Exercise after COVID-19 Vaccine

Syringe and Vaccine

This coming week I will be receiving my second Pfizer Covid-19 vaccination. Needless to say, I am grateful and relieved to reach this occasion…but I am also a little concerned.

Most people I have spoken with have had some kind of reaction to the second dose. Many of my clients have had to cancel workouts with me–some were knocked out for 5 days. Others, however, felt “off” for a day and then were fine. So what awaits me next week?

Medical experts note that everyone reacts differently; some even indicate that a strong reaction is a good sign of the immune system ramping up its defenses against the virus.

What does this mean for those who are regular exercisers? Should we work out after receiving our shots?

Yahoo News ran an article yesterday on this topic (it originally ran in Business Insider); here is the link: https://news.yahoo.com/know-exercise-covid-19-vaccine-152010050.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAALvUGT_dj_yYn8ZDh7dBamMrsbFkrQBQRIzdumYt5cJR0od7djGCIja3IVRyvfhyqxIXXwcjIruvqvuYGo6w9tQgTlVf0CewlGYEokeZFaNd-Nk58o-BOSk-_uRp06YGb-SOZL34zgXn4TZ07-LTBKr6ax_oA8tj2QZeiyPQY8Kq.

The author, Anna Medaris Miller, does not surprise us at all. The advice in a nutshell is that if you feel up to it, go ahead and exercise before and after the shot. If not, take it easy. Listen to your body and act accordingly. In any case, exercising before or after the injection does not seem to alter its efficacy; overtraining, however, may have a negative effect so do not run a marathon right before the vaccination. The doctor interviewed in the article, Dr. Kevin Bernstein, does warn that we should avoid the opposite as well; sitting around for a week afterwards is not recommended. It is up to each individual to judge their own situation, but an effort should me made to keep moving.

Finally, the article notes that arm exercises can help to alleviate the pain at the injections site. Bernstein did pull-ups (which may be a bit much for most people), but other arm exercises can lessen the discomfort; a cool washcloth at the spot and over-the-counter painkillers can also help.

I will let you know how it goes next week. In the meantime, I look forward to reciting the Jewish prayer when I get the shot: “Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who brought us into life, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this moment!”

How Logging My Meals is Working Out

Keat takes notes

Earlier in February, I blogged about the impact of logging meals and exercise on the success of weight loss efforts. At the time, I noted that this is an effective tool for many. Especially if you are using an app designed for this, it can help more accurately determine calories in food being consumed, how many calories are burned during exercise, and bring discipline (think avoid snacking because it is too much trouble to log a Hershey Kiss–26 calories!). Knowledge is power, and that power can lead to greater success in keeping healthier and fit.

I discovered another benefit. Now that I am more aware of how many calories are in certain foods, my grocery shopping and meal planning have changed. I am spending more time in the produce section and less time picking up processed foods. Fish is a great choice as it is low in calories (unless it is slathered in sauce) and has many health benefits. Vegetables are low in calories and can be filling and add color to the plate. Some foods (Thomas’ Whole Grain English Muffins and Dave’s Killer Breads) are not the evil carb monsters we believe them to be. This is not to say that I do not enjoy the occasional cookie or ice cream, but it is more in the context of an overall plan of eating healthier.

Usually when I am trying to lose weight, I find myself hungry quite a bit of the time. Logging has now given me the tools to plan meals that will be filling and still lower in calories. It is working. I am fueling my body in a more appropriate way rather than giving in to cravings (which seem less frequent now). Most importantly, I have lost 10 pounds in 4 weeks. I have been really disciplined and have managed to take off my COVID weight. Just a few more pounds to go and I will be at the ideal weight for my height. I feel great, my clothes are no longer tight, and I like what I see when I look in the mirror. Logging is a bit of a pain but it has paid off.

You know what they say: no pain, no gain. In this case: no logging, no losing. It does not work for everyone, but it sure seems to be giving me success.

Fitness and Fighting Disease

Cancer-fighting Strategy

I recently had a conversation with a surgeon about the role that fitness plays in fighting disease. He answered (rather tongue in cheek) that in his experience it seems that those folks who seem to take the poorest care of themselves are often the ones who simply will not die.

This was not what I was expecting to hear, but it is based on anecdotal evidence rather than research.

Research, on the other hand, shows that those who are physically fit–who exercise on a regular basis, maintain a proper diet, and get enough sleep–are less likely to be afflicted by disease. In particular, exercise is known to reducte the risk of diabetes (type 2), heart disease, many types of cancer, anxiety and depression, and dementia. Even so, we do hear about people who seem to be in tip-top condition who receive terrible diagnoses as well as those who treat their bodies poorly and live to a ripe-old age. The reality is that there are many factors (genetics, environment, luck) that shape our overall health and longevity.

What happens, though, to those who are fit and become ill? Often–though not always–those who are in better shape at the time of their diagnosis have a better chance of beating the disease. Those who exercise regularly, eat right, and get plenty of sleep can have stronger immune systems; this is key in fighting off disease. When treatment involves surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, their bodies are often better able to tolerate the stress being placed on them. People who are accustomed to setting health and fitness goals may also have a better outlook about their ability to achieve good health again.

Bet there are no guarantees. So why even bother? If I work out regularly and have other good health habits and I may still get cancer, or Parkinson’s Disease, or Alzheimers, etc., why go to all the trouble? Because maintaining a healthy lifestyle should not be primarily about preventing disease; it should be about being able to enjoy life to the fullest for however long we are given on this planet. There are folks–like the ones the surgeon mentioned–who may life longer, but they may be very limited in their ability to carry out activities of daily living, let alone take advantage of the many opportunities that are out there.

There are no guarantees. All we can do is take the best care of the bodies entrusted to us so that we can enjoy the blessings and love all around us.

Over 200 Followers

Number 200

When I began this blog just under two years ago (in fact, 2/24/21 will be the 2 Year Anniversary of my first post), I had very little idea how this whole thing worked. Luckily, my son Rami Ungar the Writer (you can read his blog too) gave me some tips and helped me along the way.

My goal with this blog originally had been to synthesize Judaism and Fitness; this grew out of my shared experiences of being a rabbi for nearly 29 years and being a personal trainer for the last 3 years. Over time, the emphasis of my posts has shifted some. A year after being certified as a personal trainer, I got a specialization in Functional Aging; this certification transformed my fitness career as I focus more on training older adults. In August of 2020, I officially started At Home Senior Fitness, LLC–my own personal training business for older adults in the Cleveland area–and globally on the web. As a result of this professional move, my blog posts have begun to address more frequently the concerns of older adults. I also have brought posts that discuss nutrition, COVID-19, and the many factors that influence our health and fitness.

While I do every now and then reference Jewish ideas, Jewish texts, and Jewish values, is is not quite as prevalent as it was in the early days. Does that mean that I need to rename my blog? Not so fast…. The Hebrew word for “exercise” is kosher pronounced as we would in English; the word used to describe the Jewish dietary laws is pronounced kasher (with the “a” sounding like “ah”). In Hebrew the words are spelled identically–mostly because written Hebrew uses only consonants; the vowels for each word, however, are different. Even so, kosher and kasher come from the same root. A food which is kosher is one that has been determined to be “fit” for consumption–as in, it is appropriate or OK. And, of course, exercise makes us “fit” as well.

I have taught several classes, given lectures, and been interviewed on the Jewish/Fitness connection. While it is not a major concept in Judaism, there is much in Jewish literature and thought that emphasizes the importance of maintaining healthy bodies; the reason being that we cannot serve God and others if we are too sick, frail, or weak. So it is that the connection between Judaism and Fitness is always there–even if not explicitly.

It will be interesting to see what the next year of my blog–and my business–brings. In the meantime, I am thrilled to have over 200 followers. It means a lot that people from all over the world find meaning, information, and maybe even inspiration in my words. Here’s to the next 200 and beyond!

Thanks for reading.

Watch Your Form while You Watch that Screen

Exercise Videos

One of the worries that people have when going to work out at the gym is that they may do an exercise “wrong;” in other words, the form may be off. To the casual exerciser, this may not seem like such a big deal…”so what if my foot is in the wrong place or my back isn’t straight?” Not having the correct form is not only a problem in terms of possibly not getting the full benefit of an exercise, but also it can lead to injury.

This is one of the reasons why people like to work out with a personal trainer–especially if they have injuries or are older. A trainer will ensure that exercises are done properly and help prevent injury. Of course, there are dozens of other reasons to hire a personal trainer, but this is really at the heart of it for many; no one wants to end up worse off than when they started.

It is hard enough to figure out the way to do an exercise correctly at the gym (where you might be able to ask a fitness staff member for assistance, or watch someone else’s form, or even have someone “nicely” correct you). With so many of us avoiding gyms and working out at home, the risk of performing a move incorrectly and possibly injuring ourselves increases. Here is a recent article at http://www.cnn.com that addresses this very issue: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/22/health/proper-form-common-mistakes-online-workouts-wellness/index.html.

When we are at home, we are often less motivated to work out in the first place. Add to this that we may be watching a video or tuned into a fitness class with a bunch of other people, and it may not be the best recipe for success. The instructor–whether the workout is live or recorded–will often give instructions to help keep form the way it should be, but it is not the same as one-on-one on-line or in-person. S/he cannot see everyone all the time. Unless you are an experienced exerciser, it is important to be cautious.

I teach group fitness on-line. It is a challenge to instruct and keep an eye on participants in a gym setting–how much more so on a small screen. How to address this?

–Meet with the instructor one-on-one outside of class time. Many will do this for a fee, or if you are a regular participant in the class perhaps for free. Use that opportunity to ask questions and have your form checked.

–If you are unsure about an exercise, there are many videos available on-line by certified fitness professionals; if they are done well, they will show the move from different angles and give detailed explanations that may not be possible in a group setting.

–Watch your own screen or have a mirror nearby to check yourself. As you do an exercise, does your form match that of the instructor? I am a personal trainer and even I look at the screen to make sure my form is correct so that I am modeling properly for my participants.

–Engage the services of a personal trainer to help master the correct way to do exercises. This can be done in-person or virtually. I can do a much better job of ensuring proper form working with a client one-on-one than in the group setting. Do not think that working with a trainer in this way means that you have to be a client forever; it is not uncommon (and it is OK) to work with a trainer for a limited time.

Despite these warnings, virtual training can be an excellent option–especially for those who are more concerned about the spread of infection, as well as for older adults for whom getting in the car and going to a class might be more challenging. It is important, however, not to be lulled into thinking that form does not matter because “no one can really see me.” No one wants to be involved in an exercise regimen that will ultimately do more harm than good.

Heart Health During the Pandemic

lowell heart

A new study out by the University of Oxford in the UK confirms what we have long known: exercise benefits cardiovascular health. An article about the study can be found here: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/12/health/exercise-cardiovascular-disease-study-wellness/index.html.

What this study adds to what we already know is that there is no such thing as “too much of a good thing” when it comes to exercise and cardiovascular health. The more we exercise the more health benefit there is. Of course, this is not to say that too much exercise or doing it incorrectly will not adversely affect other systems in the body. The research was conducted with over 90,000 participants and showed that the more exercise a person did, the less likely they were to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease; the less they exercised, the more likely disease would present itself.

This information is particular important since we know that many of us are not exercising as much since the pandemic arrived. Gyms are closed or operating with limitations. Many of us don’t feel comfortable going to the gym even if it is open. Since many of us are working from home, we don’t have as much walking around the office. As a rabbi, I used to do regular hospital visits to sick congregants; depending on the hospital, it was possible to walk a mile from my car to the hospital to the patient’s room and back. That does not happen any more. There are many examples of the ways in which our staying at home has lessened our physical activity.

This is an important message. We need to find ways to make up for that lost activity. There are many good options: going for a brisk walk or bike ride (if the weather permits), getting on a treadmill or other piece of equipment at home, joining an on-line exercise class, etc. The more we do this, the more benefit we receive.

And now for a shameless plug: I teach an on-line class 3 times each week at 1-2 pm EST on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. It is fun, easy to join, accessible to nearly all levels of fitness, and affordable. For more info, go to: http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net. Not only will you thank me, your heart will too!

Keep active and keep that ticker healthy!

Don’t Let the Stress of What’s Going on Knock You Off Your Fitness/Health Game

Stress

Late last week, I got on-line with one of my virtual clients. It was a couple of days after the riot in Washington and she told me that she was so distraught that she did not think she could work out. We spent a few minutes talking through things and then went on to have a productive (although shortened) workout.

For many people, this is a natural reaction to stress or trauma. They hunker down on the couch or under the covers and stress-eat. The stress saps their energy and they feel like they cannot even think about exercise. While this is understandable, we have to find strategies to overcome these obstacles. For some, it is contacting someone else who will workout with them (even remotely); for others, it is some kind of reward like “if get on the elliptical for 30 minutes I will treat myself to the next episode of whatever it is I’m binging on Netflix right now.” This is another reason why many folks use the services of a Personal Trainer; they know that s/he will hold them accountable and get them motivated. Whatever the strategy, have it in the toolbox so that when the time comes it is readily available.

One of the best ways to combat stress is to exercise. Physical activity–aside from the benefits to heart health, calories burned, etc.–can release endorphins in our bodies. These hormones are produced in the pituitary gland and create a natural “high.” At the very least, they can help lift our mood.

There will always be stress in our lives. God-willing, it will not be as traumatic as the events of this past week. There are many ways to manage stress, but often the stress itself talks us out of them. Plan ahead. Know what triggers stress behaviors. Understand what can get you through it. Follow that strategy.

Wishing everyone a better week ahead. Stay healthy. Stay fit. Plan for ways to manage that stress.

The Right Kinds of Exercise for Older Adults

Exercise class

There is more research out that overturns the idea that exercise for older adults needs to be gentle and not very challenging (kind of like the picture above?).

The most recent issue of IDEA Fitness Journal discusses two recent studies.

One, conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, was a longitudinal study that compared the effects of 5 years of supervised exercise training among those over 70 years of age (men and women). The results showed that all types of physical activity were beneficial, but that those who participated in HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) had a slightly lower risk of dying during those 5 years. In other words, there is a likelihood that HIIT exercises can increase longevity. The study was published in the The BMJ of the British Medical Association, and recommended that HIIT exercise be incorporated in the physical activity that seniors do.

For those unfamiliar, HIIT means that there are intervals (timed periods) of more intense exercise interspersed in more moderate exercises. For instance, someone going on walk for five minutes could walk for one minute at a regular pace followed by 20 seconds of more intense effort (faster or on an incline) then go back to regular pace, etc., until the 5 minutes are up. This elevates the heart rate and keeps it elevated throughout the workout; it is less intense that 5 minutes of straight running or speed-walking (which many people cannot sustain) but more challenging than simply walking for that time (which may provided more limited benefits).

The second study by University of Colorado researchers, published in Physical Therapy, showed that HIIT exercises can be applied to resistance (weight) training in a PT setting. It is safe and effective and can even double physical function in older adults in rehab after hospitalization; this can result in increased care and reduced costs.

All in all, this is nothing new. It only adds to the research out there that shows that there are many different approaches to training older adults. Of course, each individual is different; some older adults are frail while others are active. A good personal trainer will understand the complexities and create an appropriate plan for his/her client. This research, however, is important for the client and the trainer to take into account; going harder can have verifiable positive results.

Is Walking “Good Enough?”

Corona walks 11/...

One of the top activities for many people during this pandemic has been going for a walk. It gets us out of the house; being out in the open air is good for us and carries a low risk for transmission of COVID-19. Many people, however, want to know if walking really “counts” as exercise, or whether is is “good enough” to provide health benefits.

An article came out on Monday on Insider that addresses this very issue. Here is the link: https://www.insider.com/is-walking-low-impact-movement-enough-exercise-to-improve-health-2020-12,

It is worth read; the author and the individuals quoted bring forth useful information. There is even a little summary at the beginning of the article. First, if you are tracking exercise using a device or other means, walking definitely counts; it can be any kind of walking (around the block or to the fridge!), as those who aim for 10,000 steps a day know. Second, walking can boost immune function and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Third, keeping active in bursts during the day can have benefit; those of us who are stuck at home most of the day (working or otherwise) can break things up with a quick walk outside or around the home. Finally, the article encourages us to do what we enjoy; if a person doesn’t like the stationary bike but likes walking, it makes sense to choose walking that one actually has a shot at doing on a regular basis.

The article goes into greater depth and discusses as well what walking can and cannot accomplish. I always tell folks that moving is definitely better than not moving. That being said, moving that involves a little more intensity is usually better than activities that do not. Walking at a slow pace and making frequent stops (like taking a dog for a walk) is better than sitting on the couch, but walking without the pet (alone or with a friend/family member) at a more brisk pace is even better. There is also the option of a kind of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) that I have done with many clients; walking for 2 minutes at a regular pace, then 20 seconds fast, and repeating the cycle is an example of this.

Most importantly, the article stresses, find what you like and enjoy. Intense exercise that we never do is not as helpful to our health as a moderate exercise that we carry out on a regular basis.

Even More on the Exercise/Brain Connection

Brain

I have written several posts about the role that exercise plays not only in our muscular and cardiovascular systems, but also on our brains.

A new article at http://www.inverse.com, and on-line journal, discusses some effects upon which I have not touched in the past. Here is the link: https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/exercise-the-brain-3-ways-physical-activity-changes-its-structure/amp.

The author, Aine Kelly, discusses three ways that regular exercise can impact our brains.

  1. It can help our memory. Exercise prevents loss of brain volume which leads to lower cognitive function; even better news is that exercise can actually increase brain volume. Especially affected is the Hippocampus which is necessary for learning and memory.
  2. Regular exercise improves blood vessel health. Healthier blood vessels means that more blood makes it to the brain. Not only can exercise maintain blood vessels, but it has also been shown to help grow new ones. On a related note, exercise helps control blood pressure which is a risk factor for dementia.
  3. Here is the really new stuff! We all have immune cells in the brain whose main function is to scan the brain for potential threats from microbes, or dying or damaged cells; these cells–called microglia–also clear away any damage they encounter. As we get older, microglia do not do their jobs quite as well, which can lead to inflammation in the brain, which in turn can impair our cognitive abilities. The latest research shows that exercise boosts the efficiency of microglia and prevents inflammation.

More research is needed to determine exactly what exercises will help the most, but it seems that the current recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate exercise (as a base-line) each week is still the ideal.

Kelly’s article adds to the growing body that should encourage us as we grow older. We are living longer and longer. If we exercise regularly, we can help to ensure that not only our bodies remain in good shape, but our minds as well!