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How To Start Working Out

*How to Start Working Out, is a great article by Anahad O’Connor.  Most media articles on developing the fitness habit are fairly flawed, but Mr. O’Connor has done well.  I am encouraged because he discusses two of the more important aspects of fitness success: process goals and strength training.

Process Goals

Developing and maintaining the fitness habit is a motivational mind game.  Having a goal provides the emotional reinforcement necessary to be successful.  Most fitness clients set outcome goals—they want to lose twenty pounds, get stronger, or run a 5 kilometer race in record time.  Outcome goals are achieved through proper nutrition and consistent training.  Outcome goals are achieved through the development of a better life process.  I try to steer clients toward process goals—eat more protein, sleep better, daily mobility sessions, etc…  Process goals are the building blocks of fitness success and focus on your life outside of the gym.  Setting and achieving process goals creates the environment for achieving nearly everyone’s outcome goals.  Stronger, leaner, pain free, and faster will all follow when you have better life processes working in your favor.

Every expert on habit development recommends a paper and pen.  Writing it down is part of the commitment to fitness.  Record your process goals in an exercise log book or a nutrition diary.  Process goals that have worked well for fitness clients are listed below.

-Perform a daily five minute foam roll / mobility session for the next forty days.

-Weigh every serving of food you consume for the next two weeks.

-Take a thirty-minute walk for forty consecutive days.

-Get an extra hour of sleep every night for the next two months.

-Drop all sweetened drinks (juice, soda, sports drinks) for three months.

-Learn how to prepare a new healthy meal every week for six months.

Older, deconditioned, and metabolically challenged fitness clients will develop the fitness habit more readily with a dedication to process goals.  Build on the habits created by achieving ever more challenging process goals and you will reach all of your outcome goals.

Strength Training

When you get stronger, the magic happens.  It is really that simple.  If you want to be leaner—get stronger.  If you want to chase away the pain—get stronger.  If you want to improve your performance—get stronger.  If you want to prevent injuries—get stronger.  If you want to be active and vital into old age—get stronger.  The problem is that many barriers exist to the strength solution.

For best results, we need to start early.  An adequate strength level keeps you functioning well for a lifetime.  If in your early years, you were fairly sedentary, you need to get busy and strength train.  As we age, we lose a portion of our lean tissue, and if you have less muscle and bone “in the bank” you will reach your fifties and sixties in a weak and frail body.  Age related sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) is one of the primary drivers of metabolic problems such as diabetese, hyperlipidemia, and chronic inflammation.  Today’s children are growing up with fewer episodes of bone and muscle building lifting and carrying activities.  I see teens nearly every day with lower back, knee, and hip pain all related to glaring strength deficits.

A lack of proper coaching and progressive programming are barriers to your strength training success.  Strength training is like medicine; given the proper prescription and dose, the results are consistently good.  Many of the people that have tried strength training and had bad results have taken the wrong medicine at the wrong dose.  They utilize advice from magazines, celebrity trainers, and the internet.  They confuse pharmaceutically assisted bodybuilding programs as appropriate strength training for a forty year old.  The best results are achieved when you work closely with a qualified coach who can monitor your results and teach you how to get stronger.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS< CSCS

*New York Times, Health Section, Anahad O’Connor, How to Start Working Out. View here.

Remember What You Wrote

Things I’ll Do Differently When I’m Old

Steven Petrow of the New York Times wrote a great article, Things I’ll Do Differently When I’m Old.  As a physical therapist that has guided thousands of 60 year plus individuals through the rehabilitation process, I have some suggestions.

I will work with a professional on developing a sustainable fitness program.  The preventative against age related physical decline is a program of exercise.  Consistent exercise reduces fall risk and maintains independence.  No other modality has a greater impact on health.  Blood sugar levels, respiratory capacity, mental health, and cardiac fitness all respond favorably to exercise.  Do not be a fitness “do it yourselfer”.  Older, deconditioned, and previously injured individuals get much better results when under the direction of a qualified professional.   One way or the other, you are going to spend time and money on your health.  Spend it up front–you will be much happier.

I will not let pain linger. Pain is not a “normal part of aging”.  Chronic pain alters brain chemistry and destroys healthy movement patterns.  Left untreated, pain has the capacity to weaken and spread damage to joints not involved with the initial pain provocation. See a physical therapist and find out what you can do to resolve pain issues before they become chronic.

I will exercise caution with medications that have an effect on the central nervous system.  Many older people take multiple medications that impact brain neurochemistry.  More brain real estate is devoted to movement than reading, writing, and arithmetic.  A steady diet of pain medications, sleeping pills, and anti-depressants takes a toll on coordination, balance, and the ability to safely get around town.  Add in a cocktail or three and you have a dangerous combination.

I will make a sustained effort to recover from any and all physical challenges.   As we travel through our senior years, most of us will experience a health setback that requires rehabilitation.  Full recovery of strength, mobility, and function takes eight to twelve months.  Many physical therapy patients stop all rehab efforts way too soon.  More of the rehabilitation battle is being fought in isolation as reimbursement for physical therapy care is shrinking.  You may be done with formal physical therapy in four weeks, but you need to continue with a restorative exercise program for much longer.

I will not get fat.  Physical therapy patients that are overweight have much more difficulty recovering from an injury or a challenge to their health.  Sarcopenia is the medical name given to age related loss of muscle mass.  Adding extra fat onto a body that is losing muscle creates an environment that makes movement more difficult and pain more prevalent.

I will listen and answer all questions from my health care provider to the best of my ability.  The answers we get from the patient are the clues that lead us to the proper care.  We need to know how your pain / symptom behaves and the effect it has on your life.  Please do not omit any information that you feel is not important or unrelated to your condition.  Do not lie about any aspect of your functional status, medications, mental health, etc…  Your therapist, doctor, or physician assistant cannot help if we do not have all of the information.

I will plan ahead.  In my dealings with older physical therapy patients, these are the three things that make life easier for both the patient and their families.  Do what you can to manage these issues while you are healthy and clear headed.

  1. Have a Will with end of life directives.
  2. Insurance coverage that reduces the expense of long-term care.
  3. Pre-planned funeral services and insurance

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Read the NY Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/05/well/family/thing-ill-do-differently-when-im-old.html?_r=0