Aging Gracefully Blog

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.

Beat Belly Fat with Burst Training

September 5th, 2016

woman joggerAre you ready to “burst”?  And no, we’re not talking about your belly, but a style of cardio training that will fire up your fat-burning metabolism to incinerate calories both during the exercise and for hours afterwards.  If you are stuck in a metabolic rut or on a weight plateau, here’s a sure way to improve your results.

Often referred to as high intensity interval training (HIIT), the burst and recovery cycle pairs high intensity upsurges of movement with low effort, active rest intervals. The benefits are huge, including  a stronger heart, better lung function, improved muscular fitness, enhanced overall health and weight loss.  The most popular version of HIIT, called Tabata, was researched and developed by Professor Izumi Tabata in 1996, initially used with Olympic speedskaters and performed on a stationary cycle.

Burst training can be applied to any cardio activity – walking, running, swimming, cycling, etc. – and one big advantage is that it saves time.  You can reduce the amount of exercise and replace lengthy, steady pace workouts with burst and recovery cycles. Research consistently shows that interval training increases overall levels of fitness and burns more calories over a short period of time as compared to steady-state aerobic exercise (any form of cardio exercise paced at a continuous, steady rate).

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.  It’s the law of diminishing returns:  as your body adjusts to exercise, it tries hard to conserve rather than burn extra calories.  Your body adapts to the stimulus, burns fewer calories and eventually stops changing.  Burst training jolts your body out of complacency by stimulating all physiological systems, including fat-burning.

And here’s another huge advantage: Burst exercise sessions are shorter but the results are powerful because the body continues to burn calories as it works hard to restore itself to pre-exercise status. This “after-burn” is known as post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).  After high-intensity exercise or heavy resistance training, the body continues to require oxygen at an elevated rate.  As your metabolism remains elevated, you burn more calories in the 24 hour period following your workout.  The best part of HIIT is that most of the benefits occur during recovery!  

How to create your own workout Starting at your individual level of intensity, create your own intervals and ratio of work to recovery periods.  For example, for a ratio of 1:1 (work to recovery) break your 30-minute workout into five sequences, three minutes of moderate pace walking or jogging, followed by 3 minutes of higher intensity.  Repeat this sequence five times, and then allow a few minutes for your cool-down.  For a ratio of 1:2, do what I do:  I measure my run by the lamp posts around the reservoir in Central Park.  After I warm up at a steady pace for five minutes, I sprint from one lamp post to another, then recover for two lamp posts, and repeat 15 times.  It’s a great workout!

 In case you are concerned that vigorous exercise is unsafe or that you lack the stamina for it, recent studies show just the opposite.  Research shows that high-intensity exercise may be even better than regular aerobic activities for many patients with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, COPD, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.  While more demanding, this style of training is more efficient and often more enjoyable, safe and more effective at preventing or reversing the deficits associated with many chronic ailments. 

Remember, always get your doctor’s clearance for vigorous activity before beginning a high intensity exercise program.  This column is not intended as medical advice.

Can You Tone Up without Exercise?

April 26th, 2016

Salma Hayek recently claimed in People magazine that she stays toned and taut simply by "holding the body in a way that activates muscles all day.” Can you actually tone your belly and other trouble spots without working out or going to the gym? If you have an active lifestyle, can you really skip regular exercise and still be healthy and fit?

It is true that you can stay toned if you’re already somewhat in shape and know how to use your muscles. The key is consciously activating them in your daily activities to flatten the belly and engage the core, stabilize the shoulder blades, contract your glutes to squat and your biceps to lift and carry.  You can achieve a level of toning by contracting your muscles at a low level of intensity. If you’re concerned about maintaining a toned belly, this is something you can do every day. Click here for the free bonus video "The Anytime Move to Flatten Your Belly." 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. (Download free video demonstrating the move here). 
  • 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.

When it comes to your overall fitness, using these simple techniques can help maintain muscle tone.  Just remember that in terms of health benefits, you are not building muscle strength or bone density, nor are you conditioning your cardiovascular system.  And we all know how important that is. You may be very active during long work days, but if you are not elevating your heart rate and breathing levels it still won’t improve the function of your heart and lungs. Cardio activity aids in reducing your risk of disease and adds energy, stamina and years to your life.  Plus, it burns a lot of calories!

What else can you do if you have little to no time?  At the very least, simple body weight exercises like squats, push-ups and planks will develop muscular fitness. For cardio, try adding 10-15 minutes of fast walking or stair climbing at different points during the day, and you’ll easily accumulate at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

P.S. If you’re looking for more expert advice on the best ways to deal with belly fat and bloating, check out this 2-minute trailer for my brand new video program on how to “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues.”

Order your video today and start beating belly fat now.

This easy-to-follow video of six handy modules is packed with real-life fitness and food tips to help you lose inches, tighten muscles, keep your bones strong, enhance your mood and manage your stress.

 

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 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 to 15 repetitions of body weight exercises like pushups, 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 smartphone, 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 to 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 that 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.