Don’t abandon strength work!

One legged weighted squat. Don't stop moving!I’ve emphasized the importance of exercise for years. Exercise, along with watching your calories, will help you to lose weight. Many have focused on cardio work since no equipment is needed to get a great workout. I’ve even talked about how much I despise the two days of running I do every week.

But the other days I exercise I focus on building strength. You don’t need free weights or barbells. You don’t need a medicine ball or a kettle ball. You can get a great strength workout with your own body weight. Think of planks and pushups. Yoga and Pilates also use body weight to build strength.

Building muscle mass is great for your metabolism – the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Women – don’t worry! You won’t bulk up!

And when you build strength, you’re doing your bones a favor too. In fact, a study showed that when post-menopausal women participated in a strength training program for a year, their bone density in the hips and spine increased significantly!

In a subject close to my heart, strength training also helps maintain balance and coordination, which helps to prevent falls!

I do have a set of free weights – ranging from 2 pounds to 15. I use the smaller ones for exercises that target the smaller muscles, or when I’m doing lots of repetitions, or for faster exercises. The larger ones I use for bigger muscle groups – like holding for deadlifts or bicep curls. Instead of combining two smaller weights for French curls (to work the tricep muscle), I use a 15-pound weight. You know that I use videos to exercise with (they keep me on track), and the programs that I like the best are the ones that combine cardio and strength work.

Comment below if you’d like to see my favorite strength training exercises.

Effortless movement

Play with your dog to relieve stress!Is effortless movement a goal for you? Do remember fondly when you were able to go from here to there without even thinking about it? Do you want to get back down on the floor and play with your dog or the grandkids?

What’s holding you back? Are your joints bothering you? Your back hurting? Knees? If a doctor hasn’t told you to limit your movement, then chances are you should start moving!

It used to be that when you hurt your back, bed rest was prescribed. Now the medical community is in favor or movement!

And the last thing I wanted to do when my knees hurt was get up and walk.

And when my back and hips were in spasms, I could barely get out of a chair without a heating pad.

But I hung onto a table and stood up, holding that heating pad on my back, and took a couple of steps. Then I put the heating pad down and took a couple more steps. Hunched over, leaning onto my thighs at first. And then I sat down again on that heating pad. But an hour later I made myself do it again. And then next day the pain wasn’t quite as bad. So I moved some more. And the day after that I could go a little further. And a couple days later I didn’t need the heating pad.

You get the idea. That old adage, “use it or lose it” applies! The more you move, the easier it is to move.

I’ve told you that I started running on the treadmill a couple days a week to increase my speed and endurance for agility competition? I still hate it, but I’m getting better at it. And I am getting a little faster. And my knees don’t hurt.

I also learned to strengthen my core and improve my balance to strengthen my back. And I haven’t had spasm (knock on wood!) in a couple of years. If you’d like to improve your balance and strength, a great first step is doing the Week of Balance. Click on the box to the right for your free, downloadable .pdf for your copy.

No home gym!

I’ve talked quite a bit about the fact that I exercise at home. No commute time. No one cares how my hair looks. No makeup. A tatty t-shirt and shorts. And the dogs help.

I live in a tiny little house in a Chicago suburb. Where do I exercise in my tiny house? In the basement. It is finished, and that’s a plus. It’s not mandatory – you can work out anywhere, but finished walls are nice. But my little exercise space doesn’t even have a full ceiling – we had to take out some tiles when work was being done. No overhead lighting – a lamp suffices.

We did put in some kids’ play mats on the floor, and that’s helped my bad knees immeasurably! The exercise space is about 10 feet square. It could even be a little smaller.

That’s really all you need to workout – a free space, good floor and enough light that you don’t feel like you’re in a cave. All the rest is luxury. What is essential, though, are good shoes for working out. Using shoes that don’t support your feet properly can be uncomfortable, make your feet tired, or worse, cause an injury.

I like to work out using DVDs, so I have a TV and DVD player in my space. I’ve mentioned that I lost a lot of weight and gained a lot of strength with 21 Day Fix Extreme. Equipment needed for that is a set of light and medium or heavy free weights and a resistance band. Cheap enough, and easy to come by.  PiYo (Pilates / Yoga plus movement to music – another exercise program I use) really only uses a yoga mat. Some of the workouts use free weights, but they’re not strictly necessary.

And when I’m done, I just go upstairs, strip off my exercise clothes and hop in my own shower. And that’s the best!

“Best Exercise for Aging Muscles”

I saw that headline and sat back. Yeah, I guess that’s me! Aging muscles… Sounds kind of rude. Accurate but rude!

As we get older, it’s true, cells deteriorate. So what can we do to slow that progression down or even stop it?

Use it or lose it!

There are lots of studies out there that prove this. I’m not going to bore you with statistics. But, you know – if your knees get stiff you’ve got to get up and walk around. If you’ve pulled something in your back, you know your doctor told you not to rest – get up and move! It’s harder to lose weight too as we age. Yes, eating less is imperative, but so is movement!

As I’m writing this I feel myself slumping. I wrote about this last week – every few minutes I have to think about sitting up straight and pulling in my stomach. Once an hour it’s helpful to get up, walk around, drink some water. It’s good to get your body moving and it’s good to hydrate!

And, if you really want to help your muscles and your mind – because lots of studies have also shown that exercise helps keep your brain young – do a focused period of exercise. Intense exercise is better than leisurely, but any exercise is better than nothing!

An exercise program that you like – or at least find interesting – is better than one you don’t like. You’ll stick with it and get better results from the program. My running is the exception – I run a couple of times a week on the treadmill to improve my speed and endurance for dog agility. I still hate it. But I do it because I know it does help. And I’m starting to get better at it. I do enjoy the audio books I listen to while I run, and that certainly helps keep me motivated to run.

Exercising in an hour? Have a cup of coffee!

It’s not just for breakfast any more! Coffee can improve your workout, researchers have shown. Researchers conducted a study in which a sample of inactive men were monitored biking with and without caffeine. While the men said they put forth the same amount of energy whether or not they had consumed caffeine, the results revealed faster cycling rates after caffeine consumption. Another set of researchers conducted a study and found participants who had caffeine before a workout had an easier time holding back cravings. In fact, those who had caffeine ate 72 calories less after the workout than those who hadn’t consumed the stimulant.

I don’t think it’s surprising. The caffeine in a cup of coffee will boost your energy and help you stay awake, so it’ll give your workout a boost too. You don’t even realize that you’re working harder. If you’re not sleepy, then you can pedal (or run) faster. The caffeine also boosts your stamina – letting you work longer, getting in that extra mile (or half-mile for me!)

Heidi Skolnik, a sports nutritionist, also says that coffee also increases the release of dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters. So you can work past what you might otherwise perceive as pain or weakness. The benefit of coffee to your workout starts about an hour after you drink it.

Now, don’t go crazy! Putting in lots of cream and sugar or other calorie-laden additions might taste really good, but the extra calories will outweigh any benefits the caffeine will give you. A little milk is good though – the protein and carbohydrates it adds will help kick-start your brain!

And remember to drink water while you’re exercising. It’s important to stay hydrated, and coffee alone won’t do that! Get a good night’s sleep, and drink plenty of water and you’ll get the most benefit from your workout.

Want killer abs? Or just a strong core?

I’m past the age that I want to show off my midriff. Yes, that’s me – hopefully showing that it is possible to get a toned tummy with hard work! This is pre-workout (no sweat!) and I just snapped the picture to show that it’s possible at any age to get the results you want if you work for it!

I was never a bikini girl, and the only 2-piece bathing suits I wore kept that part covered! But I still want a strong core. A flatter stomach would be nice too.

And, I’ve talked about it before but it’s true! A strong core means a stronger back! If you want less back pain, work on your core! Have you ever felt that twinge when you bent over and felt something in your back? Me too. Less now than I used to, thankfully. A few years ago I had spasms when my sciatica acted up. (I sound so old… Bursitis and sciatica…)

But I’ve been working to make my core stronger and it doesn’t take sit-ups or crunches! Professional trainer and dancer Jennifer Williams says that a toned midsection will improve your posture, relieve back pain (I can vouch for that!) and even help maximize toning of other parts of your body when you work out.

Here are five easy ways to work your abs all day for a strong core and a strong back!

Suck it in all day! Whenever you think about it, contract your abdominals, flex them, contract them – make them work! This will add so much strength to your core. Every so often, when I finish part of a task, I focus on pulling in my stomach. I do get distracted (SQUIRREL!) and sometimes let go, but then I re-focus and tighten.

Stand tall! Correcting your posture when you think about it also strengthens your core. Pull in your stomach, and feel yourself lifting up higher.

Sit up straight! We all tend to slouch when we’re sitting down. When you’re at your desk, focus on sitting up straight and pulling in your abs. Make sure your posture is erect and controlled. Pulling in your abdominal muscles gives them a workout when you’re not at the gym.

When you exercise, exhale sharply. You’ll feel your abdominals pulling in. Hold them there! On each exhale, think about pulling them in more. You’re not only working your abs more, your breathing during your workout is better, so your session will be more effective.

When you’re doing your abdominal exercises, focus on the deepest muscles. You may not be able to feel them, but they’re under the top layer of muscles and they’re the ones that will give you a flatter stomach! I’m focusing on those! Easier said than done – I still can’t feel those deep transverse muscles, and I’ve been trying to strengthen my core for years…

So, no matter what you’re doing, you can work your abs for a strong core and a stronger back!

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.

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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.