The Black Knight

After a circuit class at our gym, this TOJ was talking with Dennis Jennings, a fellow TOJ, about how hard it is to find a suitable workout regimen if you're a male and older. Most of the group classes at the gym have dance elements and just don't incorporate stuff that's very athletic. Although the classes can plenty challenging (in circuits you get out what you put in), something's missing in the other ones.Gyms are careful not to over-tax the old people to prevent injuries and heart attacks. 

As I described what I thought it is and what exercises needed to be added, he got a smile on his face, knowing just what I meant. He thought old guys would like a workout like that. He suggested, tongue in cheek, that we should form a group called the Black Knights, named after the hilarious scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail. I went home and watched it again (101st time) and agreed.

TOJs are just like the Black Knight when he says his classic line, "It's just a flesh wound." We probably don't have a much better handle on our actual physical capabilities than the Black Knight, but, like him, we keep at it against all odds. He doesn't quit, whine, or hesitate. He fights on, despite his steadily vanishing capacities and mortal condition.

Don't forget that the only reason the Black Knight didn't skewer King Arthur was that he was exhausted from his previous fight.  Swinging broadswords really takes it out of you. He needed a few minutes to restore the ATP in his muscles.

The Black Knight has inspired me to design a workout routine in his honor. It will be hard, a full body workout with agility drills, plyometrics, strength, power, and cardio. It'll start with a dynamic warm-up, and go immediately into high intensity sequences to enlist every muscle in the body, deep down into the core.

Designing a program like this will be a challenge because TOJs were always physically active, so they have muscle or joint vulnerabilities and limitations from old injuries or over-use. You have to find ways to work around these.

But the Black Knight shows the way. If worse comes to worse, you hop around on one leg. It's better than nothing, and you're still in the battle. Aging is just a flesh wound.

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Gravity Is Good Medicine

Not often will you read this blog and not find something about one kind of vigorous exercise or another. But this one will be different because it's about the importance of Non-Exercise Activities for health and well-being.

Many months ago this TOJ ranted about the dangers of sitting for prolonged periods of time. The video interview below between Dr. Joan Vernikos, an former NASA scientist and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, and Dr. Joseph Mercola is nothing short of fascinating. For many years, Dr. Vernikos was responsible for maintaining the health of astronauts while they were weightless in space for prolonged periods of time. At some point in her career, she realized that the physical changes due to weightlessness, which include muscle and bone deterioration, were identical to those which occur in sedentary people as they age.

Many of us who exercise hard a few times a week, if not daily, tend to think we're bulletproof. Unfortunately, that's not true. Despite our exercising, if we spend prolonged periods of time motionless in front of a computer or TV, we are subject to the same metabolic threats - poor insulin sensitivity and systemic inflammation - as lazy couch potatoes.  

Listen carefully to this fascinating interview. It's long, but worth every minute. Also, read Dr. Mercola's comments about Vernikos's work. You'll never think about gravity the same way again, if you even thought about it at all.

If you want to maintain a healthy metabolism, her prescription is simple: just move - reach, bend, kneel, squat, jump, walk. Most important if you want to be a healthy and do the bare minimum to achieve it, just stand up at least 36 times a day. You don't even need to break a sweat, unless you want too.

Remember she's not saying you don't need to pay attention to nutrition or that there aren't other benefits from exercise. She's saying simply that to advance our metabolic health we must be more active, more frequently thoughout each and every day.

Flopping Like Lebron

TOJs can learn something important from Lebron James, a remarkable basketball player and athlete - how to safely fall.

In the NBA flopping refers to the practice of intentionally falling down to try to draw a foul. Lebron James recently got fined $10,000 (the equivalent of $1 to the rest of us) in a playoff game for an awesome flop.

The video below shows Lebron doing a series of flops. Watch carefully and notice as he goes down how he first slows the fall by reaching out with his hand and relaxes and rolls his body, when possible, as he hits the court.

Also watch flop #1 in the link below. His body is flexed, not rigid. Yes, that's an incredible display of reflexes and strength, much more limited in a TOJ, but the principles remain the same.

This TOJ has talked about why it's important to know how to fall before.  It's only slightly less  important than knowing how to swim because it can help avoid serious injuries.

I'd run across some of these Lebron clips over a week ago. Seeing him flop reminded me I had't practiced falling in awhile, so after a workout, I got on my knees and took a couple of forward and sideways falls onto the mat. I practiced just like Lebron, reaching out as I approached the mat, dropping to my hip, and lightly rolling onto my shoulder.

Ironically, just yesterday I was out for a nice run on the Deschutes River Trail. The temperature was just right and I was feeling energetic, though starting to fatigue after over 40 minutes into the run. I had just passed through a rocky section, where I was careful, and picking up the pace when my right toe caught on a small rock I didn't even see. Down flew this TOJ with a groan and a cloud of dust.

It could have been much worse. Because I'd had some recent practice, I got my left hand down and mimicked Lebron. The left knee shared the force with my entire left side as I rolled across the dirt.

Severe injuries happen when all the force goes to one place, as when the hip hits first. I was able to avoid that, though my best running shirt got trashed.

TOJ's dont need to go slamming themselves against the ground. But some practice and physical training makes all the difference.

The physical training part is very basic. You get in the upward position for a push up and then descend very slowly towards the ground. Think of it as a push-down. This is an eccentric muscle action where you are decelerating. The ability to quickly decelerate is the secret to agility. Work up to sets of 15 reps a couple times a week.

Also do some yoga cobra poses and hold them for a minute. Throw in some side planks as well. You never want to fall with your arms locked as in the side plank, always have the elbow slightly bent. However, the plank will strengthen your core, which help keep everything supported when you hit the ground.

At least you'll be able to flop like Lebron, even though you don't get paid as much for doing it.


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Avoid Fire

The other night I attended a showing of Escape Fire, a documentary film about the crisis in the US healthcare system. It's very well done and I highly recommend it for everyone to see, although it triggered PTSD because I'm only a year removed from working in it.

The sad message of the film is that our healthcare system is the most expensive on earth and yet we have some of the poorest health outcomes when compared to the other industrialized countries. I addressed some of the reasons for that in the first chapter of my book, The Wellness Club: A Journey To Health Beyond Healthcare, which you can download for free at Smashwords.

While the film's diagnosis of what' wrong in healthcare - in a nutshell, it's controlled by profit driven insurance and pharmaceutical corporations, who in turn control the government - it's not real specific as to what can be done about it. I don't blame the film makers for not having magic answers because unfortunately there aren't any. Maybe if more people pay attention to how badly they're being ripped off, they'll get mobilized to do something about it. Don't hold your breath. Health is not a national priority.

In the last chapter of The Wellness Club, you'll find a discussion about some of the first signs of rebellion among the more enlightened doctors insisting that the system needs to be fixed. Perhaps that's the beginning of a massive change, but it will take a long time. In the film, Dr. Dean Ornish talked about how it took him 16 years to convince Medicare that his program to slow or reverse severe heart disease with a plant based diet, exercise and meditation should be eligible for reimbursement because evidence showed if was more effective and less costly than stents and other invasive procedures. Much of how money is distributed in medicine has nothing to do with science.

But the most important message in the last chapter is that people need to avoid the healthcare system as much as possible by not needing it in the first place. The film pointed out that 75% of the $2 trillion paid to the healthcare system goes to treat preventable diseases that could be avoided if people took more responsibility for their health by eating better foods, stressing less, and exercising more. It's that simple. No individual, family, or community needs to wait for a government program to get started with this.

Yep, if you're in the fire, by all means try to escape. But better yet, avoid it in the first place.

Graduation from Old School

A long time TOJ friend emailed me that some of his body parts are acting up with strange pains here and there.

He gave me a rundown on his activities, which still included basketball, skiing, and line dancing. What caught my attention was his very short list of training exercises he does routinely that he probably learned back in high school, including a few upper body lifts and good old-fashioned ab crunches.

He's going to get some opinions from a physical therapist, which is a good idea. He's in his 60's wants to keep doing what he enjoys, so it makes sense to figure out what he needs to do next.

Hearing what he's doing (and not), this TOJ surmised there could be all kinds of causes for the pain, like aging combined with quick movements on hard surfaces causing compression on nerves. But some of his maladies likely have a simpler explanation.

What his list of exercises revealed was that he's doing a minimal number of exercises that  aren't well matched to what his activities are. Missing in action were exercises focused on the core. In the old days the core was synonymous with ab crunches. However, these are of limited benefit because they are isolated to only the rectus abdominus muscle and there are better, safer exercises even just for it.

Training your core is more important than ever as you age because it enables good posture, provides lumbar stability, and, for people doing athletics, is the link for dynamic movements in the muscles of the lower and upper body.

Think of your core as a ring of strength from your lower rib cage down to pelvis. The rectus abdominus muscle is just a bit player in what makes the core function. The real core is composed of several layers of muscles, in particular the transverse abdominus, multifidi, quadratus laborum, internal oblique, diaphragm, and muscles in the pelvic floor.

In many blogs about aging I rant about how important it is to activate Type II fast twitch muscle fibers by doing some exercises that require speed and power. Not today. The core is an exception.

The core is mainly composed of Type I slow twitch fibers that need to be exercised as well to develop their endurance. The best exercises to do this are isometric exercises such as the Plank, Side Plank, and Bird Dog. The video below nicely demonstrates how to do the Bird Dog.

Core exercises should be performed a few times a week. It's surprising how many physical problems, starting with low back pain, disappear when your core is strong. As if by miracle, your performance vastly improves, whether in a sport or activity of daily living.

Many of us Boomers learned old school exercises like the ab crunch. Now it's time to graduate to newer, more effective ones based on current exercise science.


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Just go to Smashwords. At checkout out enter Coupon# WD77M.