Aging Gracefully Blog

Archive for the ‘Aging and fitness’ Category

Strength Training by the Decade

Thursday, 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.

Stay Supple with Stretching

Sunday, 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.

Is Your Spine Bent Out of Shape?

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

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 exercises help reinforce the natural curves of the spine, improving both your normal posture and your form in weight training exercises. 

 The natural curves of the spine:

  • serve to counteract the constant force of gravity on the body.
  • ensure that the joints work efficiently.
  • enhance body mechanics in all positions – standing, sitting, on all fours, moving.

 In neutral alignment the 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

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.

Get in the habit of doing these four simple exercises to improve your spinal alignment. 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 tall.
  • 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.
  • Video: Two Easy Exercises to Align the Spine http://www.joanpaganofitness.com/daily-video-tool-kit.html
  • Other related posts:  http://www.joanpaganofitness.com/blog/2010/08/16/s-u-s-secret-code-for-posture/

A Balancing Act

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

Years ago there was an ad on TV that showed a woman putting on panty hose while standing up. My mother asked me then if I could doJoan Pagano balancing on curb that and at the time, I could.  Now, however, when I try to wiggle into leggings and tights while balancing, it's a real challenge!

Our ability to balance peaks around age 20 and normally stays excellent through our early 40s.  From the mid-40s to early 70s, balance starts to deteriorate.  The changes are so subtle that most women are not aware of them.

After the mid-70s, loss of balance begins to affect our quality of life.  In the U.S., falls are the leading cause of injury for people over age 65.  In fact:

  • 25% of older people who fall and fracture a hip die within a year.
  • 80% have severe mobility problems causing a sudden loss of independence.

Balance is controlled by the brain's cerebellum, which is responsible for movement and coordination.  It's a complicated function involving vision, muscle strength, proprioception and attention.  With age, these elements deteriorate.

What are some of the risk factors for falling?

  • Muscle weakness:  balancing is directly related to the strength of our ankles, knees and hips
  • Muscle tightness and loss of agility
  • Arthritis of the knees (related to lack of joint mobility)
  • Previous falls
  • Age-related sensory changes, like slower reaction time, reduced vision
  • Changes in spinal alignment and center of gravity, e.g. bent-over posture of osteoporosis
  • Medications, e.g. for hypertension which can cause postural hypotension and dizziness

However, while certain declines with age are unavoidable, studies show that much of the sense of balance can be preserved and even restored through exercises that require no special equipment or training.

Test your balance:

  • Stork stance on one leg, eyes open, eyes closed
  • Tandem stance, on both legs as if on a tight rope, eyes open, eyes closed
  • Weight shift:  do a squat (weight back on your heels) followed by a calf raise (lifting up on the balls of your feet)

Easy ways to improve balance in daily life:

Can You Beat Belly Fat?

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Woman measuring her waistlineIf you are frustrated by stubborn belly fat, you're not alone!  It's a common aspect of menopause, affecting not only the way we feel and look in clothing, but also our health risk profile.  So what is the story:  Is there any way we can defeat it?

First, the facts.  In 2012 the International Menopause Society conducted a large review of decades of research and concluded that the hormonal shifts of menopause trigger a redistribution of body fat, causing it to accumulate in the abdomen.  Last year, researchers at the Mayo Clinic compared fat tissue in pre- and postmenopausal women and found that at the cellular level two enzymes that work to store fat were more active in the postmenopausal women, primarily because of the drop in estrogen.

While it's been documented that women gain an average of ten pounds as the metabolism slows down around the time of menopause, studies also show they can lose weight through diet and exercise.  As published in the journal Menopause in 2012, one study randomly assigned 17,000 postmenopausal women to either a control group or one that was put on a healthy diet emphasizing foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  After a year the healthy diet group had fewer hot flashes and was three times as likely to have lost weight.

Another study called the Women's Healthy Lifestyle Project followed 535 premenopausal women as they went through menopause.  About half of them were assigned to follow a low-calorie diet and to burn an extra 1000 to 1500 calories a week through physical activity.  After five years the women in the diet and exercise group saw greater reductions in their waist lines and were more likely to have remained at or below their starting weight.

So the proof is in the pudding!  We can beat belly fat by tightening our belts and increasing our exercise output.  Create a lifestyle routine to cut unnecessary calories, make healthy food choices, rev up your cardio in terms of both volume and intensity, and  lift weights to boost your metabolism.

(A reported by Anahad O'Connor in the Ask Well column of the NewYork Times, 4/1/14)

Happiness Improves Fitness

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

The mind-body connection continues to amaze.  New research reveals a connection between happiness and increased fitness in older adults.  A large study of men and women aged 60 and older suggests that enjoyment of life contributes to a healthier and more active old age, as well as to a longer life.

Most of us share goals of remaining independent, keeping mentally sharp and staying as mobile as possible as we age.  Researchers at University College London conducted the study to discover whether a positive outlook is related to reduced physical impairment over a period of eight years.  They collected data on:

  • physical health
  • walking speed and mobility
  • depression
  • enjoyment of life
  • and levels of impairment in daily activities

Their findings showed strong associations between physical function and life enjoyment. Older people who enjoy life are at lower risk of developing problems with daily activities and for declines in physical function. Once again, a positive mental attitude contributes to a healthy body.

The study, as reported in Idea Fitness Journal, May 2014, is available in Canadian Medical Association Journal (2014;doi: 10.1503/cmaj.131155).

For more posts on this topic, please see:

Get Fit Now!  Midlife Fitness Predicts Healthy Old Age

Seven Habits of Highly Resilient People

A Tribute to a Special Woman