Category Archives: Exercise

Add strength to your routine

Sumo squat with weightYour exercise routine, that is! As we age, it is increasingly more important to keep your muscles in shape. We don’t want them to atrophy! Yes, cardio work is vital, but it’s been proven that a combination of cardio and strength is most effective for overall fitness.

Body weight exercises are effective!

I have a set of free weights at home, because I work out there. But using your body weight can be effective as a tool also. A push-up is an amazing exercise that works the entire body! And a modified push-up is almost as good. Start with 3 sets of 8 push-ups from your knees. Hands should be directly under your shoulders. Make sure that your stomach is as pulled in as it can be, your body a straight line from knees to head – keep your butt tucked under! I started not being able to do a full push-up. I started on my knees and when that became too easy, I progressed to one leg straight, switching legs periodically. And when I could do that without a problem, I tried full push-ups. Not for a whole set, but maybe one full push-up per set. Push-ups are great for the arms, the back, the abdominal muscles – you name it!

Planks!

Planks and plank variations are great total-body strengtheners too! Stay in that full push-up position for 10 seconds. Work up to 30 seconds. And then a minute! These are especially good for the abdominal muscles.

Uh oh! Triceps!

Our triceps muscles are a major concern for many women, especially. A good triceps exercise that doesn’t need special equipment actually uses a chair. Sit on a chair that doesn’t move (no office chairs here!). Slide forward and support yourself with your hands on the front of the seat, arms close to the body. Slowly bend your elbows and rise back up again. Feel those triceps?

Use that equipment!

If you belong to a gym, or are lucky enough to live somewhere with a fitness room that has equipment, try it out! Those machines can give an awesome workout. Just make sure you get good instruction from someone who really knows how to use them. You don’t want to hurt yourself trying to get fit!

What happens when you skip a workout

Sumo squat with weightLife happens! We’ve all been there. You have an early meeting, or a late meeting, you had to work late, or you have to take the dog to the vet. You usually work out on the weekend and you have a dog show. And you miss a workout. Guess what? Nothing happens!

Good news

Yes, nothing happens if you miss a workout. But don’t think that you can slide and miss a few! Not much happens in one to three days. According to “Tone It Up” trainers Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott, resting for a day is encouraged. Don’t beat yourself up, just get back on the bandwagon and take up where you left off with your workouts.

Too often missing a workout starts a cycle – “I missed one workout, and nothing happened. I didn’t gain any weight. I feel the same, so I think I’ll go shopping today.” Or, “I already screwed up, so I’ll eat more chips.” Don’t do it! Shift your thinking.  Instead say, “It’s OK that I missed one workout. My body needed the rest. I’ll crush it today and feel virtuous.”

Bad news

Liz Letchford, MS, ATC, PhD candidate and personal trainer says that missing a workout for more than three days starts the spiral of “performance decrease.” While this is most observable in weight trainers, all of us can experience it. That’s because the connection between your muscles and your brain becomes weaker the longer you don’t use it.

The Timeline

  • 3 days – as long as you don’t change your diet drastically, not much happens.
  • 10 days – you’ll start to lose muscle tone.
  • 2 weeks – you’ll start to lose muscle mass but not necessarily strength. (On vacations, try to fit in a couple of workouts to maintain your rhythm, so it’s not as hard to get back in the routine when you get home.)
  • 3 weeks – you’ll experience a loss in anaerobic power. You’ll notice it in running up the stairs or running to a building from the parking lot.
  • 4 weeks – you’ll start to lose aerobic capacity.
  • 6 weeks and beyond – you’ll notice a definite loss in power and you’ll feel more tired.

The Bottom Line

Definitely take a rest day every now and then. Enjoy it! During that rest day do some stretches, or exercises on the foam roller (my personal nemesis). Don’t defeat yourself with your diet on your rest days, and get right back to your regular workouts!

credit: Dominique Astorino

 

Prevent falls! My interview with Kathleen Cameron

Balance for Fitness, Balance for LifeI recently had the privilege of interviewing Kathleen Cameron, MPH, Senior Director of the Center for Healthy Aging, part of the National Council on Aging (ncoa.org), about balance, falls, and health as we age.

Kathy told me that older Americans’ falling is one of the most significant public problems today. It’s estimated that 25 to 33 percent of people over the age of 65 fall every year. About 25% of those who fall are injured. Most common are broken wrists or hips. Femur breaks are also common, even though the femur is one of the biggest bones in the body.

Falls are also the leading cause of traumatic brain injury, and can also exacerbate other problems to the point where the person never recovers, and may even die.

Falls certainly account for many trips to the emergency room, hospital stays and courses of rehabilitation. It’s estimated that falls have cost $31 billion every year.

A descending spiral

The fear of falling alone can restrict activities, although most falls occur at home. People become more isolated and fearful of leaving home, which can lead to depression.Those who suffer from depression can fall even more.

You can see the spiral here. A self-fulfilling prophecy. People fear falling so they don’t do the things which can prevent falls, which causes an increased risk of falling.

Good news

The good news is that many falls can be prevented. Staying active, starting as early in life as possible, can prevent falls. Regular exercise, including strength and balance work, also can prevent falls. (And people give me funny looks when I tell them about my balance work…)

Kathy says even entirely healthy people aged 60 and older are more prone to falls than those 10 to 20 years younger. Changes occur to the body in aging that contribute to falls. As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass and strength decreases. To counteract the effect, it’s even more important to combine strength exercises with our cardio and balance!

Pre-existing conditions

Many older Americans also suffer from chronic conditions – heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes – which also contribute to the risk. And medications that are prescribed for these conditions may have side-effects such as dizziness and drowsiness, which contribute to falls.

Once again, though, there is good news. If a healthy and fit 60-year-old does suffer a fall, his or her recovery may be easier than others’. I told Kathy about a recent fall of my own. I stepped on a rock funny in the dark, fell and skinned my shin. 2 weeks later, it’s all better except for a little scab. Kathy said that it’s probably due to the strength and balance work I do that my injuries were not worse and my recovery was so fast.

Practice helps!

Practicing balance truly does help to reduce the risk of falling. But it needs to be practiced on a regular basis – in fact, daily! Tai Chi is one example of exercise that improves strength and balance, but it must be practiced for at least 50 hours before it produces any benefits. Starting early will help later, but it’s never too late to start!

Yoga has not been studied specifically for reducing falls, but if you’re physically able to do it, it certainly can’t hurt. Balance and strength, which yoga improves, reduce the risk of falls.

Balance is a combination of many factors

Kathy said that balance combines many sensory inputs. Input from the eyes, ears, and touch are all integrated through the brain and output through the muscles. All of your senses combine to affect your balance.

Balance also has a psychological component which may be even more difficult to overcome. Fear of falling is a real problem for many. There is an evidence-based program, “A Matter of Balance,” that the National Council on Aging encourages, helps to overcome the psychological effect of the fear of falling. If you or someone you know has a fear of falling, I urge you to contact your local area Agency on Aging and take advantage of this program. Everyone should be able to enjoy the world as much as they want to!

Shoes make the woman (or man)

shoes are important in balanceFootwear makes a difference in balance. According to Kathy, high heels significantly increase the risk of falling – no surprise there. But going barefoot or in socks at home also increase the risk, due to a higher risk of slipping. Low-heeled shoes with firm, slip-resistant soles like rubber are recommended. And be sure to wear your glasses, even at home!

Vision plays a very big role in balance. Everyone should have their vision checked every year, and have their corrective lenses adjusted. Your home should be properly lit. Don’t sit in the dark! If you can’t reach a burnt-out light bulb, ask for help. Don’t climb on things to change it! Have a clear, well-lit path from the bedroom to the bathroom. There are attractive modern switches that dim or light a path. Use one!

Weighty matters

The obesity epidemic in America is also a factor in falls. People who are obese may be less physically active, they may not be as strong and their balance may not be as good. Kathy said, many obese people who fall feel hopeless and helpless, feeling that nothing can be done for them. Again, increasing the risk of more falls.

Obese people suffer from diabetes and arthritis at a higher rate, which leads to more pain and discomfort, which limits their activity, and increases the number of prescription medicines they’re on, according to Kathy. Some of these medications’ side effects increase the risk of falling. Pain medicine, for example, produces side effects such as sleepiness and dizziness, leading to more falls. Obese people also tend to be more depressed. Anti-depressant medication also increases the risk of falls. More dark spirals.

Common medications may increase your risk

prescriptions may cause fallsMany older Americans are on some form of medication that contributes to falls. Kathy says that even some common prescriptions can increase your risk because they are psychoactive in nature and affect the central nervous system.

Many opioid pain medications increase the risk. So do insomnia medications such as benzodiazepines, and blood pressure medication. As we get older, our bodies don’t flush out medicines as quickly as when we’re young. Dosage could be a factor that increases our risk of falling. Get your medications checked on a regular basis.

Get your orthostatic blood pressure checked – sitting versus standing. If there’s a significant drop when you stand up, that could be a problem in your medications or their dosage. Our bodies’ response to medication changes as we age.

Even over-the-counter medications can also increase your risk of falling. The active ingredient in Benadryl and other antihistamines can lower your blood pressure, causing you to be dizzy and fall. It’s also found in sleep medicine that you can buy over the counter. Non-sedating allergy medicines are recommended, especially for people over 60 and those with a higher risk of falling.

What to do

In terms of exercise, walking alone doesn’t reduce falls, Kathy says. Walking is certainly important for cardiac benefits, but it should be done in conjunction with strength and balance work. The CDC recommends 20 minutes or so of vigorous activity 4-5 times a week, and moderate- or high-intensity strength work 2 days a week that involve all muscle groups.

Before anyone starts an exercise program they should check with their doctor and start slowly. Set realistic goals and build slowly. If you haven’t exercised in the past, the “Stay Active and Independent For Life” (SAIL) program is good for older adults. Then progress to “EnhanceFitness” and “A Matter of Balance.” These are evidence-based programs and are promoted by the National Council on Aging.

On a personal note, I add balance work to my regular exercise, which combines cardio and strength work.

Draft your doctor to help

If you’ve been to the doctor and had a bone density test, and you’re fine – Kathy says don’t be complacent! Falls are caused by many factors. At your next visit, ask your doctor for a falls-risk screening and assessment. Be pro-active and know your risks. Less than half of older Americans talk to their doctors about falls and their risks, not realizing their doctors can help.

What’s our take-away?

Be active and stay active! Be sure to follow the CDC’s guidelines on exercise, and add strength and balance work to your regimen. Contact me for suggestions!

If you’re overweight and fall into the “obese” category, get physical and psychological support. We want you to be healthy!

get your vision checkedTalk to your doctor about fall prevention, especially if you have fallen, have a fear of falling, or feel unsteady on your feet.

Have your prescriptions monitored for interactions and side-effects that contribute to falls.

Get your vision checked once a year and your corrective lenses adjusted accordingly.

And turn your lights on!

Wear safe shoes – there are some cute ones out there… I checked.

Join my Facebook Balance CommunityBalance for Fitness, Balance for Life!

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Stay in control of your falls risk. You have the power to prevent a fall!

Like exercise? Not me…

Side plank in PiYo. Great for strength and flexibility.Many of you may be under the mistaken impression that I like to exercise. Ummmm… no. I post exercise pictures, sweaty selfies, my crazy circus moves (like the side plank, left) to motivate myself and anyone else who might be inspired to follow my example. But like exercise? No.

Why?

I exercise because I like to do other things.

I want to be able to train my dogs and compete with them in not only obedience, where you just have to run for a short distance, but in agility as well, where you run for a minute or so – remembering an obstacle course, and directing your dog to do those obstacles.

I want to take hikes in pretty places. and I want to be able to travel to those pretty places, preferably without pain and on my own two feet.

I don’t like to shop, so I want to spend as little time in grocery stores as possible. That means to check the produce myself and pick the good stuff, select all the other things necessary, maneuver my cart through the store, take the stuff out of the cart, put it in my car, bring it in my house and put it away myself.

I want to cook delicious meals for myself, my family and my friends. That means being on my feet for an extended period of time.

I want to go out with friends and family and not worry about being a hindrance to them.

I want to eat good food!

Exercising burns calories, so I can eat more good food. Including desserts (especially chocolate)!

I want to use my brain!

And I want to keep my cognitive function for as long as possible.

Short, effective workouts

So I exercise. I don’t particularly like it, but I do it. I’ve found that combining cardio and strength for a very intense 30 minutes 4 or 5 times a week is quite effective at keeping my joints happy, the weight off, and my brain going. 21 Day Fix Extreme works for me most of the time. (I find it easier on my knees than 21 Day Fix.) Every couple of months I do PiYo for a week, just for something different. But I don’t exercise to be entertained. I exercise for the outcome.

So, there you have it. I don’t like to exercise, but I do it.

Another good reason to exercise

Sumo squat with weightMy mom had terrible psoriasis patches on her elbows, down her forearms and ankles. She suffered horribly with the itching, and it hurt me to watch her. Those red, rough, scaly patches were unsightly to start with, and when Mom scratched at them, they bled and hurt.

Thanks, Mom

Psoriasis is somewhat hereditary. And I do get patches in the same spot on my elbows, from time to time. My outbreaks are nowhere near as severe as my mom’s were, but they’re still bothersome.

Why am I bringing up a horrible skin condition? Because exercise helps! I had patches on my elbows a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t think much of it since that happens from time to time.

Those rough patches are gone!

And I noticed today that those rough patches are gone!

When I first noticed the psoriasis weeks ago, and I have to be honest here, I had not been really putting my heart and soul into my workouts.

Get with the program

I picked up the pace, and have been much more diligent the last two weeks. I did a week of PiYo (my fave Pilates and Yoga combined workout program) and then this week I started 21 Day Fix Extreme. And today that psoriasis is gone.

Scientific proof

It’s not just my imagination, either. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have found that vigorous exercise can reduce the risk of psoriasis by as much as 30%! 2 hours of vigorous exercise a week is required to cut the risk – and walking doesn’t count. The researchers found that running and calisthenics helped the most. Psoriasis is an effect of chronic inflammation, which can be reduced by diet, and by regular exercise.

And running and calisthenics is what I get from the workout programs I mentioned earlier. So 30 minutes, 4 days a week, of calorie-busting exercise with my favorite DVDs is saving my skin, as well as giving me so many other benefits!

 

4 Things to Make Exercise a Habit

Fran in a cute workout outfit. Wearing cute stuff to work out in is one way to make exercise a habit - you look forward to wearing it!Most people I know don’t like to work out. I have to talk myself into it almost every day. But these tricks can help you every day make exercise a habit. You may not look forward to it, but you’ll be working out every day.

  1. Cool workout clothes. They always say that if you look good, you feel good. And having at least one great-looking workout outfit will make you feel spectacular. Every time you get a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, you’ll say, “Darn, I look good!” You’ll look forward to putting on your spiffy workout clothes and doing your workout.
  2. Look beyond the workout. You’ll feel wonderful when you finish your workout. You may not want to start your workout because you know it’ll be hard, so look ahead a half hour. Yes, your hair may be a mess when you’re done, and you may stink to high heaven. But you’ll feel amazing! Your cheeks will be flushed, your eyes will be bright and you’ll feel like you can take on a whole football team and win!
  3. Your cool workout clothes and your sneakers will be staring you in the face. And you don’t want your free weights to get lonely, do you? And if you work out at home like I do, you only have to push “play” to start. No commute time or anything. And you’ll be done and feel amazing (see #2. above) in no time.
  4. Set tiny, achievable goals each day. If your workout has a set of 10 pushups and you’ve been doing them on your knees, do one full pushup. Or if you’ve been using 3 pound weights for curls, try a set with your 5-pounders. Or try jogging for a half-minute when you’ve been marching. Pretty soon you’ll be doing the full workout, and you’ll have to buy heavier weights!

A late workout is good!

Side kick in a Turbo Jam workoutI work out in the late afternoon. Many advocate an early-morning workout since distractions may be fewer, but late afternoon works for me. And it turns out that I may have inadvertently stumbled onto the most effective workout time!

  1. Better sleep when working out later. Studies have shown that those who lift weights later have better sleep than those who exercise earlier.
  2. Those who work out later have more muscle growth and better endurance.
  3. A study in Journal of Strength Conditioning Research found that those who exercise later lowered their blood pressure by 15% more than those who work out earlier.
  4. A study from The New England University of Birmingham found that those who work out in the evening can go 20 percent longer and at a higher intensity. So, more calories burned!
  5. Your body will be ready to work out later in the day! Studies have found that cortisol levels (which inhibit muscle growth) are higher in the morning, but testosterone levels (which boost muscle growth) are higher in the evening.

So, I’ve been on the right track all along.

But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t work out if the best time for you is the morning. Any workout is better than none!

I break my own rule – constantly

You know how I just told you to find a workout you love and you’ll be more likely to do it? Well, I don’t do that. I found results that I love and do the workout program that created them!

Reality check here – I hate working out. No, really! I’d much rather be reading a book than sweating and squatting. I’d rather be training my dogs than doing lunges. I’d rather be writing … anything … than doing bicep curls.

But I do it because I love to eat. I do it because I do love to train my dogs. I love to run agility with my dogs. I love to hike in new destinations. I love being able to run up and down the stairs five hundred times because I forgot … whatever … or I have loads of laundry to do.

And I love not having knee pain, back pain, hip pain. I stumbled in my dog agility class the other night. (I’m not the most graceful person, and some of the moves our instructor had us doing were a little complicated.) I didn’t fall, but I could feel the stress on my knees, ankles and shins. I thought to myself – well, tomorrow’s going to be an Aleve day! But it wasn’t. No pain.

Of course, I do like seeing more definition in my arms and abs. I like that my pants are feeling looser in the hips and tummy.

And it just takes 30 minutes a day in the basement for me to do an insane workout. Yup, a lot of days I don’t feel like working out, but I do it because it is just 30 minutes. I know that I’ll feel virtuous for having exercised. And that shower afterward feels SO good!

Burn more calories every day

cross_jumpHere are a couple of easy tips. First, work out in the morning. You’ll burn more calories! Why? Since you’re more rested, you’re probably working harder and you may be exercising a little longer. Fewer rest breaks, too. It’s more convenient for me to exercise in the afternoons on most days. It’s just how my day goes. I understand that I’m burning fewer calories, and I may be taking an extra rest break. But when I’m done, the stress from my day is gone and I feel so much more virtuous!

Increase your speed and you’ll burn more calories! If you’re walking or running, add in a sprinting interval and up the speed. You can do this even if you’re doing a video. Double time it! And make sure you’re swinging your arms – you’ll up the calorie burn by as much as 15%!

See a flat surface? Do some counter push-ups! When you’re picking up a few things at the grocery store, use a basket rather than a cart and you’ll be working your arm muscles (biceps and triceps). Adding strength moves is a good idea since more muscle mass increases the calorie burn. Also, take the stairs when you can. Work your abs by sitting on an exercise ball rather than a traditional chair!

Find a workout you love, and you’ll do it!

sword_pullDo you hate to work out? The thought of exercise sends you running to the store until it’s too late to work out? You  know that exercise is good for you … and you really, really meant to go for a run this morning, but the kids were naughty, the dog threw up …

Yes, exercise is good for you. It’s good for your heart, it helps bring down your stress level, you’ve even heard that it’s good for your brain (that part is true, too, by the way!). But you hate running and jumping.

That’s OK. The key is to find an exercise program that you enjoy. Do you like music? Do you love to dance? Terrific! There are loads of dance-based workouts available. You like music but still don’t like jumping around? There are even ballet-based workouts.

Do the martial arts intrigue you, but you don’t want to fight anyone? Me neither. There are some great martial arts-based exercise programs. Chances are if you check out a local Krav Maga studio, they’ll have a fitness-type class in their schedule. A serious workout with martial arts flair.

Do you like the idea of yoga, but not all the touchy-feely stuff? Call a few local yoga studios and chances are you’ll find the perfect class for you.

The point is, whatever your interests are, you’ll find a workout that you’ll love. Need suggestions? Contact me!