Exercise As We Age

In my last blog, I shared with you the importance of nutrition, particularly protein, to support our functional strength as we age.   Maintaining good functional strength is important to a goal of being able to Age in Place, which is the ability to live in your own home and community safely, independently and comfortably.

Age related loss of muscle mass and function is called sarcopenia. Muscle is key to motion. As we age, significant changes in muscle mass and quality take place. After about age 50, muscle mass decreases at an annual rate of 1–2%. The decline in muscle strength is even higher, amounting to 1.5% per year between ages 50 and 60 and 3% per year thereafter.  Of those 65 and older, 16 to 18 percent of women and eight to 10 percent of men in the United States cannot lift ten pounds, bend forward to pick something up off the ground or kneel to the floor. After the age of 75, this increases to 66 percent of women and 28 percent of men being unable to lift more than ten pounds.

 Muscle strength is strongly correlated to physical independence and fall prevention. Loss of muscle mass and strength is related to functional impairment and an increased risk for a fall. Leg strength, particularly the ability to rise from a chair, has been found to be a major predictor of frailty and mortality. Leg strength and walking gait speed are two variables predicting fall risk. Additionally, muscular endurance necessary to maintain balance under multi-task conditions such as cooking, gardening or recreational activities, and the importance of muscular power in reactive balance such as slipping on ice or tripping over a curb are important fall risk factors in older adults.

What makes the biggest difference in our skeletal muscle mass and strength?  Exercise.  Specifically, weight bearing and resistance-based exercise which also improve our bone density and decrease our risk of osteoporosis.   Weight bearing exercise are activities that force you to work against gravity. Examples are walking, hiking, climbing stairs, playing tennis or golf (walk don’t ride a cart!), and dancing.   Exercise such as riding a bicycle is a weight supportive exercise.  The bicycle supports our weight.  While bicycling isn’t weight bearing exercise, we are using our largest skeletal muscles to power the bicycle.

Resistance-based exercise is also known as strength training.  Strength training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance. Resistance-based exercises increase strength, mass and endurance depending on how the exercises are performed.  The external resistance can be dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing or flat loop bands, your own bodyweight or any object that causes the muscle to contract. There are three movements of any resistance-based exercise:  concentric, isometric and eccentric.  Knowing how to utilize these movements properly, how much weight-resistance is used, the tempo of the exercise, and using proper technique to avoid injury and maximize effectiveness relative to your specific goals.  Training techniques differ for strength gains, muscle mass and muscle endurance.  For functional health, older adults need to focus on strength, muscle mass and muscular endurance.  While most everyone can implement a walking program into their life without any type of special training or guidance, I highly recommend guidance from a qualified therapist or a trainer who specializes in senior fitness. SilverSneakers® is a good source for exercise modalities for senior adults.   They have a website and a Facebook page where free information is provided to anyone and if you are a member (available through many Medicare Advantage Plans) you can attend SilverSneakers® classes for free or minimal cost if you are not a member.  I personally lead two SilverSneakers® classes every week.  An online resource I recommend is ElderGym.com  that provides quality information and free senior workout programs that can be performed at home, outdoors or in a gym.

Stay Healthy. Be Strong. Get After It.

Longevity of Health & Our Core

I don’t care about having a six-pack, so why should I care about my core? Because. Your. Core. Is. Everything.

Something that makes me a bit crazy is when I hear someone say they need to do some core exercises because they want to rid themselves of belly fat. Typically, that doesn’t end the way they were hoping. Why? First of all, it isn’t just our abdominal muscles. Secondly, you can exercise those abdominal muscles all day long and you aren’t going to get rid of much belly fat. You will get stronger abdominal muscles, perhaps a sore back and often your midriff will get larger because you’ve overworked those ab muscles, and you still have fat on top of said muscles. To burn fat, it takes more than just throwing down a lot of targeted exercises for your rectus abdominis, the transverse abdominis and the obliques. Instead, compound exercises, aerobic exercise and nutrition geared to fat loss is the name of the fat loss game.  But I digress.

Our core is a complex series of muscles that connect from our upper back down to our lower back and hips.  Essentially, it is our entire trunk – front and back.  From our upper back to our hips, our core is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body. These muscles can act as a stabilizer for movement, transfer force from one extremity to another or initiate movement itself. Our core is vitally important for our stability and balance.

Our core primarily works as a stabilizer and force transfer center rather than a prime mover. Yet, people consistently focus on training their core as a prime move in isolation – aka targeted abdominal exercises. They are doing crunches instead of deadlifts, overhead squats and pushups and other functional closed chain exercises. By training that way, not only are you missing out on a major function of the core, but you are missing out on more efficient movement, better strength gains and longevity of health. When it comes to our core our back, hips and pelvic floor should be getting lots more attention.

How does have a strong and well-functioning core impact our lives? As we age, and we are all aging every day, our health, our quality of life and our independence rely on a strong core.

  • Normal life stuff. Bending to put on shoes or scoop up a package, turning to look behind you, sitting in a chair, maintaining balance on an icy sidewalk, carrying groceries, walking up a steep flight of stairs or simply standing still are a few of the actions that rely on your core and that you might not notice until they become difficult or painful. Even basic activities of daily living such as bathing and getting dressed use our core.
  • At Work.Jobs that involve lifting, twisting, and standing all rely on core muscles. But less obvious tasks — like sitting at your desk for hours — engage your core as well. Phone calls, typing, computer use, and similar work can make back muscles surprisingly stiff and sore, particularly if you’re not strong enough to practice good posture and aren’t taking sufficient breaks.
  • Healthy Back.Low back pain is a debilitating, sometimes excruciating problem affecting four out of five Americans at some point in their lives and may be prevented by exercises that promote well-balanced, resilient core muscles. When back pain strikes, a regimen of core exercises is often prescribed to relieve it.
  • Sports & Pleasure Activities.Golfing, tennis, biking, swimming, kayaking, playing with your children or grandchildren are powered by a strong core.
  • House & Yard work. Bending, lifting, twisting, carrying, digging, hammering, reaching overhead, vacuuming, mopping, and dusting all utilize the core.
  • Balance & Stability.Your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction, even on the bumpiest terrain, or stand in one spot without losing your balance. A strong stable core protects against falls and injuries.
  • Good posture.Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Good posture lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply. Good posture makes us all look better.

How can you have a healthier core and a healthier life? Core work is different from strength-training programs that isolate a single muscle group. Instead, they challenge as many muscles as possible in integrated, coordinated movements. Core moves should engage your entire body, from head to toe. A good place to start is with activities you enjoy and can incorporate into your daily life such as swimming, bicycling, yoga and walking with fitness poles. Beyond that, get a core assessment from a qualified physical therapist or personal trainer and implement a core strengthening and stabilizing training program in conjunction with developing a habit of incorporating daily exercise into your life.  A professional core assessment will include testing for core stability, static and dynamic strength; the training program will be customized for you based upon the results of your assessment.

Stay HEALTHY. Be STRONG. GET After It.

Why SQUATS Should be in Your Life

SQUATS.   If you’re looking for a powerful way to boost your overall fitness and health, look no further than the squat. This is one exercise that should be a part of virtually everyone’s routine. The squat is relatively simple to perform, requires no or very minimal equipment, and can be done just about anywhere.

WHY are they so good?

Builds Muscle in Your Entire Body

Squats work the two biggest muscle groups in your body: the glutes and the quads. Assistance movers for this exercise include the hamstrings and the calves. Squats also help build lower back strength and develop core strength and stabilization. Squats are a functional exercise in that they aid your ability to live a full, healthy life. Anything from getting out of a chair, to squatting down to pick something off the floor requires squat strength. Especially as we get older, proper squat technique is critical to maintain health and longevity.  There are many variations to this very effective compound exercise.

Functional Exercise Makes Real-Life Activities Easier

Functional exercises are those that help your body to perform real-life activities.  Squats are one of the best functional exercises out there, as humans have been squatting since the hunter-gatherer days. When you perform squats, you build muscle and help your muscles work more efficiently, as well as promote mobility and balance.

Increase your Metabolism

One of the most time-efficient ways to raise your metabolism is to have more muscle. Muscle is active tissue and it requires more energy (calories) to maintain throughout the day – even when at rest or sleeping.

Maintain Mobility and Balance

Strong legs are crucial for staying mobile as you get older, and squats are excellent for increasing leg strength. They also work out your core, stabilizing muscles, which will help you to maintain balance, while also improving the communication between your brain and your muscle groups, which helps prevent falls – which is the #1 way to prevent bone fractures.

Prevent Injuries

Most athletic injuries involve weak stabilizer muscles, ligaments and connective tissues, which squats help strengthen. They also help prevent injury by improving your flexibility and balance.  If you can prevent a fall, you’ve prevented a potentially serious injury – especially as we age.

Prevent Disease

Few exercises work as many muscles as the squat, so it’s an excellent activity useful for toning and tightening your buttocks, abdominals, and your legs. These muscles participate in the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity, helping to protect you against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Regular exercise is a key player in disease reduction, optimal mental, emotional and physical health, and longevity. Exercise also slows down the rate of aging itself, even stimulating the regeneration of the energy-producing mitochondria in your cells, providing perhaps the closest example of a real-life fountain of youth as we will ever find.

Prevent / Improve Osteoporosis [Increase Bone Density]

Osteoporosis and osteopenia are both characterized by low bone density. Areas that post-menopausal women are most affected by loss of bone density is in their femoral neck (near the top of the femur), hips and spine. Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because bone loss occurs without symptoms. People may not know that they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a fracture. Collapsed vertebrae may be first noticed when the person suffers severe back pain, loss of height, or spinal deformities such as stooped posture. The creation of new bone, and how dense, strong, and well-rounded it is in content can be at least partially manipulated by our activities. Weighted squats are an excellent exercise to improve bone density in the femoral neck,  hips and lower spine.

HOW DO YOU GET AFTER IT?

The bodyweight squat (squatting without weights) incorporates elements of resistance training because you’re lifting your own body weight. Using added weight (with a front squat variation such as a Goblet or Zercher squat) increases the intensity of the workout , which builds muscle, accelerates your metabolism and strengthens bone density.

Athletic Stance.  Knees are slightly bent, feet are firmly planted on the ground, and toes pointed outwards slightly, which helps with stabilization. The wider you put your feet, the more it works your glutes and hamstring (back of the leg), and the easier it will be to stabilize. The closer in you put your feet, the more your quadriceps will be emphasized (the front of the leg).

Head Neutral – Straight Ahead.   Pick a spot on the wall that’s in line with your eyes as you are standing straight, then as you squat down, keep your eyes on that spot. Your head is automatically in the correct position.

Back Straight. Chest Out – Shoulders Back.   By keeping your shoulders back and your chest out, your lower back will most likely have the correct natural curve.

Butt Back – Sit Down.  Knees behind your Toes. Weight on Heels.  Each time you squat you should hinge your hips so that your butt moves backwards during the downward phase of the squat, your knees should NOT be over your toes (if you are tall, this may happen, but make sure it does not put pressure on your knees). Finally, the pressure of the squat will be on your heels instead of your toes and you will be able to get more depth to your squat.

Practice your form with squats using a bench, ottoman or a chair behind you to sit down – squat to.   The depth of your squat (how low should you go): In general, try to shoot for your hamstrings about parallel with the floor, which deeply engages your thighs, hips, and glutes. If you can go lower than parallel that’s fine, just make sure you don’t experience any pain in your knees, or lower back, and always keep your lower back flat, to slightly arched.