I’m a Contributor

It’s official! The latest issue of Northeast Ohio Boomer & Beyond is out and I am proud to be an official “contributor” to this publication on matters of Fitness for Older Adults.

In speaking with the editors several months ago, they told me that they had felt that this topic was one that had been missing from the magazine. Luckily, someone in the advertising department was a client of mine at a gym where I worked previously and recommended me. I have been interviewed for radio programs and articles in the Cleveland Jewish News on older adults and fitness, but this is my first regular gig. Now I will appear in every forthcoming issue; the magazine is published six times per year. Additionally, some of my blog posts will be featured on their website.

I am honored to have been chosen to be a regular contributor. It is always satisfying to be recognized for one’s hard work and expertise.

If you are in NE Ohio, check it out or hit the link above to see the article.

Losing a Client

yahrzeit-candle-250w-2_resized_1

Most personal trainers worry at some point about losing clients. If they leave for another gym, another trainer, move out of town, or just decide to stop training it can be a hit–not only to our wallets but also to our egos. There are other circumstances, however, when none of that really matters.

Just a couple of weeks ago, one of my clients passed away. When I began specializing my personal training career to only working with older adults, I knew that the day would come when this would happen. This client had a number of health issues; in his younger years, though, he enjoyed athletic activity and overcame some serious injuries. His long-term outlook was not good. In the short-term, however, his family felt he would enjoy working with a trainer at the fitness center where he lived.

Each client comes with his/her own capabalities and limitations, and he was no different. I enjoyed the challenge of putting together different workouts each week for him. I understood that there might not be room for great improvement in his mobility; at the very least, we would be working to maintain the levels where he was. I was impressed by the effort he put in; I know the workouts were not easy, but athletes almost always love and are up for the challenge.

About a month ago, he called me and told me that he had tested positive for COVID-19 so we would have to skip the session that week. I checked back a week later and his wife said that things look bad. A few days later he was gone. I received a text from a family member with the news, and a thank you for having made a difference in the short time we worked together.

In the fitness world (as in most industries), we talk about the importance of results. With regard to our own health and fitness, we know that there is much we can do to influence our own personal situations. In the end, however, we all succumb to the impermanence of our physical state. Does that mean that the work I do with older adults is in vain…or worse a scam? On the contrary, if I can add independence, value, and fun to someone’s life, this means something. We all know what our end will be; what we do not know is what will happen between now and then. I am proud that I am able to help my clients remain more vibrant, capable, and independent so that they can get the most out of that “between now and then.”

The loss of this client was a humbling experience for me. It makes me realize how crucial it is for me to do my work well. It also taught me that the working with clients is about more than just results or the “business;” it is also about the relationships that can be built and the difference that can be made.

Rest in peace, friend. I imagine you are up there somewhere tossing a football around with friends, no longer limited by the toll that time has taken on your body. Thanks for the time and effort you put into our time together. May your memory be a blessing.

It’s Not Your Age That’s Slowing Your Metabolism

Metabolism

Older adults are used to hearing that a natural part of the aging process is that our metabolism will slow down; the metabolic rate is the rate at which our bodies burn calories in order to keep our vital systems functioning and allow us to do the things we do on a regular basis. As we age, most of us find that slowly but surely our weight increases; it seems that as our metabolic rate decreases (assuming everything else stays the same, like exercise and diet) the pounds begin to add up. We are just not burning calories at the rate that we used to.

An article in Science, reports that our assumptions are actually incorrect. Our metabolism is not slowing as we get older simply because we are aging, but rather because a number of other factors come together to decrease our levels of activity. Leading a more sedentary lifestyle due to work, home responsibilities, technology–and even the pandemic–is behind those decreasing metabolic rates.

A recent article on http://www.cnn.com, explains the issues and concludes that this research is good news for older adults. If aging is behind our decreasing metabolism, then there is nothing we can do to reverse its effects; we are simply stuck in a downward spiral. What the research shows is that we actually have it in our control to maintain and increase our metabolism as we get older.

The article suggests four main strategies:

  1. Be active throughout the day. Many of us spend hours at a time at a desk (or on a couch) with little movement. Even little bursts of activity throughout the day can raise metabolic rates.
  2. When you exercise, do the right types for maximum metabolic effect. HIIT exercises are recommended because they raise the metabolic rate and keep it elevated even after the workout is over; check out my blog post on HIIT for more info. Additionally, strength training (working with weights and other types of resistance) has a similar effect.
  3. Make sure to get enough protein in your diet and keep hydrated. The simple act of eating increases our metabolic rate because it takes calories for the digestive system to do its job; consuming proteins (especially after a workout) can help to build muscles which cause us to burn more calories. Drinking water–aside from its other positive assets–can raise our metabolic rate too.
  4. Get plenty of rest. Not sleeping enough can lead to a myriad of health problems. Allowing our bodies to adequately refresh and re-energize can help counteract the negative effect of these maladies. It is recommended that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.

Metabolic rate decreases are not a done deal as we age. There is much we can do to counteract the effects of being sedentary, not exercising enough, eating a poor diet, and being overtired. It is all in our power–not part of some process beyond our control. This is good news indeed!

What Could Possibly Go Wrong (Part II)

Two Vintage Red Cross Bandage Boxes

In my last blog post, I wrote about ways to keep yourself safe while working out at home–focusing on having a safe and secure workout space.

Preventing injury requires more than just cleaning up a large enough space and getting possible obstacles out of the way. There are factors to take into account both at home, and at they gym to consider. An article in at http://www.aarp.org points out 5 issues to bear in mind when embarking on a fitness journey; these factors are especially relevant for older adults.

  1. Start slowly. With New Year’s Resolutions on the horizon many of us may resolve to start working out more often. Going from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds may be great for a sports car, but our bodies require us to move forward gently–especially if we have been sedentary for a while. Working out for too long, too often, or with weights that are too heavy is a recipe for injury. Muscles need to get used to the new routine; they need to grow and strengthen before we get more intense. Ease into it.
  2. Speaking of going from 0 to 60, every workout should begin with a warm-up. Typically, a before-workout warm-up should involve dynamic stretches or motions; in other words, they should be comprised of actions similar to those you will do as part of the workout, just at a slower, more gentle pace. The goal is to warm up the muscles and get the blood flowing throughout the body. Static stretches can be done after the warm-up, or (as I prefer) after the workout; static stretches are the ones where you hold a certain position for a given amount of time.
  3. Get the right athletic footwear. Shoes are like tires; some work better in different situations, and some only work on certain models. As we age, many of us develop issues with our posture and the rest of our kinetic chain (think of the hip bone connected to the thigh bone…); proper athletic footwear can help us excel, avoid pain, and stave off injuries. Like tires, they also have a mileage limit; if the treads on your shoes are gone, time to get new ones. I recommend going to a shoe store that only sells athletic footwear; their employees are trained and can get you the right fit for whatever quirks your feet might present. Do not let me catch you barefoot or in socks!
  4. Switch it up. Do not do the same exercise day in and day out. First, you will get bored. Second, you may cause injuries due to overuse. It is also important to work all the various muscle groups; varying the workout can help make that happen.
  5. My favorite one: if you are not sure about how to begin, reach out to a fitness professional. Most gyms have personal trainers or other fitness experts who are happy to help; often, an initial session is offered for free so that you can get acquainted with the gym and its equipment. If you prefer to work out online or one-on-one with a trainer at home, there are personal trainers who specialize in these kinds of settings–and you will probably save money not having to pay for a gym membership. A trainer will make sure that you cover most of the points above and will help keep you on track. There’s nothing like a good personal trainer to keep you accountable to your goals.

Of course, injuries do happen. Sometimes there are accidents, and other times we have physical weaknesses of which we are not aware. While there are no guarantees, the points above are certainly excellent guidelines to keeping your workout–at home or at the gym–less likely to cause an injury.

One Year as a Self-Employed Trainer

Champagne

Today marks one year since I left my position as a trainer at the local JCC. I had worked there for over two years and it was the first position I got after my certification. I am grateful for the friendships and experience that I got, and that management was willing to take a risk in hiring an “old guy” like me. Being new to the Cleveland area, it was a great way to connect with the local Jewish community as well.

In late summer 2020, though, I decided that I wanted to branch out and try training privately. It was certainly slow at first, but the pandemic actually helped. Many folks felt uncomfortable/unsafe going into fitness facitilies and either wanted to train virtually or one-on-one at their home. Within a few months it was apparent that I was onto something; there was a need for someone who worked exclusively with older adults, understood their particular needs, was affordable, and convenient. I knew it was a big leap to go out on my own, but I also knew that, as they say in Yiddish, “you can’t dance at two weddings.” In other words, it is difficult if not impossible to grow a new business while still employed somewhere else. If I wanted to At Home Senior Fitness to thrive, I would need to give it my full attention. November 15 was my last day at the JCC and I have not looked back.

I am really happy to report that I have a full book of clients. I am working with a great group of older adults and am gratified to see the progress they are making. I have clients from as far west as the Bay Area in California and as far east as Ashkelon in Israel. I am training virtually, in-home (within 5 miles of my home), and leading a regular fitness class on-line three times/week. My clients range in age from 58 to 93. Some are quite agile and active; others are recovering from strokes and other serious health conditions. A hallmark of At Home Senior Fitness is that the program is never “one size fits all;” each client has a fitness plan designed especially for them that will keep them safe, injury-free, and working toward their goals.

The biggest news is that I was recently tapped by a local publication for older adults to be their “expert” on fitness. I will be a regular contributor with a column appearing in each issue. This is really exciting and a great opportunity to expose many seniors to the idea of keeping fit as we age. I will share more details as I am able.

I look forward to what the next year will bring. Stayed tuned for more exciting announcements about what is planned for 2022.

Finally, a big thank you to my clients and to all those who have supported me on this journey (especially my patient wife!). You all give me a reason to be up and at ’em each day!

This $h!t Really Works!

Waimaku Falls

This is the view that greeted us last week after a one-hour uphill hike at the Haleakela National Park on Maui in Hawaii: the Waimaku Falls. Of course, this picture does not do it justice; there are actually three separate falls cascading 400 feet into a clear cool pool that empties (eventually) into the Pacific Ocean. This was not an easy hike; there were lots of steps, stones to climb up, and a few slippery spots. The views were magnificent and part of the hike passes under a giant banyan tree, while another section traverses a bamboo forest. Simply breathtaking and unforgettable!

As a personal trainer working with older adults, I have noted that my clients have different motivations for why they choose to exercise, and why with a personal trainer. One of the key reasons is that they want to be able to remain active and do the things they enjoy for as long as they can. A significant number enjoy traveling (whether on vacation or to see family), and they want to be able to get up and go…instead of just sitting on a couch. Not all of my clients would be able to climb up to Waimaku Falls, but a good many would. Earlier in the week we saw a fair number of older adults climbing to the top of Diamond Head in Honolulu. It was impressive. A regular (and supervised) exercise routine can help make this a possibility.

This past May, I had a pretty major operation. The trip to Hawaii was planned before I knew this surgery would take place. My regular fitness routine helped with my recovery and made it possible for me to do these two hikes without really thinking too much about it–aside from sunscreen and water. Additionally, I was able to snorkel, walk long distances, and even take surfing lessons! I hope that I never take for granted that the work I put into keeping myself fit makes all of these adventures possible. I do appreciate that it allows me to be able to keep up with my pre-K and elementary-aged nieces and nephew. I am proud that I rarely have to ask: am I up to it at age 58?

More adventures are planned for the future (God-willing). There are more reefs to snorkel, More mountains to climb. More journeys to begin. I sometimes have wondered whether the exercise and proper nutrition are worth the trouble, but after these last couple of weeks in Hawaii, I have concluded: this $h!t really works!

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.