Aging Gracefully Blog

Juice Up Your Joints

June 18th, 2017

Video:  Juice Up Your Joints 

Don’t let creaky joints stop you in your tracks! If you feel a bit stiffer when you wake up in the morning, it's normal. We all lose flexibility gradually with age, but just a few minutes of simple limbering exercises warm up your joints and help you ease into the demands of your day. And to make it even easier, you don’t have to get up from the bed to do them!

Being stiff is something we associate with old age since it affects the way we look, the way we feel and the way we move.  We need flexibility to perform everyday activities with ease - to get out of bed, lift children and sweep the floor. We need it to bend and lift, twist and turn, and reach overhead.  If you have limited range of motion, these movements become more restricted.

Your ability to stretch depends on genetics as well as daily habits.  Technically, flexibility is the range of motion around a joint.  It is determined by the "architecture" of the joint (the shape of the bones and cartilage) and the length of the muscles and ligaments crossing it.  If range of motion is limited so the joint can't bend or straighten, it is said to be "tight" or "stiff." 

Stiff, achy joints are also the hallmark of osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease affecting the cartilage that acts as padding between the bones of the joints.  Over time, normal wear and tear causes the cartilage to break down, reducing the cushioning in the joints and causing pain, inflammation and swelling.  It usually occurs in the weight bearing joints of the hips, knees and feet, as well as in the neck, lower spine and hands. If your hips and ankles are stiff, your stride becomes shorter and there is less natural bounce when walking, jogging or dancing.  If your hands are painful, it becomes more difficult to open a jar or lift a heavy tea kettle.

Although the tendency is to minimize movement to avoid pain, this unfortunately can lead to more pain and stiffness. These limbering movements will actually diminish the discomfort, release lubricating fluid into the joints and increase mobility.  Instead of jumping out of bed in the morning, take two minutes to do these gentle range of motion exercises on the side of your bed to ease into your day. 

Contact Joan for more information about a stretching program:  joan@joanpaganofitness.com

 

 

 

 

Stay on Your Feet

May 4th, 2017

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness month. The bottom line of exercise for osteoporosis is to prevent falls and hip fractures, the most debilitating and life-altering type of fractures.  A combination of strengthening, stretching, and balance training is the perfect formula for fall prevention, and it can all be done 1-2-3!

Have you noticed that your balance is slipping with age?  Sometimes when I make a lateral move, like side-stepping to avoid something, I go off balance and swerve a bit. I definitely look tipsy and feel embarrassed!

Our ability to balance peaks at around age 20 and normally remains excellent through our early to mid-40s, after which it begins a subtle process of deterioration.  It happens so slowly that it is almost imperceptible, but the fact is that the neurotransmitters that coordinate balance deteriorate with age.

The good news is that balance improves with training, both with strength training and with specific balance training.  The first gains in a strength training program are neuromuscular, creating a new integration between the brain and the body.  As you learn proper form to coordinate the movements, the signals to the brain create growth, first in the pathways to the brain and then to the muscles and joints directly. 

The neuromuscular stimulus results in quicker reaction time, the ability to recover from a stumble or to change direction.  Our balance centers – eyes, ears and feet – work together to sense imbalance and correct the course.  As the muscles get stronger, especially in the lower body, we become more stable and more able to prevent a fall or an injury.

Specific balance training is also very effective.  If you are just starting to work on balance, try this simple stork stance to determine which leg is more stable.  Stand on one leg, fixing your eyes on something in front of you. Engage your core muscles by drawing your belly button in toward your spine.  When you can hold the position for 30 seconds, try closing your eyes (or one eye) to increase the level of difficulty.  When you switch legs, note the difference between the two sides, which can be quite dramatic.

Next, add movement for dynamic balance, such as doing a "tight-rope" walk on the floor.  Walk heel-to-toe in a straight line.  Again, it helps to keep your eyes focused on something in front of you instead of looking down since the eyes are one of your balance centers.  Maintain proper alignment, holding your torso upright, chest lifted, eyes straight ahead. 

The next challenge to your equilibrium moves you from a stable surface, the floor, to an unstable one such as a stability ball.  You can sit, lie, or place your feet on top of the ball to create instability.  Just sitting on it requires continual adjustments:  the ball activates the muscles of your feet, legs, hips, and spine to maintain your balance.  Some schools in Europe have replaced chairs with balls in classrooms to improve posture and activity levels in children. I use one myself for a desk chair.

Your balance will improve with practice.  Do strength training exercises to enhance your mind-body connection and to build stability in the large muscles of the legs.  Then do specific exercises to challenge your balance and create symmetry between the two sides of your body. You'll reduce your risk of falling and prevent a possible injury.

Watch this video to see a simple way to strengthen your ankles, stretch your legs and practice balance.

Video: 1-2-3 Calf Raise, Leg Stretches, Balance

Joan Pagano demonstrating calf raise

Joan Pagano is a member of the National Osteoporosis Foundation Ambassador Leadership Council. She is the former trainer to Jacqueline Onassis and Caroline Kennedy, a best-selling author, a speaker on health and fitness topics and the owner of Joan Pagano Fitness in New York City.  For more about Joan and her services, please visit www.joanpaganofitness.com

(c) Copyright - Joan L. Pagano. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Miracle-Gro for the Brain

April 8th, 2017

Flex your mental muscle with exercise!  Physical fitness provides powerful protection against dementia and Alzheimer’s. While it is true that your brain changes as you grow older, cognitive decline is not inevitable with age. Studies examining exercise and brain health have clearly established links among physical activity, cardiovascular fitness, weight training, mental function and brain plasticity.  They have found that the dynamic nature of the brain is responsive to lifestyle, including whether and how you exercise.

Studies show that both aerobic exercise and strength training can beneficially change the structure of the brain and produce improvements in memory, while being inactive may lessen mental capacity. And here’s even more reason to get moving now:  Those who are most fit at midlife have a substantially lower risk of developing dementia later in life than those who are not physically active.

The brain retains plasticity, or the capacity to be reshaped, throughout our lifetimes, i.e. it continues to be able to change physically, functionally and chemically as long as we live. The more "plastic" the brain becomes, the more it can reorganize itself, modifying the number and strength of connections between nerve cells and different brain areas. Plasticity in the brain is important for learning, memory and motor skill coordination. 

Aerobic exercise jump-starts that process, cutting your lifetime risk of Alzheimer's in half and the risk of general dementia by 60 percent.  Even one 30-minute session of vigorous cardio activity has been shown improve the brain's plasticity. Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, triggering the release of a chemical (brain-derived neurotrophic factor also known as "Miracle-Gro for the brain") that stimulates activity in the hippocampus, the area involved in memory, learning and the ability to plan and make decisions.  It also repairs cell damage and strengthens synapses, which connect brain cells.

In general, older people require more of the brain's resources to complete the same tasks that young people do with less cognitive effort.  These are high-level mental tasks that require attention, problem-solving, and decision making.  However, the brain of an older person who is aerobically fit acts like a younger brain; much as a fit body is more efficient in performing the same physical task than one which is less fit.

As you pump up your muscles, you also pump up your brain volume.  Muscles, like brains, tend to shrink with age, affecting how you move.  One study looked at how changes in gait with aging could indicate declines in brain health. It found that after a year of twice-weekly light weight-training sessions, the participants had less shrinkage of the brain and walked more quickly than those who only trained once a week or just did stretching and balance twice a week.

So how much exercise should you aim for to keep your brain sharp?  Brisk walking for 20 or 25 minutes several times a week and light weight training twice a week have both been shown to be enough exercise to boost the brain.  For simple tips on at-home strength training exercises, please visit www.joanpaganofitness.com

(c) Copyright - Joan L. Pagano. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

 

 

 

Dangerous Curves: Simple Steps to Reverse the Forward Slouch

March 7th, 2017

Your posture speaks louder than words!  “A slouching posture tends to suggest a certain laziness of character…whereas an upright posture can confirm a sense of self-possession,” according to Count Rostov in A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

As you sit reading this, what is the shape of your spine?  Are you hunched over your computer, leaning on your desk or slumped back in a chair?  Daily postures can sabotage proper spinal alignment, but a few easy moves help reinforce the natural curves of the spine, improving both your normal posture and your form in weight training exercises. 

In neutral alignment four natural curves create a functional balance:  

  • two slight inward curves of the neck and low back
  • two slight outward curves of the mid-back and sacrum

They help counteract the constant force of gravity on the body, ensure that your joints work efficiently and enhance your body mechanics in all positions – sitting, standing and moving.

However, when any of these curves becomes exaggerated it can cause strain in the joints, ultimately leading to headaches, neck and shoulder problems, sciatica, and hip and knee pain. When overloaded with weights, this can cause worse problems.

Good and poor posture are both habits that develop from repeated movement patterns. To re-train your spinal curves, get in the habit of doing these four simple exercises. You can even do them sitting at your desk.  Repeat each move 5-10 times daily. 

Lengthen the spine:  To restore and maintain the normal curves of the spine, try this "growing exercise."  Take a deep breath, filling the belly with air, and gradually lengthen the spine as you lift the top of your head to the ceiling. Think of elongating through the torso, stretching the space between the ribs and the hips, decompressing the spine. Fluff up the chest by drawing the air up into the chest cavity. As you exhale, hold the height and stay ta

Realign the head:  It is common to develop a forward head position from our daily activities.  The "neck press" strengthens the muscles of the neck and upper back and realigns the head over the shoulders.  Put two fingers on your chin.  Inhale, then as you exhale use your fingers as a cue to retract your chin, i.e. move it straight back, pressing the curve out of the back of your neck. Keep your chin level being careful not to push it down. Release and repeat

Anchor the shoulder blades:  When you're in the habit of slouching, your shoulder blades slide forward and apart exaggerating the curve of the mid-back.  "W's" activate the muscles that stabilize your shoulder blades, an extremely important technique to use when doing upper body weight training. Hold your arms out to the sides, palms forward, with the elbows bent and in line with the shoulders. To form a "W", inhale, then squeeze the shoulder blades down and together as you let your breath out slowly. Hold for 2-3 seconds and repeat.

Align the pelvis:  The position of the pelvis determines the degree of curve in the lumbar spine.  Neutral spine alignment is midway between a full arch and a flat back position. Explore your personal range of motion by tilting your pelvis forward and back. Return to a neutral position, allowing the slight curve in the low back area -just enough to slip your hand in if you are lying on your back or standing straight with your back against the wall. Tighten your abdominals to hold this position

Improving posture requires a conscious effort and begins with developing the mental awareness of how to hold the natural curves of the spine.  As a result, you will not only avoid pain and strain, but you’ll also project a proud, confident personality, or in Count Rostov’s words “confirm a sense of self-possession.”

Video: Two Easy Exercises to Align the Spine http://www.joanpaganofitness.com/daily-video-tool-kit.html

(c) Copyright - Joan L. Pagano. All Rights Reserved Worldwide

 

 

 

10 Easy Steps to Home Fitness

December 10th, 2016

Home fitness is the easy way to reach your goals this year and get real results. Get your mind set and body ready to make fitness a daily habit with ten easy steps.  The secret of your success is found in your everyday routines. Day by day your choices shape your actions:  Small, smart, manageable choices will become permanent habits with practice.  Consistency is the key to building and maintaining momentum.

1)  Consistency is more important than intensity. Each day you should eat and exercise in such a way today that you can face doing it again tomorrow. This is how to gradually establish healthy habits that will serve you throughout life and that you will revert to when life becomes hectic.

2)  Get in the habit of exercise to overcome weak willpower.  Habits persist even when we're at low energy and weak self-control. Studies show that we tend to default to a habit when we lack the mental capability to make a choice, for example if we are deliberating about whether or not to exercise. Read more:  http://www.joanpaganofitness.com/blog/2013/10/26/get-in-the-habit-of-exercise-to-overcome-weak-willpower/

3)  Accumulate 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most (at least 5) days of the week.  Exercise accumulated in short bouts of 10 or 15 minutes offers weight loss and aerobic fitness benefits comparable to those achieved in longer workouts.  Think "activity" instead of "workout."    Walk to work, take the steps, lift and carry your groceries, do housekeeping chores energetically.  It all counts!

4)  Count your steps with your smart phone, pedometer or other tracking device.  See how many steps you average and then build on them.  Try to add 1000 steps per day every week until you hit 10,000 in a day!  People who keep a track record tend to achieve their goals. Read more:  http://www.joanpaganofitness.com/blog/2013/11/17/the-quantified-self-health-and-fitness-self-monitoring/

5)  Learn to do a proper squat, the #1 functional exercise for life.  It’s the movement that we need to get up from a seated position - from a chair, toilet or bathtub.  While working the large muscles of the lower body, the squat creates strength and stability to reduce the risk of falling.  As a bonus, it helps lift and firm the bottom line!

6)  Combat the negative effects of prolonged sitting.  Extended sitting slows the body’s metabolism and creates a “lazy biology” raising the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart, kidney and liver disease, and certain kinds of cancers, even if you work out!  For every hour you're sitting, get up and move around for five minutes.  Read more:  http://www.joanpaganofitness.com/blog/2013/02/18/are-you-at-risk-for-the-new-silent-disease/

7)  Practice perfect posture.  Train yourself to stand up straight:  lift the chest, lengthen the torso, roll your shoulders down and back.  “Zip up” your abs by drawing your navel back toward your spine.  Take a deep breath and notice how good it feels to fill your lungs with air!

8)  Wake up your cardio workout.  If you are doing the same kind of steady pace cardio routine over and over, say walking or jogging for 30 minutes most days of the week, your body will stop improving because it has adapted to that level of exercise. Add intervals of high intensity or “bursts” to improve fitness levels and burn more calories. Read more:  http://www.joanpaganofitness.com/blog/2016/09/05/beat-belly-fat-with-burst-training/

9)  Stay supple with stretching.  Relieve morning stiffness and joint pain.  Just a few minutes of daily stretching helps maintain flexibility, which in turn keeps the muscles supple and counteracts the wear and tear of everyday life, allowing you to maintain a youthful appearance and active lifestyle.  http://www.joanpaganofitness.com/blog/2015/10/04/stay-supple-with-stretching/

10)  Be thankful!  Science finds that the practice of gratitude improves your health. Studies show it can relieve stress, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve heart rhythms, boost your immune system and reduce the effects of aging on the brain.

Pick a couple of these fitness tips and begin to incorporate them daily. Then add two more as you work down the list. Don’t be discouraged that things aren’t happening faster. It doesn’t mean you won’t get there. As you are developing a new mindset, it takes time for the brain to adjust and program the changes until they become automatic.

Get simple strategies to enhance daily life with more energy, a better mood and less stress.  Call Joan today:  212-722-8116.

 © Copyright – Joan L. Pagano.  All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Weighing in for the Holidays

October 31st, 2016

If you are typical of most Americans, your weight was probably at an annual low at the beginning of October. It is likely to creep up with the approaching holidays, peaking around New Year’s Day with an increase of about 0.7 percent. According to a study by Cornell University, those extra holiday pounds that happen in the next ten weeks take about five months to come off – that’s late April for us!

How can we resist this trend?  The Cornell study (conducted with data from a company called Withings that sells wireless scales) showed that participants who weighed themselves four or more times per week gained less weight and dropped it more quickly, by the end of January. Personally, I believe in the benefits of daily weighing, a habit that will work for you too!

Weighing in can be an effective tool of feedback.  By establishing your average daily weight within a narrow range of several pounds, it’s easy to recognize when you start gaining.   Your weight normally fluctuates from day to day within a few pounds, depending on fluid levels, salt intake and hormonal changes.  Damage control is most effective at an early stage, as you start to exceed this range, rather than waiting until you have a major project of losing ten or more pounds.

How you lose weight matters. Crash diets usually backfire because if you don't eat enough your metabolism switches to slow-mo as your body adapts to sustain itself with fewer calories when faced with potential starvation. Clinging to those calories makes it harder to take weight off. A more effective strategy is to eat a well-rounded diet of healthy foods in moderation. Portion control is key, as is limiting sugar, fat and alcohol. Exercise restraint when confronted with temptation and keep track of your party-time indulgences.

In a similar fashion, if you are always doing the same steady pace cardio workout at the same moderate intensity for days, weeks, months on end, your body will adapt to the training stress after 4-8 weeks.  As you continue this type of training, you’ll actually burn fewer calories, not more, even as you add more workouts.  To trigger fat loss, shorten the length of your exercise session and increase the intensity by adding sprint intervals.  For more on this, see my recent blog post Beat Belly Fat with Burst Training.

Stress also contributes to weight gain. The holiday season can wreak havoc with your best intentions to stay calm, cool and collected.  Stress levels rise along with hectic schedules, parties, travel and general disruption to your normal routines.  When you are in a stressful situation, your body makes a hormone called cortisol, meant to give you a quick boost of energy.

But if you’re stuck in a stressed-out zone, the body thinks you still need to fight, so it keeps making cortisol. High levels of this hormone make it harder for your body to use insulin which slows your metabolism and fuels weight gain. Helpful tips to stay calm and carry on include:

  • manage your time; keep track of your commitments
  • pace yourself to avoid over-booking throughout the month
  • make sure you get enough sleep
  • practice mindful techniques like meditative minutes and deep breathing

So prepare yourself to sail through the holidays with a minimum of overload by using simple steps to track your weight, moderate your diet, intensify your cardio workouts and manage stress.  Here’s looking to late January for being back to normal!

For more about how to beat belly fat, please see Joan Pagano’s video program “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues:  Simple Steps to a Better You

© Copyright – Joan L. Pagano.  All Rights Reserved Worldwide.