Let’s Hear It For the Centenarians!

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…for the who?? Centenarians are people who are very much alive and are at least 100 years of age or older. During a recent trip in my vehicle, I was listening to a radio talk show and the topic was focused on centenarians. The person being interviewed does research on centenarians and part of his research was completing hundreds of interviews with individuals who were 100 years old or older.

One of the questions asked of each centenarian was “What is your secret to longevity?”. Without hesitation each person said being physically active. Despite their age, daily physical activity was very important. Walking every day, doing chores around the house, vacuuming and the like, and swimming were the most common activities. These hundreds of interviews support what nearly 60 years of research by the American College of Sports Medicine has reported that says physically active individuals are healthier and more productive individuals.

Now maybe you don’t want to live to be 100 or older but certainly you want to be healthy. I have never met an individual who says they want to be unhealthy. So the questions is, why don’t more people lead a physically active lifestyle? Why don’t more people put their health first on their daily “to do” list?

It’s simple. Walk 15-20 minutes two or three times a day. Do daily chores-vacuum, wash dishes, dust or cut the grass.

I have a challenge for you. For one month, reduce the amount of TV you watch by one hour a day and replace that time with some form of physical activity. Notice the difference after one month. If you don’t like how you feel, go back to watching TV and forget physical activity. But if you like the new you then continue with your new lifestyle because the health benefits that you will begin to reap will put you on the road to perhaps becoming a centenarian.

Congratulations to all centenarians and thank you for sharing with us at least one of your secrets to longevity!

The Strength of Your Heart

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How strong is your heart? Should you make your heart muscle stronger? How does this impact your health?

All good questions. First, it’s important to recognize that your heart is a very powerful muscle! Like the muscles in your arms or legs, the heart muscle can become stronger through physical activity. The stronger your heart the more efficient it becomes. The heart like the human body, is a machine which is designed to run a lifetime-a miracle in itself! So anything we can do to make the heart more efficient, the greater the probability that it will run a lifetime without disease or dysfunction.

For most individuals, the heart beats 70-80 beats per minute. Let’s look at what that means on a larger scale. For example, if we use an average of 75 beats per minute, the heart beats 4,500 times an hour, 108,000 times in one day, and nearly 40 million beats in one year. So in a lifetime, your heart beats more than 2.5 billion times.

Imagine what it would mean for your heart if it would beat five beats per minute less but still do the same amount of work. Just that small change would save your heart nearly 3 million beats per year. The good news is that this is very doable. Moderate physical activity has been shown to help lower your resting heart rate, thus making your heart more efficient. This efficiency is not only realized while resting, but also during physical activity. The body does more work but with fewer heart beats.

During the process of making your heart more efficient through physical activity, your body becomes more healthy as measured by a lower blood pressure, an improved blood lipid panel, a decreased risk for diabetes, and a healthier body weight.

By focusing on making your heart more efficient, all other aspects of your body become healthier-a real win-win!

Strength- A New Vital Sign of Your Health

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During 2013, I have written several articles focusing on muscle as a risk factor. Interestingly, during 2013 many research articles have been published on how muscle breaks down during activity, on how to rebuild the muscle and, most importantly, what we can do as we age to prevent the loss of muscle.

The good news is that many professional organizations now recognize that muscle is critical to our health. In fact, Dr. Paul Terpeluk, Chief Medical Officer of Occupational Health with the Cleveland Clinic views strength as the new vital sign of workforce health. Dr. Terpeluk’s view is a strong endorsement of the importance of maintaining a healthy and strong muscle mass. When we think of vital signs we think heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. Placing strength in the category of a vital sign shows how critical it is to every day life.

Professionally trained and certified personal trainers are an integral component of promoting a strong and healthy muscle mass to their clients. If you are unsure about how to get started with strength training on your own, then we encourage you to search the internet for a certified personal trainer in your area. Many of the organizations, such as ACSM, NSCA or ACE that certify these individuals have databases of personal trainers and you can find them just by doing a search using your zip code.

Staying strong is not a difficult task. It does require time but it does not require a lot of specialized and costly equipment. A personal trainer can show you many ways to improve your strength simply by using your own body weight.

The evidence is clear that those who maintain a strong and healthy muscle mass are healthier and more productive individuals. As 2013 comes to a close, it is a good time to resolve, for 2014, to make achieving a healthy body weight and maintaining muscle mass a priority.

Building Healthy Muscle Mass

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In the past I have discussed the importance of consuming regulated protein supplements to help with the prevention of the loss of muscle mass. That is still important, and now more details have been published regarding the importance of maintaining a healthy muscle mass.

The research shows that consumption of a balanced meal about one hour following moderate physical activity will result in protecting muscle and thus preventing the loss of muscle. This is especially true for those over the age of 55.

There is a new term people are talking about these days called “anabolic resistance” to muscle or protein synthesis. What this is referring to is the body’s resistance to synthesizing or building protein because of lack of protein in the diet. This becomes even worse when a person is physically active and fails to consume adequate protein in their diet, especially those 55 and older.

What’s the bottom line? Whenever you work out or do something physically active, consume protein within an hour after your workout to minimize the anabolic resistance so you can rebuild muscle and even add to your current muscle mass. What kind of protein? It could be a piece of lean meat, like chicken or fish. Or you could try milk, cheese, eggs, or even a meal replacement drink.

The combination of habitual moderate physical activity and adequate dietary protein consumption is critical to prevention of the loss of muscle mass normally associated with aging. Work hard to maintain muscle through daily activity and strength training and don’t let age become a factor.

Why Loss of Muscle Impacts Your Health

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Over the last several years I have periodically discussed  the loss of muscle that normally occurs with age. In fact, recent research says that most individuals between the ages of 30 and 65 lose about 30% of their muscle mass.

The health implication with the loss of muscle is more critical today than in the past because most Americans are less physically active (which contributes to even more muscle mass loss) and are more obese. This combination has a significant impact on a number of health risk factors including diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac disease, and joint replacement. In addition, as the body loses muscle, it loses its functionality-the ability to climb stairs, carry groceries, stand up from a seated position and other common daily activities.

I don’t know of anyone who wants disease or loss of muscle functionality. The good news is that muscle loss does not have to occur. Strengthening exercises can easily slow the loss of muscle and help individuals maintain a healthy muscle mass. This is extremely important for individuals age 55 and older.

In a recent article that appeared in ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal in March/April 2013 and written by W. Wescott and R. LaRosa Loud, the authors focused on the consumption of protein and carbohydrate supplements along with strength training exercises to not only maintain muscle mass but also to build muscle for older individuals.

Muscle is made to work and if you do work it, it will remain strong and even increase in strength and functionality. However, if you put a cast on your arm and take it off six weeks later, the arm is much smaller due to loss of muscle mass caused by atrophy. Muscle that is not used will shrink. It does not go away but is smaller, less functional and has less strength. Make sure you maintain an active lifestyle. The benefits are long lasting and will slow down the loss of muscle as you age.