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.

A New Venture!!!

I am thrilled to announce the opening of my new venture: At Home Senior Fitness, LLC.

At Home Senior Fitness offers at-home and on-line personal training and fitness guidance for older adults. Individual sessions and the overall fitness plan are personalized and focus on maintaining and increasing strength, mobility and balance. All workouts are conducted in a safe setting under the direction of Certified Personal Trainer, Functional Aging Specialist and Rabbi, me! AHSF is not a one-size-fits-all service, but rather meets clients where they are in terms of fitness, motivation, equipment available–and in their own homes within Cleveland’s east side suburbs or virtually. AHSF is the fitness solution for older adults seeking convenience, safety, excellent customer service, and results.

I look forward to working with you and receiving referrals you might have.

Visit my website for more details. http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net

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!