Yes I Can

Yes I Can

Most of us know the physical benefits that follow an exercise session, even a short one, such as lower blood pressure and better blood sugar control. Lesser known are the equally impressive mental and psychological benefits, some of which we discussed in “Exercise and Your Brain” (see below “Black Knights”) last August.

Another powerful psychological benefit is discussed in this Health Day article - a “feeling of competence” that spills over into other aspects of life. Albert Bandura, PhD, a Stanford psychologist, calls this ”self-efficacy.” He says self-efficacy is built through mastery experiences. What is interesting is these experiences don’t have to be extreme accomplishments like climbing Mt. Everest. They can be very simple and basic.


That’s why exercise is perfect for building your self-efficacy. You have a period of time or a number of repetitions or a movement to complete. Your goal is measurable and specific.

Unlike, say, eating a piece of chocolate cake, exercise requires effort, will power, and sweat. At times, it  will feel slightly unpleasant because you breathe hard, your heart beats fast, your muscles burn.

But afterwards, many wonderful feelings follow, as sure as the sun rises in the east. You feel stronger, more relaxed, more alert, more flexible, more resilient.

You did it. You’ve been empowered.

The Human Fly Trap

The Human Fly Trap

In our workshop “Living Well for Boomers and Beyond,” we discuss the health benefits of various types of exercise. However, before even getting into muscles, aerobic versus anaerobic and all that, we first talk about how important it is to your health to spend less time sitting.

It was an unhappy bit of news to hear that a recent national study showed that most retirees fill their spare time watching more TV, not exercising more or pursuing a new passion.

Click here to view an outstanding explanation of the multi-level attack on your health caused by too much sitting and an expanded version of the graphic below, as reported by Bonnie Berkowitz and illustrated by Patterson Clark of The Washington Post.


If you think the graphic exaggerates, read Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death – and Exercise Alone Won’t by former NASA scientist Joan Vernikos, PhD, then get up and move.

Older adults are naturally losing muscle and bone mass unless they take action to slow it. Sitting accelerates decline.

Realize that your favorite easy chair or sofa is like a human version of a Venus Flytrap, the carnivorous plant. Guess who’s getting eaten?




Exercising Better

Exercising Better

In the gym, lots of people are stepping up their exercise levels. We’ve noticed fewer spaces in the parking lot, more people in the weight room. It’s good they are exercising. However, many of them would get more out of their time and effort exercising, and reduce the risk of injury, if they exercised better.


For many Boomers, their exposure to formal instruction in physical training was limited to some PE classes or participation in competitive sports years ago. On and off throughout their lives, they’ve been following variations of the same exercises as they did when they were teenagers, at least as they remember.

In the past few decades, there have been many discoveries in exercise science that have refined many traditional exercises to optimize their effectiveness while making them safer. For instance, the basic squat is an excellent exercise only when performed properly so the body is lifted primarily by the glute muscles in the butt, not the quadricep muscles in the thigh because this can cause back and knee problems.  Some exercises have been completely abandoned, for example the full sit-up.

Here’s a short article that highlights some common exercise mistakes that are easy to correct. Every day we see these mistakes made by people of all ages. The young guys contort themselves in front of the mirrors with dumb bells that are way too heavy for them and young women trudge along on a treadmill while reading a magazine and listening to music on an iPhone.

It’s the older exercisers we care most about. They have the most to lose when exercising improperly deon’t produce the benefits they are working for, or causes unnecessary soreness, pain, and even injury.

And they have the most to gain from exercising better.

Built to Last

Built to Last

Charles Eugster is a former (retired is not the right word) dentist and dedicated competitive athlete at age 94. While not all of us need to be athletes, all older adults will benefit from his message and example. He’s not a guy who worked out all his life. Quite the contrary, he encountered serious health issues, but instead of succumbing, his will to live life to the fullest kicked in and he turned his life into a truly remarkable story. With wit and grit, now he’s on a mission.

Go here (look below the video) to learn more about him. As personal trainers, here’s what we find especially noteworthy about him. He starting rowing in his 60s. Rowing is a super aerobic activity, but aerobics – like rowing, running, walking, biking and treadmills – are not sufficient to slow the decline in muscle mass (sarcopenia) that occurs in older adults. Lots of older hardcore aerobics enthusiasts have bodies that appear to be wasting.

As Charles demonstrates, it takes resistance exercise maintain and build muscle. Without muscle, you cannot keep doing your favorite aerobic activities, much less preserve basic life skills like balance and agility.

Because the video was made a couple of years ago, we checked to see if Charles is still competing. Sure enough, he won a master’s rowing race last November. However, he was not totally happy about his victory. He was the only competitor in the 90 plus age group.

Clearly, he’s built to last.


High Impact

High Impact

An unfortunate myth in our youth-obsessed culture is that older people are like delicate pieces of ancient Anasazi pottery, apt to crumble at the slightest touch. The myth is promulgated by media and, regrettably even some people in the medical and fitness industries.

The problem with this erroneous myth is that it leads many of us who are 50+ to think all we are physically capable of is taking the dog for a walk or doing some light gardening. Not that those aren’t real exercise and all movement counts – but we’re capable doing much more. And, for most of us, more is better.

In this article, Gretchen Reynolds, the NY Times wellness writer, recaps research in that shows older adults benefit from higher impact activities like running because they develop endurance and slow both muscle and bone loss.


Very light bouncing and jumping also gets the same results. Just stand with your feet shoulder width apart, bend you knees slightly, then just start bouncing off your toes for a couple of minutes, slow and steady. Your toes don’t have to even leave the floor. As your body adapts and get stronger, you can go for a longer time. Then as you go up, lift your feet an inch or so off the floor. If you do this a couple of times a week, you’ll get a stronger heart, build muscles and bones, and improve your balance.

To make high impact exercise more fun, get a jump rope.

Who says older adults can’t jump? They need to jump. The body responds to gravity by getting stronger.

If you have existing physical problems and have been sedentary, talk to a medical provider. However, make sure he or she is an exerciser who fully understands the risks and rewards of higher impact activities. Not all providers stay up to date on what current research says, especially when it comes to older adults.

Don’t become a delicate piece of ancient Anasazi pottery before your time.








Embrace the DOMs

Embrace the DOMs

Once I overheard a lady say she was skipping an exercise class, which was one part of a weight reduction program, because the first class she attended made her sore. She complained her trainer had not warned her she might feel sore afterwards. That’s too bad she skipped it because you could she could have used it.

The truth is that every person who exercises feels muscle soreness at one time or another, especially after a new trying exercise or doing a familiar exercise with more intensity or for a longer period of time. Usually the soreness shows up a day or two after the workout.  Exercise experts call it Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMs. It’s perfectly normal and expected.

A little soreness is not necessarily bad. Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes DOMs, but theorize that it’s caused by microscopic tears in the muscle tissue, prompting a slight inflammatory response as the muscle heals. But as the muscle heals, it becomes stronger. This holds for elite athletes as well as older adults. If you desire to improve your strength, flexibility, and endurance, you must learn to embrace the DOMs.

It’s easy to confuse routine soreness with pain. Pain is more intense and tends to be isolated to a specific muscle or joint. Sometimes it’s hard for 50+ adults to distinguish between the two due to old injuries or medical disorders like osteoarthritis. If you feel realacute pain during or after exercise, consult with a medical professional.

Soreness, however, is not a reason to avoid exercise. DOMs is directly proportional to how hard you exercise. You can reduce DOMs by progressing slower so that your body has time to adapt to the additional stress you are placing on it.

Some people, especially young athletes doing intense training, alleviate the DOMs by popping ibuprofen, known in slang as Vitamin-I, or aspirin. This is okay once in a while if you really overdo it, but not a good practice week after week. Ibuprofen is associated with liver damage. Nicholas DiNubile, MD, warns that both aspirin and ibuprophen block production of prostaglandin, a compound in the body that actually helps repair muscles.

When you feel the DOMSs, smile. You are building muscle.  It’s losing muscle that can kill you.







Inspiration 2014

Inspiration 2014

Hopefully everyone who reads this made at least one New Year’s resolution related to fitness. We did. We focused our resolutions on improving some of our weaknesses.

We all have them. Some are due to genetics or actual physical limitations caused by injury. However, more often they are due to our natural tendencies to prefer exercises we’re naturally good at or don’t challenge us very much.  We choose activities that play to our strengths and avoid those where we are weak.

Observe any group fitness class or people working out in the weight room and you’ll notice a gender difference that is well-known to professional trainers – most men would benefit by working more on their flexibility and, likewise, women would  benefit working more on their strength. This is doubly true for older adults.

So today David found himself on a mat in a yoga class, determined to fulfill a resolution to stretch more. He’d rather do almost anything else than stretching, especially yoga, despite all its proven benefits. (We’ll discuss the various types of stretching and their respective benefits soon in another blog.)

Because New Year’s resolutions have a tendency to melt away like snow, sticking with an exercise you may not enjoy, but know you need, takes constant effort and inspiration. Pausing before moving into a cobra pose, he remembered a video about a Gulf War veteran that he watched a couple of years ago in a wellness club where he worked in primary healthcare. Check it out.

Maybe you’ll remember it the next time you need some inspiration and it’ll work for you, too.