Aging Gracefully Blog

The Dumbbell Diet

January 24th, 2016

Digital scale with blue tape measureTo slim down and shape up, should you focus on losing inches or losing pounds?  The scale cannot differentiate between fat pounds and muscle pounds, so while your scale weight may not budge as you lose body fat and gain lean muscle, the proof will be in the fit of your clothing.

Your weight is composed of two separate elements:  fat and lean body mass (muscle, bone, organs, and fluids).  Body composition is the "quality" of your weight as opposed to the "quantity" of your weight as measured by the scale.  You can gauge your body-fat status roughly by the fit of a favorite pair of jeans.  One pound of fat takes up more space than one pound of muscle, so as you lose fat you literally shrink. (Think of meat on display at the butcher's:  a 3-pound roast is small compared to 3 pounds of fat).

Some people who appear to be lean and are of normal weight according to the charts can be qualitatively measured as overfat or "skinny fat."  For example, a 20 year-old woman who does not lift weights will gain about five pounds of fat and lose five pounds of muscle by the time she's 50.  This means that even if you maintain your scale weight perfectly over time, subtle changes are occurring in your body composition that can affect your health and appearance.

Lifting weights will sculpt the contours of your body.  You will have a flatter belly, shapelier arms, firmer legs, and you'll look great in a little black dress.  But body composition and body shape are about more than just looking good:  they are also closely related to your health.  With optimal body composition, including a high ratio of lean body mass to fat, you minimize your risk of developing diseases that are related to obesity, like heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, gout and some cancers.

Weight loss from exercise is primarily fat loss.  As you exercise regularly, you will reduce fat stores from the whole body, and you will develop leaner, toned muscles instead.  The gain in lean muscle tissue and loss of excess fat will result in trimmer contours and smaller circumferences regardless of the number of pounds lost.

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

 

 

10 Top Holiday Fitness Tips

November 21st, 2015

The holiday season can wreak havoc with your best intentions to stay in shape. It's easy to get de-railed with parties, slice of pumpkin pie with whipped toppingtravel and general disruption to your normal routines.  Be proactive: Plan your strategy now to maintain your fitness when life gets hectic. Use these 10 TIPS to keep on track for the New Year. 

1)  Make movement a daily habit.  The secret of your success is found in your everyday routines. Consistency is the key to building and maintaining momentum. 

2)  Think "activity" instead of "workout."  Find opportunities to be active during the course of your day.  Walk to work, take the steps, lift and carry your groceries, do housekeeping chores energetically.  It all counts!

3)  Accumulate 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most (at least 5) days of the week.  Studies show that that exercise accumulated in short bouts of 10 or 15-minutes offers weight loss and aerobic fitness benefits comparable to those achieved in longer workouts.  Take 2 or 3 shorter walks every day. 

4)  Simple exercises provide a mini full-body workout, no equipment needed.  Do 10-15 repetitions of body weight exercises like push ups, squats and crunches every other day for your muscle work. Too easy?  Add another set of each.

5)  Combat the negative effects of prolonged sitting.  For every hour you're sitting, get up and move around for five minutes.

6)  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!

7)  Use the small moments of your day to do a few minutes of exercise while you're standing at the kitchen sink, sitting at your desk, relaxing on the couch.  Visit the Daily Video Tool Kit  for free video clips of different exercises.

8)  Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth to improve balance.

9)  Do range of motion exercises in the shower.  The warm, moist air is perfect for limbering up stiff hands and fingers.

10)  Stretch your muscles at the end of the day to discharge tension and get a better night's sleep.   Stretch every day for best results but at minimum 2 or 3 times a week.  See the End-of-Day Couch Stretches in the Daily Video Tool Kit.

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.

Strength Training by the Decade

November 5th, 2015

Mother and daughter doing push-ups

Strength training sculpts the contours of your body and strengthens the bones within.  By building lean body mass,it boosts your metabolism and your energy levels, making you resistant to the slow down that occurs with age.   A well-designed exercise program that includes weight training will impact your weight, health, fitness and well-being for decades to come.

At 20: A 20-year-old woman who does not lift weights will lose about 6 pounds of muscle and gain 5 pounds of fat by age 50.   This means that even if you maintain your scale weight perfectly over time, subtle changes are occurring in your body composition that can affect your health and appearance.

At 30:  Strengthening the muscles benefits the bones as well.  Now is the time to put "bone in the bank" to fortify against the natural loss of bone that occurs gradually with age.  By age 25-30 you’ve achieved your peak bone mass, the highest bone content you’ll have in your lifetime.  Although bone continues to renew itself, from this time on you will experience a natural decline in bone density which accelerates at the time of menopause before leveling off again.

At 40: Turning 40 is a wake up call as many women begin to notice changes in their bodies that sound the alarm.  You may be perplexed by creeping weight gain and stubborn belly fat.  At around age 40, most women start to lose bone and muscle mass causing a decrease in metabolism of about 5% every decade.  The slower metabolic rate contributes to mid-life weight gain when you eat the same amount of food but don't burn all the calories consumed. Strength training revs up the metabolism by maintaining muscle.

At 50: What causes midlife belly?  The average weight gain during perimenopause is 10 pounds, and there is a natural tendency to store fat in the abdominal area.  The combination of age, hormones and stress all contribute to belly fat.  With age, a woman's level of estrogen declines and the male hormone testosterone becomes more prominent.  This causes fat to migrate to the gut from other parts of the body.  Stress reaction has a similar effect on fat distribution as it releases another hormone, cortisol, which also encourages fat storage in the belly. Women who lift weights gain less abdominal fat than those who don't.

At 60, 70 and beyond: Sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, causes a generalized slow-down.  Between the ages of 50 and 70 women lose almost 30% of overall strength, with dramatic losses after age 70.  The fast twitch muscle fibers shrink in size, causing not only a loss of muscle mass, but also a loss of power and energy levels. With advancing age, it becomes more critical to preserve your  "functional independence" as measured by your ability to perform all your day-to-day activities, which together comprise a lifestyle. 

Strength training is the key factor in an active aging process. Strong people are more able-bodied and self-sufficient. Studies show that lifting weights can improve your quality of life into your 80s and 90s.  Steady exercise can help recover lost vitality, reverse physical frailty, and manage chronic health problems like osteoporosis, glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. You are never too old to begin a weight-training program and the sooner you start, the longer you benefit.

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

Stay Supple with Stretching

October 4th, 2015

Inevitably with time, things change.  You feel a bit stiffer in the mornings; your joints are a little creaky; a glimpsed reflection in a Cat stretchingwindow reveals you're not as straight as you thought.  Decreased flexibility may be a common aspect of aging, but it is one that you can do something about, no matter what your age. 

Just a few minutes of daily stretching can help 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. By enhancing your mobility, stretching increases your efficiency in all activities so that they require less effort and leave you feeling less tired.

Your ability to stretch depends on genetics as well as your daily habits.  The unique structure of bones and the length of the soft tissue (muscles, tendons and ligaments) surrounding them determine the joints' range of movement.  Some joints, like those affected by arthritis, may be "stiff" or restricted; others like those of a contortionist, "loose" or hypermobile.

 The constant downward pull of gravity and gradual dehydration of the body's tissues cause us literally to shrink over time, but stretching can help by lengthening the muscles.  There is a natural tendency for some muscles to be short and tight, while others are prone to being long and weak.

Stretching can help offset this imbalance and improve the alignment, as in the "forward slouch." This is a typical posture of aging:  upper back rounded, shoulders hunched, and the head forward of the body.  The remedy is to stretch the chest and shoulders and re-align the head by strengthening the neck and back muscles.

Poor posture and alignment can cause pain when the muscles become chronically tired and strained and more prone to injury.  Headache, neck and shoulder tension, sciatica, low back, hip and knee pain can all be symptoms of this.  In addition, shortened muscles are more at risk for injury caused by simple movements. 

Here are easy stretches you can do throughout the day:

Gentle Morning Limbering:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0cYeDANUwk

At-Work Desk Stretches:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XE-uuiZnChM

End of Day Couch Stretches  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prLmMmObous

 See more simple exercises you can do around the house in my Daily Video Tool Kit.

Can You Tone Up without Exercise?

August 6th, 2015

No time for the gym or for routine workouts? Is it true, as Salma Hayek claims in People magazine, that you can stay toned and taut simply by "holding the body in a way that activates muscles all day"? If you have an active lifestyle, can you really skip regular exercise and still be healthy and fit?

It is true that once you have a foundation of fitness and the kinesthetic awareness of how to use your muscles, you can consciously activate them in your daily activities to engage the core, stabilize the shoulder blades, contract your glutes to squat, and your biceps to lift and carry. This is something we should all aim to do! You won't develop strength in the muscles but you can maintain a level of toning by contracting muscles at a low level of intensity. You'll also improve your posture, alignment and body mechanics.

Here's how:

  • To engage your core and flatten your belly, "zip up" your abs as if you were zipping up a tight pair of jeans. Pull your navel in toward your spine and then up, lifting the pelvic floor. This move trains the deep abdominal muscle that lies right under your jean zipper.
  • Stand up straight, rolling the shoulders down and back. Hold them there by engaging the muscles between the shoulder blades to anchor them and prevent a "forward slouch."
  • Sit without support, using your core muscles to keep your spine tall, ribs stacked over the hips.
  • When you bend and lift, use the large muscles of your legs – the glutes, quads and hamstrings – to squat down, keeping your back straight.
  • When you are leaning forward, practice the "hip hinge," bending forward from the hips and not the waist. Keep your spine straight instead of rounding the upper back.
  • Get up from any seated position without using your arms for support.
  • When you brush your teeth, stand on one leg for balance and feel the muscles of that leg working to support you, especially in the ankles. Do both legs or focus on the weaker one.

In terms of overall fitness, using these simple techniques can help maintain muscle tone; however, you are not conditioning your cardiovascular system which is a key component of good health. Even if you are very active during long work days, if you are not elevating your heart rate and breathing levels you will not improve the function of the heart and lungs. Cardio activity aids in reducing your risk of disease and adds energy, stamina and longevity to your life.  Plus it burns a lot of calories!

What else can you do if you have little to no time?  At minimum, you can do simple body weight exercises like squats, push ups and the plank to condition the muscles for greater endurance. For cardio, incorporate 10 minutes of fast walking or stair climbing throughout the day to accumulate at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

 

A Natural Mood Booster

June 24th, 2015

Aging Gracefully by Joan PaganoWhen you're down in the dumps, you may not feel like exercising, but maybe you should.  Studies show that even short bouts of exercise can boost your mood as effectively as medications, relieving anxiety and depression, and building resilience to stress in the future.

Changes in your brain are associated with depression and severe stress.  Low levels of certain chemicals like norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin result in loss of brain nerve cells, contributing to feelings of sadness or emptiness, loss of interest in normal activities and ability to focus.

Antidepressants can raise the levels of brain chemicals to normalize them, but so does exercise.  As you work your heart and muscles, you release norepinephrine and serotonin into your blood stream and increase the levels in your brain.  By increasing circulation throughout the body, you also increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain, making it perform better.

Working out can also reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  The link between chronic stress and the potential for mood disorders is well-established.

Long term stress can actually contribute to shrinking volume in the brain, while depression is associated with loss of brain nerve cells and reduced blood circulation in the brain.

Exercise triggers a number of chemical chain reactions that help reverse some of the biological effects of depression. It can help:

  • Stimulate new nerve cell growth
  • Improve the network of fibers to strengthen communication between nerve cells, enhancing brain function
  • Increase blood flow to fuel brain activity
  • Activate the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in learning and memory
  • Break down kynurenine, a substance that accumulates in the muscles as a result of stress

How much exercise do you need to beat the blues?  Most studies on exercise and depression have involved structured programs of cardio and strength training.  The combination of the two may be better than just cardio training.

If you are just getting started, aim for accumulating 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio activity for five days of the week and strength training sessions twice a week.  Remember, you can get your cardio in doses of 10 or 15 minute sessions throughout the day. 

For more on building resilience, please check out previous posts: 

http://www.joanpaganofitness.com/blog/2013/08/25/resilience-bouncing-back-with-spirit/

http://www.joanpaganofitness.com/blog/2013/09/07/seven-habits-of-highly-resilient-people/