Not Going Back to the Gym?

Chicago-approved exit sign

The New York Times ran an article at the beginning of the year that addressed the changes that had occurred in the fitness industry–in particular with fitness facilities–since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It focused on individuals who decided to forego the gym and were willing to pay thousands of dollars for personalized workouts. The examples in the article were somewhat extreme, but they point to a significant trend that has been addressed in later publications as well.

Gyms are having a tough go of it. During the time when gyms were shut down, people invested in equipment to use at home; some spent heavily on products like Mirror, Peloton, weights, mats, etc. I have an elliptical in my home now too! The spending spree continued when gyms re-opened but much of the public was reticent to re-enter them. I work with some clients who have nothing more than a pair of 2-pound dumbbells, but I also have clients with an array of weights, exercise balls, resistance tubes, and cardio equipment such as recumbent bikes and treadmills. With so much invested at home, why return to the gym…and start paying those monthly fees?

Still, there was something that was missing. For many people, it is hard to stay motivated at home. There are those that worry that they may not be using the right equipment or using it correctly. Enter people like me, entrepreneurs who have stepped into the personalized virtual and in-person training domain. I started my business just under a year ago and left the gym where I worked a few months later; my schedule is almost completely full and the inquiries continue on a regular basis.

What I offer is more convenient, less costly, and no less effective. There is no monthly gym membership to pay in addition to my personal training fee; I have much lower overhead and can pass those savings along to my clients. There is no commute–either I come to the client’s home or we Zoom–which is an extra bonus for older adults. There is also no worry about whether the guy coughing on the next treadmill over has been vaccinated or not.

This business model is one that I imagined before the pandemic arrived; the events of the last 18 months only accelerated the demand for it. Offering a niche service–training only older adults–has put me in even higher demand. The next step is finding ever more innovative ways to meet seniors in the virtual and “real” world to help bring fitness to an often-overlooked demographic knowing that many senior adults will never go back to the gym. I am proud of the work that I am doing–and, more importantly, of the results my clients are seeing.

Not going back to the gym? You are part of a growing trend. The next question is: what are you doing to keep yourself fit and healthy as the pandemic drags on…and in the years beyond it?

HIIT Me Baby One More Time

Stopwatch

No, this is not about a Britney’s Spears song. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training; this is a form of exercise that combines short bursts of high energy exercise (usually for a fixed amount of time) with longer periods of rest or lower intensity exercise (also for a fixed amount of time). Generally, HIIT is used with aerobic or cardio workouts, but it can contain elements of resistance as well.

I have blogged previously about HIIT workouts. In the past, many in the fitness industry felt that HIIT workouts were inappropriate for older adults, but the most recent research shows that it can actually increase a person’s lifespan. As a general rule, the only people who should avoid HIIT workouts are those with injuries, women who are pregnant, or women who are 3-6 months post-partem (but consult your own doctor for specifics).

HIIT is an effective way to work with seniors who may not be able to sustain longer periods of aerobic activity, but who can still tolerate and benefit from intervals of higher intensity exercise. I often begin my workouts with older adults using a TABATA: 20 seconds of exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest with 8 sets incorporating two different exercises alternating. With other clients I may do a 5-minute HIIT comprised of 1 minute of low intensity walking, stationary bike, treadmill, or jogging-in-place followed by 20 seconds at a higher speed; this cycle is repeated 3 times with a minute of low intensity at the end. For a longer workout, the periods of high and low intensity can be adjusted; for example, one could do 2 minutes of walking followed by 30 seconds of easy jogging. As a client progresses, the higher intensity periods can be lengthened.

The advantage of HIIT is that if it is done for a long enough period (opinions vary), it can raise the heart rate and resting metabolic rate for an extended amount of time–as long as 24 hours! The body can continue to burn calories long after the workout is over. Even for shorter workouts, let’s call them “quickies,” it has the advantage of pushing the client to work more intensely but for a period of time that is manageable. A person may not be able to run for one minute straight, but they may be able to run 3 sprints of 20 seconds separated by a minute or two.

I will continue to explore ways that I can use HIIT workouts with my clients. Research shows that there are no downsides except that they should be limited (at least for HIIT workouts of longer than 20 minutes) to three times a week to prevent overtraining and/or boredom which would lead to demotivation to exercise. For my older clients, there are many advantages, most important among them that it can add to a person’s life expectancy.

The “Don’t Kiss Me” Exercise

lovers paint like a child couple kissing relationship and love paintings the kiss painting artist painter raphael perez

Several years ago, I began to notice that I had developed a numbness and tingling in three of my fingers of my left hand. This was alarming since I tend to use my fingers a lot.

I went to my primary care physician who ran the appropriate tests to make sure it was not anything too nefarious, and then referred me to a Physical Therapist. It turns out that I had a slight impingement in one of the vertebrae of my cervical (upper) spine that was affecting the nerve in my hand. I was given the “chin tuck” exercise to do.

The chin tuck was described to me as follows: “Sit or stand with your head up. Pretend that someone is coming in to give you a kiss and you do not want that kiss, so you back your head away.” A more scientific way to explain it would be as follows: Have the head directly over the shoulders (ears lined up with them); place a finger in front of the chin, then move the head back as far as possible from the finger. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10-15 times; others call for holding the pose as long as possible.

This exercise not only relieved my symptoms within a few weeks, but it also became a part of the my regular repertoire of stretches I do for myself and recommend for my clients. In addition to resolving impingements, chin tucks are one of the most effective exercises for relieving neck pain (often caused by the head being too far forward). It also helps with overall posture. This is a problem more now than ever as we often crane our heads over our keyboards.

The exercise looks silly while it is being done, but it if done on a regular basis, it can make a big difference in one’s posture, preventing possible pain further down the line.

Even though this exercise plainly says “don’t kiss me,” it is a stretch that most people will learn to love!

Rerouting

Thoughtful words from a long-time friend and colleague. Thanks Rabbi Avi Friedman!

shalom RAF

We knew that Simone Biles’ Olympic experience was going to be a memorable one.We just didn’t know what was going to make it so memorable.

My hunch is that very few of us can understand the physical, mental and emotional pressure felt by elite athletes like Simone Biles.I know that I couldn’t possibly put myself in her place.She lives in a different universe.

However, we all face challenges as we go down the path of life.Sometimes, we are ready for them.Sometimes, they cause us to zig instead of zag.Sometimes, they cause us to stop right where we are because we can go no further.It’s in moments like that we need help from others to figure out how to keep going.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moshe was thinking about the years that he had spent together with the Israelites wandering in the wilderness.He said the following to the Israelites: “Remember…

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Decrepit No More

Decrepit in the Rain

It was late 2020 when I got a call from a woman responding to an advertisement I had placed in the Cleveland Jewish News for my personal training business. She told me that primarily she was calling about her husband; he was in his mid-70s and in her words “decrepit.” Could I help?

I met with them, and after making all the proper arrangements began training with him 3 times per week for 30 minutes at their home. This was before vaccinations were happening so we were all masked up and training outside on the back deck when possible. I do not know if I would have used the word “decrepit,” but there were a lot of issues: balance, stamina, strength, and flexibility. I created a program specific to his needs and abilities and stuck with the plan.

It was tough going at first, but it was clear that progress was being made. It was proof to him and his wife–and to me–that we are capable of making positive changes in our levels of fitness at any age. It also demonstrated that the definition of “too far gone” needs to be rethought. Things for my client were looking great!

Unfortunately, he had a serious stroke a few months ago. I was worried that all of the progress would go down the tubes. On the contrary, the work we had been doing together helped prepare him to be successful at the inpatient rehab facility where he was for several weeks. He was their star student! Imagine my surprise when I started working with him again and he looked even better than before the stroke; of course, there was (and still is) a lot of work to be done to maintain and increase strength and mobility, but without a doubt between rehab and our workouts he was making a comeback.

Yesterday at his first workout of the week we commented on how he no longer looks or feels decrepit. It took about 8 months–and a stroke intervened–but this guy is proof that a supervised fitness program for older adults can be the difference between independence and decrepitude.

I know this is only one example, but I see progress with all of my clients. Word needs to get out so that older adults can begin to think differently about themselves and their fitness. As we age, we need be decrepit no more.

Testosterone Therapy or Exercise for Older Men?

Testosterone

The most recent issue of Idea Fitness Journal presented a summary of recent research results regarding the efficacy of testosterone therapy in promoting health benefits–especially cardiovascular–in older men. The article reports on studies from the University of Western Australia in Perth.

Many of us know that there has been a boom in sales of testosterone products for older men; they make all kinds of promises. Some are over-the-counter creams, while others are prescriptions available only through a physician.

The study at UWA looked at whether circuit training (a workout technique using different exercises in rotation with minimal rest, often with different pieces of equipment) had the same, less, or greater effect on men’s health than these products. The test followed 78 men aged 50-70 who had no history of CV disease, larger-than-normal waist circumference, and low-to-normal T-levels. Four groups were compared: T-therapy with exercise and without; placebo with exercise and without. Results showed that exercise increased testosterone levels, and that creams added even more. Most importantly, cardiovascular health improved more in those who exercised regardless of whether they had T-therapy. One of the investigators, Daniel J. Green, PhD., noted that while T-therapy seemed to increase muscle mass in legs, there seemed to be no benefit in arterial health and function.

A couple of take-aways for older men: 1. There is not magic pill (or cream) for better health; exercise, proper diet, and rest are still key. 2. The focus in older adults should be less on building muscle mass (although it is certainly desirable to maintain what is there), and more on maintaining and improving CV health if one wishes to avoid the maladies such as heart attacks and stroke.

Self-Care is not Self-ish

Self-Care

It is not unusual to hear about individuals who over the years never took care of their own spiritual/emotional/physical needs because they were busy taking care of others. We can sometimes get so wrapped up in serving others that we forget to focus on ourselves. Others see the focus on self as somehow being vain, egotistical, or simply selfish.

If you have ever flown on a plane you know that one of the safety announcements made before take-off is about what to do in the unlikely event of a cabin de-pressurization. “Masks will fall from the compartment above your head; place the mask over you nose and mouth and breathe normally. The bag may not inflate even though oxygen is flowing. If you are traveling with someone who needs assistance, place your mask on first before helping others.” This goes against the idea of helping others first, but it makes perfect sense; if you lose consciousness due to lack of oxygen, you are of no help to anyone else. We must take care of ourselves first before we can help others.

Self-care is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Self-care means different things to different people. For some, it means a luxurious day at a spa. For others it is a hot cup of tea in the afternoon. Some think of self-care as taking adult education classes, going to the gym, reading a good book, or listening to their favorite music. Whatever works is fine, but it cannot be an “optional.”

My wife and I recently returned from a week-long trip; it was our first vacation since the start of the pandemic. We drove and even took the dog with us. We went to the next state over and had a great time. It was certainly a form of self-care; we both needed to get away and recharge. Not everyone has the opportunity for a week off or has the means to spend lavishly on themselves. Even so, there are ways that we can care for ourselves that still make a difference: eating right, exercising, and getting proper rest. (Do I sound like a broken record?)

It is not selfish to engage in self-care. Self-care is necessary first in order to be able to care for others later.

Freedom From, Freedom To…

The Declaration of Independence

As we conclude our celebration of Independence Day, it is worth reflecting on the meaning of the day. So often we refer to Independence Day simply as “July 4th,” without really thinking about the history behind it. Independence Day is first and foremost about the United States of America’s (although it was not yet called that) separation from the sovereignty of Great Britain. The colonists organized a rebellion (or revolution) against the monarchy that had imposed onerous demands on the settlers. They sought to establish their independence in order to ensure “certain inalienable rights;” among these were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We must, of course, recognize that not everyone was included in that statement; most notably those of African descent were not figured into the equation. In the eyes of the founders, independence from Great Britain was not just so that the colonists could do whatever they wanted. There was a bigger picture: a grand experiment in democracy and self-determination. Although the ideal is not fully achieved for everyone, the strides are worth celebrating.

Many of the founders of our nation were inspired by the biblical story of the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian slavery (as were generations of enslaved Africans). In the Book of Exodus, the Children of Israel were not set free from Egypt so that they could do whatever they wanted. According to Jewish tradition, exactly seven weeks after leaving slavery the people stood at Mt. Sinai and received the Law from God. The Israelites were freed from the rule of Pharaoh in order to accept the rule of God and Divine Law. This parallels the founders of this country; they were freed from the rule of Great Britain in order to undertake the rule of law as established by a representative democracy and set down in the Constitution.

Freedom should not be just for the sake of doing whatever we want, but rather in order to serve a higher calling.

This idea has applications in the world of fitness and health as well. So many of us are enslaved to bad habits: unhealthy eating, sedentary lifestyles, poor work/life balance, and not getting enough quality rest. What is the purpose of breaking those behaviors? Of course, we all want to be healthier or look better, but perhaps there needs to be a deeper reason. In working with older adults, I have discovered that many clients seek freedom from bad habits in order to be able to enjoy their lives; for some that means travel, for others it is keeping up with grandkids, for others it is just being able to live as independently as possible for as long as possible.

Freedom from bad habits, gives us freedom to do so much more. At first, it may seem restricting to not just do whatever we want when it comes to diet and exercise; ultimately, however, a healthy lifestyle has the potential to give us the real freedom we seek.

Wishing everyone a great summer. May we remember our freedom “from” in order to achieve our freedom “to.”

Meeting the Recipient

Wednesday was a big day. The Cleveland Clinic arranged for all three donors and all three recipients in our “daisy chain” to meet each other in person.

I had already met Papa Phil; he was the person for whom I donated even though we were not a match; because of my donation, he got a kidney from another donor. Where the kidney that I donated had gone was a mystery to me…until yesterday.

I got to meet Norman. And he got to meet me.

It was an emotional moment for both of us. Almost overwhelming. An amazing embrace of two strangers who now share something very special.

And it was all caught on tape! The Cleveland Clinic had brought us all together to film a kind of “promo” for the transplant program. Not only was it amazing to meet the guy who got the kidney that had been with me for 58 years, I got to meet the other two donors and the third recipient as well.

The time was brief because I had to run to teach a fitness class. On the way home, my wife read a letter from Norman and a card that his mother had written to me. Although I did not really get a chance to talk with either of them, I could tell that I was going to like them both.

Later in the day, we met at a local restaurant for dinner–all the donors, recipients, relatives, and Dr. Wee, the surgeon who made it all possible!

It was an unbelievable gathering as we all got to know each other. Not everyone was from Cleveland. We are a diverse group as well. We all come from different walks of life. And now, for as long as we live, we will be connected to each other by whatever forces brought us together and by a little organ that weighs less than half a pound.

I will never forget June 30, 2021. For Norman and me, it is the beginning of a relationship. We are now KBs (Kidney brothers). To paraphrase Jewish liturgy: I am grateful to God who brought me into life, sustained me, and allowed me to experience this sacred moment.

A Month After Donating a Kidney

Framed Embroidery Kidney Anatomy Art. Hand Embroidered.

On the one hand, it seems like the surgery just happened. On the other hand, it seems like it was ages ago. I will blame my confusion on the residual anesthesia still coursing through my body.

When I posted last about my kidney donation, I was still in what I refer to as “the rough period.” This recovery has been more difficult than I expected. I was told that the first few days would be tough; the day of surgery and the day after were a piece of cake since I was on a lot of pain medicine. The following day when I went home was a lot harder; the car ride home was torture!

I got a list of what I should expect after discharge from the hospital, but somehow I was still caught somewhat by surprise. There was a fair amount of discomfort. I lost a lot of weight (which I did not need to do). I began to feel like I had turned a corner until 10 days after surgery. After 2 weeks, I was back to training clients virtually–albeit with naps in between! After 3 weeks, I was training my in-home clients, and then a few days later I went back to teaching my fitness classes. The main thing now is that I still tire quite easily; as I indicated in my last post, I have really had to listen to my body and figure out what I can and cannot do. I do finally feel like myself again, though, and look forward to building up my strength and endurance.

Would I do this again? Absolutely not–I intend to keep the one kidney I have left! Did I think this was worthwhile? Absolutely yes! A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I had dinner with Phil and his wife; he is the guy for whom I donated, but was not the one to actually receive the kidney since we were not a match. It was great to see how well he is doing; unlike the donor, the recipient feels better almost immediately. Sometimes in life we wonder if we really make a difference. This time, I know that I did. It was also just amazing to have this connection with a stranger.

Next week, the Cleveland Clinic will be hosting a reunion for the 3 donors and 3 recipients in our “daisy chain.” This will be when I meet the guy who got the kidney I donated (I try not to call it “my kidney,” because now it is his). I am kind of nervous about it. I had gotten to know Phil through social media, but the recipient is really a total stranger. I hope it will be just as amazing to have a connection with him; we will see how it goes.

In the meantime, I have heard about three people I know who need kidneys. One is in the thick of finding a donor. It is refreshing to see the outpouring of concern, support and prayers on Facebook. Hopefully, it will translate into something more. Hopefully, someone will see it–just like I saw a post last year–and decide not to keep scrolling, or to just “like” the post, but actually take the first step to find out about donating.

Despite all the discomfort, I feel so grateful that I was able to do this. I am thankful that I did not wait until it was too late. I am proud that I have made my health and fitness a priority.

Thank you to my wife, my family, and my friends for all their support. Thanks to everyone at the Cleveland Clinic: my doctors, the kidney donor coordinators, the nurses, aides, phlebotomists, environmental services, and administrative staff. In my book, you are all heroes too!