Aging Gracefully Blog

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.

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 claimed 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, in terms of health benefits, bear in mind that you are not building muscle strength or bone density, nor are you 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 10-15 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/

 

Exercise Smarter, Not Harder

April 8th, 2015

Take a creative approach to exercise.  Not only is it fun to find innovative ways to shake up your normal routine, but all the body’s systems need to be surprised with diverse patterns of stress in order to continue to improve.  Use these simple tips to become more resourceful in your every day activities and watch your body redistribute as you shape up. 

Instead of doing the same old route when you're out for your usual walk/run, look for inclines to power up, stairs to hop down and places to throw in 20 jumping jacks.  By adding intervals of varying intensity, you are simultaneously building bone, tuning up your cardiovascular system and burning extra calories.

If your program is stale and needs rejuvenating, try something new.   Intervals of high intensity work can be adapted to resistance training as well as to cardio activity.  Try interspersing one minute of heart-pumping cardio into your strength training exercises.  You can use exercises like jumping rope, step-ups or running in place to keep your heart rate elevated. 

Use compound movements in your strength training. Combine upper and lower body actions to target 8-10 muscle groups for efficient toning and calorie expenditure.  For example, try combining a front lunge with a lat row, a squat with a biceps curl and calf raise, a plie with a shoulder raise. You improve your coordination and core stabilization in addition to getting a full-body workout in a shorter period of time.

Invent time-saving ways to fit exercise into your day-to-day.  If life intervenes and you can’t do your normal weight training session, at least do some exercises using your body weight, like push ups, squats, crunches and planks.  Do two sets of diagonal push ups after your walk/run, using a railing or back of a park bench for support. Practice balance by standing on one leg while brushing your teeth for two minutes.  Sit on a stability ball at your desk to add some core training as the muscles of the trunk work to keep you upright.

Ramp up your daily activities by becoming more creative in how you choose to exercise.  As you develop an active lifestyle in your daily routines, your body will thank you by becoming healthier and more energetic.  And the changes will be reflected in the way you wear your skinny jeans!

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

 

 

Is Your Spine Bent Out of Shape?

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/