Power to the (Older) People

Power to the people

In the world of fitness–as in the world of physics–there is a difference between strength and power.

Muscle strength is the maximum amount of force a muscle can exert against resistance in a single effort. For instance if a person is able to press 135 lbs in a single rep of a bench press, that would be their muscle strength.

Muscle power, on the other hand, is the ability to exert maximal force in as short a time as possible; this could mean accelerating (as in a run), jumping or throwing an object (a ball, a discus, a javelin). Muscle power takes into account speed.

The way a person trains their muscles depends on the outcome they are looking for. Those seeking sports performance often focus on power training since speed is usually a factor in competitive sports. Many others who look to improve muscle tone or who want to be able to carry out activities of daily living may focus on strength training.

The most recent issue of ACE Fitness Journal (Sept. 2019) had a brief article on power training vs strength training for older adults by Shirley Archer, JD, MA. She reports on a study out in Brazil reporting on the benefits of power training in an older population. It showed that subjects in the study who were above the median in maximal power had better survival rates than those below the median; in other words, if you have more muscle power there is a tendency to live longer.

This is exciting news to those of us who work with many older clients. The study can be found in https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/pages/default.aspx, vol. 41, issue 1.

The article by Archer notes that there is need for more study and caution. Power training requires more balance and coordination; some seniors may not have the necessary skills to perform power training. Even so, it is interesting to note that this is a promising direction for trainers and clients as we age.

I look forward to more research as I continue to help my older clients live longer, healthier and more independent lives.

What Are We So Afraid Of?

fear

I was working with a client earlier today who qualifies as an older adult; she is one of those folks who comes to the gym but says that “it is not really her thing.” She cannot really understand why people do it…and if it weren’t for her husband, I don’t know if she would be there at all. As we were discussing this topic (not for the first time), her husband chimed in, stating that the reason why he works out is to avoid “the walker.”

Older adults who do work out are motivated by a number of factors. For some, they really enjoy it–especially the social aspect of being at the gym. For others, it is just a habit that was picked up earlier in life. And for others, it is motivated by fear. And this is not necessarily a bad thing.

A recent study commissioned by the home healthcare company, Home Instead Senior Care Network, surveyed older adults about their biggest fears. The top 3:

  1. Losing Independence.
  2. Declining Health.
  3. Running Out of Money.

Losing independence is complicated, because it can actually be a result of #2 and #3. Other research I have seen shows that the biggest fear is loss of cognitive function; they dread a body that still works and mind that is no longer there. This would certainly result in loss of independence. In any case–especially in the USA–independence is a core value and it is not surprising that we fear losing it as we get older; we do not want to have to rely on others.

Declining health is also complicated. It’s not just about dementia, but about being incapacitated, in pain or greatly impaired. Older adults envision a retirement or later life filled with activity and enjoying the well-earned fruits of one’s labors. It is understandable that we fear that our health may rob us of these things.

Finally, running out of money–also complicated. Many adults have not provided adequately for retirement, even though they think they have. With seniors living longer and longer, what might have been enough money even ten years ago may be underestimated today. No one knows what the status of Social Security will be, but the system is being stressed with more seniors and a declining birthrate. Never mind leaving an inheritance, we worry that we won’t have enough for medicine, food and housing.

So, should we live in fear? The good news is that it is almost never too late to begin addressing these fears. This leads us back to my client; the choices we make today will affect what our later years will look like. An hour or two at the gym can be the difference between independence and having to rely on family, friends or “the system” later in life. While it is true that there are certain medical conditions that we cannot anticipate, many of the health issues in our society are the result of poor lifestyle choices. We can always improve our diet, our exercise, not too mention quitting smoking and limiting our alcoholic consumption. Running out of money? If we take care of ourselves now, we decrease the likelihood that chronic and devastating illnesses will hit us later on; this not only has health implications, but monetary ones as well.

FDR said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Each of these fears can be addressed. We do not need to let them scare us into inaction; on the contrary, they should spur us to the kinds of activities that will help us avoid the things we fear the most.

We are living longer. Let’s not approach older adulthood with fear. Let’s face it with a sense of bold optimism!

Losing Weight: It’s All About the Math

Numbers

Those of you who follow my blog know that for the last few months I have been “struggling” to take off the weight that I put on during my mostly sedentary recovery from foot surgery.

Newsflash: going on a week-long Alaska cruise does NOT help the cause. Luckily, I only put on two pounds during the vacation, but it could have been worse.

When I returned home, I had the latest issue of ACE Fitness Magazine weighting for me. Much of the issue was devoted to discussions about nutrition and weight loss. There were articles about the latest trends in dieting (Keto, for example), the debate about whether eggs are good for us or not, as well as the latest research on the role of carbs.

The issues are usually not clear cut. Keto, for instance, is an effective method for dieting IF you can actually stay on the diet. The food choices are so limited that it is estimated that 50% of folks who try it do not last long enough to see results. It is also not recommended for older adults since the lack of protein in the Keto diet can contribute to loss of muscle mass–a serious issue as we age.

As was the case in many articles in ACE Fitness Magazine, the conclusion is that “more research is needed.”

So what do we know? A simple truth: weight loss is achieved when we burn more calories than we put into our bodies. It is a simple question of mathematics. If we eat 3000 calories worth of food but only burn off 2500 each day, we will put on weight (approximately one pound/week). On the flip-side if we burn 3000 calories per day and only eat 2500, we will lose about a pound a week. Simple math.

How does this effect me in my weight loss journey? I have started using the My Fitness Pal app again; I stopped on the vacation. This app (there are others out there) allows me to calculate how many calories I am ingesting, how many I am burning through exercise and activities of daily living, and suggests a proper calorie intake per day to achieve my goals. I have to be super-diligent to make sure I enter in the info in order to actually have this work. The app works on one simple principle as well: math. The numbers don’t and won’t lie.

We should all feel free to try different diet plans, but there are certain underlying truths:

  1. Eat less processed foods.
  2. Increase consumption of vegetables and fruits.
  3. Eat fats and carbs in moderation; try to switch out saturated fats for unsaturated fats.
  4. Burn more calories than you consume through eating.

I will keep you posted on my journey. The fact that yesterday was a Jewish fast day (17th of Tammuz) did help the cause, but I know there is a lot more work ahead to get me back to where I was pre-surgery.

Good thing I always did well in math class!

HIIT for Seniors?

A little reminder

What it is HIIT? It stands for High Intensity Interval Training, which means working out at a lower intensity for a given amount of time, followed by working out at a higher intensity for a given amount of time, in a cycle. For example, a person could walk for two minutes, run for 30 seconds, walk for two, run for 30, etc. HIIT has gotten a lot of hype because the research shows that it is an efficient way to work out.

HIIT now encompasses many modes of exercise. There are HIIT aquatics classes, weight training, and cardio applications. The results are that one can get the same benefit as a regular workout, but in a compacted amount of time…and the benefits can continue for a while after the workout ends. Research shows that when we raise our heart rate significantly, we can continue to burn calories at the higher rate for several hours. That is efficient! And that explains the popularity.

But is it OK for seniors? AARP ran an article on this topic last year: https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2018/high-intensity-interval-training-workout.html. Being a trainer “of a certain age,” I clipped out of the bulletin and took it into the gym, figuring I’d give it a shot.

For many of my hour-long sessions I start out with the beginner’s HIIT suggested in the article: 3 minutes low intensity, 20 seconds high intensity, 2 minutes low, 20 seconds high, 2 minutes low, 20 seconds high, and then 2 minutes of low–for a total of 10 minutes. Of course, how to do HIIT with seniors will differ with each person. A couple of my clients have advanced to the point that we now do 30 seconds high intensity at each interval. Depending on their ability, balance and agility, I use walking on the track, elliptical, NuStep, or a stationary bike. It is sometimes scary at the beginning since many seniors are not used to “pushing it,” for fear of a heart attack, or because they’ve been told that they are too old for that intensity of exercise.

Trainers and seniors alike should be cautious, but from my experience, HIIT can increase cardio capacity, affecting both endurance and power. As my clients progress, I will continue to tweak the formula. Although skeptical at first, I am a believer in HIIT for older adults when done appropriately. I have seen the results myself!

I’m a certified Functional Aging Specialist!

Readers may recall that I attended the IDEA Personal Fitness Conference – East at the beginning of April in Alexandria, VA. My main reason for going was to do the all-day training for the Functional Aging Specialist Certification. It was a great training (and I got CEC for it), but still needed to take three on-line exams in order to be certified.

I hoped that I would be able to pass all three by the end of April, but wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. Being laid up after foot surgery left me with more time on my hands so I decided to be productive. Many hours of reading and watching videos and I passed the last exam today! With four hours left in April!

As I blogged about earlier, FAI is in the forefront of fostering better practices and research in the realm of fitness for older adults. The focus is less on building muscle strength and more on working to keep older adults able to do the things they want and need to do. In other words, we address the wants and needs of our clients in order to keep them functional and independent. There is a greater emphasis on building muscle power (which helps with getting out of a chair or going up the stairs) as well as improving balance and reactivity time.

This will be very interesting for me since this is such a diverse population. Every senior presents with a different fitness and health history; there are 60-year-olds who cannot walk without assistance, and there are 80-year-olds running marathons. This kind of training requires more intense planning and specialization based on getting to know the client really well.

I will keep you posted on how this part of my “business” progresses. In the meantime, I look forward to a little celebration of my accomplishment!