Aging Gracefully Blog

Burn Calories or Burn Fat to Lose Weight?

August 13th, 2014

Which contributes to greater weight loss:  exercising in the "fat-burning" zone or at a higher level of intensity?  The answer lies in the number of calories burned not in which fuel substrate the body uses for energy.

To burn the most calories, you need to exercise at higher intensities.  For example, you burn more calories running for 30 minutes than walking for the same amount of time.  Running consumes calories from readily available fuel of carbohydrates. Walking at a more leisurely pace utilizes slower-burning fat for fuel; however you are using fewer calories per minute than with more intense exercise.

Higher intensity exercise also offers another benefit for weight loss in that it temporarily suppresses your appetite.  A recent study showed that cyclists who rode stationary bikes hard for 30 minutes consumed far fewer calories afterward than when they rode at a more moderate pace.  They also had lower blood levels of the hormone ghrelin, a known appetite stimulant.

According to other new research high intensity interval raining (HIIT), short bursts of intense exercise alternating with recovery periods, may have the potential to lower abdominal fat by creating a surge in hormones that have been shown to drive fat breakdown, especially deep abdominal fat.

So we can conclude that high intensity exercise contributes to weight loss by burning calories, suppressing appetite and reducing abdominal fat.  If you are a fan of moderate exercise, there are several ways to ramp up your program:

  • Know your heart rate training range which determines how hard you should work for light, moderate and high intensity levels.
  • Intersperse faster paced intervals into your moderate cardio activity.  Allow twice as long to recover from a high intensity interval, i.e. if you sprint for 1 minute, allow two minutes of active rest.
  • Add intervals of cardio activity into your strength training program, so that you keep your heart rate elevated continuously.

For more posts on this topic, please see:

Cardio Tune-Up

The 7-Minute Workout

Have You Got IT?  Maximize the Minutes in Your Workout


Exercise for Younger Skin

July 20th, 2014

A new study shows that endurance training can reverse skin aging in people who start exercising later in life.  Volunteers aged 65 or older responded to exercise with skin composition very similar to 20- to 40- year olds.

As we age, changes occur within the layers of our skin.  After age 40, the outer layer of the epidermis begins to thicken, getting drier, denser and flakier.  The layer of skin just beneath begins to thin, losing cells and elasticity, making it appear more translucent and less firm.

As recently reported in the New York Times, researchers at McMaster University in Ontario conducted a study to see whether such changes are inevitable. The surprising results showed that at the start of the study the volunteers, age 65 or older, had normal skin for their age.  However at the end of a three month program of 30 minutes of moderate intensity jogging or cycling twice a week, their skin samples compared to those of much younger people.

In order to understand how exercise causes these changes, the researchers further checked for alterations in levels of substances created by the working muscles.  Called myokines, these substances are known to jump start changes in cells far from the muscles themselves. They found that the volunteers had almost 50 percent more myokines after exercising than at the start of the study.  It's unlikely that any pill, cream or injection will ever compare to the skin benefits of a workout! 

For the complete article, click here.


10 Ways to Avoid Running Injuries

June 14th, 2014

Are you after a runner's high, a cardio tune-up or calorie burn? Whatever your motivation, early summer is an ideal season for running outside when you can breathe in fresh air, soak up Vitamin D from the sun, and enjoy green space. 

As millions of people take to city parks, country trails and high school tracks running injuries abound.  Not surprisingly, knee related injuries account for 25-50% of all lower extremity injuries (as reported in IDEA Fitness Journal, June 2014).  The foot, ankle, lower leg, hip and low back are also vulnerable. 

To keep you in the running, you must take steps to avoid injury from the most common causes.

1)         Do not increase your weekly mileage rapidly.  Make gradual changes.

2)         After a lay-off, take your time returning to your normal mileage.

3)         Avoid continuous high mileage. Risk increases meaningfully at 40 or more miles/week. 

4)         Intersperse some low-impact cross training like cycling and swimming.  Running 12 months without a break from training increases risk of injury.

5)         Alternate hard training days with lighter workouts.

6)         Steer clear of an abrupt change in running surface (grass, woodland trails, cinders, synthetic track, treadmill, concrete, etc.).

7)         Avoid running on uneven surfaces.  Most grassland, for example, is uneven and can cause problems for runners with unstable ankles.  At the beach, the tilt of sand at waters edge puts uneven stresses on the body.

8)         Change your running shoes every 350-550 miles, depending on your running style, body weight and surface.  Inadequate or worn-out footwear lacks stability and shock absorption.       

9)         If you have a history of previous injuries, learn to recognize the onset of the injury and control it.  Novice runners have higher rates of injury than seasoned runners because of this.

10)       Stay away from busy streets (for obvious reasons!)

 For other blog posts about running, please see


Spring is the Season for Hip Fractures

April 23rd, 2014

New research reveals that most hip fractures occur in the spring in women over the age of 55.  Falls are the leading cause of these fractures in post-menopausal women, emphasizing the need for counseling to reduce the risk of falling both inside and outside the home.

As published In the current issue of the National Osteoporosis Foundation Report (April 2014), a group of researchers examined fracture data from 60,000 post-menopausal women from the US, Canada, Australia and seven European countries.  They found that only hip fractures showed a seasonal variation, with the majority occurring in the spring.  The main cause was falls resulting from slipping or tripping, both inside (52%) and outside (48%) the home.

One contributing factor could be lower levels of Vitamin D due to reduced exposure to sunlight over the winter which manifest in spring, however this was not studied. In addition to adequate Vitamin D, we need enough calcium to mineralize the bones.  Due to conflicting results of several major studies regarding calcium supplementation, experts recommend that the safest and most effective source of calcium is found in food choices, not supplements, and that exercise is key to bone health, specifically weight bearing and strength training exercise.

For more on the calcium controversy and types of exercise beneficial to the bones, please refer to this previous blog post.

Sculpt Your Arms in One Easy Move!

April 15th, 2014

Looking for the most efficient way to get tank top arms in a hurry?  Here it is:  The classic push up firms your chest, sculpts your shoulders and defines the triceps in the back of your upper arms, all in one easy move.  And even better, you can do this version at the kitchen sink while you're waiting for your coffee or tea.

The diagonal push up is a simply elegant exercise that activates these three muscles of the upper body as well as your core.  With your body on an angle, you need to assume a plank position, using your abdominals and back muscles to stabilize the torso.  The position of your arms determines which muscle you target.  Begin with one set of 10-15 reps of each position; build up to 2 sets.

To target the chest and firm the muscles under your bust line, position your arms 3-4 inches wider than your shoulders.  As you lower your chest toward the counter, bend your elbows out to the sides to 90 degrees (think of making a "box" with your arms).

To focus on your shoulders, move your arms in closer, placing your hands directly under your shoulders. As you lower your chest, bend your elbows straight back so they come in close to your sides.

For the triceps, move your hands in even closer, so that you can make a triangle with your index fingers and thumbs.  Now when you bend your elbows, they will flare out to the sides, making a diamond shape as you lower your chest to the counter.

Check out this video for more tips on proper form.


10 Top Fitness Tips for the New Year

January 5th, 2014

Tone up, trim down, and stay in shape all year long! Use these 10 tips from Aging Gracefully Blog posts to create an exercise routine that you can keep up every day for long term benefits.

  1. Create a habit of exercise:  A new study suggests that habits may be more important than will power in the effort to change.  Read more...
  2. Be accountable:  Pew research reports that 70% of Americans now track some aspect of their health and fitness.  Read more
  3. Set SMART Goals:  Experts in the field of self-improvement state that your goals must be Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Timed.  Read more
  4. Bounce back from set-backs:  Backsliding is no excuse to give up!  Be resilient and use a constructive attitude to deal with challenges.  Read more about new research on resilience and the 7 habits of resilient people.
  5. Take the mistake out of lifting weights:  These 5 strength training "don'ts" help you get started safely.  Read more
  6. Tune-up your cardio workouts:  Bust out of a stale cardio routine to get real results.  Read more
  7. Maximize the minutes in your workout:  Boost health and fitness benefits with Interval Training.  Read more
  8. Count the steps in your day to reduce your risk of disease.  Read more
  9. Think outside the box:  Expand your horizons and take your workout in the great outdoors.  Read about winter workouts here and easy ways to adapt your indoor workout to the outdoors here.
  10. Protect your joints:  Show your wrists some love; be kind to your knees.  Ease the pain of arthritis (Part 1 and Part 2)

Stay tuned for future blog posts with more practical tips on how to keep up with everyday exercise for lifelong fitness.