Weights? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Weights!

Pushups

As the pandemic wears on, more and more people who used to be regular gym-goers are realizing that it has been 18 months since they have stepped foot in a fitness center. Some have found other ways to keep fit, but many have simply stopped working out altogether. It is a sad reality, and one whose end is not necessarily in sight.

One of the issue stopping people from working out at home is that they lack the equipment found in gyms. I have been working virtually with clients (first for a local gym, and then in my own business “At Home Senior Fitness”) since the earliest days of the shutdowns in 2020. By now, many of my clients have at least a couple of dumbbells or perhaps some resistance tubes. Even so, I am able to put together workouts for clients that use body weight alone. This is especially helpful when clients are traveling and cannot bring equipment with them.

Is a body weight workout effective? The answer is a definitive yes. To paraphrase the classic film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, “Weights? We don’t need no stinkin’ weights!”

Of course, there are certain principles that should be followed. As in workouts using weights/resistance, the best results occur when there is a pattern of progression. In other words, either increase the weight being used, decrease the rest period between sets, increase the number of reps and sets, etc. In a body weight fitness regime increasing the weight does not figure in, so it involves getting more creative. There are many ways to make the workout more challenging: single limb exercises, changing the angle, increasing tempo, introducing hybrid exercises, etc.

It should go without saying that this applies to resistance training, but it is also the case in cardio workouts. Treadmill, ellipticals, and stair climbers were created to replicate already existing body movements. Instead of a treadmill, one can walk or run on a street or trail; speed can be varied and (depending on where you live) so can incline. Running or jogging can replace ellipticals, although the impact on joints is much greater. Bicycle riding can replace a stationary bike, and one can simply climb stairs! We have become so accustomed to thinking that we have to go to the gym, but it is possible to be fit–and even “ripped”–without using equipment.

Finally, a body weight workout regime requires a lot of creativity. Every piece of equipment in a gym is designed to work a certain muscle or muscle group; these muscles can be exercised without that equipment as well, but it may take a fitness professional to help adapt them. Finally, a personal trainer can help to ensure that a body weight workout is not only effective and safe, but also fun!

Weights are great, but their absence should not be a reason for avoiding a workout. The good Lord gave us all bodies, and we can use them creatively to keep ourselves fit and healthy.

COVID-19 and the Mental/Physical Health Connection

Couch

Researchers have long known that there is a connection between physical and mental health. Physical activity releases hormones that are mood lifters; exercise is not necessarily a cure-all for emotional or mental ills, but it is a contributing factor in better outcomes.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has taken a huge physical toll in our country–not just in terms of the 600,000+ who have died of COVID-related illnesses, but also in terms of the tens of millions who were sickened by the virus but survived (some with long-lasting effects). Even those who were not infected have suffered stress from the situation. Some of that can be attributed to the relationship between lower levels of physical activity during the pandemic (due to closed gyms, group classes being limited, etc.) and negative mental health outcomes.

Idea Fitness Journal’s September-October, 2021, issue reported on a recent study by McMaster University in Hamilton, ON, Canada; the research looked into why people seemed less motivated to be physically active and what the perceived barriers were. The data showed that those whose mental health had worsened the most were also those who were the least physically active; that same group also showed the most improvement when they became more active.

Based on the study, the article suggested that individuals can become more active (and have better mental health outcomes) by:

–Scheduling activities (to eliminate decision-making and choice

–Do activites they personally enjoy

–Listen to their favorite music

–Train with a friend

–Try lower-intensity activiites

–Get creative; use body weight or whatever is available

–Go outside and be in nature.

Of course, another option for those who are demotivated because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, is to turn to on-line classes and training that can be done from home.

The issue is a complicated one and, as I said earlier, more exercise is not a panacea. There can be deeper issues at work that make the thought of more physical activity anxiety-inducing. As always, it is best to check in with healthcare professional if depression or anxiety prevent a person from carrying out activities of daily living, including exercise.

For most people, however, it is just a matter of planning ahead and taking the first step. The rest should come more easily.

Happy 1st Anniversary “At Home Senior Fitness!”

Cleveland Fireworks

I never thought I would own my own business, but here I am one year after At Home Senior Fitness trained its very first client!

What have I accomplished in that year?

  1. I have worked with two web designers to establish a presence on the internet: http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net.
  2. I have been supported by and supported the work of the Cleveland East Senior Network–bringing entertainment and joy to seniors in long-term care facilities, while creating connections with others who serve older adults.
  3. I have built my client list to over 30! The youngest are in their 50s and the oldest in their 90s. They are mostly in Ohio, but I train clients remotely in California, New Jersey, Illinois, and even Israel! I am joined in my fitness classes by folks from the Bronx to Vancouver.
  4. I have turned a profit and been able to re-invest in the business and give charitably.
  5. I have been interviewed for newspapers and radio for my expertise in working with older adults.
  6. I have maintained this blog; it now has over 300 followers.

Through it all, I have gotten to know some pretty amazing clients. The relationships are what make it all worthwhile; I have tried to be there for my clients and they have been supportive and flexible–especially when I was out for a few weeks after my kidney donation surgery.

Most importantly, I have watched my clients progress. They have become stronger and more flexible. Goals are being met. Nothing thrills me more than hearing “I went up the stairs and didn’t even get winded,” or “I walked four miles,” or “people tell me that they notice something different.” Everyone has engaged me as their trainer or group fitness instructor for a different reason; I am honored that they have entrusted me to help them reach their fitness goals.

What’s ahead for Year 2? Lots of exciting and new stuff is planned for the coming 12 months…but let me get through the Jewish High Holidays first!

Thanks to everyone (especially my wife who believed I could do this) for making me and At Home Senior Fitness the success that it is!

Testosterone Therapy or Exercise for Older Men?

Testosterone

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

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

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

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

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!