Happy New Year 2011!

dart hitting targetHappy New Year!

There’s nothing like the turn of a new year to remind us to take stock of our lives this past year and set some goals for the new. For many of us, it’s a time to reflect on what things we accomplished, what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully it’s a time when we’re not too hard on ourselves — after all, we can only do our best. For many of us, this is a time of year when we want to get our health and fitness back on track from the “mini-vacation” we’ve been on over the Holiday season.

Tips for starting the New Year off right:

1. Set a Date. Let’s face it, your “New You” New Year will probably start AFTER January 1st. If you have slipped in your healthy eating and not looked at the treadmill in weeks, chances are you will still be in that holiday mode until the last party or holiday visit is over and the last shortbread cookie is eaten! So, make those changes when you get some routine back in your life so that you’re not trying to swim upstream. For most of us, that starts a day or two after New Year’s Day.

2. Don’t just resolve, set a goal. Resolving to lose some weight, work out more regularly, put more activity in your life are all good resolutions but they won’t amount to anything unless you state them as goals. Better yet, write out your goal. “I will lose 10 lb in 10 weeks!”

3. Be SMART. Make sure your goals are SMART ones: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timed. So often when we make resolutions that fail because there is nothing to back them up. With a SMART goal in mind, you can then set up a plan and a schedule to reach that goal.

4. Make a Plan. To help you reach your goals, be sure to have a plan. If your goals is to lose 10 pounds, how will you do it? As long as your goal is SMART, your plan will be more effective. The plan is where the details lie. Or thought of in a different way, the Goal is the WHAT, the plan is the HOW.

“I will lose 10 lb. in 10 weeks by fast walking on the treadmill 5 days a week with an expenditure of 300 kcal. I will cut out 200 calories from my daily intake. I will set aside a specific time to go on the treadmill. I will cut out those 200 calories by having water instead of juice or pop for my afternoon break. I will have only a cup of coffee without a muffin on my morning break.”

Find an online calorie counter and look for the foods that are easiest to give up. Find an exercise activity that you enjoy or at least can endure for 30 minutes! The devil is in the detail.

5. Forgive yourself if you slip up. If you set goals instead of making resolutions, then it is much easier to get back on track if you do slip up. You may have taken a detour or slowed down a bit but you don’t have to lose sight of your goal. If your goal is still firmly in sight, then you can look at other paths to reach it if what you are doing isn’t working.

So, as you begin this New Year, think Goal instead of Resolution. Have a plan. And be SMART about it.

To your health,

Chris

February is Heart Month

Heart and stethoscopeFebruary is the month we usually associate with Valentine’s Day and so hearts are on our minds. We see cardboard hearts displayed in store windows, chocolate and cinnamon hearts in candy stores, and Valentine cards sent to and from kids in school. But have you given much thought to the other heart we associate with February? February is Heart Month!

Heart and Stroke foundations throughout the world recognize February as Heart month and take the opportunity to draw special awareness to the heart that isn’t cardboard, cinnamon, or chocolate. The one that is in your body, pumping blood to keep you alive.

Take care of the most important muscle.

The heart is a muscle and like any other muscle, it needs to be strong. Unlike the muscles that attach to our joints and make us move, the heart needs a unique type of physical activity or exercise regimen. We call this cardio activity because it refers to the cardiovascular or circulatory system. It is also known as aerobic activity because it requires the presence of oxygen. By doing cardio or aerobic activity, we make our heart work more efficiently in the transport of oxygen to our entire body. To get the most oxygen circulating through the system, the heart needs to pump harder and faster, which will make it stronger. The activity must involve large muscular movement so that more blood is needed for those working muscles. It needs to be continuous, ideally for 10 minutes or more at a time and it should be done most days of the week.

Before I tell you more about the things you can do to make your heart stronger, let’s first review some concepts regarding the cardiovascular system.

The cardiovascular system is comprised of the heart (pump) and arteries and veins (the vessels or carriers) which deliver blood with oxygen from the lungs and other nutrients to all the cells of the body. When the heart pumps, there is a detectable rhythm or pulse and this can be measured as a heart rate. Under normal healthy conditions, the heart at rest pumps blood more slowly than during physical activity. There is a wide range of heart rates considered to be normal. Heart rates are normally measured in beats per minute (BPM). Healthy resting heart rates are between 60 and 80 BPM, normally around 70 for males, 75 for females. Each time the heart contracts, blood circulates through the body, being forced through the arteries. This force is known as blood pressure. Normal resting blood pressure is around 120/80 (measured in millimetres of mercury or mm/Hg). The first number represents the pressure when the heart contracts (systolic blood pressure). The second number represents the pressure when the heart relaxes (diastolic blood pressure). During physical activity, as demand for oxygen increases, the heart has to pump faster to provide more oxygen. The amount of blood the heart pumps out in one beat is called the Stroke Volume. The amount of blood the heart pumps out in one minute is called Cardiac Output.

Another important concept in understanding the mechanics of the heart and circulatory system is Aerobic Capacity. This is the body’s ability to deliver and use oxygen at the cellular level. Aerobic Capacity is often referred to as VO2 max.

The ageing heart

As we age, a number of physiological and anatomical changes occur:

  • The left ventricle of heart increases in wall thickness, which means it can’t pump out oxygen-rich blood to the aorta as efficiently as before.
  • The aorta and arteries become thicker and less pliable, which means they can’t deliver this blood to the other parts of the body as efficiently as before.As a result:
  • Stroke Volume decreases
  • Blood Flow decreases
  • Blood Pressure increases in the systolic (contraction) phase
  • During physical activity, it takes the entire cardiovascular system longer to adapt to increased demands.
  • The heart takes longer to return to its resting heart rate after exercise.
  • The efficiency of oxygen exchange declines by about 1% per year due to decreases in maximum heart rate, total body muscle mass, and the ability of muscles to use available oxygen. The most drastic declines are between ages 65 and 75 and between 75 and 85.

Despite changes, heart function in non-diseased individuals remains adequate for resting and light physical activity. However inactivity, smoking, diabetes, and poor eating habits all contribute to an unhealthy heart and increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.

How exercise helps the ageing heart

As we do more physical activity and exercise, our whole body including our heart gets fitter. Our resting heart rate decreases because the heart becomes stronger, and thus contracts with more force, so not as many beats are necessary to pump the required amount of blood. Also as we get fitter, our resting blood pressure stays pretty constant because exercise helps to maintain the elasticity of the vessels and keeps the circulatory system healthy. So, one might argue that exercise helps combat the effects of ageing and certainly helps reduce the effects of premature ageing resulting from unhealthy lifestyles.

So, what can you do for your heart?

Health Canada recommends 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day. If you have not been active for quite some time, start with 10 minutes of activity a day and then build up. If you are so crunched for time that you can’t be active for 30-60 minutes at a time, then do 10 minutes of moderate level activity at intervals throughout the day. Suggestions for activities are:

  • Brisk walking
  • Biking
  • Raking leaves
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Water aerobics
  • Seniors fitness classes

Moderate activities are what is mostly recommended for older adults.

Younger or fitter adults may want to do more vigorous activity throughout the week and won’t need as much time in the activity because the effort is greater. Such activities for younger adults include:

  • Aerobics
  • Jogging
  • Hockey
  • Basketball
  • Fast swimming
  • Fast Dancing

If you aren’t able to maintain at least a moderate pace of exercise, 60 minutes of lighter intensity exercise, activities, and sports are suggested during your day. For example:

  • Light walking
  • Easy gardening
  • Tai Chi
  • Stretching

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has a whole host of resources to help you. Please see their website for further details. Especially relevant and current this month is their 2010 Annual Report on Canadians Health, called A Perfect Storm, which was released at the end of January. Between 1994 and 2005, rates of high blood pressure among Canadians young and old skyrocketed by 77%, diabetes by 45% and obesity by 18% – which are all major risk factors for heart disease.

Recommendations from the Heart Association include better diet, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and of course, increasing the amount of physical activity. For those who already have heart disease and other conditions, they suggest the HeartWalk Workout.

As with any type of exercise, please consult your health care provider before beginning a program. Start slowly and build up!

So, now that it’s February, maybe it’s time to think not only about chocolate, cinnamon, and valentine card hearts but the heart beating inside you. Make this your month to give yourself a valentine’s day present — a more healthy heart!

To your health,

Chris


More information on becoming more active can be found in Canada’s Physical Activity Guide for Older Adults.

More information on prevention and treatment of heart disease can be found in Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

Happy New Year! Treat Yourself to a Movie!

Exercising in front of a TVMy clients and friends often ask me how they can stay motivated to exercise regularly at home. Let’s face it, walking or running on a treadmill, using an elliptical or cross-trainer, or riding a stationary bike can be just plain boring!

Boring or not, aerobic activities like these are a great way to improve your cardio fitness, which is crucial to your overall health. In the winter time, especially, it is hard to get this level of fitness any other way, unless you have access to an indoor pool, cross-country ski trails close by, or are lucky enough to be living in warmer climes!

If you don’t belong to a gym or fitness facility, I highly recommend finding a piece of cardio equipment that you can afford and fit into your home. Remember, your best buys are now! Most fitness equipment stores and other retailers are offering deep discounts on new and used equipment.

But once you acquire a treadmill, elliptical trainer, rowing machine, or some other piece of cardio equipment, how do you spend the 20 or 30 minutes per day of moderate intensity required to stay fit without getting bored, giving up, and then using that piece of equipment as an expensive coat hanger?

While some of my clients get through their workouts just by listening to music, I have found (both professionally and personally) that putting a television in front of the cardio equipment can be a highly effective motivator. But what I have found most effective has been watching not just a TV show but 20-30 minutes of a movie — preferably one that keeps you riveted. So, if you can fit a VCR or DVD player on that same shelf beside your TV, put on a movie, and work out for a pre-determined time period. But here’s the clincher: decide how long you will work out before you get on your machine. When that time period has passed, get off the machine, whether or not you are at a “good spot” in the movie. Stopping the tape or DVD when the action is heated or the plot is thick will ensure that you get back on the machine the next day to pick up where you left off.

For instance, I recently watched a suspense movie with a running time of about 100 minutes. For 4 days in a row, I watched the movie, without any skipped days for exactly 25 minutes each day (OK, one day I just COULDN’T stop the movie until 30 minutes, honest I couldn’t!). And my other piece of advice to ensure your success at sticking with your exercise program is to make sure you ONLY watch that show while you are doing your cardio routine. No popping the tape out and watching more later while sitting on the couch! Make the commitment that the movie you pick is for your cardio routine only. If you’re like me, you won’t want to miss any of the action so you won’t miss a day of exercise.

Good luck and happy watching… I mean exercising!

To your health,

Chris

Spring is Here. Get Outside!

Golf SwingWoman GardeningAre you ready for Spring?

For many older adults, spring means two things: Golf and Gardening!

Over the winter months, you may have been quite inactive and remained indoors and out of the cold. Now that spring is here, the days are getting longer and warmer, it’s time to get outside, whether that is on the golf course or in the garden.

Both these activities will help you stay fit. But before you hit the golf course or start crouching in the garden, you should prepare. Both activities use muscles that may have become weak over the long winter. You’ll want to enjoy your first day on the green or in the green without feeling sore afterwards. Here are some exercises you can do now to prepare.

For Golf:

1. Golf-swing acceleration

  • Secure a resistance band to a stationary object at shoulder level.
  • Stand with feet hip-width apart in golf stance, holding onto the other end of band in the “take-back” position.
  • From here, inhale and as you exhale, pull your hands against the band’s resistance to the “contact” position, as if striking the ball.
  • Inhale as you slowly return.
  • Perform 10-15 of these using a light or medium resistance band, at least 5 feet long.

2. Take-back with resistance

  • Stand on the middle of a long resistance band (8 feet) and hold ends together with both hands.
  • Inhale and as you exhale, go into the “take-back” position with feet wide apart and band stretched between them.
  • With the hands back in the “take-back” position against resistance, the band should look like a right-angle triangle.
  • Inhale on return.
  • Perform 10-15 of these with light to medium resistance.

The following exercises are also good to do as basic exercises to strengthen the muscles used by golfers:

3. Squats

These can be done against a wall, with or without a ball, or as free squats, using dumbbells for resistance.

Basic Technique for a Wall Squat

  • Stand with back against the wall. If your wall is rough (e.g. flat paint), you may want to use a small (8 inch) ball placed between your back and the wall, just above the buttocks.
  • Step out about 1 1/2 times the length of your feet and stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Inhale as you slide down the wall, keep your back against the wall or straight up and down if using a ball.
  • Stop when your thighs are at right angles to your calves or sooner if you have any knee pain.
  • Ensure that your knees do not go past your toes. Keep your weight on the heels.
  • Exhale and straighten back up, pushing your buttocks and knees back towards the wall.
  • Do 8-12 or until you begin to feel a “burning” or fatigue in the front of thighs.

4. Wrist extension/flexion

These can be done with dumbbells or a resistance band.

  • Sit with the right forearm crossed over the right thigh, wrist unsupported by knee or thigh.
  • Hold a light dumbbell in the hand with palm facing upward or secure a resistance band around the hand, ends held taut under the foot.
  • Inhale as you lower the wrist towards the floor, exhale as you curl it upward, bending the wrist upward, to exercise the wrist flexors.
  • Do 10-15 repetitions with light to medium resistance, then switch sides.
  • Perform the same exercise but with the arm rotated so that palm is facing downward to strengthen the wrist extensors.

5. Rotator cuff (shoulder rotations)

External Rotation

  • Stand with arms down at your side, holding one end of a resistance band or tubing in your hand.
  • Secure the other end of the band across your body to a stationary object at waist level.
  • Keep elbow of exercising arm at your side but bent at 90 degrees, palm facing up, forearm parallel to floor but pressed against your stomach.
  • Inhale and as you exhale, externally rotate the shoulder, moving the hand in an arc motion from against your stomach to a position out from the body, forearm still parallel to the floor (thus away from the resistance).
  • Inhale on return.
  • Do 10-15 repetitions with light resistance.
  • Repeat on other side.

Internal Rotation

  • Stand holding the band in one hand with upper arm against your side, elbow bent at 90 degrees, forearm externally rotated out past your side at waist level, palm facing up.
  • Secure the other end of the band beyond the side of the exercising arm so that it is taut.
  • Inhale and as you exhale, internally rotate the shoulder so that forearm moves in an arc away from the resistance and toward your body, ending with forearm pressed across your stomach.
  • Inhale on return.
  • Do 10-15 repetitions with light resistance.
  • Repeat on other side.

6. Hip Rotation

  • Stand sideways to a chair or other stationary object, holding onto it with the inside hand.
  • Bend knee of outside leg to 90 degrees.
  • Internally and externally rotate the hip so that the thigh, which is parallel to floor, moves in an arc fashion with foot coming close to the wall and then outward away from wall.
  • For more resistance, use an 2-3 lb. ankle weight or secure a resistance band away from your body for internal rotation and by the wall for external rotation.
  • Do 10-15 repetitions with light resistance.

7. Stretches for Golf

Golfers should make sure they stretch the muscles they used for the resistance exercises or after they’ve gone out for a round of golf. It is particularly important to stretch the mid back area since it is most used in the golf swing. A good mid-back stretch is to stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands together in front and fingers interlaced. Bend slightly at the knees. Inhale and as you exhale, turn palms outward and extend arms out in front. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds but keep breathing. Keep your head bowed, with chin tucked back so as not to strain the neck.

I also recommend doing a thigh stretch, followed by hamstring and buttock stretches to stretch out the muscles strengthened by the squats exercise.

To stretch the front of thigh, stand and bend right knee. Holding onto a stationary object with your left hand, reach your right hand around to hold onto your right calf, ankle, or pant leg. Point the right knee toward the floor, while keeping the two knees in line with each other. Stand up straight throughout the stretch and hold for 15-20 seconds. Remember to breathe throughout the stretch. Switch sides and repeat on other side.

To stretch the back of thigh (hamstrings) and the buttocks muscles, lay down on the floor on your back, preferably on a soft mat and cross the left leg over the right thigh. Loop the left hand between the thighs, loop the right hand around the right thigh and clasp the hands together, bringing the thighs up to the chest. To stretch the hamstrings, keep the uncrossed leg straight, while holding the thighs toward the chest.

To stretch opposite buttocks muscle, bend the knee of the uncrossed leg so that it is at 90 degrees. Hold both stretches for 15-20 seconds. Repeat on other side. Remember to breathe throughout the stretch.

For Gardening:

Exercises that will help prepare you for gardening are those which target the mid-back, biceps, and triceps for the lifting, carrying, and digging and the thighs and buttocks for kneeling and crouching.

1. Squats See the description above for this exercise.

2. Seated row with resistance band

  • Sit at the edge of a chair, knees slightly bent, heels touching floor and toes pointed up so that the thighs are a little lower than the hips.
  • Place a resistance band across the bottom of both feet, toward the tops of the feet and hold an end in each hand.
  • Sit up straight, hold the band taut.
  • Inhale and as you exhale, pull the ends of the band along your thighs from the knees toward the hips by squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  • Do this slowly to a count of 3.
  • Do not lean back or shrug your shoulders.
  • Inhale as you return to starting position. Do this slowly to a count of 3.
  • Do 10-15 of these with medium of resistance.

3. Triceps Press-down with resistance band

  • Grip the middle of a medium resistance band with your left hand, leaving both ends dangling.
  • Make a fist with this hand and hold it against the middle of the top of your chest, flipping the top part of the band over your shoulder.
  • Grip the lower half of the band with your right hand, about 4 to 6 inches below the right fist.
  • Hold your right hand out from your stomach.
  • Check that both your upper arms are held diagonally out from your sides and elbows bent at 90 degrees.
  • With your left hand stable, inhale first, then exhale while moving your right hand downward and outward in an arc motion toward your right hip (count of 3).
  • Finish with your right arm fully extended and hand held out from your right thigh.
  • Slowly return your right hand to the starting position as you inhale (count of 3).
  • Repeat 8-10 times then switch to right hand at chest and right hand below.

4. Biceps Curls

  • Stand on the middle of a resistance band (at least 6 feet length).
  • Gather one end of the band in each hand, holding it taut with arms against side of your body, palms facing forward.
  • Keeping your elbow pressed against your side, bend your elbows and bring your hands about 3/4 of the way to your shoulders, while exhaling (count of 4).
  • Slowly lower your arms to starting position, while inhaling (count of 4).
  • Do 8-12 repetitions using medium resistance.

5. Stretches for Gardening

Stretch the muscles that you worked during the resistance exercises and also stretch the back of the calves. I also recommend doing a course of stretching after you have been out working in the garden.

To stretch out your biceps and triceps, stand with arms behind your back and fingers interlaced. Extend your arms up and out away from your body, while keeping the head down.

To stretch the back of calves, stand up straight with one foot out in front, the other behind, in a long stride. Put a bend in the front knee and reach your arms in front, preferably against a wall or stationary object. Lean into the stretch, trying to keep your back heel on the floor. After about 15 seconds, put a slight bend in the back knee, while still keeping the foot on the floor. Hold for an additional 10 seconds and switch sides. Always breathe during your stretches.

Enjoy your spring, whether you’re on the green with your golf clubs or in the back yard with your green thumb!

To your health,

Chris

Be Specific With Your Fitness Goals

Birthday cake with year 2007 candlesHappy New Year!

I resolve to…

What are your resolutions for 2007? How many have you kept or broken? More importantly, are your resolutions backed up with goals and a plan to reach those goals? Perhaps one of your resolutions is to get in shape. Perhaps you’ve thought of joining a fitness club.

If your mailbox is like mine, it has been flooded in the last couple of weeks with gym membership deals-offering 2 for 1, 1st month free, no administration fee and many other tempting reasons to join. Fitness Clubs offer these deals because they know that people make New Year’s resolutions about getting in shape. And fitness centres bank on the fact that when they have a flurry of new member sign-ups, their space won’t be overcrowded for long. The majority of new members will only attend the first month regularly and then will only make an occasional appearance, if any, for the rest of the year. Like not attending the gym we’ve just joined, our resolutions are often broken within the first month.

Why is it that so many of us make resolutions we fail to keep? Is it that we are weak-willed or want to set ourselves up for a fall? Or is it that we have good intentions but lack the tools to fulfill those intentions?

I believe that for many of us, it is the latter. We want to lose weight, eat better, become stronger, increase our stamina, and a whole host of other things but we just don’t know how to do it. Sure, we take the first steps by going on a diet, throwing away the pack of smokes, start walking, and joining a gym but we have no real plan because we have no specific goal. We say things like “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get in shape” but we don’t specify what exactly that means and how we will reach that goal. If our goal isn’t specific, our steps to reach that goal won’t be either. And without specific steps, we’ll just be walking aimlessly.

A key to defining your fitness goals and sticking with them is to remember the SMART formula. SMART stands for:

 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timed

Specific:

Make sure your goals are specific so that you can plan for and carry out the necessary steps to reach them. Rather than just saying you want to be fitter or be stronger, formulate your goals around functions and activities of daily living. For example, “I want to be able to get up from a chair without anyone’s help”. In order to realize this goal, you will need to exercise the specific muscles involved in that activity, namely the front of thigh or quadriceps muscles. Specific exercises to strengthen the quadriceps include wall squats and leg (knee) extensions. As those muscles get stronger, they will help you function easier. Functional strength can be greatly improved, even in older age. As you impose specific demands on the body, it will adapt in direct response to those demands. This is the SAID principle which stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.

Measurable:

Goals set at the outset of your program must be measurable. If you don’t include measurements in your plan, you’ll have no way to gauge your progress. I recommend using specific measurements such as number of sets, repetitions, and weight (or resistance) to log your progress. Using the example of strengthening the thigh, let’s say you define your goal as 2 sets of 8-12 repetitions of 50 lb. on the leg extension machine. As you increase from 8 to 12 repetitions and beyond, you’ll want to revise that goal to a higher intensity, such as increasing the resistance to 55 or 60 lb. You will undoubtedly see that the number of repetitions you can perform will drop back at first but this is OK. You have now imposed a higher demand on your muscles. Soon, you will see that you can do more and will have to increase the intensity level once again.

However, the most important measurement you will have of your progress will be that you can now get up from a chair without assistance.

Attainable:

Make sure that the goals you set can be attained. Being able to get up from a chair with without assistance is an attainable goal if you’ve previously been inactive, your muscles are weak, and your joints have been taking all of the load. Being able to get up from a chair without assistance if your legs are paralyzed from a spinal cord injury may not be. Talk to your doctor first about your the feasibility of your fitness goals and then talk to a personal trainer who works with older adults to design a program to get you to realize those goals. Prioritize your goals and set markers to know when they’ve been attained so you can gauge your progress. You should expect improvement over time as long as you challenge yourself. Remember the SAID principle!

Realistic:

Along with being attainable, goals and expectations must be realistic. If you’ve never gone mountain climbing before, don’t attempt Mount Everest! Despite commonly held beliefs to the contrary, older adults can progress their training of the cardio-respiratory (heart and lungs) and muscular systems at the same rate as younger individuals, although they may need to start at a lower level than someone younger and account for weaker bones and joints if they’ve been inactive. Part of being realistic in your goal setting is to look at your current level of health. If you suffer from illnesses such as coronary heart disease, emphysema, or osteoarthritis, then keep in mind that you will need to progress more slowly than a peer without any chronic conditions.

Timed:

Set your goals within a specific time frame. Exercise goals which stand to be most attainable are those which are set within a period of no more than three months at a time based on 3 days/week for muscle conditioning and 5 days/week for cardio-respiratory, flexibility, and balance. Especially if you are new to regular exercise, the first month or so will be a period of “waking up” the body to exercise. You may not see much gain during this period but you should notice an increase in stamina. Provided you stick with your plan, you should notice that it becomes easier to get through your program. In the remaining 2-3 months, you should notice that you are adapting to those new demands – you will be able to do more and you will benefit from the fruits of your labour. Getting up from that chair will be easier and you will be spurred on to set higher goals for yourself.

So this year, make your resolutions count. Be Specific. Set your goals with a plan in mind. Talk to a personal trainer if you need some motivation and guidance. Be good to yourself. Make this year your year to get fit and remember to be SMART with your goals.

To your health,
Chris

Sticking With It

List of New Year's ResolutionsHappy New Year!

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions and many of those resolutions are health and fitness related. Resolutions such as “I will give up coffee” (or alcohol, or cigarettes) are common. So are the resolutions to eat better, lose weight, join a gym, or go to the gym we joined last New Year!

Regardless of how they’re phrased, people often find it hard to stick to their New Year’s resolutions. Notice how many flyers you receive in your mailbox in late December for discounts on gym memberships or weight loss programs. Fitness centres, weight loss clinics, and alternative health practitioners expect to get new customers in the New Year as people resolve to be fit, healthy, or live a more balanced life.

While it is good to see people thinking of positive things they can do for themselves, how many actually do the things they plan to do or stick with them long enough to turn their resolutions into healthy lifestyles? Just go into your neighbourhood fitness centre in January and see how crowded it is. However, by February, the numbers start to dwindle and by March, the numbers are back to where they were before the holiday season.

Why is it that people have such a hard time sticking with resolutions that are good for them?

There are many reasons. Poor planning is a big one. People say they’re going to do something without planning on how they’ll actually carry it out. Without a game plan, there can be no winning the game. Habits take time to form, whether they’re good ones or bad ones.

You need to exercise regularly for at least 1 or 2 months before it becomes a habit. This, of course, will depend on how frequently you exercise. I tell my clients to incorporate exercise into their lives at least three days a week, but also recommend that they be physically active every day if possible. Being physically active means doing things like taking your dog for a walk, taking the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator whenever possible, getting off the bus one stop early and walking the rest of the way home, doing household chores, etc.

Exercise, however, is structured physical activity. Adding structure to an already busy schedule can be tricky, but not impossible. I often hear older adults who are retired say that they can’t imagine how they ever worked full-time because they lead such busy lives. I also know that we can make ourselves too busy — too busy to see friends and family, too busy to take a vacation, too busy to finish that novel we were reading and too busy to exercise.

How can we put exercise into our busy lives so that it starts becoming habit?

The first thing we need to do before adding exercise to our lives is some homework.

Start by talking with your doctor or health care professional to determine if there are precautions you must take. If you are taking certain medications or have particular health conditions, you may need clearance from your doctor on such things as your target exercise heart rate, intensity level, certain exercises to avoid, or modifications to exercises.

Next, think about what activities you are interested in doing and try to match your fitness goals to your interests and lifestyle.

If possible, have a consultation with a personal trainer or fitness consultant. Even if you are unsure or unwilling to begin training sessions, you can still benefit from speaking with someone trained in the field of fitness counseling about identifying and setting goals. One consultation session can go a long way to helping you develop a program you can stick with whether you choose to do the program on your own, in a class, or with a trainer.

Consider your lifestyle needs and activity preferences. Is it important for you to be in a group, be independent, meet new people, be a leader, learn something every day, or to be alone? Do you like being physically active or does it feel like a chore? Do you feel the need to release frustration, energy, or to be relaxed? Do you prefer to be outdoors? Do you like to try something new? Do you have family, job, or other commitments that require large blocks of time?

Once you have identified these and other lifestyle needs that are important to you, prioritize them and for the top three, identify activities which will help you satisfy those needs.

Next, plan your first steps. How are you going to be more active or incorporate an exercise program into your schedule? What days of the week work best for you? What works best with your schedule: morning, afternoon, or evening? Remember that if you are planning on doing muscle conditioning you should leave at least 48 hours in between sessions.

You may want to formalize your plan by creating a self-contract where you list your goals, what you need to do to realize those goals, and what you can do to help you stay on track. Remember: old habits die hard and new ones are hard to pick up. You may have “fallen off the wagon” in the past. Ask yourself what made you lose your resolve. Be honest. Identify the event or pattern you followed and write it down. This will help you to seal your contract so that you can prevent that from happening again. Sign your contract and on separate piece of paper, identify the areas you think you may be at risk of in terms of cheating or breaking your contract. If weight loss is your goal, identify your weak areas. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you can have the occasional chocolate chip cookie and but stay committed to losing weight, then don’t sweat it. However, if that one cookie always seems to take you down a slippery slope to throwing in the towel, then it’s best to identify it and develop a strategy to avoid the temptation.

Finally, don’t get paralyzed by failure. A failure is not a failure if you learn something from it. If you find that you really dislike attending the abs and back class at your gym after a month, then do something else. Just don’t beat yourself up over it or stop being active. Maybe you should try a different class or work with a trainer. There is no right or wrong way, only the way that works best for you.

Remember the slogan from Canada’s Physical Activity Guide: “Make physical activity a part of your life every day”.

Don’t dwell on past mistakes, move forward, and make this your year to get fit and stay strong!

To your health,
Chris

Strength Training Fact and Fiction

Pair of dumbbellsI just read a study recently published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. The researchers asked 129 older adults a series of questions to find out how much they knew about strength training. But before I tell you the results, how would you like to take the quiz yourself and see how you do?

QUIZ

1. True or False: Strength training will help build muscle mass.

2. True or False: Strength training prevents Alzheimer’s disease.

3. True or False: Strength training cures lung cancer.

4. True or False: Strength training helps arthritic symptoms.

5. True or False: Strength training increases rate of metabolism.

6. True or False: You need to use heavy expensive equipment to strengthen your muscles.

7. True or False: Men and women will have equal relative strength gains if they do muscular strength exercises.

8. True or False: Younger people gain more muscular strength when doing strength training than older people.

9. True or False: You should NOT do muscle strength exercises because muscles might be too sore afterwards.

10. True or False: You should do muscle strength exercises even if it increases blood pressure.

11. True or False: Muscle strength exercises should only be used for rehabilitation.

12. True or False: To get stronger, it is more important to increase the weight you are lifting than the number of repetitions.

13. Which of these four exercises will best improve muscle strength:

A: Walking
B: Stretching
C: Lifting weights
D: Standing on 1 leg

14. How many days a week should you do strength-training exercises?

A: 1
B: 2
C: 3
D: 4

15. How many days should you rest in between strength-training exercises?

A: 1

B: 2

C: 3

D: 4

16. When doing strength training exercises, you should lift enough weight so that your muscles tire after:

A: 3 repetitions
B: 5 repetitions
C: 10 repetitions
D: 20 repetitions

17. If you are able to lift a weight more than 15 times, you should:

A: lower the weight
B: increase the weight
C: keep weight the same
D: stop the exercise

18. When beginning strength exercise:

A: start with heavy weights
B: use minimum weight and build up
C: start with minimum weight and keep it the same
D: start with no weight and go through the motions

Here are the answers:

1. True. Strength training will help build muscle mass.

2. False. Strength training will not prevent Alzheimer’s disease. (But regular physical activity has been shown to reduce brain tissue loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.)

3. False. Strength training cannot cure lung cancer. (But aerobic activity will have a beneficial effect on your lungs in general.)

4. True. Strength training can reduce pain by strengthening muscles that protect the joint. It can also extend the range of motion in some joints.

5. True. Strength training does speed up your metabolism, which is an important part of a weight-loss program.

6. False. You can do strength training using inexpensive resistance bands and tubing, or even everyday household items like juice cans and bottles of water.

7. True. While women may not gain as much muscle mass as men when they do strength training, they will have the same relative strength gains as men.

8. False. People of all ages benefit equally from strength training.

9. False. Some soreness after strength training is normal and necessary to build stronger muscles.

10. True. Recent studies show that the increase in blood pressure during strength training is not as much as previously believed. People who hold their breath during an exercise have more of a risk of increasing their blood pressure. However, studies show that strength training can reduce stress hormone levels, which in turn will lower your resting blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

11. False. Strength training exercise should be a part of your exercise routine, along with aerobic exercise, flexibility, and balance training. You should make exercise a part of your life.

12. True. To gain muscle strength, you need to progressively increase the weight or resistance. For muscle endurance, you need to increase your repetitions. Muscle endurance and strength are both important.

13. C. Lifting weights is superior to walking, stretching, or balance training for improving muscle strength.

14. B, C, or D. You can do weight training between 2 to 4 times per week, as long as you leave sufficient time in between sessions for rest and recovery of the muscles. Weight training only once a week is not sufficient to improve muscle strength.

15. B. You should leave at least 48 hours between strength-training sessions in order for the muscle to fully recover. One day is not long enough and beyond 72 hours, you begin to lose the strength gains you have made.

16. C. Anywhere between 8 to 12 repetitions is required to sufficiently tire the muscle. If you can only lift a weight three or five repetitions, you are lifting too much weight and this is only recommended for experienced body builders. If you can lift beyond 15 repetitions, the weight is too light and you will not be see any gain in strength.

17. B. If you are able to lift a weight more than 15 times, you should increase the weight. That number of repetitions will help muscular endurance but will not increase your muscle strength. To do that, you need to increase the weight enough that you can do between 8-12 repetitions safely to fatigue.

18. B. When beginning strength exercise, use minimum weight and build up. Many people who are not used to doing strength exercise start with too much weight and get discouraged that they can’t lift it. It doesn’t matter how little weight you use to start. Concentrate on doing the exercises correctly. Steady progression of weight being lifted is what’s most important, not being able to lift more than someone else.


The survey produced some interesting findings. Many people in the study didn’t realize how important strength training is. And it didn’t seem to matter whether people participated in regular exercise programs or not. Just over half of the respondents knew that weight training was the best exercise to increase muscle strength. Thirty-seven percent thought that walking was the best one. While I am happy to see that many people have gotten the message that walking is important, we need to do more to let them know that strength training is also important for those who want to maintain independence and lead vibrant lives.

To your health,
Chris

References

Manini, T.M., Druger, M., Ploutz-Snyder, L. (2005). Misconceptions About Strength Exercise Among Older Adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 13(4), 422-433.

Divine, J.G. (2005). Action Plan for High Blood Pressure. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Millar, A.L. (2003). Action Plan for Arthritis. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics