Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Live Fit, Be Fit, and Stay Fit at Any Age!

The other day, Charles walked into my studio and wanted to know if it was possible for him to run a sub 4-hr marathon. Well having just met Charles, before answering, I had him tell me a little about himself and his fitness history and running. He shared that he’s been a runner for many years. He does a little weight lifting with some dumbbells and some other equipment he has at home, but nothing major. He shared how he’s run several marathons over the years even Boston, but he hasn’t run one in about 12 years. I asked if he had a recent race time that I could use to project out a ballpark marathon time. “Hmmm, let me see. I ran a 5K back in January. I really didn’t train for it or anything. Just ran it. My time was around 25:20,” was Charles’ response. That calculated out to about a 4:06 to 4:07 marathon, so I figured with some actual training, he probably would come in at or just under 4 hours.

I asked Charles, if he had ever worked with a running coach before. He said no and that actually he’d really never used a marathon plan before. He’d just run, run, and run lots more before the race. So, I asked him why he felt he needed a coach and a plan now. Charles responded, “Well, I’m 72 and it’s been a while since I’ve run that far, so I figured, I’d better get some coaching.”

Yep, Charles is 72. He is a true inspiration. “Use it or lose it.” It’s a bit cliché but definitely true and Charles really personifies that old saying better than anyone. Charles came in for his fitness assessment a few days after our initial talk. The assessment takes about 1.5 hours and includes taking vitals, body composition measures, balance and flexibility testing, muscular strength testing, muscular endurance testing, and a VO2Max test (1.5-mile run test). Charles’ results were amazing. His resting heart rate was 55 and he scored above the 90th percentile in his age group for his VO2Max. His score is actually the “Excellent” benchmark for male runners ages 46-55. The next week, Charles began his resistance training with me in the studio. I use the stability ball and the Bosu in a lot of my exercises to help increase a client’s stability and balance. I was ready for Charles to be very wobbly, not because of his age, but more because most people don’t add a balance element to their training and as a result don’t have very good balance. Charles had no trouble. He stayed in control and never wobbled once. I was truly impressed. Now Charles may have inherited some great genes from Mom and Dad, but I think it has more to do with the fact that he’s continued to be active his entire life.

The legendary comedian, Phyllis Diller once said, “My idea of exercise is a brisk sit.” As funny as that sounds, it’s sadly what many Americans today call exercise. We’ve become a very sedentary society. Unfortunately, as we age, muscular strength, power, muscular endurance, muscle mass, muscle fiber size, muscular metabolic capacity, resting metabolic rate, bone mineral density and physical function all decrease. And even worse, body fat will increase. But guess what, with resistance training, muscular endurance, muscle mass, muscle fiber size, muscular metabolic capacity, resting metabolic rate, bone mineral density and physical function will all INCREASE and body fat will DECREASE. You don’t have to live in the gym to see these kinds of results either. A 30-minute session about 3 times a week can make huge gains in improving your fitness level. Increased fitness means a better quality of life.

Not only does exercise help improve and maintain all the aforementioned, it also helps keep your immune systems strong which enables you to fight off infections more quickly. A Duke University Medical Center research study showed that aerobic exercise is just as effective as medication in treating major depression in the middle-aged and elderly. Other studies have also shown that aerobic exercise improves cognitive abilities. The Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Blog shared in a 2008 post that the Alzheimer's Association predicts that 10 million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer's disease in the United States — that’s about one out of eight. But, that same article goes on to say that “Physical activity appears to inhibit Alzheimer's-like brain changes in mice, slowing the development of a key feature of the disease.” Other positive information included a study that observed 6,000 women age 65 and older, over an 8-year period. The study reported that the more physically active women in the group were less likely to experience decline in mental function than the sedentary women.

There’s a lot more research to be done for sure, but bottom line, exercise is critical to healthy living later in life. According to IHRSA (International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association), adults over 55 are the fastest growing segment of health club members. Even if it’s not on a long-term basis, it’s a good idea to have a personal trainer show you how to use the various machines and free weights to ensure you’re using proper technique. This will go a long way in helping to prevent injury.

Not sure where to start? Intimidated by a big gym? It can be overwhelming. ICCA (International Council on Active Aging) has developed a great checklist to help seniors find an “Age-Friendly Trainer” as well as an “Age-Friendly Fitness Facility.” Remember, you want to find a trainer that will go beyond just taking you through some exercises. You want to find someone who will design a program of exercises specific to your needs and fitness goals.

So, do like me and make Charles your idol. Live fit. Be Fit. Stay fit!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Marathon Thoughts: A Little Comic Relief

If you've ever run a marathon, then you know that every emotion that a human can experience will surface somewhere during those 26.2 miles. From exhilaration, to insecurity and self-doubting, to exhaustion, to "I'm king of the world!", to self-loathing, to invincibility, to insanity, to jubilation--some or all are experienced by the endurance runner, especially the first-time endurance runner.

The Improv Asylum of Boston, contacted me to let me know about a cool video parody of the marathon experience they created in celebration of the Boston Marathon. Improv Asylum is a comedy theater that features improvisation and sketch comedy. They’ve been described as Whose Line is it Anyway? meets Saturday Night Live!. Opened in 1998, Improv Asylum has performed over 3,500 shows, for over 500,000 people. They’ve been featured on HBO, and they've performed in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin, Aspen and throughout the country.

So, check out the video below. I dare you not to laugh and I'm betting that you've experienced as least some of what this runner is going through.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Moderation. Is It That Simple?

The other day while having my morning cup a Joe, I ran across the best article I've read in a long time on the issue of diet. The headline read "Low-Fat or Low-Carb? Which Diet is Better?" (by Laura Casey of Contra Costa Times as featured in The News & Record, April 11, 2011). The article supported what I've basically believed for many years and had reinforced with my 100hrs of nutrition classes as a part of my schooling at NPIT and ACSM certification. Fats and Carbs....you need them both.

Americans are so funny when it comes to diet. Common sense is usually the last factor to come into play. We're always looking for the quick fix. The first "fix" came in the late 70s when Nathan Pritikin wrote The Pritikin Program for Diet and Fitness." All of the sudden fat was bad and carbs were the "in thing." Then the 90s brought the Atkins Diet craze which basically had everyone doing the exact opposite of the Pritikin diet. Now suddenly carbs were the enemy. (Makes you wonder if you should avoid any diet created by someone with a name ending in "kin." Don't worry there's no RunnerDudekin Diet in the works.)

The problem is that both diets do help you lose weight, but the question I always had was, "why go to such extremes?" Why do we always go to the extreme to find a solution to losing weight? I guess maybe it sells better? The article I was reading really hit the nail on the head by conveying that "...many diet experts, including local doctors, reel over the low-fat verses low-carb dieting discussion. It misses the point, they say. Americans, 60% of whom are overweight or obese, need to eat less and lower the amount of sugar in their diets, through reducing carbs and sweets. They need to eat real food, not overly processed, sugar-added treats. And they need to think about what they're eating instead of mindlessly consuming whatever tastes good."

Now, I think there's a lot that impacts that "mindlessly consuming whatever tastes good." Our hectic busy lives often dictate what we eat. Quick-n-easy often overrides cooking "real" foods at home. When families more-than-not have both parents working, preparing healthy meals can be a real challenge. I'm not making excuses, but being the parent of 3 kids and having a wife that works as well, I can attest to that challenge, not to mention the added expense of eating healthy. When it comes down to having just a few bucks left in your pocket to feed a family of five for dinner, 3 boxes of $.49 mac-n-cheese will be the choice more than not. Believe me, I've been there. Just pull-up to any fast food drive-thru menu. Check the price of that healthy grilled chicken sandwich and side salad and compare it to the cost of the regular cheese burger. And you wonder why so many low-income individuals eat unhealthy. Again, not making excuses, but just pointing out the obvious. But, I digress...back to going to extremes to lose weight.

The fact is that your body needs fat, carbs, and protein. Each plays an important role in keeping you healthy. The daily recommended allowance (DRA) of each is as follows
Carbohydrates = 45%-65% of your total caloric intake
Protein = 10%-35% of your total caloric intake
Fats = 20%-35% of your total caloric intake

Carbohydrates are your basic fuel system. They also play a part in helping regulate protein and fat metabolism. Continuous intake of carbs as well as the stored carbs (glycogen) is vital to proper functioning of your nervous system. Protein is key to tissue building and repair, a strong immune system, and it plays a role in your body's metabolism, and water-balance system. Fat can be used by the body as fuel for energy production. Fats aid in the digestion process and help transport fat-soluble vitamins important to the body, just to name a few of it's important roles.

Too much of a good thing can actually be bad. During the Atkins Diet craze researchers began to realize the effects of consuming too much protein. Your body only needs a certain amount of protein. Ingesting more will not make you have bigger muscles or make you stronger or leaner. Actually, when you consume more than you need, your body will deaminate the excess protein. That means is removes the nitrogen from the excess protein. That excess nitrogen puts a huge burden on your kidneys as they work overtime trying to get rid of it. Also, just like carbs, that excess protein has to go somewhere. Yep, similar to carbs, the protein that's not used is either stored as fat or used as energy. So if you're a sedentary person, the extra protein and/or carbs can cause you to pack on additional body fat.

Society seems to need an extreme method to latch on to to help modify their weight instead of looking at a more sensible approach (i.e., follow the guidelines and eat in moderation). For most Americans, if they make a concerted effort to reduce portion size as well as cut back on the amount of sugar and refined foods they're eating, they'd probably be very surprised to find the scales with a little lighter reading the next time they hop on them.

When I was a youngster, a meal at McDonald's consisted of a hamburger, fries and a soda. Actually that's all they had to offer. A little later they added the fish sandwich, but basically that was it. Oh yeah and the size of those burgers back then were the size that's in the kid's meal today. So 35 years ago an adult was basically eating one regular hamburger, a small fry, and a small soda. Still not all that healthy, but a lot better for you than the 1/2-pound Angus burger, large fries, and 32oz soda that many adults pickup today. Just the soda alone will eat up many of your daily calories. Did you know that the American Dietetic Association recommends that calories from sugar not exceed more than 10% of your total calories? One 12oz can of regular Coke exceeds that. Count up the number of regular soft drinks you consume each day? Then factor in your activity level? Guess where those calories are going if they're not quickly used after consumption

Almost all diets that impose strict limitations have an initially high success rate but then over time, individuals on those diets tend to gain back the weight. Why? It's hard to live a life of "I can't have that." Why not have a diet where you eat carbs, fats, and proteins, but in moderation?

So, now you know I'm big on "moderation." I'm also big on "education." Just like anything, there is a good side and a bad side. Same thing occurs with carbs, fats, and protein. This article would be 100 pages long if I shared the good and bad of each macronutrient, so make a point of reading up on each. Basically stay away from refined grains and sugary processed foods and look for whole grains and high-fiber foods. Steer clear of trans fats, try not have more than 10% of your fat calories come from saturated fats and comprise the bulk of your fat intake with healthier fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated as well as omega 3s). Explore a variety of both plant (legumes, soy, quinoa, nuts, etc.) and lean meats for protein sources. Food preparation also plays a huge role. Try baking, boiling, broiling, or grilling more than frying. Be careful with the types and amounts of condiments you use on your foods. You don't have to do without, but be a little choosier about what you put on that turkey sub or salad.

Enjoy eating. Just eat in moderation. I know that's easier said than done. I was an overweight child through middle school and lost a little over 40 lbs before going to high school. Once a "fat kid" always a "fat kid", in your head at least. Like I said, it's a life chage, not a quick fix. Make common sense choices. Get active. Start slow. Maybe just start by switching to whole grain bread, then leaving off the fries, then swapping the Coke for a Diet Coke and then maybe eventually to water. Add a 15-20 minute brisk walk to your regimen each day. Then make it 20-30. Then maybe try running. Make whatever you do a habit. Aim for losing weight over time. Quick weight loss almost never remains lost. Decreasing your total weekly caloric intake by 3500 calories (or 500 calories per day) will help you to lose 1lb a week. Just think in 5 weeks with little effort, you may be 5lbs lighter.  Whatever you do, start today. There's no better time!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Boy Who Wore Plaid

Last week I worked with my youngest client, Paul. He's 8. Great kid with a head full of thick vibrant red hair and a personality just as vibrant. His grandmother is a running client of mine and she asked me if I could work with Paul on running bases. Paul is on a coach-pitch little league team. We worked on some simple speed and agility drills and I talked to Paul about the leg muscles that help you move when you run. I told, Paul these muscles had to be strong to give you lots of power to get him to first base and beyond. We also talked about arm swing and how it's important to keep your arms at your sides and how they should be pumping just as much as your legs are moving. Paul was a great student, very alert, attentive and eager (a trainer's dream).

I set up a mock "home base" and "first base" and had Paul pretend to swing his bat and lay it down just as his baseball coach has instructed him and then had him blast off to first base, using all the techniques I had just taught him. Paul did great. You could see the concentration in his eyes. I noticed he was landing with really heavy feet and there was a loud clomping sound to his foot strike. So we talked about a better foot landing that would promote a smoother stride. He had no problem modifying his foot strike and soon was running with very little sound.

So, we ended that first session with a firm hand shake and off they went to a ball game. Yep, he had a game that night. We had only worked together for 30 minutes, but I was hoping I hadn't worn him out for his game. Then I remembered he was 8 not 46. LOL!

Later that night, I got a message on Facebook from Paul's grandmother. He had hit a home run and she said he blasted around the bases with his arms at his side pumping hard, a smooth stride and his legs just a moving. She could tell he was already putting his learning to good use.

After I read that FB message, I couldn't help but chuckle. When I was Paul's age, I played baseball for 2 years. Hated every minute of it. The first year we had to wear those old scruffy, itchy wool uniforms. There I was, the pudgy kid in this itchy as heck gray wool uniform out in right field, praying hard the ball wouldn't come my way. I knew from day one of practice that I was not cut out for baseball. Of course the ball that popped up and smashed into my face didnt' help any either. Somehow I made it through a second year and even one year of football before calling it quits with sports. A short career (so I thought). 

I figured I was supposed to be the fat kid in the plaid pants. You know the happy-go-lucky kid who always had a joke to tell. Back then, if you were "husky" (as they so politely called it) you had very little options for clothing. And it seemed that the designers at the time believed that fat kids looked best in plaid. Better yet, plaid pants with reinforced knees (guys you remember Toughskins from Sears?).

That's how it played out for the rest of elementary school and middle school too. My older brother played baseball and tennis while I ate twin bags of Lays potato chips on the couch after school watching General Hospital. My best friend Dennis, however, was a gymnast. I always admired his bravery to be the only male on the gymnastics team. He was probably the strongest guy in our class, but he took a lot of ribbing from the other guys.

The thing that I didn't realize at the time was that it wasn't that I wasn't athletic or didn't have athletic potential, it was that I was not a team sports person. Problem was that back then (at least where I lived) there was very little to do other than play baseball, basketball, or football.

The summer before high school I decided to lose weight. I went on weight watchers and lost a little over 40 pounds. During my freshman year we had to run the mile in PE. The previous year in 8th grade, the mile had been torture. I ran the mile in 18:20 (and yes I was wearing plaid pants). This time it was different. I ran the mile in under 8 minutes. By no means a world record, but I was astounded. For the first time, I realized I could actually do something athletic. I still didn't have the confidence to go out for cross-country or track. Even after losing weight you still feel like a fat person on the inside, even when the weight is gone.

About 5 years later I ran my first 10K. This was around the time (in the mid 80s) when road races began to gain some popularity with "average runners." I was hooked. I finally found my niche. Something athletic where I could compete against myself...or others if I wanted.

Running has taken me many places and provided me the opportunity to meet many people from 8-year-old Paul to legendary Bart Yasso. Who'd a thunk that the fat kid in the plaid pants would be teaching an 8-year old how to run bases.

Children today as well as adults have so many more opportunities to be involved in exercise. If you're a parent, be observant and foster the activities that interest your child. If you're an adult, be willing to explore different options until you find what clicks. It might be walking, running, kick boxing, or hot yoga. Doesn't matter—just get up and move!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Read RunnerDude on Active.com!

A few weeks ago, Active.com contacted me to see if I'd be interested in writing for their website. Of course I said yes. What an honor! I've been reading and using Active.com for years. It's an awesome site for fitness and running information, not to mention a huge resource on races as well as registering for them.

Below is my first article for Active.com. Hope you enjoy it. Keep an eye out for more RunnerDude articles on Active.com!

Spring is in the air and so is the pitter pat of beginning runners hitting the roads and trails across the country. Similar to the hoards of new gym goers in January excited by New Year’s resolutions to become fitter, beginning runners often hit the road at the first sign of warmer weather with similar aspirations.

According to Running USA’s State of the Sport 2010 report, an estimated 43 million total runners nationwide enjoyed the sport in 2009. That’s up 6.7 percent from 2008. Actually in the last nine years, total running/jogging participation is up 40 percent, running/walking on the treadmill is up 38 percent, walking for fitness is up 21 percent, and trail running is up 16 percent.

Many new runners head out with good intentions and admiral goals, but often find themselves overwhelmed or unenthused with the progress of their new activity. Why is that? Running is often the first choice of new fitness enthusiasts because of the low start-up costs, the fact that you can do it just about anywhere, and there are no long term dues or fees associated with running. One sport that hasn’t been hurt by the bad economy is running. Buy some shorts and a T-shirt and a good pair of running shoes and you’re good to go. How hard can it be, right?

To read the rest of the article, click here.