Well, That’s a Stretch…

Those involved in fitness as professional and as consumers know that an important–but often overlooked–part of exercising is stretching. Everybody agrees that it is a good thing but, unfortunately, many of us are inconsistent in our stretching; even worse, some people do it improperly causing more harm than good.

A recent trend in a field allied to fitness is Assisted Stretching. Assisted stretching usually involves a practitioner and is done in-person. It can, however, also be done remotely or as part of a group setting. The “stretcher” helps the “stretchee” (is that a word?) release tension from muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. A recent article on CNN.com highlights the ways in which assisted stretching is being used to relieve chronic aches and pains. This technique is being used in people of all ages, and it is not just for athletes. In fact, many people who spend a great deal of time sitting or otherwise inactive can develop tightness that can cause discomfort.

Recent studies are not exactly conclusive about how effective assisted stretching is. Can it be better than stretching on one’s own? We can look at this the same way that we look at personal training. Yes, a person can perform the same exercises suggested by a personal trainer on their own, but will they? A personal trainer helps to keep clients accountable, progresses them at an appropriate pace, and helps to prevent injuries. That is why trainers are popular and effective. Likewise, a person can stretch on their own, but will they do it correctly and consistently?

This trend, according to the article is growing rapidly. While more research is likely needed to ascertain the true effectiveness and possible drawbacks, assisted stretching looks like it can help keep our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints in better shape. That can only be a good thing.

In the meantime, remember to stretch before and after your workout. Questions about how to best do that? Ask a fitness professional who will be happy to help you develop a routine.

The Keys to Happiness as We Age

A recent article in The Atlantic by Arthur C. Brooks highlights ways that we can help to ensure happiness as we get older. Brooks is an American musician, social scientist, and professor at Harvard University. He has written many articles and a book on this topic.

In the article, he cites an ongoing study (over 80 years) that traces the attitudes, conditions, and well-being of the subjects over the course of their lives. Here are some fascinating conclusions: 1) Happiness declines through young adulthood into middle-age and bottoms out at about age 50. 2) After that it starts to go up again until about the mid-60s. 3) After that, it can go one of two ways; there are those who get much happier and those who get much more unhappy.

The study makes clear something that should be clear to begin with. The decisions that we make earlier in our lives have an impact on how we will feel later in life. The investments (not just financial) of our earlier years pay dividends–or if we have not invested wisely, we suffer. This is a pretty stark reality, but it is also not 100% accurate. There are those who are born into wealth, who inherit good genes, have tragic accidents, etc., whose lot is determined in large portion by events beyond their control.

There are, however, factors that we can control according to Brooks. All things being equal (which they are not), making the right choices in these realms will yield better results (happiness) in later years. In short, here is the list.

  1. Don’t smoke, and if you do, quit.
  2. Drink in moderation.
  3. Maintain a healthy body weight.
  4. Keep active every day.
  5. Develop coping skills for when life gets challenging.
  6. Never stop learning.
  7. Invest in interpersonal relationships.

Nothing earth-shattering, right? How many of these 7 are we doing right now? Is there time to make a change? Of course! All the research on fitness, shows that it is never too late to make a change, and it will have positive outcomes.

I am the happiest I have ever been. I do what I love with people I love. I put effort into all 7 categories above. I have a few years until I hit my mid-60s, but I am hopeful that I will fall into the “getting much happier” category. I hope you will join me there!

Osteoporosis and Weight Training

It has been a long-held perception that as we age we need to be more careful and not “overdo it.” While it is true that older adults should take appropriate caution with physical activities, research overhwelmingly shows that being active–including weight training–is associated with better health outcomes. Sometimes it happens in unexpected and surprising ways.

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones bones become weak and brittle; this condition is especially prevalent in older women. Under normal circumstances the cells in our bodies are constantly dying and being regenerated; this includes our bones. Osteoporosis occurs when bone tissue is reabsorbed into our bodies at a faster rate than it is replaced. The bones (osteo) become porous (porosis) as shown in the picture above. They become especially susceptible to fracture.

How can it be treated? Proper diet and medications are effective, but so is weight training. Wait! What? We are going to ask people with brittle bones to lift dumbbells?!?! As a matter of fact, this is a great way to strengthen bones. Our bodies respond to stimuli according to the SAID principle. SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. What this means is that when we make our bodies act in a certain way, it will change physiologically to accomodate those new requirements. As an example, postal workers who have a walking route (as opposed to sitting in the mail truck) often have stronger legs and amazing calves. Likewise, folks whose work requires them to do heavy lifting of packages will develop larger arm, shoulder, and back muscles. Their bodies have adapted specifically to the demands opposed on them.

How does this work with Osteoporosis? When we train with weights, our bones get the message that they need to work harder and get stronger; the bones respond by creating new tissue at a faster rate. Lower body bones can also be strengthened by weight-bearing exercises like walking.

Is this dangerous? Like any physical activity, there are always risks. Those with Osteoporosis should be aware of their surroundings to avoid injuries and falls which can result in broken bones. They should also avoid high impact activities like jumping or those that require jerky or sudden movements. Otherwise, there are few restrictions with regard to just how heavy those weights can be.

It seems somewhat counterintuitive to put stress on brittle bones but, in fact, it is one of the best things to do for Osteoporosis. As always, consult a healthcare professional before embarking on any new fitness regimen, and let your fitness professional know of any conditions that might impact your health and safety. Otherwise, do not be afraid to pick up those weights; your bones will thank you!

“Stop Loading, Start Exploding”

I just returned from the IDEA Personal Training Institute in Alexandria, VA. IDEA is an organization that provides educational opportunities for Personal Trainers. The title of this blog is the title of one of the courses I took, taught by Cody Sipe of the Functional Aging Institute.

The central topic of the course was Power Training. I have blogged about this in the past; once in 2019 and once in 2020, but it is worth reviewing what it is all about. Power=force x velocity. Power training focuses on increasing the rate at which work (ie, lifting weight, pulling a cable, throwing a ball) is performed. Power training has been a part of the fitness world for a long time, but it was thought that this kind of exercise was not appropriate for older adults.

Research shows that as we age muscle strength declines, but power drops even more quickly; the reason is that velocity decreases. Older adults may not be able to move as quickly as they had when they were younger. Why does this matter? As we age, our interest generally changes from having a beach body to have a body that functions the way we need it to; we need to be able to walk, climb stairs, lift and carry objects, etc. Power training–not strength training–is most effective at improving function. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Unless we are participating in a weightlifting competetion, there is a limit as to how strong we need to be; if the heaviest thing we lift is a 50 lb. bag of mulch, do we need to be able to bench press 200 pounds? On the other hand, being able to move quickly and effectively is necessary to prevent falls and other injuries. We need to train our bodies to react without a lag time. This would all indicate that it is preferable to work with lower weights (stop loading) with reps that are performed with greater speed (start exploding).

The conference was valuable, but this course in particular will help me to better train my clients. For years, people have thought that we cannot push older adults to perform resistance exercises (or even cardio) too quickly. Now we know that increasing the speed has tangible benefits.

I look forward to seeing the results as I continue to integrate power training into the work that I do.

Meeting A Centenarian Athlete

Photo from wkyc.com

This past week I had the opportunity to meet someone who is a local celebrity, Diane Friedman. She is 100-years-old and has gained notoriety as a multiple world-record holder in Track & Field. A story ran on our local Cleveland news about her this past Friday.

I have a client in his early 90s who I train at his apartment building’s fitness room. While we were there for his weekly session, Diane and her trainer, Bruce Sherman, were also in making use of the facility. I knew immediately who they were and was happy to make her acquaintance.

Diane sends an important message to older adults–even if she might be too modest to says so. Fitness is not just for the younger generations. We are all capable of living healthier lives, but it requires making a commitment to do so. That commitment does not necessarily mean competing in the Senior Olympics or breaking world records. We can have goals as simple as being able to go for a hike in a national or state park, keeping up with our grandchildren at the playground, or having the stamina and strength to keep working at jobs that we find enjoyable and fulfilling.

The decisions we make today about our health and fitness will affect what our tomorrows look like. I do not know all of Diane’s history but I can guess that her passion did not arise in just the last few years. Building life-long good habits can lead to all kinds of wonderful outcomes later on. Of course, there are no guarantees in life, but taking better care of ourselves can help us fight the challenges that may come our way.

It was an honor to meet Diane and I know I will be rooting for her in the future! Keep strong and keep on inspiring us “youngsters!”

Important Info for Older Adults about Organ Donation

As some of you may know, I just got my brand new “Donate Life” license plate–just in time for National Organ Donation Day, February 14. The plate reads: GV1KP1 (Give 1, Keep 1)–referring to my kidney donation this past May. I am pretty excited to have it on my car, as I hope it will encourage others to consider organ donation.

Those of you read my previous posts know that I was quite surprised that I was able to donate my kidney in the first place; this was because of my past and current medical history. Although I am in good shape, keep myself physically fit, and in a healthy weight range, I am by no means in perfect health. I was also approaching 58 years of age; the surgery took place the day after my birthday. If I am being honest, I was fairly certain that I would not qualify and was somewhat shocked when I did.

When people think organ donation, I believe they mostly consider organs donated when someone has died; this gets a fair amount of press–and rightly so–when something positive is able to come from something tragic. This is certainly a source for many of the organ donations that take place, but it is preferable to have a living donor for certain procedures; obviously, heart donations cannot come from a living donor (or at least one that will survive the operation!). For kidneys and livers, it is preferable to have the tissue come from a living donor.

Is there an age at which one is too old for a transplant? For recipients, the question is a complicated one. Age is a number and there are some 80-year-olds who could not tolerate such major surgery, whereas others might come through it with flying colors. Each hospital system’s transplant program has its own guidelines. When it comes to donating an organ, many of the same factors are taken into account. There are some people into their 70s and even 80s who have been qualified to donate–and the recipients have benefitted from their lifesaving gift.

As I wrote in another blog post, never assume that you cannot make a difference. Do not automatically believe that you are not going to qualify to do something that will save another person’s life or dramatically increase its quality. Age is just a number. The better we take care of ourselves, the more likely we are to live life to the fullest and be able to give to others in meaningful ways.

Interested in learning more about organ donation? Visit http://www.donatelife.net.

Lose Weight While You’re Sleeping?

Sleeping Bo

It has been all over the news the last couple of days since a study was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Lose weight while sleeping! Well that certainly beats dieting and going to the gym, right?

Despite the click-bait headlines, there are some important findings. There are also some reasons to be wary of the advice.

In a nutshell, the study involved 80 participants between the ages of 21 and 40 who got less than 6.5 hours of sleep per night. Half of the participants kept their current sleep patterns while the other half were coached about how to increase their nightly sleep to 8.5 hours. After two weeks, lab tests showed that the group that got more sleep consumed on average 270 calories/day less than the control group. Over time, that can contribute to weight loss.

Some in the field of sleep study see this is a game changer. To me, it looks like simple math; the less time you are awake, the less time you have to eat. The logic is similar to that of intermittent fasting; limit the time you can eat and you will naturally consume less calories.

While getting adequate rest is extremely important, one should not presume that this is necessarily the best route for losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight. If one’s diet is unhealthy and/or one is sedentary most of the day, increasing sleep will only go so far.

It will be interesting to see if there is follow-up research on this topic. In the meantime, it seems as if this could be yet another reason to take seriously how much quality rest we get. Even if it does not lead to dramatic weight loss, it helps us to refresh and start the new day on the right note.

Revisiting: To Shovel or Not to Shovel

Snow Shovelling - DSC 4903 ep

The past weekend saw record amounts of snowfall in some parts of the East Coast. The next few days call for possible records in parts of the Midwest.

A topic that comes up every now and again–and that I addressed in a blog two years ago–is how dangerous it might be to shovel snow from a health standpoint. We hear stories about people having heart attacks while shoveling, but what is the real story?

According the MetroHealth website (one of the hospital networks here in Cleveland): “Shoveling, even pushing a heavy snow blower, can cause sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate, and the cold air can cause constriction of the blood vessel and decrease oxygen to the heart. All these work in concert to increase the work of the heart and trigger a potentially fatal heart attack.” What we have here is a kind of double-whammy. On the one hand, the physical exertion leads to elevated and respiratory rates, while on the other hand, the cold air may prevent the additional oxygen from reaching the heart where it is needed most.

For most folks in decent health, the risk still remains relatively low. In fact, according to an article from Harvard Medical School, only about 100 people die each year from shoveling snow. If, however, a person already has compromised heart or lung function or is elderly, there is definitely a risk factor here. See my last blog post on the likelihood of heart attacks from strenuos activity in general.

Each person knows their own body best. While there may be a low risk of a cardiac event, it is possible to develop issues with soreness of muscles or damage to tendons and ligaments as a result of shoveling. Perhaps most noteworthy is the danger of slipping on ice if such conditions exist. Younger adults may end up with only a bruise or a sprain, but older adults may have an increased risk of fractures, which can lead to further complications.

Weigh the pros and cons…and consider that paying the neighbor’s kid to shovel may not only help preserve your health, but also help a young entrepreneur on their way to self-sufficiency!

Is it the Big One?

redd foxx

Some of you may recall Redd Foxx’s famous line from Sanford and Son (while feigning a heart attack): “It’s the big one, I’m coming to join you Elizabeth!” While this groundbreaking show was one of the funniest in television history, it did distort the reality about heart attacks (also known as miocardial infarctions). It is extremely rare that they are brought on in the way portrayed in the show.

There is still a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding about what causes a heart attack. It is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart; these blockages are caused by fat, cholesterol, and/or other substances that cause a build-up of plaque in arteries leading to the heart. Without blood, the tissue loses oxygen and can die. So it appears that there are other things at play aside from Sanford’s son, Lamont!

CNN Health recently featured a story that touches on another myth regarding heart attacks. Two television characters, Mr. Big from Sex and the City, and Mike “Wags” Wagner from Billions suffered heart attacks after using their Peloton bikes. These kinds of stories feed the misconception that exercising vigorously does not improve our health, but rather leads to our untimely demise. Dr. Andrew Freeman, of the American College of Cardiology notes that “…regular exercise is a wonderful way to stay healthy and well and reduce cardiovascular disease. In fact, I call exercise the ‘fountain of youth.'” This is certainly a very diffent characterization of the effects of physical activity. The fountain of youth is about as far away from untimely demise as one can imagine.

It is no secret to those who follow this blog that exercise–at any age–is beneficial. Do people have heart attacks at the gym or while running or bicycling? Yes, but at no greater rate than those who are engaged in other activities. A regular program of exercise is a great way to reduce risk of a cardiovascular event rather than cause it.

A few words of caution, however. Someone who is about to embark on a exercise program or a “fitness journey,” should consult with their primary care physician first to make sure that it is safe to do so. Certain exercises may be more advantageous/harmful than others given a person’s medical history. Another important point is that beginners should proverbially learn to crawl before walking…and certainly before running a marathon! It is vital to build up one’s strength and endurance in a responsible way; as always, a fitness professional can help with this.

Many people–especially older adults–have stayed away from exercise precisely because they fear the same fate as Mr. Big or Wags. Sadly, that fear may have prevented them from reaping the many health benefits of regular exercise. Chances are strongly in our favor that when we work out, it will not be the “big one” and we will not be coming to join Elizabeth any time soon. On the contrary, we might just encounter the fountain of youth!

I’m a Contributor

It’s official! The latest issue of Northeast Ohio Boomer & Beyond is out and I am proud to be an official “contributor” to this publication on matters of Fitness for Older Adults.

In speaking with the editors several months ago, they told me that they had felt that this topic was one that had been missing from the magazine. Luckily, someone in the advertising department was a client of mine at a gym where I worked previously and recommended me. I have been interviewed for radio programs and articles in the Cleveland Jewish News on older adults and fitness, but this is my first regular gig. Now I will appear in every forthcoming issue; the magazine is published six times per year. Additionally, some of my blog posts will be featured on their website.

I am honored to have been chosen to be a regular contributor. It is always satisfying to be recognized for one’s hard work and expertise.

If you are in NE Ohio, check it out or hit the link above to see the article.