At the Gym: To Mask or Not to Mask…

Face masks, Japan

Ohio has had in place masking orders for those in public for quite a while now. These orders are based on the solid science showing that wearing a face mask is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the more people masking the more effective it is.

There are, of course, exceptions to the governor’s order, including gyms and fitness facilities. Where I work, the policy is that a mask must be worn in the building except while you are working out–which, if you asked me (and you didn’t), is the same as having no policy at all.

I have seen the following scenarios where I work. Adults and especially teens will wear the mask into the building but take it off the minute they walk into the fitness center; some even place it in their mini-locker. I have seen unmasked members with earbuds singing out loud to their music–annoying during normal times, but especially germ-spreading during a pandemic. I have seen members sitting on different pieces of equipment or benches talking to each other across the gym without masks. I have seen members use equipment and not wipe it off afterwards.

To be fair, there are those who are very cautious. I have seen members wearing a mask at all times–even while doing cardio (as I do). I have also seen members being conscientious about wiping down equipment. In the final analysis, I don’t know how much good this does when there are so many others who seem to throw caution to the (literal) wind.

We have had one employee of the Fitness Center and one member in recent weeks diagnosed with COVID-19; neither was asymptomatic. I think we are lucky it hasn’t been worse. What solutions are out there? Some establishments (in the fitness industry and elsewhere) make a point of enforcing hygienic standards. Employees and supervisors make sure that folks are compliant, and if they are not they are made to leave the facility. They believe (and rightly so) that the “honor system” doesn’t work with this pandemic. I spoke with a family member a couple of days ago who teaches yoga at a fitness facility; the facility is “open” for 90 minutes then “closed” for 30 minutes during which time the entire building is fogged with disinfectant. This seems extreme, but I’m willing to bet that this place has a lot more people coming through their doors as opposed to the masses who are staying away out of concern for disease transmission. It seems to me that fitness facilities should be going above and beyond rather than aiming for the bare minimum; it would seem to fit into our mission of promoting health and wellness.

The fitness world has a long way to go in this pandemic to make facilities safer. In the meantime, my recommendation is to PUT ON THE DAMN MASK! If you are strong enough to bench press (insert your max.) pounds, you can do it with a mask on as well; remember, weight lifting is an anaerobic activity. As for cardio, unless it is really intense (like running), a mask should only impede airflow slightly; the Nu-Step or a stationary bicycle can probably be used with a mask.

As for my own practice, I keep the mask on always. I will find the days when it is warm enough outside to run outside. If I am doing a cardio workout, I will do it at home. If we all are a little more conscientious about safety/health precautions we can help bring an end to this pandemic. Start by wearing your mask.

A Heartbreaking Side-Effect of COVID-19

Stress

By now, most of us are familiar with the symptoms, illness and too often death that result from COVID-19. It is has stressed nearly everyone…and that stress is having a negative effect as well.

The most recent issue of AARP Bulletin reported on a recent study published in JAMA Network Open (part of the Am erican Medical Association) noting increased cases of Stress Cardiomyopathy since the beginning of the pandemic. Stress Cardiomyopathy is often known as “broken heart syndrome;” great sadness or other major upset can actually cause heart muscles to weaken. This phenomenon was studied at the Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic-Akron General, where incidences of Stress Cardiomyopathy increased from 1.7% of patients before the pandemic to 7.8% between March 1 and April 30, 2020–when the full effects of COVID-19 were becoming known and affecting our lives.

Must we just sit back and take it? Must we allow our hearts to take a beating? Grant Reed, a cardiologist cited in the article, suggests that those feeling overwhelmed by the stress of the situation should share that information with their medical provider. In other words, this is not just an emotional issue, but a physiological one as well. The article noted that the symptoms of Stress Cardiomyopathy look a lot like the warning signs of a heart attack: chest pain and shortness of breath among them.

One line of defense is to work on reducing stress. We all have our own ways of dealing with it (I listen to Earth, Wind and Fire), but we may want to think about meditating (or prayer if that is a part of your tradition) and connecting with family and friends–even if that means over the phone or virtually, and only those family members who won’t stress you out even more!

Finally, exercise is also a great way to reduce stress. Physical activity can release hormones that make us happier called endorphins. Even if you cannot get to the gym, there are other ways to keep active like going for a brisk walk, riding a bike, on-line workouts, etc.

Many of us are indeed broken-hearted about the loss of life and suffering caused by COVID-19. Let’s do what we can to reduce our stress and build our immunity through exercise, proper rest, good nutrition and connections with others. Nobody wants to test negative to COVID-19 only to fall ill to the stress associated with it. Let’s take care of ourselves.

Fitness as the Leaves are Starting to Turn

Autumn

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in Cleveland, the leaves are just beginning to turn colors. The forecast for the next 14 days also shows a downward trend in daytime temperatures. Within 3 weeks, autumn will officially be here.

What does this have to do with fitness? Many of us use these warmer days to get exercise outside: running, swimming, biking, etc. As the weather gets cooler (and, yes, snowier), these activities will be affected. We just won’t be able to be active outside as we are during the summer months.

This is nothing new, but this year with COVID-19, there are added implications. Even though many gyms are open in some form or other, many folks (especially older adults) have stayed away. I have seen firsthand and heard/read about how lax or strict certain facilities are about mask usage and cleaning of equipment. Those who are in risk categories have every reason to be concerned. And now, the great outdoors–where the risk is very low–may not be as hospitable as it has been.

I have already begun training one client on her back patio and she has propane heaters for the coming months. [BTW, if you haven’t gotten yours yet, it’s worth considering.] This is Cleveland, though, and eventually we’ll either have to go inside or switch to virtual.

Two things continually strike me about virtual training, and they are somewhat incompatible. First, a lot of people do not want to do online training because they think it’s not “real;” after all, how can you get a good workout over your computer? I have some clients who I haven’t trained since March and they are “waiting” for things to settle down with the Coronavirus epidemic to go back to the gym; virtual training doesn’t enter their realm of possibilities. As for things settling down soon, “don’t hold your breath.” Literally. Second, those who do train virtually to a person attest to the fact that the workouts are effective and not at all “fake.” I have several clients who tell my how amazed they are at the workouts–especially given the limited equipment they have. It is still possible to work hard and train every muscle group even without the fancy equipment at a gym. This is why you have certified personal trainers; this is what we do.

Autumn is nigh. Decisions will need to be made. Sitting on the couch and doing nothing until it warms up again is not a good option; the less we keep ourselves fit, the more vulnerable we are to infection and illness. There are options–and online training is certainly one of them for those who don’t feel comfortable/safe going into a gym.

How will you get through the cold months in fitness and in health? Start planning now; there will be a rush.

The President Needs to Be a Bigger A$$hole

Donald Trump

It has been stated that leadership is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand. [John Ortberg]

This means that being a leader isn’t about being like necessarily, or making others happy. Being a leader often means having to make difficult decisions that will disappoint others. The key is knowing how to do that and when to do that.

Disappointing others often means being an asshole. Let me explain. We’ve all been in that situation when we were about to do something stupid–maybe with a group of friends–and there is that one asshole who tells us how wrong it is, gets us to understand the long-term repercussions, and eventually talks us out of it. At the time, we are disappointed, but eventually we are grateful that they saved us from what could have been a tragic situation. They have disappointed us, but at a pace we can stand.

What we need now is for President Trump to be that asshole with COVID-19. Right now all the states are doing their own thing. Things are a mess and it is out of control. There is no one leader at the top telling us all the right thing to do; on the contrary, for a variety of reasons the President has avoiding doing this all along. It may be because he is afraid that he’ll appear weak or, more likely, because he does not want to disappoint American citizens by making us do something unpopular…like enforcing the wearing of masks, social distancing, and closing establishments that cannot guarantee a reasonable level of safety. Nobody wants to be an asshole, but often it is the asshole who saves our asses.

President Trump, we need you now–more than ever–to be that asshole. We need you to disappoint us by telling us we cannot do whatever we want. We need you to disappoint us by telling us that freedom also comes with responsibility. We need you to disappoint us by demanding that we all do what is necessary to control the spread of this virus before it wreaks further havoc on our health and our livelihoods.

Mr. Trump, we need you to be an asshole. I’m pretty sure you’re up to the task; you’ve been one before. More, now than ever, we need you to disappoint us. Please be the leading asshole in nation.

COVID-19 Gym Trickle-Down

trickling falls--so little rain here lately

We are living in an oxymoronic world. Many states and cities are continuing to “open up,” while infection rates for COVID-19 are surging.

It is true that the economy added more jobs than expected last month, but that reporting was from before the “second wave” made its appearance in full force. I am not an economist, but from my little corner of the fitness world, it looks to me like we are in for a lot more pain before it gets better.

My gym began a phased opening at the beginning of June. Before that, I was training clients on-line–at first, free of charge (the JCC paid a salary based on my previous paychecks), and after May 15 at the regular training rate. Needless to say, business for me is way down; it is true of many of other personal trainers too. I may be hit especially hard because I train many seniors and super-seniors who are especially vulnerable to infection and complications/death (and therefore don’t won’t come to the gym) and who are also skittish about using on-line platforms for their workouts. I know that many of them who truly benefited from their training regimens pre-COVID are rapidly losing fitness ground.

Additionally, because of the limitations on how many folks can use the gym at a given time (and even then by appointment only), there are less people at the gym and fewer folks taking tours and joining. This results in less opportunities to meet people and build my business. So, things are not great and there are few signs of much improvement. On the contrary, with the current surge (and no end in sight) it could get much worse.

If folks cannot come into the gym, they may wonder why they are paying monthly membership. I’ve lost a few clients this way as well. Their feeling is that they should not have to pay the same membership fees to train on-line as in-person; they are not using the building, its locker rooms, cardio equipment, pool, etc., so way pay for all that?

This becomes a downward spiral that affects trainers and gym facilities. Even those gyms that just threw open their doors at the first chance will likely see another downturn as infections rise and fears along with them. ow will they build their business?

Of course, if I am making less money as a trainer, that means I have less money to spend on all kinds of other things which in turn further weakens the economy. It is a vicious cycle and the federal government IMHO is not showing enough leadership and creativity.

Personal Training is only one example. The same thing is happening in spectator sports, restaurants, houses of worship. Things are spiraling downward.

It is clear to me that without appropriate and speedy intervention OR a radical make-over of the industry OR effective vaccines/treatments, gyms will not survive. People are not willing to risk their lives to improve their health/fitness.

In the meantime, I am doing my best, trying to motivate my clients and be the best trainer I can be. Hopefully my efforts will trickle down and water some seeds that lead to growth–not only for me, but for my clients, and the economy. There is a long, arduous road ahead.

Whoa! The Horse has Already Left the Barn

Horse_flight

Ohio began its process of “re-opening” in mid-May. The JCC where I work planned for a phased re-opening starting in June. At first, only personal training by appointment was allowed. Two weeks later, it was personal training by appointment and use of the Fitness Center without a trainer also by appointment with occupancy strictly regulated. Today, the pools opened as did the locker rooms.

And then…Gov. DeWine announced on Monday, June 29, that a number of public health orders surrounding COVID-19 that were due to expire on July 1 would be delayed by a week.

It seems like the timing is off–not just in Ohio but everywhere. At a point when cases are surging and it is clear that the curve was never really flattened, some places are continuing the process of opening up, others are taking a step back (Ohio), and still others are enforcing ever-stricter measures. The Federal Government has preferred to let states deal with the issue of how to re-open or not–which makes perfect sense as COVID-19 has definitely boned up on US geography and knows which states are which [sarcasm]. Why is there no national plan like in other countries?

I get that folks want to get the economy and our lives as we remember them rolling again, but at the current trajectory it looks like the process of re-opening in which we are now engaged will actually further delay those goals. Until the virus is under control, it will be impossible to get the economy under control.

I feel safe at the JCC right now. Lots of precautions have been put into place to keep the employees and members as safe as possible. As it becomes clear that the pandemic is not just disappearing but, in fact, getting worse, can any of us be sure that we are doing the right thing? Will it be possible to backtrack and tighten things up again? Can the fitness industry (in particular, gyms) even survive what is ahead if we need to close up again? So many questions and so little direction from the Federal Government.

The “Re-Open Horse” has already been let out of the barn. He is running around like crazy. Not sure if we can catch him if we need to. Even if we do, can we get him back in the barn?

We need leaders who can be honest about the sacrifices that we will need to make until the pandemic is under control. While Ohio’s governor has made good decisions so far (although I disagree with him on nearly every other policy issue), does he have the political will to “disappoint” the people of this state again with more restrictions?

At the very least, we all need leaders who are willing to admit that there is even a horse. Only then can we corral it and get it back in the barn. Until then, that horse/virus is going to keep on running…and it may be too late to catch him.

No Time to Work Out During the Pandemic

Stopwatch

I had a conversation with a friend the other day who I know used to be a regular user of the gym where I work; he even worked out regularly with one of the top personal trainers. I asked him whether he has been working out with his trainer and he told me that he has been too busy; I pushed him a little bit and reminded him that all of us trainers are working virtually via Zoom, which removes the commute time. I got a sort of shoulder shrug.

This wouldn’t be such a noteworthy conversation, except that I have had similar ones with more than a few friends/acquaintances (and clients). They have gotten used to not going to the gym–even though virtual sessions have been offered since early April–and now that we have re-opened (albeit in a modified fashion), they haven’t gotten back in the habit.

Many of my clients who worked with me virtually have returned to the gym in what I would say is an almost seamless process. There have been administrative glitches to be expected given the new realities, but from the physiological standpoint, coming back to the gym seems like the natural thing to do rather than an “obligation” that needs to be shoved back into the schedule. Other clients who legitimately do not feel comfortable coming in to the gym work with me virtually on a very consistent basis. BTW, it is amazing how tough a workout can be even without the fancy gym equipment. I have seriously challenged clients with props such as rolls of toilet paper, dish towels, throw pillows, and just their body weight.

It is important to note that many of my clients who have not returned to the gym and who are not training virtually make a point to tell me that they are walking a lot, gardening, etc.–the usual activities of summertime; when I ask them if they are checking their heart rate to see if it is elevated the response is always crickets chirping. When we eat, we often underestimate how many calories we are consuming…after all, what damage could a bowl of (healthy!) granola with milk possibly cause? (Check the label and you’ll be surprised). The same is true with exercise; we overestimate how many calories we burn; we think we are getting a workout, but a casual walk with the dog–constantly sniffing and marking territory–does not raise one’s heart rate significantly unless your dog is a greyhound! We need to get the heart pumping, the blood circulating, and the lungs expanded.

Folks who worked out with me consistently via Zoom before returning to the gym have found that the load (how much weight they can push, lift, pull, etc.) now is not where it was pre-pandemic. We are having to do some reconditioning. Can you imagine what the difference will be for the gardener and the dog-walker when (if) they return to the gym? Even those who did not get ill due to the pandemic will feel like they are recovering from a disease when they begin to work out in earnest again. Inertia plays a powerful role and can undo much of the progress and maintenance we have achieved.

We are still in a pandemic–this will go on for a while. There is so much that we still cannot do safely. This should free up time for us–time to re-connect with our fitness goals, with our gym memberships, with our personal training sessions–or even with a more rigorous home routine that raises our metabolic rates.

COVID-19 shouldn’t be an excuse to not stay fit–unless you have the virus and are battling illness. On the contrary, a regular exercise program together with proper nutrition, stress-reduction, and sufficient rest can boost the immune system. It is time to get those priorities straight and find the time you know is there to take care of yourself.

COVID-19 Silver Lining

DSC09140.JPG

The current pandemic has been like a giant cloud hanging over the planet. No one quite knows when or if it will drift away. We don’t know where or how hard it will rain or storm. Even so, some have found silver linings in those clouds. For example, many older adults became proficient with technology that previously seemed too overwhelming. Others took the opportunity to make exercise and diet a priority. The aftermath of the killing of George Floyd has awakened in many a greater sensitivity to the suffering and injustice endured by those around them. People are trying to make sense out of all of this and find a positive along the way.

In Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, he argued that we cannot fully control what happens to us; there is a great deal of uncertainty and randomness in our world. What we can always strive to control is how we react to what happens. Even in places where it appears that we have very few choices (in his case, the Concentration Camps of the Holocaust of WWII), we can choose how to face adversity.

I have been thinking about the silver linings that have come out of this pandemic for me. There are more than a few for sure–some trivial and some more weighty. I had a chance to try making some baked goods; the dandelion rosemary shortbread was a win, the citrus carrot cake…not so much. I got to spend a lot more time with my wife–a big deal since we spent the first 10 years of our 12-year relationship living in different cities. I got to read some great books: In the Garden of Beasts, Unbroken, Letters to My Palestinian Friend, A Little Life; I got to watch some interesting movies and shows The Hunters, Citizen Kane, Pandemic.

The biggest win for me, was really upping my game in the realm of Personal Training. I got certified as a TRX coach (have been wanting to do that for 2 years). I completed a number of CEUs. I did personal research on a number of issues that my clients are facing. I learned how to use a new high-tech device that measures body fat in a sophisticated way that will help me guide my clients to live more healthfully. I started my own FB Group to do a daily online workout; I am hoping to restart that in some shape or form. I learned how to effectively train clients over Zoom. I created workouts day-in and day-out for clients who had no equipment at home at all–did you know that a couple of bottles of cabernet savignon are quite effective for doing Triceps Kickbacks?

I feel like I’ve had a chance to really “hone my craft,” and I look forward to using what I have learned to ensure that my clients see the results they want and deserve. I feel more confident about my skills. As someone relatively new to the Fitness Industry, I feel like I have “arrived.”

From a financial standpoint, having the JCC close just as my business was really beginning to build was a real setback. I did feel sorry for myself for a few days. Then I realized, I cannot control what this virus will do…what I can do is control what I want to do with the extra time I have available. I feel like I am coming out of the pandemic better than when I went in. I have found my silver lining. I hope we can all do the same.

Personal Training in an Operating Room

The Operating Room

That’s kind of what it feels like.

The Mandel JCC “opened up” on Monday. I put that in quotes because it is just Phase I and it is not really open. The only thing that is available right now is personal training by-appointment-only during limited hours (less than half the pre-COVID-19 schedule).

The first time I came in on Monday morning it was more like walking into a morgue than an OR. The place was eerily quiet: no one at the front desk, no folks milling about, the Subway sandwich shop is closed. Just one security guard. The hallways are all but empty; some maintenance employees are here and there.

Downstairs in the fitness center, the bright lights (like in an OR) are on and the room is flooded with the whiteness of the sunshine and the floor tiles. The machines are distanced from each other adding an airiness that did not exist before. All the trainers and other employees are in masks and gloves. Only the clients are unmasked (not all of them). It really felt more medical than fitness-oriented.

Add to this that we have to carry a bottle of spray disinfectant with us at all times as well as a towel to wipe down equipment (there are also disinfectant wipes in various locations), and it is purely antiseptic. Only the music seems louder than usual.

It takes some getting used to, but now on my third day it is not really that big of an adjustment. It’s actually a pleasure to not have to wait for a machine to become available. I am not grossed out by sweaty folks who get up and don’t wipe down their equipment. There are no lunkheads crowded in front of the mirrors checking themselves out.

I could get used to this, but I recognize this is not a viable business model. More people will need to use the facility and pay their membership dues for this to make economic sense. As a first step, though, I am impressed with my gym for all the steps that have been taken. I feel a lot of things when I’m at work, but fear isn’t one of them.

I know other gyms just threw their doors open. I cannot imagine the public health hazard that creates. I am glad we are taking it one step at a time. Let’s hope we do more good than harm in the long run.

Aging and the Immune System

Diane Francis: Treating aging like a disease is the next big thing ...

The most recent issue of AARP Bulletin had an article about aging and how it can affect the immune system. The entire issue highlighted COVID-19 and its impact on the older adult population and it is worth a read if you can get your hands on a copy. Here is the link to the article: https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/coronavirus-immunity-age-risk.html

The article points out that how our immune system can become more vulnerable as we age, and how important it is to do what we can to keep it strong.

How does growing older affect immunity?

  1. Our bodies produce less immune cells, particularly B and T cells that fight viruses.
  2. Our bodies develop chronic low-grade inflammation. Inflammation is when a part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot and/or painful, which is how our bodies fight germs and heal injuries. When inflammation is constant (inflammation should only be a temporary condition), the immune system becomes degraded.

The author, Mike Zimmerman, points out that there are things we can do to boost our immunity (see my blog post of May 18 on this topic).

  1. Keep moving–regular workouts increase immune function and lowers inflammation.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight; visceral fat releases inflammatory cytokines into the body; it becomes a spiral where more inflammation leads to weight gain which leads to inflammation… Avoid this by eating properly.
  3. Get to know your health situation better. Track your endurance and ability to do activities of daily living. Use digital devices to track heart rate, calories burned, etc. Note when there are significant changes and let your doctor know.
  4. Eat smart. There are certain vitamins and minerals that help our immune system (A, B, C, D, and E; folic acid, iron, selenium and zinc); look for foods that contain these nutrients
  5. Chill. Find ways to reduce stress like yoga, meditation, exercise, or a good movie, favorite song, etc. This is tough during sheltering at home, but it is essential to reduce stress.
  6. Vaccinate! Although as we age, vaccinations can be less effective, they still work and even if you do get sick it will most likely be a milder case.
  7. Meds. Some medications do lower the immune system’s ability to fight illness. Do your research; if a medication you are on does this, talk with your doctor and see if there are alternatives.

It is important to approach COVID-19 sensibly. Take all the appropriate precautions for sure, but be pro-active as well. Just because we are getting older doesn’t mean we are sitting ducks for this virus. Take action and stay healthy!