Category Archives: Fitness

Lazy? Procrastinator?

Yup, that’s me! My sister says I’m not lazy, but here it is, more than a month since I’ve posted here and I feel terrible about it.

Paper and pen!

I have tried to be consistent, but obviously that’s not working on its own. I need help! So I’m going to be using a real, paper, appointment book, and using pen and ink, to remind me every day to write. I may not post here every day, but I’ll be writing and polishing.

They say that you have to do something consistently 30 times or so before it becomes a habit. The same thing, at the same time every day. I’ve gotten to the point where exercise has become a habit. I don’t enjoy it, but it’s a habit, and I feel like something’s missing if I miss more than a day of exercise. I don’t even have to schedule it on my calendar.

So, I’ll be writing my little heart out every day at 9:00 in the morning for about a half hour.  I don’t know the topics, yet. Very often I just “write off the cuff,” as it were, and that could be the problem. Too often I think to myself, “I should write a blog post,” and then can’t think of a topic… What might work is keeping a topic list and consulting that when nothing occurs to me.

Organization module?

I’ve toyed with the idea of having an “Organization” module – heaven knows I need one that works for me. I’ve tried many, and have been enthusiastic about it at first but it becomes too much and I drift away.

I’ve discovered that part of “Fitness” is having a fit mind – and if I’m completely disorganized, I feel that I’m falling down on my fitness.

So, anyone out there who’s reading this – how would you feel about including “Organization” as part of “Fitness?”

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!

Got sleep?

We all know that sleep is important for our health and fitness. And we don’t get enough of the right kind of sleep. We have trouble falling asleep. We have trouble staying asleep. And then we have trouble getting back to sleep. Lack of sleep affects our health. We’re sluggish, don’t move as much, eat more. Our productivity is diminished.

About sleep

There are three phases of sleep: light, deep and REM (rapid eye movement). We usually start with light sleep and move to deep sleep. Then it’s back to light sleep and REM, when we dream.

The cycle

Deep sleep happens most during the first part of the night usually, and is very hard to wake from.  You’ll spend about a quarter of your night in deep sleep and a quarter in REM, which is easy to emerge from.

Deep sleep helps you feel rested

You can survive on just light sleep and REM, but deep sleep is the phase that helps you feel most rested. It’s what we crave from spa treatments and pills

Pills won’t do it!

But we can’t rely on pills to take us into deep sleep. Too often when we wake from a medicated sleep we feel foggy.

Try a cave!

If you want real deep sleep, turn off all your lights. Make your bedroom a cave.

Meditation works too! If you’re new to meditation and have heard of its benefits, try guided meditation – send me a message and I’ll email you one of the short guided meditations I’ve created in mp3 format. They’re restful and soothing (and free). Just the thing to help you sleep!

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!

Be sure to subscribe to Fran’s newsletter for news, tips, recipes and (sometimes) fun stuff!

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

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!

5 Reasons to Get Up!

I have a (mostly) sedentary job. I work at a computer, so I’m sitting most of the day. When you reach a certain age … you expect to get stiff and for things to fall asleep if you stay in one position for too long. And when you have bad knees and bad hips, you KNOW that you’re going to be stiff when you get up. But it doesn’t have to be that way, if you’re diligent.

Get up every hour and walk around for a couple of minutes. It doesn’t have to be a long march around the block, or a hike in the woods. Just for a couple of minutes. I walk to the front of the shop and back a couple of times (our miniscule shop is less than 500 square feet). That’s all it takes for me to feel looser. But on nice days, I might take the phone with me and walk outside a little bit. A little Vitamin D helps too! If your hips feel especially tight, stretch out those hip flexors, like the stretch in the photo. I feel this where my hand is.   And take a drink of water every time you sit back down – you’ll need to get up in about an hour! So, how does getting up and moving around help?

  1. Get up and move around to loosen things up! Yes, it works. The hips are definitely looser and the knees are working better.
  2. Get rid of the clouds in your head. You’ll think better.
  3. That problem you’ve been pondering has had a chance to settle itself in your brain without you consciously thinking about it.
  4. That email you were waiting for has probably reached your inbox.
  5. You’ll have a better outlook on things. The world of doom and gloom might look cheerier after a short walk. You may see something to make you smile. You’ll at least gain some perspective after a change of scenery.

I hope you try it. Set a timer for an hour each time you sit down if you lose track of time. Your hips and knees will thank you.

Meditation for Sanity

My mind is spinning!

meditation for a clear mind and sanity
meditation

It’s Monday morning, and my brain is whirling. Feed the dogs, feed the lizard, make my lunch. Boil water for coffee. DON’T SPILL IT! Wait… the lizard isn’t eating his bugs… wait … wait … wait … Would you eat already? I have to water the plants … I have to wash my hair … I have to …

Just wait. Stop. Why am I stressing? I love my little lizard. He’s just waking up. Other stuff can just wait. Focus on the important things. My family. The dogs are fine. My sister and I are fine. I’ll get to work when I get there.

The answer is to think about nothing!

So often our minds are spinning out of control, we’re anxious and stressed about things that are unimportant. It’s easy to lose focus.

When that happens to me, especially on Mondays, I have to just stop and take a couple of minutes and close my eyes. Think about absolutely nothing. Just nothing. If my mind wanders, I consciously bring it back to nothing. People call this “meditation.” I call it thinking about nothing.

“Meditation” has gotten a bad rap in modern society. People hear the word and they see yogis in long skirts sitting in the lotus position with their hands on knees. Or they think of hippies in the ’60s with tie-dyed t-shirts, tattered jeans and barefoot at Woodstock.

But meditation has helped me to focus. When I clear my mind, important tasks become clearer.

If I’m having a hard time clearing my mind to think of nothing – if there are too many extraneous thoughts running through my mind, then I’ll picture a beautiful sunset or a single flower.

After a couple of minutes I can open my eyes and the day is clear. The tasks are lined up in the right order and I can be productive.

The best position for meditation

Do you have to sit cross-legged to meditate? Nope. Just sit in a comfortable position so that you can totally relax. It’s traditional to have your hands palms-up on your knees to be receptive to good things, and I like that. Sometimes I’ll sit in a chair. Sometimes I’ll sit on the floor. Most often I’ll sit on a low stool or yoga block so that I can sit cross-legged and my knees are comfortable.

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!

7 Early Morning Things to Jump-Start Your Fitness

7 early morning things to jump-start your weight-loss journey:

1. Get plenty of sleep! You’ll be full of energy, which will help you stay on track. If you’re tired, you’re more likely to reach for whatever’s easiest, like those chocolate chip cookies.

2. Catch some rays – just a bit. Sunshine helps increase your energy level which boosts your metabolism. Don’t lie in the sun, just lift your face to the sunshine as you walk to your car. And when you reach your destination, do it again. It’ll lift your spirits and boost your metabolism.

3. Eat protein – lean protein also helps boost your metabolism! Egg whites are great for breakfast.

4. Drink water with your breakfast (after coffee…) more water helps fight bloat!

5. Pack snacks – pack healthy snacks for your day. A few almonds, celery or carrot sticks will help you avoid the vending machine. 10 almonds are just as satisfying as a fun-size candy bar – and much healthier.  A little thought saves a trip to the vending machine!

6. Get moving – try to fit in 20 minutes of exercise early – another metabolism booster! And just think how virtuous you’ll feel, having exercised before work. You’ll even have more energy before lunch.

7. Walk part of the way to work. Add to your exercise regime! And take a flight or two of stairs instead of the elevator the entire way.

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!