The Problem With New Year Resolutions

The new year is coming up and with that come the new year resolutions that rarely get accomplished. We’ve had enough new years come and go and most of us have experienced that feeling of the unachieved promise we made for the new year. Why do you think resolutions are so hard to keep? I have a few thoughts about it that I’m going to share with you.

newyearresolutionResolutions rarely come with a plan. They are typically announced (even to ourselves) as a platitude. “This year I will… lose 40lbs, start my own business, quit smoking, spend more quality time with my family, etc.” These are well intentioned statements that, when not accompanied by a detailed plan, can put huge pressure on an individual. They are also highly unlikely to be achieved which leaves us feeling like losers.

Resolutions should also, like any goal, be set using SMART guidelines. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound.

Specific is the details of the goal. If your goal is to lose weight, how much and how are you going to accomplish that. I will lose 40lbs by creating an exercise routine that consists of 30min of cardio and 30min of weight lifting three times per week. I will also track my calories using myfitnesspal app and stay within my allotted calorie range.

Measurable, is that specific goal measureable? Well, the more specific it is, the easier it is to measure. Did you workout or not? Did you track your calories or not? Having said that, it may be a better choice to not be black and white about it. Give yourself a percentage ranking for the tasks. I worked out twice this week instead of three. So, I scored 66%. Now, what can you do to get yourself to 100%?

Attainable is a reality check. Is this something you can actually achieve? We can achieve most things, but if I were to say that I wanted to play pro basketball (at age 59), it is highly unlikely that I can make that happen.

Realistic, Well, this has always bugged me a little. It’s really the same idea as Attainable. Is this goal realistic? Honestly, having been born and raised in Maine, I prefer to go with the Maine version. Mainers would pronounce smart “smat” (dropping the r sound) which works just as well as a goal setting guideline.

Time bound is simply putting a deadline on reaching your goals. Without a deadline, it becomes easy to put things off. As the  Parkinson’s law states, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. The longer you give it, the longer it takes and with no deadline, it will unlikely get done at all.

Our resolutions should also come with a strong and detailed Why. Why is attaining this goal so important to you. Why is this goal important to you? Losing weight is not about looking better or being healthier. It might be about feeling more self confidence when you feel you look better or it may be about being healthier so that you will live long enough to see your grandchildren grow up. Write dow the real, deeper reason why your goal is important.

To top off our chances of success, we should have someone that we are accountable to. Maybe you ask a friend or family member to help keep you on task. Check in as often as you need, but set a regular schedule. Every day at 8pm, or every Monday at 7am. You could even set a time that you check in with yourself. The key is to set a time to objectively evaluate how you are doing.

So, if you want to win at the resolution game, be SMART, know your why, and be accountable for your meeting your steps toward your goal.

Keeping Your Brain Fit

As we age, there are changes that occur that we typically expect to face. These might include some hearing loss, impaired vision, and general aches and pains. These are annoyances for the most part and not things that need to diminish our quality of life to any great extent. However, for many, a big fear and source of anxiety is the possibility of suffering from Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US and the second most feared (after cancer). Who could blame fearing it? It can rob us of our memory to the extent that we don’t remember our loved ones, and, to date, there is no cure for it. That said, there are things we can do to keep our brains as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Brain fitness programs have been explored to help people maintain healthy brain tissue and function.
fit_brainThere are five main elements that we can engage in to help our brains working optimally.

  1. Physical exercise has been shown to improve blood flow to the brain, as well as stimulate the production of brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) which has been described as “Miracle Grow for the brain”.
  2. Proper nutrition, healthy foods in healthy amounts (especially those high in omega 3 and antioxidants) helps to keep the brain’s tissues functioning optimally.brainfitness-elements
  3. Cognitive challenge is essential and more than just doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku. Look for learning opportunities that involve multiple senses such as learning to play an instrument or learning to speak another language.
  4. Stress management can have a big effect on our lives. Stress elevates cortisol levels (stress hormone) which, if it is chronic, can destroy brain cells making it harder to remember and think clearly. Try activities that can reduce stress such as exercise, meditation, or other things that draw your attention away from your stressors.
  5. Socialization is also important. Studies have shown that people with many social connections, that they interact with on a regular basis, experience a slower rate of memory decline.

These elements of a brain fitness program don’t need to be addressed separately. In fact, one of the best things you can do is to layer various elements together. Fitness classes are a great example of the possible layering, exercise, cognitive (following and/or learning choreography), stress reduction, and socialization with others in the class. Another example could be taking an Italian cooking class where you also learn Italian (cognitive, socialization, possibly nutrition). As I think about it, there’s a very popular one at the moment, the social painting classes (socialization, cognitive, stress reduction).

We can make a difference in our brain’s health and function. The mind is a terrible thing to waste. (I think I heard that someplace 🙂 ) Don’t let yourself slide into mental decline if it can be prevented or even delayed. Try to integrate these 5 elements into your life. Mix and match them. They are what make life richer and help keep it that way.



Eating to Build Muscle

Building muscle, whether young or old, keeps us able to do the things we want in life. That may be playing sports or carrying groceries. It also, being a more metabolically active tissue than fat, helps us keep fat off. The more muscle we have, the higher our resting metabolism, which means we burn more calories at rest than someone with less muscle. Now, to build muscle, we need to challenge them so they need to adapt and grow. This is most effectively done through resistance training (i.e. weight lifting). Most of us understand that. What a lot of people don’t know is that eating the right foods in the right portions is equally important.

Let’s start where everyone’s mind goes first, protein. Protein, by itself, does not build muscle! Resistance training stimulates muscle growth. However, if you don’t have adequate protein to help with tissue synthesis and repair you will not gain muscle and will likely even lose it.


So, how much protein do we need? Often, the RDA (recommended daily allowance) is looked at for guidance. You would think that would make sense, right. But, the RDA is about surviving, not thriving. They are minimal allowances. To build muscle, we need more. Alan Aragon, nutrition researcher and educator, in his book with co-author Lou Schuler, The Lean Muscle Diet, recommends 1 gram of protein per pound of Target Body Weight (TBW). So, say you weigh 240 pounds and wish to weigh 200, 200 lbs is your TBW. That means that you should eat 200 grams of protein per day. This is equivalent to 2.2 grams per kilogram, almost 3x the RDA which only recommends 0.8 grams per kilogram. Now, Aragon is not being age specific with his proposal. Yet, several studies that looked specifically at older adults, recommend increased protein intake from 0.8 to between 1.2-1.5 grams per kilogram, still less than Aragon’s. I believe (yes, this is me giving you a judgement call) that, from all of the research I have read and presentations that I have been to, the amount of protein for muscle gain (thriving, not surviving) lies on the higher end of the spectrum, probably between 1.8 and 2.2 grams per kilogram.

Now, muscle-building nutrition is also more than just about protein. We need adequate carbohydrates and healthy fats AND … enough total calories. If we are eating too few calories our bodies may turn to our muscle to break down into fuel. Obviously this is counter productive if we are trying to gain muscle. I’ve worked with many, so-called, hard gainers (those that can’t seem to gain muscle). More often their difficulty stems from one of two things or a combination of both. Either they are not challenging themselves appropriately with their weight lifting program or they are not eating enough to support muscle growth.

Quick approximation of Daily Caloric Needs (DCN): there are many formulas to determine DCN and all are ballpark guesses. I tend to start with the Harris-Benedict equation to determine the resting or basal metabolic rate (BMR) add in activity level and thermogenic effect of  food. Then I will tweak it up or down as we monitor results. You can use this link to get you started – Harris-Benedict calculator. Take your BMR number and multiply it by your activity level (1.2 for couch potato – 1.75 for high-end athlete). Now add in 10% of your BMR for the thermogenic effect of  food. This will give you an approximation of your DCN.

If you want to gain muscle at any age you need the growth stimulus (resistance training) and the support for growth by getting enough protein and total calories. Now go put on some muscle!

Building Muscle After 50

In a recent article in the New York Times, Can You Regain Muscle After 60, author Gretchen Reynolds discussed research done in which “men and women in their 60s and 70s who began supervised weight training developed muscles that were as large and strong as those of your average 40-year-old.” This is important because what keeps us able to do what we want as we age, is muscle. Strength, power, and your resting metabolism depend on gaining, or at least not losing, muscle. So, how do we do that?


Metal sculptor, Karl Stirner at 82 years old

Let’s start with the idea of not losing what you have. In a previous post, How Many Years Do You Have Left?, I mentioned sarcopenia, or the physical declines that come with muscle loss. Sarcopenia is predominantly caused by a lessening of physical activity as we get older. One of my favorite examples of someone not slowing down as he got older, was my father-in-law, Karl Stirner. Karl was a metal sculptor (he passed early in 2016 at the age of 92). He hauled iron around on a daily basis until he was almost 90. His strength always amazed me. That continued physical activity kept him young and physically capable of living life on his terms. The same can be true for you. If you are physically active, stay that way. If you’ve had a physical job all of your life and you find yourself retiring or changing jobs, find other ways (maybe more fun ways) of staying active.

What if you’ve never been never been active or worked out or it’s just been a really long time since you have? You need to start to build muscle. The best way to do this is resistance training. This includes free weights, machines, tubing, body weight, etc. As long as the exercise is challenging to you within a general repetition range of 8 – 20 repetitions, it’s going to help you build strength and muscle. However, start small, start light. With the prospect of doing this for the rest of our lives, we can take our time building the intensity and the volume of the program. This will help minimize the risk of injuries. I will often only give 5 or 6 exercises to someone just starting out. One set of 12 repetitions for each of the exercises on day one and then see how they feel the next day. If they are not too sore and have no issues, we can start to progress the program. Ultimately, the program has to become very challenging or you won’t have enough stimulus to build muscle.

Finally, you need to support muscle growth by eating enough calories and enough of those calories coming from protein. That will be my next post. In the mean time, know that you can (and should) build strength and muscle no matter what your age.  If you’re doing it, keep doing it. If you’re not, get started. It’s never too late.

Please, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments.