5 Fast Facts about Lowering High Blood Pressure

5 Fast Facts about Lowering High Blood PressureEveryone knows high blood pressure is a killer. It’s the No. 1 cause of heart attacks in the United States, and the most important risk factor for strokes.

And we know it’s a bigger problem later in life, afflicting up to 65 percent of people 60 and over.

But do you know the best ways to help keep your blood pressure right where you and your doctor want it?

Here are the top five.

  1. Exercise regularly. Studies prove that strength training and aerobics workouts lower both numbers of your blood pressure – the systolic and diastolic. This is one more reason you need to be lifting weights, using resistance bands, or practicing yoga. Strength training equals life. It does not equal bodybuilding! And, of course, exercise is a great way to…
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. More than a quarter of people with high blood pressure are obese. Being overweight makes your heart work harder to pump blood through your body.
  3. Manage stress. Take time every day to purposefully calm down, sit still, and focus on your breathing. Get enough sleep. Enjoy the outdoors, the arts, and hobbies.
  4. Drink alcohol moderately if at all, and don’t smoke. The first part means no more than two drinks a day for me, and one for women. The second part means, Come on – are you kidding?
  5. Watch salt? Yes. But also sugar. Limit how much of both you put on foods. But remember that both salt and sugar are added heavily into our processed foods, so start reading labels and making your grocery choices accordingly.

Talk to your doctor about hypertension (another word for high blood pressure). We’re here to show you how exercise helps.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

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

Step 1 Fighting Belly Fat: Forget the Marketing Myths

Step 1 Fighting Belly Fat: Forget the Marketing MythsNobody 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 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.

How Many Steps? Looks Like 10,000 Was Right

How Many Steps? Looks Like 10,000 Was Right

For some reason, we all started thinking we had to take 10,000 steps a day for good health. It seemed to take hold when fitness trackers became popular, and we all were talking about “getting my steps in” every day.

Well, despite some questions over the years about the validity of that number, new scientific studies say that, indeed, we do need about that many steps a day to get the most health benefit.

A study published in JAMA Neurology found that walking 10,000 steps a day was linked to less cardiovascular disease – including heart disease, stroke and heart failure – plus 13 types of cancer and dementia.

And a sister study found that for every 2,000 steps a day you take, you could lower your risk of premature death by 8 to 11 percent. That research was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Both studies involved about 78,500 participants, all middle age and older, who wore a device on their wrist to measure physical activity and whose health was monitored for a median of seven years.

Still, the new research says you don’t have to take that many to get health benefits. For example, 9,800 steps lowers the risk of dementia by 50 percent, the research suggests, but taking just 3,800 a day lowers it by 25 percent. Increasing the intensity brings more benefits.

So, there you have it: Get stepping!

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

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

Get Ready for the Slopes at the Gym

Get Ready for the Slopes at the GymIf you’re thinking about skiing this winter, now is the time to start getting ready.

Stamina, strength and flexibility are key to being in peak skiing condition.

Come talk to us about any questions you have. And remember, even if skiing is not your thing, working out with us can prepare you for whatever IS your thing! Now, here’s a good general guide to how to prepare for the slopes.

  • Be sure to go on a few walks each week and take the stairs when you can. Or, if your stamina is already fair, then work in two or three cardio workouts weekly.
  • Resistance training for legs. Most of the muscle strain from downhill skiing is on your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. A nice leg circuit twice a week will help get you ready. That means squats, lunges, leg curls and calf raises. Ask for a demonstration if you’re not familiar with proper form.
  • Skiing requires a strong core because of all the twisting and leaning forward. Get ready with planks and twists.
  • Stretch before working out with weights, walking or running – and that includes your lower back.

If you’re a veteran skier, you know what fun is waiting for you. And if not, it’s never too late to learn.

Baby boomers make up about 20 percent of US skiers. The sport isn’t nearly as demanding as it used to be, since the equipment is so much better now. Senior discounts abound. And what other sport gets you outside in fresh, clean air amid spectacular mountain scenery?

She Doesn’t Let Anything Stop Her

Dawn Lowery, 60, started as a child, and she has been skiing for almost 50 years in a row – “even the years I blew out my ACLs — both knees, different years,” she says.

Dawn, a physician’s assistant and member of the ski patrol, stays in shape by hiking and biking during summers.

She practices Pilates and goes to the gym, as well, and says her core and leg strength have been instrumental in helping her bounce back after injuries and surgeries.

“Being active is very important for all seasons,” she says. “There is no off-season for exercise.”

Skiing into His 80s

Dick O’Loughlin, 86, has been skiing for more than 40years. He keeps up strength-and-balance workouts with a personal trainer keep him in shape for it.

“It’s not the easiest sport in the world, and I want to be able to continue it as a part of my lifestyle,” says Dick, who stays active with his wife, Sally, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “I’m outside in the fresh air and I can enjoy the mountains. When you make a good run down the slope, you say, ‘Wow, look what I just did.’”

Whether you’re up for skiing or not, exercise with a trainer can keep you in good shape and ready.

Come talk to us about any questions you have – about skiing or any other awesome activity you want to keep enjoying.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

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

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness MonthOctober is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a good time to remember that some risk factors are beyond our control, like age, race, and family history.

But, as the National Breast Cancer Foundation points out, we can adjust some behaviors to lower other risk factors.

Those include:

  • Lack of Physical Activity:  A sedentary lifestyle with little physical activity can increase your risk for breast cancer.
  • Poor Diet: A diet high in saturated fat and lacking fruits and vegetables can, too.
  • Being Overweight or Obese: So can being overweight or obese. Your risk is increased if you have already gone through menopause.
  • Drinking Alcohol. Frequent consumption can increase risk; the more you drink, the greater the risk.

The foundation says about two-thirds of people with breast cancer have no connection to these risk factors at all, and other people with risk factors will never develop cancer.

One in eight women will get the disease at some point. Men can get it, too, but it occurs 100 times more often in women.

The group also lists ways that individuals can help and can raise awareness. For example, donating $150 pays for a mammogram for a woman in need. You can learn ways to help your company get involved. And you can support early detection and get tested regularly yourself.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

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

Success Story: ‘It’s Like My Second Chance’

Success Story: ‘It’s Like My Second Chance’Sheila Howard didn’t recognize herself in the mirror after she ballooned to more than 300 pounds in her late 40s.

“I looked foreign to myself. I said, ‘I know you’re in there. You’re trapped inside yourself, and we’re going to get you out,’” Sheila recalls now at 57.

It took years, but she finally did, after two scary medical diagnoses, multiple surgeries – and completely changing her lifestyle to include exercise and healthy eating.

Now, she’s down below 180 pounds at 5 feet 6 inches tall. Her medical conditions are being treated. And she’s on a mission to help others persevere on their health and fitness journeys.

“Exercise has been a part of my life for a long time,” she says. “It’s like my second chance.”

A Long Road Begins

Initially, Sheila was unable to lose the weight she gained for her two pregnancies, despite dedicated workouts and eating right. Her weight reached over 300 pounds.

“I went from this small person all the way to this bigger person in just a few years, and the weight continued to pile on unexplained,” she says. “I tried all the different programs, I had a personal trainer, I had diet pills, water pills – just anything I could think of that I could afford, I tried. I went to the gym. I did all the things I was supposed to do, and none of it worked.”

Sheila was eventually diagnosed with hypothyroidism. It’s a common disorder caused when your thyroid gland, in the front lower part of the neck, doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.

The thyroid controls your metabolism, and without enough thyroid hormone, your body process slow down, according to WebMD. You have less energy, and your metabolism becomes sluggish.

That diagnosis helped, but it was far from the end of Sheila’s journey. She was next diagnosed with leukemia. And she was eventually able to undergo gastric bypass surgery, at her doctor’s insistence.

Didn’t Want the Easy Solution

She resisted it for a long time because she wanted to make lasting, overall lifestyle changes – not just get a quick, easy fix. But her normally placid doctor had a “come to Jesus” moment that brought Sheila to tears.

Success Story: ‘It’s Like My Second Chance’Since the surgery, she has kept the weight off through a dedicated workout routine of weightlifting, running, and – her favorite — hula-hooping. She has overhauled her diet, too.

“With the weight-loss came my full lifestyle transformation,” she says. “I knew surgery wasn’t enough. I wanted to be fit, not just lose weight.”

She’s even written a book about her journey. The title? “Trapped Inside Myself.”

That was true for a long time, but through medical help, healthy living, exercise and determination, Sheila has made sure that it’s not true anymore.

We are here to help if you’re having similar issues with your weight, exercise and diet. Of course, talk to your doctor if you have health concerns. And do as Sheila recommends: Keep looking until you find the solutions you need.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

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

Get Outside: Green Spaces Help Us Live Longer

Get Outside: Green Spaces Help Us Live LongerPhilip Rafshoon loves starting the day with a run through Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, above, or on its BeltLine trail.

“It feels so good to get outside!” he wrote recently on Facebook, with an early-morning photo. “Up with a three-mile run. Ready to enjoy the weekend.”

Philip, in his 60s, knows that getting outside regularly is good for us. Now, we’re learning how it helps us live longer, too.

That’s the conclusion of a new study of 8 million city dwellers around the world, published recently in the Lancet Planetary Health. It says greenery improves longevity for people who reside in urban areas.

  • Parks, for instance, give us space to move our bodies and play, which is good for us in countless ways – from lower blood pressure to calmer moods.
  • Trees reduce noise and improve air quality.
  • A 2016 study reported that women near green spaces had lower rates of death from kidney disease, respiratory disease, and cancer.

New York and Paris are among the globe’s top metropolises adding greenery, at least partly to add years to residents’ lives. The French capital even wants to make a third of its public green spaces into sustainable farms, complete with chickens and beehives.

Many in cities everywhere can enjoy the benefits of grass and trees in parks or back yards. Some trails have activity stations that encourage calisthenics and stretching along the way.

Get outside with your grandkids, play fetch with the dog, enjoy golfing, jogging or gardening … The list goes on and on.

Fitness in the gym helps you enjoy fitness outdoors for all kinds of activities.

And that sunshine on your shoulder makes everything just a little bit easier.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

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

It’s Never Too Late to Get Fit

It’s Never Too Late to Get FitHave you ever heard the old saying, “The horse is out of the barn”?

It’s a folksy way of telling someone it’s too late to make a change.

It’s also one of the myths about fitness after 50 that we love to bust every chance we get. And here’s a great example of someone who has done so, Joe Robert Weaver.

Joe was almost 60 when his teenage son asked him for information about exercise. Since Joe had never much cared for training, he had a lot to learn – and he finally decided to get into shape along with his son.

Joe lifted weights and quickly packed on 30 pounds – muscle, yes, but fat, too, since he was eating so much after lifting heavy weights. (That’s when he took the “before” photo on the left, above.)

He changed his way of eating, switched to lighter weights, and adopted a nasal breathing technique that he says gave him more energy.

Excellence after 50?

And then something amazing happened for Joe, who is now 67.

“I got shredded!” he says.

Joe’s abs appeared for the first time in his life at 60.

“I didn’t even know they were there,” he says.

Joe entered a physique contest for men over 40 and took second place.

That busts yet another myth – that people over 50 can only maintain their previous fitness level or just hope to slow inevitable decline.

But a rippling torso — for the first time — at 60?

You bet.

Of course, that might not be your goal. Maybe you’d like to get stronger, improve your golf game, avoid falling or enjoy playing with the grandkids… The list goes on and on, but the point is the same.

Whatever your goal is, exercise can help you achieve it.

Joe’s Top 3 Tips for Getting Started

Like us, Joe has a passion for inspiring people over 50 to exercise. Here are his top tips for anyone just starting out, like he did just a few years ago.

  1. Make exercise fun. Otherwise, you won’t want to do it.
  2. Be consistent. Stick with it, without expecting instant results.
  3. Focus on functional fitness that will help you live the life you want to live, rather than, say, lifting heavy weights just for its own sake.

“Excessive strength and endurance aren’t that important for most people,” Joe says.

What matters most in building balance, strength and endurance after 50? For him, Joe says it’s moderation in the dining room and consistency in the gym.

We hope Joe’s myth-busting success serves as an example.

Come talk to us about your own fitness goals and how to bust a myth or two you’ve heard about exercise. We don’t guarantee rippling abs like Joe’s, but we definitely will make it fun, safe and effective. Promise.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

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

Success Story: A Painful Moment Spurs Change

GinaGrossBig life changes often follow a moment of clarity that can be startling, liberating or even painful.

For Gina Gross, 59, her epiphany came while she and her husband were taking a tour of a gym in their new community.

Gross was a recently retired nurse and had become obese over the years, weighing 340 pounds at 5 feet 10 inches tall.

“That was a very tough day,” she recalls now, two years after the gym tour. “I felt like a failure. I’m too smart to have done this to myself, and I did it.”

Gina turned that heartache into determination. So far, she’s down about 100 pounds, and she’s determined to get below 200.

She says the demands of her ER job contributed to her weight gain. It then made her final working years even more difficult, particularly on her feet and knees. “Once you get to my size, with pain and arthritis, you don’t feel good working,” she says.

Now she has enrolled in a healthy eating course and stuck with her exercise routine. She even keeps building on it. She walks, takes water aerobics, and spends hours a day at the gym working out with weights. Her husband has joined her, and they’ve started hiking in the nearby hills.

“Now it’s a part of our lives,” she says. “I still have a long way to go, but I feel so good. I feel proud, and I feel like my whole life has changed.”

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

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

Exercise Helps Keep Your Brain Strong, Too

Success Storny: A Painful Moment Spurs ChangeRemember in school when the health teacher warned you about drinking?

She probably said something like: Alcohol kills brain cells, and YOU NEVER GET NEW BRAIN CELLS.

Scary stuff.

Well, guess what? It’s not true about never getting new brain cells – although the choices you make in life affect your brain health and even your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Experts have identified five “modifiable risk factors” – or behaviors you can change – to protect and even grow your brain, says clinical psychologist Marie Stoner.

She is also director or programming and a co-founder at Activate Brain and Body, a new fitness facility in Cincinnati that’s part of the growing effort to promote the link between physical fitness and brain health.

“You are getting new brain cells every day, especially in the hippocampus, which is your memory center,” she advises. “And you are in charge of whether those new neurons get brought on board and put into networks that help you defy the statistics or the family history you might be worried about.”

She cites a Lancet study that says we could lower worldwide Alzheimer rates by 40 percent through these personal behaviors.

What are they? Simple.

  1. Exercise
  2. Diet
  3. Brain stimulation
  4. Social interaction
  5. Stress management

Stoner cites another large study from Great Britain showing that people who exercised the most had a 34 percent reduction in risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Even doing housework every day had a powerful effect.

“Physical activity is the best thing you can do for your brain,” she says.

The benefit grows even more when novel physical activity – something new to you – is combined with brain stimulation.

She and Activate’s CEO John Spencer say anyone can try out this theory. Just try a new physical movement – say, dance steps that you don’t know – with a cognitive task, like saying all the words you can think of that start with a certain letter.

Some exercises – like dancing and boxing – strengthen the brain by requiring mental focus.

The Journal of International Neuropsychological Society says just one exercise session can improve how our brains work and the part of memory that lets us recognize common information.

“Exercise can have rapid effects on brain function and … lead to long-term improvements in how our brains operate and we remember,” The New York Times wrote about the study. Science is finding that adult brains can be malleable, “rewiring and reshaping themselves in various ways, depending on our lifestyles.”

The mind-body connection is powerful. And you already know that exercise is good for your heart, lungs, weight, diabetes, and countless other physical issues.

In today’s stressful times, we need to take care of our whole selves – and physical exercise like you find in a gym or studio covers the gamut – body and brain alike.

#FitnessIsTheFountainOfYouth

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