Have an Injury? Should You Be Exercising?

I’ve known a lot of people through the years that have physical challenges. Maybe you need or have had a joint replacement, or you have a “bad back”, or arthritis, or…. the list goes on. Too often people let these conditions keep them from doing things that they would like to be doing. Too often they think that they should be avoiding using the effected area and, in fact, many doctors will say the same thing, “Don’t do ________.” It’s actually something that constantly frustrates personal trainers. The doctor says , “Don’t squat.” Untitled design (28)Well, squatting includes standing up from a chair (or the toilet). Are you supposed to avoid that? There are a million ways to do any exercise. Modifications in effort and range of motion can be made to fit your individual needs. Doing something is almost always better than doing nothing. When you do nothing the muscles surrounding the joint or area get weaker and less flexible. This means that you will be able to do less. You also burn fewer calories and, unless you adapt the amount of calories that you are eating, you will end up gaining weight. It’s potentially a spiral of disability.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times that you need to just rest and heal, but it’s not as often as you may think. It’s also not usually a total body thing, even if you had a shoulder replacement (I have), you can leave your shoulder alone to heal while working the rest of your body out (I did).

If you’re dealing with a chronic condition that is not going to just go away, or if it’s an injury that you can work around, you should be finding ways to strengthen, gain mobility, and become more fit. Don’t just give in to inactivity. Go to a physical therapist, and, when cleared by them, see a certified personal trainer with experience working with individuals in your situation and get started on a health and fitness program as soon as you can.

Will You Ever Change?

Change is hard. Change can be risky. Trying to change means you risk failing. It’s easier to stay on the same path. You know that path, and there’s a certain amount of safety on it. But, is that direction the one that will take you where you want to be?

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To change where we are, we need to change what we are doing. Before you make changes, however, you need to clearly define where it is that you want to be, what you want to accomplish. This vision quest, or clearly defined vision of the future you, dictates what needs to be done to get you there. This could be a task like completing a hike or a competition, or it could be getting off/staying off medications.

Next, you need to believe two things.

  • First, you need to believe the change is possible. Obviously, if you think that it’s impossible you won’t work for it. This is like saying you want to levitate (I think that would be very cool, btw). How hard are you going to work toward that?
  • The second belief is that the change is worth the amount of work it takes to achieve it. Here again is the question, if it’s not worth all of the work required to achieve it, how hard will you work?

Now, if you’ve attempted to reach this goal before, and failed, identify the obstacles that you encountered last time and pre-think solutions for them, because they are likely to show up again.

Lastly, you need to have a plan and it starts with what initial step is required. That may be researching your options for a place to work out, or a shopping list for healthy foods to buy and have at your home or office, but determine that first step and take it.

Change can happen for all of us. What’s holding you back?

Shingles? Should We Worry?

I remember when I first overheard a couple of guys talking about shingles. Of course once I got beyond the fact that they weren’t talking about shingles for your house, then my reaction was to think that they must be talking about some old person disease or condition that couldn’t possibly be relevant to me. You know… like gout.

What is shingles anyway? And, should we be concerned about it as we get older?

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Shingles is a viral infection that is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you’ve had chickenpox before (and most older adults have because they hadn’t yet started widespread vaccinating for it), the virus may still remain, dormant in your nerve tissues and could reemerge as shingles. Symptoms include:

  • Pain, burning, or tingling
  • Sensitive to the touch
  • A red rash that appears a couple of days after the pain (oddly, it’s usually on one side of the body)
  • Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over (you are contagious until these crust over)
  • Itching
  • Headaches
  • Possible fever

Now, not everyone that has had chickenpox will get shingles, although some speculate that 50% of those over 80 years old will get them. To date, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive reason for this reemergence. One thought is that it can be caused by a compromised immune system, which can happen as we age, (see, we are more likely to get it when we’re older), or with certain diseases, or medications.

According to the Mayo Clinic, you should see a doctor if you suspect you have shingles and especially when:

  • The pain and rash occur near an eye. If left untreated, this infection can lead to permanent eye damage.
  • You’re 60 or older, because age significantly increases your risk of complications.
  • You or someone in your family has a weakened immune system (due to cancer, medications or chronic illness).
  • The rash is widespread and painful.

So, all that said… not fun. There are vaccines for it, though. Two different kinds, in fact. While these vaccines have been found to be consistently safe (minor possible side effects), they also don’t guarantee that you won’t get shingles.

Should we worry about shingles? No, but if it sets your mind at ease, a vaccine is an option. Otherwise, just stay as strong and healthy as you can.

Why Don’t Men Ask For Directions?

I know that the idea of men not asking for directions is a stereotypical, but, there is an underlying issue that makes this true for many. That is ego. Many men don’t like admitting that they don’t know something, don’t know how to do something, need help with something, are wrong about something, and/or are not as good with something as they thought they were. Somewhere along the line we were socialized into believing  these scenarios are somehow a threat to our egos.

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Don’t get me wrong. Having a healthy ego (or good self-esteem) is great! But, when that ego is easily damaged, walls are put up that usually create more problems.

When it comes to working out and taking care of our health (you knew I’d get around to this, didn’t you?), the ego can take a beating from a lot of things, like not knowing how to use a piece of gym equipment, not looking like other gym members, not using as much weight as the guy (or woman) next to you, or not getting the results you think you should be getting. There are a lot of reasons why this may be the case and none of them should damage your ego.

  • Not knowing how to use a piece of gym equipment: You are new to the gym and they have some equipment that you don’t know how to use. Ask a trainer for help.
  • Not looking like other gym members: You are not the average member. Many clubs vary in demographics, younger/older, more women/more men, more hard-core/more laid back, etc. Either look for a club more in line with you or just keep on going and not worry about it.
  • Not using as much weight as the guy (or woman) next to you: They’ve probably been at it longer. Maybe you got injured or have been away from the weights for a while, and you should be going lighter with a more gentle approach. Maybe you just haven’t been training appropriately or eating properly to support strength gains. Talk to a trainer and/or a registered dietician.
  • Not getting the results you think you should be getting: Definitely talk to a personal trainer and/or a registered dietician. Something is going on that you don’t understand. Find someone who does.

The ego thing is a little like failing at some task or venture that you take on. Many see failure as, well, failure. The insightful ones, however, see it as a chance to learn, to grow. Don’t let your fear of a damaged ego stop you from progressing. If you are not where you want to be, ask for help… ask for directions.

When in Doubt, Get it Diagnosed.

When you are working out (or even just making your way through life), you’ll have tweaks here, aches there, and the typical reaction is to ignore it and hope it goes away. There’s nothing wrong with that as long is it’s not debilitating. Often, a little Ice, Compression, Elevation, and Rest (ICER) will take care of the little stuff. But, what if that discomfort lingers or starts to worsen? This is when you need to have it checked out by a medical professional. Don’t wait too long to do this, either.

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While you may not like going to the doctor, going will get you the answers that you need to move forward. Here are four common outcomes from getting it diagnosed:

  1. It’s nothing serious and you can get back to working out or your life activities using discomfort as your guide as to how much is too much.
  2. It could be something that you can work around by using modified positions or ranges of motion.
  3. You could find out that challenging it is doing further damage and that you should avoid using it at all until it is healed.
  4. Resting won’t help and surgery is necessary.

Now, you may not like the sound of #3 or #4, but, if you could do more damage, you need to listen and fix it before you can return to activity.

On the flip side, there’s also a peace of mind if you find out that you aren’t doing more damage and you can continue with activity.

In example, I have arthritis in my thumbs. Exercising the joint is uncomfortable. Should I stop? Well, when I wasn’t sure what was going on, I didn’t know the answer to that. If it was carpal tunnel syndrome, continuing activity would likely make it worse. With the diagnosis of carpal-metacarpal arthritis, I knew that exercising within my discomfort (okay, pain) tolerance, would be my best chance of avoiding surgery. Getting the diagnosis allowed me to make an informed decision about how to move forward.

Aches and pains are a part of life (and getting older), but, if something is either very painful or lingers, get it diagnosed! One way or the other, you will be better off knowing what is really going on.

Get Off the Floor! Your Life May Depend On It.

Say, for whatever reason, you find yourself on the floor, maybe you’re working, maybe you tripped and fell, maybe you are playing with your kids (or grandkids). How difficult is it to get back up to a standing position? The level of difficulty of sitting up from the floor and standing has actually been shown in research to be a good predictor of all-cause mortality. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to die from a fall (although you are more likely to take a fall), but it means that you’re probably lacking in mobility, strength, and balance, which probably also means that you don’t move enough, which means you’re unlikely to get any cardiovascular conditioning, which makes you more susceptible to disease, aannd that means that you are more likely to die prematurely.Untitled design (17)Remember that movement plays into our health in so many ways. When moving is challenging for us, we tend to move less, and then it gets even more challenging, and then we move even less, and then…. You see the spiral.

Back to getting up off the floor. This requires flexibility, stability, strength, and balance. If you are already challenged getting up from, and down to the floor, stay tuned. Next week I’ll show you an exercise progression that can help make the process easier. If it’s not so challenging, keep on doing it. It’s when we stop doing activities that they become harder for us.

Exercises You Shouldn’t Do After 50

Lately, I’ve seen a number of articles that claim that there are exercises that you should not do after 40, 50, or 60. (i.e. This article on cheatsheet) I want to jump on that bandwagon (and kick everyone off)! There are NO exercises that are off-limits because of your age!

Untitled design (6)What is important to note is that with each passing year that you do nothing physical, you lose more ground on what you are capable of doing. Yet, even with the decreased abilities of a sedentary life, there are still no exercises that you should not do because of your age. What you do have to do is change how you start to do that exercise.

Options are a wonderful thing! There are a billion variations of exercises that can be done and you need to simply select the option that is closest to your current physical condition. Say you want to do back squats with weights (which I think is a great exercise), but you haven’t done them in decades, if ever. You can start with bodyweight squats. Do a number that is comfortable on day 1 and see how you feel the next day. If all’s well, move on to the next progression. Maybe that is more repetitions. Maybe it’s doing them deeper. Maybe you work on perfecting the form. Bit by bit, as you perform them better, you can add weight. What if you can’t hold on to a bar behind your head because of limited shoulder mobility? While you work on regaining that mobility, you could hold dumbbells at your sides, or in front of your body under your chin (a la goblet squats). As you regain the mobility in your shoulders, you could eventually start to put a bar on your back across the back of your shoulders (not on your neck). Et voila! You’re doing back squats with weight. To be clear, I’m not saying do back squats. I’m saying that you could safely get to a point where you could do them if you wanted to. Nothing is off-limits because of your age. You can build to being able to do almost anything if you so desire. It’s all about choosing the right progression to get you there safely and effectively.

Now, I know that you may not be aware of all of those possibilities and progressions to get you from point A to point Z (your end game). This is where getting together with a certified personal trainer might be your best bet. Look for one in your area or shoot me a message if you would like my help.

 

Good luck.

 

Run a Simulation for Success

I’m currently reading Mind Hacking by Sir John Hargrave. In essence, the book is about how to change behaviors. One of the concepts that he discusses is the idea of running simulations of your future plans. Now, in the past, I’ve read research that’s shown that those who have a clear plan for the future have a better chance of attaining it than those who do not. Additionally, those that write those plans down have a better chance of attaining them than those that just keep them in their head. Now, Hargrave has cited research that shows that individuals that run simulations as to how they are going to achieve their goals, are the most successful.296D0E66-F203-4F6C-A115-4A84FF7EC0BDSo, what does it mean to run simulations? Imagine mapping out how you intend on reaching your goals from beginning to end. Now, you write out everything you can think of that could throw a monkey-wrench into your plan. A simulation is the addition of those stumbling blocks AND the solutions to deal with them and still keep you on course to attain your goals.

Start simulations with things that have happened in the past, so you know they could happen again in the future. Let’s say you plan out what days and times you are going to head to the gym to work out. Ask yourself what would happen if a deadline for a project is coming up and you’re going to have to stay late to work on it. This is going to knock out the evenings that you were planning to go to the gym. You have, however, thought this possibility through. You have a contingency plan. You get up an hour earlier in the morning and fit your workouts in before work. (as an example) The important idea is to not be reactionary. Don’t wait until something happens and then try to figure it out.

For maximum chances of success, have clear, specific goals in mind. Write them down. Write down how you intend on reaching them. Think of possible obstacles. Run simulations. Come up with contingencies and continue your progress in spite of those things that pop up to challenge you. You will even feel more confident in your ability to reach your goals.

Good luck!

 

What If Your Doctor is Wrong?

There are great doctors and there are awful doctors. There are doctors in-between. Just like any other profession. Of course, there are doctors that are great in some areas and lousy in other areas. The problem is knowing which your doctor is.

Just the other day, a client in her mid-sixties came to me after injuring her wrist. She said that when she went to her doctor, the doctor told her to stop lifting weights, which, for her wrist at the time, would not have been unreasonable. However, the doctor then followed up with, “Why would a woman your age want to lift weights anyway?” I was taken back that this opinion still exists in the medical community. My client said that she wasn’t going to be swayed by her doctor and that she knows the importance of strength training as we get older. (Phew!)

scrubs

A scene from “Scrubs”

Now, even the best doctors can’t stay current on all areas of human health. As a fitness professional, I know that there is new research every day and that it takes work on my part to stay up with the most current information. Because there can be new studies that could potentially disprove what I “know”, I understand that I can be proven wrong and am happy to change my position if enough evidence supports it. Good doctors will do the same.

So, my suggestion to you when you believe your doctor is mistaken, is to find the research to back up what you believe is correct. Present that information to your doctor ask to discuss it with him or her. If they are not willing to discuss it, maybe you should look for a doctor who will. There is a caveat to this though, don’t just take what you find on Facebook or what Dr. Oz says to be as good as scientifically supported information. Use credible sources. Here’s a pretty good list of sources for accurate health and medical information. RefSeek’s guide to the 25 best online resources for medical reference Remember, doctors are not infallible. Don’t fear questioning them. Be your own advocate.

*By the way, here’s some research on strength training as we get older: “Current research has demonstrated that strength-training exercises have the ability to combat weakness and frailty and their debilitating consequences. Done regularly (e.g., 2 to 3 days per week), these exercises build muscle strength and muscle mass and preserve bone density, independence, and vitality with age. In addition, strength training also has the ability to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and the signs and symptoms of numerous chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes, while also improving sleep and reducing depression. – The benefits of strength training for older adults.  Am J Prev Med. 2003 Oct;25 (3 Suppl 2):141-9. Seguin R1, Nelson ME.

 

Let That Be a Lesson to You!

Does trying new things scare you? Did you ever think to yourself, “I’m too old to start this.” or, “I’ll make a fool out of myself”? You’re not alone. Everyone (well, most everyone) has things that make them feel that way. This is unfortunate for a couple of reasons.

men's Fitness after 50

My next venture, Men’s Fitness After 50 podcast

First, we miss out on a lot of things that could enrich our lives. This could be starting an exercise program, taking dance lessons, cooking lessons, learning a language, or starting a business.

Second, those things that challenge us, the very things that we’re afraid of feeling stupid doing, are among the best things we can do to keep our brains functioning at their best. The cognitive work required to learn new skills is one of the 5 pillars of brain fitness (exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, socialization, and… cognitive challenge).

Personally, I’ll jump into many things without worrying about how I look, however, when it comes to my profession, my reputation, I honestly get a little apprehensive (scared.. ok, I said it.). In example, I’ve wanted to try podcasting for the better part of a year and have been to afraid that I would make a fool of myself. Well, we all need to get over it and just do it (not to get too Nike on you). The benefits for us, better health, greater skills, better quality of life,  far outweigh the perceived risks.

So, whatever you have wanted to do and have just been afraid to start… jump in, the water is fine. (oh… and I’ll start podcasting on Monday). Let me know what you’d like to try , but are afraid to, in the comments.