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Fitness For Older Folks (and Everyone Else) - The Importance of Walking


 

A common dilemma that people encounter when embarking on a weight loss strategy is figuring out what to eat, and what not to eat. The reality is that it can be confusing at times because there’s so much noise out there.

 

One misconception regarding weight loss is that you have to reduce your caloric intake to extreme levels for an extended period of time to achieve your goals, when the reality is that there are better approaches.

 

It is a scientific fact that sustained weight loss results from a number of factors that include healthy eating, adequate hydration and sleep, and daily exercise. It is much better to strategize and give your body the good calories it needs than it is to starve yourself needlessly.

 

A great example of this is that for years a low-fat narrative was pushed to the general public that was mostly misinterpreted. Many people concluded that all fats were bad, when in fact the truth is that good fats are an essential component of a sound nutritional plan and actually promote weight loss.

 

The good fats are found in foods like fish (salmon, trout), nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans), seeds and avocados. It is for this reason that I include good fats as part of my daily caloric intake. But remember that the trick is to ensure you are eating the correct amount of calories, especially when it comes to certain nuts that are nutritionally dense but extremely high in calories.

 

When I was in the hospital recovering from a heart attack, one of the first things that my cardiologist recommended was following the Mediterranean diet. Since that time, I’ve basically reversed my portions so that for lunch and dinner half my plate is composed of vegetables, and my meat/fish portions make up about a quarter. The other quarter consists of whole grains such as whole wheat bread, brown rice and steel cut oats for breakfast.

 

My typical daily meal plan would look like this. For breakfast I have half a cup of steel cut oats and half an avocado. For a morning snack I would eat a clementine and between ten to twenty nuts that include pecans, walnuts and almonds.  My lunches are typically dinner left overs from the night before or something light like a vegetable wrap.  For dinner, my protein portions are made up of either salmon, trout, lean beef, or pork and the size of the meat is limited to about the size of my palm.  In my pre-heart attack days, I would typically consume half a plate of meat to maximize protein intake.

 

What might surprise some people is that I still eat fast foods on a fairly regular basis.  I love foods such as pizza, Chinese food, Greek food, and even a hamburger or hot dog. I learned through my heart attack experience that it is important to enjoy the little treats in life because you can suffer a major health challenge no matter how clean your diet is. The important thing is to ensure your diet is predominantly clean and healthy, and you're exercising five days a week for at least half an hour.

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Speeding Up A Stubborn Metabolism

 

One of the first requirements to speed up a stubborn metabolism is easier than most people think. You simply monitor and strategize movement. From the time you wake up until you place your head down upon the pillow, you should be keeping track of how much movement you’re completing throughout the entire day and increasing it if you’re not realizing your goals.  Follow this link to access a great online resource to Make Your Whole Day Matter: https://csepguidelines.ca/guidelines/adults-18-64/

 

The second requirement is to monitor and strategize your daily intake of calories and fluids, much in the same manner you would do for movement. That means keeping a daily log in any way that works for you. It can be writing it all down on a piece of paper, documenting it in a journal, or placing it in an electronic calendar. But unlike the movement component of your plan, you typically will find that you have to reduce the amount of daily calories to spur weight loss.

 

The reason why keeping track of the information is important is because it will serve as a reference as you navigate your weight loss and conditioning journey. There will be times when you evaluate your status and decide you have to tweak something, and the only way to know conclusively and scientifically what to do is by comparing the successes and failures.

 

The other very important consideration is that as soon as you make the decision to commit to working out with the intention of losing weight, you have to get used to feeling hungry. This is an absolute must. But it doesn’t mean that you should starve yourself either!

What you will find in the beginning is that by reducing your caloric intake even a bit, there is no way that you won’t feel hungry. Your brain gets used to feeling satiated all the time and tends to act like a spoiled child when it doesn’t get its way. So the first few times it wants you to eat and you have a glass of water instead, it may throw a tantrum. Typically this results in a slight headache or a feeling of irritability.

 

But the good news is that everything gets easier in time. Once you start to lose pounds and you don’t have to carry around as much weight, you find that movement becomes much easier because you become more fit and agile. When I first started riding the recumbent bike, I could never put the tension above two without my legs getting exhausted. After a couple weeks I would never have the tension below two because I found it way too easy and it wouldn’t get my heart rate up to the fat burn zone.

The same thing applies to walking, where it is typical that over time you can walk greater distances and for a longer duration because you’re in better shape and much stronger than in the beginning.

 

The tweaking part is very simple. Doctors recommend that you should lose about 2.5 pounds per week when starting a weight loss program. If you find you’re not losing that amount of weight then you would increase the amount of movement you’re doing in a day, and decrease the amount of calories you’re taking in. You would also want to ensure that most of the calories you’re taking in are good calories, and future posts will expand on nutritional facts. In the meantime, a great resource can be found by following this link: https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/default.aspx

 

By following a strategic and well rounded exercise and nutritional plan, it is possible to reduce body weight significantly over time. I can state this with absolute authority because since the middle of December 2022, I have lost 35 pounds and Lori has lost over 20. We accomplished this by eating strategically and ensuring we exercise between an hour and an hour and a half each day, while keeping our heart rate in the fat burn zone. For us, that means going for a nice walk around the neighbourhood a couple of times a day.

 

You don't have to complete ridiculous amounts of exercise or deny yourself the occasional treat, in order to lose weight.  You just have to stick to a plan that balances movement and intake to ensure you meet whatever goals you set for yourself.  My next post will provide a detailed daily meal plan that ensures I get the calories I need to stay healthy and meet my target weight goals.

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Overcoming the negative noise.

 

It can never be disputed that the internet is a source of great information.  However, the one consistency I noticed when I was preparing to embark on an exercise plan in December 2022 was that there is an abundance of negativity regarding exercise and older folks.

 

Typically the narrative is that it’s much harder to lose weight when you’re older, and especially for women.  Many times the messaging would be tainted so that it included something negative even if they were mentioning something positive.  A great example was that many articles or videos would stress that it is possible to lose weight at 50+ than at a younger age, but that it takes much longer.

 

It’s hard enough for anyone to get started, but if you haven’t worked out for an extended period of time (or possibly ever), the last thing you need to hear is that it will be harder or even impossible for you to attain your goals.  Especially when that isn’t necessarily true!   General statements that stereotype an entire demographic shouldn’t be used when fitness and conditioning depend on each person and their unique situation.

 

What I can tell you from my lived experience is that you can attain your goals regardless of your age, as long as you’re willing to commit to a strategic plan.  And one of the best pieces of news you’ll ever hear is that the exercise you need to do is not only free, but the resulting lifestyle changes can actually save you money.  Walking and good nutritional choices significantly improve your conditioning and overall physical health.

 

Another cost savings bonus is that when you strategically reduce your caloric consumption, it can positively impact expenses.   Doing that not only reduces your intake of calories, but is quite significant  when you consider that reducing your meat intake alone would save a considerable amount of money.

 

Another important point is that although having a heart rate device is great, you don’t require one to figure out if you’re exercising in the fat burn zone. You simply measure the intensity of your workout by your perceived exertion.  For instance, you should be able to walk and talk at the same time, without huffing and puffing.   If you’re in a situation where you find you’re out of breath, you simply slow down and/or take a bit of a rest to recover.  For most people, simply maintaining a normal speed will put you in the fat burn zone.

 

I can speak about healthy weight loss with great authority because there have been occasions in my life where I was training for a specific goal and dropped weight in the process.  When I was In my forties and taking part in physical testing for possible employment, I dropped 30 lbs in three months.   Twenty years later, I have done the same and can state honestly that it didn’t take any longer at 60 than it did in my 40s.  In fact, it was physically easier because of the way I exercised as an old guy!

 

If you’re sitting on the fence trying to decide if you want to commit to an exercise routine, don’t be swayed by negative noise.  Don’t let other people dictate what you can or can’t do.   And don’t be intimidated by imaginary obstacles that may not even exist.

 

I will go into greater detail next week and describe specific ways to speed up a lagging metabolism to ensure weight loss.  Not only can I personally attest that simple exercising and nutritional considerations are the key, but will expand on how Lori has also realized great success by following the same plan.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I discovered from a bit of internet research that a great way to jumpstart the body's metabolism was by exercising first thing in the morning before breakfast.  But in my case, I wasn't sure if I could even do this type of workout because of time constraints and a fear that it would be too difficult;  physically and mentally.

 

     So in order to make it easier, I decided I would keep the workouts to twenty minutes and the intensity fairly easy so that I wasn't overwhelmed.   I would also mix things up so that some days I would ride a recumbent exercise bike, and on others I would walk on the treadmill.  During my first few workouts, I immediately discovered that I would sweat much more in the morning than I ever did during afternoon or evening workouts, and it wasn't as physically or mentally hard as I thought it would be.

 

     I have a half litre water bottle and I made sure to drink one full bottle during these workouts.  After a night's sleep, the body may be a bit dehydrated to begin with, so it's crucial that you start to drink water as soon as you wake up and definitely if you're working out.  Remember that hydration makes up one of the four pieces of the fitness puzzle.

 

     After I had a few early morning workouts under my belt, I increased the length and the intensity of my workouts and included an early evening (post supper) workout as well because I found that it was getting easier and easier to do.  The human body adapts to stress pretty quickly, and the exercise routines reminded me a lot of cardiac rehabilitation because it was difficult in the beginning, but seemed to get easier every time I worked out.

 

     And this intensified when my weight started to drop!  The aches and pains I'd had for months were soon a thing of the past, which propelled me even further in attaining my goals.  Small victories like being able to wear pants that were previously too tight, or finding that I could use belt notches that were previously never used reinforced that I was on the right track.

 

     After a couple of weeks of cardio exercising, I began to incorporate some light resistance training into my evening workouts to ensure I maintained muscle mass.  A high rep low weight workout allows you to do this without increasing the risk of injury.  Studies have shown that as we age,  the body naturally loses muscle over time, which negatively impacts metabolism.  You don't need the muscles of a body builder to reap the benefits of resistance training, but remember that during the times you're inactive (even when sleeping) muscle uses more energy than fat. and you'll burn more calories no matter what you're doing.  This is important because weight loss is a numbers game, and the only way to lose weight is to ensure you're running a caloric deficit.

 

     One of the most surprising things during my weight loss experience is that my diet stayed relatively the same as it was before I began my exercise regiment.  The one noticeable exception is that I reduced my supper portion sizes and never ate within three hours of bedtime.  Reducing portion sizes meant that any meat would not exceed the size of a deck of playing cards, and I never had a second helping.  If I felt hungry to the point that I wanted to snack later in the evening, I would eat a few cucumber pieces and ensure I drank plenty of water.

 

      It has been exactly three months to the day that I decided to start working out with the goal of reducing weight and improving my overall health, and I'm happy to say that I've realized both.  I was able to drop thirty pounds and get rid of a nagging hip pain that was negatively affecting my quality of life.  I feel better physically, mentally, and even psychologically because I initially had concerns that my age might prevent me from attaining my goals.  But what I discovered instead is that a well planned exercise and nutritional strategy will work no matter what your age.

 

     I know this to be true not only because of my experience, but also because my wife Lori has been following the same strategies that I've been using and she is well on her way to realizing her weight loss and fitness goals as well.  I'll provide additional details on her journey when I post my blog update next week.

    

    

 

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Although I've chronicled my weight loss journey in the previous two posts, I haven't touched upon the main motivation behind the desire to lose weight.  In my particular case, it wasn't driven so much by vanity but as a result of acute pain I experienced while skating with my grandson.

 

     Just before the onset of that pain, there were times where I'd notice that my left hip seemed to be a bit "wonky".  I would especially notice it if I was sitting for an extended time or if I was going down stairs.  It almost felt as if my entire left side was going to give, and there were times where I'd find myself walking with a noticeable limp.

 

     I went online and watched a number of videos and discovered that my possible ailment was known as a Hip Click - a very common affliction for anyone who sits for long periods of time.  I was doing more sitting lately compared to other times in my life, so I immediately felt that this could be the problem with my hip.  I also discovered that the remedy for this was very simple and would include standing more, moving more, and reducing my body weight.

 

     I want to stress that the pain I was feeling was more of an annoyance, and never reached an intensity where I considered seeking medical assistance.  Self-diagnosis is much more common today thanks to the abundance of information on the internet, but if you ever encounter a physical situation that causes you intense pain or discomfort, you would obviously get that checked out by a medical professional.

 

     What I quickly discovered was that by making a few changes to my lifestyle, I was encountering the pain less and less.  I started standing for extended durations while at work, and I would move around as much as possible.  I bought an inexpensive recumbent exercise bike in mid-December that didn't have any fancy bells and whistles, but allowed me to work out comfortably so that I wasn't aggravating the hip issue.

 

     And then I did a bit of research.  Again, I went online and watched countless exercise videos that all had one thing in common, and that was that they were reasonable.  If there's one thing I've learned in life is that outrageous ideas are typically easy to spot, and when it comes to exercise the best advice is to keep it simple.

 

     I was somewhat surprised to discover that much of the weight loss narrative today stresses workouts that incorporate walking or activities that aren't physically demanding.  The science behind this relates to how the body reacts to various stresses, and walking is universally applauded as the best exercise for those who are older, have physical limitations, or have been overweight for a prolonged period of time and have to ensure that they gently incorporate physical activity into their lives.

 

     It is also the first exercise that cardiologists prescribe after a person has suffered a heart attack, because it is a great way to start your rehabilitation journey.  I can speak from personal experience that it isn't always an easy process, because the first few times are physically, mentally and psychologically difficult.  But over time, it is amazing what the human body can do to not only recover from a serious medical episode, but also rebound to where you were before that experience.

 

     As with any exercise routine, it is important to start slow and gradually increase the intensity and duration of each particular workout.  The first post heart attack walk I completed as part of my recovery was about 100 metres in total and it felt as if I was stuck in mud at the beginning.  Every single step required a great deal of physical and mental effort to complete, and I experienced a fair amount of anxiety due to fears I had about my heart and body.  But it seemed that every day the gains got bigger and bigger, and by the time I took part in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, I was walking distances that would have been impossible just weeks before.

 

     The moral of this story is that goals are attained through a reasonable strategy that considers the condition of each person who is embarking on their exercise journey.  In some cases, baby steps will be the appropriate course of action to ensure that by trying to take a few steps forward, you don't actually take more steps back.  And that is something we all want to avoid!

     I'll expand deeper into exercise routine specifics in my next post and also touch upon how my hip issue is now a thing of the past, thanks to a graduated exercise plan.

     

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One of the most important parts of an exercise routine is strategy. Because believe it or not, exercise by itself doesn't guarantee anything. In order to lose weight and keep it off, you have to be mindful of four critical parts of the fitness puzzle, which are nutrition, exercise, sleep/rest, and hydration. If any of those pieces are missing or inadequate, you will not realize your goals, or it will take much longer to do so, because your metabolism won't speed up as much as it would have.

 

 

I discovered somewhat reluctantly that walking is a great way to lose weight and body fat after thinking for the longest time that the effects would be minimal. And the reason I believed that was because I had been walking for years and didn't see any results at all. In fact, I kept gaining weight instead of losing it.

 

So in my case, I did a bit of internet research and found that making changes to my fitness regiment was the answer. I started to incorporate early morning pre-breakfast workouts into my daily routine and also reduced my supper portion sizes by 25%. I also mixed up the exercises I was doing to provide some variety. Some mornings I would ride a recumbent exercise bike, and on other days I would walk on the treadmill.

 

But the biggest change I made from the way I trained years ago was that I now ensure that my heart rate stays in the fat burn zone, which in my case is between 80 to 114 beats per minute. It took me awhile to be convinced that this would work, because it never felt like I was working out hard enough. But in the first two weeks after making these changes, I dropped over 10 lbs and knew that this was something that worked well for my body. That gave me all the motivation I needed to keep going, and since making those subtle but important changes, I've lost about 30 lbs and inches off my waistline in two months time.

 

By no means does this mean that the only way to realize your goals is to work out in the morning on an empty stomach. But what it does prove is that it is possible to kick start a sluggish metabolism by making strategic changes to your workouts and eating habits. And when that happens, the results will be substantial.

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I had been physically active for most of my adult life, but was forced to take a time-out in my mid-fifties to deal with a family crisis.

 

Eventually I was able to resume my workouts after about a year's layoff, but I made a huge mistake that nearly cost me my life. Instead of gently easing back into physical activity, I immediately started on a high intensity exercise program because I assumed I was protected from all the years I exercised and ate right.

 

Within weeks of resuming my training, I suffered a massive heart attack when a piece of plaque ruptured and blocked an artery 100%. My cardiologist confirmed that this could have resulted from the training that was part of my fitness routine at that time. The first thing he strongly suggested was to replace the sprinting I was doing with walking because I would realize the same health benefits without the risks to my body. I remember chuckling to myself because I thought that idea was preposterous. There was no way walking could compare with high intensity training!

 

But I've recently learned a life lesson that I want to share with everyone...young and old. Walking is the way!

 

But before you get started, an important consideration when you are embarking on a fitness journey is that you don't have to push yourself to extreme levels to benefit from physical activity. I grew up in an era that preached No Pain No Gain and I now realize that is a load of bunk!

 

Another consideration is that you should get medical clearance before starting an exercise program, especially if you have been inactive for an extended period, if you have a pre-existing medical condition, and/or if you are over 40 years of age.

I will be updating this page weekly to share my fitness journey in an attempt to inspire those who are reluctant to commit to an exercise routine that literally begins with a first step.

 

Walking is the way!

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