Aging Gracefully Blog

Archive for the ‘Women’s Wellness’ Category

Stay on Your Feet: Reduce Your Risk of Falls

Thursday, 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.

Weighing in for the Holidays

Monday, 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.

Can You Tone Up without Exercise?

Tuesday, 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

Sunday, 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.

 

 

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.

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: