In this first podcast for Men’s Fitness After 50, we start by contemplating what it means to be over 50 years old and how long and how well we can expect to live. Let me know your thoughts.
The health and fitness world is full of misinformation and mythology. Part of this is that those trying to capitalize on the misinformation and sell their products, continue to push it into the consumers’ minds as if it were fact. I think the other part of the story is that those same consumers are desperate to find some short cut or miracle that will save them from having to put in the time and/or hard work that it might really take.
There are myths aplenty, so, in a series of posts I’ll start to address a few of them each post. Today, let’s start with one of the big ones,
No pain, no gain.
If you’re an athlete or former athlete, you may have had practices that left you so sore that you could barely walk. (I know I have.) Usually, this is because when you were supposed to be doing your off-season workouts, you weren’t. Then you come into pre-season workouts that are high intensity, ramping you up for the season, but your body wasn’t ready and, in the sports world, the coaches just keep pushing you spouting, “No pain, no gain.” Pain is not weakness leaving the body no matter what anybody says. Pain (and let’s stick to muscular pain, not injury pain.) is telling you that you did more than your body was ready for. The smart plan is to ease into a program, starting at a point that doesn’t make you sore and gradually ramping up the intensity at a pace that you never get sore. Pain, for most, is a reason to not exercise and, if it’s not necessary, why go there?
You can spot reduce fat (lose from one particular area)
This is absolutely one myth that is perpetuated by those wishing to cash in at your expense. (Just Google “lose belly fat” to see the ads.) The fact is when we exercise, we burn more calories. We don’t burn calories from any one area, not even the working area. We burn them systemically, taking from all over the body. It’s like you have an inflatable fat suit. You open the spigot and air is let out from the whole suit. Doing sit ups doesn’t burn the fat from your waist. Doing triceps extensions doesn’t burn the fat off the back of your arms. They burn calories systemically and can build the muscle under the fat, but that’s it. Your “trouble areas” will be the last places to get lean because that’s where you carry more fat cells. Concentrate on your diet, a well-rounded exercise program and give it time.
The final myth for this post is
The more you sweat, the more fat you burn.
Sweating is simply a way for your body to cool off. You sweat, the sweat evaporates and that helps to cool you down. Now sometimes you will have a great workout and you are drenched in sweat. Don’t let it fool you. You had a great workout and your body is trying to cool itself, but, the high heat, high humidity, or lack of air circulation is the real reason you’re sweating so profusely. Let’s face it, haven’t you ever just been sitting and just couldn’t stop sweating? Does that mean you’re burning fat with no effort? Nope. What about swimming in the ocean? If the water temperature is lower than body temperature, you’re not going to sweat. Obviously, if you’re working hard at it, you’re burning those calories whether you sweat or not.
Of course companies are still trying to sell you on the myth. The old sauna suits are still being sold and still touting “Lose weight and burn calories quickly with this sauna suit.” The thermal waist wrap pictured, is actually playing two myths at once, spot reduction through sweating.
There is ever more research being done in the health and fitness industry and it’s by knowing what the current science says that we can steer clear of the myths and misinformation that surround us. Please, ask me any questions in the comment section below.
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.
Let’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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
“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. Well, 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.”
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.”
One 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.
In my last post, The Loss of Balance Fear Spiral, I mentioned that it is common to have more difficulty balancing as we get older. I also discussed how I believe that this is due to being less physically active, challenging our balance less, and the accompanying fear of falling that occurs. As promised, in this post I want to offer ways to safely improve your balance and lose the fear in trying more challenging activities.
First, let’s talk about safety. If you do not feel absolutely safe from falling, you will never really allow yourself to challenge your balance. The corner of a room can be your best friend when training balance. Corners, walls, railings, anything solid that you can lean against or grab will give you the confidence to try balancing and know that you can save yourself if you start to fall. You also need to choose a level that is only slightly more advanced than your current level. While there are all kinds of balance devices available, that doesn’t mean that you need to, or even should be using them.
Balance training exercise selection, like any other exercise selection, should be specific to your individual needs. For most of us, those needs are about standing tall, walking, climbing, and possibly a little jumping. So, let’s look at some exercises for those activities.
Single Leg Balance – Standing on your leg closest to the wall, with your back close to the wall, stand as tall as you can and work to maintain balance. Only touch the wall if you need to.
Single Leg Balance with Reach – If the single leg balance is not challenging, maintain that position and move the non-weight bearing leg forward, then to the side, and back again. Moving that leg will force you to readjust your center of gravity over your standing leg.
Reaching Tall – For those of you whose posture is leaning forward, particularly if you fear falling backward, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and with their back about 6″ away from the wall, reach both arms as high as possible. Lower your arms as you start to feel yourself falling back (don’t worry, the wall is there to catch you if you do fall back). Repeat.
Tandem walk – Standing with the wall close to your side, walk forward heel to toe in a single straight line. You can try going backward, once you feel like you have mastered going forward.
Calf Raise Balance – With your feet shoulder width apart and hands hovering in front of the wall, press down with your toes and lift your heels as high as you can. Hold the top position for a couple of seconds, lower your heels and repeat.
Heel Walk Side Stepping – Standing with your back about 6″ away from the wall, lift your toes and balance on your heels. Now side step parallel to the wall until you reach the end of the wall. Reverse the direction and side step back.
Step Up and Balance With a Pause – Turn every time you take the stairs into a balance exercise. With your hand hovering above the railing, step up and balance on the lead leg for a couple of seconds before you take the next step and balance on the other leg. Step and balance the whole stair case.
These may not seem very challenging to look at, but give them a try and see how you do. Fit these exercises in wherever and whenever you can. The more often you work on your balance the sooner it will get better.
Note: The goal of these balancing exercises is to be close, be safe, but, only touch the wall or grab the railing if you need. You have to struggle a little to force your body to adapt and become better at balance.
Like any action that we have repeated over and over again through the years, much of our eating has become habitual. And habits are things that we have done so often that they are automatic responses. That mind-less nature of these responses is what can make them difficult to change.
Becoming mindful of what you are doing is the first step in changing it. What’s the old saying… “Knowing you have a problem is the first step in curing it.”, or something like that. If we want to change our eating habits, we need to take a look at what we are currently doing, before we can come up with a strategy for changing it. Keeping a journal is best way to do this. While, ongoing journaling can help you continue to change and stay on track, even just journaling for a couple of days can help reveal trouble areas.
One of the most common overeating issues is when we eat while distracted. If we have a bag of chips in front of us while watching TV, they seem to disappear without us realizing it until the bag is empty. The same is true if we have snacks at our desk while working on our computer. By not paying attention to our food, we are unaware of how much we’re eating and we’re not even really enjoying the flavor of the food.
If this happens with you, ask yourself why. Are you actually hungry, or it just something you always do (habit)? Do you snack while watching TV because you need to do something with your hands? Understanding why can help you find a solution.
If you are hungry, stop what you are doing. Turn your TV off or leave the room or your desk. Get the food you want. Take the time to enjoy the food and think of it as an eating meditation. Experience it. Look at it, smell it, place it in your mouth, notice the texture, the feel. How does it taste? Food will be a lot more enjoyable and you will eat less if you eat mindfully. Then you can go back to whatever you were doing. Sometimes, this mindfulness can even help you make decisions to eat better food. If you really pay attention to the taste of those lousy chips you’ve been eating, you might say to yourself, “Hey, these chips taste awful.” and find something better (dare I say healthier) to eat.
If you find that you are eating because you needed something to do with your hands, find something else to do. It could be knitting, doodling, coloring, making things with modeling clay (or Play-Doh). These may not sound like things you normally do, but you will be surprised how well they work. (If you have other things that work for you, share them with us in the comments below.)
What are your eating habits? Do you find yourself eating without thinking about it? Do you know how much you are eating and how the food tastes? Keep a food journal for a few days and see what your eating habits are. If you find that there are times that you are eating without really paying attention, try these approaches to control those mindless moments.
You may not think too much about your posture, but, in today’s society, it’s easy to find yourself in habitually bad postural positions. We sit all day with our backs rounded over and our heads looking up at a computer screen or down looking at a device. Poor posture can lead to numerous problems as we get older. Muscles that are in shortened positions for long periods of time become tight, which will prevent our joints from being able to return to their ideal stretched position. In example, when in a forward rounded position, the muscles in the front of our bodies become tight and make it difficult to stand up with a neutral spine.
Tight hip flexors will pull and tip the pelvis forward which can create low back pressure and pain.
Tight chest muscles may cause the spine to round forward which then create a posture that forces an increased curve in the neck when trying to look forward or up. This, in turn, can create neck pressure and pain.
The rounded posture can also put more pressure on the diaphragm making it more challenging to breathe.
To prevent or counteract these postural deviations, like most aspects of fitness, is very personal depending on your strengths and weaknesses. Stretch this. Strengthen that. However, I’m going to let you in on a simple solution. Sit talls.
Sit on the edge of your chair avoiding touching the chair back. Sit tall and then imagine I offered you $50,000 to sit 2″ taller. As you try to stretch your spine up, pushing the top of your head further toward the ceiling, you engage your core muscles. This will help strengthen your weaker postural muscles, such as your abs and upper back. It can also help stretch tight, front torso muscles. Sit talls can also be performed as stand talls, trying to stand as tall as you can.
Of course, even if you build strength and flexibility, you then need to create the habit of holding good posture. I tell clients to set their watches to chime on the hour and, when it goes off, check your posture and make sure you are sitting or standing as tall as you can. Hold it. You’ll forget after a while, then the chime goes off again. You correct your posture again and bit by bit you create a habit of holding better posture.
Recently, I was asked by a fitness professional and health and fitness writer friend of mine (Linda Melone) to explain some of the challenges of doing home workouts. I thought that this would be something I could add a little more depth to here.
Working out at home seems like a perfect solution for many people. There are no crowds, no travel, only music that you like, etc., which is true of course, however, it’s never that simple. Here’s a partial list and explanation of some of the drawbacks of trying to work out at home.
- You bought the equipment, but don’t really know what to do with it. Not having a well-constructed program will cause you to pause and to pause is to put off, possibly indefinitely. Hire a certified personal trainer to create an individualized program that you can follow.
- You bought the equipment, but people often think they will get the workout in when they get a break in their daily routine. Unfortunately, things come up (Phone calls, chores, kids, pets, etc.) and the workout never happens. Don’t assume the window of opportunity will magically appear. Schedule your workouts ahead of time and stick to the schedule. Treat it as an appointment that you must keep.
- You think you will simply follow a program you found on the internet. Well, the challenge here is that the program is not specifically for your needs/wants and, while it might be difficult to do, it may be completely inappropriate for you and your goals. It could also be dangerous or just plain pointless. I found this wall-sit workout online. The only sane reason for possibly doing it would be if your old high school rival challenged you to a “sit off”. Then, well, maybe there’s a reason for doing it. What’s the answer? Once again, hire a certified personal trainer to create an individualized program that you can follow.
- You bought an exercise video to use at home. Just because someone produced a video, doesn’t mean they know what they are doing. Even some fitness celebrities are grossly misinformed. Also, as with videos from the internet, it may be completely inappropriate for you. If you want to use a video, at least get a recommendation from a certified personal trainer.
- Sticking to a program at home can be challenging. At a club you develop friendships that help to keep you accountable. At home, it’s just you reporting to you. To stay on track, use a calendar to check of the days you completed your workout. Reward yourself when you reach a certain goal, such as after 20 workouts you reward yourself with a massage.
- Another reason people don’t stick with their program is that they become bored and/or they plateau. The biggest culprit here is doing the same program without change. Of course it becomes boring and less productive. Every 4-6 weeks, rehire your personal trainer to create a new workout for you with new exercises and new progressions. This will help keep you interested and the gains will keep coming.
Home workouts can and do work for many people. If you want to be successful at it, start by engaging a certified personal trainer to create a program based on your own individual needs and goals. (This can be with whatever equipment you may have, just body weight, or they may recommend specific equipment you should have.), create a workout schedule and stick to it, and have the trainer come back to revamp your program every 4-6 weeks.