Fitness Quest: Healthy Aging

Someone once, I can’t remember who, described aging best: you’re old when you drop something and you have to decide if it’s worth bending over to pick it up or if you can learn to live without it.

This observation seemed like a funny joke when I first heard it, but today it strikes a little too close to home. I don’t know about you but every day I wake up with some new little snap, crackle, or pop and I don’t mean in my cereal bowl! The sad truth is that time has a way with catching up to all of us sooner or later and no matter how we fight it we have to admit that we might be just a little bit past our prime as we enter our golden years (not that I’m there yet *cough*).

The problem as I see it is that most of us surrender to the inevitable way, way too soon. There are reports that for each decade past the age of 30 that men will lose between 3 and 5% of their muscle mass resulting in a loss of 30% of their muscle in their lifetimes (compared to their twenties). Moreover, there are also studies that show most people will also gain 1 or 2 pounds a year at the same time. Why? Well, no doubt some of this is because of the natural aging process. But I maintain it’s also because at some point in their youth most people just decide that it’s not worth the effort to stay fit anymore. They sit down in front of their TVs, laptops, tablets, phones, whatever and just don’t get up. Maybe it’s because of some pain or stiffness in the joints. Maybe it’s just because they feel tired all the time. Maybe it’s just because of <insert reason here>. Maybe it really is because of some serious medical condition – but I’m guessing that if you are still reading this that it’s not in your case and you are really looking for the key to staying healthy longer. Well here it is: exercise.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to workout like a pro-athlete or get up and run marathons several times a year (though you can if you want). I’m suggesting that even a moderate amount of movement each day, along with a little weight bearing exercise (body or actual weights) can help you maintain strength, balance, and keep those pounds off as you get older. Along with a healthy diet, of course.

Skinny me in my twenties!
Not so skinny me today. Yes, there’s still some muscle under the fat.

I’ll use myself as an example. Based on photographic evidence I was always a fairly skinny guy through my teens and into my twenties. At one point after my Crohn’s revealed itself I only weighed about 130 – 140 pounds for a while at a height of about 5’11”. However, over the course of my thirties and forties instead of losing muscle mass as the experts would predict I nearly doubled my bodyweight. Certainly, a lot of my mass gained was fat but I also increased my strength from bench pressing 95 pounds (43 kg) to a 1 rep max lift of 350 pounds (159 kg) in my late forties. In other words, at an age when my strength should have been declining, thanks to regular exercise my strength increase more than threefold.

Even today, though I don’t lift heavy to protect my joints, my 1 rep max lift is calculated to be at about 315 pounds (143 kg). Okay, I just said that to brag since it’s a decrease in strength over the past decade it doesn’t really support my overall point. Going on…

Now I may not be the best example, because thanks to Crohn’s I was not at full strength for a good chunk of my twenties or even good health. The onset of my disease did set me back a fair amount and I lost gains that I had made earlier during college. Not that I was a beefcake before Crohn’s reared it’s life altering head. But my point remains, instead of losing muscle over the next twenty years I gained muscle through regular exercise. Likewise, my regular training partner, who did not suffer from the same medical conditions and setbacks I did, also gained muscle and strength during this period. To me we are both examples that the “ravages of time” can at the very least be slowed down if not out right reversed through regular weight bearing exercise.

And it’s never too late to start. Studies have shown that people in their seventies, eighties and beyond are capable of gaining muscle and strength with just moderate weightlifting. Now granted as we age our joints maybe can’t take the strain of very heavy lifting and certainly recovery time is greater. Even I have to admit that I’m unlikely to be able to win the title of Mr. Olympia no matter how hard I train or even become a social media fitness model (shocking, I know). But I do know that if I fall down I have the strength to get up and, more importantly, I have the strength to squat without having to use the handles in the handicap stall in a public restroom. Practical strength is valuable as we age – trust me. Also, bonus, weight bearing exercises also keep your bones strong.

Even if weights aren’t your thing, there is value in just getting up and moving each day. Take a brisk walk, do some yoga or stretching, find some way to move. This will improve your cardiovascular system and balance, too.

Exercise alone doesn’t solve every issue of aging. Arthritis and other issue will likely cause your joints to ache. As I age I find I have to pay attention to other things, too. Diet, obviously, and also posture. Years of spending my days hunched over a computer keyboard have taken a toll. Both in terms of stiffness in my shoulders and in what is now sometimes called “nerd neck” (really). It may take some effort to get back into the habit of standing tall, gut in, shoulders back, chest out, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Good posture can make you look better and feel better – even as you get older!

Sadly, there are no guarantees in life and exercise isn’t a panacea for all conditions. The reality is that you can do everything right and still get sick. Take me for example, as I mentioned earlier I have Crohn’s disease. This condition, which is of unknown origin still today, may have been partly responsible for the heart attack which damaged – and continues to damage – my heart. I suffered a bowel perforation from the damage that Crohn’s did to my intestines, which resulted in me becoming an ostomate for several months. Though the surgery saved my life and I’ve been “reconnected” my digestive system doesn’t work at peak performance. I’m incapable of absorbing nutrients as well as I did prior to the surgery which could have a long term impact on my health. I was hospitalized with Norovirus which was likely picked up because I likely ate food that someone who didn’t wash their hands properly had prepared. This caused extreme dehydration and my kidneys even shut down so they don’t work as well as they used to now. I had a blood clot in my leg (deep vein thrombosis aka DVT). I have to sleep with “life support” – a CPAP machine – due to central sleep apnea which causes my brain to forget to tell my lungs to keep breathing, and so on and so forth. No matter what you do you are likely going to have problems as you get older.

You will also likely consider shaving your ears but that’s a topic best left for another blog entry.

I strongly suggest that you start moving more as soon as possible. Obviously, consult with your medical care team (and if you’re older you probably have a team of doctors) before beginning any new exercise program. However, I have often said that the moment you stop moving is the moment you become old. It’s as simple as that.

The thing to remember, no matter how tough aging can be, is that we are among the lucky ones. Many people haven’t made it to our age (whatever that may be). Each day is a blessing and we should make the most of every single one. None of us knows how long we have on this Earth, but with a little self-care the chances of those remaining days and years being enjoyable increase considerably.

As the saying goes, old age isn’t for the timid. They also say only the good die young. So do yourself a favor and give your bad self some exercise!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Fitness Quest: 2019 A Year in Review

It may be a couple days late, but at the start of another year I think it’s worth taking a quick look back at where I’ve come fitness wise at least. One of the benefits of keeping records is being able to see progress which in real time seems to never come.

I started 2019 as an ostomate. I’ve discussed this in other blogs (like this one here). Suffice it to say that there are challenges when you don’t have use of your colon. Among them was getting the proper nutrients and maintaining weight. In some ways this was good as I did lose a good deal of fat through the experience but also lost muscle as well.

Giving the “thumbs up” after surgery!

I am fortunate that my ileostomy could be reversed and was in April 2019. The results were immediate, observable and positive. Muscle gains, despite being a middle-aged man, were rapid as my body started bouncing back to it’s old self. To the point that my trainer was impressed and even asked if I had always put on muscle so quickly (I wish). By the end of the year I had gained about 30 pounds and according to skin fold measurements almost all of it was lean mass.

Briefly, I started the year weighing 196 pounds/89 kg with a bodyfat % of 24%. I ended weighing 226 pounds/102.5 kg with a bodyfat of 23.5. Even given the usual error rate a significant gain in solid mass (skinfold totals dropped from 151 to 137). My chest grew from 39.5 inches/100.3 cm inches to almost 45 inches/114.3 cm. My unflexed arms are the same size (about 13.5 inches/34.3 cm) but flexed I stretch the tape to nearly 16 inches/40.6 cm, a gain of about 1.5 inches/3.8 cm.

Me putting on a good face during the annual Rose Run in Petersburg, MI

Cardiovascularly, even though I didn’t beat my best time in my annual 5K run I did better than I have in most years. My blood pressure has crept up this year so I need to refocus on my diet – especially my sugar habit – and get more regular with my cardio. Though I do a couple cardio and core sessions each week I’m not getting my steps in now that winter is here. I’m making better use of my exercise bike since last week and will have to keep it up.

Foods we should all eat more often!

My diet has changed. I’m cooking more food myself at home and packing lunch almost everyday. I wouldn’t say I’m on a true mediterranean diet by any means, but I eat more olive oil, hummus, and vegetables in general than I ever thought I would. Plus, even though I visit the drive-thru much too often (2-3 times per week) this is about half as often as I used to do.

I do take a lot more selfies these days, too!

For 2020 I’ve got the usual goals – increased cardiovascular health, less fat and more muscle. If the past year is an indication I like my odds.

Onward!

#oldguyslifttoo – Consarn It!

Those of you who follow me on other social media (yeah, both of you) may have noticed that I usually tag any remotely fitness related post first with #oldguyslifttoo. Though it clearly hasn’t caught on I’m trying to make a point with that hashtag.

It doesn’t take much observation to realize that in our culture and society fitness and athletic activities are the province of the young. In mo and t pro sports you’re finished before 40. A quick look through Instagram and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of posts, pictures, selfies, swolfies, and not so random flexing poses of young men (and a few women) in front of bathroom mirrors. Each who seems fully dedicated to their particular workout, diet and intent on spreading their knowledge and enthusiasm to the world. Or at least get a date. Maybe both, I’m not sure, and I’m not criticizing this in the least. If it motivates anyone towards physical fitness I’m for it. Heck, if I had the abs and biceps of some of these guys I’d be right there in front of my mirror with my phone snapping a picture too.

But, you don’t see so much from older people. Go to a gym, again filled with folks under 40. Now I’m sure that there are a lot of reasons for this. The usual being other priorities. Career, family, etc. But, these reasons don’t explain all the middle-age men and women out there who have just stopped moving. The kids are out of the house, but instead of using the time gained from no longer running mom’s transit service they have doubled down on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the like. Then complain that they hurt all the time or don’t have energy.

It’s time to change this folks. The benefits of daily exercise are well documented. Both men and women at any age can increase strength and improve quality of life with a moderate program of walking and weightlifting. Barring an underlying medical condition (and hey, I’m pooping into a plastic bag as I type this so I know about underlying conditions) you can stall father time. You may never have 20 inch arms or buns of steel again but you can keep your bones strong and muscles firm well into old age.

Which, for all you teens out there, doesn’t start at 30.

So, I’m proud to be an old guy who lifts, too. I hope you’ll join me.

And whoknows, maybe senior citizen swolfies will catch on too!

Onward!

Dave

Fitness Quest: Spring and Summer 2018

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted (April) so there’s a lot to catch up on. Mostly good…

Crohn’s: we, my gastroenterologist and I, have decided to change my medication and I’m no longer on Humira and have switched to Entyvio (vendolizumab). She, my gastroenterologist, strongly suspected that the Humira wasn’t keeping me as well controlled as I thought and after consultation with my cardiologist – who now gets consulted by every doctor I have – recommended that I try something else. I’m all for anything that can better control my symptoms, of course, and so I now get infusions instead of taking a weekly injection. I’ve had some flares since starting the new treatment, including one that sent me to the emergency room while traveling out of town.

The issue wasn’t the Crohn’s directly, as the pain wasn’t that bad, but dehydration

ambulance architecture building business
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

brought on by the Crohn’s. I just wasn’t going to take a chance since we think that a Crohn’s attack brought on my heart attack and my symptoms (severe chills) were just too unusual for me. I was so cold, inside my hotel room under my blankets, that if I were outside camping I would have thought I had hypothermia.

Long story short, one ambulance ride and two IVs of fluid later, I was back at my hotel feeling a whole lot better.

I’ve had one or two other minor flares since starting the treatment, but I’m still within what they call the “ramp up” phase of the infusions so the drug hasn’t reached it’s full efficacy (full effectiveness) yet. My next infusion is August 9th so we should know by then.

In addition to the Entyvio, we are also being more aggressive in treating my anemia – presumably caused by the Crohn’s – and have started getting iron infusions as well. Interestingly enough, if these work I’ll only need two and the benefits will last months and possibly years! The first infusion was this week and so far no side effects so we know I didn’t get too much iron. The second is next week and it will then be a few weeks after that before we know if it works. If all goes well I’ll have more energy and actually be breathing easier as well. Which means, you guessed it, less strain on the heart (concern #1).

Cardiac Health: I finished my cardio rehab with flying colors. My exercise therapist said I was a star pupil and an example for others and sent me off with instructions to

black and white blood pressure kit
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continue my work and a hope that he never sees me again – at least in rehab. If anyone out there has a heart issue and is offered the opportunity to take rehab DO IT! I left knowing my body better and more importantly my limits. I can judge when I might be pushing too hard and, just as importantly, when I’m not pushing hard enough.

Thanks to rehab I had the confidence to run in the Rose Run again this year.  This is the annual 5K to support breast cancer research held in Petersburg, Michigan in July and Burbank, California in October. If there are two more disparate communities to host the same event out there I couldn’t tell you where they are! Anyway, I didn’t beat my time from last year (sob), but I finished feeling good and, here’s the important part, without a cardiac event!

Massage:

board brown daylight destination
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I got my first deep tissue massage. I’ve been having some intermittent muscle pains, especially in my chest, and my primary care physician suggested massages as a regular treatment. Well, while traveling on business I was a spa in Saratoga Springs, NY and some free time so I treated myself to a mineral bath and a deep tissue massage. Wow! I had no idea how tight I was until my masseuse started her work. I was never in pain, but came close. She also confirmed that I had a couple substantial “knots” in my chest that one massage wasn’t going to get rid of. So she gave me a couple stretches to do on my own and suggested fascial stretch therapy. I’ve been looking into this and will likely give it a try within the next couple weeks. I’ll blog more on this later.

Yoga: 

man wearing white pants under blue sky
Photo by antas singh on Pexels.com

I did start yoga, but have fallen off the wagon. I need to get back on it as this does help with stress, breathing, flexibility, and a lot of other benefits. I been using routines on youtube led by Adriene. Her videos were suggested by a friend and I find her teaching method to be easy to follow and a good introduction to yoga. Plus, you can do it from your home. I’m sure most would say that a video can’t replace a good in person instructor, but honestly, I’m not reading to show my downward dog in public yet – let alone a warrior three!

Nutrition: Um, yeah, about that. Did I mention that I was traveling a lot? I have a lot of “adjustments” to make.  Moving on…

beef blur bread bun
Photo by Foodie Factor on Pexels.com

Overall Fitness: I’m still lifting weights a couple times a week. Not seeing much progress in this area and I haven’t been pushing. It’s time to make a few changes and a few gains. I can’t go heavy on lifts like the bench press anymore (see cardiac health) but as long as I don’t raise my blood pressure I can do pretty much everything I used to. Weight lifting was part of cardio rehab so I see no reason not to continue. Too many people don’t realize that strength training is especially important as we get older.

man in grey shirt and black bottom lifting barbell
Photo by Frame Kings on Pexels.com

I’ve read that the average man without training loses about 10 pounds of muscle each decade after the age of 30 (yes, 30). Regular resistance training (i.e. weights) can slow down and even reverse that loss. In fact, I would say in my case, I was actually at my strongest in my late forties. I may never bench 350 again but I can be stronger than I am now and less likely to fall and break something! I suggest you do the same.

Onward!

Mediterranean Diet