Alexandra Williams, MA and Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
One caveat: We mention holding for 30 seconds in the video, but research also indicates you can hold for as little as 20, take a short break, then get back into plank position. Whether you choose 20 or 30 second intervals, stick with the plank position that gives you the best form.
While we’re on the subject of good form, this is the second of two videos that Depend Silhouette Active Fit shot with me as one of the models.
For the video where I do some jumps (using the core strength I earned doing lots of plank intervals), read our recent post: Cross Your Legs; Don’t Sneeze: The Boomer’s Exercise Dilemma.
While we’re at it, you may also want to enter for a chance to win one of three sets of KettlePOP non-GMO, organic kettlecorn and sea salt popcorn.
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Dear Alexandra and Kymberly: I just lost my husband, Julian to cancer. Due to all the hospital appointments, my eating habits also got lost! I have put on a lot of weight, but feel so tired and lethargic I can’t get into the mood to do exercise. I have damage to my neck, knees, and lower back (due to a fall) plus my midriff and waist have become “large” and I have lost my waistline. At 69 years young this is depressing me. I am also worried about a “ledge” at the bottom of my tummy and scared it will be “resting” on the top of my legs when I sit down!!!
As well, I look after my 96 year young Mum, who has no balance anymore due to cancer and other problems. So she is only able very slowly to get from one room to another downstairs. I get to bed about 1:30am once my Mum’s medication kicks in and she falls asleep. She usually wakes me about 7am to go to the toilet, then goes back to bed until 10:00. (She is in a hospital bed in my living room so isn’t able to get up by herself). I have been looking after my Mum for 3 years and my husband for the last 2 and half, so have had little sleep etc. which may be the reason I feel tired. Since Julian died, I am still running around for Mum, but not doing the right things to lose the “middle” weight.
I need all the help I can get!! I appreciate other people’s input so have included my name. Kindest regards, Patricia of Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom
Dear Patricia: Wow! Talk about the perfect storm for changes to your body, mood, and energy levels! We’re amazed and honored you have time to write to us for advice. Fortunately, we have some practical suggestions that may help you and other widows, post menopausal women, and caregivers gain energy and lose weight. (Check out what we told caregivers who wrote to us with similar concerns: A Workout Plan to Lose Weight When You Are a Caregiver)
If you have a weensy bit more time and energy, then click over go to our YouTube Channel where you can find exercises just right for your goals and capabilities.
Let us know how you fare and feel free to comment below, especially once others share their tips and support. We offer our condolences on your husband’s death.
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
You SAY you want to be more fit and active. You really MEAN to work out more. But somehow the days, weeks, months, dare we say “years” slip by and there you are — still intending to finally be more active but not actually doing much about it. Forget guilt, self-beratement, and worrying about having excuses that last longer than your most recent resolution.
(Like the chart I made? Please feel free to pin the heck out of it.)
If you could take a magic pill (yes, one that tastes good, has no side effect, costs nothing, and is small) that instantly gave you the body measurements you want for the rest of your life, would you swallow it if it meant never being able to exercise again?
Non-exercisers grab for the gusto with a hearty “heck yeah, I’d swig that pill down! And what do you mean when you say ‘able to exercise?’ Don’t you mean ‘HAVE to exercise’?”
Exercisers break into two camps: most say “hmmm, tough choice, but ultimately I’d pass as the other benefits of exercise outweigh simply looking good. No magic pill for me, gracias”
The second camp of exercisers tries to negotiate: “any chance I could take that magic pill AND still work out regularly? Then I’d get the best of all options.”
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Alexandra: We say this because we want to know exactly whom we will be giving rescue breathing to when you pass out. And why should we be in a position to provide rescue breathing? There you were, just exercising away, enjoying the heck out of the Paul McCartney, Rihanna, Kanye song “FourFive Seconds” being played on the sound system. “Hey you,” your personal wiring system says, “You are working hard. As a reward, your muscle cells shall now demand increased oxygen. Because your muscles are so bossy and demanding, we won’t argue. Instead, we will increase your heart rate and blood flow so your muscles will like us and continue to take us nice places.” Well, let’s say you drop your head below your heart. While your head is inverted, you don’t realize that you’ve just caused blood to pool along with that increased blood pressure.
Kymberly: Did anyone follow that? Twin translation provided here: Cardio exercise involves raising the heart rate. An uppity heart rate provides more oxygen to working muscles AND the brain. (We are hoping the brain is working during all that activity. Always makes exercise more interesting). Heart rate up, then head suddenly down puts gravity in charge. (See “Perky, Not Saggy” for more on overcoming the effects of gravity). Blood rush to head. Whoa, feeling dizzy. Lots of pressure from rapidly pumping blood and increased blood volume. Then you lift your head above your heart again and WHAM, gravity takes over once more leaving you lightheaded. Your heart pumped out the oxygen, but you just started a competition between gravity and your brain for the game of “who gets the oxygen?” Need I say more?
Alexandra: Don’t talk to me about pressure because it makes me want to dance in my inimitable 80s style to “Under Pressure.” That’s the song I used for my very first step class.
Fainting Does a Body Good-ish
Kymberly: Ok, I need to say more. First, fainting is your body’s way to restore normal blood flow to your brain. Dropping — or, as you may picture it, gracefully and delicately sliding to the ground, puts your head on the same level as your pumping, beating heart so that your oxygen rich blood can more easily get to your brain. No going uphill, just straight along.
Second, I have been CPR certified for more than 30 years. Fortunately, in all that time of teaching fitness, I have never had to rescue someone from the dreaded “head below heart- pass out” syndrome. Maybe this cue is really an excuse to see who’s listening and who is clock watching. ALWAYS listen to your instructor, especially if she looks like one of us.
Destress Your Heart for Valentine’s Day
Alexandra: Well, I am obviously more special as I have had to deal with the “Thar she blows” syndrome. Sadly, my university students have a habit of passing out lately. For about 3 years, they show up without having had a proper breakfast, then they put their heart and soul into their workout, with only the soul remaining intact. My theory? We need to provide more movement for students in the younger grades so their hearts are used to stress by the time they get to college. I use “stress” in its literal sense, though I remember having lots of “love stress” when I was an undergrad. As in – I was stressed because I wanted certain guys to notice me. Ah, my glorious youth.
Photo credit for Alexandra with drumsticks – Tenaya Lodge
Kymberly just gave a fabulous workshop at Rancho la Puerta about gait, and I thought I’d share some of her tips so that you can figure out if your gait is aging you or supporting your continued youthfulness.
Walk across the room, turning at the wall and repeating the walk for several rounds. How quickly do you go? How comfortable are you, especially at the knees, lower back and neck? How small or big is your stride? Notice whether or not you have to touch the wall to turn, make a wide circle, or pivot quickly. Pay attention to your balance. Be aware of your stride length, especially if it’s small, which means you don’t trust your balance, though you are actually at MORE risk of falling with a shortened stride.
Go watch SpongeBob Squarepants and take a look at how he propels himself forward. See those flapping arms? Nothing going on from shoulder to elbow, but lots of movement from elbow to hands. If this is you, we bet your elbows hurt after a long walk. Same thing if you’re a wrist flapper. Ideally, you want a long arm that reaches out in front of you. And… you want the arm in back to be reaching behind just as far. At the top of your arm swing, you should have a triangle formed from both hands and the shoulder. In other words, what goes on behind you is as important as what’s happening in front.
What do you see when you focus? What do you hear? What is powering your forward movement? It’s possible you favor one side, especially if you’ve had any kind of leg injury. If you can get someone to listen as you walk (without looking at you), a limp or compensation just might reveal itself. So often we are asked why the left leg (for example) hurts when it was the right leg that had the injury. The answer is that the left leg is overtired from being overused due to overcompensation. So get over it!
Use power muscles to power your stride. Are you using your front or back leg to propel? If you want a shapely booty, push from the glutes. As we mention in our post “Why is My Body in Pain After Running and Walking,” running and walking require different muscle emphasis. Pulling from the hamstrings on the front leg will just make them hurt, and might also cause pain behind the knee. Besides, who doesn’t want a shapelier tush?
Slow your walk way down and observe what happens throughout your body. Does your head bob forward or side to side? Maybe your walk improves. Maybe it falls to pieces. Notice if your arms keep moving or freeze in place. Especially note whether you start to move homolaterally (same arm and leg go forward rather than opposing arm and leg). Do you feel less or more stable?
If your head is forward and down, that’s where you are headed (hahaha. so punny). Your head needs to be above your body, not in front of it. Not only does “text neck” increase your risk of migraines and back strain, it also increases your risk of falling. Ever notice those people who are hunched over with their faces actually looking at the ground? See how their elbows are back behind them for balance? They didn’t get that way overnight. To check if that hunchback will be you, do the chin check. Stand in neutral position (read “Finding Neutral Spine” for a full explanation). Put a finger to your chin. Hold your finger in place. Retract head 2-3 times. Mark any gap. A big gap means you are a forward head thruster. A small gap means you win free neutral spine for life!
Remember how we mentioned 5 tips ago that what goes on behind you is as important as what’s in front? Almost everyone knows the posture zip trick for the front, but do you finish that zzzzzzip by going down the back? Once again, you’re in luck, as we wrote a post (with video !!!) about the zip trick as part of our posture series.
Time to zip up this post. We hope you feel giddy about your gait as you trot around the block on Turkey Day.
If you want your very own professional gait assessment, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For $59 U.S. we’ll give you a complete, detailed assessment based on a video you’ll send us. And for free we’ll tell you that good posture makes you look 5 pounds slimmer, more confident, and sexier.
If you’re like most people, your mental image of a caregiver is of middle-aged women taking care of elderly parents. For me, only half of that is true. I’m middle-aged (or early Renaissance; medieval if you’re one of my boys). But I’m not caring for my parents; I’m now caring for someone who is only 57 and had a stroke in late September.
Without going into a pity party about what that means, especially when it’s completely unexpected, and therefore not planned for, I’ll just say that dealing with it has been made easier because I’ve accepted help.
It’s against my nature to ask for help. I’ve spent over 30 years in the health and fitness industry, helping others. I got an advanced degree in systemic counseling so I could help others. It’s more comfortable for me to give help than to receive it. Which probably makes me just like everybody else. Yet don’t we all immediately rush to help whenever someone we care about needs it? Heck, most of us rush to help complete strangers, and we don’t care about them. Until we do. Because we share the human trait of compassion.
According to AARP, more than 42 million U.S. caregivers provide an estimated $450 billion worth of unpaid care to relatives and friends. That’s a lot of compassion. Speaking from experience, I know this can be highly stressful. AARP reports that caregivers are also at higher risk for immunosuppression, cardiovascular disease, premature aging, and to top it off, financial problems. I know that after the initial stress and chaos of the stroke, I ended up with bronchitis. The financial problems are real too, even with supplemental disability insurance and full medical coverage.
But knowledge is power, and feeling more powerful and in control helps decrease stress (at least for me). And the extra support AARP offers through its community of experts and other caregivers at aarp.org/caregiving makes some of the chores easier. The detective work involved in figuring everything out was a depressing surprise, and I know that my sister will soon have this same issue with our mom. Trying to sort out paperwork when the only person who has the answers isn’t in a state to do so is crazy-making. Spending hours and hours on the phone and buried in paperwork, knowing that there should have been an easier way is exhausting.
That’s why I’m fully on board about the public service ads (PSAs) that AARP and the Ad Council have just launched that illustrate how the changing roles of parents and children can impact your life. I’m not caring for a parent, yet I have found these resources to be helpful, and recommend them to you:
As November is National Family Caregivers Month, why not help celebrate the more than 42 million people who are providing care? By “celebrate” I mean offer rides, provide respite care, bring a meal, do household chores, ask after both the person being cared for AND the caregiver, and understand when the caregiver is a bit grumpy or distracted or doesn’t send a quick thank-you note. And take advantage of these resources, because with demographics being what they are, you’ll probably be a caregiver one day too.
Special PSA from us: Walk. Move. Dance. Strength Train, Golf. Garden. Bicycle. Swim. Exercise keeps both your body and brain sharp and strong. If you don’t want someone else to have to care for you, then take care of yourself.
To make it easy to share (and because I want to increase my Pinterest skills), I made a nice easy pin of our 10 tips to avoid holiday weight gain that you can access at the next big get-together.
First of all, I’ve been going to the IDEA conventions since they began in the 80s. So I love to attend and see long-time fitness friends from around the world. It’s one of the highlights for me. I also love to check out all the latest workout trends. When I first started teaching (West Berlin, 1983), all we had was high impact aerobics. That was thousands of clever ideas ago, I know.
But this year for the first time, as I walked around the Expo and sat in on sessions (with a press pass you are not allowed to participate, which is fair), I didn’t see a lot of workouts that would accommodate my body (or tastes, in some cases), and I’m actually in pretty good shape. The high impact, loud techno/ rap workouts don’t appeal to me. Neither do the very slow, quiet “older adult” workouts. I’m in the middle – stronger and with more stamina than my 20-year old university students, aware of current music (loving Aloe Blacc’s anthem “I’m the Man”), and willing to try new ideas – so I like high intensity, fun formats that challenge me, yet don’t seem to be an injury-in-waiting.
Also, at some of the booths and workouts, participants could win prizes based on doing the MOST – repetitions, weight, time – anything that had me competing with everyone else. And by “everyone else” I mean “people 25 years younger.” I don’t like competitions where I might look foolish or old or weak, as I am none of those. I like competitions where I’m pitted against myself. I want to be the BEST, not the MOST.
If you want my business, or even want me to stop at your booth, you need to find a way to make me feel like a winner. For example, at one booth, anyone who could do 20 suspension push-up/ knee tucks could win a prize. I didn’t care about the prize, but I wanted to challenge myself. I managed to do the 20 (barely), and left happy. I didn’t care that the 20 year old guy just after me did them in mere seconds without looking remotely tired because I wasn’t pitted against him. Hey, that was me when I was that age.
But I’m not that age anymore, nor do I wish to be. I’d have to give up my boys if I were that young again, and a modicum of wisdom. The point being this – if fitness brands are ignoring someone as confident, assertive and fit as I am, what the heck do they think is going on with women my age who are nervous about exercise? If that were me, I’d be defeated at the start.
If you are a brand, let me help you out – we have more stamina, time, long-term view, patience, and MONEY. Find a way. And for my birthday, please send me Aloe Blacc.
I am unstoppable, not invisible.
Your question is an excellent one, and will resonate with many of our readers. You are right about the many benefits of exercise, including for arthritis. According to the Mayo Clinic, arthritis can be slowed or mitigated with exercise – the challenge is finding the right type.
If your doc has cleared you to return to Zumba, you may want to ease in and modify the lateral moves (sideways, such as grapevine). Are you able/ willing to add aqua classes to your workout plan? Zumba aqua dance classes exist. You do not need to be a good swimmer to join an aqua class. Shallow water classes are in water that’s generally hip deep. If your gym has only deep water classes, you can use swim lessons as your workout, then wear the buoyancy belts once you’re a more confident swimmer.
For other cardio options, try anything that is low impact (high intensity is fine, but NOT high impact) and more forward and back than side to side. One caveat – depending on where the arthritis is in your hips, spending a lot of time on a machine such as a stair-stepper could be contraindicated. Besides, you seem to be a person who enjoys group fitness classes, so try a variety of those. A varied exercise plan is more effective than a repetitive one for most people.
You might also consider some stretch and strengthen classes. Stretch to open up the hips and strengthen to give your muscles more of the workload, which eases the load on your skeletal structure (bones). Since you mention a ligament injury to your ankle, I would think strengthening that area might be a priority, especially if compensations are affecting your hips. Have you worked with a physical therapist to strengthen that ankle, while considering the impact on your hips (such as an altered gait)? You can probably even find a therapist who is ALSO a personal trainer by searching at ideafit.com or acefitness.org.
In addition to low-impact cardio and strength training, you may want range of motion exercises too. This article from Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center goes into more detail about everything mentioned above, including the need for tailored, specific range of motion activities.
Rest is an integral part of any exercise regimen, arthritis or no! Check with your doctor about creating the right combo of rest time, anti-inflammatory meds, ice, and possibly even meditation.
We’ve had good luck getting specific advice for our exercise-loving bodies by choosing primary care doctors who also value exercise. We’ve had some doctors who wanted to prescribe medicine for our arthritic knees. Their advice was to stop exercising. We switched to doctors who used medication as a last resort and aligned with our preference to keep moving. We are not advocating dumping your doc or ignoring his advice; we are advocating getting into a partnership with your doctor so that he can work WITH you to create a plan that includes exercise.
This quote is from Mayo: “Lack of exercise actually can make your joints even more painful and stiff. Talk to your doctor about how exercise can fit into your current treatment plan. What types of exercises are best for you depends on your type of arthritis and which joints are involved. Your doctor or a physical therapist can work with you to find the best exercise plan to give you the most benefit with the least aggravation of your joint pain.”
As women who are similar to you – arthritic joints, exercise-loving, youthful minds, mid-50s – we know it’s possible to keep moving. We just have to be pickier than we were 30 years ago. There IS a solution, and your positive attitude will be a big part of it! Please keep us posted. Happy dancing.
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Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Alexandra: Yes, you can take the stairs NEXT to the escalator, or climb the escalator steps instead of standing in place, just as easily as you can walk on the airport moving walkway instead of standing still. But what about going the wrong way? If few people are about, why not walk up the down escalator, or jog the opposite way on the moving walkway? Kids do it all the time, so why can’t we adults?
Kymberly: Overcome travel fatigue by taking advantage of fitness opportunities in your hotel. Check into your room, then check out the options.
First stop: the fitness room. No matter how modest or spacious, this is usually one of the quietest places at the hotel, which means you may have it to yourself. Wear whatever works, sing along to your iPod, put the tv channel on your favorite re-run as you get in a brisk walk on the treadmill.
Next up: Stairs instead of elevators! That first trip with luggage deserves the elevator. After that, step it up! So obvious, yet how many people do you see using hotel stairs? If you’re staying on a high floor, take the elevator halfway, get out and walk the rest of the way. If your room is on a lower level, take the elevator a few flights past your floor and walk down. Do a mini-step class on the bottom step or landing.
What next?: the pool! Hate swimming? Want to keep your hair dry? Can do! Jog in place at waist to chest depth or do a few powerwalking laps. Stand in a lunge position and jump-switch legs back and forth. Be creative moving your arms and legs about underwater creating resistance for a nifty and refreshing muscular endurance workout.
Alexandra: On a very long flight to Thailand a year ago, Kymberly and I were in physical discomfort from being seated for too long. Ever since 9/11, it seems we are discouraged from moving about during flights. Fortunately we found out that our plane had two levels with a stairwell at the back. So we climbed up and down for a while, then did stretches and leg work in place on the stairs. No-one gave us unfriendly looks, and we even spotted a few copycats after we were done.
Some cities offer sightseeing trolleys that allow you to hop off, visit an interesting place, then hop back on, including our home base Santa Barbara. I was just in Savannah, Georgia, and the free on/off buses were a perfect way to sightsee without having to walk the entire historic district or stay on a bus the whole time.
Even if you are stuck in the crappy middle seat of a domestic flight, and cannot “get up and move about the cabin,” you can still do squats. Unbuckle, start to stand, then sit back down. Do this ten times at repeated intervals and you will feel so much better when the flight’s over. You might even avoid having your legs fall asleep, which is what happens to me on flights if I stay still. Who cares if people stare? They are envious of your talents and ingenuity.
Kymberly: They are probably also jealous of your hot fun in the summertime! Road song! Click to sing along.
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