Being obese means having a bigger body, of course. But research indicates it also means having a smaller brain.
“An obese person’s brain is 8 percent smaller than a lean person’s brain,” Martin Pazzani says. Martin is the founder of a startup tech company that studies brain-body fitness and promotes exercise among mature adults.
Several studies in recent years have addressed the link between obesity and brain health.
“Obesity may also affect cognitive function” including a higher risk of developing dementia, the National Institute of Health reports.
“The more we understand about (body fat), the clearer it becomes that belly fat is its own disease-generating organism,” said Dr. Lenore Launer.
Time magazine shared another study that suggests eliminating excess fat can improve brain function -- and that exercise can reverse brain damage that was possibly caused by fat. Obese adults are 35 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
Eating right and staying at a healthy weight are good for brain health. And, as Martin points out, exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
Count this as one more reason to take better care of yourself through a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise.
Your body and your brain are depending on it.
Amanda loves gardening in her backyard.
“I find it meditative, and I can leave all my worries behind me,” says Amanda, 59, an administrator in a law firm.
But a couple of years ago, painful arthritis began getting in the way of her favourite hobby – which requires stamina, flexibility and strength. Since exercise can relieve arthritis pain, Amanda joined a fitness studio for small group training sessions a year ago.
Now, not only is she strong and ready for gardening’s rigors, but she also enjoys nightly walks and occasional runs – and has dropped 70 pounds, a third of her weight.
Amanda learned what health professionals and countless gardeners have known for decades: Gardening is a good workout that also helps maintain joint function, relieve stiffness, and improve balance and endurance. It also fights depression, provides vitamin D, and provides an outlet that can be social and creative.
If you think gardening doesn’t qualify as exercise, think again. An hour can burn up to 300 calories. And it’s a full-body workout -- bending over to pick up pots, squatting to pull up weeds, pushing wheelbarrows, raking, and carrying items, some of them heavy.
Pursuing “functional fitness” is a great strategy for many, mimicking the same movements performed in real-life activities, like gardening.
Here are some common exercises that gardeners should be proficient in:
Experts urge the importance of stretching, deep breathing, taking frequent breaks and remembering to drink plenty of water.
If you’re still not convinced that gardening is exercise, here is the word from the National Institute of Health. Gardening for 30 to 45 minutes gives the same moderate-intensity benefits as playing volleyball for 45 to 60 minutes, walking 1.75 miles in 35 minutes, and shooting baskets for half an hour. You wouldn't tackle those activities without training for them.
Our friend James learned that the hard way last summer when he visited his mother.
He’s no gardener, and when he saw that tall weeds had overtaken his mom’s flowerbed, he decided to take care of it for her.
“I thought it would be a quick, easy job,” he recalls with a laugh. “But I found out otherwise. My back was sore, my arms were sore, I was sweating like I was on the treadmill – and I had barely made a dent in the flowerbed!”
James organized a three-man crew to finish the job.
Come talk to us about getting your strength, endurance and agility ready for gardening before the season begins. You don’t want to injure yourself in the yard; lower back and knees are the most common sore spots.
Sources: National Institute of Health, WebMD, P. Allen Smith Garden Home
How many push-ups can you do?
The question makes some people uncomfortable, bringing up memories of awkward PE classes back in school. But the answer could be helpful in getting or keeping you on track for a better future.
Fitness pros have been discussing a new study that suggests push-ups can predict heart health. If you cannot do more than 10, you might need to make some changes.
It was conducted by Harvard and other institutions, and then published by the American Medical Association, so it is legitimate. But it raised some questions, too, since it was conducted only on men. And no result of one simple assessment gives anyone a “free pass” to give up healthy habits.
Still, this is a helpful way to get us thinking and talking about cardiovascular disease, which remains the No. 1 killer worldwide. Contributing factors include diet, smoking, alcohol – and a lack of exercise. But predicting an individual’s likelihood to develop heart disease has been problematic. This research seems to say that a simple test can act as a no-cost and generally effective crystal ball.
Scientists studied the health of hundreds of men over several years. They didn't set out to examine push-ups. But the data revealed that men who could complete 11 or more went on to have lower risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems later in life.
Men who could do 40 push-ups were 96 percent less likely to develop problems than those who could not manage more than 10.
What some Fitness Friends had to say ... about their thoughts and asked how many push-ups they can do at once.
“I don’t normally do push-ups as part of my workout routine,” Mitch said. “But at age 65 and dealing with a left elbow issue, I was still able to hit over 40 push-ups with no problem.”
Larry: “I just turned 61 yesterday and I banged out 61. I practice everyday. Now, I don’t expect to be able to keep that up forever, but it’s pretty cool at this point in time.”
Rick: “The more push-ups – or any exercise, for that matter – you can do, the better shape you’re in. So, you’d be more likely to have a better cardiovascular system. If you’re sedentary, you have weaker muscles.”
Martin: “I don’t like push-ups as a measure of fitness. It’s too one-dimensional. I know a lot of super cardio-fit people who can’t do them.”
A Reminder of What’s Important
So, what about you? Do you know how many push-ups you can do?
If you’re concerned, ask your doctor about how exercise and diet can lower your risk. We can get you started in the right direction, or help keep you going if you’ve already begun your fitness journey.
It’s important to resist drawing universal conclusions from one study. But it’s also undeniable that healthier living leads to longer and better living.
If this study gets one person to put down the junk food, get off the couch, and start taking better care of herself, then it’s done a great service.
Here’s Why the Glutes Are So Important
Sometimes, after a few weeks of working out together, a client might ask, “Why do we do so much glute work?”
“Glutes” is the technical term for rear end. So you might translate that question as, “What’s my butt got to do with it?”
Either way you put it, the answer is the same: A lot.
The gluteus maximus rules as the largest muscle in your body, the hub of movement, the workhorse. Problems arise when your glutes get lazy or dormant because other muscles must kick in to perform jobs that they're not designed to do. And that starts a domino effect of compensations that will, over time, wreak havoc on your body.
With every step you take, your glutes should absorb much of the impact and propel you into the next step. If your glutes can’t do that, your foot, knee, hip, back – maybe even your neck – are going to take the brunt of those forces.
And because your glutes are at the center of your body, they’re crucial to function for both the lower and upper body.
At any age, if the butt starts lagging, you’re far more likely to experience back pain and have knee trouble. You’re also more prone to falls, which is a particular concern for mature adults. And, at any stage in life, no one wants a saggy bottom.
That's why we monster walk, squat, deadlift, and perform other exercises to strengthen your glutes, including bridges, plank variations, and banded hip abductions. Did I mention the monster walk ... the Yogilates Rx class favourite?
Your butt is just too important to ignore.
The couple that exercises together stays together!
Just ask Steve and Lisa Jones, who work out at a gym three times a week and hike or run two other days. They’ve been married 40 years and happily recall their Valentine’s story when they met as teenagers.
"It was instant chemistry, love at first sight," Steve, 63, recalls. "We've never looked back."
Lisa, 62, continues, “I got in my car and told my friend, ‘Oh, my God, am I in love?’”
They still enjoy doing things together, including exercise. Since they started working out 12 years ago, they’ve never faltered in their enthusiasm or habits.
5 Reasons It Works
Research shows there are good reasons we should all be keeping up with the Joneses on this. Psychology Today reports five ways working out together can help a romantic pairing.
Steve and Lisa got started in fitness a dozen years ago.
The impetus was Lisa’s realization that she had slowly become obese. Lisa, a schoolteacher, then took up exercise and changed her diet, losing 94 pounds in the first five years. (She has kept it off even longer than that.)
Steve, who works in construction supply, joined her. His parents both lived into their 90s and enjoyed good fitness and health. “I decided, if I’m going to be that old, then I want to be able to do things I enjoy, and not just sit around all the time.”
They keep each other accountable and prod each other to success at the gym, where they work on strength, cardio and core.
They each have separate interests, too, in addition to their work lives. But they simply love each other’s company, after all these years – including in the gym.
“We’re best friends,” Lisa says. “It’s worked for us, all this time. We just enjoy being together.”
In fitness and in health. Happy Valentine’s Day.
We usually think of February as the month of hearts for Valentine’s Day.
But February is also Heart Month, promoted by the Heart and Stroke Association, to raise awareness and to help people lose weight, eat better, invigorate their exercise routines and more.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in North America. The good news: Heart disease can be prevented.
Exercise and eating right are the top tools to improve our heart health and lower our risk for heart disease and heart attacks, according to the Heart and Stroke Association
For people over 50, exercise, including strength training, is vital. As most people age, their hearts get smaller and weaker, and major arteries can stiffen. That reduces or slows blood flow through the body.
The best prevention is to exercise throughout life. But it’s never too late to start to gain some of the benefits. This New York Times article explained some of the latest research in detail.
Weightlifting among mature adults improves heart health by decreasing blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol, while improving “good” cholesterol. Exercising and eating right also fight obesity, which contributes to heart issues.
“Reinvent yourself” is a modern mantra for countless North Americans.
In the years since digital disruption and the economic recession, we still see proof all around us. So many North Americans are creating the next chapters of their lives in or near retirement, or to begin a new line of work or hobby.
If we all write the story of our lives, then sometimes we have to turn a page.
Jean Titus, 50+, has experienced that in the last 10 years or so. The former investment adviser began developing his own business projects after the 2008 economic downturn. His mother passed away, after warning him about eating too much to fuel his overzealous bodybuilding. And a chance meeting with a former professional athlete made him realize he had let his physical performance fall below his expectations for himself.
"I started getting serious about this when I realized I wasn't doing my best, and I wanted to do better," he recalls. "I saw loved ones die or get sick because they hadn't taken care of themselves and realized how easy it is.
"I decided I was going to do better. I didn't know what that meant exactly, but I knew I could go out every day and just keep pushing it."
“I didn’t say, ‘I’m too old; that’s too difficult.’ Those things didn’t enter into my mind. I just have figured out how to do it. And that’s the approach I want people to have – especially people in their 50s."
“Once that wrench goes in, their thinking process has to stop and reboot. They come out with a whole new way of looking at what’s possible.”
Writing Your Own Act 2
Most of us won’t want to achieve Titus’s level of bodybuilding or be able to reach it. But that doesn't matter. Your personal fitness goals are just as important, no matter what they are. And, as Titus would say, those goals are not only possible but attainable.
Many good articles and resources are online for anyone wanting to write their own Act 2. Here are a few:
If your Act 2 means tweaking your fitness routine or reinventing yourself physically, come in and let’s talk about what you want. Even after 50, many people want to have new experiences and gain different perspectives – and life sometimes guides us toward changes whether we want them or not.
Design Fitness Centre can help you get to your own “what’s possible” through exercise.
Will Rogers once said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
It’s a nice, homey metaphor.
It’s also true literally, according to a pair of new studies that say movement is the key to longevity as well as physical and mental health.
The first study showed that aerobic exercise (walking or biking, for instance) for just six months can begin reversing cognitive decline. And if it’s combined with a proper diet, the combo can reduce the brain’s functional decline, according to the report in the American Academy of Neurology.
That experiment was performed on middle-aged people.
Another one focused on people in their 70's and 80's. Published in the journal Neurology, findings said the risk of dementia is cut by physical movement – any movement. Even simple housework like cooking and cleaning can make a positive contribution.
"Exercise is an inexpensive way to improve health and our study shows it may have a protective effect on the brain," says Dr. Aron S. Buchman with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who led the study.
These findings might not be headline-making, but they’re still relevant, especially when trying to get mature adults to exercise regularly. For instance, earlier research has shown that walking 45 minutes three days a week can increase brain volume among people over 65.
And really – no one is publishing any scientific studies that say being a couch potato is good for you.
On the spectrum of physical ability, where do you rank?
More importantly, where do you want to rank?
Let’s look at a five-point scale. Most people over 50 fall into one of these categories.
We’ll look at each in more detail below. But take a guess now which one applies to you. How does that make you feel? Surely no one wants to think of themselves as dependent or frail – and everyone’s fitness goals are different, ranging from healthy function to high-level sports competition.
That’s what’s so liberating about a healthy lifestyle: It lets you live the way you want to live, whatever that means to you.
Come in and let us help you enjoy getting to where you want to be or maintaining your fitness level in fun, new ways. Exercise is the best medicine – and, no, it’s not too late to start.
From Elite to Dependent
Here’s how the Functional Aging Institute breaks down the stages, with broad direction on how people in each group can benefit from small group training. It’s a good structure to begin a discussion.
Description: These are the most healthy and functional folks, those who are regular exercisers and probably involved in recreational sports. They have advanced physical abilities, and they love working hard at their fitness.
Outlook: “Given their advanced physical abilities, there is really no limit on what they can do in a training session.”
Description: Most fit mature adults are considered fit in the area they train but might be deficient in other areas. Maybe a strong runner or cyclist has low strength, or a strong man has poor flexibility. There's such a big range here that FAI notes the distinction between "fully fit" and "semi-fit."
Outlook: “They need a heavier focus on the specific areas in which they are deficient.”
Description: The average mature adult can perform daily tasks on their own, but they don’t participate in any vigorous activities. This is the largest category, and some mature adults get trapped in complacency here, thinking that their independence means they don't need to exercise. But that can lull them into a dangerous place, where one fall or injury can knock them down to "frail" or "dependent" status.
Outlook: “This group needs a well-rounded mix with a focus on increasingly complex movements and those that challenge dynamic balance.”
Description: People at this stage have low functional abilities in most or all aspects – strength, poor balance, energy, etc. They need help performing everyday tasks.
Outlook: “They require an emphasis on basic strength and power exercises, as well as basic gait and mobility patterns. Balance movements should be more static and performed with caution because they have a high risk of falling.”
Individuals in this group typically require specialized one-on-one assistance and are not candidates for group classes.
Everyone is different
We know that you’re an individual, not a member of a demographic or even a subset on a scale like this.
Functional fitness doesn’t necessarily track with chronological age. If you don’t know a super-fit 80-year-old, you’ve seen examples of them in the media and in my studio. And, sadly, it’s more likely that you know, perhaps, someone who is 60 and frail.
We are here to help you get or stay fit by your own definition, for your own purposes. Those might include independence, fitness and maybe even elite athleticism way more than frailty and dependence.
Are you a Debbie Downer?
Or do you go around humming “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” all the time?
And which do you think is better for your health – a negative attitude or a positive one?
Yep, it should be obvious. And it’s also true.
Studies show that optimism is good for our physical and mental health, as well as our longevity.
Exercise helps. Simply by moving our bodies, we put ourselves in a better mood. And by maintaining strength, agility and endurance, we build upon our happiness every day.
So, go for a walk, ride a bike, lift weights, run, swim, hike, practice yoga, dance – whatever you like.
Sources: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, John’s Hopkins, WebMD