Do Our Dietary Needs Change As We Age?

As I was getting ready to replenish my supply of a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement, Centrum Silver for Men caught my eye. This supplement (and the generic versions) are made for the specific needs for men over 50. Hmmn? Being 59, it made me wonder if my nutritional needs had actually changed because of my age. Do we, in fact, need different nutrients because we are older ? older-eating Here are some sources that I looked through for an answer.

According to (The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), older men need more calcium and vitamin D (no specific levels stated), as well as more dietary fiber (30g/day).

While the Oregon State University gives specific micronutrient recommendations for adults >50 years old, they don’t indicate any changes from the <50 population.

Finally, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academies provides recommended age specific intakes for men and women Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Estimated Average Requirements. Here the only change for men 50-70 is for an increase in Vitamin B6.

So, as for micronutrients go, we might need more calcium, fiber, and vitamins D and B6. Let’s back up a bit and look at the big picture. One of the main nutritional issues for aging adults is malnutrition because as we age we tend to eat less. This may be a result of being less physically active and therefore needing fewer calories or it may simply be a loss of appetite. As you might suspect, a decrease in calories also means a decrease in the nutrients that we take in. The concern is that our health can be compromised if the intake levels of certain nutrients gets too low.

Here are the questions, if we want to keep our micronutrient levels optimal, do we just eat more to get the nutrition we are lacking? or should we take a supplement? if so, does the supplement need to be age specific?

If we are eating less because we are less active, then the decrease in calories is appropriate and to add calories without adding activity would result in gaining fat weight. Of course, I’d like to say, “Get active!” as that would not only allow for a greater caloric intake but also a more functional, self-sufficient life. In lieu of taking in more calories, it seems quite reasonable to take a supplement (check with your doctor first). I take a multi-vitamin/mineral as a “catch-all”, to fill in the gaps just in case I’m not getting the recommended levels. As for the age-specific supplements, I think that if you weren’t eating at all, it might be important. But, as a supplement to your diet (you’re not starting from scratch, after all), I don’t think there’s any real need get that specific.

Back to the original question, do our dietary needs change as we get age? No… and yes. No, there isn’t any significant change in total amounts needed, but yes, as our dietary intake decreases the need to prevent deficiencies becomes greater.

“I Don’t Need Help. Why, Back in My Day…”

A man’s pride can be his downfall, and he needs to learn when to turn to others for support and guidance. – Bear Grylls

Older men are the worst (I know because I am one.) We’ve had at least half a lifetime’s worth of experience and we believe that means that we know stuff.

Well, we do know stuff, but often times not as much as we think we do. It turns out that sometimes what we think we know, we remember incorrectly. Other times what we believed was “The way” to do something has since been proven to be ineffective or even harmful. Have you ever found yourself saying, “Back in my day…”? I do fairly often, but it’s not to show expertise. I discovered early on that if I relied on what I learned when I was younger, I would have found myself left behind in the world. Now, when I use, “back in my day” it’s to illustrate how far off the mark we were.


Old-time bodybuilding champion and Nautilus pitch man, Casey Viator

In example, “Back in my day, we used a Nautilus machine circuit as a major part of our strength workouts for college football.” True story. While it might have done a fine job at building muscle, we now know that machine-based strength training programs do not have the best carry over to sports performance.


What myths and fallacies are you hanging on to? Are you putting in a lot of time training your abs to lose the fat around your waist? (There is no spot reducing. Sorry.) Are you putting in lots of time on cardio to lose weight? (It’s not the most effective way to take off the fat.) Are you doing yoga and avoiding weight training so you will build longer, leaner muscles? (Muscles don’t build longer, and getting leaner results from the right caloric balance.)

There’s also the issue of what you were training for back then. The goals of the past may not be what you want from your training now. I used to train for strength and power. That was when I was playing football. Now, my goals are different and my training reflects that.

The point I’m trying to make is that “back in my day” information may be a day too late (or, more likely, years too late.).


“I can feel it working!”

Don’t take the chance that what you “knew” back then, still holds true and don’t let your pride or ego keep you from asking for help. Find a certified, experienced personal trainer to help make sure your training program is one that is based on the most current scientific evidence and is specifically created to meet your individual needs.






The Final Straw

Many people go through life without feeling the need to exercise or watch what they eat. Weight gain, decreased strength, endurance, and/or flexibility, the onset of disease, these are all situations that happen gradually, many times without the individual’s notice. That is, until something happens that changes their perspective.

This final straw or moment of crisis, shifts an individual’s thinking from, “I’m fine the way I am.” to “I need to do something to change this.” If and when you have this moment, you should write it down in detail. What was going on? What did you hear and see? How did you feel? These are emotional moments and questions that require emotional answers. It is emotions, after all, that drives us. By documenting this, you will help to strengthen your resolve in changing and you will have something to turn to when your motivation wavers.


The following are a few of the actual moments that brought clients to me for my help.

“At my last checkup, my doctor told me that I was pre-diabetic and that if I didn’t change how I was living my life, I would need to go on insulin.”

“I fell down outside my barn and I couldn’t get off the ground. It took me three hours to eventually get to something that I could use to help me pull myself up.”

“I saw a picture of myself and I couldn’t believe it was me. How could I have gained so much weight?”

“I just found out that my daughter is pregnant and I want to be around to be part of my grandchild’s life.”

To change our lives takes a change in our mindset, a shift in our priorities. When that final straw moment happens, you need to own it. You can change, and, while not knowing how to can be a problem, it’s no excuse. Find help and always keep in mind why changing is important to you and your life.

Good luck, and let me know if I can be of help. Mark

Safely Training for Balance

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 that misses the point, not safe and not applicable to your life activities (unless training for the circus, that is)

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         Single Leg with Reach              Reaching Tall                      Tandem Walk    

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                     Heel Walk Side Stepping                  Step Up and Balance

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.


The Loss of Balance Fear Spiral

Balance, like most other aspects of fitness, falls under the “use it or lose it” category. As we age, we tend to be less active. With that decrease in activity comes sarcopenia, a wasting of muscle that causes a drop in resting metabolic rate, increased fat weight, loss of strength, and functional abilities. A drop in activity can also decrease flexibility and balance. We notice these things, of course. We can’t do the things that we used to be able to do. So, when it comes to balance, the “What if I fall?” question that we start to ask ourselves is followed by fear and anxiety.


That fear and anxiety causes us to start to hedge our bets when it comes to balance. If you try to stand on one leg, right now, I’ll bet that you fall inward, toward the midline. Having worked with many older adults, I’ve found that this is almost universal. Why is that, you might ask. I believe (yes, this is my humble opinion, although based on years of working with the issue) that the fear of falling has started making people play it safe. If I stand balanced on one leg and lose my balance, which direction would be safer to fall? If I fall outward, I might not be able to catch myself and I could get hurt. If I fall inward, I simply catch myself with my other foot and all is right with the world. So, rather than take the chance of falling outward, I begin to pull back on my balance, never quite getting on top of the leg. This guarantees that I fall inward.  The same is true in falling forward or backward. If I lose my balance and fall backward, I could really hurt myself. However, if I fall forward I’ll either be able to get a foot out in front or at least be able to break the fall with my hands. Hence, we start to lean forward… just in case.

What’s the harm in playing it safe? Well, as we start to hedge our bet, never really balancing on one leg or standing up straight as we walk, our strides become shorter as we fall inward. We’ve decreased the balance challenge, which decreases our actual ability to balance, which we start to feel, which makes us hedge our bet more and challenge our balance even less, and… the vicious cycle continues. Before you know it, your walk has turned into a sequence of short steps, falling forward and inward. You’re now doing the old person shuffle.

The good news is that you can both prevent the loss of balance and/or regain it once you’ve started to lose it. This, like other aspects of fitness, comes from regularly challenging it. As you challenge it and start to see improvement, you become more confident, with increased confidence, you feel comfortable challenging your balance more and… you’re on an upward spiral toward greater balance and functional abilities.

Next week, I’ll talk about some specific ways to safely improve your balance.


Mindfully Changing An Overeating Habit

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.

mindful-eatingIf 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.

What a Pain!

Pain is a funny thing. For personal trainers, we have been taught that when a client feels pain it is a red flag. Stop what you are doing and send the client to a doctor. But pain is not redflag1always that simple. First, everyone perceives it differently. I’ve had clients that, after a few reps of an exercise, said that it hurts. ? OK, do I stop and send them to a doctor? Well, I do stop. But then we talk about what they are really experiencing. Where does it hurt? In the joint? In the muscle? OK, it’s in the muscle. What does that feel like? Is it sharp or stabbing? Is it dull or achey? Is it tension and fatigue? You’d be surprised how many people are unused to feeling muscle fatigue and report that as pain. I’ve also had clients that would tell me that their backs hurt when they did abdominal crunches (back when I used to have them do crunches). We’d discuss what they were sensing and determine that they were feeling a stretch tension in their lower back. This was neither harmful nor uncommon as one of the limiting factors in how high someone could crunch was the flexibility of the low back.

My point here is not to support the common declarations of “No pain, no gain.” or “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Rather, I bring this up to make you aware that there are many sensations when you are working out that are often lumped into the pain category and to take a moment and analyze what you are really feeling.

“Pain”, like Baskin-Robbins ice cream, comes in many flavors and depending on the flavor and where it is located, can help you understand its severity. First, let me say that joint pain is always more concerning than a muscular pain. With muscles, you can feel a burning fatigue, stretch tension, acheyness, soreness, cramping, etc. All of which are really more discomfort and, while not pleasant, they are not that concerning. A tearing feeling or pop, on the other hand, you had better pay attention to (stop what you’re doing and see your doctor). Joint pain should rarely be ignored. If ysevere-knee-painou have diagnosed arthritis or are just stiff and achey, maybe you can keep on keeping on. However, if you feel a sharp, stabbing sensation, a radiating pain, or even a strong ache in a joint, it is cause to stop what you are doing and seek medical attention. Joint issues can be very serious and should be addressed before returning to activity.

Backtracking a little, if there is any chronic pain that you are experiencing, no matter what flavor,  you should see your doctor. It’s always better to know what you’re dealing with. The diagnosis will let you make an informed decision as to what you can safely do or not do.

So, while some discomfort is expected in a fitness program, being able to discern between what might be considered normal and what is potentially a real injury, is important in keeping your body healthy. Listen to your body and get to know your flavors.


What’s Really Affordable Care

As I write this, the Affordable Care Act (aka ACA or Obamacare) is being dismantled for who knows what as a replacement. Although I personally think that the ACA was a great, first attempt at finding something better than a health care system that was already too expensive for most Americans, it does have it’s issues. aca-logoBut, you can never know all of the problems until something is actually put in place. In my humble opinion, we should now be focusing on correcting the things that don’t work with the ACA. That said, what I really wanted to talk about was the most affordable care… preventative care.

According to the CDC, 75% of health care costs are on people with chronic conditions. These chronic conditions include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, and respiratory diseases. Furthermore, the CDC estimates that eliminating these 3 risk factors – poor diet, inactivity, and smoking – would prevent:

  • 80% of heart disease and stroke
  • 80% of type 2 diabetes
  • 40% of cancer.

cover-chronic-care_281731694While I know that the majority of smokers know that smoking is hazardous to their health, I believe that benefits of exercise and eating healthfully are too often thought of as just a way to look better. Many people don’t understand the magnitude of health benefits that also come with them. Managing your diet and physical activity really is a health intervention. See Exercise is Medicine!

Going forward, whatever health care system is developed or put in place, it must promote preventative care or we as a nation will never manage health care costs. Of course, you don’t have to wait for that to happen. Take charge of your heath today.

Without concerted strategic intervention, chronic diseases and their risk factors can be expected to cause more harm—and be more costly to society. We cannot effectively address escalating health care costs without addressing the problem of chronic diseases.” – CDC, The Power of Prevention

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Paying Attention to Posture

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. skeleton-with-acs-webPoor 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.



Free Weights, Machines, Tubing, or Body Weight?

Should your resistance workout include free weights, machines, tubing, or body weight exercises? The answer is “yes!” It should and could include any or all of those various resistance training forms. The choice you make depends on a few things. These include what you are training for (your goals), what equipment do you have access to, and what have you been using (variety is the spice of life). Let’s talk about what each has to offer.

First, let me note that all are means of adding resistance to movement and, in doing that, have the potential to build muscle size, strength, and endurance depending on the repetition range and volume (a post for a later time). Yes, you can body build with tubing alone. Your muscles don’t know what form of resistance you are using. They only know, “Is it hard?” and if it is, your muscles will adapt.

designFree weights (a constant, external weight) have been around forever. Anything we grab and lift is a free weight. There are many physical professions that produce strong people because they lift heavy things as part of the job. In fact, some of the strong man/woman challenges are taken from these, such as the farmer’s walk and yoke carry. One of the major benefits of lifting free weights is that can replicate the demands that we face in our activities of daily living (ADL). This is typically what is called functional training. Lifting with free weights can make you deal with balance, stability, and gravity in a similar way as lifting something in “real life”.

Machines typically have a pin selected weight stack, seats that need to be adjusted to fit your body, and handles that you either pull or push. The good and the bad? Changing weights are quick and easy. Machines support your body weight so you don’t need to. This makes it less like activities of daily living. However, that support can also allow you to work around injuries and not all exercises need to be directly related to ADL. Additionally, most machines offer variable resistance. Where free weights are always the same (a 10lb dumbbell is always 10lbs), through the use of different shaped cams, machines can increase and decrease the resistance. This helps you to work through “sticking points” to maximize resistance within a full range of motion.

Tubing (elastic tension) offers the advantages of being highly portable, very versatile, and simple to change the direction of force (up, down, horizontal, etc.) by changing the anchor point. It can provide significant resistance both by changing to a heavier gauge tubing or by simply moving further away from the anchor point. The biggest downside to tubing is that you are never sure how much resistance you are using. This makes replicating the tension, from one workout to the next, challenging. Without that measurable progress marker, some people may not be as motivated.

Finally, there is body weight exercise. Using your body weight (BW) is certainly functional, we have to move our bodies around all day long. No external equipment is needed, so it’s a handy portable workout. There’s also an ego advantage. Who doesn’t like the idea of being able to handle their own BW. Push ups, pull ups, and dips are long time fitness standards. We can’t alter our weight, though, to suit the exercise. I watch some guys crank out pull ups and have to note, “Well, you only weigh 150. Try that at my weight (212 as of yesterday, btw).” Sometimes your BW is not enough. BW squats, if challenging now, will rapidly become too easy. You need to be creative to give the whole body the right amount of resistance. (See push up progression here)

So, when the question of which mode of resistance training is best for you arises, you know the answer is “It depends”. What tools are available, what is your goal, what things do you like doing? The important thing to note is that all of these can provide very effective workouts and your body will not respond differently because of the type of resistance you use.