Falling off the Blogging Wagon

The last several weeks (months?), I have been extraordinarily busy. In addition to my fitness business (which is doing great!), I am the part-time rabbi at a local synagogue and we have had our share of holidays recently and coming up. At the same time, I have been helping out at another nearby congregation where they are short a rabbi. Then there have also been some family events and a recent trip to Virginia for a Personal Trainer’s Institute. On top of this all, I still have my daily brain games and exercises that I do to help with my long-haul Covid brain-fog symptoms. I am busy for sure, but it has mostly been good things.

The one thing that has suffered is my blogging. I have a daily reminder on my phone to blog–even though I know that I will probably blog at most one time per week. I like having it on my to-do list each day, but I wonder if it is really counterproductive. It is so easy to just ignore it when it comes up every day; and now I see it has been over 3 weeks since my last post! I plan to turn my reminder to weekly rather than daily, understanding that I cannot casually click on the “done” button, but rather really have to sit down and write each week.

It struck me that falling off my blogging wagon is similar to what happens to many people with their exercise routines. We all have good intentions to keep physically active and we may even have a system in place (like reminders on our phones) to make good on those intentions. When things get busy, however, it can be easy to ignore that system and, before we know it, weeks or months have passed without exercising. This, of course, has serious consequences for our physical and mental well-being.

Perhaps our expectations of ourselves are unrealistic. If we say that we will work out every day, we may skip a day here and there, or we may end up skipping lots of days. It may just be better to lower the expectation and actually meet the goal. Just like with my blogging, it is better to do 50% of something than 100% of nothing. Do what works. Feel that sense of accomplishment, and then build on it.

Set goals that are realistic, work hard at it, and then re-evaluate. It may be necessary to re-work the plan–adding or subtracting sessions. When it comes to blogging, I will set my goal to once/week rather than daily. I hope to avoid the trap I seem to have fallen into.

My son told me that a blog is like a living thing; you have to feed it and take care of it. If you do not, it will die. Here’s to more regular care of my blog–and to the other priorities in our lives!

Mental Health and Nutrition

Followers of this blog know that I have been dealing with brain fog as symptom of long-haul COVID. I have blogged about it twice: once in December and once earlier this month. I continue to work with a speech therapist, follow the advice of the integrative medicine specialist I met with, and play my daily brain games. As part of this process, I have learned about expected factors that can affect how well my brain is functioning.

It has long been known that exercise can have positive effects on our brains–not just with regard to preventing cognitive decline, but also in fighting depression and anxiety. An overall healthy lifestyle that combines exercise, good nutrition, plenty of rest, and good social connections can influence our mental wellness.

The connections between nutrition and mental health goes back about 3000 years when it was noted by the ancient Chinese; this continued through the Greek and Roman periods right up to the 21st Century. In the last 20 years there has been a surge in research about which foods can improve mental health, in what quantity, and prepared in which ways. I recently completed a continuing education course that focused on this very topic; the on-line instructor was Maggie Moon.

Several takeaways from the class were:

–The main mood-regulating neurotransmitters are affected by nutrition. Certain foods can boost brain health such as berries, oysters, chia seeds, salmon, walnuts, kale, water, and watermelon.

–When it comes to mental illness, there are nutritional strategies that can complement other treatments. Certain foods have been found to have high anti-depressant properties. Chief among them are foods that are high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids; the brain needs fat and is also hungry for foods rich in anti-oxidants.

–The top foods for fighting mental illness have been found to be: vegetables, organ meat, fruit, seafood, beans, meats, grains, nuts and seeds, and dairy. The most recent studies place special importance on more nuts and vegetable diversity.

–Some foods have a negative effect on mental health: butter or stick margarine, whole-fat cheese, fried foods, red meat, and pastries/sweets. These should be consumed in limited quantities.

The presenter suggested that the easiest way to follow these recommendations is to follow the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), or the MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay). The MIND Diet takes the best of Mediterranean and DASH with a few adjustments. Traditional diets (Japanese, Norwegian) are also good for reaching the same goals.

We all know that what we eat matters when it comes to our physical health. We may also know that certain foods can either help or harm our cognition. What is exciting is to know that the right nutrition can also improve our mental health.

Making the right nutritional choices is part of an overall healthy lifestyle–not only for the part of us below the shoulders, but from the neck up as well!

Is the (Brain) Fog Lifting?

A couple of months ago, I blogged about my Long COVID symptoms of brain fog. At the time, I had been referred to the Cleveland Clinic’s ReCOVery program; they assessed me and I was re-assured that I did not have the beginnings of dementia, but rather a fairly typical after-effect of having COVID. The next steps were to meet with a speech therapist and an integrative medicine doctor.

I met with the speech therapist in mid-December for the first time and was evaluated in a number of different tests; the good news again was that there were no signs of dementia, but there was some cognitive deficit as a result of my COVID experience. She recommended I get the book Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age by Dr. Sanjay Gupta; this book is available on-line, in your locally-owned bookstore, and most libraries, and shares strategies for keeping the brain at its best throughout our lives. The therapist and I talked about my symptoms and what the path forward would be–including getting approval from the program at the Cleveland Clinic and my insurance company to move forward with treatment. I met with her again in January and will begin regular appointments every two weeks.

The most significant recommendation was that I go to a website: http://www.brainhq.com, get a membership, and do the exercises on the website. (This is not a paid endorsement.) 5-6 days per week I spend about 20 minutes doing the exercises. They have gotten progressively more challenging and over time the program will add more areas of brain function. Currently I am working on brain speed, attention to detail, and auditory attention. Although they look like brain games, I do not really find them to be enjoyable. In fact, it is pretty humbling to get so many wrong responses, but the program–which uses artificial intellegence to sense when I am getting tired/sloppy–adjusts so that I am slowly improving my brain function. I hope to share more details as I continue on the program.

I also had a virtual meeting with a physician in the Integrative Medicine department at the Cleveland Clinic. She went over a slew of test results from previous blood draws and made recommendations about dietary changes and mineral supplements that could help. I have adopted those and am making an effort to eat more berries, whole/multigrain foods, as well as cruciferous vegetables. I am beginning to see some progress but I understand the process will be a “long-haul.”

As I noted in my blog post in December, if you are experiencing brain fog, take the time to discuss it with your physician. It turns out that there are ways to improve brain healthy aside from just exercising more. There may even be a program near you to address what you are experiencing.

More updates are forthcoming.

Does Your Brain Have Time for a Quickie?

Almost two years ago, I blogged about the benefits of shorter workouts. Studies show that short bursts of activity have positive effects on one’s physical health; this is good news for those who do not necessarily have a lot of time in their day to exercise, but who might have smaller chunks of time throughout the day. Getting up from a desk or couch and engaging in moderate physical activity can still have a positive effect.

New research was reported on this week that not only can Quickie workouts have physical benefits, but they can also improve our brain health. A study at the Institute of Sport, Exercise, and Health at University College London found that people who spent even smaller amounts of time (6-9 minutes) in vigorous activity each day had higher cognition scores compared to those who did not. Vigorous activity was defined as aerobic dancing, jogging, running, swimming and biking up a hill–activities that boost heart rate and breathing. The researchers looked at how this affected participants’ short-term memory, problem-solving, and processing skills.

This is just one more important piece of research that proves how important exercise is–and reinforces the connection between physical activity and brain health. Although there are some brain games and other activities that help build brain health, the single biggest factor in improving cognition is physical activity; the more we exercise, the more blood our hearts pump to the cells keeping them properly nourished and doing their jobs. Of course, this includes all those cells in the brain.

In upcoming blog posts, I will explore this further and talk about ways that brain health can be boosted further by exercises that combine both physical and cognitive tasks.

Until then, get up off the couch–even if it is for less than 10 minutes–and get moving! Your body and your brain will thank you.

Drink LeChaim…To Life!

It’s not what you think. Unlike the song from Fiddler on the Roof, we are not talking about alcohol, but instead our good friend H2O.

NBC News and many other news outlets reported on a new study from the National Institutes of Health indicating that poor hydration may lead to chronic disease and early aging. The study took place over the course of 25 years; participants started in their mid-40s to mid-60s and follow ups went through ages 70-90.

There is not total agreement on the meaning of the results. The research used blood sodium levels as an indicator of dehydration, which some scientists believe may not be the most accurate way to measure. Others believe that dehydration is not as widespread a problem as most people believe it to be; in other words, most of us are properly hydrated most of the time.

What is important about the research is that it sheds light on the continuing benefits of drinking water and other non-sugary decaffienated beverages. Drinking plenty of water tends to keep the kidneys healthier; kidneys filter the blood which is then circulated to the rest of the body. The “cleaner” the blood the better it is for the cells that rely on blood for nutrition.

It is also significant that those with higher concentrations of sodium in their blood (which could be the result of not enough hydration), were more likely to have high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar. These are all signs associated with faster aging. On the flipside, those with lower levels of sodium were less likely to have these conditions. While most participants were in the normal range for sodium, those at the higher end had a 20% increased risk of death than those at the lower range.

More research will need to be done, but current recommendations are that women drink 6-9 cups of water per day, and men should consume 8-12. Although water is best, other non-caffeinated beverages are also OK; fruits and other foods with high water content can also increase hydration levels.

Until that research is done, it is always a good idea to keep hydrated–especially before, during, and after workouts, as well as when the weather is warmer.

Tevy from Fiddler on the Roof, had it right. Drink…to life!

At Home Senior Fitness is Growing…Again!

It has been about four months since I told you about my welcoming At Home Senior Fitness’ first additional personal trainer, Sam Kalamasz. She is steadily growing her client base and bringing our unique brand to the Brunswick/Medina/Strongsville area near Cleveland as well as the rest of the world via the internet. I am looking forward to her continued success and growth.

As of the first of the year, I welcomed Victoria (Vicki) Yannie to AHSF as well. I hinted at it in my year-end reflection, and now it is official. Vicki brings a wide range of skills and experience. Both her undergraduate and Master’s Degrees are in the areas of physical education and she is a certified Silver Sneakers instructor. She has extensive experience working with older adults, has written papers, and made presentations on a wide variety of topics related to fitness. Vicki will be helping me to cover the eastern suburbs of Cleveland as well as some on-line work.

When I started AHSF, I was not sure if there really was demand for what I was offering. It was a risk, but it has paid off–not only from a business standpoint, but also in the ways that we have been able to help older adults become stronger, more flexible, and even more independent.

The big news, then, is that At Home Senior Fitness is able (finally!) to accept new clients. If you are or know an older adult who wants to get the most out of their years, contact me at michael@athomeseniorfitness.net or http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net.

Thanks to all my clients and everyone else who has supported AHSF! Here’s to a bigger, better, and healthier 2023!

Reflections on 2022

As 2022 draws to a close, I have a few reflections on the work that I have been doing for the last 12 months.

There were many successes. I have engaged two other trainers to work with me; the newest will be introduced on this blog soon. This has become a necessity as I continue to get regular inquiries about my services and there are only so many hours in a week. My book of clients has been maxed out for a while. Once I get these two trainers up to their desired number of hours, I will consider expanding further. All of this was unimaginable to me when I started At Home Senior Fitness over two years ago.

The rabbi work continues to be fulfilling. My part-time pulpit at Beth El – The Heights Synagogue continues to allow me to do some of the work that I enjoy best and for which I have decades of experience. Our small congregation of 80 families feels just like that–family; this, of course, means that there are squabbles just like in any family, but we always look out for each other. The most exciting developments this year have been the addition of some new families/individuals who have brought fresh ideas to what we do, and the inititation of a fundraising campaign to raise $250,000 to write a new Torah scroll and have some money to cover extraordinary expenses.

I continue to help out at a local synagogue that is “short” a rabbi. This is like being a substitute teacher but, in general, the “students” are more respectful and appreciative of the work I am doing. Most of the time (sometimes weeks on end), I have no responsibilities, but there are other times when I have my hands full with hospital visits, funerals, leading services, etc. I am glad that I can help this congregation as my family and I have many wonderful connections there.

I also have a very part-time gig as a consultant for American Greetings, based here in Cleveland. They have a line of greeting cards for Jewish occasions and I make sure the content and artwork are appropriate for the given purpose. This is actually fun and lets me flex some creative muscles (see what I did there?).

On a less positive note, two of my clients passed away. I blogged about one earlier; the other passed away in the fall–quite suddenly. He was one of my best clients, training with me three times/week for 45 minutes; I really enjoyed our time together and miss him and his sense of humor. Other clients have been through injuries and medical crises, but thankfully most are back to working out or on their way to recovery.

Best of all, I have had a good year health-wise: no surgeries! I did have COVID and am still dealing with Long COVID, but I am grateful that my case was mild and my continuing symptoms are mostly manageable.

It has been a good year. 2023 will be filled with lots of opportunities. I will continue to blog about what matters to older adults when it comes to their health, and I will continue to service the community in other ways as well.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and fit 2023!

That Time I was a Guest on a Podcast

As many of you know, I was asked to be a regular columnist for Northeast Ohio Boomer magazine last year. Each issue I wrote about a different issue related to exercise/fitness and older adults. The magazine also hosts a number of blogs and has a podcast as well for which I was interviewed. If you’d like to hear my voice and my thoughts about fitness, click here. The podcast is about 20 minutes long.

I am waiting for 60 Minutes to contact me next….

Leave the Cannoli

Many of us are familiar with the line from The Godfather, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” Research from JAMA Network Open, a publication of the American Medical Association (AMA), says we should think about leaving the cannoli as well.

The investigation found that the number of adults in the USA over the age of 65 with poor diet quality increased 10% from 2001-2018; the percentage rose from 51% to 61%–both of which are alarming. The percentage in the same demographic whose diet was considered “ideal” in the study was 0.4%–that’s just 4 in 1000! This may help to explain why so many adults are living with diet-related diseases.

What is to blame? Older adults are eating more processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, and foods with high salt content. Intake of healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains has gone down. This is a trend nearly 20 years in the making, but the AMA hopes that by raising awareness it will be possible to reverse the trend.

The issue transcends older adults. Healthier foods are often more expensive and less readily available than processed foods and junk food. Restaurant food can vary widely from more healthy items to those that are downright artery-clogging. As adults age and are less able to prepare food for themselves–or less willing to do so–the choices become less and less healthful. Throughout many age groups this has contributed to the obesity epidemic in our country.

Older adults are living longer than in past generations. The question is whether those added years will be quality years or ones filled with poor health. A big part of the answer has to do with our diet. Improved eating habits can lead to better health outcomes and quality of life. The choice is ours.

Losing My Mind or Just Long COVID?

Some weird stuff has been happening lately; the kind of stuff that makes me think I might be losing my mind. I am already a regular player of my favorite game: “What did I come into this room for?” but this has gone a little further. I will leave out the details, but it was enough to warrant my discussing it with my primary care physician at my annual physical; he said that I should see if the symptoms clear up in the next three months because it could be an affer-effect of COVID and would probably dissipate by then. If not, I was to be in touch.

The weirdness continued and some fogginess and spaciness (more than usual!) persisted so I sent a message to my PCP. Within a few days I had a video call with the Nurse Practitioner who agreed that this was probably some form of Long COVID. Long COVID is when symptoms persist even after testing negative, or new/different symptoms arise; the issues can go from mildly annoying to disabling. I had a relatively mild case, so this was surprising to me; she assured me that they have been hearing from lots of patients with similar complaints. I was refered to the Cleveland Clinic’s ReCOVery Program–it is great to have a world-class medical center nearby! Today I met with a practitioner there and was reassured that it was not Alzheimer’s but fairly classic symptoms of one kind of Long COVID.

The next steps are some lab tests, meeting with someone at the Integrative Medicine program, and meeting with a Speech Therapist. Speech Therapist?!? That is what I thought too! It turns out they do a lot more than work with speech disorders; they also have training in memory, organization, and task-completion issues. I am eager to see what help they can provide me.

Why do I share something so personal? I think that there are probably others who are experiencing what I am, and are just as worried that it might be something much more serious. Rather than fretting alone, it is worthwhile to reach out to a medical professional to see if there is help out there. I am glad that I will be getting help for my brain fog, but even more grateful that the evaluation done leading up to today’s appointment confirmed that I do not have early onset dementia. It was worth just to have that sense of relief.

Are you worried about brain fog, spaciness, confusion, forgetfulness? Did you have COVID? Talk to your doctor!