Food & Fitness After 50: Fitness Tips for Getting and Staying Active

In Food & Fitness After 50 co-author and exercise physiologist, Dr. Bob Murray, likes to make the distinction between physical activity and exercise.  He defines the terms this way, “physical activity is body movements that require increased energy expenditure. Exercise is body movements that require increased energy expenditure and are planned, structured, and repeated with the goal of improving fitness.”

Dr. Murray explains that “there is an emotional aspect to these definitions. Some people dislike exercise but are very open to increasing physical activity, such as walking, gardening, bike riding, swimming or golfing.” While we all know that regular exercise or physical activity improves our healthspan, the length of time that we are healthy. Increasing the moments spent being physically active benefits our physical and mental health. “We have a sitting disease in this country. Older adults can spend up to 85% of their waking hours being sedentary. Working in periodic exercise snacks, even 5 minutes every hour, increases physical activity and can lead to health improvements,” says Dr. Bob.

Book Cover 2So, it was timely when I was e-introduced to K. Aleisha Fetters and her recently published book, Fitness Hacks for Over 50  (Simon & Schuster, Inc, 2020). The subtitle of her book is 300 easy ways to incorporate exercise into your life. I interviewed Aleisha to learn about her and how her book can help us to get and stay more physically active.

Tell me about yourself, Aleisha.

I’m a Chicago-based certified strength and conditioning specialist who works with people both in-person and online, and the author of Fitness Hacks for Over 50 and several other books. I came to fitness writing through journalism–I got my undergraduate and master’s degree in journalism and worked primarily in health and science journalism.

I originally pursued certification as a strength and conditioning specialist to be a better journalist in the fitness arena but the more I got into it, the more I wanted to be able to connect with people and work directly with them, not just write about it. I continue to write for many publications including US News & World Report, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, SilverSneakers, AARP, and O, The Oprah Magazine. In addition, I am a personal trainer to people at the gym and through online virtual training.

As you are in your early 30s, what made you interested in writing the book for those over 50?

Aleisha Fetters 2
Author, K. Aleisha Fetters

Vital, healthy aging is important for all us and aging should not be synonymous with loss of function, frailty, or a decrease in quality of life. As a trainer, I enjoy working with those over the age of 50. I find older adults are interested in exercise and movement for intrinsic reasons, whereas younger adults tend to go for looking good. Older adults enjoy the functional health benefits that come from exercise…feeling food, being strong, playing with their grandkids. My older clients are excited when they hit their goals and find they are experiencing less shoulder or back pain or that they can do something in the gym that they once thought was out of reach.

I’m glad to hear you mention functional fitness as that is something we emphasize in our book. Everyone has different functional goals but for me a good life means the strength to walk my big, strong dogs and lift a 50-pound bag of dog food in my shopping cart. 

That speaks to how we are more alike than we are unalike. Afterall, we all need to squat, hinge, push, push, rotate, and carry. We all need to foster strength, balance, mobility, and move in ways that we enjoy and allow us to finish our workouts or daily tasks feeling better than when we started them. We need to stay fit not only for the present but for the future. I, for one, plan to age like a fine wine!

What do you think are the reasons people don’t exercise or engage in physical activity as they age?

iStock-Older couple runningI think the reasons people don’t exercise at 50, 60, 70+ are the same reasons people don’t exercise at 20, 30, 40+. Lack of time, thinking exercise isn’t fun, believing in the “no pain, no gain” idea that exercise hurts, or that exercise is a means to burn calories or fix perceived flaws.

However, as people age, there are some unique challenges. Aches and pains can make exercise seem hard and if an older person hasn’t exercised in the past they might not know why or how to start. Many older adults have chronic health conditions, such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes and they don’t know how to find workouts and activities that are right for them and their unique circumstances.

One question I get all the time is what is the “best” exercise I can do? Dr. Bob’s answer to this question is “the one you enjoy doing the most because then you will continue to do it.”

I agree, exercise you enjoy and will help you cultivate a healthier relationship with your body and movement. However, I will add that the deadlift is my definition of a “best” exercise and I’m not talking about being able to lift a massive load. A deadlift is simply picking a dead weight up off the ground–it’s a fundamental movement pattern and strengthens the entire body while focusing on the posterior muscles, which are prone to weaknesses and injury, and have a huge effect on everyday function. It’s the number-one exercise in my book for reducing the risk of lower-back injury! We’ve all heard, “lift with your legs, not your back,” for good reason!

It seems that this book is perfect for exercise instructors, like Silver Sneakers instructors, to give them ideas and creative ways to keep people interested in fitness. Was that one of your goals or was it written for the consumer?

That wasn’t the intention when writing the book, but once it came together, I realized it had that going for it. After all, even the best trainers can benefit from collaboration and what trainer hasn’t wracked his or her brain trying to think of more exercises or active lifestyle tips when training clients? But it really works for the everyday person; training during structured classes and workouts is one thing, but the difference-maker is what people do when they’re not at the gym or taking a class. This book gives a lot of practical solutions for both trainers and the average older adult who want to change things up.

How should people use this book? What type of equipment do you think people should have at home to get and stay fit?

I would encourage people to use it as a movement menu. Every person might not want to perform every exercise in the book, and it was purposefully designed that way. I encourage people to try out different fitness hacks and see what feels good and meets a person’s unique needs.

Within each chapter, the exercises progress upon one another. So, work on mastering a single-leg stand before trying a single-leg sit to stand. There are notes for exercises to illustrate how they can be safely performed and how they build on one another. I would also encourage people to read the full instructions, tips, and recommendations on modifying exercises based on mobility or other unique circumstances.

exercise bandsAs for equipment, most of the exercises can be done with the resistance of your own body weight, simple household items, or resistance bands. Resistance bands are my number-one equipment choice because they are incredibly versatile, space-saving, and inexpensive–and open the possibility of doing a lot of fun exercises.

What are your 3 favorite fitness hacks? 

As I’m answering your questions, I’m doing “Strike a Tree Pose!” The tree pose, usually associated with yoga, is modified in the book using a kitchen countertop for stability. This pose helps both balance and stability. I would say my favorites are:

  • “Do the Deadlift,” for reasons mentioned above.
  • “Do the I, Y, T” for improving upper-back muscles and posture. The I, Y, and T refer to position of the arms, sort of like the movements in the old song, YMCA!
  • “Hollow Your Core” a foundational exercise for core strength.
  • “Pull Apart” using a resistance band to strengthen should and back muscles.

Dr. Bob talks about activity snacks, and Fitness Hacks for Over 50 gives us lots of “snacks” for variety! I’m going to gift this book to my favorite personal trainer….after I learn all 300 hacks!

Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Is 70 the New 40?

“The strong live long!”

ChicagoI recently returned from Chicago from the annual American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Summit. My friend and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50 , Dr. Bob Murray, and I gave a talk titled “Is 70 the New 40?” Since Bob and I are closer to 70 than 65, we say YES to that question!

For those of you who have not yet reached 70, what does it take to feel like you are still 40? And, for those you who have reached your 70th birthday, what does it take to stay on the path to optimal aging?

Here are some key takeaways from our talk as well as some other experts who spoke at the conference, emphasizing what we’ve been saying along….eat well, move well, and be well!

 

#1.  Lift weights. Whether you call it strength or resistance training, maintaining muscle mass is critical to healthy aging. Our muscle mass peaks around age 25 and holds steady until about 40, but then declines about 1% per year until age 65. The loss of strength is even greater…. about 2 to 4% per year. The good news is that we can easily preserve our muscle mass and strength with a couple of bouts of resistance weight training each week.

We all know the exercise guidelines call for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and “also” strength train two days a week. The word “also” was troubling to key note speaker Dr. Eric Rawson. Adding strength training is almost an afterthought; it would be “nice” to do it, but it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in preserving health. “There are under-recognized benefits to strength training,” says Dr. Rawson. Strength underpins skill and if you increase strength it helps with overall physical activity.  Think about the ability to climb stairs as an example. It takes leg strength to climb stairs which may be why so many people use escalators or elevators instead of stairs. Dr. Rawson says it’s not that aerobic or endurance exercise isn’t good, it’s just that both aerobic and strength are needed for optimal aging. “If exercise is medicine, then resistance exercise is a gateway drug,” claims Dr. Rawson.Take-the-Stairs-Instead

#2. Weight training has more benefits than building or maintaining muscle. Dr. Stu Phillips elaborated on the health benefits of strength training in his presentation.  He reviewed the most recent evidence showing that resistance training “has health-related benefits that are not dissimilar to those imbued by aerobic exercise.” Strength training reduces the risk for falls and is an effective treatment for type 2 diabetes, some cancers, anxiety and depression. Dr. Bob Murray lists many benefits from strength training in our chapter on getting and maintaining muscle and strength:

  • Stabilizing arthritic joints
  • Improving balance
  • Increasing resting metabolism
  • Increasing social interaction
  • Lowering risk of all-cause mortality
  • Lowering risk of osteoporosis
  • Lowering risk of lower back pain
  • Lowering risk of obesity
  • Accelerated recovery from illness or injury
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved self confidence
  • Enhanced self-esteem

As Dr. Bob likes to say, “The strong live long!”

#3.  Maintain your body weight and if you want to lose weight, stay away from quick weight loss schemes.

I’m a big believer in monitoring your body weight so “weight creep” doesn’t happen. No one gains 30 pounds overnight, but they do gain 1 or 2 pounds a year without realizing it and as the years go by, the pounds add up. When you find yourself wanting to lose weight, the quick weight loss plan du jour seems tempting. But, as we age, weight loss should not be the goal. Instead, “body composition management is more important than weight management to enhance successful aging,” says Dr. Ellen Evans, in her special lecture, “Helping Baby Boomers Stay Functional.”

What Dr. Evans means by managing body composition is that older adults who want to lose weight really want to lose body fat while preserving lean muscle and bone. According to Dr. Evans, “regular physical activity, especially resistance training exercise, in addition to caloric restriction attenuates the loss of muscle and bone mass loss and increasing dietary protein intake enhances this effect.” The idea that we lose lean muscle during weight loss wasn’t new to me, but I never thought about the negative impact of weight loss on bone health. There is no cure for osteoporosis, so we need to do everything we can to preserve bone mass and bone strength as we age.

So, is 70 the new 40? It can be if you manage your body composition, strength train twice a week, and also keep up your aerobic exercise.

Learn more about eating well, moving well, and being well in Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon and other book sellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: The Strong Live Long

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Maintaining muscle strength is a critical factor in ensuring a long healthspan—being as healthy as possible for as long as possible—and in ensuring that we can do so independently.  Fending for oneself is an important psychological component of successful aging.  That’s not to say that we don’t all need to be looked after periodically throughout our lives—illness, injuries, and surgeries being obvious examples of when it is both nice and often essential to temporarily relinquish our independence and allow others to care for us.  But to be dependent on others to help us accomplish the daily demands of living—opening jars, carrying groceries, rising from a chair, climbing stairs—is a scenario most people would like to avoid.

1253414  Muscle weakness with age is often, but not always, accompanied by sarcopenia—a severe loss of muscle mass and muscle function—often referred to in older adults as frailty.  The perils of sarcopenia are not surprising: higher risk of falls, faster functional decline, more bone fractures of all types, greater chance of hospitalization, longer hospital stays, and higher death rate.  It is estimated that about one-quarter to one-third of those over age 70 are sarcopenic and it is likely that even more are dynapenic—muscular weakness with or without sarcopenia.

We will all gradually lose muscle mass and strength as we age, but we can control the rate at which we lose it.  In simple terms, inactivity and a poor diet accelerate the aging of muscle while regular exercise and a good diet remain the best ways to keep our muscles young.  To that end, any kind of physical activity is better than no physical activity, but the best results come from a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training.  The current recommendations are to engage in at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity (walking, biking, swimming, etc.) each week, along with two sessions of strength-training exercise.

Regular physical activity preserves strength and function by stimulating not only the muscles involved in exercise, but also the nerves responsible for muscle contractions.  In addition, active muscles release compounds called myokines that travel in the bloodstream and positively affect cells throughout the body.  Also, fit muscle cells recover more quickly from injury and surgery, additional benefits to staying active.

Bob2   Added good news is that we do not have to devote hours each week to strength training.  Preserving and even increasing muscle strength can be accomplished with short bouts of exercises that are continued to fatigue.  For example, doing a combination of push-ups, tricep extensions with weights, and chair dips will quickly exhaust the shoulder, chest, and arm muscles involved in elbow extension, adding strength and protecting muscle mass.  Doing similar combinations of movements with other muscle groups will reap the same results.  As with all exercise, the best results come from getting our muscles out of their comfort zone on a regular basis.

When it comes to diet, studies show that older adults who increase their daily protein intake can better support improvements in strength and muscle mass.  The simplest way to accomplish increased protein intake is to consume more protein at breakfast, the meal that often has the least amount of protein.  Consuming 30 to 40 grams of protein at each meal will give most of us the recommended amount of protein. (For ideas on how to eat about 30 grams of protein per meal, check this out.)

Use it or lose it is the operative explanation for age-related changes in muscle strength and mass, as well as for most every other body function that we’d like to preserve as we grow older.  For older adults just getting started with strength exercises, the U.S. National Institute on Aging has examples of activities that can easily be accomplished at home (click here for a link to strength exercises.) YMCAs, fitness centers, and various internet sites (click here for one internet site with many at-home workout videos.)

Chapter 6 of Food & Fitness After 50 is devoted to gaining and maintaining muscle and strength, and chapter 2 has all sorts of tips for how to eat for optimal aging.  Aging is inevitable, but we can exercise control over the rate at which we age.  We just have to do it.