No, I Wouldn’t Like Fries with That

french fries

Most of us know that eating fried foods is not the healthiest choice. A study published in the journal, Heart, on 1/18/2021, looked at existing research and concluded that even small amounts of fried foods can have a negative effect on our health.

According to an article on http://www.cnn.com: “Compared to those who ate the least, people who ate the most fried food per week had a 28% higher risk of major cardiovascular events, a 22% greater risk of coronary heart disease and a 37% heightened risk of heart failure….” Additionally, the article explained that: “Each additional weekly serving of 114 grams or 4 ounces (½ cup) of fried foods increased the risk for heart attack and stroke by 3%, heart disease by 2% and heart failure by 12%, the study found. A medium McDonald’s french fry serving, for example, is 117 grams.”

The risk is further increased because many fried foods contain trans fats–fats that have been hydrogenated in order to improve taste and increase shelf life–which is bad for cholesterol. The FDA has banned trans fats, but the ban is not fully in place and there are loopholes. Frying allows the food to absorb the fats thereby adding calories and increasing health risks.

Every once in a while, a little fried food would not be the end of the world. A plate of fries will not kill a person, but the research does indicate that over time there is a marked difference between the health outcomes of those who eat fried foods on a regular basis and in higher quantities than those who do not.

As we make our way into 2021 and many of us work on New Year’s Resolutions to be healthier, this research helps us to understand just how important our choices can be.

Here is the link for the article on CNN.com: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/18/health/fried-foods-heart-disease-study-wellness/index.html

Heart Health During the Pandemic

lowell heart

A new study out by the University of Oxford in the UK confirms what we have long known: exercise benefits cardiovascular health. An article about the study can be found here: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/12/health/exercise-cardiovascular-disease-study-wellness/index.html.

What this study adds to what we already know is that there is no such thing as “too much of a good thing” when it comes to exercise and cardiovascular health. The more we exercise the more health benefit there is. Of course, this is not to say that too much exercise or doing it incorrectly will not adversely affect other systems in the body. The research was conducted with over 90,000 participants and showed that the more exercise a person did, the less likely they were to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease; the less they exercised, the more likely disease would present itself.

This information is particular important since we know that many of us are not exercising as much since the pandemic arrived. Gyms are closed or operating with limitations. Many of us don’t feel comfortable going to the gym even if it is open. Since many of us are working from home, we don’t have as much walking around the office. As a rabbi, I used to do regular hospital visits to sick congregants; depending on the hospital, it was possible to walk a mile from my car to the hospital to the patient’s room and back. That does not happen any more. There are many examples of the ways in which our staying at home has lessened our physical activity.

This is an important message. We need to find ways to make up for that lost activity. There are many good options: going for a brisk walk or bike ride (if the weather permits), getting on a treadmill or other piece of equipment at home, joining an on-line exercise class, etc. The more we do this, the more benefit we receive.

And now for a shameless plug: I teach an on-line class 3 times each week at 1-2 pm EST on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. It is fun, easy to join, accessible to nearly all levels of fitness, and affordable. For more info, go to: http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net. Not only will you thank me, your heart will too!

Keep active and keep that ticker healthy!

Don’t Let the Stress of What’s Going on Knock You Off Your Fitness/Health Game

Stress

Late last week, I got on-line with one of my virtual clients. It was a couple of days after the riot in Washington and she told me that she was so distraught that she did not think she could work out. We spent a few minutes talking through things and then went on to have a productive (although shortened) workout.

For many people, this is a natural reaction to stress or trauma. They hunker down on the couch or under the covers and stress-eat. The stress saps their energy and they feel like they cannot even think about exercise. While this is understandable, we have to find strategies to overcome these obstacles. For some, it is contacting someone else who will workout with them (even remotely); for others, it is some kind of reward like “if get on the elliptical for 30 minutes I will treat myself to the next episode of whatever it is I’m binging on Netflix right now.” This is another reason why many folks use the services of a Personal Trainer; they know that s/he will hold them accountable and get them motivated. Whatever the strategy, have it in the toolbox so that when the time comes it is readily available.

One of the best ways to combat stress is to exercise. Physical activity–aside from the benefits to heart health, calories burned, etc.–can release endorphins in our bodies. These hormones are produced in the pituitary gland and create a natural “high.” At the very least, they can help lift our mood.

There will always be stress in our lives. God-willing, it will not be as traumatic as the events of this past week. There are many ways to manage stress, but often the stress itself talks us out of them. Plan ahead. Know what triggers stress behaviors. Understand what can get you through it. Follow that strategy.

Wishing everyone a better week ahead. Stay healthy. Stay fit. Plan for ways to manage that stress.

“Aging without Wrinkles” on the Air

I am excited to announce that I will be on the radio (streaming) tomorrow evening, January 6 at 8 pm EST.

The topic will be about older adults and staying healthy/fit–especially during a pandemic–on “Aging without Wrinkles,” hosted by Harriet Tramer.

To listen or for more info, go to: https://www.artistfirst.com/tramer.htm

The Right Kinds of Exercise for Older Adults

Exercise class

There is more research out that overturns the idea that exercise for older adults needs to be gentle and not very challenging (kind of like the picture above?).

The most recent issue of IDEA Fitness Journal discusses two recent studies.

One, conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, was a longitudinal study that compared the effects of 5 years of supervised exercise training among those over 70 years of age (men and women). The results showed that all types of physical activity were beneficial, but that those who participated in HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) had a slightly lower risk of dying during those 5 years. In other words, there is a likelihood that HIIT exercises can increase longevity. The study was published in the The BMJ of the British Medical Association, and recommended that HIIT exercise be incorporated in the physical activity that seniors do.

For those unfamiliar, HIIT means that there are intervals (timed periods) of more intense exercise interspersed in more moderate exercises. For instance, someone going on walk for five minutes could walk for one minute at a regular pace followed by 20 seconds of more intense effort (faster or on an incline) then go back to regular pace, etc., until the 5 minutes are up. This elevates the heart rate and keeps it elevated throughout the workout; it is less intense that 5 minutes of straight running or speed-walking (which many people cannot sustain) but more challenging than simply walking for that time (which may provided more limited benefits).

The second study by University of Colorado researchers, published in Physical Therapy, showed that HIIT exercises can be applied to resistance (weight) training in a PT setting. It is safe and effective and can even double physical function in older adults in rehab after hospitalization; this can result in increased care and reduced costs.

All in all, this is nothing new. It only adds to the research out there that shows that there are many different approaches to training older adults. Of course, each individual is different; some older adults are frail while others are active. A good personal trainer will understand the complexities and create an appropriate plan for his/her client. This research, however, is important for the client and the trainer to take into account; going harder can have verifiable positive results.

Year in Review

File:Pngtree-editable-calendar-2020-png-image 1558959.jpg

Here we are at the last day of 2020. I will not launch into a long essay about how badly this year went for most of us on the planet. Others have stated it over and over again–many more eloquently than I could.

Instead, here are some thoughts on what 2020 meant for me in terms of my fitness career…as well as some thoughts about what 2021 and beyond may bring.

The year started out well for me; I was working as a Personal Trainer at the local JCC and although the money was not great, my client list was really beginning to grow and my schedule was starting to fill out. The future looked rosy.

By mid-March, of course, the cancellations started as a trickle which grew into a torrent. COVID-19 had arrived. By the end of that month, the JCC was closed (and wouldn’t open until June).

Early on in the pandemic, I decided to offer a group fitness class daily (except Shabbat) for whoever wanted to tune in on Facebook Live. I did this as a way to connect with clients, keeping them engaged and moving during what most of us thought would be a brief interruption. No charge. Just work out with me. I watched my FB group grow quickly and enjoyed a steady stream of participants–mostly an older demographic, but that is my sweet spot anyhow. Soon the JCC gave us the green light to train clients on-line one-on-one free of charge; we continued to receive a salary through mid-May, which was laudable. In mid-May we went back to pay-to-play; I did not lose many clients since most had become accustomed to working with me virtually. Even after the gym opened (in a limited way) most of my clients chose to stay on-line due to their (well-founded) fears. Nevertheless, I was still nowhere close to where I had been pre-pandemic. Some clients were gone for good.

Those several months at the beginning of the pandemic were a time of professional growth. I honed my skills as a group fitness instructor, did some on-line continuing education (go TRX!), and broadened my knowledge of how to train on-line and be a better communicator. I returned to the gym feeling like a “real” trainer, on a par with my colleagues, as opposed to the new kid on the block. I had confidence in myself and my ability to make a positive difference with my clients.

Through it all, I had been thinking about branching out on my own. I had been actively looking at other job opportunities since the summer of 2019, but nothing promising appeared. I had set a 2-year mark for working at the JCC so that I would have a chunk of solid experience before setting my own course. By spring of 2020, I was in full planning stage. In June, I formed At Home Senior Fitness, LLC, with the State of Ohio and contacted SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) to get some mentoring and participate in a weekly webinar on starting a business. My mentors were excellent (Thanks Bob & Carlos!) and were very encouraging. They gave me the confidence to take the scary step of actually taking those first steps toward independence.

My goal was to be open for business by the High Holidays (September of 2020), but before then I required surgery on my bicep. That was not enjoyable, but since so many of my clients were virtual, it did not really set me back much. In mid-August, the website went live, the ads went in the Cleveland Jewish News and word spread via Facebook. My client list started small (2!), and now I am well into double-digits. I am training clients in Ohio, Connecticut, South Carolina, Florida, New York, British Columbia, and Israel. That’s right: I’m global!

2020 was a tough year. The pandemic. The economic fallout. The politics. The social separation. The silver lining was that this year allowed me to take an important step in my career.

What does 2021 look like? I’m still working on building my client portfolio and filling in my schedule, but I have far exceeded the projections that my mentors and I had set. I also know that a time will come when the pandemic will be under control (I pray) and that folks will want to go back to the gym. This will affect some of my clients and my business, but because of the demographic that I chiefly serve (55+) I am confident that many will stick with me or (if they are local) convert to in-person one-on-one training. I know that the world changes quickly so I will not be satisfied with a static business/marketing plan. I look forward to staying ahead of the curve and continuing to do what I set out to do: help older adults live more independently by improving their strength, balance, and mobility.

Here’s to a happy, prosperous, fit and HEALTHY 2021!!!

Is Walking “Good Enough?”

Corona walks 11/...

One of the top activities for many people during this pandemic has been going for a walk. It gets us out of the house; being out in the open air is good for us and carries a low risk for transmission of COVID-19. Many people, however, want to know if walking really “counts” as exercise, or whether is is “good enough” to provide health benefits.

An article came out on Monday on Insider that addresses this very issue. Here is the link: https://www.insider.com/is-walking-low-impact-movement-enough-exercise-to-improve-health-2020-12,

It is worth read; the author and the individuals quoted bring forth useful information. There is even a little summary at the beginning of the article. First, if you are tracking exercise using a device or other means, walking definitely counts; it can be any kind of walking (around the block or to the fridge!), as those who aim for 10,000 steps a day know. Second, walking can boost immune function and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Third, keeping active in bursts during the day can have benefit; those of us who are stuck at home most of the day (working or otherwise) can break things up with a quick walk outside or around the home. Finally, the article encourages us to do what we enjoy; if a person doesn’t like the stationary bike but likes walking, it makes sense to choose walking that one actually has a shot at doing on a regular basis.

The article goes into greater depth and discusses as well what walking can and cannot accomplish. I always tell folks that moving is definitely better than not moving. That being said, moving that involves a little more intensity is usually better than activities that do not. Walking at a slow pace and making frequent stops (like taking a dog for a walk) is better than sitting on the couch, but walking without the pet (alone or with a friend/family member) at a more brisk pace is even better. There is also the option of a kind of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) that I have done with many clients; walking for 2 minutes at a regular pace, then 20 seconds fast, and repeating the cycle is an example of this.

Most importantly, the article stresses, find what you like and enjoy. Intense exercise that we never do is not as helpful to our health as a moderate exercise that we carry out on a regular basis.

Is Weight Loss your New Year’s Resolution?

Day 2/365 - New Years Resolution

2021 is just over two weeks away. Have you considered your New Year’s Resolutions? Is weight loss on the list (again)?

As a regular gym-goer (pre-COVID-19), I used to find it annoying when all the “Resolutionaries” would show up after New Years. The gym would be packed for the first week or two of the new year; by the end of January it would be back to normal. Year after year it was the same thing. Humorous on one level, sad on another.

How is it that so many of us make these resolutions each year and yet we have so little success? Mostly, I think it is because we do not spend enough time considering how we will be successful. We set a goal but do not really strategize about how to get there. This is the key to reaching any objective.

I remember when I ran my first Half Marathon. I set the goal and signed up; having put that money up was part of my incentive. I then consulted with friends and did some research to find the best app to help me train. I settled on Hal Higden’s app and followed the plan. It was not easy, but the feeling of satisfaction of crossing the Finish Line after 13.1 miles was worth it. And it would not have been possible had I not put the planning time in–not to mention the hard work on my part.

There is no one-size-fits-all for New Year’s Resolutions, just like there is no one-size-fits-all way to lose weight. Several things to consider as you set your goals:

  1. What goals have you set in the past and found success? What contributed to reaching your objective? Can it be replicated?
  2. When you have failed in the past, what were the reasons? What are the obstacles you faced then and what obstacles do you face now? How will you overcome them this time?
  3. Who can help you to reach your goal? It is often more fun and effective to be on the journey with someone else. Often it is that companionship and added accountability that leads to success.
  4. Be realistic. Do not set a goal that is unattainable or unhealthy. For example, losing 25 pounds in a year; losing 25 pounds in a month would not be. On a related note, the more specific the goal is the easier it is to plan for it.
  5. Know thyself. Accomplishing what you want first depends on you understanding (or admitting) who you are and how you work best. Here is an interesting article published yesterday: https://www.cnn.com/2015/12/28/health/weight-loss-resolution-wisdom-project/index.html. The author touches on this topic and explains how he found success.
  6. When it comes to fitness, it is helpful (and healthier) to think in more general terms. A number on the scale is only one measure. What would it be like to have a resolution that says: “I will go to the gym three times each week for 30 minutes,” rather than focusing on a number? Building a healthier lifestyle will lead to the other good things.

This has been a rough year for all of us. COVID-19 has disrupted many of our health/fitness routines. Hopefully, 2021 will be a better year. Let’s do our part by doing the hard work and planning so that it is not just wishful thinking but a serious path to success.

Personal Training and the Pandemic

Online Yoga

When the pandemic was just beginning and fitness facilities like the one where I used to work were still open, it was apparent that a tidal wave was headed our way. Within a week, my cancellations went through the roof. When the gym finally closed, I had no idea what the future would hold.

This pandemic has hit Personal Trainers hard: some for the better, some for the worse. An article appeared yesterday on CNN’s website: https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/12/us/personal-trainers-adapt-covid-19/index.html. The author, Amir Vera, discusses the various outcomes for those in an industry that has lost nearly a half-million jobs since COVID-19 came on the scene.

Not surprisingly, there are those trainers who found it difficult, if not impossible, to transition to the new situation. Some trainers (and people, in general), are much more set in their ways and really get thrown for a loop when the rules of the game are changed. Others found ways to pivot and have discovered that not only have they survived the pandemic’s effects, but they are also thriving.

Within days of the closing of my gym, I was on-line offering a daily workout for free. This not only kept some of my clients engaged, but attracted new individuals who were looking for a way to stay active outside of the gym setting. (It also kept me from reverting to a sedentary lifestyle). Within a short time, I was offering one-on-one personal training for free as well. I am grateful that my previous gym paid us a salary (reduced as it was) to allow my fellow trainers and me to do this. There were, of course, those clients for whom virtual was not an option (technical issues or too fragile to work out without direct supervision) and others for whom it was not their cup of tea. Those folks received regular phone calls and emails; I did not want them to forget about me or (more importantly) their own fitness.

When the gym re-opened in June, about 40% of my clients came back. Another 30% stayed on-line (no longer free-of-charge). Another 30% just sort of faded away; I continue to stay in touch every few months, but it is unlikely that I will see them again.

In August, I launched my own business: http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net. It is a niche venture aimed at fitness for older adults. I was lucky to retain many of my previous clients and attracted others through free classes that I offered, advertising in a local paper, and word of mouth. Even though my hours are still less than they were at the height of my career at the gym before the pandemic, I am actually making more money now than I did then.

Most importantly, the pandemic forced me out of my comfort zone. I had to get creative. Every day I had to come up with a new group workout. Every day I had to think about how to provide modifications for those with less ability and those with more. Every day I had to consider how to reach out to clients and keep track of their progress. I also had to learn how to best use technology and adjust workouts to a virtual platform while remaining effective and safe. In a way, have had a shorter time in the industry probably helped me to make all these transitions; I was too new at it to be set in my ways. It made me a way better trainer than I was before. Without the pandemic, I do not know if I would have ever had the impetus and opportunity to start my own business.

I always try to look for the silver linings in my life when things go sideways. The pandemic pushed me to be the best trainer I can be and the results are encouraging. Those trainers who are just waiting it out until things go back to “normal” may be disappointed. Like everything else, some of the changes brought by COVID-19 are here to stay.

As for me, I look forward to the challenges and rewards that this new landscape presents–with my sincere hope that those affected by COVID-19 have a complete and speedy recovery.

300 Minutes of Exercise EACH Week?

exercise

Many of you have seen the article in The New York Times, “To Lose Weight with Exercise, Aim for 300 Minutes a Week,” by Gretchen Reynolds. It appeared on December 9, and it caught my eye. Here is the link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/09/well/move/to-lose-weight-with-exercise-aim-for-300-minutes-a-week.html.

For a long time, the fitness industry has professed that adults (of any age) should be engaged in exercise (cardio or resistance) for 150 minutes per week. There have been many times when I have started working with new clients who have been sedentary; I get a blank stare at mentioning two-and-a-half hours each week. “Wouldn’t our weekly 30 minutes be enough?” I have to start them slowly and encourage them to add workouts even when they are not with me until they get to the recommended level.

So what’s with the new 300 number? Reynolds reports that 300 minutes per week has now been shown to assist in weight loss, which is not necessarily the goal for everyone–thus the distinction between 150 and 300. When clients talk to me about weight loss strategies, I emphasize diet. Exercise helps (except when it does not), but lowering calorie intake is the best way to ensure weight loss. The problem with exercise is that when we work out, our body in turn often demands more calories; our appetites increase and the added eating erases any of the gains from working out.

The study cited in the article points out that people who exercise will consume more “compensatory calories;” usually this amounts to 1000 calories per week. So if a person burns 1500 calories at the gym in a week, we can expect that person to eat an extra 1000, leading to a deficit of only 500 calories. One pound of fat in the human body is about 3500 calories; at this rate, a person would lose one pound every 7 weeks. The new research shows that those who exercise 300 minutes per week will average closer to 3000 calories burned from that activity; subtract the 1000 in compensatory calories and it is still a deficit of 2000 calories. In this scenario, a pound would be lost every two weeks or so–certainly a healthy pace. Additionally, those working out at the higher rate had an increase in the hormone leptin which controls appetite.

This research is certainly helpful, but I am not sure whether it will have huge implications. Folks who are sedentary, obese, or have other health problems will have a hard time scaling up to 150 minutes per week, let alone 300. Controlling one’s calorie intake (together with exercise) still seems a reasonable approach. The best course of action, as always, is to build a healthy lifestyle including: healthier eating, exercise, rest, low alcohol consumption, and no smoking. This is recommended not just for 300 hours/week…but every hour of every day.