Fitness Helps with Recovery from Drugs & Alcohol

National Recovery Month 2021, a picture collage showing a variety of people

September is National Recovery Month.

With drug and alcohol abuse affecting millions of people, it’s likely that we all know someone who is involved in recovery or needs to consider it.

That includes people over 50 using drugs and drinking alcohol more and more each year. If we add include other compulsive behaviors like eating and gambling, then we see how huge the issue is.

So, September is a great time to mark National Recovery Month and support anyone involved in living free of alcohol, drugs, and other addictive behavior. This year’s theme is “Recovery Is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community.”

 

Almost 1 million Americans over 65 have a substance use disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Millions more drink alcohol, with two-thirds reporting “high-risk drinking” that exceeds daily guidelines. And, as we age, we absorb effects more slowly, and our brains become more sensitive to drugs. More mature adults are likely to use multiple prescription medications which must be properly managed.

Addiction is treatable, and exercise can help. As WebMD explains, “Exercise and drugs of misuse work on similar parts of your brain. They both activate your reward pathway, which triggers the release of feel-good chemicals.”

Regular physical activity eases withdrawal, curbs cravings, improves sleep, and provides healthy social interaction.

That’s what we’re all about, and we’re here to help anyone live a healthier life now.

If you think you or someone you love has a problem, talk to a doctor or recovery program. The National Helpline is confidential, free, and 24/7: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.

Success Story: Don’t Call Her ‘Sweetie’

Barb holds a weightlifting trophy

Barb DeAngelis, 76, set 2 world records for weightlifting in her age group!

 

Barb DeAngelis, 76, sees the stereotypes against older people exercising to stay strong, and she shatters them every chance she gets.

Not only does Barb love lifting weights and setting records, but she sees herself as a quality-of-life ambassador for other “little old ladies.”

Barb crushes the “frail grandma” idea one deadlift at a time at a gym in Vermont, where she lives. Barb says she does it to inspire other older women who have been told, “Be careful, Sweetie. You’ll hurt yourself.”

Her favorite T-shirt reads, “Old Ladies Lift.”

 

What’s behind her devotion? Barb was a physical therapist, so she knows how important exercise is. She started lifting weights almost four years ago. A bone-density test revealed age-related osteopenia. She was losing bone mass. The weightlifting has shut off the decline.

“They’ve done studies that show that weightlifting supports bone health, and you’re not talking about little dumbbells, we’re talking about a heavy weight that increases stress on your bone,” Barb says.

And she’s right. Resistance training improves bone density, keeps us strong to prevent falls, and improves mood, sleep, and lots more. And, no, it won’t make you look like a bulky young man.

“I look like every other little, old lady,” Barb points out.

Barb says she wants recognition as a “stealth bada**” – and she’s earned it. This summer at the USA Powerlifting Association event in Palm Springs, California, she set two world records for her age group.

“I wasn’t competing as much as I was representing,” Barb says – because no one else was in her age group, 75 and over.

Most people have more modest goals, of course, and that’s great. Barb and other weightlifting “little old ladies” are powerful motivators to help us all live better lives. They remind us that being fit improves quality of life – and maintains your independence.

“When you have independence,” barb says, “you have a different mental attitude than when you need help from other people.”

Before she started lifting, Barb said she had trouble navigating sidewalks and stairs, and was beginning to fall.

“If you don’t keep your strength up, you lose function, you lose balance, you lose joint mobility, and little by little you’re chipping away at your active and functional life. There is a wheelchair waiting for every one of us. And the point is to stay the hell out of it.

“I used to stumble and fall but not now. I can catch my balance. And every time you don’t fall you don’t risk a significant injury.”

Barb urges everyone to exercise and to practice strength training, which also includes yoga, body weight, and smaller weights than Barb fancies. Her advice: Use a trainer to get coaching on form to make sure you’re doing it properly and avoiding injury.

“I’m just a 5-foot tall, little old lady,“ she says. “And I just really want to get other little old ladies involved.”

We’re here for that, Barb!

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.

Celebrate September As Healthy Aging Month

a woman in a track suit runs outdoors surrounded by fall foilage

September is Healthy Aging Month!

 

If you think January is the most important month for personal fitness, then think again.

It’s actually September, especially for people over 50, since it’s annually promoted as Healthy Aging Month.

And it’s easy to see why the first month of autumn is ideal. Think about. The weather is cooler, but we still have plenty of daylight in the morning and evening… We’ve recovered from hectic summer schedules, but we’re not yet caught up in the hectic holidays… and there’s less pressure than we typically experience with New Year’s Resolutions.

 

Organizers say they’re trying to shine a spotlight on the positive aspects of moving through life – and the mission is to help us all take personal responsibility for our health.

The month was created more than 25 years ago by Carolyn Worthington, publisher of the Healthy Aging® multi-media platform. “Our goal was to draw attention to the positive sides of growing older,” she says. “September was chosen because so many people feel they can ‘get started’ more easily then. Maybe the back-to-school routine never really goes away.”

The campaign this year focuses on staying fit, adventurous, healthy, and connected. Be sure to exercise regularly, including strength training to prevent falls and frailty. Tweak your diet, and keep up with regular medical checkups.

We’re here to help with fitness and more, not just in September but all year long. Let’s get you moving with healthy, safe, and effective exercise to carry you through the fall and beyond.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.

Still Running at 83: Our Health Is Our Responsibility

Vince Obsitnik stands with 2 other marathoners, all wearing numbers

Vince is 83 and still running marathons!

Vince Obsitnik is an 83-year-old marathoner who didn’t let heart surgery keep him from running.

And Vince, a former US Ambassador to his native Slovenia, has a message: You are the ultimate arbiter of your personal health.

“It’s a mental frame of mind on how you want to live and how you believe in living,” Vince says. “No. 1, you have to make sure that you are getting good medical attention for whatever problems you have. And if you get the right medical attention, you also stay active on it yourself, mentally, to get that medical result.”

This is no tough-guy talk, just a simple creed we should all follow: “Help yourself stay healthy.”

He Stays Highly Aware

Vince was born in the Slovak Republic, which was part of Czechoslovakia. His family fled the Nazis in 1938, and Vince eventually attended the US Naval Academy. He served on a submarine for five years, and then became an executive at corporations like IBM and Unisys.

He’s always been fascinated by the body and learning more about it to help his running. So when doctors advised a hip replacement in 2012, Vince did his own research and then advocated instead for a “resurfacing.” He’s still running today.

“I’m pretty cognizant about everything,” he says in an understatement.

Developing A Passion for Marathons

At 55, Vince decided to start long-distance running, and he completed the Boston Marathon in less than four hours in 1996. Three years later, his doctor said he needed to have a heart valve replaced. Vince asked if he could still run in the New York Marathon as planned, the doctor said yes, and he did.

Vince also ran the 5k in the National Senior Games in June 2019. Two days later he ran a 10k. A few months later he had the mitral valve repaired.

He rehabilitated, trained, and ran another marathon in 2001. In 2008, Vince ran a marathon in Slovakia, where he was serving as the US ambassador (with a bodyguard on each side).

He’s run seven marathons and has a goal of 10. Age doesn’t slow him down.

“People need to be more active and involved in their medical situations,” Vince said. “We have doctors and they are supposed to know what they are doing and many of them do, but we as patients need to know what is wrong and be satisfied in our own mind: ‘Are we doing the right thing, are we doing enough?’

“Not enough people take that approach. People say, ‘The doctor said this,’ and they do it. Inquire more. Ask what’s possible and take steps yourself to improve it.”

Your first step: Talk with us about your health and fitness goals. We’re here for you, whether you’re new or a veteran.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.

6 Healthy Tips from a ‘Nurse-Coach’

Nurse Nicole Vienneau sits smiling in a field of daffodils

Nurse Nicole shares her expert tips!

 

If nurses are the most trusted healthcare professionals, then what could be better for active agers than bringing them into the fitness realm, as well?

“Nurse coaches” are just that: people trained as both a nurse and a personal trainer.

It’s part of a growing effort to bridge the gap between traditional health care and the exercise industry. They don’t always operate in harmony for the benefit of the patient-client. Just think if your doctor ever made a flat-out prohibition against physical activity. Or if your trainer gave you directions like you were a college athlete.

 

Nicole Vienneau is a senior faculty member at the Integrative Nurse Coach Academy, a longtime intensive care nurse, active-aging specialist; and owner of Blue Monarch Health, which brings fitness services to people over 50 in their own environments.

“Let’s help people figure out what’s important to them about their life and their health BEFORE they actually get sick,” she says. Here are a few of her tips.

  1. Move more. It improves sleep, mood, memory, and inflammation. Exercise three to five times a week.
  2. Sleep better by eliminating caffeine after lunch, removing electronics from the bedroom, and investing in comfortable pillows and linen.
  3. Keep learning. Read books, visit museums, or take a continuing education course with a friend.
  4. Keep socializing. Find and nurture friends at the gym, religious organizations, political groups, etc. Make a lunch date with an old friend.
  5. If you’re going to a new fitness class, arrive early and introduce yourself to the instructor.
  6. Remember that you are a whole, complex human being – not just a collection of body parts.   

Learn more with Nicole on the Optimal Aging podcast.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.

Dance, Martial Arts and More: The Healing Power of Movement

two women doing a fitness dance routine

Dancing and martial arts are fun ways to get moving!

We love sharing stories about people over 50 who find a new lease on life through exercise.

And this one is special because the miracles of movement came as a surprise.

Susan Palmer (pictured, in the white shirt) wasn’t looking for relief from the chronic pain that plagued her for years after surgery to treat breast cancer. She just thought a dance class looked like a fun way to get in shape after retirement in her 60s.

“I wanted an exercise program I would enjoy, and I just loved this right from the start,” she recalls. “One day in our cool-down, I discovered that I could comfortably do a stretch I haven’t been able to do since breast cancer treatment 11 years ago. I was shocked. I have no idea when in this process my muscles and tendons limbered up sufficiently to release what I always figured was unreleasable.”

She credits the energy and wisdom of instructor Dael Parsons, who teaches Nia, a combination of dance, martial and healing arts, outdoors when Oregon weather permits.

Susan’s story shows the power of determination, even amid all the inconveniences of the pandemic. And it proves that the benefits of exercise and purposeful movement can come through any activity we enjoy – whether it’s dancing, martial arts, weightlifting, running, or anything else that puts a smile on our face.

Dancing, Martial Arts and More

You’ve probably heard us talk about how powerful yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi are, particularly for people over 50. Like them, dancing and martial arts are great exercises for cardio endurance, building muscle tone, and agility. Plus, they require us to think while we’re working out, which improves brain health and memory.

Instructor Dael was a massage therapist who specialized in working with fascia, the body’s connective tissue. She focuses on movement to improve scars from surgeries, like Susan’s, and emotional trauma.

Iowa fitness instructor Beth Pelton has that state’s largest Nia practice and loves what it does for her and for her clients.

“There’s so much power in movement – and also psychologically, too,” Beth says. “It’s a great way to help people have more fitness and mobility,” even if they perform the exercises from a bed or chair.

Any Movement Is Good Movement

Whatever kind of exercise you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy. And don’t let any nerves keep you on the couch. We’re here to make it easy, safe, fun – and effective.

“I’m not a great dancer,” says Susan. “But after a couple of years of doing this, I feel more confident in my body. I like how dance moves morph into martial arts — throwing punches, blocking moves, kicking moves — then into healing moves that are somewhat yoga-ish. And the music is a great mix of new age, world, a little hip hop, all just wonderful.”

Her participation in the class has led to more activity – weekly Zumba classes, daily walking, and frequent bike and kayak trips.

“Here’s what I learned about exercise because of this class,” Susan says. “It’s stupid to do exercise that you don’t enjoy.”

We couldn’t agree more.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.

Eat the Rainbow for 5 Servings of Fruits & Vegetables

colorful cooked fruits and vegetables on a plate

Eat the rainbow every day!

Here’s a fun way to make sure you’re getting the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Just eat the rainbow every day!

Fruits and vegetables come in all colors, not just green. So make an effort to eat something of a different hue, from oranges to red apples. It’ll make shopping in the produce aisle a bit of a game: See how many colors you can pick up.

The American Heart Association recommends eight or more fruits and vegetable servings each day. Fruits and vegetables deliver nutrients like vitamins, fiber, and even hydration to help us consume enough water every day.

 

Here are some examples to get you thinking:

  • Make a rainbow salad. Green spinach, red beets, orange carrots, yellow peppers. That’s an easy start!
  • Red delicious apples are naturally high in fiber.
  • Add veggies to your pizza, burgers, and sandwiches: red tomatoes, green lettuce, etc.
  • Berry Berry Yummy – blueberries, strawberries, blackberries.
  • Try something different, like kiwi or passion fruit.
  • Remember fruit makes a great dessert – and bananas are perfect after a workout.

More ideas:

  • Reds and pinks: cherries, pink grapefruit, radicchio, red peppers, red potatoes, rhubarb, watermelon, tomato juice
  • Orange/yellow: butternut squash, cantaloupe, corn, lemons, mangoes, pineapple, peaches
  • Green: asparagus, avocados, collard greens, mustard greens, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, green grapes, green onion, kale… the options are endless!
  • White: cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, potatoes
  • Blue/purple: eggplant, purple grapes, plums, prunes

 

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.

Everyone Can Pick up Exercise Tips from Olympic Competitors

lower body shot of man running

We can all learn exercise tips from Olympic athletes!

People all over the world tuned into the recent Summer Olympics in Tokyo to be amazed by the world’s best athletes — and to be inspired by them.

We mere mortals of any age can pick up tips, apply them to our own movement and exercise patterns, and try to keep our performance as high as possible. That’s true whether you’re just starting your fitness program or if you participate in big events.

So, if you found yourself watching the athletes and thinking, “How do they do that” – well, here are a few basic pointers from trainers all across the USA. Resistance training at a gym or fitness studio is essential for strength, endurance, and agility.
 

SPRINTING
For any track-and-field events, first get your running form assessed for arm-leg coordination, gait issues, and how your arms swing, says Summer Stevenhagen Montabone, owner of Summer’s Fitness in Canton, Ohio.

“In track action, your power comes from the glutes (or butt muscles),” she says. “The front is for show, and the back is for go.”

Sprinting is a fun way to practice high-intensity interval training. It needs powerful glutes and stronger arms than we associate with most running, says Atlanta’s Myrie Jackson. You want to develop leg and arm strength for maximum power and velocity.

MARATHON
If running a marathon is on your bucket list, you can find training programs to get you ready in 16 to 20 weeks, says certified USA Track & Field coach Jonathan Poston of Asheville, North Carolina. But he recommends taking a year to build up the endurance needed to run 26.2 miles.

That will mean logging a lot of miles every week – and varying lengths depending on your training and recovery schedule. Start small. Gradually increase weekly long runs as the race date approaches.

WEIGHTLIFTING
If you want to lift like an Olympian, focus on the snatch and the clean & jerk, says trainer Sergio Pedemonte, CEO of Your House Fitness in Toronto.

“Have a timeline of when the game day is and prepare by considering differences between the off-season, pre-season, and in-season approaches,” Pedemonte says. Eat more calories than you burn if you want to get bigger.

BOXING
The Olympics always fuel enthusiasm, says Frank Dennison, a personal trainer and the product manager for RockBox Fitness, a national franchise.

Boxing is good for heart health, muscle tone, agility, and developing hand, eye and feet coordination, he says. It also is used to mitigate symptoms of Parkinson’s and can boost mental agility.

>The National Senior Games attracts thousands of mature athletes for competitions like these and lots more. It is scheduled to return next year. You can learn how to join the fun here.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.

What We Can Learn from ‘Blue Zones’ about Longevity

map of the world in multiple shades of blue

The “blue zones” are where people live longer and healthier lives!

 

Do you want to live a longer, healthier life?

Then you’ll want to learn from the world’s “Blue Zones.”

The idea of blue zones was popularized by author Dan Buettner in his book, “The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.”

He discovered five places in the world where people have greater longevity and happy, healthy lives past 100: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California (home to a large community of Seventh-Day Adventists).

 

Buettner identified nine lifestyle habits of people in the blue zones. Here’s some of what he found, and how we can adapt them to our routines.

  1. Move every day. Maybe you can’t walk to work, but you can walk somewhere. And you can join us for workouts to strengthen the functional fitness needed for everyday living as we age.
  2. Purpose. The Nicoyans call it “plan de vida” or why we wake up in the morning. Know your purpose: It adds seven years to life expectancy.
  3. Downshift. Blue zoners have daily routines to shed stress. Ikarians nap, for instance. What do you do to deliberately relax?
  4. 80 percent. A Confucian mantra reminds us to eat till we’re 80 percent full. The 20 percent gap can help us lose weight. Think about this before you reach for seconds.

It’s fascinating research, and more communities are using the findings to improve health of their own citizens. You can learn more here.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.

The Skinny on Belly Fat: How to Fight It for Real

woman planking on a yoga mat

Fight belly fat the right way!

 

Nobody likes belly fat, but almost everybody struggles with it to some degree.

Among all kinds of fat, belly fat is the one that gets the most attention. We are frequently asked to help our training partners lose weight – and often, it’s specifically about the extended, round belly that tends to accumulate after 50 or so.

Here’s the good news: Belly fat isn’t inevitable. We’re here to show you how to exercise and eat right in order to lose body fat for better health — and to feel, look, and move better.

 

The bad news: There’s no miracle cure for body fat or to reduce it around the belly or anywhere. Despite the myths, just doing 100 sit-ups a day will not give you a flat stomach. Neither will endless planking on its own, a tea sold at the “nutrition store,” or rubber wrapped around your midsection.

It’s the myth of spot reduction. Everybody wants to say, Here’s who you lose the fat that’s on your left knee…. Or behind your right ear … or on your shoulders…

So how do we fight belly fat?

  1. Think about losing fat in general, not in one spot. As you continue to eat right and exercise, fat will melt away. Your body will hold onto it in certain areas longer than in others. That’s natural.
  2. Build and maintain muscle. We lose muscle as we age unless we practice resistance training, which means lifting weights, using resistance bands, etc. – anything that offers weight against your muscle to build it up. Muscle is essential for carrying out the daily activities of life and it helps prevent falls.
  3. Don’t forget about cardio. Decades ago, we were told that cardio was the singular path to slimming down. Now we know that’s just not true. But it is necessary. The World Health Organization suggests at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exertion each week. We say that’s a good start.
  4. Use small groups or trainers. This can be a smart way to learn how to safely and effectively exercise to reach your goals, including lower body fat.
  5. Eat right. This means choosing whole foods over processed foods, limiting portions and snacking, and eating just until you’re no longer hungry. Read nutrition labels at the store, and don’t buy products full of ingredients you can’t pronounce. Watch out for added sugar and corn sweetener. Cut back on fruit juice, and drink more water.

Finally, a bonus tip: Take it easy. Stress is body fat’s best friend. It releases cortisol inside us, which contributes to various problems, weight gain among them.

So, let it all go. Meditate, breathe, read a paper book… And let us help approach belly fat the right way.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.