Yes, I Can!

As I studied to become a personal trainer, one of the concepts that I learned about was self-efficacy in exercise. Self-efficacy is the belief that one is capable of completing a task–in this case, exercising. The reason why it is important is that when we believe that we can exercise–in spite of impediments such as a busy schedule, being tired, feeling intimidated at the gym, etc.–we are more likely to actually carry out the physical activity. It sounds somewhat self-evident, but the issue is a little bit complicated.

It is not unusual for me when I am working with clients to hear them say something like, “Oh, I can’t do that,” or “I have never been able to do that before.” It is up to me to safely push them out of their comfort zones. Once they realize that they are capable of doing what I am directing, it builds up their confidence. Later on, I can refer to that success when confronting a new or challenging exercise; I may say, “Remember how you thought you could not balance on one foot for 10 seconds and you could? I bet you are also capable of doing reverse lunges that also involve an element of balance.” Each success builds on the other creating higher levels of self-efficacy.

The concept of self-efficacy goes beyond just exercise, and is particularly important for older adults. The scope widens to include a belief that we are able to influence the events in our lives. As we age, we often sense that we are losing control as our bodies do not function as they once did, and cognition declines. The greater our self-efficacy, the more likely we are to engage in the kinds of activities and practices that will help us to live longer and better. In other words, if we experience greater challenges carrying out activities of daily living, we may reach the conclusion that life will just be a long decline, so there is no reason to “bother” doing anything to improve our levels of health and fitness; on the other hand, if we feel like we can influence our health and fitness, we will act upon that. In both cases, it can create a self-fulfilling prophesy. This is why self-efficacy is so important for older adults.

How to start? Sometimes we have long-standing feelings of inadequacy; confronting those beliefs is difficult and may require help from a mental health professional. If, in general, we do feel adequate (or even proficient) in life, it becomes a matter of continually challenging ourselves to do more. This is why many older adults are attracted to fitness classes or personal trainers where clear directions are given with appropriate progression from easier tasks to more difficult ones. It lessens the likelihood that we will go easy on ourselves or convince ourselves that we simply are not capable.

As I have grown older, I have come to realize that there are certain things that I may longer be able to do. At the same time, there are other activities where I have doubted my ability and come through with flying colors. I would not say that it is all in our heads, but belief in our ability to influence the direction of our lives can have deep and long-lasting positive outcomes.

Sex and the Senior

It has been clearly shown that living a healthy lifestyle (eating properly, exercising, and getting rest) can lower the odds of getting certain diseases. It can also contribute to greater brain health and longevity. These are all important data points, and they become all the more crucial as we grow older.

As we age, we know that there are many changes to our bodies; we can notice transformations in our appearance (wrinkles and graying or disappearing hair). There are changes in our cardiovascular system, in the musculoskeletal structures, in digestion, and in cognition. Every one of these area can be improved by engaging in regular physical activity, eating a balanced and healthy diet, and getting enough sleep.

What most articles about the effects of aging leave out is a topic that is of interest to many seniors. How will getting older affect our sex lives?

Women experiences changes before, during, and after the process of menopause. Hot flashes, hair loss, weight gain, and mood changes may occur. Some women have a diminished sex drive. There can also be other changes that make the act of sexual intercourse more difficult and even painful.

Men may experience erectile dysfunction. They may also have problems related to an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. Libido may decrease as well.

These are natural occurences, but they can be exacerbated by other health issues, medications, drinking alcohol excessively, and smoking.

The good news is that there are ways to maintain sexual health in our senior years. The National Council on Aging published an article in late 2021 that outlines some of the ways that we can have better outcomes when it comes to matters of intimacy. There are three main strategies when it comes to a better sex life: 1. Talk to your doctor. It may seem embarassing, but s/he has probably heard it before; your doctor can help address whatever issues you are facing. Normalize talking with your health professional about everything that concerns you, including your sex life. 2. Talk with your partner. If you are in a long-term relationship with a spouse or partner, be open about the changes and what expectations are on both sides. Many older adults may find themselves in new relationships after being widowed or divorced. This will require open communication; do not make assumptions since everyone’s sexual history is unique. 3. Live healthy. Diet can help or hinder our sexual health. Those who exercise regularly may have greater stamina and less circulatory issues which can contribute to longer-lasting lovemaking, greater arousal, and better orgasms.

Sex is one of the great gifts given to human beings. As we age, there does not necessarily need to be a lessening of intimacy between loving partners. NCOA has excellent resources as will most physicians. Here is to love and joy in the golden years!

Looking for Older Adults who Want to Feel Better

Thanks for all the feedback on the exciting news about At Home Senior Fitness’ growth. In case you missed it, my personal training business now has a new trainer: Sam Kalamasz. Like me, she has a specialization in working with older adults and has many years of experience. I consider myself fortunate that we have connected, and clients are already complimenting her good work.

What this means in practical terms is that there is more capacity to help older adults who can benefit from greater strength, increased flexibility, and improved balance. The need out there is tremendous and I often have a waiting list. Having Sam on board means that it is more likely that we can meet the demand with less of a wait time.

While I am covering in-person training at client’s homes in Beachwood, Pepper Pike, and the Heights (Cleveland’s eastern suburbs), Sam will cover Brunswick, Medina, and Strongsville (southern suburbs).

As the pandemic has eased up, many new clients have expressed a desire to do in-person training. This may not always be an option (if it is outside our territory or the schedule does not mesh). It is important to note that half of At Home Senior Fitness’ clients train virtually, that is to say, via Zoom. This allows us train clients as far east as New Jersey and as far west as California–not to mention clients overseas. Yes, we are global!

Even so, many folks are intimidated by a virtual workout, or are concerned that it will not be as effective as in-person; I blogged about this over two years ago. I have a few clients who have trained (and still train) in a combination depending on availability; virtual clients (who range in age from mid-50s to mid-80s) will attest to the safety and effectiveness of on-line training. Back in the early days of the pandemic, many older adults were not familiar with the technology to make it happen, but as time has elapsed the majority have learned to navigate Zoom and other virtual platforms. They have learned that it usually involves no more than the click of a mouse to start the live video.

The continued good news from At Home Senior Fitness is that we are looking for clients who want to feel better as they age. If you are interested in staying strong, preventing falls, and being mobile while minimizing injury and exposure to COVID-19, get in touch with us at http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net or michael@athomeseniorfitness.net. Let’s talk about what we can do for you! It will be worthwhile and fun!

Research on Avoiding Early Death Says…

We all know that taking care of ourselves can lengthen our lives. The most important elements are eating right, exercising, and getting rest; of course, regular medical check-ups are key as well.

In August 2022, The Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, published the results of research of the National Cancer Institute on what activities were most effective at lowering the risk of early death. Over a quarter-million adults 59-82 answered questions as part of a 12-year study conducted my the National Institutes of Health and AARP.

The guidelines are still in place that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. As always, any kind of activity is better than nothing. What gets the most bang for your buck though? According to an article at cnn.com that reported on the study, racquet sports reduce the risk of death from heart disease by 27%, with an overall reduction in risk of early death of 16%. In second place, running reduced the risk of death from cancer by 19%, with an overall reduction in risk of early death of 15%. Coming in third, is walking, which is very good news since so many older adults engage in this activity as their primary form of exercise.

The other good news is that any other kind of activity also reduces the risk of early death. The information shared in this study is helpful, but only if you actually participate in that exercise. If you really like riding a bicycle, doing aerobics, dancing, etc., stick with what keeps you motivated and interested. It is better to do 150 minutes of “something” on a regular basis than to only occasionally participate in a racquet sport or running if you really do not like them.

The weather in getting colder in many parts, so now is the time to plan for possible changes in our routines. Walking and running may need to move to indoor track. Tennis and pickleball may also need to come inside. Plan ahead so that you can keep active, feel healthy, and live longer!

Is Religion Healthy?

Well, as they say, that is a deep subject.

I have blogged in the past about the effects of religious practices on health. Fasting is a part of many religious traditions; intermittent fasting has become a “darling” in the weight-loss world. Forgiveness is central to most faith communities, and the positive influence of forgiveness has been proven both in the emotional/psychological realm as well as the physical. Developing a sense of gratitude, also has favorable effects.

Right now, Jews across the world are in the middle of the Ten Days of Repentance. This is the period that begins with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and ends with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement); it is a time of heightened spirituality, self-awareness, and soul-searching. It is followed five days later by Sukkot–a festive harvest holiday, as well as Simchat Torah when the lectionary cycle of the Torah concludes and begins again. It is a very busy time on the Hebrew calendar, and as a rabbi, I cannot help but wonder…is it good for us?

Many studies have shown the positive impact of being involved in a religious community. Religion can offer certain psychologic benefits such as a positive and hopeful attitude about life and illness, which can lead to better health outcomes and a longer life expectancy. Religion can also provide a sense of meaning and purpose, which have been shown to affect health behaviors; it contributes to stronger social and family relationships too, providing stronger networks of care when illness occurs. The National Institutes of Health reports that this is especially important in older adults who often experience a sense of loneliness and social isolation. A study conducted at the Ohio State University concluded that those with religious beliefs may live up to 4 years longer (at the very least) with all other things being equal; factor in gender and marital status, and that number can go as high as 9.45 years!

Of course, the picture is not completely rosy. There are some religious groups that focus on issues such as guilt or that may engage in coercive/controlling behaviors which are detrimental to health. There also some faith communities that eschew modern medical treatments. Be wary of religious groups and experiences that put health at risk.

Overall, however, it appears that having faith and being part of a supportive community can make a positive difference. In fact, research bears out that religion is not only good for the soul, it is good for the body as well!

Is this Blog still Kosher?

Those familiar with the upcoming (in just a few hours) holiday of Rosh Hashanah know that the next 10 days (The Ten Days of Repentance) are a time for reflection. We consider our actions over the last year and plan how we can do better in the coming one. It is a process that we repeat every year and, as we do, hopefully we get closer to the best version of ourselves.

I think about this not only on a personal level, but also with regard to my life’s work as a personal trainer and a rabbi. I know that on both accounts I can always do better and I work hard to achieve that goal. The same is true with this blog. I am grateful to those who have offered me constructive advice (mostly my brother, Joel) as I hone by blogging craft.

When this blog started it was supposed to be about the intersection between Judaism and Fitness; I saw it as a way to integrate the two career paths that have occupied my adult life. Over time, the blog has come to focus much more on fitness–especially as it impacts older adults. I have wondered if (and how) I should change the name of the blog and its description. I often ask myself just how kosher this blog is.

For the time being, I do not plan to make any big changes. Most of the current content–90% of which does not involve anything explicitly Jewish–deals with issues of how we care for ourselves. I began this blog with the premise that caring for our bodies is indeed a Jewish value. Of course, this is not an idea I came up with on my own; the sages of our tradition understood that we could not fulfill our role (individually or as a part of a people) unless we had the strength and stamina to do it. This is borne out in Psalm 117 which states that the dead cannot praise the Lord. Unless we care for our bodies, we cannot serve God nor our fellow human beings. Ultimately, my blog continues to deal with the intersection of Judaism and Fitness–implicitly if not explicitly.

The next Ten Days will be a time of reflection and repentance for Jews around the world and for me. It is my hope that during this period–and beyond–I will be guided to do the most good possible through my work as a rabbi, personal trainer, and blogger.

Wishing all my readers who celebrate, a very happy 5783! May all humanity be blessed with good health, happiness, justice, peace, and fitness!

Pickleball: Yay or Nay for Older Adults?

Have you caught Pickleball fever yet? It seems like it is spreading faster than COVID. Pickleball is an indoor or outdoor racket/paddle sport where two players (singles), or four players (doubles), hit a perforated hollow polymer ball over a 36-inch-high net using solid faced paddles. The two sides hit the ball back and forth over the net until one side commits a rule infraction. Although the sport has been around since the mid-1960s its rates of participation have grown significantly over the last few years–aided in no small part by the pandemic, which made outdoor activities more popular.

I have been interested in picking up the game myself even though I am not real good at sports that involve a ball; I am more of a runner, cyclist, fitness kind of guy. There are concerns, though, about how safe the game is for older adults like myself. According to a recent article in The New York Times, there were 19,000 pickleball injuries in 2017 (before the sport boomed), with 90% of those being over the age of 50.

The most common injuries are those related to the rotator cuff tendon in the shoulder according to the Baylor College of Medicine. Other injuries include miniscus tears, tendon ruptures, and exacerbation of arthritic knees. The best way to prevent injuries is to warm up before a game; such a warm-up should include some light cardio like jogging, cycling, or walking briskly to the point of a light sweat, as well as stretching. A cool down should include additional stretching. Of course, if there is soreness after playing, cold can be applied and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can be taken. If a condition persists, it is best to consult a medical professional.

All that being said, should older adults avoid pickleball? While 19,000 seems like a lot of injuries, it is well below other sports such as basketball or riding a bike (which is where most injuries are for those over 65), there are many advantages to pickleball. It is relatively easy to learn and more and more venues are available to play. It also has benefits for the cardiovascular system; it provides a good aerobic workout which can help lower reduce the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. Pickleball is great for boosting hand/eye coordination and can help with balance. Perhaps most important, Pickleball is fun and social; this means that participants enjoy the experience and are therefore more likely to stick with it, making the game part of a good strategy for senior fitness.

Will I give it a try? If the opportunity presents itself I will. I am aware of the risks and will take the appropriate steps to keep myself away from injuries. It sounds like fun and a great workout!

Rest is Additive

Those who follow my blog know that I often talk about the importance of 3 main factors in maintaining good health: exercise, nutrition, and rest. In this post, I will focus on the last one.

A couple of weeks ago, I tested positive for COVID-19. Even though I was double-vaccinated, double-boosted, and wore my mask consistently while indoors, I still managed to contract the virus. I was fortunate to test positive on a Thursday night and have a prescription for the anti-viral medication in my hands by lunchtime on Friday. My case was a mild one, not requiring hospitalization, but I did find myself pretty wiped out. Two weeks later, I am still taking short cat-naps during the day; I am told that this could persist for a few more weeks.

I had a conversation with a client a few days ago who had recently recovered from COVID. She told me that her doctor said something wise to her about her recovery: “rest is additive, not subtractive.” What does that mean? Those of us who lead busy lives think of rest time as being non-productive; if I take a nap or go to bed earlier (or sleep in late!), it means there are things on my to-do list that will not get done. We think of resting as subtracting from our productivity and our lives. What her doctor reminds us is that it is, in fact, the opposite. Resting is additive! When we rest properly it allows us to fully recover more quickly.

This is not unlike Stephen Covey’s example of “sharpening the saw.” In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he tells the story of a person cutting down a tree with a saw; it is taking him/her a long time to cut the tree because the saw is dull. Another person comes along and asks why s/he does not sharpen the saw. The response: I am too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw. Covey’s point is that highly effective people take the time to metaphorically sharpen their saws; they do what needs to be done to be more effective–even if it seems like it will slow things down in the short-term.

Resting is just like this. Even though we may have to slow down to recover, in the end it allows us to recuperate more quickly so that we can back to doing all those things on the to-do list more efficiently. We are of little use when our metaphorical saw is dull.

Whether we are recovering from COVID, surgery, or an injury, rest is a key component–as it is when we are healthy. Our bodies use additionally energy in the healing process; if we syphon away that energy being active, it cannot be put toward recuperation. It takes a lot of energy to heal, and one of the ways to give our body that energy is to rest and not expend it in other ways.

In the final analysis, then, rest is truly additive and not subtractive. As I have noted in my blog before, it is important to listen to our bodies. They will tell us when we need to rest, and we should not ignore the message. So if you will excuse me, I have a nap that is calling me by name….

At Home Senior Fitness is Growing!

It is just over two years since I trained my first client at At Home Senior Fitness. At the time, I was still working as a Personal Trainer at a local gym, but had decided that I wanted to branch out on my own. I worked both jobs for two months before giving my 2-week’s notice at the gym; I knew that in order to make my business successful, I would have to jump in with both feet.

Although I have always been busy, in June I got to the point where I could not take on any new clients virtually or in-person. I had all but stopped advertising since word-of-mouth was my biggest source of referrals, and I did not want to take out ads and then be unable to offer a spot on my schedule to those who would make inquiries. I began to consider whether I should hire someone to work with me. I was working with my SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) mentor to strategize and was about ready to make the move when “fate” intervened.

I mid-July I received an unsolicited inquiry from a certified group fitness instructor who was also studying for ACE certification as a Senior Fitness Specialist. After many years of working with older adults, she was interested in transitioning her career into fitness and wanted to talk to me about the work that I do. We set up a Zoom conversation and, after speaking, we both understood that working together could be a great fit (pun intended!). It was fortuitous for both of us.

I am very pleased to welcome Sam Kalamasz to the At Home Senior Fitness team! Sam will be training virtually as well as in-person in territory that I am unable to cover (Medina, Strongsville, and Brunswick, OH). Sam begins with her first client today! Over the coming weeks, we are looking to build her client base, so if you know people who might benefit from working with a kind, compassionate, and skilled personal trainer–either on-line or in her territory–please refer them to http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net.

I am so excited for this new stage for me and AHSF…and for Sam. We are honored to be able to help older adults live their best lives with improved strength, mobility, and independence!

Are You Your Beloved?

This evening at sunset begins Rosh Chodesh Elul, the observance of the new month of Elul on the Jewish calendar. It is the last month before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

There are many observances connected with Elul. In order to “wake us up” from our complacency, it is traditional to blow the shofar (ram’s horn) each morning during the month except on the Sabbath. We also recite Psalm 27 every evening and morning. These practices are aimed at preparing us for the difficult and sacred work of repentance that takes place during the first 10 days of the New Year.

The name of the month is also quite special. It is an acrostic in Hebrew for Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li, which is based on the verse from the Song of Songs and means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Traditionally, the Song of Songs is seen as an allegory for the love between God and the Children of Israel; the name of the Hebrew month reminds us of our relationship with God and that we should be especially cognizant of repairing and strengthening our connection with the Holy One.

Because this verse is often recited at a Jewish wedding, it also refers to relationships with our loved ones and partners. This is a month when we should work on repairing and strengthening our human connections too.

Additionally, we should be concerned about our relationship with ourselves. Do we make an effort to treat others right but not afford the same to ourselves? We all know the famous verse, V’Ahavta l’Reacha Kamocha, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What if you really do not love yourself? What if you pay lip service to self-care (in all its many forms) but do not take action when it comes to being the best version of yourself you can be? How can we love others if we do not learn to love ourselves first?

This applies to fitness, but many other areas as well. The High Holidays are all about forgiveness, but sometimes the person with whom we are the least forgiving is ourselves. We beat ourselves up for making missteps. We compare ourselves unfavorably to others. We always put the needs of others ahead of our own to our detriment. It is not a luxury or conceit to care for one’s self. We are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, but to do that we must first love ourselves. This requires concrete action. During the month of Elul, this is our focus. Not only should we concentrate on how we interact with others and God, but also with how we treat our own souls. Beyond contemplation, we plan for how to change in concrete ways in the coming year.

Wishing everyone a great month ahead. Whether you are Jewish or not, observant or not, this is as good a time as any to refocus and remember to be beloved to ourselves too!