Aging Gracefully Blog

Posts Tagged ‘weight training’

Miracle-Gro for the Brain

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

Flex your mental muscle with exercise!  Physical fitness provides powerful protection against dementia and Alzheimer’s. While it is true that your brain changes as you grow older, cognitive decline is not inevitable with age. Studies examining exercise and brain health have clearly established links among physical activity, cardiovascular fitness, weight training, mental function and brain plasticity.  They have found that the dynamic nature of the brain is responsive to lifestyle, including whether and how you exercise.

Studies show that both aerobic exercise and strength training can beneficially change the structure of the brain and produce improvements in memory, while being inactive may lessen mental capacity. And here’s even more reason to get moving now:  Those who are most fit at midlife have a substantially lower risk of developing dementia later in life than those who are not physically active.

The brain retains plasticity, or the capacity to be reshaped, throughout our lifetimes, i.e. it continues to be able to change physically, functionally and chemically as long as we live. The more "plastic" the brain becomes, the more it can reorganize itself, modifying the number and strength of connections between nerve cells and different brain areas. Plasticity in the brain is important for learning, memory and motor skill coordination. 

Aerobic exercise jump-starts that process, cutting your lifetime risk of Alzheimer's in half and the risk of general dementia by 60 percent.  Even one 30-minute session of vigorous cardio activity has been shown improve the brain's plasticity. Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, triggering the release of a chemical (brain-derived neurotrophic factor also known as "Miracle-Gro for the brain") that stimulates activity in the hippocampus, the area involved in memory, learning and the ability to plan and make decisions.  It also repairs cell damage and strengthens synapses, which connect brain cells.

In general, older people require more of the brain's resources to complete the same tasks that young people do with less cognitive effort.  These are high-level mental tasks that require attention, problem-solving, and decision making.  However, the brain of an older person who is aerobically fit acts like a younger brain; much as a fit body is more efficient in performing the same physical task than one which is less fit.

As you pump up your muscles, you also pump up your brain volume.  Muscles, like brains, tend to shrink with age, affecting how you move.  One study looked at how changes in gait with aging could indicate declines in brain health. It found that after a year of twice-weekly light weight-training sessions, the participants had less shrinkage of the brain and walked more quickly than those who only trained once a week or just did stretching and balance twice a week.

So how much exercise should you aim for to keep your brain sharp?  Brisk walking for 20 or 25 minutes several times a week and light weight training twice a week have both been shown to be enough exercise to boost the brain.  For simple tips on at-home strength training exercises, please visit

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




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.



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)

Your Exercise Program: 5 Strength Training “Don’ts”

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Time to get going on your fitness program!  If you're thinking about lifting some weights at home or getting back into the gym, take note of a few strength training "Don't's", beginning with "Don't wait to get started!"

1)         Don't start off too fast or increase too soon because you'll risk muscle soreness and strain.   Do start easy and increase the amount of weight gradually.

2)         Don't set unrealistic goals.  People often become disillusioned and quit exercising when they can't meet the goals they've set.   Do start with a simple exercise plan on which you can build, and which will provide incentive for progressing.

3)         Don't only use seated weight machines that support your body, since they allow the core muscles to be a little "lazy." Do incorporate free weights into your program, since they require you to stabilize using your own core strength.

4)         Don't imitate other people in the gym, assuming that they know what they're doing because often they do not!  Do get some professional advice regarding how to properly perform strength training exercises.

5)         Don't use the scale to gauge the changes in your body because the scale cannot differentiate between fat pounds and muscle pounds.  Do measure yourself by the way your clothing fits – a favorite pair of jeans can be the perfect gauge. Changes that occur with weight training are reflected in your body composition, which is the quality of your weight as opposed to the quantity of your weight.  As you develop lean body mass and shape up, your contours may literally be shrinking even though the needle on the scale doesn't move.


Free Stuff You Can Start Using Today!

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Have you gotten a jump on your New Year's resolutions to shape up and get fit?  From my experience, it takes people about three weeks into January to realize they haven't actually taken any action despite their best intentions.  Now is the time to get started, and here is some free stuff to help you get on your way.

Running with Mascara Giveaway (ends 2/3/11) Enter here: Win a signed copy of Strength Training for Women

One of  Fit&Fab Living's sister sites is giving away a free copy of my book Strength Training for Women, which ties into the article I wrote for them--Strength Training: The Anti-Aging Workout! To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment about your experience with strength training on the site (click on the link in the subheading above) by February 3.  The winner will be randomly chosen and announced on February 4.


Interview with Dr. Alicia Stanton, host of "Aging without Limits" web talk radio show, 1/18/11

In my interview (listen here) with Dr. Stanton we focused on practical advice you can put to use today to get your new year off to the right start.  Listen in to discover 4 functional exercises you can start doing at home that can make all the difference in how your body ages.  The best thing is that you already have all the equipment you need – your own body!!


Interview with Kim Pagano (listen here), AM 1400 KKZZ radio, 1/18/11

No, we're not related despite sharing the same last name, but definitely do relate to the mission to help people get fit.  In my interview with Kim, we explored the difference in the way men and women do strength training, and then I shared 5 strength training "Don'ts", including "Don't start off too fast or increase too soon because you'll risk muscle soreness and strain."  Next week I'll elaborate on all 5 "Don'ts" in this column.


“A Session With JJ” – Episode 84, (listen here) – 01/14/11 | Voices On The Net
On January 14, I  joined host JJ for episode #84 of “A Session With JJ” in which we discussed how to keep in shape for a minimal investment of time and money.  We touched on what types of equipment you need to get started on a strength workout program at home, the importance of warming up before every workout, and the differences between weight machines and free-weights.

Awesome Arms: Shoulder Fan

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

The beauty of the Shoulder Fan exercise is that it's both graceful and efficient, targeting two aspects of the deltoid muscle in one fluid movement.  As it strengthens the front and sides of your shoulders, it creates a sculpted effect that looks great in strappy tops and makes a perfect "hanger" for clothing.

Stand with your feet parallel, hip width apart, knees soft.  Hold a 3-5# free weight in each hand, arms by your sides, palms facing back.  Squeeze your shoulder blades down and together, then raise both arms to the front to shoulder height.  Keeping your arms at shoulder level, slowly move your arms out to the sides until they are directly in line with your shoulders.  Pause, then lower them down to your sides and return to the starting position.  Repeat 12-15 times.

Trainer Tips:

  • Keep your arms straight but not stiff
  • To keep tension out of your neck and upper back, avoid lifting your arms above shoulder height
  • Engage your abdominals to stabilize your torso and maintain neutral spine alignment, allowing the small curve in the lower back without arching it
  • For the toning effect, keep the weights light and slow the movement 

Shoulder stretch:  To stretch the front of the shoulder, put one arm behind you and take it by the wrist with your other hand.  Gently pull the back arm across the back of your waist until you feel the stretch in the front of the shoulder.  Hold for 10 seconds on each side.

Your sculpted arms will look great under skinny knits for the fall season and give you a head start for the party dresses of the holidays.