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.

Prayer and Stress Management

the prayer continued

Stress is a major factor in our health. If stress is not controlled it can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. On a more emotional level, stress can contribute to anxiety, depression, anger issues, and relationship problems.

There are many resources for trying to alleviate stress. Of course, exercise is one way to reduce it. People often point to meditation as well. There is much research to support both of these approaches.

I used to have a pretty consistent meditative practice. I would listen to on-line guided meditations nearly every day–usually for just a few minutes. Weekly, I would tune into a Jewish meditation group. My schedule got somewhat complicated and with the move to Cleveland, a new home, 3 new jobs, etc., meditation almost completely fell off my list of priorities. I am not proud of this; stress is still a part of my life and I wish I had a better practice of meditation.

Back in 1986 when I was a volunteer on a kibbutz in Israel, and while I was in the process of applying to rabbinical school, I promised myself that I would pray (the formal prayers in the Siddur–or Jewish prayer book) at least one time every day. This was not a huge challenge since I knew many of the prayers and my day had few responsibilities except for picking pomelos during the day and relaxing in the afternoon and evening. Eventually, I made the commitment to pray the traditional services three times per day and since mid-1986 that has been my practice. I have only ever missed it when I have been too ill or immediately following the deaths of my parents–both times when our tradition exempts us from praying.

I got to wondering whether I could “count” my prayer as meditation. They are similar in many ways. I take time out of my day to center myself (sometimes I am more successful than others) and recite the traditional words–kind of like a mantra. Even though it is not always a spectacular spiritual experience (which is often the case with meditation), it does take me out of the mundane for a period of time thrice daily. I may not focus on my breathing, but I do try to quiet my mind and concentrate on the words and what they mean. When I pray with others–which is a story unto itself during a pandemic–I do feel like I am more successful at reaching some kind of spiritual goals.

I ran across an interesting blog post by Marek Struszczyk, a co-manager of http://www.managerup.com. Although the blog is directed to executives, there is a great post about prayer and stress that has broader implications: https://www.managerup.com/prayer-for-stress/. Struszczyk cites a number of studies that show the positive effects of prayer in reducing stress. I did not take a deep dive into each of the articles cited, but the conclusions indicate that prayer can help us to center ourselves, focus on areas of stress and how to alleviate them, and bring better health outcomes.

In Judaism, the verb for “to pray” is actually reflexive. It kind of means to “pray one’s self.” Rabbis have noted that prayer does not just go out to a higher power, but it should also go inward. Prayer should not just move God (or whatever higher power you believe or do not believe in), but should move us to action as well. For instance, there is a prayer in the weekday Amida recited three times a day for justice; because our prayer is reflexive, we address God asking for judges and other authorities to administer laws fairly, and we also challenge ourselves to make justice a reality in our world. It’s not all up to God; we are partners in making prayers into reality.

This way of looking at prayer can reduce stress by helping us to recognize the stressors in our lives and pushing us to find ways to resolve them. It seems almost oxymoronic, but by naming the stress we make it real and can then confront it.

I am a personal trainer and a rabbi so, of course, I’m going to recommend prayer as part of a way to address one’s spiritual, emotional and physical health. At the same time, do not think that prayer alone will make a difference health-wise; it is reflexive and has to be done in tandem with a proper diet, exercise, and sufficient rest.

I will strive to add some meditation back into my schedule, in the meantime, it is encouraging to know that prayer serves a similar purpose and can provide many of the same benefits when it comes to stress. Just knowing that has already relieved my stress a little!

Gratitude and your Health

universal thank you note

Here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving and this promises to be different than any one in the long history of the holiday. The pandemic has changed almost everyone’s plans. For most people, the big feast will be curtailed–not only in the number of people attending, but also in the amount of food being served. It just doesn’t make sense to make a huge turkey, 5 side dishes and 8 desserts for 2 or 3 people.

Perhaps–as I blogged about in a post at the beginning of November–we can try to make this holiday a little healthier, rather than a total lost cause.

When we think about improving our health, Thanksgiving does actually provide us an opportunity to take steps in the right direction. The holiday is all about recognizing the many blessings we have and giving thanks for them–to whomever or whatever you believe/don’t believe made it possible. At the heart of this holiday is a reminder of the importance of gratitude.

We usually think of gratitude as being more of a manners thing or a religion thing. It is, for example, polite to send a thank you note for a gift or simply thank someone for opening a door, helping out with a project, etc. Many religions stress gratitude as a key component to achieving holiness. In Judaism, we traditionally recite blessings before and after eating in order to thank God for the food. Those who pray on a regular basis the Amida prayer also thank God for: health, wisdom, justice, redemption, hearing our prayers, and peace. Judaism even has a prayer to thank God after using the bathroom!

Did you know that developing an “attitude of gratitude” has physical health benefits as well? Do an internet search of “gratitude and health” and the articles and research confirming this come from such illustrious institutions as Harvard, UC-Berkeley and USC. Gratitude has been shown to have the following positive effects on our health:

–Improved quality of sleep;

–Lowering Blood Pressure in those with hypertension;

–Increased levels of energy;

–Reducing stress and symptoms of Depression;

–and actually raising our life expectancey.

Don’t take it from me! The research shows that living with a greater sense of appreciation can make you healthier! Thanksgiving is a reminder to us of our history, but it can also be a catalyst to better–more grateful–attitudes and behaviors in the future.

While being thankful can make us feel better in the long-term, I wish I could say the same about the stuffing, pumpkin pie, green bean casserole….

Wishing you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving Holiday.