An Easy Way to Limit the Damage from Too Much Sitting

I’m always looking for small changes in daily habits that can yield significant health benefits. This one is easy and practically painless: whenever you’re sitting for some period of time, be sure to get up and move around every 30 minutes.

What’s the big deal about taking a movement break whenever you spend more than half an hour in a chair?

Your favorite chair is not your friend

You may already know the litany of ways that too much sitting can be harmful, increasing risks of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, and cognitive decline. “Sitting is the new smoking,” as the meme goes, and global health data bear that out. This is bad news for couch potatoes, considering that the average American now spends somewhere between 10 and 14 hours a day on his or her keister.

Researchers still don’t fully understand the physiological reasons why sitting for hours at a time is so damaging to the body.  What they have learned, though, is that you can’t work off those effects.  That’s because extended sitting increases blood levels of harmful proteins and, as this recent article explains, even a vigorous workout won’t eliminate them. That exercise session is still good for you, of course. But the takeaway is how important it is to avoid prolonged immobility.

An everyday fitness strategy  

It’s easy to getting absorbed in what you’re doing and work or watch TV right through the 30-minute mark, so some people set reminder alarms on a laptop, phone, or watch when they first sit down.  To make the most of your movement breaks, use them as a chance to stretch, get a drink of water, or both – a fitness trifecta!

Image: bst2012/Adobe Stock

By | 2018-05-17T20:50:33+00:00 May 17th, 2018|Fitness Over 50, Just Move!|Comments Off on An Easy Way to Limit the Damage from Too Much Sitting

What Mothers Need to Know About Staying Active

Mother’s Day is a perfect occasion let your mom or mother-in-law know you want her to be healthy, happy, and vigorous for years to come. If she’s not already doing something to stay fit, it’s not too late—and you can help! Joining her in a walk, a stretch, or a workout is a great way to celebrate the holiday. You can also encourage her to take steps toward a well-rounded fitness program, keeping a few basic principles in mind.

1) Getting or staying fit doesn’t have to be arduous. Regular, moderate exercise goes a long way toward reducing risks of injury or chronic disease. The keys are consistency and finding activities Mom might enjoy. If they include socializing, so much the better! A class at the local community center or Y could be just the ticket.

2) Doing something for balance is critical.  One in three people over 65 suffers a fall each year, and your mother may not realize that a lack of core strength can lead to a tumble. Encourage her to do core exercises like the plank, rather than crunches or sit-ups, which can strain necks or backs. She could also try simple balance-boosters like standing on one foot for 20 seconds or walking heel to toe.

3) Building strength is more important than many women think.  Loss of lean muscle mass accelerates with age, leaving older moms more vulnerable to injuries, falls, and osteoporosis. You can help yours by showing her bodyweight exercises she can work up to gradually (see my earlier post on this topic). You could also gift her with a set of resistance bands, some light dumbbells, or some sessions with a knowledgeable trainer.  

4) Regular stretching can be life-changing. Bad backs, throbbing knees, painful necks and shoulders—so many everyday aches and pains trace back to the tightness and stiffness that come with age. Stress and too much sitting only make it worse. Gentle stretching can ease pain and stiffness while helping Mom stay mobile and avoid falls, too. Stretching is also a great way to ease into a fitness program.

5) The most important message: Just Move! Most of us slow down a bit with age, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the more science learns about aging, the more we understand the physical and mental health risks of being sedentary. Remind Mom that she deserves to spend time taking care of herself. After years of filling multiple roles, she’s earned it!

Images: (top) Galina Barskaya/Fotolia/Adobe Stock; kali9/iStockphoto

By | 2018-05-10T22:24:26+00:00 May 10th, 2018|Fitness Over 50, Uncategorized|Comments Off on What Mothers Need to Know About Staying Active

Not Getting Results from your Workout? Here’s the Secret

As I was cooling down after a workout at the gym this week, a friend came up to me with a question I’ve heard more than once.

“Jim, I don’t get it,” he exclaimed in frustration. “I work out all the time, but I’m not getting any results. What’s the secret?”

It’s true that I often ran into him at the gym, but I’d never seen him do anything but walk on the treadmill at an easy pace. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and any exercise is better than none. But would that alone help my buddy get leaner, faster, and stronger? Not a chance.

What the science tells us

The reason why goes back to the principle of progressive overload, which was developed by a military doctor as he rehabilitated soldiers after World War II. It became one of the foundations of modern exercise science. In essence, it states that to improve any kind of physical performance, you’ve got to ask your body to do just a little bit more than it could do before. That’s how to stimulate positive adaptations that make a measurable difference over time.

Joe Talbert, a top trainer at Denver’s Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club, puts it succinctly: “If you want to improve, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s how you get stronger and better.”

Expanding your comfort zone

By no means am I saying you have to drive yourself to the limits with every exercise. That will only lead to burnout or injury. But if you want to make real fitness gains, get in the habit of pushing gently to the edge of your comfort zone at least once in every workout…and then go a little beyond.

For instance, my friend could increase his pace or incline for part of his treadmill session. If you’re doing strength training, you can add repetitions, work on range of motion, get strict with exercise form, or gradually increase weight. (Chapter 8 of my book offers more ideas.)

Here’s a tip I use myself: every workout, I do at least one exercise I absolutely hate (burpees, anyone?). If I hate it, it probably hits an area of weakness…which means it’s something I really need to be doing. Even if you don’t draw on your most-hated list, you can pick one thing in each session—just one—to work on. Try it, and you might be surprised by how quickly you progress.

Image: Matthew Pardue

By | 2018-05-03T23:44:58+00:00 May 3rd, 2018|Fitness Over 50|Comments Off on Not Getting Results from your Workout? Here’s the Secret

Heads (and Chest) Up: The Easy Power Move Everyone Should Know

There’s one simple move that can instantly improve how you’re moving while helping you look and feel better, too. In fact, it’s so simple that it’s widely neglected. It requires no special gear. And you can do it standing or sitting just about anywhere.

The secret is…Lift your chest.     

Stand up straight and really lift that chest, so your shoulder blades come together behind you, your shoulders are pulled back, and your arms are hanging loosely by your sides. No leaning back! Your feet should be at about hip width and pointing straight ahead.

A whole-body realignment  

Notice what happens right away:

Your gluteal, thigh, and calf muscles tighten, and your tummy flattens. In fact, your entire core engages.

Your back moves toward its natural, S-curved shape, and your whole body is more aligned.

Your hips open, and your pelvis is appropriately aligned and “tucked,” rather than tilting forward.

Your chest cavity opens, too, giving your lungs room to inflate more fully.

You stand measurably taller, gaining as much as an inch or more in height.

Make it a habit

Now try to keep your chest lifted as you walk or move. If you tend to carry your head forward, think about keeping your neck back and your chin up, so you’re looking straight ahead (imagine an invisible string that is pulling you up from the ceiling through your spine, neck and head).

This is what good posture looks like! Learn how to “stand proud,” and you’ll engage those important core muscles a lot more often. Make it a habit, and you will be less likely to stress your knees, hips, back, or shoulders while lifting or turning. You’ll also feel stronger, more confident, and more in command. So if you want to be fit, “just move”—and lift that chest while doing it.

Image: Havey Productions

By | 2018-04-19T18:01:22+00:00 April 19th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Heads (and Chest) Up: The Easy Power Move Everyone Should Know

Why I Love the Gym (and You Might, Too)

Call me crazy, but my workouts are some of the best times of my week. I didn’t feel that way on day one, it’s true. But as soon as I started seeing progress, the gym became my home away from home. Here’s why:

It gives me a time and place to focus on improving how I move. It’s like a laboratory where you gain insight into your strengths and weaknesses and figure out what your body needs in order to be more balanced and functional.  (Ideally, you do this with the help of a skilled trainer who brings expert knowledge and an objective eye to the effort.) That work continues outside the gym. As you improve your patterns of movement in your workouts, you can apply that learning to all your other activities. Over time, those new and better ways of moving become embedded in your muscle memory.

It offers many ways to be challenged. The gym is a chance to show myself what I can do.  It also lets me gauge my progress in a variety of ways. How good is my movement form? How close am I to the full range of motion for a given movement? Can I do more repetitions, or throw in some harder variations? When I’m able to do a demanding exercise after working on it for a while, it gives me a real sense of accomplishment. It also makes me feel I can do whatever I set my mind to.

It’s always an energy boost. For one thing, it’s energizing to be around other people who are actively working to become more fit. Talk to gym regulars about what keeps them coming back, and they’ll often say, “Because it makes me feel so good.” As scientists now know, when your heart is pumping, your blood is moving, and your muscles are working, it benefits your body on a cellular level. It also improves brain function and stimulates the release of endorphins, your body’s natural “feel-good” chemical.   There’s simply nothing like the glow you feel after a good workout!

Image: Bryan Black Photography

By | 2018-04-13T19:38:29+00:00 March 29th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Why I Love the Gym (and You Might, Too)