Should I Go Vegan to Get Healthy?

Should you become vegan in order to become healthier? In a word, No! This came up a couple of times recently and I wanted to talk about the idea that being a vegan is somehow healthier than being an omnivore. Let me be clear in what I am and what I am not saying. I am saying that choosing to follow a vegan diet because it is healthier than the alternatives is a misinformed choice, because it is not inherently healthier. I am not saying that it is wrong to be vegan and I am not saying that you can’t be healthy on a vegan diet. I am not debating what diet you are choosing. I am debating why you are choosing it.

Vegan vs omniLet’s start with the major category definitions.

Omnivore = Eats all food source categories

Vegetarian = Eats no meat or animal products

Pescetarian= Eats no meat or animal products, but includes fish, mollusks, and crustaceans

Lacto-vegetarian= Eats no meat or animal products, but may include dairy products

Ovo-vegetarian = Eats eggs, but dairy and meat are still restricted

Vegan = Eats only plant sourced foods

So, there are many steps in-between being an omnivore and a vegan. It’s not always an either/or question. The first problem with comparison is that most often people are comparing the worst omnivore (eats fried meat all day and no fruits or veggies) with the best vegan (is careful to get all of the nutrients they are missing by cutting out many food sources). Most individuals on these diets are neither of these extremes.

Some of the most heart healthy diets, such as the DASH Diet and the Mediterranean Diet are omnivorous ones. Some vegan (plant-based) choices are less than healthy, like processed faux meats (actually there are many vegan options that are processed) and sugar.

If you want to choose to be vegan for ethical reasons or even if you just want to try it, great. Go for it, but don’t do it to become healthier. Make sure that you get all the nutrients that you need and may be missing by having cut out food groups. Also, pay particular attention to getting enough complete protein in your day (soy and quinoa are great sources).

If you want to be a healthy omnivore, add more fruits and vegetables into your diet (most Americans don’t eat enough), eat as many whole foods as possible and keep your protein sources lean and cook them in a lean manner.

Ultimately, both an omnivore diet and a vegan diets can be either healthy or not. Being vegan and meeting all of your dietary needs can be difficult, but omnivores have plenty of their own challenges. Of course, in any of these, you can overeat and that can lead to weight gain. So, manage your calories as well.

Good luck in whatever you choose. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Older Americans Month?

I was just tracking down some information for a later article when I happened on to this. May is Older Americans Month (OAM), and, as I start to consider myself “older”, I had to find out what this is all about. It seems that the Administration for Community Living (ACL) has been leading the charge in celebrating OAM. ACL also created the theme for 2017. The theme is “Age Out Loud”, sort of a “Loud and Proud” for the aging adult. Frankly the theme could easily have been “Age Out Loud and Proud” because the point is to give the aging population the recognition that they (well… we) deserve.   Logos2

The older adult population continues to grow and with that, their desire to stay healthy, fit, active, and, as OAM states, “live their lives with boldness, confidence, and passion while serving as an inspiration to people of all ages.” In other words, to continue to kick butt and take names. I’m certainly all for that.

They have some fun ideas for things that you can do in your own community to celebrate Aging Out Loud and have links to some great resources from other organizations for the aging adult. See resources.

Age Out Loud is also meant to keep older adults engaged in the issues going on around us. Getting out and being heard on issues from city planning to healthcare. No retreating from the world here. Always active, always moving forward. #AgeOutLoud

Summer is Coming. What’s Your Workout Plan?

About this time of year, I start hearing people talking about how they’re going to stop going to the gym because they will be active outdoors all summer. I get it, active inside or active outside, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Well, I have to tell you. It’s not the same.

gardener

First, let me say that exercising or being active outside can have some significant emotional/psychological benefits. Even five minutes of “green exercise” can enhance your mood and feeling of well-being. So, yea for being outside! There are, however, a few cautionary notes to dropping out of your regular full body workout program.

Whether we are gardening or playing tennis, activities are never symmetrical. We always favor one arm or leg. Raking, digging, planting are one side dominant. We even get up or down on the ground favoring one leg. Tennis is essentially a one-armed sport. In golf, you always swing to one side. These asymmetries can create strength and flexibility imbalances that may cause injuries in time. kayak

Another issue is that these activities rarely take us through the full ranges of motion that we would (or should) be getting with our  gym workout. Full movement at the knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, etc. doesn’t come without planning for it. Walking, running, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and biking do not promote joint mobility (or certainly not full-body joint mobility).

trx chest press

TRX (suspension device) for outdoor workouts

There are some solutions that are pretty simple. One option is to just keep doing your regular gym workout. If you don’t seem to have time and want to spend more time outside you can modify your workout to be shorter and/or go to the gym less frequently. In example, you could cut back to a 30 minute, twice a week. Another answer is to do your full body workout outdoors. There are a number of ways to make that happen. You can do bodyweight workouts, use a suspension device such as the TRX, or you could use elastic tubing that is very portable and very effective.

What you can’t do is go from a structured, full body workout program to summer “activities” and expect to maintain the benefits. You’ll come back in the fall having to start up at a much reduced level to reflect what you have lost. So, plan ahead and decide how you can continue your strength and mobility training throughout the summer.

 

What Do My Lipid Numbers Mean?

I just had my blood lipid panel taken. The results made me want to share some thoughts on this assessment. Let’s start with what cholesterol is and why we should care. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Cholesterol is a waxy substance that’s found in the fats (lipids) in your blood. While your body needs cholesterol to continue building healthy cells, having high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.” The standard guideline when having a lipid panel done, is to have your total cholesterol reading as less than 200 mg.dL, but, total cholesterol is just an overall quick look. So, if your’s is over 200, don’t panic yet. It’s more accurate to look at the three other major components of your lipid panel. These are LDL (low density lipoproteins), HDL (high density lipoproteins), and triglycerides. You can think of LDL as the “bad cholesterol”, leaving garbage (plaque) to build up in your arteries. HDL is the “good cholesterol”, cleaning up the mess left by LDL. Finally, there’s triglycerides, which is not cholesterol, but fat in the blood and another potentially “bad” component. High triglyceride levels are also associated with increased risk of heart disease.

high_cholesterol_warning_sign

Back to my test. My total cholesterol is 226 mg/dL, 26 points higher than you would typically like to see. However, let’s look at the component breakdown. My LDL is 110 mg/dL with a desired standard of less than 150 mg/dL. Great… I’m under. HDL should be above 40 mg/dL and mine falls in at… drum roll….. 105 mg/dL. (above 60 is actually considered an anti-risk factor). Top that off with my triglycerides coming in at 53 mg/dL with a desired standard of less than 150 mg/dL and you can see that my high total cholesterol becomes less important.

So, if your numbers are not what they should be, what non-medication steps can you take to improve them?

  1. Exercise.
  2. Get to a healthy body weight.
  3. Quit smoking.
  4. Avoid eating trans fats. (Check you food labels)
  5. Eat food that are high in Omega 3. (i.e. fish, olive oil, and nuts)
  6. Eat foods that are high in fiber. (i.e. whole grains, beans, fruits and veggies)
  7. Limit your added sugar intake.
  8. Drink alcohol in moderation.

While these are great steps to take for many health benefits, there are times when medication is necessary to manage your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Make sure you discuss your options with your doctor.

 

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

This classic line from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, can also set the stage for how we can have better success in approaching our health and fitness. Here are 5 reasons to recruit your friends to join you in your workouts.

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MOSSA Group Power class

  1. You’re more likely to push yourself. Generally, people find that they challenge themselves more when they are with friends. This includes working at a higher level as well as going longer before needing to take a break.
  2. You’re more likely to show up. When people feel accountable to others, it becomes just a little bit harder to blow off a work out.
  3. You’re more likely to try new things when you’re with a friend. This can help keep you interested in working out. Explore new classes or types of training with friends.
  4. You can share your progress and results. Having someone who understands the work that you’ve put in and appreciates the results you’ve accomplished makes your gains that much sweeter.
  5. You will enjoy the workout more. Whether it’s because misery loves company or just that everything seems better when shared with friends, working out with friends definitely increases the fun value.

Working out with friends can raise the ante in your workouts. With a little help from your friends, you can do more than get by, you can thrive. Find someone to share your workouts with today.

 

Squat Until You Die!

You’ve probably heard from the hardcore exercisers that squatting is one of those basic exercises that everyone should be doing. At the same time, I often hear some in the medical field say, “Oh no. You should avoid squatting. It’s too dangerous.” Let me cut to the chase and say… yes, everyone should be squatting and should continue to squat until you are too weak to get out of bed (which won’t happen until later in life because, well… you’re squatting).

Deep-Squat

I know, that does sound like an outrageous statement, but I believe the controversy lies in the misunderstanding of what a squat really is. Squatting is dropping your center of gravity by flexing (bending) your hips, knees, and ankles and usually involves the hip moving backward and the torso tipping forward (although to what degree depends on the squat variation and differences in body structure). It is something we every day. If you get up and down from a chair (or toilet) you’re squatting.

squat variations

Some squat variations (L-R, T-B): Chair Squat, Goblet Squat, Front Squat, Sumo Squat, Dumbbell Squat, Overhead Squat, Prisoner Squat, One-Legged Bench Squat, Bulgarian Split Squat.

There are many varieties of squats, and while not every variation works for every body, there is at least one that will work for you. You can also make modifications to make squats more accessible to you. Adjusting the weight, from partial body weight (such as assisted body weight squats, i.e. holding on to something.) to adding weight with dumbbells, barbells, etc. is one modification. Adjusting the range of motion is another (start with small, top end range of motion and go deeper as you get stronger).

So, the notion that someone shouldn’t squat because of age, or arthritis, or low bone mineral density, or whatever… is not taking into consideration that we need to be able to do this movement and there are endless ways to begin.

Let me know if you have any questions and, if not, squat away, my friend.

What’s More Important as We Get Older, Cardio or Resistance Training?

A brief history… until “aerobics” broke onto the scene with Kenneth Cooper’s books, Aerobics (1968) and The Aerobics Way (1978), fitness was dominated by resistance training. cooper-aerobicsCooper’s books changed the face of exercise by supplying research showing the health benefits of cardiovascular training. When I was in college in the late 70s, my exercise science professors actually asked me to teach the weight training portion of their courses because none of them had any experience with anything other than aerobics (now commonly termed as cardio).lalanne

As a result of that paradigm shift, most health related research only looked at the benefits of cardio. Since that’s where the research was, cardio was the mode of exercise that was most recommended for health. Thankfully, resistance training has received more attention by researchers in the past couple of decades.

For the sake of this article, I’ll stick to an older definition of cardiovascular exercise as rhythmic, continuous, and maintaining a heart rate of 50-85% of your heart rate reserve (max heart rate – resting heart rate). Some typical cardio activities include walking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing, cross-country skiing, etc. Let’s define resistance training as loading movements with a force with the intent of increasing muscular strength or endurance. This can be with body weight, tubing, machines, free weights, etc. Please note that these definitions are simplistic for the sake of discussion. The truth is that there are many hybrid forms of exercise as well.

There are significant benefits from both of these exercise modalities. Both, in varying degrees, can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve lung function, increase insulin sensitivity, improve circulation, relieve stress, improve memory and cognitive function, help control weight, and many other positive health changes. So, which do we choose?

If we are talking about maximum benefits as we age, the best answer is to do some of both. That said, I’m going to say that IF I had to choose one, I would choose resistance training because, if done correctly, it can provide a greater ability to do daily activities. That, to me, speaks to keeping independence and quality of life. quirky_lift_4These activities, squatting down, lifting, carrying, pulling, and pushing, all benefit more from resistance training than traditional cardio training. Resistance training is also better at building/maintaining lean body mass, increasing fat loss, and improving bone mineral density.

Now many people hesitate at the idea of starting a resistance training program. They think that they are too old to be throwing huge weights on their back to squat or on the bench press. I’ve even heard doctors say that their patients shouldn’t squat. That’s a misperception of what resistance training really is. Getting up and down out of a chair (or off a toilet seat) is a squat. It’s a movement we need to be able to do and if getting out of your chair is difficult, that may be what you start with. Try getting out of your chair 6-10 times in a row. That’s resistance training and your body weight is the resistance. Doing repetitions of “chair squats” will strengthen your legs and hips and make getting out of the chair less of a challenge.

So, when you know you should be exercising and are finally ready to do something about it, don’t automatically think that cardio will do it for you. It is definitely good to do, but having the right resistance training program will give you faster and better results in how capable you are in doing your daily activities.

 

 

 

 

I Need to Lose Some Weight Before I Go to the Gym

“I need to lose some weight before I go to the gym.” While I’m sure at least some of you will find this to be an odd statement, it’s one, we as personal trainers hear more often than you might think. What this statement tells me is that the individual is very self-conscious and afraid of being embarrassed and/or judged at the gym.

My advice to anyone that feels this way, is to find the right gym for them, one that won’t make them feel self-conscious or embarrassed (or, at least less so). If you look at many gym commercials, everyone looks fit, healthy, attractive, and so damn happy to be there that you can’t imagine yourself in that situation. designWell, commercials aren’t reality. Visit various gyms and studios at times that you would be able to go and just look around. What is the staff like? What kinds of members or students are there? Are there others like you? Is it too crowded? What’s the atmosphere of the facility? If none of it feels right, keep looking. Different facilities can have very different feelings. But, knowing that you will probably feel a little intimidated no matter where you go, if you find one that is “not so bad”, join it, or at least set up a trial period. It won’t be as bad as you imagine it.

But, what’s so wrong with losing weight first? Honestly, if I believed you would, I’d say, “Go for it!” However, I have never known anyone that worked out for. They don’t join, try a number of diets, maybe a little exercise on their own, or maybe they just don’t get around to it, but ultimately they don’t lose the weight and never make their way to the gym (and never reach their goals). Part of this failure is the lack of accountability, nobody to keep them in check and part of it is not really knowing what they should be doing for diet or exercise.

Because it is so difficult to succeed at home on your own, I not only recommend finding the most comfortable gym or studio that you can, but you should also get at least some professional guidance. This could come in the form of personal training, small group training, group fitness classes, nutritional coaching, and/or special programs offered that fits your needs.

Give yourself the best chance at succeeding by finding a facility that feels right and offers what you need.

Maybe in a later post I’ll address the statement, “I’m too stressed out to meditate.”

Will Working Out Fix My Back? (Shoulder? Hip?) 

I know a lot of personal trainers that will claim that they can fix your problem(s). Can they? Well, it depends on the personal trainer, your individual issue(s), and what is meant by “fixing” it.

pain

Let me start this discussion with a confession. Most people wouldn’t know this, but, I’m in physical pain, every day, and have been for years. It’s not overwhelming, but it is annoying. I have spinal stenosis that creates a radiating nerve pain down my right leg. I have a torn meniscus in my left knee. I have arthritis in both of my thumbs which make gripping things painful. I had a complete shoulder replacement about five years ago (Although, this is no longer a source of pain. My shoulder feels great these days.). And then there are the day to day aches and pains that we all deal with as we get older. Yet, in spite of all this, I teach group fitness, lift weights, and do pretty much anything I want. My, “issues” do not limit my activity. This is because I work out regularly and consistently challenge myself. Am I “fixed”? No, but I am soooo much better than I would be if I wasn’t working out.

That’s my story, but could it fix other issues? Well, it’s not going to get rid of arthritis (but, it can increase your ability to do what you want and it can diminish the sense of pain.) It’s not going to reattach torn ligaments (but, it can strengthen the muscles surrounding the area and may allow you to continue activity without surgery [always check with your doctor]). That said, if you are having back pain because of weak core muscles and poor posture, yes, the right workout with a qualified personal trainer can correct this condition. If you are having pain that is determined to stem from improper gait or movement patterns, yes, these can be corrected and alleviate the pain.

So, yes, working out can “fix” some problems and can make the best of others. The key is to check with your doctor and with his/her approval, find the right personal trainer to work with and you can be on the road to a better quality of life.

Old Dogs SHOULD Learn New Tricks

Maybe you have your workout routine down. You’ve been doing it for years and it seems to be working fine. Maybe you’d like to be a little leaner or have a little more muscle, but, for “your age” you feel okay about where you are. I hear that fairly frequently, “I’m doing okay, getting my workouts in.” My reply is always, “Are you where you hoped you’d be?” The answer is usually, “No.”

skateboarding-dogOne of the major problems with doing the same thing that you’ve always done is that it might not be applicable any more. Maybe it’s outdated because more research has come out in exercise science to show that what we used to believe, no longer holds true. i.e. we used to believe that weight machines were the best way to train and gyms packed machines in every square inch. Now we know that training movements with body weight/free weights, where we have to balance and stabilize, offer more benefit in sports and everyday function.

Another reason your program might be outdated is that our needs change through the years and our current needs may be different for those we had years back. While you may have been focused on just being lean and mean in the past, now, you may have much more specific goals, such as trying to better your balance, mobility, and stamina.

In continually doing the same program, we also limit the benefits we could be receiving. By varying our exercises, exercise volume, intensities, repetitions, rest periods, etc. we get greater and better rounded results. A structured, regular change in these variables is called periodization.

Finally, change, in this case learning new physical programs and movements, has brain health benefits. As we are taught a new movement, we both have to understand what it is and we have to get our body to move in that new way. Two of the pillars of brain maintenance are mental stimulation and physical exercise.

So, in spite of feeling “fine” about your routine, it’s probably time to reassess. The benefits of having a new program with new challenges can make a huge difference in the results you get. You’re never too old to learn a few new tricks.