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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
In my last post, I tackled the question of cardio exercise and how to know if we are overdoing it or underdoing it.
Now, we turn to resistance or weight training.
The truth is that this is really a trick question…or at least a really complicated one with not nearly as simple a formula as in the case of cardio.
Here are some factors to take into account:
What are your goals in lifting weights?
Are you looking to merely “tone up” or “bulk up?”
Have you had injuries/illnesses that may affect your ability to do heavy lifting?
Are you using the proper form (at any weight)?
Related to the previous, are you in a safe environment where someone is able to spot you when necessary (i.e., be there in case you can’t get the weight back on the rack, or if you stumble, etc.)?
How much time do you have, or how efficient do you need to be with your time? Can you get to the gym or your weight set only 1-2 times per week or 4-6?
This will sound self-serving, but except for those with extensive athletic/weight training experience, it makes sense to be in touch with a fitness professional. There are, of course, ways of determining the proper weight given the goals that are sought. Once a proper weight has been found, though, most programs integrate progression; progression basically means making the workout more challenging either by increasing weight, the number of reps, the number of sets, or adjusting the degree of difficulty in another way. No matter what one’s goals, progression is a core principle, so knowing where to start is simply that: a start.
From a personal standpoint, you may remember that I had bicep tendon surgery 6 weeks ago. The amount of weight that I am able to lift with my right arm is way below what one would typically expect; in PT, I am up to 2 pound dumbbells for certain exercises. If all I cared about was huge muscles, this would make me crazy; it is a little frustrating, but I know that eventually I will be able to get to higher weights that will allow me to reach my own personal fitness goals.
In the end, whether you are working too hard or not hard enough is a very personal question. It is not one-size-fits-all. For best results, consult a fitness professional. Personal trainers are a great bet. Don’t be afraid to reach out; you’ll be pleased that you did.
OK. So this was not really the kind of growth I was looking forward to. I will admit that I have learned a lot about myself and those around me during the current COVID-19 unpleasantness. It has come at some cost to my fitness for sure as my waistline is growing too.
A few posts back I mentioned that I was going to give Intermittent Fasting a shot…and I did. I tried it for one week, but found it untenable. Most folks doing this choose to eat only from 11 am – 7 pm, while the rest of the time they only drink liquids. I teach a daily workout online (search Facebook for Kosher-Fitness) at 10 am and I’ve got to fuel up before that. We also usually sit down to dinner between 6:30 and 7:00 pm which doesn’t fit the schedule either. The real proof was (you should pardon the expression) in the pudding; I was continuing to put on weight.
This is totally to be expected since most of us are way less active now than we usually are. Typically at work as a personal trainer I am doing a lot of walking around with clients, demonstrating exercises, and sometimes even doing certain things right along with the person. Ironically, the workouts that I teach online are more strenuous than my typical exercise regimen. Even so, I’m still at a deficit when it comes to burning calories.
I’ve decided to follow the advice I give to my own clients. I am counting calories now. It’s not as bad as it seems; I’m using the My Fitness Pal app–which I have used on and off over the last year. I find that it benefits me in two ways at least. First, it makes me aware of just how many calories I am consuming–which is usually more than my ballpark guesstimates. Second, I’m too lazy to keep going to the app, so I simply decide not to have that little snack so that I don’t have to go through the trouble. It’s like keeping kosher–observing the Jewish dietary laws; I make myself much more aware of what I am consuming.
I will keep you posted on my progress. How are you all doing? Are you finding that you are growing in unexpected ways too? No one knows how long this will go on, but if we put on a pound a week for a couple of months, it will be a challenge to get back to where we were.
Finally, remember that weight is only one aspect of health and fitness. Don’t forget about maintaining strength and cardio-vascular health. Remember to be kind to yourself and care for your emotional self too. Staying healthy is a multi-level endeavor; don’t ignore any of those parts and pieces.