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!

Not Going Back to the Gym?

Chicago-approved exit sign

The New York Times ran an article at the beginning of the year that addressed the changes that had occurred in the fitness industry–in particular with fitness facilities–since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It focused on individuals who decided to forego the gym and were willing to pay thousands of dollars for personalized workouts. The examples in the article were somewhat extreme, but they point to a significant trend that has been addressed in later publications as well.

Gyms are having a tough go of it. During the time when gyms were shut down, people invested in equipment to use at home; some spent heavily on products like Mirror, Peloton, weights, mats, etc. I have an elliptical in my home now too! The spending spree continued when gyms re-opened but much of the public was reticent to re-enter them. I work with some clients who have nothing more than a pair of 2-pound dumbbells, but I also have clients with an array of weights, exercise balls, resistance tubes, and cardio equipment such as recumbent bikes and treadmills. With so much invested at home, why return to the gym…and start paying those monthly fees?

Still, there was something that was missing. For many people, it is hard to stay motivated at home. There are those that worry that they may not be using the right equipment or using it correctly. Enter people like me, entrepreneurs who have stepped into the personalized virtual and in-person training domain. I started my business just under a year ago and left the gym where I worked a few months later; my schedule is almost completely full and the inquiries continue on a regular basis.

What I offer is more convenient, less costly, and no less effective. There is no monthly gym membership to pay in addition to my personal training fee; I have much lower overhead and can pass those savings along to my clients. There is no commute–either I come to the client’s home or we Zoom–which is an extra bonus for older adults. There is also no worry about whether the guy coughing on the next treadmill over has been vaccinated or not.

This business model is one that I imagined before the pandemic arrived; the events of the last 18 months only accelerated the demand for it. Offering a niche service–training only older adults–has put me in even higher demand. The next step is finding ever more innovative ways to meet seniors in the virtual and “real” world to help bring fitness to an often-overlooked demographic knowing that many senior adults will never go back to the gym. I am proud of the work that I am doing–and, more importantly, of the results my clients are seeing.

Not going back to the gym? You are part of a growing trend. The next question is: what are you doing to keep yourself fit and healthy as the pandemic drags on…and in the years beyond it?

HIIT Me Baby One More Time

Stopwatch

No, this is not about a Britney’s Spears song. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training; this is a form of exercise that combines short bursts of high energy exercise (usually for a fixed amount of time) with longer periods of rest or lower intensity exercise (also for a fixed amount of time). Generally, HIIT is used with aerobic or cardio workouts, but it can contain elements of resistance as well.

I have blogged previously about HIIT workouts. In the past, many in the fitness industry felt that HIIT workouts were inappropriate for older adults, but the most recent research shows that it can actually increase a person’s lifespan. As a general rule, the only people who should avoid HIIT workouts are those with injuries, women who are pregnant, or women who are 3-6 months post-partem (but consult your own doctor for specifics).

HIIT is an effective way to work with seniors who may not be able to sustain longer periods of aerobic activity, but who can still tolerate and benefit from intervals of higher intensity exercise. I often begin my workouts with older adults using a TABATA: 20 seconds of exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest with 8 sets incorporating two different exercises alternating. With other clients I may do a 5-minute HIIT comprised of 1 minute of low intensity walking, stationary bike, treadmill, or jogging-in-place followed by 20 seconds at a higher speed; this cycle is repeated 3 times with a minute of low intensity at the end. For a longer workout, the periods of high and low intensity can be adjusted; for example, one could do 2 minutes of walking followed by 30 seconds of easy jogging. As a client progresses, the higher intensity periods can be lengthened.

The advantage of HIIT is that if it is done for a long enough period (opinions vary), it can raise the heart rate and resting metabolic rate for an extended amount of time–as long as 24 hours! The body can continue to burn calories long after the workout is over. Even for shorter workouts, let’s call them “quickies,” it has the advantage of pushing the client to work more intensely but for a period of time that is manageable. A person may not be able to run for one minute straight, but they may be able to run 3 sprints of 20 seconds separated by a minute or two.

I will continue to explore ways that I can use HIIT workouts with my clients. Research shows that there are no downsides except that they should be limited (at least for HIIT workouts of longer than 20 minutes) to three times a week to prevent overtraining and/or boredom which would lead to demotivation to exercise. For my older clients, there are many advantages, most important among them that it can add to a person’s life expectancy.

Decrepit No More

Decrepit in the Rain

It was late 2020 when I got a call from a woman responding to an advertisement I had placed in the Cleveland Jewish News for my personal training business. She told me that primarily she was calling about her husband; he was in his mid-70s and in her words “decrepit.” Could I help?

I met with them, and after making all the proper arrangements began training with him 3 times per week for 30 minutes at their home. This was before vaccinations were happening so we were all masked up and training outside on the back deck when possible. I do not know if I would have used the word “decrepit,” but there were a lot of issues: balance, stamina, strength, and flexibility. I created a program specific to his needs and abilities and stuck with the plan.

It was tough going at first, but it was clear that progress was being made. It was proof to him and his wife–and to me–that we are capable of making positive changes in our levels of fitness at any age. It also demonstrated that the definition of “too far gone” needs to be rethought. Things for my client were looking great!

Unfortunately, he had a serious stroke a few months ago. I was worried that all of the progress would go down the tubes. On the contrary, the work we had been doing together helped prepare him to be successful at the inpatient rehab facility where he was for several weeks. He was their star student! Imagine my surprise when I started working with him again and he looked even better than before the stroke; of course, there was (and still is) a lot of work to be done to maintain and increase strength and mobility, but without a doubt between rehab and our workouts he was making a comeback.

Yesterday at his first workout of the week we commented on how he no longer looks or feels decrepit. It took about 8 months–and a stroke intervened–but this guy is proof that a supervised fitness program for older adults can be the difference between independence and decrepitude.

I know this is only one example, but I see progress with all of my clients. Word needs to get out so that older adults can begin to think differently about themselves and their fitness. As we age, we need be decrepit no more.

No Need to Accept Defeat as We Age

Phil Mickelson 18th Fairway T-shoot TPC 07

Something pretty exciting happened in sports just a couple of weeks ago. Golfer Phil Mickelson, who will be 51 in less than 2 weeks, became the oldest player to win the PGA Championship. This goes against the conventional wisdom that as we age, we are less able to compete and win in sports. This is no fluke, though. In fact a recent article shows the strategy that Mickelson undertook to be successful.

The story is not anything earth-shattering, but rather just a confirmation of what fitness professionals–especially those of us who work with older adults–have been saying for a while. Our bodies undergo changes as we age, but that does not mean we are powerless to counteract them. The article points to three main areas that Mickelson addressed and they are instructive for all of us.

First, among the changes we experience is often a change in metabolism. Some of us when we were younger were able to eat whatever we wanted and not put on weight; as we age, however, we must be more conscious of our nutrition. Mickelson was aware of this and if you look at pictures of him, you will see how much more fit he looks these days.

Second, mobility and strength need to be maintained and even improved. This is a big part of what I do with my clients. It is not enough to simply be flexible; one must also have the muscle power to go behind the movements. For years, older adults were told that it was dangerous to work out with weights; research now shows that as long as it is done in a responsible way, it is key to maintaining independence. Additionally, studies indicates that power training (combining resistance and speed/repetitive motion) is an effective way to boost fitness and even life expectancy.

Third, be certain to assess and re-assess the plan so that workouts and diet are appropriate. Doing the same thing every single workout without progression rarely leads to progress. On the other hand, overtraining can do more harm than good. In this regard, it is good to have a professional like a certified personal trainer to shape a program that will be safe and effective.

Phil Mickelson should be an example to all of us of what we can accomplish if we follow these guidelines. He is just one example, though; we all know that there are many older athletes out there who are pushing the limit and showing us just what is possible. No need to accept defeat!

As the Pandemic (hopefully) Winds Down, It’s Time to Get Back to Healthy Habits

It's Never Too Late to Create Healthy Habits

During the pandemic, many of us found it difficult to maintain healthy habits. In particular, eating and exercise became real challenges. Instead of packing a lunch or grabbing something at work in the cafeteria or a nearby restaurant (where portion control is potentially easier to control), most of us were at home with cupboards and fridges filled with food beckoning us throughout the workday. With many gyms closed and limitations imposed by social distancing, it was tough to keep up the workout routine without the switch to a virtual platform; being stuck at home also meant less walking and other activities that kept us moving. Most of us can see the results looking at the scale or in the mirror.

Now that the pandemic seems to be in its waning stage, what is the plan? How do we get back to good health and good habits? These questions are especially compelling for older adults, many of whom have been vaccinated and are eager to get out there and start “living” again.

Leave it to AARP to produce another excellent Bulletin with two great articles. The first one entitled “60 Ways to Live Longer, Stronger, Better,” offers a myriad of concrete steps older adults can take to get back on track including ways to boost brain and heart health, get back in shape, improve diet and relationships, be more resilient, and fight loneliness. 60 seems like a lot of suggestions, but they are broken down in such a way that the list actually seems do-able. The second article, “Exercise Al Fresco” is not yet available on-line, but is in print; it offers suggestions for ways to take advantage of fitness opportunities in the great outdoors. It was heartening to see that the article followed up on a blog post I wrote just four days ago entitled “Adult Playground?” That post discussed what is apparently a growing trend: playgrounds designed for older adults aimed at improving fitness; a sidebar in the article highlights AARP’s role in supporting this initiative.

The weather is improving. There are more and more opportunities (with increased vaccinations as well) to get back on track. 2020 was a disaster health-wise for so many of us; let’s make 2021 the year we recover and excel. Let’s make a plan to eat better, exercise, hydrate, and get plenty of rest. Building healthy habits leads to better outcomes–not just physically, but in so many other ways as well.

Certified Personal Trainer Anniversary

Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary Celebrations

That certainly snuck up on me. Today is the 3rd year anniversary of my becoming a Certified Personal Trainer.

I remember all the preparation that went into getting my certification. First, there was 10+ years of working with some excellent personal trainers who not only helped me to improve my level of fitness, but also modeled professionalism along with kindness and care. Next was a class at The Ohio State University in Columbus (where I lived at the time) to help me prepare for the exam; I remember that I was easily the youngest one in the class by 3 decades. Finally, there was a LOT of studying; I “fondly recall” my youngest daughter quizzing me with flashcards. The big day arrived, I went to the testing center, and after about 75 minutes hit the “submit your answers” tab. I was expecting to get my results immediately and then freaked out when it took me to a brief survey on the test-taking experience…after which I finally received the big “Congratulations!” I was so happy and relieved that I actually cried.

It was a long journey from being the unathletic kid always picked last to be on a team to the 30-something who began working with a personal trainer to the guy who worked out 6 days a week to the guy who entered and completed triathlons, 5Ks, obstacle course races, and half-marathons. To be certified as a Personal Trainer would have seemed as likely to my younger self as flying to Jupiter. I had, however, set a goal for myself and worked hard to reach it.

The last 3 years involved moving to a new city and beginning to work primarily in the fitness industry. I am thankful to the JCC here in Cleveland for providing me the opportunity to learn and gain experience. I am grateful to the folks at Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) who mentored me as I prepared to go into business for myself. I am appreciative of the vendors who have assisted me with my website, and the Cleveland Eastside Senior Network for camaraderie and referrals. I value my clients (one-on-one and group) as well as those who read my blog. Most importantly, I am grateful to my wife and family who have supported me through this unusual journey.

What is next? I look forward to continuing to grow my business. In particular, I plan to expand my footprint in the group fitness realm as well as making on-line content available for older adults. Thank God my health is great which allows me to keep doing the work I do. I hope to continue to make a positive impact on those around me.

I look forward to the next 3 year and beyond!

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.

More on Power Training for Older Adults

power

When some people think about older adults working out at the gym and/or with a trainer, they often think of exercises done at a slower pace with lighter weights. While it is true that the needs of older adults are different when it comes to fitness, this does not mean that we must train as if we are all fragile.

The November/December 2020 issue of Idea Fitness features an article on power training for older adults: “Power Up Your Aging Clients,” by Gilles Beaudin. When we talk about power, it means adding an element of speed to the workout. Power is force times velocity. We can employ force when doing an exercise; adding velocity increases the power.

During most of our lives, we employ power to get jobs done: pound in a nail, ride a bicycle, etc. Beaudin’s article references research showing that this does not necessarily need to decrease (or cease) as we age. The final words of the article sum it up: “What gets challenged gets trained. What gets used regularly is maintained.” This is an extension of the SAID principle–Specific Adaptation to an Imposed Demand. In other words, when we demand that our body does something, our body will adapt in order to do the job; it is specific because, for example, putting demand on our quads while bicycling may increase leg strength but it will not affect our rhomboids. The SAID principle applies throughout our lives; as long as we regularly make demands on our bodies they will respond and maintain (or build) our strength.

What does Power Training look like? Exercises may include box jumps, jump squats, push-presses, kettlebell swings, or battle ropes. Of course, it is always a good idea to consult a fitness professional to ensure that form is correct, load is appropriate, and that proper progression takes place.

Power to the people means power to the people, no matter the age.

The Upside of Instability

Rickety bridge - Alps High Route - Mt Blanc to Matterhorn

We are accustomed to thinking of instability as being a bad thing. I even wrote my senior thesis in college on the effect of economic, social and political stability on minority groups. As my research uncovered, stability is not always what it is cracked up to be.

This is especially true in the world of fitness and resistance training. It is even more so when we are dealing with older adults. A foundational principle in weight training is the idea of progression; adding more reps, sets, weight, incline or speed over time to increase or maintain muscle mass, or to enhance stamina.

We recognize this kind of principle in many areas of our lives; at our jobs, we rarely start out as CEO, but rather work out way up from the mailroom, etc. The more difficult the task, the greater our skills are developed.

Instability training is training that takes place on a surface that is not stable. Progression would typically advance from a stable surface to a less stable surface to an even less stable surface. For instance, at first a person might be instructed to do bicep curls on the floor–a stable surface. Next, the person might move to an instability pad (more solid than a pillow, but less stable than styrofoam); from there it might advance to a Bosu ball (ball up) and then to a Bosu ball (ball down). Each step involves less stability, forcing the legs and core to compensate in order to maintain proper balance and form.

A study published earlier in 2020 in Scientific Reports, shares interesting conclusions about instability training. Here is the link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-59105-0.

We have known about the benefits for balance–especially important as we age–but it now appears that there are cognitive benefits as well. Research conducted at University of Kassel in Germany shows that “mental fitness” improved for older adults when instability/balance training was included along with regular resistance training. That mental fitness meant “improved working memory, processing speed, and response inhibition.” (Response inhibition is the ability to control a response in order to reach a goal).

More and more, we are discovering the connection between physical activity and cognition. Those of us working with older adults can now add another benefit to the work that we do by including instability training if we do not do so already. And for those who already do, here is another reason why.