Embracing Aging

A recent article in The Cleveland Jewish News by columnist Regina Brett was so good that I felt I had to share it. I do not usually post an article and ask you to read it, but here we are!

The above quote kind of sums it up. The only thing that I would add is that accepting aging does not mean that we should not do our best to keep ourselves healthy and in shape. In fact, the opposite is true; taking control of our futures in our senior years a key element of embracing the aging process. I know it is a part of my plan and those of my clients as well.

Second Kidneyversary

It has been just over two years since I was privileged to donate a kidney for Papa Phil (back row, on the left), and he is doing great! I say “for” because the kidney that I donated actually went to somebody else since Phil and I were not a “match.” We were part of a three-way swap involving three donors and three recipients and we have become a kidney family.

It was great to catch up with everyone–and especially to see that one of the donors and her recipient husband are now the parents of a beautiful and sweet 3-month-old baby; we are all hoping to join together for the baptism celebration in a few weeks. It was also wonderful to have Dr. Wee (front row, center) of the Cleveland Clinic join us for dessert; he was responsible for the removal of the three kidneys from the donors while other doctors did the insertions in the recipients. It is incredible to hear about the advances that are being made in kidney transplantation–even in the two years since our operations.

Our gathering was not complete as the recipient of the kidney that I donated passed away back in September. It was a shock and I was filled with a bunch of emotions upon hearing the news. I was able to meet with the family a few days after his passing, and then to attend a memorial service in Kansas City about a month later. It provided closure for me and reconfirmed for me the importance of the decision that I made–even if the recipient lived for less than we would have hoped or expected. No matter what, he will always be my kidney brother and I am grateful for the special connection with his family.

I recently gave a talk about Jewish views on organ donation. A woman in the audience shared with me a letter from a woman who had received an organ from her grandson who had passed away tragically but was able to save and enhance many lives through his generosity. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time to read the letter. The gift of life is invaluable.

As always, I encourage folks to look into becoming a living donor. It is a difficult experience but well worth it. I also urge everyone to donate blood and platelets. This are less invasive (and less celebrated) but also save lives on a regular basis.

Two years on, I am grateful for the experience. I also feel blessed to have my kidney family. Here’s hoping we are able to share many happy occasions in good health!

Turning 60

A friend of mine who is VERY close in age to me recently turned 60. He posted an article from WebMD.com about what we can expect during the upcoming decade. What follows is the (mostly) depressing list:

  1. Most people in this decade report that they are actually happy! There is a bell curve and most sexagenarians are still near the top.
  2. Cancer diagnoses rise in this age category; make sure to get your scans!
  3. 40% of Americans in their 60s have some kind of hearing loss, and yet only 20% of people who could benefit from hearing aids actually wear them.
  4. Weight slowly increases. I have blogged about this before; our metabolism does not slow, but rather our eating habits get worse and we exercise and move less as we age.
  5. Skin changes. It thins out and gets visible lines; make sure to wear that sunscreen and moisturize!
  6. Heart disease; the mid-60s are prime time for heart failure, strokes, and heart attack. Maintain a healthy diet, stay smoke-free, and exercise to prevent these issues.
  7. Cognitive decline. Our ability to learn new things becomes more challenging, but long-term memories, knowledge, and wisdom generally stay with us. Keep active and play brain games.
  8. Vision issues. By age 65 about 1/3 of us have some kind of eye disease. Make sure to have regular check-ups since pain is not usually associated with eye problems.
  9. Bones and Joints do not work as they used to. Keeping active and doing resistance exercises can help bone strength. Talk to your PCP about supplements that might also help.
  10. Sleep quality decreases. Our bodies produce less melatonin naturally which regulates our sleep. Supplements can help, and physicians can also prescribe safe sleep aids that allow our bodies to rest and regenerate.
  11. Blood pressure can become and issue. Years of fat build-up in our blood vessels can raise blood pressure; the vessels can also harden. Monitor this regularly as hypertension can lead to other issues.
  12. Incontinence can become a nuisance. The bladder is not as elastic as it once was; this can lead to more frequent urination and the need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night (see #10). There are strategies to help this and a doctor is your best resource.
  13. Immunity decreases as the body’s production of germ-destroying T-Cells comes to an end. This makes it all the more important to get immunized; pneumonia and shingles can become new concerns for those in their 60s.
  14. Our oral health can be challenged. About 30% of those over 65 have dry mouth. The risk of oral cancer also increases 4-fold from when we are in our 40s. Make sure to have regular visits with your dentist.

This all seems pretty overwhelming, but the news is not all bad. Everything on the list can be controlled or prevented with good diet, exercise, rest, and regular health and dental check-ups. Our “golden years,” do not need to be a slow (or fast) descent into decrepitude. This is precisely why I do the work that I do. I help my clients–and myself–lived the best lives possible from a fitness perspective.

Wishing all my fellow sexagenarians good health and fitness!

What’s Your Goal?

This is one of the first questions that I ask new clients in our intake meetings. It is interesting to note that some people have a pretty clear idea of why they want to begin an exercise program. Some are preparing for an upcoming trip and want to be able to participate fully in all the planned activities; others sense that their mobility has decreased (it is harder to walk or go up stairs) and they want to do something about it; grandparents wanting to keep up with their grandchildren is also a big reason. At the same time, there are those who have given little thought to the question. They may have received personal training sessions as a gift, been “forced” into it by their children, or read that it might be a good thing to do.

I do not just ask this question at our intake meeting, but also at regular intervals. As clients progress, it is important to understand that their needs and goals may shift. When I first began working with a personal trainer in my late 30s, I did it because I wanted to look better. Later on, I was more motivated to be able to achieve challenges I had set for myself like finishing a 5K or a half-marathon. As I am about to turn 60, my goal is to continue to do the things that I enjoy most without worrying that I will not be physically capable of handling it. I expect that in five or ten years my goals will shift again.

Having goals is important. Without a “destination,” there is no way to chart a path. To extend the metaphor, sometimes just getting on the road and driving without a plan is enjoyable–but it is not the best strategy if you have to get to Omaha by Friday! The same is true with fitness and, more generally, with our lives. Goals help keep us motivated. They can keep us on track. They can also be unhealthy if they are unrealistic; we need to be willing to adjust as warranted.

I love to travel. My wife and I, along with my twin sister and her husband, just completed a two-week vacation in South America. It included horseback riding in the Andes of Argentina, walking and climbing stairs along the Iguassu Falls in Brazil, and hiking in the Galapagos Islands. What an amazing adventure, and what a great feeling to feel up to it (even in Quito where the air is thin). It was reasurring as well to learn that I was not the oldest one in some of our group activities. I was inspired to see that taking care of one’s health and fitness can help to ensure that we are able to do what we love better and longer.

We usually think of New Year’s as a time for goal-setting. The truth is that we can do it any time of the year. Why wait? Set some goals, get a plan, and then put it into action!

Is Fitness Discretionary?

Most of us do not have unlimited resources, so life involves regular decisions about what we can afford to do and what we cannot afford to do. Those who follow a budget know that there are certain items that are non-negotiable and need to be accounted for each month like rent/mortgage, groceries, transportation costs, etc. What is discretionary? Going to get a $6 cup of coffee, seeing a movie in a theater, attending a concert, buying that umpteenth pair of shoes….

Where does keeping fit and healthy fit in?

In the United States this is a sticky issue. I recently returned from a trip overseas and had a few conversations with folks who live in countries where health insurance is provided to the public through their taxes. Everyone is insured. No one goes bankrupt because they become ill. No one is denied care because of a “pre-existing condition.” These people find our system in the US to be quite puzzling–especially since our country has the resources to provide medical care for all its inhabitants if only we would set our minds and resources to it. (As a point of interest, these people come from countries like Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and Portugal–all of which have higher life expectancies than the US and all of which provide free healthcare to legal residents).

This, however, is not the system we have in the US. We have to look out for ourselves and our loved ones at our own cost. Even though the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is meant to increase the number of people with health insurance, there are still far too many who do not have access to affordable healthcare. Tough choices have to be made all too often.

What can we do to lower the cost of staying alive and free of illness? As always, a proper diet, exercise, sufficient rest, as well as avoiding smoking and excessive drinking are a big part of the solution. Much of what I do in my work as a personal trainer is helping individuals stay fitter, stronger, and healthier for longer–but the services I provide are not free. For some people, the cost is prohibitive. Even those who can afford it often view fitness expenses as discretionary. Belonging to a gym, taking yoga classes, or working with a personal trainer are seen as luxuries rather than healthcare necessities.

As long as we have the system in place that we do in our country, we need to think about the money spent on fitness and self-care not as discretionary, but rather as an investment in our present and our future. The better job we do of taking care of ourselves now, the more likely that we will have better health outcomes in the future.

I am not sure why the US stands nearly alone in the world in its broken system of healthcare, nor why so many people are so opposed to systems that work with more success in other countries. We should ask ourselves and our elected representatives about this.

In the meantime, consider what is discretionary and what is not. Where does your health and fitness fit in for you?

Free Weights or Machines?

A lot has been written over the years about which is better overall: using free weights (dumbbells, barbells, kettle-bells, etc.) or weight machines? As we age, there are special considerations that can help us best answer the question. A recent article in IDEA Fitness Journal gives a good summary of the issues as well as recommendations.

Free weights have some advantages. If you do not belong to a gym, it is much easier and cost-effective to have dumbbells at home; this is the case with most of my clients. In general, exercises with free weights more closely resemble the kinds of activities we do on a regular basis like picking up bags of groceries, putting boxes on a shelf, or carrying suitcases. Because the machine does not do all the thinking for you, free weights require better form and more coordination. On the one hand that is a good thing because it replicates real life situations, but it can also result in injuries due to poor form or too much weight.

Weight machines also have advantages. Most have instructions right on the side telling you exactly how to do the exercise and what body parts will be affected. As long as you follow the instructions, it is difficult to get hurt on a machine. If you belong to a gym, there will be lots of machines and many opportunities to add more weight to the exercise to increase the degree of difficulty; with free weights, you have to go buy more equipment.

From a fitness standpoint, recent research indicates that both kinds of exercises are effective in different ways. For those looking to increase muscular strength, machines seem to be a bit more beneficial. For those looking to improve functional performance, free weights are better. The truth is that most older adults are looking to do both! As in many things in life, a combination of both is recommended for those who have access to free weights and machines and know how to use both safely. The guidance of a fitness professional can help to ensure that this requirement is met.

Most imporantly, make sure that resistance training is a part of your fitness regimen. Cardio is amazing, but we can raise our fitness and functional levels most when we include weights as part of the program.

Let’s Talk About TED

For the next installment of my journey through Long-Haul COVID brain fog, let’s have a TED talk talk! TED talks began in 1984 with a conference on Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The first video of a TED talk went on-line about 17 years ago and the topics have expanded to include science, business, education, arts, and important issues facing the world. They range in length from under 5 minutes to well over one hour.

Over the years, I had seen a few TED talks that made their way onto my social media feed or that had otherwise been recommended by family or friends. A couple of months ago the speech therapist I was seeing to help with my brain fog suggested I start watching the videos as a way to help my brain. I was to aim to watch one video each day and take notes; the next day I was to try to recall as much as I could. If I was able to hit 75% recollection on a regular basis, I could move on to podcasts which are almost entirely audio-only. (I am not there yet.) This exercise was to help with my auditory processing; the continuing exercises would sharpen my listening skills and attention to details. This was to go hand-in-hand with the brain games I am also doing daily that I blogged about earlier.

What I really enjoy about the TED talks is that I can choose the topics and the length depending on the time I have available and what interests me at the time. Sometimes I will choose something that does not really interest me just to see if I can expand my horizons. Neuroscientists have long reported that the brain is plastic, ie., that is capable of change at any age. We can build new neural pathways during our entire lifespan. One of the ways that we do that is by learning new things. It could be a new hobby like playing guitar, taking a class at a local university, or even just watching a brief video. The best part about TED talks is that one can watch for free–although there is an upgraded membership–and nearly every day there is something new to watch.

I do find that I am able to recall quite a bit the next day. I know that I will have to graduate to podcasts soon…but I have the feeling that I will continue to watch my TED talks even after graduation. It never hurts to learn something new every day. In fact, it helps keep the brain healthier and more capable.

Strategies for a Healthier Passover

Springtime is a difficult time for many Jewish people when it comes to eating properly. In the late winter/early spring we celebrate the holiday of Purim with its traditional Hamantaschen pastries; there is also a tradition of sending food packages to friends and family–which can add up to a lot of packages delivered to your home, with the requisite Hamantaschen inside. It is hard to resist all the sweets when they are right there at home.

Passover presents its own unique issues. Foods containing grains that can ferment or contain leavening agents are mostly forbidden to remind us of the bread that was taken out of Egypt; the Hebrews left so quickly that there was no time for the bread to rise and we ended up with Matzoh instead–a flat, unleavened bread pictured above. In addition to this dietary restriction, many people also swap out all their regular dishes, pots, pans, and utensils for special ones used only during Passover that have never been in touch with leavened products. And yet, this is my favorite holiday!

The planning of menus for the Passover Seder feasts often starts weeks (if not months) in advance. Since breads, cookies, cakes, pastas, and pastries in their normal iteration are not allowed on the eight days of the holiday, all kinds of creative substitutes have made their way into the menu for the week. Many of these contain Matzoh or some form of ground Matzoh. There are also special cookies and cakes that can be made Kosher for Passover–or purchased.

Interestingly, many people who fear not having enough to eat during the week given all the restrictions, double-down on these carb-heavy alternatives. In fact, many people eat more starchy foods during Passover than they would during a typical week. If we were to break down a “normal” week’s menu there might be some “carby” dishes, but those who try to eat healthier usually limit their intake. On Passover, though, that all seems to go out the window. Sponge cakes, tortes, biscottis (all altered to follow the dietary rules) fill kitchens in homes where this would not normally be the case for one day–let alone eight days!

How to counteract this? My wife and I put together a menu well in advance. We make sure that the meals are balanced and make use of healthy proteins as well as lots of fruits and vegetables. There is no reason not to make use of lean meats, poultry, and fish. In other words, in putting together a plan for the holiday, to avoid going off the carbohydrate deep-end, try to keep the menu close to what is typically a part of the diet. Do not feel compelled to make dishes that are filled with Matzoh or its derivatives.

Of course, one need not deprive one’s self unneccesarily, but as always moderation is key. This year we did not buy any pre-packaged cookies or cakes. We will prepare some special desserts for the Seder meals, but aside from that there will be lots of fruits and vegetables and healthy proteins.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy Passover.

PS. Similar strategies exist for Easter and Ramadan for those who celebrate those holidays.

Looking to Grow (?)

What do most older adults want to achieve as we age? Yes, we want to have financial security, but the biggest concern is that we do not want to suffer from physical and cognitive ailments. It is no secret to readers of my blog that physcial activity helps to ensure both physical and brain health. Working with older adults is rewarding because I am able to see the progress my clients make that allows them to live life more fully.

I am looking to grow my business for just this reason. Of course, I want At Home Senior Fitness to be successful from a financial standpoint, but I know that there many people out there who could benefit from the services we offer. They just do not know about us yet, or they think that there is no one out there who understands them and their particular circumstances. To try to reach out more, I am expanding into social media to help get the word out.

If you are interested in your own personal growth or know someone who is, check out our instagram account or our FaceBook page. These are updated on a regular basis and share the latest that is going on–even some great pictures of my clients doing their workouts! As always, more info is available at my website, or you can email me at michael@athomeseniorfitness.net.

Let’s help each other grow!

Report from the IDEA Personal Trainer Institute

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the IDEA Personal Trainer Institute. For the record, I did not see this guy there…and if I did, I might have run in the other direction!

This was my third time at the PTI–and the second since the pandemic necessitated two years of on-line sessions. There is an interesting mix of personal trainers at the conference; I seem to recall that the first time I went in 2019 there were a lot less “senior” trainers. Now it looks like we are almost a majority! I think that many older adults who have worked out with personal trainers in the past decided that they would get certification during the pandemic. In any case, it definitely reflects a shift in perceptions about what personal trainers do; it is not all about training elite athletes and well-to-do clients.

The theme of the conference (two years running now) is Train with Purpose. I am not exactly sure what that means, but I will give it a shot. It challenges us to look beyond athleticism and to focus on what we can do to make peoples’ lives better. This is especially true for those of us who work with older adults. A few of my clients are looking to tone up or participate in competitive events, but most are either trying to build or maintain muscle strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance. It is less about prowess on the playing field and appearances, and more about being able to live the lives we want with courage and confidence. This is part of what motivates me.

This year I took four courses: 1. shoulder health and posture, 2. pricing and programming, 3. how to overcome mind traps in building business, and 3. adaptive fitness–working with individuals with disabilities. I was able to learn something in each of the classes. Every month I also do continuing education in order to maintain my certifications. Of course, I do it for the credits, but I find that more often than not I learn valuable insights to bring back to the work that I do with my clients.

I look forward to next year’s conference. The learning never ends. And that helps make me a trainer with purpose!