I recently had the opportunity to watch The Game Changers, a documentary on Netflix about the benefits of a plant-based diet. The film follows UFC fighter, James Wilks, journey of discovery about nutrition as he is recovering from a sports injury. He is introduced to a slew of new information about the benefits of a vegan diet, but must first overcome the doubts and years of “indoctrination” about the benefits of eating animal-based proteins as part of an elite athlete’s diet. The film makes extensive use of the stories of other elite athletes (including Arnold Schwarzenegger–one of the producers) who have followed a plant-based diet for a while. There are also segments featuring doctors, clinicians, and experts shedding light not only on the scientific data, but also the political and social aspects of the issue. A global switch to a plant-based diet would have huge implications for the environment and the economy.
The film was eye-opening in many ways, but also confirmed what I have read in other places. I myself am a pescatarian–meaning I do not eat poultry or red meat; I do eat fish (although not any crustaceans), as well as dairy products and eggs. I did not make the change for health reasons, but I did find that my switch to a more plant-based diet coincided with my first successes at competitive athletic events such as triathlons and 5k runs. I have competed in obstacle course races and half-marathons as well–mostly over the age of 50–without fueling up on meat and poultry beforehand. The film had me wondering about ways that I can cut even more animal-based products from my diet.
The film is definitely worth a view, but go into it with an open mind. The documentary definitely has its point of view but presents it in a non-judgmental way. One criticism of the film is that much of the story line focuses on anecdotal evidence, albeit rather convincing. It is often backed up with scientific studies, but there may be a need for more of them to really confirm the film’s thesis. Another criticism is that there should have been more information and guidance about what a healthy plant-based diet should look (and taste) like; peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread are plant-based, but I would not recommend it as a staple day in and day out.
Overall, I found this film to be thought-provoking…and even action-provoking.
Something pretty exciting happened in sports just a couple of weeks ago. Golfer Phil Mickelson, who will be 51 in less than 2 weeks, became the oldest player to win the PGA Championship. This goes against the conventional wisdom that as we age, we are less able to compete and win in sports. This is no fluke, though. In fact a recent article shows the strategy that Mickelson undertook to be successful.
The story is not anything earth-shattering, but rather just a confirmation of what fitness professionals–especially those of us who work with older adults–have been saying for a while. Our bodies undergo changes as we age, but that does not mean we are powerless to counteract them. The article points to three main areas that Mickelson addressed and they are instructive for all of us.
First, among the changes we experience is often a change in metabolism. Some of us when we were younger were able to eat whatever we wanted and not put on weight; as we age, however, we must be more conscious of our nutrition. Mickelson was aware of this and if you look at pictures of him, you will see how much more fit he looks these days.
Second, mobility and strength need to be maintained and even improved. This is a big part of what I do with my clients. It is not enough to simply be flexible; one must also have the muscle power to go behind the movements. For years, older adults were told that it was dangerous to work out with weights; research now shows that as long as it is done in a responsible way, it is key to maintaining independence. Additionally, studies indicates that power training (combining resistance and speed/repetitive motion) is an effective way to boost fitness and even life expectancy.
Third, be certain to assess and re-assess the plan so that workouts and diet are appropriate. Doing the same thing every single workout without progression rarely leads to progress. On the other hand, overtraining can do more harm than good. In this regard, it is good to have a professional like a certified personal trainer to shape a program that will be safe and effective.
Phil Mickelson should be an example to all of us of what we can accomplish if we follow these guidelines. He is just one example, though; we all know that there are many older athletes out there who are pushing the limit and showing us just what is possible. No need to accept defeat!
During the months leading up to my kidney donor surgery, one of the questions that I was asked over and over again (in many different forms) was: “Why are you doing this?”
The simple answer was that if I had the opportunity to save someone’s life, I wanted to try to do it. But, of course, there are no simple answers…and the question still honestly puzzles me.
Most of the time the answer I gave centered around an incident that happened more than five years ago. I was serving as a rabbi at a large congregation in Columbus and had a member of my congregation who was in need of a kidney. He had placed a sign on the back of his car that said “Got Kidney? I Need One,” along with his phone number. Someone eventually called the number and was a match. I had gone to the OSU Medical Center to sit with the family during the surgery; I went into the immense surgical waiting area and made my way to the check-in desk. I asked for the family of so-and-so, and a moment later a woman (who must have overheard my question) jumped up and asked if I knew that family. HIPAA-be-damned, I told her I was the rabbi from the family’s congregation. She informed me that her daughter was in surgery at that moment donating her kidney to him. I was there when the two families met and it was one of the most incredible moments of my 20+ as a congregational rabbi. I remember saying to myself that if one day I was able to do something like this woman’s daughter had, I should not let the opportunity pass.
The truth was that I had already let it pass a bunch of times. Over the years, the congregation had done text study about organ donation (spoiler: Judaism supports it). I am sure that I had preached about it over the years. Undoubtedly there were Organ Donation Sabbaths too. It had just never occurred to me that this was something I could do (because of my medical history, or because I was raising a family, or because I was too busy, or because this was something that only “heroes” and “angels” do, or because….) And those of you who read my last blog post know, I am still surprised that it actually happened.
So, back to the original question: why did I respond to that FB post for someone I did not know at all?
Growing up, I was always taught how important it was to save a life; in Judaism, one can violate almost any law in order to preserve it. We were also taught that whoever saves one life, it is as if s/he had saved an entire world. I knew this was an important thing but there was still a disconnect for nearly 58 years.
Maybe my response this time was due to a nagging guilt on my part for having talked-the-talk about saving lives without ever really having walked-the-walk. Maybe part of it was that I was fairly certain there was no way I would get approved so I was not really risking anything. (Would I get “brownie points” just for trying?)
Like so much of what we study in our lives, we can learn about it, but when do we really get a chance to put it into action? In this regard, unless we are medical professionals (doctors, nurses, therapists, technicians, etc.), how often are we able to save a life? The opportunities are out there, but sometimes it is not so easy. How many of us donate blood to the Red Cross? (BTW, under doctor’s orders I am not allowed to do that; kidney=yes, blood=no!) How many of us have been swabbed for a possible match for a bone-marrow donation? Are we willing to take time out of our days to be inconvenienced to help others who need our help, whose lives we may not be physically saving but whose quality of life we may be enhancing? Do we stick out our necks when we see someone being harassed? Are we willing to stand up for what is right through more than just a social media post?
We cannot do it all. Pirkei Avot teaches us: Lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hibatel mimena, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you free to not do your part.” The needs in this world are overwhelming–even paralyzing. We must, however, find what speaks to us and do it because we know the price of doing nothing. In the last century, so few people took risks to save victims of the Holocaust while the vast majority simply sat by and did nothing–which is all that was need for evil to triumph.
In the final analysis, I am still not exactly sure why I stepped up this time. It could be that something in the photograph on the FB page reminded me of my own family; if I were in their position, would I not want someone to step forward? It could be that I wanted to prove something to myself: that this almost 58-year-old guy who was sick as a child and got picked last for sports teams, who had decided to get healthy and fit, was now capable of using his body to save someone else. It could be that as I am aging I want to convince myself that I am young enough to do something like this. Perhaps I am trying to assuage feelings that I have not really accomplished anything of significance or made a big enough difference in the world (I know it is not true, but many feel that way at times). I certainly was not doing it for any health or financial benefit. (To be completely transparent, I did get a cool Kidney Donor T-Shirt, pillow, water bottle and tote bag!)
There is an expression in Judaism: Ma sheh-lo lishmah, ba lishmah. Roughly translated, it means that something that you do for the wrong reason, in the end you will come to do for the right reason. Often this refers to people who give money so that they will get their name on a plaque or get some other recognition; charitable giving should be done modestly, but better for the person to give for the plaque than not at all…because eventually they will do it even without the plaque.
Whatever my motivations might have been to get into this whole kidney donation thing, I am not sure that it really matters. In the final analysis, because of my actions Papa Phil got a new kidney, and so did two other people. Does it really matter why I did this? What matters is that I did…when it would have been much easier not to.
I know this has been kind of preachy, but what do you expect from a rabbi? I have learned a lot from this experience, and know that I will continue to do so. My biggest takeaway: we should never assume that we cannot make a difference. I never would have believed that I would be qualified to donate a kidney, but here we are. Of course, making a difference rarely calls for something this drastic. Even the smallest of actions can have a tremendous impact, and it is never too late.
I know that I cannot complete the work; I cannot solve every problem out there in our world. I am grateful to have had the opportunity this time to do my part.
A week ago today (May 25) I underwent a “donor nephrectomy,” which is to say that I donated my left kidney to someone with serious kidney disease through the Cleveland Clinic. I have been home since Thursday and am slowly recovering, every day feeling a little bit stronger.
The process began several months ago when I saw a Facebook post about a guy in the Detroit-area (we’ll call him Papa Phil) who was looking for a kidney. He had launched a campaign on social media and somehow it ended up on my FB feed. I still am not sure where I saw it because we don’t have any FB friends in common; I thought I saw it on a Cleveland Jewish FB Group but cannot find the post anywhere.
I sent a message to his son as directed by the post; he told me to contact the Kidney Donor Office at the Cleveland Clinic which I did. They asked me a few questions and sent me an on-line questionnaire…which I figured, given my medical history, would be the end of it. To my surprise, I was not disqualified right off the bat. After a subsequent phone call with a nurse in the Transplant Center, I still was not disqualified.
What we did find out, however, was that Papa Phil and I were not a match; our blood types are different. I had a choice: either I could walk away at this point, or I could stay in the process and be part of a swap; this means that a yet-to-be-determine John/Jane Doe who matched Papa Phil would give him a kidney, and my kidney would go to John/Jane’s intended recipient with whom they were not a match. I figured that once the kidney was out it did not really matter to me as long as Papa Phil would get a kidney when all was said and done.
Within 24 hours I got a call from the Cleveland Clinic and we were setting up times for me to go to the Main Campus for a full work-up (top to bottom, inside and out). During this time, I was intermittently in touch with Papa Phil’s son; we had a nice line of communication–not bad for a Buckeye fan and a Michigan fan!–but I understood well that Papa Phil probably had dozens of others who were already in process…and further ahead of me too. I decided that from here on in I would not contact the family; partially, I did not want to put a “jinx” on things, but I also did not want to allow myself or him and his family to get too excited by the progress when I knew that well over 100 people had already been disqualified or had backed out.
In mid-April, shortly after Passover I went in for my first day of testing. The day did not start well. First stop was the lab where I was to have a blood draw…30 tubes actually–which if they had told me in advance might have been the end of the whole thing! They got the blood but I nearly passed out. Luckily the rest of the day was easier. I came back a week later for the second round: a full day of meeting with doctors, surgeons, and others. It was the day of the all-important GFR test to determine my kidney function levels; in order to give away one kidney, there must be enough function in the remaining one to allow me to still be in the “normal” range. The hope was that after that second day of testing, they would be able to present my case to the transplant team that Friday. Due to a few tests that came back a little concerning (although ultimately not problematic), I had to do some follow-up tests; the coming week I had also been scheduled for a routine colonoscopy (unrelated to the kidney surgery) and the team wanted to wait for those results as well; everything got pushed back a week.
By this point, I was filled with a mix of emotions. On the one hand, I had gone through so much testing that I was hoping I would qualify to donate just so it would not have been a waste of time. I also know that Papa Phil had come very close to getting a kidney from a posthumous donation, but that had fallen through. I was really committed to this and wanted it to happen. On the other hand, no one was more shocked and surprised than me that I was still in the running. I reasoned that either they were really desperate for kidneys…or I was in much better shape than I thought.
The day of the Transplant Team’s meeting came and went and I heard nothing. I, of course, assumed that this was a “no,” and they just did not want to ruin my weekend. Saturday came and went with no notice on My Chart either. But the phone rang on Monday morning at 7:30 am with the news that I was qualified to donate. No one was more shocked and elated than I.
The next day I got a text from Papa Phil’s son simply stating that he had received an interesting call from the Cleveland Clinic. I responded with a text asking: “Will he be busy on May 25?” The phone rang and we shared our relief and joy together; it turns out that due to privacy laws they had no idea what my status was. They were not even sure it was me that had been qualified.
After that, things moved rather quickly. The same day I was told that surgery would be in 3 weeks, May 25–the day after my 58th birthday! We would be part of a three-way swap; within the span of a couple of days, three people would donate (including me) and three people would receive (including Papa Phil)–all of us part of a daisy chain of mismatches willing to match for others.
I won’t get into the details of all the preparation that needed to take place in 3 short weeks, but it was a mad dash for me to tell people who needed to know, arrange for substitutes for clients, and get legal stuff in order like a living will (signed at 4 pm the day before surgery!).
On May 23, I went with my wife down to Columbus to see my kids to celebrate my birthday a day early. My daughter baked an amazing cake, which luckily did not say “Farewell, Dad!”–although we did joke about it. On the way out of Cleveland, we stopped in to meet Papa Phil and his wife face-to-face. It was a short visit–maybe 15 minutes but I’ll remember it as long as I live. What an amazing feeling to make this connection.
You all know that I am a religious guy. I still cannot figure out how I saw this post on Facebook. I see so many requests for help on social media; why was I moved to act this time? That will be the subject of an upcoming blog post, but I definitely think there has been some divine intervention in this whole process. I have a few more thoughts on this subject, so stay tuned and thank you for sticking with this way-longer-than-usual post.
I am doing OK here, better every day. Best of all, Papa Phil is doing great!!! And we are both looking forward to the blessings that life ahead has to offer.
We all know that we should be exercising. Many also know that the recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity each week; for many people this works out to a half-hour workout five times per week. For many more people, however, it works out to no workout whatsoever; it is difficult to find those 150 minutes each week so rather than try to fit it into a schedule, we give up.
Research shows that there is actually benefit in doing a brief (or even very brief) workout. If it is impossible to find a half hour all at once, 10 minutes three times a day or five minutes 6 times a day–or any combination thereof–seems to work just as well. Even if the 150 minutes is not reached, there is always a benefit to working out no matter the length of time.
Of course, what happens during that “quickie” workout matters. AARP reported on this very topic on its website. There should be at least one minute of intense exercise during the workout that elevates the heart rate. Many, including myself, recommend incorporating High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into a brief workout. For instance, a 5-minute walk (dancing, stationary bike, climbing stairs, etc.) could include 1 minute at a regular pace, 20 seconds fast, 1 minute back at regular pace, 20 seconds fast, 1 minute regular pace, 20 seconds fast, followed by 1 minute of cool down; that equals five minutes total with 1 minute total of high intensity. Such a workout could be scaled up to 8, 10, 15 or more. It also a good idea to mix it up and not do the same exercise every time; some light weights or even body-weight exercises can be intermingled with cardio too.
When it comes to taking care of ourselves, we all have plenty of excuses why we do not do a better job. A big one is the perception that it takes too long; we are simply too busy to devote the time to exercise. Short workouts take away that excuse. They are brief and can be very effective.
During the pandemic, many of us found it difficult to maintain healthy habits. In particular, eating and exercise became real challenges. Instead of packing a lunch or grabbing something at work in the cafeteria or a nearby restaurant (where portion control is potentially easier to control), most of us were at home with cupboards and fridges filled with food beckoning us throughout the workday. With many gyms closed and limitations imposed by social distancing, it was tough to keep up the workout routine without the switch to a virtual platform; being stuck at home also meant less walking and other activities that kept us moving. Most of us can see the results looking at the scale or in the mirror.
Now that the pandemic seems to be in its waning stage, what is the plan? How do we get back to good health and good habits? These questions are especially compelling for older adults, many of whom have been vaccinated and are eager to get out there and start “living” again.
Leave it to AARP to produce another excellent Bulletin with two great articles. The first one entitled “60 Ways to Live Longer, Stronger, Better,” offers a myriad of concrete steps older adults can take to get back on track including ways to boost brain and heart health, get back in shape, improve diet and relationships, be more resilient, and fight loneliness. 60 seems like a lot of suggestions, but they are broken down in such a way that the list actually seems do-able. The second article, “Exercise Al Fresco” is not yet available on-line, but is in print; it offers suggestions for ways to take advantage of fitness opportunities in the great outdoors. It was heartening to see that the article followed up on a blog post I wrote just four days ago entitled “Adult Playground?” That post discussed what is apparently a growing trend: playgrounds designed for older adults aimed at improving fitness; a sidebar in the article highlights AARP’s role in supporting this initiative.
The weather is improving. There are more and more opportunities (with increased vaccinations as well) to get back on track. 2020 was a disaster health-wise for so many of us; let’s make 2021 the year we recover and excel. Let’s make a plan to eat better, exercise, hydrate, and get plenty of rest. Building healthy habits leads to better outcomes–not just physically, but in so many other ways as well.
This is not as bad as it sounds. It is not a sleazy sex club, but rather the brainchild of a group called Friends in Action in Ellsworth, Maine (between Bangor and Bar Harbor).
We know that there are playgrounds in nearly every community for children so that they can get outside, exercise, use their muscles, meet friends, and have fun. Why not a playground for older adults who have the same needs? An article in The Ellsworth American describes the decade-long effort to make this a reality. The playground will have eight pieces of equipment, some of which will even be wheelchair accessible. The cost for the project is about $80,000; Friends in Action raised the funds from individual donations, a grant from AARP as well as a matching grant from the State of Maine.
I do not know if anything like this exists anywhere else, but it is a project worth emulating. Many communities have health trails or outdoor equipment such as chin-up bars, obstacles, etc., but these are usually designed for younger individuals and others who may not have mobility issues. Considering the aging population in the United States, it will be interesting to see if Senior Playgrounds become more popular.
Over and over again, research shows that the more active adults remain, the better their long-term health outcomes. Many older adults “settle” for walking (which is great!), but could benefit from equipment that works to maintain and strengthen muscles. Senior Playgrounds help to meet this need; they also send the message that older adults are just as valued as children in the community. How often do we hear that?
Let me know if you hear of other communities with Senior Playgrounds.
That certainly snuck up on me. Today is the 3rd year anniversary of my becoming a Certified Personal Trainer.
I remember all the preparation that went into getting my certification. First, there was 10+ years of working with some excellent personal trainers who not only helped me to improve my level of fitness, but also modeled professionalism along with kindness and care. Next was a class at The Ohio State University in Columbus (where I lived at the time) to help me prepare for the exam; I remember that I was easily the youngest one in the class by 3 decades. Finally, there was a LOT of studying; I “fondly recall” my youngest daughter quizzing me with flashcards. The big day arrived, I went to the testing center, and after about 75 minutes hit the “submit your answers” tab. I was expecting to get my results immediately and then freaked out when it took me to a brief survey on the test-taking experience…after which I finally received the big “Congratulations!” I was so happy and relieved that I actually cried.
It was a long journey from being the unathletic kid always picked last to be on a team to the 30-something who began working with a personal trainer to the guy who worked out 6 days a week to the guy who entered and completed triathlons, 5Ks, obstacle course races, and half-marathons. To be certified as a Personal Trainer would have seemed as likely to my younger self as flying to Jupiter. I had, however, set a goal for myself and worked hard to reach it.
The last 3 years involved moving to a new city and beginning to work primarily in the fitness industry. I am thankful to the JCC here in Cleveland for providing me the opportunity to learn and gain experience. I am grateful to the folks at Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) who mentored me as I prepared to go into business for myself. I am appreciative of the vendors who have assisted me with my website, and the Cleveland Eastside Senior Network for camaraderie and referrals. I value my clients (one-on-one and group) as well as those who read my blog. Most importantly, I am grateful to my wife and family who have supported me through this unusual journey.
What is next? I look forward to continuing to grow my business. In particular, I plan to expand my footprint in the group fitness realm as well as making on-line content available for older adults. Thank God my health is great which allows me to keep doing the work I do. I hope to continue to make a positive impact on those around me.
I recently took a continuing education course through the Functional Aging Institute (through which I have a Functional Aging Specialization) about Ageism. What was most compelling about the presentation was the ways in which it showed ageism at work in subtle and not so subtle ways in our society and in the fitness industry. I have chosen a career as a Personal Trainer working specifically with older adults; my business is called At Home Senior Fitness. Even so, I learned a lot about the topic and am more aware now of the language I use, the way that I communicate non-verbally, and even some of my own attitudes toward older adults.
Several years ago, I read the book Growing Bolder by Marc Middleton; it was suggested to me by an instructor from FAI and it has really shaped the way that I view aging in general–and my own aging process in particular. Middleton argues that our culture glorifies youth (not a surprise) and that media, the arts, and business promote an image of the elderly as frail, unsophisticated, confused, and with little to offer. Older adults in our society are damaged goods. This is not true in other parts of the world where older adults are venerated. I do not know if I expect veneration, but it is better than what we offer seniors currently.
Middleton asks us to rethink the structures that promote this reality. He challenges us to consider our own aging process in a more positive and creative way. I will admit that I do fight the aging process every day: working out, under eye cream, etc., but I think much more optimistically about the process now. I find jokes about older adults being forgetful or falling apart to be less funny. Instead I think about all the possibilities ahead and the ways I can use the wisdom gained over the last 50+ years. I also think about the amazing older adults who showed the world just how valuable they could be: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Keith Richards!!!
Imagine my dismay when I opened a magazine recently (a freebie that gets delivered to my home every other month) and saw what I believe to be a very ageist approach in an article about Older Americans Month. Here is the quote:
“This year’s theme is Communities of Strength, recognizing the important role older adults play in fostering the connection and engagement that build strong, resilient communities. Strength is built and shown not only by bold acts, but also small ones of day-to-day life — a conversation shared with a friend, working in the garden, trying a new recipe, or taking time for a cup of tea on a busy day. And when we share these activities with others, even virtually or by telling about the experience later, we help them build resilience too.”
While this is all true, it presents an image of older adults as incapable of building strong and resilient communities through activism, volunteering, holding public office, participating in (or leading) a fitness class, etc. None of the “bold” acts are enumerated–only the “day-to-day” ones. Why is the emphasis on trying a new recipe or tending the garden? Methinks ageism is at work here. If this kind of content appears in a magazine article aimed at older adults, discussing a special project promoted by an organization that serves older adults, something is seriously wrong.
Maybe next year, I will put myself out there and demonstrate some of those “bold acts” that we older adults are engaged in. In the meantime, today alone I have two fitness classes to teach, clients to train, and a graduating college senior to counsel on a possible career choice. I may just miss that cup of tea….
Yesterday I had my biennial colonoscopy–a little early, since the last one was in August of 2019. You may recall that I blogged about it back then.
I really do not mind having my colonoscopy. The prep is way better than it used to be; the day before yesterday was Miralax mixed with Powerade Black Cherry and it was impossible to taste the difference from plain Powerade. The drugs during the procedure were, as usual, great and I remember nothing. Best of all, the doctor found initially that there seems to be no disease activity (I am in remission from Crohn’s Disease) nor signs of cancer; several biopsies were taken and those results will be out later this week.
In the meantime, here is another reminder to get your colon screening after age 50. A colonoscopy is not the only screening out there; ask your doctor for his/her recommendation. Colonoscopies are about 94% accurate in their findings, which is pretty good odds! The process is not so much fun, but two days of inconvenience and some discomfort is way better than having to undergo cancer treatment.
In general, as we age, it is recommended to get out in front of all the recommended health screenings. The success stories we hear about people diagnosed with cancer are much more common when the disease is caught early. So get that colonoscopy, prostate screening, mole check, mammogram, etc.
It isn’t necessarily fun, but I’m told it’s more fun than cancer.