is commemorated with the construction of temporary shelters called Sukkot (the singular is Sukkah); many people build these “booths” or “tabernacles” at their homes and eat their meals there for the week of the holiday–some even sleep inside them!

You may be wondering why this is such a joyous holiday if the 40 years of wandering was a punishment. According to the Torah, the people panicked after the report of the 12 spies and lost faith in Moses and God. The Lord wanted to destroy the Israelites right then and there but Moses interceded. Instead of wiping out the Children of Israel, they would wander for four decades as the old generation died out and and a new one arose. Jewish tradition teaches that the reason why we are joyous is two-fold. 1. It is the time of the harvest and everyone is happy to have food (hopefully) for the coming year. 2. During those 40 years, God did not forget the Children of Israel; on the contrary, God recalled this as a beatiful time in the relationship between the Hebrews and their Lord. God made sure that the people were protected from enemies, always had water to drink, manna to eat, and were eventually led into the Promised Land. There is indeed much for which to be grateful, which is why Sukkot is often thought of as the “Jewish Thanksgiving.”

Is Sukkot healthy for you? That depends. Like all other Jewish holidays, there is an emphasis on food–and lots of it. It is easy to overdo it, but that is our own decisions and not any fault of the holiday. The focus on gratitude, however, is good for our health. Refer to a blog post from 2019 and another from this past Thanksgiving for more information on the positive benefits of practicing gratitude. It does not just make you feel good in an emotional sense; being thankful can help improve your health.

Wishing all who celebrate Sukkot a happy and healthy holiday!

All The Promises We Have Made

Promise?

This evening as the sun sets, Jewish people around the world will gather in synagogues (and around laptops/tablets/cellphones) to begin the holiest day on the Hebrew calendar, Yom Kippur.

The day begins with a rather unusual ritual–but one that is filled with great power and emotion. The Kol Nidre prayer is recited as the sun sets and is actually not a prayer at all. It is a legal proceeding requiring three witness; usually each of them will hold a Torah Scroll taken from the Holy Ark to symbolize the importance of the goings on. Kol Nidre literally translates as “All Vows,” but can also mean “All Oaths,” or “All Promises.” The proceedings take just a few minutes (the legal formula is recited aloud from the prayer book three times in a row), but they have great impact. The aim of Kol Nidre is to pre-emptively nullify any promises we might make during the coming year that we are not able to keep; in some communities, the formula in Hebrew is slightly different and it asks for forgiveness and nullification after the fact for last year’s vows.

What a strange way to begin the holiest night of the year! It does, however, make sense upon deeper reflection. The 24 hours of Yom Kippur will be spent in prayer and reflection; it is a full day to consider our actions in the past and what we hope to accomplish going forward. It is like making New Year’s Resolutions but with more serious implications. We pre-emptively ask God to forgive us for making promises (to ourselves and to God) on this occasion that we may not be able to fulfill; promises to others do not get a free pass–we must make good on them.

What is the point of making such vows in the first place if we can just have them annulled? It is like making a promise with your fingers crossed behind your back! The Rabbis who put this service together stressed that we should really avoid making vows altogether; there is a whole section of the Talmud on this topic. Kol Nidre reminds us that if we are going to do it, we better be serious about it; better not to promise at all and over-deliver than to promise and not deliver.

This, of course, has implications not only for our spiritual life but for our physical well-being too. We often promise ourselves to go to the gym, or eat more healthy foods, or drink less alcohol, etc., but make little progress. Kol Nidre teaches us to be more realistic. If we are going to make a promise, we should be serious about it; this involves not just deciding on it at the spur of the moment. It means knowing ourselves and what makes us tick. It also means having a plan to accomplish our goals, including opportunities for little victories that will further motivate us.

I find this approach comforting. Kol Nidre recognizes human nature. We often make the same mistakes over and over again; this service urges us to be kind to ourselves and be realistic about what we can and cannot accomplish–spiritually and otherwise. We do not have to be perfect. When it comes to our fitness, in particular, it is better to start small rather than make huge commitments only to burn out soon afterwards. It is also important to find ways to be accountable for our actions. What roadblocks have we met in the past and how can we overcome them this time? What can we do to set ourselves up for success? Who can help us reach our goals? What will success look like?

As we begin Yom Kippur, I wish all those who observe a meaningful fast. May the promise of the coming year include promises kept for our spiritual and our physical well-being.

10,000 Steps a Day? For You (Such a Deal) 30% Off!

treadmill

Most of us have probably heard the guideline that we should be taking at least 10,000 steps a day to help maintain health and fitness. Where does that number come from? According to a recent article on http://www.nbcnews.com, it was a number picked by a Japanese company in the 1960s seeking to sell pedometers.

The article discusses the results of study published this month in Jama Network Open, a publication of the American Medical Association. The research indicates that the number may more realistically be around 7,000 steps to get the same health benefits; namely, people who achieved that goal (7,000) were 50-70% less likely to die in the next 10 years! Of course, 10,000 does not have a negative effect. The smaller number, however, may seem less daunting to some people; on the other hand, maybe it is a better idea to have people aim for 10,000 and only hit 7,000.

The most recent guidelines are that we should exercise (or be physically active) for a minimum of 150 minutes per week; the range goes up to 300 minutes per week, and can be a combination of different kinds of exercise and levels of intensity. Someone who is running 8-10 minute miles can get by with the lower number (150) as opposed to someone who is walking at a pace of a 20 minute mile (perhaps 300 is better). Of course, there are many factors that at play here; this new research adds to our understanding of how much walking can figure into these numbers. Previously, there were not any solid studies; this new research suggests 7-13 thousand steps/day is the optimal range.

For those who fret about hitting their step goal each day, this may be some welcome news. As always, consult with medical and fitness professionals to find what is best for you.

In the meantime, remember, a journey of a thousand miles begins with 7,000 steps!

COVID-19 and the Mental/Physical Health Connection

Couch

Researchers have long known that there is a connection between physical and mental health. Physical activity releases hormones that are mood lifters; exercise is not necessarily a cure-all for emotional or mental ills, but it is a contributing factor in better outcomes.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has taken a huge physical toll in our country–not just in terms of the 600,000+ who have died of COVID-related illnesses, but also in terms of the tens of millions who were sickened by the virus but survived (some with long-lasting effects). Even those who were not infected have suffered stress from the situation. Some of that can be attributed to the relationship between lower levels of physical activity during the pandemic (due to closed gyms, group classes being limited, etc.) and negative mental health outcomes.

Idea Fitness Journal’s September-October, 2021, issue reported on a recent study by McMaster University in Hamilton, ON, Canada; the research looked into why people seemed less motivated to be physically active and what the perceived barriers were. The data showed that those whose mental health had worsened the most were also those who were the least physically active; that same group also showed the most improvement when they became more active.

Based on the study, the article suggested that individuals can become more active (and have better mental health outcomes) by:

–Scheduling activities (to eliminate decision-making and choice

–Do activites they personally enjoy

–Listen to their favorite music

–Train with a friend

–Try lower-intensity activiites

–Get creative; use body weight or whatever is available

–Go outside and be in nature.

Of course, another option for those who are demotivated because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, is to turn to on-line classes and training that can be done from home.

The issue is a complicated one and, as I said earlier, more exercise is not a panacea. There can be deeper issues at work that make the thought of more physical activity anxiety-inducing. As always, it is best to check in with healthcare professional if depression or anxiety prevent a person from carrying out activities of daily living, including exercise.

For most people, however, it is just a matter of planning ahead and taking the first step. The rest should come more easily.

An Accounting of our Health

Shofar and Candlesticks

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins this coming Monday evening at sunset. It ushers in a period known as the Ten Days of Repentance that ends with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.

Unlike the frivolity and celebration of the secular New Year, this ten-day period is more serious. It is ideally spent in prayer and reflection. Traditionally, Jews review the last year in what is called in Hebrew, Cheshbon HaNefesh, literally an “Accounting of the Soul.” We look at the “asset column” of the positive things we did in the last 12 months; and then we look at the “debit column” of things that did not quite work out well, where we could have done better. Hopefully the good outweighs the bad, but no matter how the ledger sheet balances out, our attention turns to how we can do better in the coming year.

As a rabbi and personal trainer, I see an intersection between the “Accounting of the Soul” and an “Accounting of our Health.” Of course, there is spiritual health, but none of that is possible unless we take care of the body in which our spirit resides. Additionally, Judaism teaches that in the final analysis we are judged not by our thoughts/beliefs, but rather by what we do. “Doing” requires a body that is well enough to act. We can have all the best intentions to make our lives and the world around us a better place, but ultimately we have to find a way to move past intentions into action. This requires our body to be healthy.

The connection between body and spirit is well established in Judaism. At this time of the year, we would be wise to not only consider spiritual matters; we should also commit to living in a way that allows our bodies to bring blessing and holiness to others. An “Accounting of our Health” should be part and parcel of this holy season.

Best wishes to all those who celebrate Rosh Hashanah for a happy, healthy, and fit 5782!

Happy 1st Anniversary “At Home Senior Fitness!”

Cleveland Fireworks

I never thought I would own my own business, but here I am one year after At Home Senior Fitness trained its very first client!

What have I accomplished in that year?

  1. I have worked with two web designers to establish a presence on the internet: http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net.
  2. I have been supported by and supported the work of the Cleveland East Senior Network–bringing entertainment and joy to seniors in long-term care facilities, while creating connections with others who serve older adults.
  3. I have built my client list to over 30! The youngest are in their 50s and the oldest in their 90s. They are mostly in Ohio, but I train clients remotely in California, New Jersey, Illinois, and even Israel! I am joined in my fitness classes by folks from the Bronx to Vancouver.
  4. I have turned a profit and been able to re-invest in the business and give charitably.
  5. I have been interviewed for newspapers and radio for my expertise in working with older adults.
  6. I have maintained this blog; it now has over 300 followers.

Through it all, I have gotten to know some pretty amazing clients. The relationships are what make it all worthwhile; I have tried to be there for my clients and they have been supportive and flexible–especially when I was out for a few weeks after my kidney donation surgery.

Most importantly, I have watched my clients progress. They have become stronger and more flexible. Goals are being met. Nothing thrills me more than hearing “I went up the stairs and didn’t even get winded,” or “I walked four miles,” or “people tell me that they notice something different.” Everyone has engaged me as their trainer or group fitness instructor for a different reason; I am honored that they have entrusted me to help them reach their fitness goals.

What’s ahead for Year 2? Lots of exciting and new stuff is planned for the coming 12 months…but let me get through the Jewish High Holidays first!

Thanks to everyone (especially my wife who believed I could do this) for making me and At Home Senior Fitness the success that it is!

One Year Since Bicep Tenodesis Surgery

Big bulging biceps

Disclaimer: this is a stock photo off the Internet. My actual bicep size may vary!

It has been a year since I had bicep tenodesis surgery through the Sports Medicine department at the Cleveland Clinic. My last post about the surgery was 6 months ago. Back then I noted that it had been about a month since I began to feel like I was “back to normal.”

Here I am at the one year mark and my verdict is that, despite the fact that recovery was longer than I expected, it was worth it. 99.9% of the time I don’t even think about my shoulder; before the surgery, pain and discomfort were my constant companion. The only differences I notice now are that when I sleep on my left side, I can only sleep with a pillow supporting my right arm (the one that had the surgery), and that during certain exercise that involve raising my arm overhead I hear clicking. Aside from these minor changes, I have no limitations.

Final thought: as we age, we often think that we have to accept pain, discomfort, and limitations on our mobility. That is not necessarily the case. Every person is different and individual circumstances will dictate the best course of action. Sometimes physical therapy is called for, or simply rest and ice. In my case, when those options did not improve the situation, I am glad that I was a candidate for this surgery and had a successful outcome.