Hard to make that sound sexy and exciting. However, having a strong circulatory system and being flexible should be on the top of your “gotta have” list if you want to live a full, healthy life. If you are a woman over 45 (keep those genetic predispositions in mind too) you will especially need to focus on circulating better than a politician at a fundraiser!Sure, you have a heart. But is it strong, flexible, and a good circulator? Click To Tweet
Circulation is the movement of fluid through the vessels of the body in a regular or circuitous course induced by the pumping action of the heart. Say what? When you have good circulation, blood can move to every cell in your body in less than 60 seconds. (And you can learn foods to eat to help your heart in fewer than 60 more seconds by checking out our post, “5 Age Defying Tips to ‘Youthen’ Your Heart and Improve Circulation.”)How can you improve your circulation? Click To Tweet
Thinking of which, did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the US? Or that the symptoms of a woman’s heart attack can differ drastically from men’s, so those signs often go unrecognized? We need to do better at spotting heart attacks in women AND take action to minimize heart disease in the first place. In other words, having good circulation not only can improve your life, but possibly also save it!
Notice how Bob Hoskins ends up at the ER in the Bonnie Raitt video clip? Did you notice what he was eating? Exactly!
The three main ways you can help your circulatory system are to:
2) Achieve good flexibility
Researchers have established a correlation between flexible bodies and flexible arteries in people older than 40. Can you touch your toes? If so, you probably have flexible arteries. Arterial stiffness indicates an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Being fit seems to delay the development of age-associated artery stiffening.
3) Intake healthy food and drink
One of our favorite ways people can support their circulation is via cocoa flavanols. What can be better than finding out that a regular, small dose of dark chocolate helps your health. We’re all over that good news!
In other, more expected news, you probably guessed that a diet rich in plant-based foods is also heart healthy. This infographic has some specific foods to choose if you want a stronger heart and better circulation. (We differ on just two small points: 1) tomato has no “e” at the end and 2) egg yolks are no longer considered problematic.)
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Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
We’re sure these all made sense at the time, you know, before anatomy & physiology were invented. Possibly a few laws of physics too. Definitely before we baby boomers became the over 50 midlife crowd who needed to make the best workout choices possible.
1. Arm circles – jog in place and circle your arms around until your shoulders fall off. You’ll still need shoulder pads from the 80s if your goal is to develop your deltoids, and not just fatigue the shoulder joint.
2. Side-lying leg lifts – Think “feel the burn.” Why would you want to feel burned? Not even calories feel that way in this useless exercise.Ever suspect that exercises *your friends* were doing were ineffective? What about these 4 moves? Click To Tweet
3. Windmill toe-touches – Way to go with the unsupported forward flexion and repeated, quick spinal rotation. This move can actually hurt your spine.
4. Frantic “bicycle” crunches – elbows forward and to knees, with wild spinal twists. By the way, if you slow down and do this one with good form, it goes from the “lame” to “great exercise” category. In the spirit of sharing, here is the correct way to do this one (note armpits, not elbows, to knees slowly).Only do bicycle crunches at a slow and controlled pace for them to be effective. Click To Tweet
PS Yes, we did survive all of the above. Somehow…..
Exercisers: What are some of the most useless moves or exercises you have done?
Photo credits: Creative Commons – loufi, Alexandra Williams and Kymberly Williams-Evans
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Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
1. People your age are starting to have health issues and you don’t want to join your peer group in this particular activity. You want to stay vibrant and energetic and independent and active and you know that it takes just a few new habits or changes to get where you want to be. You also want to stick around long enough to add commas and remove a few “ands” from the previous sentence.
2. Your high school reunion is coming up. Time to impress that person you always had a crush on. Time to make all the mean girls super envious of your vivacity. Have you noticed that fit people are attractive? It’s actually true. Exercise and healthy living give you confidence and energy. Confident, energetic people appear more attractive. Some weird evolutionary thing that makes sense. Notice we didn’t say “skinny” or “thin.” We said “fit” and “healthy.” Define your goal, baby.If you view yourself as an exerciser your habits will change to meet that self-image. Click To Tweet
3. Your stress levels will go down. Yup, exercise reduces stress. In fact, it’s the number two motivator for working out (We know you’re wondering, so click this link to read our post that gives the number one motivator). Making snow angels decreases stress too, FYI.
4. You will avoid the somewhat unrealistic expectation that you can get fit in time for a trip that starts on a Saturday if you start working out on the previous Wednesday. Much more realistic is to start a wee bit sooner. If your goal is weight loss, you can safely sustain a weight loss of 1 ½ to 2 pounds per week, so if you start today you will lose about 6 or 7 pounds in less than a month. If you’re thinking, “Hey, my goal is 35 pounds. What good is 6 or 7,” my answer is this – you’ll be 1/5th of the way there, if “there” is your weight loss goal. But your outlook and how you feel will be 75% of the way there, because research says that you will start to view yourself as an exerciser, which means your habits will change to meet that self-image. In straight-talk, after a few weeks your self-perception will change. From there, your activities change to meet this new self-view. Four or 5 months may seem like a long time if you’re planning to lose 35 pounds, but how long did it take to put ON those 35 pounds? Give yourself a break, eh?!
5. Want to be smarter? Want to stave off memory loss, confusion, and dementia? Er, wait, I got distracted. More than anything else, exercise makes you smarter. Your brain gets bigger. It works faster and more efficiently. It gives better commands to your body. I always tell my university students that the best time for them to take a test is right after exercise class, NOT after staying up all night studying (while ingesting abnormal amounts of caffeine). We love the link between exercise and brainpower so much that we have written extensively on it. Exercise Can Train Your Brain, Spark Your Brain with Exercise, and Exercise Your Right to a Better Brain are three posts to get you started.Exercise makes you smarter. Your brain gets bigger. It works faster and more efficiently. Click To Tweet
6. You will save money. You will have more energy. You will look better. You will feel better. You will meet a lot of cool people. Your math skills will improve. You’ll get an end of year tax deduction…One of these may be false. Hint: As you now know, exercise makes you smarter, so it’s actually quite possible your math skills will improve. For example, I was going to write 10 Reasons, but got bogged down when I carried the 1, multiplied the 0, subtracted the junk food, added the Lycra and Voila, ended up with 6 Reasons!The best time to take a test or give a presentation is right after you exercise. Click To Tweet
Text & photos by Alexandra Williams, MA
Kymberly: Time to stretch your mind and your workout, Ms Comfy. Ignoring your question for a moment (I am good at ignoring non-compliments too), let’s chit chat about an exercise routine that is, well, too routine and comfortable. Once your body has adapted to a certain level (let’s call it the “buff, babe-a-licious” level), it needs CHANGE to keep adapting upwards. No, not THE Change. We don’t require age checks here. While you really do need to get some stretching into your program, even more you need to vary your program. Take a look at our post, How Often Should I Vary My Workout? for more on this professional free nagging. Priorities, priorities.When Do I Stretch If Doing Cardio, Strength Training, and Abs All-in-One? Click To Tweet
Alexandra: You want to add stretching? Okay, cardio + weight training = need to stretch for range of motion (ROM!) To translate, if you do any cardio or weight training you should stretch (mostly at the end, but during is sometimes okay) in order to maintain or increase range of motion, also known as flexibility. In short, don’t do your stretching prior to your workout as your muscles are short then. That’s my short answer! I gave all the researchers permission to let you know that stretching prior to exercise does not prevent injury or muscle soreness.Increase your range of motion by stretching AFTER your workout. Click To Tweet
Kymberly: The ideal time to stretch is when your muscles are their warmest and cuddliest. Hmmm, that sounds immediately post-cardio to me. But since Alexandra brings up the “short muscle” comment, let’s think about that for a sec. Time’s up. After strength training, your muscles are short again. That’s why it’s called “muscular contraction.” And you do want to re-extend whatever you just shortened, stretching either between your lunges and each upper body exercise or at the end of your session. In general, stretch when warm; not when cold. Oy vay, such good advice! Basically, you have choices — post-cardio, between strength exercises, post all resistance training, and before abs.
More good advice to make the most of your workout time and maintain as much flexibility as possible is to read our post Stretch Before or After Walking, Running, Hiking, Fighting?Stretch when you're warm, not cold. You can stretch post-cardio, btwn strength exercises, post… Click To Tweet
Alexandra: It would seem you don’t need an excuse to lie down and not do your ab work, but I’ll give you one anyway. With all that time you’re saving avoiding the ab work, use it to hold your stretches for 15-30 seconds. You say “couch po-tay-toe,” I say “couch po-tah-toe.” You say “hold” or “contract-relax” stretching, I say “static” or “PNF.” Whatever! These two types are probably the best choices for you. You say “Or-i-guhn,” some other fools (not I) say “Or-i-gahn.” And let’s not even start on the pronunciation of “Willamette!” Even Martin Sheen got it wrong on “West Wing” (hint: Memorize this-“It’s Willamette, dammit”). And do your abs, Willamette!
Dear flexible readers: Do you take time to do your stretches? Have you done your ab exercises yet?
Photo credits: Creative Commons: kevindooley, quinn.anya, Avoir Chaud
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Health and beauty are inside jobs! Body image and a “perfect physique” are matters of perspective, culture, history, and whatever the mass media tells us.
Can you say “Mixed Messages?” Don’t believe us? Take a brief tour through past wistful wishes for va-va-voom figures. Look at what people were willing to do to achieve that “look du decade.”
Don’t make us talk about you years from now! Our gift to you as we wrap up — no, not gifts. We are not that organized! — Work the look you already have. Embrace it; Look it in the eye and say “Ell-bees – you and I are going into the New Year together baby, guilt- and stress-free!”
Whoa now you Vixens, Dashers, and Red Nosed sorts! Don’t go overboard — or is that “oversleigh?” We said give yourself some body-lovin’ self-acceptance while staying active, not plunk down your hiney so finey!
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by Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Kymberly: Good news walking wonder woman. Not only can you tread the light fantastic, but also you can work the elliptical until you shrink so much you have to run around in the shower to get wet. Unless you are actually lifting the elliptical machine above your head until muscular fatigue sets in (probably around one repetition), you are in cardio land, not weight or strength training land.
An “aerobic” or “cardio” activity is defined as being:
While aerobic exercise will strengthen your heart, it will not really affect muscle mass. In short, work out bulk-free with both the treadmill and elliptical as neither will build much more than the heart muscle.
Alexandra: There is a myth, that’s a mystery to me and misses the point about weight loss. That myth is that weight training will make you all bulked up like the Hulk. That is called bodybuilding. If you want to lose weight, you will have to add weight training to your regimen (see how it’s called “weight training?” That is because you are training your weight to bend to your will). With cardio, if you hustle your bustle (19th-century version of Spanx®), you can burn 10-12 kcals a minute; with weight training it’s only 8-10 kcals per minute. But, da da da da (those are trumpets), due to a magical thing called the metabolic spike (not a volleyball term), you will continue to burn kcals for about an hour after you finish working out and are sitting on your Chelsey Tushy. So in the end, due to the wonders of higher math, you will actually have burned more kcals with the weight training added in.While aerobic exercise will strengthen your heart, it will not really affect muscle mass. Click To Tweet
Kymberly: If it reassures you even more, unless “Chelsey” is a fake name for “Carl” or “Charles” or “Manly Man,” as a female you do not have enough testosterone to accidentally bulk up. No sireee, I mean no misseee, you will not wake up one morning suddenly sproing boing, pop pop muscle-bound beyond belief and desire. Creating muscle definition is a process that takes time and deliberate weight training effort, so if you see yourself getting more muscular than you want, I’m pretty sure you’d notice and make changes to your program.
Alexandra: Because we like you so much, you get the bonus info that we haven’t told anyone (except in these other posts which we encourage you and everyone to read, then blab about):
By adding weight training, you will change your metabolism and be burning kcals at a higher rate all day and night. Even on vacation and during high fatty-intake sports matches and dates where you eat a lot because someone else is paying (oops, gave away my college financial solvency plan), you will be a little kcal-burning heater.
Dear hulkers and bulkers: What kind of weight training have you added to your exercise regimen? Did you even know there was a She-Hulk?
Also take a look at this spiffy gifographic:
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Kymberly: Dear aerobic ladies: Since the same answer applies to both your questions, we are tackling them together. (Kind of like what guys said to us in our early dating lives, pre-hubbies. That “twin thing” again.) The bottom line is that the “best” activity is the one you will actually do. Log time and intensity. Which activity do you find most comfortable on your body? Which one will you stick with the longest? Which one keeps you injury free? The goal is to go as long as you can, as hard as you can, as often as you can. What do you actually LIKE doing? Yes, it’s that simple and accessible!
We could give you heart rate formulas and a discussion about involved joints and high impact versus medium or low impact, but why get caught up in all that? “Log time; be happy” is the best advice we can give you for cardio. Your body will tell you what you prefer doing. If not, Alexandra will.
Alexandra: First of all, no-one ever tackled me. It was more like throwing themselves at my feet. Or running away – I can’t remember which. But it involved some sort of aerobic workout. Which is my point entirely – you need some sort of cardio exercise. The exact “right” one kind of depends on you. Tina, which machine do you like better? Noel, do you prefer running or walking?
You have to do the one that you will actually do! What? That sounds like a skanky date proposal!
Alexandra:”Log time,” by the way, means writing down the amount of time you are doing your chosen activity. You don’t get to count the time spent “standing in the shade” or “checking my phone messages,” which is what Kymberly always does when we walk together on a gentle, uphill slope! Me personally, I hate to run. I want to exercise, not sweat! Walking is my favorite non-work-related exercise because it allows me ample time to play with my iPod (which I still don’t quite understand), with time left over for calling my teenager for iPod advice. I can’t make those kinds of calls if I’m running!The best cardio workout is the one you will actually do. Click To Tweet
Kymberly: Excuse me, but “gentle, uphill slope” my Cinnabuns! Alexandra took me on a forced death march up a cliff with no end, under the raging sun, dangling the water bottle from her “busting my butt” hand. What I would have given for a nice, programmable, non-taunting piece of cardio equipment at that moment. So the new and best cardio activity for me now is to work my way downhill. Like what’s-her-twinnie, I am not a runner. The knees do not take well to all that pounding. The last time I did a running program was from my house to Alexandra’s back in the day when we were ahem, …younger. She lived a mile from me then and made pancakes for brekkie if I showed up on time. Then she would drive me home. So you can see where a running program really was not the best workout for me. The pancakes were the best though!
Again the “best” cardio workout is the one or ones you will actually engage in. Even “better” is to change up the activity. If you always power walk, try a stair climber now and then. If you always run on a treadmill, get outdoors and walk. Check out this article that proves Alexandra and I are geniuses with great advice when we tell you to do Interval Training and enjoy the process.
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What do I mean by that? In truth, the question isn’t necessarily a plea for solutions (though we have many solutions; some are listed below and some are linked to in this post and through the pictures). Before giving some answers about substituting A (Inactivity) for B (Activity) in ways that don’t add time demands to your day, let’s take a look at some of the actual meanings behind the question:
I’m hoping you’ll tell me I’m okay, and that I don’t need to exercise.
Other people think I should exercise, but I don’t really agree, so I’m kicking this can down the road.
I actually hate to exercise, so please say you have an easy, “magic pill” solution that doesn’t involve sweating, exertion or a change of clothes.
And certainly, some want our expert input so they can make healthy changes to their routine.
Here’s how you can discern whether you’re truly invested in finding a solution – after reading our suggestions, see if you’ve implemented any of them over the next two weeks. If so, you truly wish to make some changes. If not, you may be more comfortable choosing guilt, procrastination or plain old avoidance. As a person who is the full-time caretaker for two people, I can definitely say that there are times when it’s truly impossible to get in some “me” exercise time. And… as a person who’s a full-time caretaker for two people, I can also say that being too busy for exercise every single day for weeks, months or years is a choice.
Recently I’ve posted quite a few pictures and scopes (videos on an app called Periscope – please follow me at @AlexandraFunFit), and gotten lots of comments about how I must be on a permanent vacation because I’m always out and about, walking around. No. I’m just finding a solution that works for me while I wait around for the people I drive. Walking and taking pictures and doing my scopes keeps me fit, not just physically, but also mentally. My stress level is under control for two reasons: 1 – I am outdoors walking, which means I am exercising AND getting the benefits of nature; and 2 – I made a conscious choice to do something that takes my mind off the many hours I am required to drive and wait and drive and wait and drive and wait. That choice gives me a feeling of control.
What tips would you add to the short list above?
P.S. Do you see the Ent holding up the tree and raising his arms and face to the sky in this picture? Look again.
by Alexandra Williams, MA (don’t forget to follow me on Periscope for my travel and fitness videos)
Kymberly: Dana, I’ll meet your question and raise you one. What do you want to do with the information you get from a fitness test? For instance, you could ask “how do I know if I am fit enough to keep these hossies of mine in good condition and still have energy to plow the fields, till the land, and ride off into the sunset?” Then your fitness level is defined by your ability to function and continue doing the activities you love. This kind of fitness is called “functional” or “real life fitness.” Well, I call it “real life fitness” anyway and I think my sis will back me up on any terms I make up.
For determining your functional fitness level, you have an easy job. Can you perform your ranch work and other daily activities with relative ease, comfort and range of motion without getting exhausted or injured at the end of the day? And can you keep doing that until you or your horses head out to pasture? Easy, shmeasy to measure, so I hope you go for that definition of fitness.
Your question might also be coming from the perspective of “how do I measure percent of body fat, lean muscle mass, flexibility, and endurance without actually taking those tests, which are the standards for defining and measuring fitness?” That question is a horse of a different color entirely. Oh, two points to me for getting that in! I have to cut to Alexandra for a moment while I contain (or applaud) myself.
Alexandra: I have to say that Kymberly is not containing herself at all; she is just horsing around! Oh, neigh it ain’t so! For all those measurement tests Kymberly mentions, one option is to hire a qualified personal trainer. Since you are a horse rancher, not a gym rat, get the trainer to come to you. You can find one in your area at ACE Fitness: Find a Trainer. But…since you say you want to test yourself, go in your closet and try on all the stuff you haven’t worn in a year. If it fits, you know you are the same size. Granted, this does not directly say you are fit; just that you are not gaining weight. However, midlife weight gain can lead to lowered fitness levels, so there is some correlation.
To get a better sense of whether you are retaining your strength as you actively age, count how many push-ups you can do with good form. Make a record. Count your push-ups again in 3 months. Compare the numbers. Burst out in tears of joy. Same with lunges or squats. Gotta say, in all my years, it’s rare to see someone perform a lunge, squat or push-up with good form right out the gate (oooh, another horse reference). So we are back to that personal trainer idea.
Kymberly: Also perform these three tests, which are quick, easy, and doable at home. You will then have a good sense of your balance, flexibility, and lower body strength.
Also consider tacking on some wearable technology that tracks your heart rate, pulse, activity levels, and more. For an idea of the range of possibilities, read our post, Can Your WearableTech Do All This? You can find fitness tracking devices that range from $12 (Check out the Pivotal Living band, which also tracks your hydration levels) to a hundred dollars and more. (Take a peek at the Peak from Basis). Do you want to know your sleep habits? Number of calories burned? Steps per day? Whether your right and left muscles are balanced? What your resting heart rate is? You have so many options these days for assessing your fitness level, that others will marvel at your horse sense.
Alexandra: Since you need at least one good chuckle from this blog, I’d say ask your husband to check you out first thing in the morning before you get dressed. If he says you look hot and exactly like you did at 30, you might be fit. And he gets points for dodging that set-up. If he says you don’t look quite the same, throw a horse at him. If you can do this, you are fit enough!
Readers: Who else wonders whether you are “fit enough?” Fit for what? Do tell. We wonder if you are fit enough to subscribe to our blog in under 10 seconds. Ready? Subscribe. Go!
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Can the subject of walking with hand or ankle weights be humorous and informative? In looking back at old posts, we discovered some gems that are begging to see the light of day again and still au courant (since this French term is derived from the word for “running” we thought it word geek appropriate). Below is a frequent question we get asked. Yes or no, were we right to repost for your edu-tainment?
Kymberly: “They” who? Is someone following us? I am not paranoid, but why do “they” keep showing up and talking to me? “They” told me to tell you that adding weights at the end of a lever (hand or ankle, for example) that is moving rapidly is a good way to stress joints, tendons, and ligaments. Carrying hand weights risks raising your blood pressure, when it’s really your heart rate you want to elevate. If your goal is to get a good cardio workout (I think this is a safe assumption that will not make an ASS out of U and ME), then ditching the weights will allow you to walk faster and thereby ditch the body weight…… in a roadside ditch that you pass while out power walking!
Alexandra: Let me walk back through your question. Why do you want to use hand weights while walking? Are you trying to save time by doing your strength training while on the walk? Knock that off. Stand still – pick up biggish weights – be a better person. Unless, of course, your hand weight is a sword, umbrella or small dog:
In that case, go for it! Also, refer to some of our other posts on walking that will help you get more fit, less sore, and generally more awesome in every way.
Kymberly: In brief — Not inserting a picture of husband in briefs here — use weights for your weight training; use your walk time to get your unhampered groove on! You will probably walk faster, at a higher intensity, with reduced injury risk, and higher caloric burn if you do NOT add ankle, hand, or wrist weights. If you really feel the need to add resistance or weight to your load, then wear a backpack that fits snugly against your back. (Um, not like what I’m doing in the photo). Then the added weight is centered on your body and close to your spine, rather than loaded at the end of a limb. There. We said it!
Kymberly: Say, I couldn’t help but notice that there are 7 walking men in the image my sister found. Makes me think of another post you neeeeeed to click to read if you want to get the most out of your walk. 7 Steps to Better Walking
Alexandra: A question for you, that we answer: Can Walking Get You Fit? Click to read and find out.
Dear Walkers: What do you hold while walking? And do NOT say “my breath.”
Photo credits: Creative Commons
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
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